Northern League Exposure
When it comes to baseball memorabilia, Bill Tyler can be best described
as an "independent" thinker.
Owner of the world's largest Northern League collection, the St. Paul native is clearly
very passionate about his favorite independent circuit.
"What you see on my site (www.nlfan.com) is probably the 'Northern League Museum' of the world," says the St. Paul Saints supporter.
Among other items, his
collection boasts autographed balls, bats, bobble heads, programs, media guides, schedules, cards, and pins.
collection goes to the ballpark with me. At nearly any Northern League game, you can find me wearing it," he says.
of his memorabilia has been amassed through trades with fans and fellow collectors.
"I have a large collection of 'traders'
in my 'trade bag' that I often take with me on the road," he explains. "If I find a fan with items I don't have, I'll look
in my bag to see what I have to trade."
Tyler's Web site (www.nlfan.com) has also helped him to add to his collection. Constructed over
eight years ago, his online shrine includes league information, ballpark guides, an inventory of his collection, and discussion
"Early on my site was a popular site for 'skedders' (team schedule collectors)," he says. "In just a year or
so (after starting the site) I had a complete collection (of schedules)."
The programmer/user interface designer by
trade has also bartered software for memorabilia.
"Early on I became friends with the (former) webmaster for the St.
Paul Saints. I noticed that the formatting of the standings wasn't particularly attractive. On a dare, I quickly
wrote a program that converted the files from the statistics provider into ready to use web pages," he explains. "Along the way, I updated it to handle more stats and information and started 'trading'
that directly with other teams in the league. As a result, most Northern League teams are clients who give me lots of
collectibles - including special items like jerseys, shirts, and jackets."
Along with the relationships he has developed
around the league, Tyler says it's the all-out effort given by Northern League players that has made him a fan.
teams are run independently and are playing to win, not to train players for the big leagues," he says. "The mix of players
means you can see possible future prospects and former big leaguers."
Tyler says the independent circuit has provided
him with memories that will last a lifetime.
"Seeing Rey Ordonez, J.D. Drew and even Kevin Millar play long before
they made it to the big leagues was great," he recounts. "There was also the night that Minnie Minoso went to the plate to
become the first ballplayer to play in six different decades. The Japanese pitcher couldn't have been more
about this old man facing him."
His fanaticism has also landed him on the field.
"I was batboy one night when
the Saints were losing badly. I went in and was able to meet (former Chicago Cub) Leon 'Bull' Durham at the plate after
he hit a home run," he says.
The "Spot the Webmaster" section on Tyler's site has earned him notoriety amongst Northern
League fans. This section describes how to spot him at a game and includes pictures fans have taken of him - the renown
has helped him build his collection.
"I want to have a complete collection of card sets, programs, pins, bobble heads
and media guides, and put them online so others can visit an online museum of the league," he says.