Gabe Kapler is known around Chicago for hitting the ball that produced arguably the greatest defensive play in White Sox history. But if his new business venture is successful, he could be known around the city for something else.
Kapler, who retired from baseball in 2011 after 12 seasons in the majors, is the director of business development for Egraphs, a start-up that recently launched to the public. The concept is to offer fans and players a more personal interaction than they could get elsewhere, although Kapler doesn't want to compare it to other fan-to-player moments.
"We're not trying to re-invent anything else," Kapler said. "We're trying to show fans a new way to share an experience with their favorite celebrity. An Egraph is a shared experience between a fan and celebrity that lasts forever, sort of the new generation of autographs."
Users on the site can choose to give or receive a personalized message from 17 players -- three of whom are already sold out -- including David Price, Andrew McCutchen, R.A. Dickey and White Sox third baseman Kevin Youkilis. The entire endeavor, which costs 50, is done on an entirely digital platform, with players able to record messages on their iPads and fans able to access them on their computers, smart phones and tablets.
Youkilis did a demo Egraph for Hawk Harrelson and Steve Stone, for example, that features him belting out Hawk's famous catch phrase. Phillies shortstop Jimmy Rollins did one for a newborn who's third word was "J-Roll" that Kapler said was the perfect example of what the company is trying to do.
"That's what the players like about it, they know they're having a one-on-one interaction with the fan, and the fans feel that authentic energy," Kapler, who has a business background investing in a handful of other ventures, said. "When a player has a chance to sit down in their own space and time, be creative and really give a piece of themselves to a fan, it's a priceless interaction."
Youkilis, who's close with Kapler, was happy to join the project.
"I've been a friend of Gabe's for a long time, so I jumped on board," Youkilis said. "My whole basis behind doing it was, Gabe started it and I support him, and it helps gives an enhanced interaction with the fans, so it works on all levels."
Kapler spent parts of a dozen seasons with Detroit, Texas, Colorado, Boston, Milwaukee and Tampa Bay and was happy to interact with fans along his journey. But Kapler said he felt rushed trying to connect with fans, especially when he had other things to do at the park.
During spring training, Kapler and the Egraphs team went around to major-league clubhouses to pitch players on the idea. And Kapler said he didn't have to do much convincing.
"They were extraordinarily receptive, in some cases outwardly excited and so, we knew we had a hit when we saw the eyeballs in the clubhouses light up," Kapler explained.
"This platform allows for a player to really give themselves fully to the experience because they're doing it in their own space and time rather than, at the ballpark when they might have to go to batting practice, for instance, or maybe they have too many things going on and they feel a little bit rushed," he continued. "There's still a place for those in-person interactions. This is just a quality way for a fan to really get a larger, more in-depth look at who a player is.
"As a player myself, I absolutely wished I had this when I was playing."