Tim Virgilio has been collecting baseball cards his entire life. In his youth, he would open packs of cards and sort them by teams, wrap a rubber band around them, and place them in a shoebox under his bed. While this may sound like a scene from a movie about baseball card collecting, he really did manage his collection this way. He started collecting autographs around the age of 14 after he and his father started talking about how he collected autographs from Yankees’ greats like Mantle, Maris, Berra, White and others when he was growing up in the Bronx. Collecting cards and autographs was a great way for Tim to connect with his father and they spent literally hours talking baseball. Fast forward to 2017 and Tim is still sharing his love for the hobby but in a new and charitable way; Signatures For Soldiers.
BU – Hello Tim, thanks for agreeing to engage in this interview. Let’s start with the big question. What is Signatures For Soldiers?
TV – Thanks for including me and helping me spread the word about my efforts. Signatures For Soldiers (SFS) is my personal effort to raise money and awareness for Military Missions In Action (MMIA), a registered 501(c)3 that my wife and I have been involved with for over 10 years now. MMIA provides home repairs and remodels for disabled military veterans and disabled children of active duty military personnel, while also supporting homeless veterans and active duty military personnel currently deployed. I use the sales of autographed items to raise money for MMIA. Every cent of what is raised from these sales goes directly to MMIA. I don’t keep a single penny. Any expenses that I incurred are paid out of my own pocket.
BU – That is a wonderful and much-needed venture! When did you start the company, and what gave you the idea?
TV – SFS is not a company. It is just an effort by one guy trying to help support a great organization that helps support our Nation’s heroes. I started SFS in November 2014. This was shortly after my work took my wife and me out of North Carolina and I wanted to continue to support MMIA. One night while thinking of ways to continue to support MMIA, I thought about my hobby of collecting autographs and decided to start using that to help MMIA. It was a way to combine two things that I’m pretty passionate about.
BU – True happiness can surely be found by committing to your passions. I know that first hand. But one of your passions is also a wonderful cause! When collecting autographs, do you use your own cards, use donations or do you trade and buy?
TV – I do a little bit of all of that. Originally I started by just using my own cards. However, as the effort gained momentum, I began to reach out to other collectors to ask for help with donations of cards. This quickly spread to what it is today. I continue to use my own cards and continue to purchase cards that I need, as well as accepting donations of both signed and unsigned cards to use. If I receive unsigned cards, I will sort through them, use the ones I can for obtaining autographs and sell unsigned cards that I can to help offset some of my expenses (Sharpies, postage, envelopes). The other unsigned cards, I find creative ways to use them (giveaways on social media, donating them to other organizations to help children and help promote the hobby of collecting).
BU – Is “SFS” just you? Do you have employees or help?
TV – There are no employees, as no one gets paid to do anything associated with SFS. It originally started off with just me. A lot of the behind the scenes stuff (posting pictures/prices, mailings, cataloging items, sending out requests, etc) is still just me. However, SFS has turned into a “Family”. I have gotten such great support from so many collectors around the country (and internationally from Canada, Italy, and Australia) that I can’t help but feel this has become a group effort and a true family, the SFS Family.
BU – That is truly awesome! I know that your presence on Social Media is very active and I see a ton of participation. How large has the effort grown?
TV – Growth has been incredible. It truly began with a few cards and the hope to raise about $500. That goal was quickly surpassed and the goal became $3000 which is the average cost of materials to build a wheelchair ramp for a disabled military veteran. And that goal was quickly surpassed. So I stopped setting monetary goals. As I sit here and answer these questions for you, SFS has been able to pass $20,000. Yes, you read that correctly. Twenty thousand dollars!!!!
BU – I would typically say “that is unbelievable” but I can sense the passion that you have for this effort and can honestly see how the community would get behind you. Congratulations on that amazing number! You mention that your efforts raise funds and awareness for MMIA. Why did you choose them?
TV – Correct, the group that receives 100% of the money raised is Military Missions In Action (www.militarymissionsinaction.org). Why MMIA? I’ve seen this organization grow from an idea into what it is today and it annually keeps its administrative costs at 5% when the National average for a non-profit is 20-25%. This means that for every dollar that is raised ninety-five cents goes directly to one of the programs they have to directly support disabled military veterans.
BU – That is a telling stat. There are a lot of non-profits that raise money for various causes and it’s always good to know what the bottom line is. The bottom line with MMIA is tremendous. As for the autographs, how do you get your signatures? Do you have agreements with players or do you try to obtain autographs in person? What is your general process – without giving away any of your secrets?
TV – I’m sorry but I can’t tell you that; Just kidding. In the beginning, I would write letters to players explaining what I was doing or I would contact them via social media explaining my efforts. Now, I continue to contact players this same way. However, there are players who eagerly share what I’m doing with their peers and their peers will contact me to ask how they can help support my efforts. After getting the player’s approval, I will send items to them to sign, including everything that they need (Sharpie, return envelope with appropriate postage, items to sign). All they have to do is sign, place in the envelope and drop in the mail. I try to make it as easy as possible for them.
BU – In that regard, what players have really gotten behind your Company? Do you have any partnerships with MLB or Minor League Stadiums or teams?
TV – As of right now, I don’t have any partnerships with any teams or stadiums. This is something that I would like to explore in the future to see what could possibly be worked out. As for players who’ve really gotten behind SFS, there are way too many to list here. I’ve gotten support from over 300 athletes. I’ve gotten support from Hall of Famers like Andre Dawson and Ivan Rodriguez, current Major Leaguers like Lance McCullers Jr, Jacob Faria, and Josh Reddick, current prospects like Sal Giardina, Jose Trevino, Jordan Stephens, Connor Walsh, Slade Heathcott, Billy McKinney, Josh Ockimey, and Myles Smith, and from former Major League players like Jim Abbott, Todd Stottlemyre, Curt Schilling, Jason Isringhausen, Jim Leyrtitz, Greg Swindell, Gregg Olson, Gregg Jefferies, and so many others.
BU – That is a sweet list! I really loved Andre Dawson as a kid. And we all remember Gregg Jefferies in 1989. What is one of the biggest autograph sales you have had?
TV – The one that stands out the most to me is probably the first game issued/game used item that a player donated to help my efforts. Lance McCullers Jr donated his Memorial Day game issued/used hat and cleats from the 2016 season. This was a huge item that raised nearly $1000 for SFS and MMIA. I was absolutely blown away by this gesture and have been eternally grateful to Mr. McCullers for this.
BU – It is very refreshing to see the generosity of so many players. It really gives you a different perspective on the athlete. As for you personally, do you still collect or have you put it all into the effort?
TV – I do still collect. However, I’ve really slowed down since I’ve been putting so much of my time into SFS. I’ve also decided to trim down my collection and only focus on a few items. Specifically, I collect autographs for any player who has worn a Mets’ uniform as I’m currently working on an all-time Mets collection. Also, I am doing a collection of any baseball, football, and basketball player who has played for the University of North Carolina Tar Heels. I used to be a collector of things. Now I pride myself on being a collector of people, stories, and experiences within the hobby.
BU – Well, you definitely have a great collection of those as well! Where do you see SFS going in the next few years? Do you have any plans for expansion into any other sports or genres?
TV – Over the next year, I am planning to attend the National Sports Collectors Convention in Cleveland, as I’ve been invited as a guest to set up and sell some items. I’m really excited about this opportunity. As for expansion into other areas, I’m hoping to be able to expand into football autographs and other sports such as basketball and hockey and NASCAR. However, most of my support has come from the baseball community which has really embraced SFS.
BU – If all goes as planned, I hope to see you in Cleveland next year! In relation to the hobby in general, what are your thoughts on where we are today and the future?
TV – Like most collectors from the 1980’s and 1990’s I lost interest in collecting due to an oversaturation of the market and hobby. However, as I’ve gotten into my SFS effort more, I’ve started to come back to the hobby. I’ve enjoyed exploring the newer releases and exploring some of the new items on the market. However, I think I will always been a vintage guy. The one that thing hasn’t changed, won’t change, and probably continues to get better is the community as a whole. There are great people who enjoy the hobby, enjoy sharing it with others, and enjoy using it to improve the lives of others.
BU – Right on the money Tim. Thanks again for taking the time to speak with us and good luck on your continued efforts with SFS!