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Indians are big winners in merchandise game

July 7, 1997

CLEVELAND (AP) _ Indians baseball cards. Indians jerseys. Indians pins.

The All-Star FanFest is supposed to be a memorabilia show celebrating all of baseball. This year, baseball begins and ends with the Cleveland Indians.

``If you don’t have Cleveland Indians merchandise, you may as well go home,″ Jeff Thalblum, a card show organizer from Phoenix said Monday.

Held annually in the All-Star game’s host city, this baseball smorgasbord always attracts more interest in the hometown team than others. But the past few days in Cleveland, vendors said, have been something different. In Cleveland, there is no other team.

``Last year in Philadelphia, there were Yankees fans, there were Mets fans, wherever you go there are usually Chicago Cub fans,″ Thalblum said. ``Not here.″

Josh Hreha, 13, was so intent on finding a Carlos Baerga card he could barely stop to talk.

``I’ve been collecting since I was a little kid,″ he said, tearing through a bargain bin as if he he lost a winning lottery ticket. What’s in the collection? Indians, of course.

At the stand for Imprinted Products Corp. of San Diego the demand for Indians’ pins was reflected in the prices: $5 for one with a Cleveland logo, $3 for anybody else.

``I’ve never seen so many Indians jerseys,″ said Sam Salimi of Imprinted Products as he watched a steady stream of customers browse at his and other stands. ``They’ll buy practically anything with Cleveland on it.″

Jim Kramer, a card dealer from Roseville, Minn., said some of his prices for the show were higher than normal: Most current Indians were going for $1 instead of the usual 25 cents. But then the cost of exhibiting at FanFest was much higher than a typical show, he added.

``For a buck a card, most people are happy to have a Jim Thome,″ he said.

That was true of Steve Wilhelm, 11, who came to the show decked out in a dark blue Indians jersey with his mother, Sue, wearing an Omar Vizquel T-shirt.

``He wanted a Thome. He’s in seventh heaven,″ she said. ``I want a (1961-1971 Cleveland pitcher) Sam McDowell, but the kids don’t know who he is.″

Pinnacle Brands Inc., a sports card company and the lead sponsor of the FanFest, added to the Indians hysteria with a promotion.

Every few hours the company gave away cards in a special 21-player set to commemorate the All-Star game. But instead of including a card for Cleveland catcher Sandy Alomar Jr., fans received a ``redemption card,″ forcing them to pick up the real Alomar card at one of 23 local hobby stores.

Then, Pinnacle deliberately gave away fewer of the Alomar redemption cards, making them a commodity that was selling for as much as $50. About 1,600 people lined up every time the cards were handed out.

``It’s our job to bring in new customers,″ said Pinnacle vice president Laurie Goldberg.

Stephanie Desenberg of York, Pa., picked up an Alomar redemption card after just two trips through the line.

``I can’t believe how crazy it is,″ she said. ``We were really lucky.″

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