Our interview subject had a pretty busy week and I was already a day behind in posting on my last hounding outing when his turn on the schedule came up last Wednesday, May 1. But, here we are today with this week's Wednesday Friendsday!
Paul Buxton is our featured friend of the week. Anyone who has been collecting a long time in the hockey world probably knows Paul. Some may have even seen his old site, Paul's Hockey Autograph Mania. It was one of the best sources online for a beginning collector about ten years ago when I was first getting into it. When I was in Boston, Paul often helped me out by getting the west coast teams that never made it out to me, while I did the same, getting him east coast players who didn't go west. Without further ado, we turn it over to Paul!
|Paul Buxton at a Canada Post box.|
American mailboxes are so boring by comparison!
Name: Paul Buxton
From: San Jose, CA. Now in Seattle, WA
Years collecting: 15
Main items you collect: signed hockey cards and memorabilia
TGC: California, especially the Northern part, isn't exactly a hockey hotbed. How did you get into it?
PB: I caught on to the sport in fourth grade after seeing a kid down the street play roller hockey with a net in his driveway. Sensing that I was becoming more interested in the sport, my dad bought tickets to a Sharks game as a treat one February evening. Playing in their brand new arena, the Sharks ended up losing to Philadelphia 6-4 (if I recall correctly, Rod Brind'amour had 4 goals). I immediately fell in love with the intensity of the game, the ridiculous noise level at the Shark Tank, the mascot (S.J. Sharkie), and most of all, the bouncing ball of energy in front of the Sharks' net: Arturs Irbe. Watching him make acrobatic save after save wowed me, and he became my favorite player. I had the fortune to attend one more game that season, a 9-4 drubbing of the old Winnipeg Jets. Sergei Makarov had a hat trick; the third came on the first penalty shot in Sharks history! This was the 1993-94 season, the first for the San Jose Sharks in San Jose after their two-season Cow Palace exile. Little did I realize at the time the significance that particular season would have for the growth of hockey in northern California. The 1994 playoffs were an awe-inspiring experience for a young fan to take in: the Sharks came in as huge underdogs that had barely squeaked into the playoffs and upset the Presidents' Trophy-winning Detroit Red Wings in a 7-game series. They then came very close to knocking off the Leafs in another 7-game series (I remember crying after the Game 7 loss). The team held a big rally downtown in front of the Discovery Museum the following day, and I went with my family. A large crowd of something like 20,000 came out to honor the team for its accomplishments. The following season I started my first organized roller hockey season, the autographs started a few years later along with the dawn of the Internet, and I guess the rest is history. Hockey in California, particularly the Bay Area and southern California, has really taken off in the past 20 years. Real homegrown talent has emerged there and the youth programs have improved sharply. Many players are making the jump to college or the WHL, getting drafted in the first round, playing for the USA WJC team and appearing on NHL rosters.
TGC: How did you first get into autograph collecting?
PB: I had collected hockey cards for a long time and always had a dormant interest in autographs, but like most fans I had no idea how to go about getting anything signed. That all changed in the summer of 1998, when I stumbled upon a simple Geocities website called "Kuch's House of Hockey Autographs", run by a Devils fan named Kuch living somewhere in the Midwest (Kansas City, I think). His site had tons of information about the hobby that really opened my eyes. I had never thought of the concept of sending a hockey card through the mail to a player and actually expecting it to come back signed, and was surprised to see how successful he had been with that. I was also stunned to read about how easy autographs really were to obtain... all it took was a couple hours at a specific time and location! I saw a few other websites of people with similar successes, which gave me more perspective. The Internet was in its initial growth phase and websites were easy to make. As I steadily grew my autograph collection that first year, I started a simple Tripod site, then learned basic HTML and used FrontPage to hack together a site showing off my scans. Paul's Hockey Autograph Mania was expanded to include information about autograph collecting and to bring more collectors together. The sense of community, both in the physical and online world, had a continually regenerative effect on my passion for the hobby.
TGC: Do you remember the first item you ever got signed?
PB: I got my first hockey autograph before I ever started collecting as a serious hobby. I played on a peewee hockey team at Rollin' Ice, a facility at the Santa Clara County Fairgrounds owned by former NHLer Dave Maley. At the end of each season, there would be a simple awards ceremony. One time (circa October 1996), there was a rumor that a Sharks player would be at our awards ceremony. Like any other kid, I freaked out and tried to guess who it would be. At the same time, I thought it would be cool to maybe get something autographed by whoever it was. At the time, my card collection was still getting off the ground and there wasn't much selection to speak of. I only had cards of about half the current Sharks roster. Surprisingly I had a David Maley card (1993-94 Topps Stadium Club), so I made sure to bring that with me. Since I had no idea who would be there, I took my whole card binder with me to the ceremony. The player turned out to be Dody Wood, and of course I had nothing on him. Fearing that I would leave empty-handed, I noticed there was a program insert in the back of my binder. It was from the 1993-94 team, so it had nothing to do with Dody Wood, but I thought "close enough" and had Dody sign it anyways. Dave Maley was also there, and I had him sign his card. Little did I realize, that evening was the first of many autograph outings.
Somehow I remember my first-ever TTM requests and successes. After reading Kuch's site I mustered the courage to send out a couple of TTMs. At pseudorandom I picked Johan Garpenlov and Sergei Samsonov and sent to them. Those requests left my house on August 31, 1998 (they both came back later that season). I sent a few more out, and distinctly remember my first TTM returning to me in the mail in early January 1999: Teppo Numminen had signed 2 cards for me. My letter-writing skills were not very refined and I probably sounded like a total dick with no manners the first couple of times ("May I have your autograph on these cards? Thank you for your cooperation."), but the hobby was -- and still is -- a constant learning experience for me.
TGC: Do you prefer getting yours in-person, or through the mail?
PB: I generally prefer the firsthand interaction that in-person autographing provides, but I also highly value the power of TTM for expanding an autograph collection, so I employ both as primary methods. In this hobby I value the collecting experiences as equal to or even above the value of the actual autographed items. Every autographed item has a unique story behind it, but in-person stories are often the most colorful: where did you get it signed? Was the player nice, or did he make me work for it? Was it a total mob scene or a one-on-one? As I explain a story to someone, the real characters start to emerge and the autograph itself kind of takes a back seat to the environmental narrative regarding how it was obtained. On the other hand, there's always a slight rush of anticipation as I make my way to the mailbox and open the door to see if any autographs are inside!
TGC: Any fun stories from hounding over the years?
PB: That question alone could fill an entire book! I've had so many fun encounters with hockey players, celebrities, fellow collectors, eBayers, dealers, overzealous ushers and security guards. I've detailed a few below, but one of my favorite graphing moments was back in November 2000 in San Jose. It just goes to illustrate the utter randomness that can ensue over a given day of autographing. The Devils were in town, and the following events occurred:
- Steve Martin stayed at the same hotel as the Devils, and on his way out someone in the graphing crowd recognized him, called him over to the sidewalk and he begrudgingly signed for everyone. Little did I know at the time how tough of an in-person graph he could be.
- At the arena after morning skate, Sergei Makarov walked out of the player exit. This is the one and only time I ever saw him in person, and I had him sign a couple Sharks items. As a Sharks fan and collector, the significance of this autograph opportunity cannot be understated!
- Minutes after getting Makarov, the Devils' team bus rear-ended Mike Ricci's car in the narrow ramp down to the loading dock. It was quite a scene seeing Reech converse with the bus driver and arena usher to get it all sorted out. And Mike stopped after the game too!
- Back at the hotel that afternoon before the game, the entire lobby and front atrium of the hotel was overtaken by an Indian wedding ceremony. Hundreds of celebrants dressed in vivid traditional garb made a procession of sorts around the atrium, complete with music and gallant men marching white ponies around the taxi loop. Players had a hell of a time making their way out to the bus, and we had a hell of a time navigating the mob of people to try getting them to sign.
TGC: What are your top five favorite items in your collection?
PB: It's hard to point to just five items, but I'll pick five players that stand out in terms of both name and significance to my collection:
5) Sergei Zinovjev. You're probably thinking, who? My autograph of him represented several years of hard work attempting to find a way to get his autograph for my Rookie Index Card collection. From the 2001-02 season onwards, I've been on an insane quest to collect every rookie in the NHL. When a player gets called up for his first NHL game, I add him to a list for that season and then print a simple custom index card to get autographed. I've completed every season between 2002-03 and 2006-07, am very close on 2001-02 (1 left) and 2007-08/2008-09 (about 3 or 4 left), and this past season was the 11th. Oftentimes the hardest players to obtain are the ones who play a few games in the NHL, a few in North America, and then promptly return to Russia. Sergei Zinovjev did just that in 2003, suiting up for the Bruins a few times and then becoming homesick and returning to the motherland. Sending mail to Russia yields an extremely low return rate because the mail system there is so F'd up. I tried sending to Sergei through Ak Bars Kazan and had no luck, so I waited a few years for something to open up, constantly checking the team's schedule for leads. I got a big break about five years later. I was in contact with a collector in Finland who told me Ak Bars was coming to Helsinki for a preseason tournament against the local Finnish teams. I sent him the card and he was able to get it signed for me after the game! When I heard that news I was probably the most excited I'd ever been about getting an autograph of a non-star player in a long time due to the large amount of energy spent trying to land it. [Drew's Note: I tried to help Paul with Sergei in Boston that year, but he rode with the team's Russian trainer after morning skate, and they never stopped. I still have cards I'd like to get signed by him!]
4) Arturs Irbe. Getting your childhood idol to sign in person has to be a highlight. Carolina was probably one of the first five teams I graphed in the 1999-2000 season, and I was most excited about them because of Irbe. I had gone to the San Jose Hilton in the morning and Irbe signed for everyone there; I got him on two team set cards (97-98 Score and the then-new 99-00 MVP), and sadly did not have any Sharks 8x10s for him. He was one of the last players out, so I walked to the arena via the short trail that runs underneath Guadalupe Parkway (Route 87). As I crossed the street in front of the arena, I saw Irbe again as he walked to the arena via the more conventional street route. I then realized I hadn't gotten my picture with him, so I asked and he obliged. The following summer, I sent in that picture to Beckett Hockey Magazine for their "InkTrail" segment which details collectors' experiences meeting their favorite players. My profile made it into the September 2000 issue (Pavel Brendl is on the cover... lol!). When the Hurricanes returned to San Jose two months later, I had Irbe sign the InkTrail profile. He remembered the interaction and thought the segment was neat. I was completely awestruck at this and it made my year.
3) Mark Messier. Long known to be among toughest signers in the NHL as a player, I had gone 0 for what seemed like infinity on him in my San Jose days, when he was closing his career out in Vancouver and New York a second time. I had given up all hope getting him when he retired, but luck would be on my side in June 2006 when I drove from eastern Washington state up into Vancouver for the NHL Draft weekend. The NHL Awards were being held there two days before the Draft, and being unable to get the whole day off work that Thursday, I had arrived into town right as the awards were getting out. The after-party was being held at the Commodore Ballroom on Granville Street right in the heart of Vancouver's nightlife, and collectors lined the entrance. Many former NHLers were filing in, and I got many of them to sign. At one point a black Town Car pulled up, and as soon as I saw the bald head poke its way up from the back door we all knew it was Mark Messier. Completely unlike his character as a player, he started signing up a storm and I quickly got in there to get my set card signed as he walked towards the entrance with the mob around him. Though I would end up getting about 500 autographs that weekend, the Messier autograph alone made my trip up there worthwhile, as it erased years of futility trying to chase perhaps the toughest autograph in the NHL.
2) Gordie Howe. Since I live on the west coast, Gordie Howe doesn't appear out here too often. He mainly does signings and refuses to ink Red Wings items outside of that. After getting most of today's greats of the game, I felt that Howe and Orr were the two real missing pieces to my collection, and one May evening in 2007 I almost got them both. The Vancouver Giants found themselves hosting the Memorial Cup... and I found myself up there graphing the Final! Mr. Hockey appeared on the red carpet at the CHL Awards at the River Rock Casino the afternoon before the big event, where I stood alongside pretty much the entire Vancouver graphing community and got the likes of Patrick Kane and John Tavares to sign a few items. Gordie didn't touch a pen that night, but I had a feeling there would be an opportunity later. Gameday rolled around, and I was waiting by the media entrance of Pacific Coliseum with a few graphers when a car covered in a Memorial Cup skin pulled up. Out popped Bobby Orr! Sadly, he denied on his way into the arena, and I wouldn't see him again despite numerous loops around the concourse and waits by the stairwell to the suites during intermission. I didn't see Howe inside either, but the next opportunity I had was outside after the game. The Giants had won the Memorial Cup, so everyone was going nuts. A large crowd of people gathered outside the Giants' exit, and Gordie Howe came out to his car in the temporarily gated-off lot. People called him over, and to everyone's surprise, he started signing! Knowing full well he wouldn't do NHL items, I went with the Memorial Cup program. He signed it very nicely over the Memorial Cup image. After mulling it over for a moment, I decided to make it a team signed piece and also got the entire 2007 Vancouver Giants team on it (I temporarily placed an index card over Howe's signature so the players wouldn't accidentally sign near it. I also got a picture with Milan Lucic holding the MVP trophy. Getting a Gordie Howe autograph for free in person is a rare moment, and I'll never forget that day.
1) Wayne Gretzky. I feel that no hockey autograph collection is complete without an authentic Wayne Gretzky autograph. The feeling of excitement and accomplishment after getting an in-person Gretzky autograph is unmatched in the hockey graphing world as far as I'm concerned, even though he's not the toughest autograph in the sport. I had a few chances at 99's autograph over the years, usually in San Jose when he was visiting with the Coyotes. He never signed the first few times I saw him, and I also missed him at the 2002 NHL Draft in Toronto. My luck changed in a big way in August 2005, when I drove up from Spokane to Kelowna, BC where Team Canada was holding its orientation training camp for the Torino Olympics. Some of the best NHL players were there, and I spent the weekend getting many of them. The locker rooms at Prospera Place are in the main concourse, and they had set up a barricade path for the players to go on and off the ice. Hundreds of fans were packed behind the barricades, and some players signed on their way off. The first time Wayne came off and walked back into the locker room, he started signing and madness ensued. I stretched my set card out since I was about two deep in the crowd, and he took it and signed it. He continued on for another five minutes signing. Usually I discourage double-dipping, but all rules were really out the window at that point. I took another set card, 99-00 MVP, went further down the line and jostled into position; he took it and signed it. After years of missing Wayne, I had gotten him twice within the span of ten minutes! After I got the first one, I literally spent a minute looking at it, contemplating what a big deal this was. After the camp was over I went outside and, international roaming be damned, called my parents, my girlfriend, and a few friends back home to quickly tell them I had just gotten my first Gretzky. I got a third one the next day of the camp, and then twice more over the next two years when Phoenix visited San Jose and I was home for the holidays.
My most memorable Gretzky autograph though (besides the first one, of course) has to be the one I most recently obtained, because it occurred in the most random place possible: Sammamish, Washington. I briefly lived in that quiet suburb of McMansions when relocating to the Seattle area, so I knew the town well. In September 2009, a big high school game took place at Skyline High School there, and it was nationally televised. Oaks Christian, a school from southern California, was the visiting squad and Will Smith, Joe Montana, and Wayne Gretzky all had sons on the team. At first I kind of blew off the event thinking there was no way all three of them could possibly come up here just for one game. As I read Twitter that evening, I learned more about how both teams were nationally ranked and then the tweets poured in that all three big name fathers were at the stadium. I dropped everything I was doing, quickly sifted through my collection and grabbed one item each and drove from Seattle to Sammamish in record time. I got there at the end of the third quarter and waited outside the gates for awhile, where predictably a group of Seattle dealers had amassed hoping to get Will Smith. After the game ended, the Fresh Prince came out and only signed a couple on his way to his transportation. I was close to getting my copy of Bad Boys II signed but was edged out at the last second. Anyways, the dealers mostly split after that, leaving me alone to hopefully get Gretzky and Montana. I never saw Joe, but Wayne came out by himself and I politely asked him to sign a card. He quietly took the card, signed it quickly, and I thanked him profusely. What struck me was how anonymous he looked. Far from the hounding mobs of San Jose and Toronto, he walked with a bunch of random people across to the parking lot everybody had been using. Welcome to Seattle!
TGC: How did we end up meeting?
PB: I ran a page on my old website called the Traders Bazaar, which was a very rudimentary low-tech listing of people interesting in trading autographs (message boards and blogs hadn't fully formed at that point, and humans had just started to gain opposable thumbs and walk upright). Drew e-mailed me his interests and I put them up on the page. We ended up trading autographs over the years and helping each other out on our sets. I once almost got him Wayne Gretzky for his set in San Jose (I had the card out, but the Great One denied me that time). And Drew once hooked me up with the most badass football autograph I own: Legendary Seahawks eccentric Brian "The Boz" Bosworth! I have also had the pleasure of meeting Drew face-to-face once in Seattle, when Drew came out here on a trip.
TGC: What's your opinion on autograph dealers?
PB: My position has always been that commercialization has ruined the hobby, and it's happened in a couple stages. Dealers have always been around, but eBay resulted in an exponential growth of them from the late 90s to present. More recently, memorabilia companies have signed players to "exclusive" autograph deals, wherein the player performs sit-down / private signings for them, and their signing habits outside of that are either heavily crippled (e.g. Chris Kreider) or completely shut down (Brad Marchand). Over time I've noticed more players have become "eBay savvy" at an earlier stage in their careers and have started imposing limits earlier. While I may not agree with the general idea of selling due to its effects on the hobby, I have come to accept certain aspects of the activity. Some collectors sell a portion of what they get and put that money back into the hobby. Others will get autographs "on consignment" for others, receiving money in exchange for helping someone obtain an autograph. And not all dealers are evil; I've made friends with plenty of them. As long as they treat the players and hobby with respect and work collaboratively with their fellow graphers on the sidewalk, I give them some slack.
TGC: What is your favorite place to hound?
PB: Even though I live in Seattle now, I still consider San Jose my hometown. The back gate at the Shark Tank and the parking lot of the Sharks' practice facility are still my two favorite places in the NHL, and I enjoy reconnecting with familiar faces behind the barricades each time I return. My favorite non-NHL spot is Abbotsford, BC for AHL, hands down. The arena is very easy, hotels are easy, collectors are nice, team staff is amazingly nice, and the arena is a short two hour drive from Seattle (the arena is located 1.5 miles from the border crossing). I wish I could go up there more often, but end up averaging about two trips per season.
The Red Lion River Inn in Spokane also holds great significance for me. Spokane was the first place I was really on my own in when it came to autographing: no other collectors, no information. It took a couple months, but I found that many WHL teams stayed at the River Inn, right next to the Gonzaga campus! I braved all kinds of weather in that long, dumpy parking lot over my four years in Spokane, and got the likes of Dion Phaneuf, Andrew Ladd, Ryan Getzlaf, and Milan Lucic. Imagine a California kid trying to get autographs of the Regina Pats in 15-degree weather / a foot of snow on the ground, with about a hundred layers of clothes! I had the entire city to myself for hockey graphing. The experience I gained out there looking up hotels and determining teams' travel schedules groomed me for Seattle, where I had to map out the hockey autograph landscape for myself because, well, there really wasn't one.
TGC: Of all the players you've encountered, pick five you would say are the friendliest in terms of interacting with fans.
PB: In no particular order...
Mitch Wahl. He's a prospect for the Flyers now, but he's a longtime Calgary prospect that I have run into many times in many different places. A native of southern California, He broke into the WHL in 2006 with the Spokane Chiefs and I saw him numerous times over his first season (I lived in the Tri-Cities for half that season, and graphing there was very easy). I talked to him briefly each time, and he learned I too was from California. I saw him less frequently after that, maybe once per season, in various places around the WHL: Spokane, Seattle/Everett, Vancouver. Each time I saw him, he would say "Hey dude! Nice to see you!", shake my hand and ask how I was. He was drafted by Calgary, and I would continue seeing him in new places: On my trip to Penticton, BC in 2010 for the NHL preseason tournament, a couple times in Abbotsford when he was on the Heat, and most recently while I was on Thanksgiving vacation in San Jose I saw him come through San Francisco with the ECHL's Utah Grizzlies. He was probably most surprised to see me down there!
Luc Robitaille. I haven't met many NHL stars with more class than Luc. He would always patiently sign for collectors before games at the hotel and always gave a nice, neat autograph. He was patient with dealers who were obviously taking advantage of his
Craig Conroy. He was always upbeat and chatted with fans while signing, and came across as a really nice player who enjoyed the interaction. I got him many times over the years when he played for St. Louis, Calgary, and Los Angeles.
Kris King. Many non-star NHL players are great about signing autographs, but Kris was one that always stood out to me. He really seemed to enjoy signing and genuinely cared. One time I saw a collector ask him to sign and in a most authentic tone he replied "my pleasure!" and signed.
The entire WHL. I am calling out the entire league because it's worth mentioning how willing to sign these kids are at that level. In Seattle and Everett I'm always the only one at the visiting team hotels before the game (arena access for visitors is impossible). The players always come out in giant groups, spilling out of the hotel towards me as I try to get my items readied. What continues to astound me is that they will actually line up to sign for me, and seem genuinely happy to do so. At higher levels of the game not as many would stop and do that. Once in awhile there's a big-name prospect who may not be thrilled with it (Ryan Getzlaf, Brayden Schenn, and Mathew Dumba are a few that come to mind from my experience), but they'll still sign. The friendliness and willingness of these players to sign is what makes me really enjoy autographing here despite the difficulty of access relative to easy arenas in other partso the league (Canada).
TGC: On the opposite end of that, who are the, shall we say, roughest around the edges?
PB: Again, in no particular order:
Billy Smith. The former Islanders goaltending great has a bit of a temper, and when I saw him on the Florida Panthers' coaching staff, he was not very nice to graphers (or really to anyone in particular). He yelled at the hotel bellhop once for some trivial reason that I can't remember now, and gruffly denied graphers. I've heard he has become more attainable recently at NHL Alumni events, but my experience with him hasn't been positive.
Steve Yzerman. A notoriously tough signer, I have never had much luck getting him over the years, going probably 0 for 12. I missed a golden opportunity to get him in Kelowna that same weekend I got Gretzky, when he did sign at a golf course after I had to leave town. I hear he has become slightly more attainable since becoming the GM of the Tampa Bay Lightning, but is certainly still very tough in general.
Bobby Orr. I mentioned him earlier, but I have gone 0 for 2 with Bobby over the years and he was not very pleasant each time. I struck out at the 2002 Toronto draft as well, where at least that time he did sign one autograph; unfortunately it wasn't mine.
John Stockton. I'll deviate and go with a non-hockey one just for fun. Over my four years as a student at Gonzaga, I had literally dozens of opportunities to get an autograph from John Stockton, but why do I still not have his autograph? He simply does not sign. I had been doing a side project where I got the greatest players in program history to sign 8x10s of them in Gonzaga uniforms. I found a good one of John in his short shorts from the early 80s, printed it out, and took it to a home game. Afterwards, I went up and politely asked him to sign, and he said "No, I can't do that. Then I'd have to sign for everybody." I was wearing the Kennel Club (student section) T-shirt, so his assumption may've been that I would tell the entire school that I got his autograph. Strangely enough, I spent the next 30 seconds chatting with him about the photo he had just refused to sign, and then I got to shake his hand before leaving. My conclusion: he's a nice, quiet guy until asked to sign, and that's when Dr. Jekyll becomes Mr. Hyde.
Krys Kolanos. He is the only AHL player I have ever come across who has ever repeatedly denied autograph requests. He spent this past season with the Abbotsford Heat, and his response to me as he left the arena most recently was "I don't sign." The local graphers told me he always says that exact same thing and doesn't sign. I had gotten him a couple of times his rookie year with Phoenix, so I didn’t have anything significant for him to sign, but I'm just surprised and curious more than displeased by his habits. I'd love to hear what prompted him to stop signing.
TGC: While hockey is the majority of your collection, you also do a few other sports and celebrities. Besides hockey, what is your next favorite group to get autographs from?
PB: Comedians have always been fun to graph because they are mostly great about signing and often inscribe funny lines on the photos ("To Paul: don't do crack!" --Kathleen Madigan. "To Paul: Bob Dole likes peanut butter" --Norm MacDonald). My interest in graphing other supports has come and gone according to my own interest in the sport. I did a lot of minor league baseball until I moved to Seattle and it became too far a commute to graph it in Tacoma and Everett, and my interest in the sport had hit bottom at that point. I graphed college hoops heavily while at Gonzaga (where a large percentage of the social atmosphere of the campus revolves around the basketball games) and up until recently. Although I live just a couple miles away from UW, I only get Pac-12 autographs once or twice a season and I always graph Gonzaga's annual Battle in Seattle game.
TGC: Has anything ever made you want to get out of the hobby?
PB: The ever-evolving demands of life as a twenty-something, almost thirty-something adult have forced me to really re-examine the value I get out of my collecting efforts. I've scaled down a lot over the past few years, eliminating all baseball and most celebrity graphing and focusing on the subjects I really care about: hockey and some soccer. My beautiful wife Madison and my career as a software developer have become the forefront of my life and while I still make time to graph, I'm finding less time to "post-process" each outing (writing autograph summaries for the message boards and posting YouTube recaps). There will be a point where, like many collectors, I'll likely have to put collecting on hiatus to attend to family matters, but likely pick it up later on down the road.
TGC: Any other thoughts, words of advice, anything like that for other collectors out there?
PB: Enjoy your time collecting, and do so in a respectful way so as to make the hobby sustainable over time. Collaborate and trade with people to make connections and build your collection. Try not to rely heavily on people for all your information right away; doing your own research might not yield immediate results, but the return on investment over the long term will be valuable as you discover different tips and tricks of the hobby and formulate your own as well.