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It was in 1974 at the age of 15 when John Carpenter collected his first sports autograph�from Miami Dolphin football star Nick Buoniconti�not knowing that 37 years later he would have what is believed to be the world�s largest private collection of sports memorabilia.

Today, he has more than 6,000 pieces that include jerseys, caps, bats, helmets, baseballs, footballs, basketballs, pictures, cups, letters, and programs.

�I really didn�t think much about it when I first started,� says Carpenter. �It just seemed like the thing to do.�

Although there is a sign posted on Highway 8 that proclaims Firebrick (population 200) as the home of Carpenter and his sports collection, few people have actually seen it.

�This is the best-kept secret in Kentucky,� he says. �I take some of it out every now and then for sports shows and festivals.�

One of those occasions was when he appeared in 2005 on an ESPN television sports show, Cold Pizza, in New York City.

�They flew me up there, picked me up in a limo, and put me up in a Manhattan hotel,� says Carpenter.

A few years before, another ESPN show, Outside the Lines, featured Carpenter and his collection.

How does Carpenter get all of these prized autographs? How does he manage to get sport celebrities to send him a hat, jersey, or a ball?

�Just ask,� he answers. �I send them stories that have been written about me, and a stamped self-addressed envelope. I let them know I collect for the fun of it.�

He does not sell anything.

�No sir, nothing I collect is for sale, nothing,� he says. �Bill Gates couldn�t buy it off me.�

As Carpenter�s collection continues to grow, so does his notoriety. In 1994, Ripley�s Believe It or Not recognized Carpenter for the �World�s Largest Private Sports Collection,� and then in 2001 they updated their feature as his memorabilia mounted.

Edward Meyer, vice president for Archives and Exhibits with Ripley Entertainment in Orlando, has worked with Carpenter for more than a decade.

Carpenter also researches and gathers odd and interesting sports facts and stories and submits them to Ripley�s.

�We talk to John on a regular basis,� says Meyer. �Over the years, he�s researched and found 40 to 50 good-looking items for our newspaper feature.�

In 2008, Carpenter�s photo and the state highway marker on KY 8 were featured on a limited-edition Wheaties cereal box, recognizing his sports memorabilia collection.

Not surprisingly, Carpenter has himself now become part of his collections with a bobble-head doll featuring a striking resemblance of his head springing back and forth atop a New York Yankee jersey, his favorite team. And there are even coffee mugs telling his story.

His most prized possession is a baseball Babe Ruth hit out of Detroit�s Tiger Stadium (then called Navin Field) on July 24, 1930, reported to be Ruth�s 552nd career home run. There�s a Brett Favre autographed helmet, baseball shoes worn by former Los Angeles Dodgers� Manager Walter Alston, a football believed to have been kicked by sports legend Jim Thorpe while playing in 1927 for a semi-pro team just across the Ohio River in Portsmouth, Ohio. There�s the jacket worn by baseball umpire John McSherry, who died on the field in Cincinnati in 1996.

So where does Carpenter�s collections go from here?

�I�d like for it to be in a museum,� he says. �Somewhere there�s a community that might just have a place to show some of this.�

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