A Grace-full Collection
If Brad Wackerlin were a musician, his rendition of "Amazing Grace" would be a tribute to his favorite baseball player.
"Mark Grace embodies everything I think a player should be," he says. "He doesn't have the God-given talents of Barry Bonds, but he has worked hard...He's kind to the fans and plays the game hard every time out."
The Schaumburg, Illinois native has celebrated his hero by amassing the world's largest collection of Mark Grace memorabilia.
"I have over 1,650 different baseball cards, including 94 game-used cards, and 16 true one-of-one masterpiece cards," he says. "I also have 13 magazine covers, seven signed items, and 100 oddball licensed collectibles."
Some of his oddball items include a napkin from Grace's first wedding, a Halloween mask, and a prototype glove made by Disney.
He counts a ball that the former Cubs' first baseman hit for his fifth homerun in 1991 as one of his most cherished possessions.
"He hit it against the Pirates on the 4th of July," he explains. "Grace signed the ball and presented it to one of the game's umpires. It was later given to Durwood Merrill...I purchased it in a liquidation auction of his collection."
Some of Wackerlin's best cards are displayed on his Web site (www.gracecollector.com). The site also features a section called "Cameo Appearances."
"I collect any card that has a picture of Mark Grace on it, even it's another player's card or a checklist card. I call these his 'cameo' cards," says Wackerlin. "I have over 65 different examples of these."
Also included on this site is a "Fans of Grace" section that gives fellow supporters the opportunity to post information about their collections.
"I've made friends with people all over the country," he says. "There is one nice woman in New Mexico, a big Mark Grace and Diamondbacks fan, who occasionally sends me items from Bank One Ballpark."
Spurred by the positive feedback he received from his initial site, he decided to build another in the fall of 2001.
"I was able to acquire the URL www.markgrace.com and jumped at the chance to create a site more focused on Grace the player and person than on collectibles," says Wackerlin.
The site boasts a photo album and colorful quotes from the perennial .300 hitter. Also featured is a virtual baseball card museum.
"My goal is to put a picture of every one of my cards online by October. Right now, there are over 250 cards pictured. It's arranged by year and is the only Virtual Baseball Card Museum I know of," he says.
Most of his memorabilia has been found "by watching eBay like a hawk." He also visits his local card shop once a week and attends shows in his area on a monthly basis. But, despite his determined efforts, some cards have still managed to elude him.
"I'm missing roughly 140 of his most limited variations and inserts, including one-of-one cards," he says.
Surprisingly, despite his dedication to his collection, Wackerlin has never met his favorite player.
"I've stood a few feet away from him at Wrigley Field, but never got the opportunity to talk to him," he says. "But if the opportunity ever presents itself, I'll be glad to talk with him. I would like to discuss making www.markgrace.com his official site."
For now, Wackerlin is content to keep searching for more memorabilia and to showcase his collection for Grace supporters around the world.
"(My goal is) to obtain one of every major league licensed card of Grace, and to share these cards with other fans via my Web sites," he says