Hobby Musings: Autographs for a cause – Like many other hobbyists, I’ve partaken in the time-honored tradition of sending letters to athletes hoping for an autograph. Especially when I didn’t have a ton of funds for hobby items, sending via snail mail was a great way to correspond with athletes and add some signatures to my collection. For Tim Virgilio though, it’s been more than a hobby pastime. Virgilio’s Signatures For Soldiers takes autographs and memorabilia provided by athletes and turns them into funds for a worthy cause. He took some time out from his day to explain more about the organization. The following interview was conducted via email.
KS: Why did you decide to start Signatures For Soldiers?
TV: In 2007 my wife and I met Mike Dorman, the founder of Military Missions In Action, and we’ve served as volunteers, members of the Board of Directors and now members of the Advisory Board. My job took me away from where I could be directly involved in the regular projects for MMIA, but I wanted to continue to support their efforts. This is when I decided to blend my hobby of collecting autographs with raising money and awareness for MMIA.
KS: How do you go about asking athletes to help provide aid for your program?
TV: I initially started reaching out to athletes via social media (Facebook and Twitter) and would write occasional letters to them. Now, with an active presence on social media, I’ve had players reach out to me because they’ve seen other players supporting my efforts. I’ve also had other collectors who’ve reached out to players on behalf of Signatures For Soldiers asking for their support.
KS: Who was the first athlete to respond back that they would help out?
TV: To be honest, I don’t remember who the very first athlete was who responded back that they would support my efforts. But I do remember the first athlete who made me realize that I could really raise some significant money for MMIA. That would be Barry Lyons, former catcher for the New York Mets. Mr. Lyons signed quite a few cards for me and a lady who knows and admires Mr. Lyons offered $300 for just a few of his signed cards. This when I realized that people would really get behind this effort and I officially named my effort Signatures For Soldiers.
KS: If you had to guess, how many athletes have you reached out to since you started?
TV: I’ve probably reached out to nearly 700 athletes, with about 400 of those offering support for my efforts. Some athletes have never responded. Other athletes have told me that they aren’t interested in helping my efforts. But the majority of athletes have been really eager to support Signatures For Soldiers, and more importantly, MMIA and their work with disabled veterans.
KS: What kinds of challenges have you encountered in trying to do this?
TV: This is an interesting question for me. I think there have been two really big challenges for me. The first is simply the cost of keeping this up: the cost of postage and envelopes/packaging and the time commitment cost to be able to organize and post everything. The other would be keeping up with tracking what comes in and what I need to send out. There are days that it becomes quite overwhelming for me since it is just me doing everything for this effort.
Hobby Musings: Autographs for a cause
KS: On the flip side, who have been some of the biggest supporters since you’ve started?
TV: There have been so many athletes who’ve been huge supporters that I’m afraid to try to name them because I will certainly leave someone out. Some of the players who’ve donated their own items have been Lance McCullers Jr, Jose Trevino, Sam LeCure, Taylor Motter, Colin Moran, Sal Giardina, Mitch Haniger, CJ Nitkowski, and Ronnie Dawson. Some players who’ve also supported my efforts in other ways have been Jim Leyritz, Alvaro Espinoza, Gregg Jefferies, Matt Marksberry, Woody Williams, Herm Winningham, Josh Reddick, and the list goes on and on.
KS: Besides trading cards, what kind of other memorabilia items have you offered for sale?
TV: I’ve been able to offer signed bats, baseballs, hats, jerseys, batting gloves, fielding gloves, cleats – all of which have been donated by various players.
KS: I noticed on your site you have both baseball and NASCAR items available. Why center around those two sports?
TV: The main reason has been that this is where the biggest support has come from. I’ve attempted to reach out to players in other sports (NFL, NBA, NHL) but haven’t gotten much response or support. So for now, I’ve focused primarily on baseball and racing.
KS: What kind of response have you seen to your efforts both from athletes and customers?
TV: The support has been incredible. When I first started this, I was hoping to raise about $500 but quickly passed that mark. I then reset my goal at $3000 which is the average cost of materials for a wheelchair ramp. Again, I quickly passed that. Now I’m just letting this go for as long as it can. Athletes and everyday citizens have thanked me for what I’m doing. But the reality is that I couldn’t do any of this without their support. I had one person call me a “hero”. I’m no hero. The true heroes are those men and women who’ve served in our military and now need our support.
KS: Looking ahead, how would you like to see Signatures for Soldiers grow in the future?
TV: I’ve been asked this before and I’m still not sure how to answer this. I’d like to see Signatures For Soldiers go as far as it can and as long as I’ve got the time and energy to keep it going. In the future, I’d like to be able to set up at some sports memorabilia shows, including The National. But these are things that will cost time and money that I don’t have right now.
KS: If anyone would like more information on how to donate or purchase items, where should they go?
Hobby Musings: Autographs for a cause
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