Note: This is the first in a short series of stories I’ll be doing about collecting baseball/sports cards. The rest of the series will run in the near future.
Baseball has always been a passion of mine.
Though I’ve always been a Phillies fan, I’ve had bouts of “fandom” with some other teams, usually based on their hats. These were all as a kid though. Some of those teams include the Angels, Expos, White Sox and Reds.
I know, at one point, I even had a Mets hat, but I know for a fact I never cheered for them. (Though, to be fair, I was a HoJo fan and Dave Magadan has always been one of my favorites).
Anyway, the love affair with baseball goes back to when I was a kid. I had a hand-me-down Larry Bowa jersey at one point. I never got to go to a live game in Philly as a kid, but I do remember going and watching the Oneonta Yankees at least once a summer.
It’s quite a full circle knowing I got to cover the Oneonta Tigers, the team that replaced the O-Yanks, during my professional life.
As a kid, I spent much of my summers with a ball, glove and bat. We had pick-up games and just threw the ball. If necessary, I could play ball by myself, whether it was hitting a ball in an open field, throwing pop-ups to myself or using a tennis ball and throwing it at a wall or set of steps.
There was something else that was part of my childhood — baseball cards.
Oh how I loved baseball cards. Despite the fact that they were cards from the 80s — when many thought cards would pay for their college, but the explosion of so many cards eventually made prices drops extremely fast.
Nonetheless, I never thought about that.
Heck, many of the cards I had ended up strewn about or stuffed in boxes. I never cared for them. I could have had a Ricky Henderson rookie. Or Don Mattingly. Or that Mark McGwire Team USA card. Who knows? Maybe there was a Cal Ripken Jr. rookie or something.
But I never worried about that.
See, we knew every year when the new Topps cards were coming out. The one local gas station got boxes in each year and we’d be all ready for it.
Oh the excitement of opening those old wax packs! The cards were awesome! And without the Internet, we never knew what the design was going to be until we opened the packs. And then there was the gum — oh that hard, pink gum placed in packs. It was awful, but we chewed it nonetheless. At that time, packs were something like 25 cents each.
We’d sift through those cards for days and weeks. Until we got enough money to buy more packs and then we’d run out and see who we could get. It was always a score if you got someone from your favorite team. And if someone else got one? Well, you could trade!
And how many of you remember flipping? I would do it sometimes, but boy I hated it. People cheated at times with it and if you didn’t catch on, you could lose your cards in a hurry.
Then I grew up.
Baseball cards, of course, were for kids. Who had time for those things? There was high school. And college. And buying cars. And hanging out with friends. When age 21 came, there was beer and bars.
Baseball cards? Never again. Sure, I’d buy a pack or two here and there, just for the hell of it. But I wasn’t a collector. I just thought it was fun to crack a pack here and there. I had to see what the new cards looked like. It’s not like I was ever going to start collecting again.
A funny thing happened on the way to the card shop…
I can’t put my finger on where I got the bug again. It was in the early 200os though. If I had to bet, it was probably when I started covering professional baseball. It was short-season Single-A, so basically the bottom level of baseball (not including the Florida instructional leagues). Some of those players were card collectors.
Heck, some of those guys had cards.
I remember, again as a kid, that some minor league teams had team card sets made up. But it’s not like they were anything major. I mean, heck, those cards weren’t Topps or any company people took seriously.
So back to these players. Some of the top picks had cards out there. Not only did they have cards, they had authentic autograph cards and there were also cards with pieces of a jersey or bat or something else in them.
Wait a second — what ever happened to wax packs, bad bubble gum and regular cards? This was getting serious, it seemed.
Soon after, I picked up a copy of Beckett Baseball. I had read this magazine back in the day, but I wanted to get a grasp of things. And it opened my eyes to the hobby and how it has grown. I started to research more and more as I was intrigued.
From there, I found eBay was a haven for cards. That helped me become addicted. Though, to be fair, I was pretty good about it. I capped myself on prices of cards, kept a watch on what people charged for shipping and stayed within the budget. I got caught up in a couple of card battles on eBay, losing most, thankfully. I’ve never really gone too high with card prices. The highest I’ve paid for one card was about 50 bucks, a Peyton Manning autograph card.
I soon realized this wasn’t just a kid thing anymore. Adults do it. Maybe a little too much in that prices are through the roof. Buying high-end packs can become really costly.
I became a collector again and I haven’t regretted it. I still buy packs sometimes, but I am more into collecting certain players. I collect most Phillies. I try and grab cards of players I covered in Oneonta and players who visited. I also have several people I collect in hopes of getting all their cards — Larry Christenson (my childhood favorite pitcher); Tom Brookens, Bill Monbouquette, Jon Matlack, Andy Barkett and Luis Quinones. All but Christenson have connections to the O-Tigers from the time I was there.
I’ll have more on that in a future edition of this series.
It’s been fun though. It’s a cool hobby and I’ve had a great time trying to find cards. I’ve hit up a couple of card shows and have a good time there. I always find something cool at a good price and I truly enjoy sifting through cards or just checking out displays. One day, I’ll find a way to head to the National Sports Collectors Convention. This year it’s in Baltimore, which would have been nice, but it’s out of the price range this year!
The hobby has come a long way since the days of me buying wax packs, flipping cards, putting them in bike spokes and trading Dave Winfield cards to get another Pete Rose card. The cards are way more intense, with some high-price items in sets.
There’s still room for kids, though. The basic packs can still be found in stores at a decent price, sometimes just 99 cents per pack. But there’s that bridge now — cross it and it’s a point of no return.
At least it seems that way to me!
I’ve yet to buy a high-end box. I’ve dabbled with some $8-$10 packs, but that’s about it. And I haven’t done it in a long time, for obvious reasons. For the most part, though, I stick with cheaper blaster boxes a couple of hobby packs here and there.
I can dream of that big hit, though.
There’s a feature that’s in the monthly Beckett magazine — a place where people can show off their pulls. Some of these pulls are simply incredible. Cards worth hundreds of dollars or more.
I hope one day I’ll have a pull good enough to send in to the magazine.
Until then, I’ll be happy with the small things and seeking out cards I need to fill something. One thing is for sure, it still gives the feel of a kid whenever you find a card you need or just ripping over a pack. I hope that feeling never goes away when it comes to collecting cards.
Notes: If you look at the top of the page, you’ll see a “Cards” link. I am trying to organize my collection and have a place where I can scan the cards and have a place for them. This will be the place. Over the next few months, I’ll be working on that page and the sub pages. Feel free to check it out. If you’re somewhat of a collector, I’ll have a page setup for cards I’m willing to part with as well as a “wanted” list. If I have something you want, feel free to give a shout and maybe we can work out a trade of sorts. I’m also going to eventually package up many of my “commons” or non-signed/game-used cards, package them as teams and likely give them away or trade for other items. Check back at some point to see what I have with those!
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