DJ3K puts Steiner empire in spotlight

Brandon Steiner, CEO of Steiner Sports, swings Derek Brandon Steiner, CEO of Steiner Sports, swings Derek Jeter bats stacked in the company warehouse of the sports memorabilia company. Steiner has deals with the Yankees, MSG, Giants/Jets and many other entities to sell memorabilia. (July 20, 2011) Photo Credit: Craig Ruttle

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Neil Best Newsday columnist Neil Best

Neil Best first worked at Newsday in 1982, then returned in 1985. His SportsWatch column debuted on Sept.

NEW ROCHELLE, N.Y.

Christian Lopez was here Tuesday, doing what celebrity visitors do when they stop by the headquarters of Steiner Sports: Signing stuff.

In his case, it was baseballs inscribed thusly: "I Caught DJ3K."

Tomorrow evening, Derek Jeter, the guy who hit the ball Lopez caught, will be back on duty, autographing an array of items related to his 3,000th career hit -- his second session with Steiner since the big day July 9.

And don't forget David Price, the Rays pitcher who threw the ball that Jeter hit and Lopez caught. He, too, has agreed to sign for Steiner to commemorate his role in the drama.

Net effect: a three-ball set, coming soon to a website near you, for $722.22.

This is the sort of thing that makes traditionalists cringe, and the sort of thing upon which Brandon Steiner has built a memorabilia empire in the past 24 years, aided by a long relationship with Jeter.

But if you expect any apologies for his unleashing the full force of creative capitalism on what once was a sleepy corner of the sports world, don't hold your breath.

"If I don't do it, what's the alternative?" he said, sitting in the signing room adjacent to the company's 35,000-square- foot warehouse. "The alternative is stuff gets thrown out. Or stuff gets in the wrong hands and nobody knows whether it's real. Or the people that really want this stuff don't get a chance to get it.

"That's really my m.o. I am on a mission to get people what they want, and in a larger, wider way than has ever been done."

For example: dirt. Steiner is weary of journalists' focus on the fact he has sold $10 million worth of items in recent years that include dirt from stadiums around America. Dirt!

"Let me tell you something about that dirt," he said. "Underneath that dirt there's more dirt. But the thing about the dirt is it's a great resource and asset . . . That's hallowed ground.

"Most people don't get to go on Notre Dame's field or the Yankee Stadium field. If I can bring them a little closer to that, I'm not saying there's a lot of value in it, but it's a nice keepsake."

It also is relatively affordable. He said he spends "23 hours and 59 minutes" of the day conjuring ways to "create cool things for a lot of people.''

"My mind has definitely gone to a lot of weird places," he said.

Those places have earned him a reputation. Eric Stangel, an executive producer of CBS' "Late Show with David Letterman," joked on Twitter after the Yankees' Ramiro Peña had an appendectomy, "Steiner will cut up the appendix & sell it for $99 a piece."

Said Steiner: "That doesn't bother me. Certainly, we're not going to sell his appendix."

He said he is more careful than he was earlier in his career to avoid crossing the line from creative to creepy. "I think what separates me from a lot of other people is there is a little class, a little dignity," he said.

Such considerations have become more important as Steiner, 51, has established ties to A-list brands such the Yankees, Knicks, Rangers, Cubs, Red Sox, Cowboys, Notre Dame and Syracuse, his alma mater.

His best business deal might have been bonding with a young Yankees shortstop in 1996 on the advice of one of Jeter's predecessors, Phil Rizzuto.

"Some would say I was stalking his dad," Steiner said. "I was probably in Dr. Jeter's space for a little longer than I should have been."

It paid off. Steiner and Jeter have made a lot of money for each other, and Steiner also estimates he has raised $3 million for Jeter's Turn 2 Foundation.

Steiner finds Jeter less gung-ho about individual achievements than team ones, but he did sign about 1,000 items in a Manhattan conference room the night of July 10.

(Hey, wait, wouldn't he normally have been en route to the All-Star Game then? "Ludicrous," Steiner said of any connection to Jeter's skipping the trip to Arizona so he could sign balls and photos.)

Steiner figured memorabilia surrounding Jeter's 3,000th hit would be big, "but it ended up being huge.'' The dramatic circumstances of that 5-for-5 afternoon helped.

"In my business, I fight for how people feel, for emotion," he said. "Winning, good things happening, is great. But when people are crying at a game, when you start moving out of Joe baseball fan to his wife and grandmothers and kids getting involved, that's when things really start to hype up for us."

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