Father and son get a TV show

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Carol Sorgen
Robbie Davis, Sr. (center) stars with his son, Robbie Davis, Jr., in a new ABC-TV realty show called “Ball Boys.” The show focuses on the Davis’ Timonium sports memorabilia store, Robbie’s 1st Base, and includes interviews with sports legends such as Pete Rose and Jim Brown. Also shown above is “Shaggy” & "Sweet Lou,"  store employees who also appear in the show.
Photo courtesy of ABC

You probably won’t be seeing the “Real Housewives of Baltimore” on your television anytime soon, but ABC is betting that reality-obsessed viewers will make room in their hearts for “Ball Boys,” a new series featuring Robbie Davis, Sr., and his son, Robbie, Jr., owners of Robbie’s 1st Base in Timonium.

Premiering on ABC-TV on Saturday, March 24, from 3 to 4 p.m., the series follows father and son as they buy and sell sports memorabilia for collectors across the country.

Along the way, they chat up sports legends, such as former baseball great Pete Rose, who stops by the store to settle a good-natured argument, football pioneer Jim Brown, and former NBA star and current ESPN commentator Jalen Rose.

The father-son duo were approached to do a series a year and a half ago by Left Field Pictures, the production company responsible for the popular cable show “Pawn Stars” — a look inside the colorful world of the pawn business.

After seeing a promotional trailer, ABC ordered 12 half-hour episodes with an option for renewal if the series proves to be a hit with viewers. Two episodes will air back-to-back on March 24.

The network describes Robbie’s 1st Base as “an old school hometown barbershop where everyone has an opinion and is eager to share their stories and love of the game.

“Touching on the unique capability of sports to bring people together, ‘Ball Boys’ tells the stories beyond the action on the field — using the symbolic value of the merchandise changing hands to represent a rare and valuable social bond uniting individuals across all ages, races, genders and economic classes.”

Rising stars

The possibility of becoming full-fledged TV stars is both exciting and daunting to the Davises.

“We thought we were going to be a little cable show,” said Robbie Senior. (A similar sports memorabilia-focused program, “All Star Dealers,” recently began airing on cable’s Discovery Channel.)

“Being on national TV...well, we think we’re going to be prepared for what could happen, but we’re probably not.”

In the premiere episode, “Lord of the Ring,” Robbie Senior introduces viewers to his shop and searches for a special Notre Dame gift for a client’s husband on his birthday.

Senior is forced to buy an expensive item from an off-site dealer, hoping he can turn a profit with the client back home, but knowing there’s no guarantee he can sell it elsewhere if she doesn’t care for it.

Later, a customer brings in a Cleveland Browns helmet autographed by Jim Brown, a record-setting running back for the team from 1957 to 1965. In 2002, Brown was named by Sporting News as the greatest professional football player ever.

To find out if it’s an authentic signature, Senior asks the football legend himself to pay the shop a visit to have a look, and eventually Brown enters into an awkward negotiation over purchasing his own autograph!

Also in the first episode is a look at an unsigned baseball caught by a fan over the glove of Baltimore Orioles right fielder Nick Markakis. Does it have any monetary value? You’ll have to tune in to see what Robbie thinks.

In the second episode, “Take Your Base,” the ball boys visit a multi-million dollar collection in search of a birthday gift for Senior, and end up haggling over a piece of Yankee history.

Meanwhile, Junior is introduced to the man who invented the World Series, and Senior tries to buy a Packers jersey that belongs in the Hall of Fame.

While on the face of it, the series might likely appeal primarily to avid sports fans, the Davises think the human element brought to the show by the father-son relationship — along with featured staff members “Shaggy” and “Sweet Lou,” and the regular visits from professional athletes — will provide enough entertainment to keep even non-diehard sports fans entertained.

The sporting life

“Ball Boys” may be new, but the Davises are no newcomers to the world of sports.

Robbie Senior is 61 and lives in Catonsville. In his former career as owner of All-Star Dodge, Senior worked with Orioles players such as Al Bumbry, Fred Lynn, Eddie Murray and Brooks Robinson, who were spokesmen for the car dealership.

He also attended the Orioles first “Dream Week” in 1986, in which participants spend a week at the Orioles spring training complex in Sarasota, Fla., playing ball, complete with Orioles uniforms. “I wanted to prove that old people could go too!” he exclaimed.

Robbie Junior is 33 and lives in Towson. Some time ago, he was signed by the Milwaukee Brewers and attended training camp, but he never played professionally for the team.

Robbie Senior’s love of sports began as a kid when, like many youngsters, he collected baseball cards. Through the years, his collection of sports memorabilia has grown to encompass many different sports and collectibles, his most prized possession being a pair of Muhammad Ali’s boxing gloves.

Today, it’s Robbie Junior who scouts the country for finds to bring back to the store or to help customers locate a long-sought piece, such as a Babe Ruth baseball for which a happy collector paid $15,000.

That was the most expensive collectible the Davises have sold to date. The least expensive? Dirt from Cleveland Stadium for a mere $40.

“We’ve got items from all sports at all price levels and from all eras,” said Robbie Senior.

A tour of the small shop reveals a pair of one of the first tennis shoes ever made, as well as the base that Yankees star Derek Jeter signed after making his 3,000th hit.

In the market for an authentic turnstile? For $2,900 you can own a piece of Detroit Tigers Stadium. Or how about a 1940s arcade basketball game that still takes your pennies (after you pay the $1,500 to take it home in the first place).

But there are also cards, baseball caps, banners, decals and more, so even newbie collectors can get in on the game.

For would-be collectors, the Davises advise finding a shop you feel comfortable with, doing your research, and collecting items from the athletes (or sports) you like.

“You’ll enjoy it more when you’re collecting your heroes,” said Robbie Senior. “Save your investments for the stock market.”

The Davises say they have a small niche business which, with the growth of the Internet, has expanded from the local walk-in trade to collectors nationwide. And if the TV show takes off, well, that might raise things to a different level entirely.

“We can’t wait for the show to air,” said Robbie Senior. “We hope America likes us.” With a salesman’s optimism, he adds, “We’re already looking forward to season 2.”