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Living the dream: Controlled hoarding for a sports collector

SOUTH SALT LAKE — Matt Roblez has the ultimate man cave. His basement lair is loaded with unique sports memorabilia and collectibles. The 45-year-old board-certified structural engineer readily admits to being a hoarder of sorts. So much so, in fact, that he insists they’ll pull him out of his place someday in an autographed coffin.

“It is a collector’s hoarding house,” Roblez said. “I love it. This is what I live in.”

Roblez, who is one of the owners of McNeil Engineering and was recently elected to be president of the Utah Section of the American Society of Civil Engineers for the third time, is no ordinary guy. His interests are as varied as the stuff he has displayed or stacked throughout every room of his domicile.

“You’ve got to understand that every one of these collectibles has a story and makes me smile because I remember it,” Roblez said as he gave a tour of his eclectic collection. “They’re just stories. All this stuff means so much to me that I would never, ever part with it.”

Among Roblez’s most prized possessions is an authentic Zelmo Beaty Utah Stars jersey; a baseball signed by Pete Rose and the pitchers that surrendered his first and last hits; a ball that Rose signed with an apology for betting on baseball; Bruno Magli shoes from O.J. Simpson’s closet; and an XFL yard marker.

The items sit among piles of keepsakes that Roblez has collected since he was a kid.

“It’s controlled hoarding,” he said. “I’m organized that I can live here and rats are not gnawing away at the collectibles.”

Roblez takes great pride in his collection. Many of his possessions are one-of-kind, most because of the personalization he has secured for them.

“The key to my collecting is this ... I want them to sign things that are significant to me, not to everybody else,” Roblez explained.

Case in point are his interactions with Rose. He visited baseball’s all-time hits leader multiple times at a memorabilia shop in Las Vegas.

On one occasion, Roblez convinced Rose to personalize a baseball with the line “Sorry I bet on baseball.” Although such additions eventually became a trend, Roblez is certain he was the first to get one. He said Rose hesitated at first, but eventually agreed to do it when Roblez asked him to personalize it.

Roblez has also obtained unique items from former Chicago Bears great Dick Butkus — getting him to sign NFL things with his XFL title as director of competition. He also got the Hall of Famer to add “Monster of the Midway” to a signature on an NFL jersey and acknowledgement of his All-America status in 1963 and 1964 to one of his college jerseys from Indiana.

Basketball great Connie Hawkins signed a ball for Roblez that included his distinction as being the ABA’s first MVP. Hawkins told Roblez it was the first time he had such a request.

Roblez paid Doug Flutie $650 to sign one of his authenticated USFL helmets from the New Jersey Generals. He had to go through Flutie’s agent to get that autograph. Roblez’s collection also includes a Flutie jersey from the CFL’s Toronto Argonauts.

Although Roblez’s collection includes signed items from famed athletes like Joe Montana, Ernie Shavers, Leon Spinks, Trent Dilfer and Jan Stephenson — as well as a Philadelphia Phillies World Series jacket and Montreal Expos jersey worn by Rose, plus uniforms from Emmitt Smith, Earl Campbell and Steve Garvey — his toughest get was a baseball requiring three signatures.

It took 20 years for Roblez to get Rose and pitchers Bob Friend and Greg Minton to autograph the same ball. Friend gave up Rose’s first career hit and Minton surrendered the last one.

Roblez tracked Friend and Minton down by constantly looking for them at card shows. He considers the ball to be his all-time prize possession.

The one that got away, Roblez explained, was the infamous “pine tar bat” used by George Brett of the Kansas City Royals.

“I could have bought that,” he said.

Despite missing out on that piece of history, Roblez has a vast array of things to appreciate.

“It’s fun because you re-live all of this stuff,” he said. “You just start talking about it and everything here has meaning to me. It’s not just meaningless collective stuff.”

In 2006, Roblez feared the worst when a fire broke out in the attic of his home.

“The police nearly had to arrest me because I was trying to run in the house to get stuff to bring it out and they wouldn’t let me in until the firemen came out,” he explained.

Fortunately for Roblez, the water that trickled down to the basement stopped short of any collectibles. None were lost.

Good fortune has often played a role in Roblez’s gathering of goodies. He secured the Beaty jersey from his older brother, Mark, who was playing basketball at an LDS church when someone from the defunct team dropped off a box of uniforms as a donation. Mark secured the shirts worn by Beaty, Ron Boone and Glen Combs — protecting them from what happened to most of the others that had the names picked off the next week and sported the monikers of the new owners.

Roblez said it was unbelievable to receive the jersey of his favorite player, an act of kindness that he still appreciates from his older brother.

“Like an idiot, I wore it,” said Roblez, whose son Brett's middle name was originally Zelmo. “I wore this thing for years and played basketball in it. That’s what you did. It’s also something Roblez has done since. After purchasing the game-worn Flutie CFL jersey, he took it out of a frame and started wearing it — much to the dismay of the memorabilia store. Roblez also wears the Simpson shoes he owns.

Simply put, he’s not worried about what others think, or how they do things. Roblez explained that he’s content to have the things he does — although displaying his collection in some manner, publicly, is something that may happen eventually.

“The good part and sad part about it is most of these (items) were obtained before sports collecting was a big deal,” Roblez said. “Now everybody’s showing up and collecting.”

Roblez got his start as a child following the ABA’s Utah Stars. He and his brother would go to the games at the Salt Palace and ask the guys on press row for notes and stat sheets.

“I was like 5 years old,” Roblez said. “Who’s going to say no to a 5-year-old kid?”

The Stars stuff, he said, is the favorite part of his collection. Going to the games bonded the siblings and is something revered as very special. Many of the game programs he has though lost value because Roblez liked to keep stats and write down the attendance in them. One even includes an autograph from assistant coach Larry Cregar.

“My dad would throw away his programs, I would go crazy and I would literally pull out ticket stubs out of the garbage,” said Roblez, who has a box filled with ducats as proof of events he has attended.

Professional wrestling is one of his greatest passions. Roblez has a huge collection of paraphernalia including signed belts, masks and such.

“It’s stuff that you will never ever be able to get,” he said.

Roblez is actively involved in the sport, serving as the director of competition for the Destiny Wrestling Organization in Albuquerque, New Mexico — drawing ire as the despised “MK Bandit.”

Not long ago, Roblez was the advocate and manager of world heavyweight champion Bully Ray. He’s also the commissioner of Ultra Championship Wrestling Zero in Utah and is the lead commentator for their television and YouTube productions. In addition, he’s the ring announcer for Main Event Pro Wrestling in Texas and several other organizations across the nation.

Ute football is another part-time gig. Roblez has worked with the radio broadcast crew since 1998.

Like his life, Roblez is diversified with his collection. It’s not all sports. He has memorabilia from entertainers like KISS, Anthrax, M.C. Hammer and Public Enemy. In his closet, there’s family heirlooms like a 1950 Rice Bowl coat that was owned by his mother’s first husband who was killed in the Korean War. Roblez’s collection also includes his father’s 1950 Notre Dame boxing champion jacket.

In other parts of his place, Roblez has collectibles like classic Strat-O-Matic sports games and other things from back in the day. He visits thrift stores three or four times per week in search of treasures — scooping up deals on things like watches, trading cards and such. He also attends events like Comic-Con.

To fund his purchase of sports memorabilia, Roblez picks up collectibles like Barbie, Evel Knievel and Star Wars toys, watches, and old video game systems, to wheel and deal. Things, he explained, that don’t mean anything to him.

What does matter, however, is the collection in its entirety. It includes automobiles, too, like a souped-up Cobra.

Roblez said that when he was married, his wife restricted him to one corner of the house. Nowadays, Roblez said he’ll collect anything he wants.

And he does.

Roblez added that a willingness to travel for his job has taken him to a lot of places and aided in his gathering.

“Go to college because engineering gets you all of this,” Roblez said with a smile.

The payoff, for this guy, is happiness and a lot of good stories to share.


Twitter: @DirkFacer