- - Thursday, March 22, 2012

LUTHERVILLE, Md. — Robbie Davis Sr. and his son know sports.

Their small sports-memorabilia shop, Robbie’s First Base, just outside of Baltimore, is packed with sports history — everything from the obscure (a Tigers Stadium turnstile) to the obvious (local Baltimore legends’ signatures on photos and baseballs) and the rare (a base autographed by Derek Jeter, one of 24 bases used during the game when the New York Yankees shortstop recorded his 3,000th hit).

As Mr. Davis Sr. says, “You never know what’s going to come through those doors.”

On Saturday afternoon, a reality television series dubbed “Ball Boys” will premiere on ABC, giving the nation an opportunity to peer inside this memorabilia shop.

“When you see a game-used Babe Ruth jersey, that means he was in it,” said Robbie Davis Jr., who helps run the store with his father. “If you see a Jackie Robinson game-used bat, that means he touched it. It’s getting a piece of the player that you’ll never get to see again.”

The show is focused around the father and son and employees Robert Reier (“Shaggy”) and Lewis Brown (“Sweet Lou”). With some patrons bringing in unique items, entertaining negotiations are certain to take place while simultaneously starting a sports debate.

Leftfield Pictures, the show’s producers, came up with the concept after experiencing success with their History Channel hit “Pawn Stars,” which centers around the World Famous Gold & Silver Pawn Shop in Las Vegas. After a casting process that saw the company also looking at sports memorabilia stores in Philadelphia and New York, Leftfield chose to trek down to Lutherville.

There’s an expectation that, much as with “Pawn Stars,” the characters, not the business alone, will make the show.

“It’s not always about the best shop,” said David George, vice president of programming at Leftfield Pictures. “Sometimes it’s about the shop that has the right people, and that’s what we found with Robbie’s.”

One aspect unique to the show is Mr. Davis Sr.’s contacts in the sports world. Former Baltimore Orioles center fielder Al Bumbry is a part owner, which has led to numerous connections. In the show’s trailer alone, former athletes such as baseball’s all-time hits leader, Pete Rose, and former NFL quarterback Warren Moon are advertised as making appearances.

Former NBA guard and ESPN basketball analyst Jalen Rose stopped by and debated whether or not there will be another Michael Jordan.

“He’s right,” Mr. Davis Sr. said, resuming that conversation months later. “There are athletes, but there will never be anybody like Jordan. And Muhammad Ali. There will never be another Muhammad Ali.”

“I’m talking about on the floor though,” Junior clarified. “I understand branding a guy. There’s never going to be another Jordan. But there will be another Jordan on the floor.”

But the setting of “Ball Boys” isn’t limited to the shop. The cast traveled up the East Coast to see various collections. One collector Mr. Davis Sr. visited has the “most serious” Washington Redskins memorabilia he’s ever seen.

In New York, Mr. Davis Jr. saw an authentic World Series trophy showcased in a collection at the Stadium, a restaurant and bar that has an attached sports museum.

“By the time we got to Cooperstown, [New York], to the [National Baseball] Hall of Fame, it was almost a letdown,” Mr. Davis Jr. joked.

Robbie’s First Base has been open the past 23 years. Mr. Davis Sr. used to sell cars before switching to the sports-memorabilia business in 1989. The store is named after two people — Mr. Davis Jr. and former Orioles first baseman and Hall of Famer Eddie Murray, a friend of the Davis family.

“Eddie came and kicked off the grand opening for us,” Mr. Davis Sr. said. “From then, it just took off.”

Leftfield Pictures pitched the series to various cable networks before ABC came calling. ABC sees “Ball Boys” as a way to supplement sports coverage on Saturdays when the network doesn’t have any live game coverage.

The show’s first two episodes premiere back-to-back starting at 3 p.m. on Saturday, which leads into the regional final round of the NCAA Tournament, which airs on CBS.

The father-and-son duo aren’t sure what will happen the Monday after “Ball Boys” airs. If “Pawn Stars” is any indication, it could be a major influx of clientele. Before “Pawn Stars,” the World Famous Gold & Silver Pawn Shop had an estimated 70 to 100 patrons per day. Now as many as 1,000 people per day walk into the site of one of the most-watched reality shows in television.

“For a small business, any kind of exposure you can get is great,” Mr. Davis Jr. said.

WHAT: “Ball Boys” series premiere

WHEN: Consecutive episodes Saturday at 3 and 3:30 p.m. on ABC

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