The Washington Nationals have arrived at the World Series by taking an unusual route. They first mounted one of the most improbable midseason comebacks in baseball history. And along the way they have morphed into possibly one of the weirdest teams ever to go on a deep postseason run.
Between the 'Baby Shark' craze, the dugout dancing and the tinted glasses worn in the dugout by Gerardo Parra and Anibal Sanchez, the Nationals are a strange group. And now that they are in the World Series, everything they do is being woven into the fabric of MLB history.
All of it has caught the attention of Major League Baseball's authentication program, the league's system of verifying artifacts and memorabilia. And, yes, 'Baby Shark' is on their radar.
The stuffed animal 'Baby Shark' Gerardo Parra placed in the netting of the Nationals' dugout in the NL Championship Series is going to be authenticated.
"I've already put that on the list to ask the guys about," director of MLB authentication Michael Posner told NBC Sports Washington.
"I don't want to mess with superstitions, so they may not want to do it right away, but we have authenticated icons like that once the team was comfortable with doing it. That would definitely not be completely unheard of. But obviously the team is on a roll and we want to respect the roll that they're on. We don't want to mess with the superstition, but when they're ready we are certainly ready to offer our services to authenticate the 'Baby Shark' or whatever else like that."
Posner has overseen the league's authentication program since 2003, not long after its inception which was sparked by an FBI investigation in the 1990s that discovered 75 percent of autographs were counterfeit. Over the years, he and his team have certified over eight million items. Each season, around 550,000 items are authenticated and they can include anything from baseballs to goggles worn at champagne celebrations to the urinals of a historic stadium.
Each MLB game has at least two authenticators on-site and those numbers go up for postseason games, which could have three or four. When it comes to the World Series or an All-Star Game, there can be as many as eight authenticators in attendance.
There are 220 authenticators in total trained into the program and they are essentially all current or former members of law enforcement.
"It's like evidence collection," Posner said. "There has to be a standard and the best standard is seeing it with your own eyes. It's the same thing with law enforcement."
The authenticators have to be at the game and witness the item being signed or used and there are no exceptions. A player can't sign an autograph moments before the authenticator enters a room and then have it certified.
That creates some strict rules like how any ball hit into the stands, like a home run, can't be authenticated.
"That's a process we can't undertake. Once the ball leaves an area that is secure - so, into the stands where the fans are - we can't authenticate the item," Posner explained.
"We have video that we use in the training that shows fans that have balls they either bring to the ballpark or maybe they get something in batting practice, and then when someone hits a home run they will switch it out and throw the fake ball back onto the field."
When an item is deemed worthy of verification, the authenticator will place a silver, tamper-proof hologram with a specific serial number. They then record the information by using an app to upload it into a database.
What gets authenticated is often left up to the authenticators' judgement. There are also special requests, like from the Hall of Fame in Cooperstown or from teams themselves. Players may ask for their bat or their champagne goggles to be authenticated for their own personal collection.
And teams like the Nationals work with Posner and his group to coordinate what gets authenticated at a major event like the World Series. Posner has already spoken to Nationals ownership to give them the rundown, as it is the first time the Nats are participating in the Fall Classic.
The Nats will work to get items authenticated for their own archives, for auctions and in case they build a Nationals Hall of Fame someday.
"That's kind of the cool thing I get to do is to record that history and save that history for fans in a definitive way going forward for future generations," Posner said.
Usually, it's pretty straightforward; balls, uniforms, and bats. But the 2019 Nationals are weird and have a few outside-the-box items to keep an eye on.
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