Collecting baseball player autographs is a time-honored tradition, one that goes hand-in-hand with the sport itself. Before and after any Major League Baseball game, fans will crowd the stands above the dugouts with pens, baseballs, and photographs in hand, waiting for their favorite players to emerge.
But fans who don't have access to a nearby stadium or the players have to settle for collecting autographs from memorabilia shops or Web sites like eBay. Enter Egraphs, a new online service where fans pay a fee for a personalized autograph and MP3 voice recording. It's the unique, one-on-one interaction between a player and a fan that the company hopes will be the next-generation of autograph collecting.
Here's how it works. You choose from more than 200 baseball stars on Egraphs.com, indicating what message you want your player of choice to write over his action picture and what to say in his voice recording to you. On the other end, the star opens up the Egraphs app on an iPad and creates a customized message using a stylus. His signature and voice print will be verified by Egraphs, and within two weeks, you'll get an e-mail that lets you know your autographed photo and MP3 are ready. You'll be able to share your autograph on your social networks. Through the site you can also have your digital autograph printed and framed. Prices for an Egraph range from $25 to $100, depending on the player you choose. And there is a limit to the amount of digital autographs a given player will sign during a period of time, so Egraphs can sell out temporarily.
I first heard about Egraphs from someone at the Oakland Coliseum, home of the Oakland Athletics. You see, when I'm not reporting technology news for CNET, I work as the team's big-screen reporter. As a diehard A's fan, it's a dream job to watch (and work!) all 81 home baseball games. After learning more about Egraphs, I thought it'd make an interesting tech story for CNET and CBS. Finally, my two worlds could collide!
To check out the new Egraphs service and its software in action, our CNET video team paid a visit to the Coliseum before an A's and Blue Jays game. We met up with Jose Bautista, one of Toronto's star outfielders, who was about to enroll in the program.
"I think it's something that can help the fans get to know us on a personal level a bit more, especially with the messages we get to send," Bautista says. "They'll see a bit of my personality when I send them the Egraphs. So I think if a little kid gets to enjoy that and treasure that, it'll be something they can save for a long time."
So how can you be sure that the signature and voice recording is authentic? As part of the enrollment process, a player must sign his autograph 20 times using a stylus on an iPad so the service's biometric software can authenticate it in the future. Same goes for a player's voice. He must read a series of short phrases into the iPad's mic so the software can capture every potential sound. A combination of the two will guarantee that a fan is paying for the real thing.So, you might be wondering how a business like Egraphs would affect the market for traditional autographs. According to the company, it's a nonissue, since the sort of personalized messages produced by players for Egraphs customers would have little resale value.
In the coming months, Egraphs plans on adding more baseball players and then expanding the service to include professional athletes from other sports and even recording artists and celebrities. As a longtime baseball fan, I can vouch that nothing replaces an in-person meeting with your favorite player. But in a pinch, this digital alternative will definitely help fans feel closer to the game.