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J.J. Putz strikes gold with Bieber autograph card

David Brown
Big League Stew

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(AP, @BråadZiegler)

Arizona Diamondbacks pitcher Brad Ziegler recently stopped by the Panini headquarters in Arlington, Texas. While he was there, he picked up a few cases of cards featuring pop star Justin Bieber to open in the clubhouse with his teammates. (Hey, it's a long season.)

And while it may have seemed like a frivolous and silly activity, D-backs closer J.J. Putz actually made the ripping worth his while. That's because Putz discovered a valuable autographed card in one of his packs, signed by "The Biebs" himself. It could also be worth several thousand dollars if Putz decides to sell it. Squeeeeeeal! (UPDATE:  Putz plans to give the card to teammate Craig Breslow, who will auction it off for charity.)

Needless to say, Bieber Fever gripped the D-backs clubhouse and Ziegler took to Twitter to tell the world:

If any of you are rolling your eyes regarding these grown men — professional athletes — going gaga over the Canadian teen pop prince, well, yeah, there's that. Although, didn't the D-backs rock out to Bieber tunes in the clubhouse a season ago after clinching a playoff spot? And, as Matthew Pouliot at NBC's Hardball Talk pointed out, Putz does have 7-year-old twin girls at home. They'd probably appreciate the Bieber bounty.

[ Y! Fantasy Baseball: Rookie with a valuable fantasy twist ]

But also realize this: That card could be worth more than a regular person's mortgage payment. The Knight's Lance, a Panini blog, reports that a Bieber autograph card sold for big bucks on eBay recently:

The debut of the Weekly [Panini Price Index] features a feverish look at a Justin Bieber certified autograph card from the Justin Bieber 2.0 trading card set. The teen crooner's autographed 1/1 card, which was dropped into the hugely successful Panini America Black Friday Promotion, closed at a whopping $4,500.99 on eBay in January 2012.

The card Putz found is different, but "it's one of those," rare ones that could be worth a small mint, said Panini spokesman Scott Prusha.

Major leaguers having interest in Panini products isn't new, Prusha says. The company's headquarters are close to Rangers Ballpark in Arlington and he can remember Cliff Lee bringing CC Sabathia to the old headquarters back when they played for the Cleveland Indians for some behind-the-scenes fun.

"It's not unusual to walk into the lobby and see a major leaguer sitting there," Prusha said.

Well, no wonder, with top-of-the-line merchandise like autographed Justin Biebers potentially trading hands. Even though the rules about baseball card manufacturing have changed over the past few years, Panini still sells products endorsed by major leaguers — if not MLB itself. It seems to focus on high-end collectible items.

After a rough start, Putz has been pitching more like the dominant reliever he was in 2010 and 2011. He's earned roughly $20 million dollars over his playing career. At age 35, he's still got a few seasons left if he wants to pitch in them. So, yes, Putz probably could have just bought a Bieber signature at auction and be done with it.

But there's something about going through packs of cards and finding gold — even if it's for a teen crooner — that card-collecting fans definitely can identify with. Happy hunting out there, everyone.

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