Before Boston Red Sox prospect Yoan Moncada set foot on the baseball diamond for his first game as a professional baseball player Monday with the Greenville Drive, two men stood in the hallway near the Drive clubhouse.
Moncada strolled by on his way to the field dressed in a sparkling white jersey with bright red lettering.
“Good luck man,” one of the men said.
But it was his jersey that they were most interested in seeing.
And his bat. And any baseballs he hit. Even the bases he crossed as a runner.
The pair of men — who did not wish to be identified by name to safeguard their role at the game — came to Greenville with Authenticators Inc., sent by Major League Baseball.
Their mission: to collect Moncada’s jersey, bats, gloves, baseballs and “anything within reason,” one said.
After the game, one of the men watched and made notations on his clipboard as a member of the Drive grounds crew scooped a shovel full of dirt from the base path near second base and dumped it into a plastic five-gallon bucket.
Now, fans can own the dirt upon which Moncada’s feet trod during his first career game. It may be close to where he leapt to catch a sharp line drive at the apex of his jump to end the third inning. Or perhaps, fans will own infield dirt where Moncada bumbled a grounder — his first error! — in the sixth.
The Drive plan to give the “game-used” dirt as a gift to season-ticket holders, said Eric Jarinko, Drive general manager.
Such is the life for Moncada, one of the top prospects in all of baseball whose every move will be well-documented.
He possesses prodigious physical skill, movie-star looks and a $31.5 million contract, which is just half of the Red Sox $63 million investment in the 19-year-old Cuban.
His life as a minor leaguer will be different. Media, including staffers from Boston media outlets, peppered him with questions in a 16-minute interview that followed his first batting practice at Fluor Field.
He answered in Spanish, assisted by translator Laz Gutierrez, a mental skills coach for the Boston Red Sox.
He said he wasn’t nervous despite the hype. And, even before his first game, he had a long-term plan in mind.
“I hope that I’m able, whether it’s this year, the next, or the year after that, to help this team win a World Series,” Moncada said.
Drive Manager Darren Fenster acknowledged the extra attention Moncada’s presence brought to the team.
“He looks like what you’d want a big-league player to look like in uniform,” Fenster said. “I think what we have to really understand is this is still a kid. He’s going to have expectations tied to him with the number that he signed for, for his entire career.”
Not many prospects receive the MLB Authentication treatment. Moncada, an infielder the Red Sox signed for $31.5 million two months ago, is the second prospect this year to get it, coming behind the Chicago Cubs’ Kris Bryant’s debut for the Iowa Cubs.
He joins stars like Mike Trout, Bryce Harper and Stephen Strasburg, who each received first-game authentication visits in their minor league debuts.
Authentication of MLB merchandise has become big business. Licensed memorabilia is a $12 billion a year business, according to a 2012 market snapshot by Sportsmemorabilia.com.
In 2001, MLB got into the industry and began to employ a team of authenticators to attend every MLB game for every team.
One of the authenticators came to Greenville from Atlanta, where he works with the Braves. The other works for MLB in New York City.
Most MLB authenticators are off-duty police officers, they said.
Their honesty is as integral as their eyesight.
Monday night, the eagle-eyed lead authenticator watched from the home dugout as the first pitch was thrown. He kept his eye on it until it made its way to the dugout. Then he grabbed the ball and slapped a serial-numbered hologram on it.
“The authenticator has to witness literally everything” in order to certify an item as authentic, they said.
They can’t usually authenticate a home run because they don’t know where it landed or who could have switched it out for another ball.
But when the pitcher threw a ball in the dirt near Moncada’s feet, the catcher handed it to the umpire, who handed it to the ball boy, who ran to the dugout and handed it to the authenticator.
Put a hologram on it. Pack it away. Auction it off.
Fans can purchase items on each team’s website. A slice of Red Sox star David Ortiz’ bat goes for $24.99. A piece of brick from Fenway Park in Boston also sells for $24.99. For $19.99, fans can purchase a bottle of game-used dirt from Fenway.
Fans can own an empty champagne bottle “with varying levels of use and distress” from the Red Sox 2013 World Series for $499.99. The bottle is empty.
The Moncada items likely will be auctioned off or displayed by the Red Sox, the authenticators said.
They planned to stay in Greenville for Moncada’s second game as well, with those items being returned to the Drive, Jarinko said.
The Drive had two additional Moncada jerseys made for the occasion, he said.
Monday, Moncada wore just one jersey.
While he grabbed a plate of food in the clubhouse after the game, the lead authenticator took his jersey, along with his batting helmet and a stack of other memorabilia.
He documented it on his clipboard and slipped it into a giant duffel bag, ready to sell to the highest bidder.