Steamboat Springs Michael Loseke, 14, got his fill of baseball when his team, the Arvada Knights, played in the Triple Crown World Series July 27 to Aug. 1. But instead of heading home afterward, he stayed in Steamboat Springs. Sure, his younger brother, Marcus, 13, was playing with the Colorado Thunder in the next week of tournaments -- but that wasn't the real reason Michael decided to hang around.
Michael pulled out a scarlet towel weighted heavily with commemorative team baseball pins and held it up.
"I wouldn't have stayed unless these were here," he said Tuesday afternoon.
The exact time when pin collecting became an obsession with Triple Crown players, parents, siblings and coaches isn't certain, but Thad Anderson, Triple Crown's director of Colorado baseball, said it has become the customary way teams kick off the World Series.
The Tuesday before each tournament is formally set aside for individual skills challenges, opening ceremonies and pin exchanging before competition begins Wednesday.
"In the last four years, it's become kind of the crazy, carnival atmosphere," Anderson said. "Tuesday is the one big carnival day."
And if Tuesday was carnival day, consider Howelsen Hill the big top. It was impossible to walk five feet without hearing, "Do you have pins?"
Plastic bags were dumped onto any open patch of grass available, as players searched for a pin to trade. Those who attached pins to towels, including the Loseke brothers, spread their collections out flat, giving prospective traders a better view of the goods.
The players on the Houston Mariners, a 10-and-younger team, wore their pins around their necks on embroidered lanyards made specifically for the job.
Like Michael Loseke, the Mariners' Jeremiah Biscoe and Jose Chapa arrived in Steamboat at the end of July. Unlike Loseke, Biscoe and Chapa don't begin play until Wednesday. The Houston players arrived early to exchange pins.
"We got in (July 30) and came up here," Biscoe said, pointing toward Howelsen Hill.
The boys held out their lanyards to show the number of pins they had collected and picked out two of their favorites -- one from the Parker Sky Sox and the other from a California team. Both pins lit up when pushed.
The Mariners were in such a spirit to hand out pins Tuesday that they presented a shiny, new one with their team name and mad shark logo to a passerby, even though she had none to exchange.
"Who is your favorite team now?" they asked. Talk about Southern charm.
Pin exchanging isn't exclusive to Triple Crown tournaments. Many players participating at the Division I level in Triple Crown also play in other tournaments throughout the country. However, pin exchanging appears to have been reserved for large events such as national championships, World Series games and huge invitational tournaments.
As member of the Englewood-based Colorado Styxx, Mick Blackford and Andrew Melton, took part in a tournament last year in Cooperstown, N.Y., home of the Major League Baseball Hall of Fame.
They returned with what could easily be mistaken for a navy CD carrier with the word "Cooperstown" emblazoned on the cover in red, white and blue. Inside the purse-sized carriers were hundreds of pins, some as large as a child's hand, stuck into the soft material.
"I have them sorted by size," Blackford said. "It's a fun thing to have and show everybody."
"This is my baby," said Melton, cradling his carrier in his arms.
While there are some aggressive pin traders in every bunch, Colin Bates, also of the Styxx, considers himself a casual one. He does not have the largest collection, but he may have the most unique way of displaying the nearly 100 pins he owns.
Cindy Bates, Colin's mother, is redoing her 13-year-old son's room and has dedicated one side to baseball. Colin stuck his pins into the bases put on the wall.
"It was nice," Colin said. "We still have work to do. We have hat racks and baseball bats that need to be bolted to the walls."
Baseball has long been known as the sport linked most closely to memorabilia through baseball cards, hats or retrieved foul balls or home runs. In pins, the Losekes think they have found the perfect tournament souvenir.
"A shirt rips," Michael said. "A hat you grow out of, but pins you can keep forever."