BIRMINGHAM (AP) — Opening Day is still almost three months away, but baseball is never out of season at David Wininger's downtown law firm.
A New York Yankees fan since he was a boy growing up on Birmingham's Southside, Wininger has, over time, turned his office into a shrine to his beloved baseball team, amassing an amazing memorabilia collection that takes up all or parts of five rooms and includes everything from caps, gloves, balls and bats autographed by Yankee greats past and present to a pair of seats from the old Yankee Stadium.
Wininger, a personal injury lawyer, estimates he has more than 1,000 pieces in his collection, which he believes to be the largest accumulation of Yankee souvenirs in the Southeast.
"One of my friends wanted to talk to me about what this is worth," he says. "Well, I have no idea. I accumulated it a little bit at a time. I would say the majority of this stuff I've gotten signed personally, but a lot of this I've bought."
Some of the items, such as the Babe Ruth collector's plate and the commemorative print honoring Mickey Mantle and Whitey Ford on their induction into the Baseball Hall of Fame, are gifts from old friends and legal colleagues.
"As a matter of fact, a couple of judges have given me some," Wininger says. "If they find a Yankee something, they will bring it in."
Wininger's pride and joy, though, is his most recent addition - a 30-foot tall mural that covers the entire south wall of his 90-year-old office building with larger-than-life likenesses of Yankee legends Ruth, Mantle, Lou Gehrig, Joe DiMaggio, Yogi Berra and Derek Jeter, pictured as if they are playing on the grass at Yankee Stadium.
It is a dream project that Wininger had envisioned for the past few years, and with the help of his wife, Peggy, one which he finally brought to life this past fall.
Wininger guesses he and his wife interviewed about 15 artists before they finally settled on Stephen Smith, a Birmingham graphic artist who has illustrated books and done a few oil paintings, but certainly nothing of this scale.
"I've done figures maybe 10 feet high (before), but on canvas and in a more comfortable environment," Smith says. "Being out in the weather is a little unusual for me."
This time, the building's brick wall was Smith's canvas. He began the project in early October and finished around the middle of November.
He started by sketching outlines of the players in red paint against the blank white wall, and then he filled in the details - from the pinstripes on the players' uniforms to the Yankees logo on the on-deck circle to the iconic white frieze that drapes Yankee Stadium.
"I basically did it like I would have done a canvas picture," Smith says. "I sketched it out and basically just drew it like I would with a pencil, but with a paint brush instead, and then just started refining it."
As passionate as Wininger is about his Yankees - referring to them in the collective "we" and "us" -- Smith acknowledges that he is not the baseball fan and, in fact, had never heard of most of the players he was painting.
"I knew who Babe Ruth was," he laughs. "But no, I'm not much of any kind of sports fan."
The 71-year-old Wininger, however, has loved the Yankees since he was old enough to care. And it is a love that has only grown stronger with each passing decade.
"I was born in '41," he says, "and the Yankees won the World Series in '49, '50, '51, '52 and '53. Five straight years, when I was 8, 9, 10, 11, 12 years old. And that's when young men establish their love for (sports teams)."
Early on, Wininger followed the Yankees from afar, reading about the exploits of DiMaggio and Berra and Mantle in the newspapers and later watching them on TV.
Then, in 1976, he and his father, D.B. Wininger, and his son, DeLeal Wininger, attended their first World Series together at Yankee Stadium, with tickets courtesy of Chicago Cubs owner Bill Wrigley, for whom Wininger had done some legal work.
Since 1996, Wininger and his wife have gone to spring training in Florida every year, and they have gotten to know current Yankees Jeter and C.C. Sabathia, among others.
Berra has invited them to watch the World Series at a party he holds every year at his Yogi Berra Museum & Learning Center in Little Falls, N.J.
Fitting for a sports fan such as Wininger, his office, which is on Richard Arrington Jr. Boulevard North in the block opposite the Redmont Hotel, formerly belonged to D.O. Whilldin, the prominent Birmingham architect who designed Legion Field, among many other projects. Whilldin built the building in 1923, and Wininger bought it in 1982.
Along with Wininger's Yankees collection, the rest of his available office space is devoted to his other passion, Alabama Crimson Tide football, including rare photos of Paul "Bear" Bryant and almost the entire line of Daniel Moore paintings.
Although his collection is not really open to the public, Wininger is not one to turn a true Yankees fan down, either.
"I'm really proud of all of this stuff," he says. "If I'm here and not in court or something, I probably would take the time to show them."
On New Year's Eve, vandals defaced the Yankees mural with paint balls, but the incident did not dampen Wininger's enthusiasm for the project, or his pride in it. Smith, the artist, says he will repair the damage.
"It's been a dream of mine for years," Wininger says. "And I'm not going to let some (jerks) scare me off."
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