If R.J. Hinners couldn’t pitch for his favorite team, he thought
he might as well collect their memorabilia.
Not many Yankees enthusiasts, however, can say they have thrown a fastball
to Rich Aurilia or Manny Ramirez.
“Rich Aurilia and Manny Ramirez each played for rival organizations,”
explains the former left-handed hurler who pitched for Columbia University. “I must have played against Rich from the
time we were 10 years old … Rich was solid all-around, whereas Manny, much like today, was all bat no defense.”
Unfortunately, an elbow injury derailed Hinners’ big league dreams,
and, rather than undergo corrective surgery, the New Jersey native opted for a career outside of baseball. Now, the
one-time prospect does his pitching off the field, at memorabilia shows, auctions, and to other hobbyists.
His collection consists of more than 5,000 Yankees items, including cards,
autographs, magazines, photos, and game-worn jerseys. More than half of his collection is Don Mattingly memorabilia.
His favorite item is the former first baseman’s 1982 spring training
jersey (#62) that he had autographed by Donnie Baseball at a signing in Westchester, New York last year.
“I had a VIP package which allowed me to meet him before the signing.
We chatted and posed for pictures, and he got a kick out of the game-used jerseys that I brought for him to sign,” recalls
Focussing on vintage and modern Bombers’ game-worn jerseys, the
ardent collector has discovered that the competition can be fierce.
“Vintage jerseys are tough to come by for any team, but the Yankees
success and the size of their fan base puts a premium on even the most obscure player’s jersey,” he says.
“There was never enough product to meet demand, but the limited release of their jerseys into the marketplace over the
last few years, coupled with their post-season success, has made obtaining any jerseys a challenge.”
The jersey he covets the most is Mattingly’s home jersey from his
1985 MVP season.
“I had a shot at two different ones over the years, but have yet
to land one,” he says.
On top of his Yankees collection, the passionate hobbyist recently embarked
on a new mission.
“I was born in 1971 … I thought that having a jersey from
every team from the year I was born might make for a different and more challenging long-term goal. Specifically, I’m
looking for one unaltered road jersey of each team except for the Yankees,” he says.
So far – with the recent purchase of a Minnesota Twins jersey –
he has acquired two 1971 shirts, but he’s determined to uncover more.
As for whether the southpaw has any regrets about his pitching career,
Hinners admits he has his moments.
“While nothing is ever guaranteed, as a left-hander, I thought
my chances (of making the majors) were very good, but the elbow injury gave me a chance to re-evaluate things,” he says.
“Do I kick myself for not going through with the surgery? Sometimes.”