You hear it said frequently, “Follow your passion and the money will follow”. After all, if you work, wouldn’t it be really great to do something you love? I’ve always envied and been a bit jealous of the people who do that. You know, either they have some sort of talent or an ability that lets them not only make a living but even become wealthy. They wind up doing something in life that they would actually “pay” someone else to let them do. I’m talking about artists, entertainers, athletes, and others who have some sort of a gift and that gift fires their soul to be what and who they are.
Unfortunately, I’m not one of those people who were born with a gift that would have enabled me to be the rare and special person that I was just talking about. Yes, I know we are all special in our own way, but in so many ways I’m just an ordinary guy, one who worked hard and if anything was rewarded based on the merits of that work. I’m proud of that, but if I have to confess, I never felt 100% fulfilled in my career. I always felt that I missed out on something. The feeling that these others must feel, that passion about what they love to do as they follow their dreams.
Sometimes you can’t actually follow your exact dream, either for lack of ability or lack of money. But you may be able to find something related that can check off both boxes for you. So here’s a story about my pursuit of a passion that actually enabled me to feel “special” for just a few moments, and in addition to make some money at it.
It was back in the late 1980’s and if you remember that time as I do, there was a cottage industry that was starting to boom, and that was the celebrity live shows that featured stars like baseball players who would appear and sign autographs for the fans. They might even take a picture with you and of course they had all kinds of memorabilia for sale there too. Well, as you probably know, I’m a big baseball nut, and I have been since I was around the age of 5. In fact, I played baseball all the way through high school and college regularly, and I was still playing softball into my 40’s in a league. As much as I dreamed as a kid of being a Big Leaguer, I have to admit I just wasn’t good enough to be one. Even so, it never inhibited my passion and dreaming about the game I truly love.
So here it is 1988 and I’m a full-time executive in a big regional retail business. I’m totally busy and have almost no time during the work week to think about baseball or dreaming of being the next Mickey Mantle, but it doesn’t completely stop me from having a few crazy thoughts on occasion. And then it hits me! This baseball card show thing is booming and I’d love to go and meet some of the icons of the sport I love, even though I’m not really a memorabilia collector. The idea of meeting and talking to a few of my childhood idols (at this point I’m almost 40 and I am still very much that child!) is burning in my head. So, I decide along with a buddy to go to one of those shows. And here’s what happened that day that helped fulfill my dream.
A Spur of the Moment Decision
The show was being held at the big mall near my home and one of the baseball signers that day is Lou Piniella, former Yankee (among other teams), manager, and now General Manager of the NY Yankees. I stood in line with hundreds of others for my turn at an autograph and when I got to the front somehow I got into a 2 minute conversation with him and I blurted out something about a show I was doing and would he be interested in appearing to sign autographs! Yes, I simply blurted it out and had no idea what I was saying except that the idea of hosting one of these things seemed like such a great idea that I couldn’t control myself. My friend who was with me, stood there stunned and just kept his mouth shut, as Lou handed me a business card and told me to call him and set something up.
So with Lou Piniella’s autograph and phone number in hand, I started a 6 month trip to follow my passion and dreams of celebrity and fortune…well something like that. On the way home, I started to realize that I had a real opportunity, but what the hell was I going to do to make something like this happen? I would need to have a venue, arrange for advertising, maybe have some photos, memorabilia, who knew what really and exactly how, when and all those details. Plus, I was working my rear end off at my job and had a family to worry about and I hadn’t even told my wife about this! Oh and money, I would need money wouldn’t I? Lou doesn’t appear for free does he?
The Birth of a Business
Here’s the interesting part. I actually thought I could pull this off. The first thing I did was to do some research. I found out that stars like Lou Piniella got between $1,000 and $2,000 to appear for a few hours and sign autographs. I also discovered that there were books published which had the names and addresses of sports stars, where they lived, telephone numbers, and their agents and/or contacts to arrange such things (before the internet, people had books!).
So armed with this ammunition, I started drafting the idea to create something I later named “Visitors”, the concept of these ballplayers appearing in a fan-friendly family environment with an audience made up of their very own fans. Events like NY players appearing right here in the NY/NJ area or Phillies players appearing in Philadelphia. The card shows are so much like a circus with all kinds of chaos and noise and my idea was to make it so much nicer and calmer and more flattering to the players.
I took a few pertinent steps and here’s what I did to get this operation off the ground. My memory is now a little hazy, but its still is about 90% accurate. Can you feel the excitement in my typing? Can you?
- My friend and I each agreed to put up $600 for expenses.
- We asked a family member who was an attorney to help us prepare a simple contract to use that would protect us from any lawsuits etc. and we named our business “Visitors” and filed as a company.
- We used the book I had found and sent out dozens of invitations as feelers to prospective clients to see who might be interested in appearing here in central NJ as a guest at their very own evening with their fans (and sign autographs of course!).
- I started searching for places that might host this kind of event such as a restaurant, local clubs, sports/fitness clubs, and even the local racetrack.
- We waited for responses.
Would you believe I got back 15 responses to my invitations? They ranged from Baseball Hall of Famer Brooks Robinson of the Baltimore Orioles to NBA and NY Knicks basketball great Earl “The Pearl” Monroe. All in about 2 weeks! I was overwhelmed. So this was really going to happen.
We contacted our first ballplayer, Bud Harrelson, legendary NY Met icon as player and coach who was a member of the famous NY Mets World Championship team in 1969. As if we did this every day, we literally just called him at home and spoke directly to him. We completely winged this whole thing talking about his fee, what he would be willing to do and say, possible dates and things like transportation to and from NJ. He even talked about the fact that he had a video of his playing career featuring “how to” portions of his fielding expertise to play (and sell) at the event.
We set a time frame for a Saturday months away in December of 1989, and then I went on a quest to find a perfect venue for his appearance. In the meantime, my friend began to do things like order Major League baseballs from Rawlings (the real supplier of them) so that we’d be able to include them in the ticket package for autographing.
After searching around, I found a new baseball training site where kids came to practice their skills of hitting, running, and throwing about 3 miles from my home. It was really funny how I was able to get the site to pay for the appearance and advertising, based on the potential draw that would show up there and would coincide with their first months of operation. Thus it would be a natural money maker and bring all of these potential repeat customers to see their facility. It would be part of a Grand Opening event for them. They also sold refreshments so they could make money for themselves with sodas and hot dogs and that kind of thing.
With the date set, I sent half of Bud’s fee to him and he agreed to drive from Long Island to our site here in NJ on his own, so no transportation costs as I originally had anticipated.
Everything was set and went off like clockwork. We had the baseballs, the ads were scheduled and ran, we got Bud’s official MLB color photos for him to sign, sold advance tickets through mail order which included a baseball with autograph at the event. We now expected hundreds to just show up for Bud’s appearance and a brief talk he would give to everyone. We also arranged for a photographer (on a commission basis) to take pics (Polaroids with a nice little jacket he supplied). We would split the photo revenue between the owners of the venue, the photographer and ourselves: a three-way split (OK, I was winging this thing and probably could have done a better job on that!).
Fulfilling a Dream
That day really did turn out to be a “dream”. Bud was right on time and was incredibly nice to everyone. He stayed longer than he was committed to…he contracted for 2 hours and stayed for 3, until every single person had met him and gotten an autograph. We sold food, photos and Bud even sold some of his own videos. All in all over 500 hundred people showed up for the event and everyone had a blast. Probably, only Bud enjoyed it more than I did!
This was the first of what would wind up being several events like this we arranged. The bottom line on this was that for a mere investment of $600 and my time, we made over $3,000 that Saturday afternoon. It was a day that I will remember forever, and not only because it was monetarily successful. It was one of the most exciting days of my life and fulfilled a big part of a dream I had always had. Even more interesting and eventful was that just 5 months later, Bud Harrelson became the manager of the NY Mets, a job he held for 2 seasons.
So there you have it. The moral of my story is that while you might not be able to follow your passion and just wait for the bucks to roll in, but you may find something related to that dream that will. It may be a career, or even just a side hustle. You can fulfill your dreams if you want to. You just have to try. It took me 40 years to feel that special feeling and it has lasted a lifetime.
Do you have a dream or passion you haven’t fulfilled? Is it on your mind right now? Do you think your dream can earn you money?