Two Friends Hope Old Baseball Will Help Honor Loved One

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*Update: As of Friday, August 9, the story about the Tibbits' ball reached Kansas City.

The Willie Wilson Baseball Foundation and the Royals Alumni agreed to donate to the Tibbits' fund to help the family out with funeral expenses.

The fund has also gotten other donations from residents in Topeka. Kansas City residents have also asked how to donate.


TOPEKA, Kansas (WIBW) -- A baseball buried in a basement for thirty years could be the answer to one family's struggle to bury a loved one.

Laurie McCollum has seen what her friend Sandy Tibbits has gone through. First, losing her son, Jay, to a battle with cancer at the end of July, then struggling to find the money for a simple cremation.

Last winter, when they discovered an old signed 1977 Royals team ball stored away at Sandy's house, they got to thinking. Sandy's mother had given the ball to her to hold on to, saying it could be worth some money. Sandy, knowing her son Jay would pass from terminal cancer, asked Laurie to find out more about the ball. Laurie's husband realized all the signatures on the ball were from the 1977 Royals team.

"She's going, oh my gosh, we can sell it," Laurie remembers Sandy saying, "and my son would have the funeral he deserves, that I would want him to have."

Jay Tibbits was surrounded by his family in hospice when he passed away July 31.

Laurie took the ball to Jeff's Sports Cards in the Brookwood Shopping Center to find out if the signatures were real.

She carefully unwrapped the ball, took it out of its box and showed it to Jeff Clayton.

"I can tell right off the bat, unfortunately, it is a rubber-stamped team signed ball, except for the Willie Wilson one you got," Clayton said.

The ball does have one real John Hancock. When former Royals player Willie Wilson came to Topeka with the Royals caravan back in January, Laurie made sure she met him. His signature was the only one missing from the ball.

Clayton, owner of Jeff's Sports Cards, said the ball, as is, would only go for $50. If it had real signatures, he estimated it selling at a minimum of $500.

"The signatures just look too uniform and perfect basically," he said. "Usually on a real signed ball you'll have different sizes, signatures, different darkness, people use more pressure on the signature than others do."

He commented that the signatures appear to have bled into the ball's leather, which is another giveaway that an actual pen did not touch the ball.

Another indicator is that George Brett's signature, was stamped over the seam. Clayton pointed out that if someone was signing a ball, they would usually stay away from the seam, or if they did sign over the seam, it would appear messier.

Laurie brought up what many may think: that back in the 70s, players were more likely to sign balls themselves for fans.

Clayton said that while that is true, rubber-stamped balls have been around since the early 1960s. He compared a 1962 stamped ball with an actual-signed ball, on which the signature style varied.

Laurie knew Sandy wouldn't believe it.

"I really hoped it was [real] so that it would help out with their situation, the burial of their son."

The ball might not have the price tag they hoped, but it doesn't end there. She has another idea.

"Writing the Royals and see if they can donate something."

She hopes the Royals public relations department can donate the family a piece of memorabilia to then auction off.

"I'm not going to give up for them. This ball has been a blessing though."

As of Tuesday, August 5, the Tibbits family was able to gather enough money to cremate Jay. The family says a cremation is not what Jay wanted, but they had no other choice.

"I hope he forgives me," Sandy Tibbits, his mother said.

The family plans on giving him a funeral service September 3 on his birthday, but don't have the funds for it yet.

The Tibbits family has a memorial fund set up at any Topeka Envista Credit Union, if people would like to help the family out.

Donate under the name Harold "JJ" Tibbits, Jr. at Envista Credit Union.