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October 21 2021 3:25 PM ˚

No. 3 in the Mets’ Rotation, and leading the way in NFTs

BBO DIGITAL GOODS
An undated handout image shows artwork, where a high resolution version of this piece was sold at auction by Taijuan Walker, a starting pitcher for the New York Mets. (Photo: NYTimes)
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Taijuan Walker pitched four shutout innings in his second start of the spring last week. He also made some digital history.

The recently signed New York Mets right-hander became the first known active Major League Baseball player to enter the nonfungible token (NFT) arena, auctioning a piece of original artwork on OpenSea, a marketplace for digital goods. Walker’s one-of-a-kind art, a baseball card-esque image of him tricked out with neon colors and an animated, flashing signature, sold for 2.35 Ether — roughly $4,275 — after receiving six bids. The proceeds from the auction benefited the Amazin’ Mets Foundation, the team’s charity.اضافة اعلان

“I really wasn’t expecting nothing,” Walker, 28, said in a phone interview. “For it to sell like that, it was really cool and definitely a blessing.”

While a first in baseball, Walker’s NFT venture is just the latest example of an ongoing crypto craze. The boom reached its current peak earlier this month when a JPG file created by Mike Winkelmann, the digital artist known as Beeple, was sold for $69.3 million in a Christie’s online auction, setting a record for artwork that exists only digitally.

The rock band Kings of Leon recently released an album by way of digital tokens. Jack Dorsey, the chief executive of Twitter, made headlines Monday, selling an NFT version of his first tweet for $2.9 million. And basketball fans have recently been consumed by NBA Top Shot, a marketplace for buying and selling digital highlight clips.

MLB is also working on its own NFT products, according to ESPN, but Walker beat the league to it.

While Walker was not as flashy an offseason acquisition for the Mets as shortstop Francisco Lindor, he is expected to play a large role for the team after signing a two-year deal in February. He thrived in the pandemic-shortened 2020 season, with a 2.70 ERA in 11 starts split between the Seattle Mariners and the Toronto Blue Jays. He is expected to begin the season as the Mets’ No. 3 starter behind Jacob deGrom and Marcus Stroman now that Carlos Carrasco is out with a hamstring injury.

Walker’s interest in NFTs developed when Jarrett Burgess, a friend and former teammate in the Mariners organization, brought them to his attention. While Walker worked his way up to the majors, Burgess earned his business degree and took computer classes at Purdue. He went on to land a consulting job at Oracle, where he worked with cloud and blockchain technology.

That work with blockchain led Burgess to NFTs, where he finds himself breaking new ground while also having to explain to some consumers what they are paying for when they purchase one.

At their most basic level, according to Burgess, NFTs are digital assets such as images, GIFs, songs or videos that are uploaded and stored on a blockchain. “It’s immutable and it’s verified,” he said. “Unchangeable for all of eternity.”

Or, as Walker put it: “It’s yours forever. It can’t be chewed up by a dog or stolen from you.”

The impossibility of physical wear and tear is one appeal of digital collecting. The same goes for NFTs doubling as proof of ownership. For those who collect sports memorabilia, think of an NFT as a piece of memorabilia that doubles as its own certificate of authenticity.

With their shared interest in the medium, Walker and Burgess decided to pursue creating an NFT, with Burgess, along with a few people from Walker’s agency, spearheading the creative process. Walker signed off at various design points along the way, all the while concentrating on his day job.

“My main focus right now is baseball, so I’m focused on spring training stuff,” Walker explained. “I have a team that helped me create it. We just wanted something bright, colorful, vibrant, neon lights. Something that would stand out. It was the first one that we did. It was quick. But I’m still building a team to help me do this. We’re going to have multiple NFTs come out this year.”

The lack of anything tangible can lead to confusion for some, yet NFTs are routinely selling for thousands, and in some cases millions.

“Beauty is in the eye of the beholder,” Burgess said of the growing market.
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