Did you know Geist is home to the largest certified collection of autographed baseballs and basketballs in the U.S.? Not many people do — unless you are a member of Gary Dickhaus’ “fraternity,” which meets in his basement at least twice a month.
[kml_flashembed movie="http://www.jumpcut.com/media/flash/jump.swf?id=5BCB80D420E811DDA0EE000423CF4092&asset_type=movie&asset_id=5BCB80D420E811DDA0EE000423CF4092&eb=1" width="408" height="324" wmode="transparent" /]There you will find about 1,800 balls signed by some of the most famous players and teams in baseball and basketball history. Naturally, I assumed Gary must be one of the biggest sports fans around.
“I never was into sports,” was Gary’s surprising confession. And he maintains that he still isn’t!
Then why collect so many balls that his basement is nearly overflowing? It’s not about the balls. It’s the stories behind the signatures.
As any movie enthusiast knows, sports stories are among the most inspiring and run the gamut of human emotion. These balls represent the best and worst of humanity — the epic Milan basketball team that inspired the movie “Hoosiers,” the acclaimed Negro League players which were said to be the “Globetrotters” of baseball, and even a Rhode Island collegiate basketball team ensnared in the 1951 gambling scandal.
Gary bought his first vintage basketball in 1994 — one autographed by Magic Johnson and Larry Bird — and hasn’t stopped since.“I thought it was unique and thought it would be a fun thing to set on the television in the hobby room,” Gary explains. “It just started, and after a while, there were too many basketballs and baseballs, so I figured I must be into this.”
Gary’s massive collection includes basketballs autographed by legends like Michael Jordan and Bobby Plump, as well as one signed by the entire 1949 New York Knickerbockers team — which is the first authenticated, professionally signed basketball on record.
One of his favorite baseballs is signed by Roger Maris, who played in seven World Series and is remembered for breaking Babe Ruth’s single-season home run record.
Another rare baseball — one of only six known to be signed by Hall of Fame great Ty Cobb — was lost when Gary experienced a tragic traffic accident in 1996, which nearly killed him. The baseball shot out from the wreckage and was never recovered.
“There’s a kid out there somewhere playing with a Ty Cobb ball!” Gary says.
The April 26, 1996, accident changed Gary’s life in many ways. He spent the next 18 months in the hospital, undergoing more than 130 surgeries, and is now 52 percent disabled. Although Gary experiences daily pain as a result, he says his life has been “nothing but blessings” since his crash.
It might not have seemed that way at first when his medical bills mounted so high that he was forced to file bankruptcy and then his wife left him. But in 2000, Gary reconnected with his college sweetheart, Leslie, and began a new life with her and her two grown children. Gary enjoys helping people as a small business analyst, saying, “The pain of the small business owner is so great these days that they need someone to help them lighten the load.”
That is exactly what Gary feels his calling is. God saved his life, and he is determined to give back by helping others to smile and enjoy the journey of life.
And that’s where his collection comes back into the story. “It’s actually to share,” says Gary. “Whether a person is into baseball or basketball or not, what some of the pieces represent — there isn’t anyone who’s been down (to the basement) that doesn’t find it interesting.”
Gary and Leslie host frequent gatherings for the Sigma Chi Omega fraternity Gary founded, which includes 48 friends, relatives and neighbors, ranging in age from three months to 60 years old. Aside from Gary’s massive ball collection, the Dickhaus basement also features prominent displays commemorating special events and accomplishments of the fraternity members.
“My goal is just to give back to my family and the people that I meet,” Gary said. “Leslie and I want to share as much as we have, including ourselves.”
To see more of Gary’s bountiful baseball and basketball collection, visit www.atGeist.com.