There is simply no better way for a kid to connect to a sport than by having him meet someone who treats them the right way and award them with an autograph. In my younger days, I went to the San Francisco 49ers training camp on multiple occasions and got the chance to meet regarded 49ers such as Steve Young, Roger Craig, Jerry Rice and more. To this day, my brother and I still have hats containing autographs of our favorite players.
When I unexpectedly came into posession of a baseball autographed by an entire baseball team, I knew that I wanted a way to display it in style. It would also make a perfect gift, and best of all, baseball can be enjoyed by boys and girls, young or old.
This instructable is very cheap to make (I spent $3) and could easily be converted to hold golf balls, autographable mini-footballs and basketballs, hockey pucks, tennis balls, and much more. The display isn't limited to sports, you could also use it for things like guitar picks, movie props, or any number of other souvenirs.
Step 1: Quick Trip to Radio Shack
I know, I know, Radio Shack sucks as bad as K-Mart. However, it is really about the only mass-populated store in the USA which supplies both 9V battery leads (item # 270-324) and an on/off push switch (item # 275-011A). If you don't have a few LEDs on hand, grab a small pack of them (appropriately colored to provide your light display) while you are there. I'm a big advocate of supporting local stores... if you can get similar items from a better store, or can wait a few days in order to get them from the internet, by all means do so.
You will also need a few other items. I used a soldering gun and some hot glue putting it together, as well as some masking tape and spray paint (which matched the team color). I also used one of my favorite building items, an empty DVD spindle and a few CD blanks. If you don't have one, you may also be able to substitute it out for something like a 2-Liter pop bottle with some modifications. One last item, I spent 20¢ to get an 8x11 piece of felt from my local hobby chain. Maybe most importantly you'll need your item to display later on.
Step 2: Prepare the Spindle for Wiring.
I decided to paint the top of my spindle to hide most of the wiring for the lights. I used a plastic sack and some masking tape to mark off a small section near the top, then painted it along with a couple of blanks. I only painted one side, but looking back, it would have been better if I had painted both sides of at least the blanks. The team color was red, so I used that as my color of choice. I had also cut the top off the center to put the switch through, so I taped over that to keep paint out of the inside. You can just wait until later to cut it off and avoid that problem.
Once the spindle is painted, I glued one of the blanks to the top of the spindle to hide the rings and make it flat. It also worked out that this height (and circumference of the spindle hole itself) was the perfect size for attaching the switch. I went ahead and put it in place for the next step.
Step 3: Solder Together the Lighting System.
My lighting system is as simple as I could make it. I am using leftover LEDs from a strand of Christmas lights I cut up for another project. I happened to already know that three bulbs would work perfectly with a 9V battery, and that I didn't need a resistor in line to protect the bulbs. I put some alligator clips on to test the circuit, and soldered the lights together. One end of the lights will connect to the switch, and the other I ran down the side of the plastic down to where the 9V battery will be. Then I ran a line from the switch and ran down the other side of the shell.
The idea is that I will paint these yellow to represent foul poles, and put a picture of the stands in between and a team logo in the sky for the backside of the display. For the purposes of this instructable I left all the logos and other decoration off for clarity in the pictures. Use the battery to test the wiring and switch, then solder your 9V battery lead to the ends of the wires.
If you are not sure on how to wire your particular LEDs, there are two methods to get it correct. First, you can figure out the proper voltage and/or use resistors to protect your LEDs. If you don't have the right information, you can also use a fresh 9V battery, and use it to try and light seven LEDs connected in line. It probably won't be able to handle this load, and not light them. Remove an LED from the end, and try again until they light up. Just a warning, if you get down to three or less LEDs, there is a good chance you may burn them out with too much voltage. If it is slightly off, it may still work, but could greatly diminish the life of the LED. LEDs are pretty cheap, and I'm not really too worried about it.
Step 4: Finishing Touches
Once the wiring is complete, you're just about done. I took a few bottle caps to create a space for the 9V battery to hide, and covered it with a third CD blank. I cut a small piece of PVC pipe to hold the ball at a slight angle, and glued it to the center of the blank. Finally, I cut a circle out of the green felt to cover it all up and run down the sides.
Then, it's just a matter of placing the ball inside, and carefully adding the shell to the spindle while tucking the battery and wiring inside. I also snuck a team roster in under here for future reference (not all the autographs are easily readable). You can also decorate the shell with logos or whatever else you like to help make your display more attractive.
Step 5: Improvements and Modifications
I like how my display turned out, but there are a few things I might do differently if I ever build another one. First, I would try to make the colored section at the top a bit smaller. This would be accomplished by using regular LEDs instead of those housed in a christmas light strand. This would help the light not be quite as close to the top of the ball, or allow bigger memorabilia to be used.
In addition to raising the top section up, I realized later that the 9V battery could actually have been put inside the piece of PVC. Then I wouldn't have needed to put the water bottle caps in place to have the CD blank above the battery. Combined with raising the top, this would have moved the ball and lights quite a ways apart. The disadvantage is this may require a bit more disassembly in order to change a dead battery later.
Another improvement that I considered was adding a small electric motor to turn the ball when the display is on. It could be added to the wiring and battery already in place (another reason I decided to house the battery in the base). You would also have to separate the felt into multiple pieces to accomplish this.
This is my 14th completed instructable, and it is entered in the Holiday Gifts Contest. Ratings, comments and votes are most appreciated. If you have questions about the build I am happy to help you if I can. I will also award digital patches if you post pictures of your build.