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Russia invades Ukraine: Baseball signed by Zelenskyy bought by Colts owner for $50K

BOSTON — A baseball signed by Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy was bought in an auction on Wednesday by Indianapolis Colts owner and CEO Jim Irsay.

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According to Boston-based RR Auction, the official MLB baseball, signed on the “sweet spot,” sold for $40,082. Including the buyer’s premium, the final price was $50,103.

The baseball, signed by Zelenskyy shortly after he became Ukraine’s president in 2019, was part of the auction house’s World Leaders and Politicians Auction, which ended Wednesday. Some of the proceeds are targeted to help the embattled nation, which was invaded by Russia on Feb. 24. They will be channeled to Americares, a global nonprofit organization focused on health and development for people affected by poverty, disasters or crisis. RR Auction said in a tweet that it would be donating $15,000 toward the cause.

Irsay, whose family has owned the Colts since 1972 and has been the principal owner of the franchise since 1997, tweeted Thursday that he was the winner.

“Added to my @IrsayCollection yesterday at auction, the only known baseball signed by Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy during a visit to New York in 2019,” Irsay tweeted. “A portion of proceeds is going to Ukrainian relief.”

Bobby Livingstone, RR Auction’s executive vice president, confirmed to Cox Media Group by telephone on Thursday that Irsay bought the baseball.

“Typically we don’t announce who the winner is, but Mr. Irsay tweeted it out,” Livingston said. “And we couldn’t be happier.”

Livingston said there were 35 bids submitted for the baseball.

Irsay said he will add the item to his Jim Irsay Collection, which contains artifacts from American history, rock ‘n’ roll and pop culture.

According to Sports Collectors Daily, the Zelenskyy baseball was owned by Randy Kaplan, 55, a businessman from Merrick, New York, who has amassed a collection of nearly 500 baseballs signed by world leaders since the 1990s. Kaplan said he was given the baseball in September 2019, when Volodymyr Yelchenko, Ukraine’s permanent representative to the United Nations at the time, was able to get Zelenskyy’s signature on an official MLB baseball.

Kaplan also owns baseballs signed by 10 U.S. presidents, Nelson Mandela, Pope Francis, Margaret Thatcher, Shimon Peres, Mikhail Gorbachev and the Dalai Lama. Kaplan’s collection has been featured at five presidential libraries.

“RR Auction and I are very satisfied that the signed Zelenskyy baseball provided (an) opportunity for funds to be donated to the support of Ukraine’s citizens,” Kaplan told Cox Media Group on Thursday via email. “Our collective contribution will be directed to Americares, who is assisting Ukrainian citizens with their medical needs.”

Included in the auction was a letter of provenance signed by Yelchenko and a full letter of authenticity from Professional Sports Authenticators, a grading service based in Santa Ana, California.

Kaplan does not buy his autographed baseballs, according to Sports Collectors Daily. He said during an interview that he once got former Secretary of State Henry Kissinger’s autograph on a baseball when he sat next to him on a flight. While he has not always been present when getting an autograph from a world leader, Kaplan told the sports collecting site that he always goes through that country’s ambassador or the leader’s chief of staff to obtain a legitimate signature.

Kaplan has his own website, which includes some of the stories behind his more notable signings.

A governmental affairs specialist in New York, Kaplan has been collecting signed baseballs of heads of state since 1996, when then-President Bill Clinton signed one after making a speech in Washington, D.C. According to his website, Kaplan’s adventures in autograph hunting have been documented by HBO, Grantland.com, PBS, Newsday, The Associated Press and Sports Collectors Daily.

Irsay said on his website that he will be displaying his entire collection for the first time on June 3 in New York City at the Hammerstein Ballroom in Manhattan Center.

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