Collecting means something different to a lot of people. It can involve multiple goals, many different techniques, countless motivating factors and it lives on a sliding scale of importance. Ultimately, we all have the same hobby but we just go about it differently from one another in most cases. More often than not, collecting is instilled in us at an early age and both our childhood and our environment play a major role in our development within the hobby as adults. There are a lot of reasons/factors that formed the way I collect today. Some are tangible and some are just second nature at this point; but they all have helped me evolve into who I am today.
Let’s start with this very important truth; There is no wrong way to collect (except searching)! Always collect what/who you want to collect and don’t give a second thought to what other people think about it. If you want to collect only basketball cards with players in blue jerseys that are in the motion of a jump shot; Knock yourself out! Who am I (or anyone else) to tell you that it is weird or somehow not the right way to go about collecting? Collecting is supposed to make you happy or help you step away from your daily struggles and if you don’t do it your way, you are wasting that opportunity.
Let me go over some of the factors that brought me here and tell you what collecting is to me. Again, some of these are tangible lessons learned while some are just experiences that I return to when I’m sorting. In any event, they are what make the hobby fun for me still today. And by definition, a hobby is “an activity done regularly in one’s leisure time for pleasure.” These are the things that molded me and brought me pleasure over my life, as it relates to the world of cardboard. Maybe by the end of this, you will recognize some of the things that have made you the collector you are today.
Collecting to me as a kid was sitting in my floor and making an all-star team out of the good players in the packs I ripped. Sometimes, the team wasn’t made up completely of real life all-stars. As a kid, I was lucky to squeeze 2-3 packs out of a trip to Wal-Mart with my parents. While that may have been all I got, I sincerely mean that I was lucky because those trips were priceless. My 3 packs of Donruss may have resulted in me having Jerry Browne or Albert Hall on those all-star teams I formed. I would read the stats on the back to help me finalize the team and home runs or average usually won the tie breakers. I laid the cards out in the baseball field layout and that would be my team. I decided to rip a couple packs of ’89 Donruss just for this piece so I could put together an all-star team to picture. What do you think of this team? The bad part is my infield is weak but I had to pick between Glenn Davis and Mark Grace at 1st!
As touched on above, collecting was reading card backs. That is how I learned about players who didn’t play for the Braves or Cubs. I was able to watch those two teams every day because of the national television stations they were on. When they played the Pirates or the Astros, I could usually look out for Glenn Davis or Andy Van Slyke because I had read up on their stats on card backs. I studied the cards front and back and I liked players because of what I learned about them. A great follow on Twitter is @sportcardbacks because he will share some of the more interesting card backs from the “old days”, which happen to be right in my childhood collecting days. Even now, in 2018, I just learned that Glenn Davis’ home was Columbus, Ga!
All-Star and MVP Cards used to mean something. In a world where relics and autographs were unheard of, we spent our time trying to chase down insert cards. While all sets varied with the exact insert sets they had to offer, almost all of them had some form of a “best of the best” subset. Donruss had MVP’s, Score had the All-Star sketches, Topps had the Bold All-Star Cards and so on. Collecting big names was how you filled your binder pages and loaded up on trade bait. Those cards are in dime boxes at card shows now. Back then, they were the cards in the glass cases!
I learned how to collect because of RBI Baseball and the time I spent playing against my uncle’s on that game. RBI 3 even allowed you to play with teams that won pennants during the 80’s. I could play with the 1985 Royals and it made me want to collect George Brett. Sometimes, I would be the ’84 Tigers and I would go searching for “Sweet” Lou Whitaker or “Never Fret” Chet Lemon. I learned about baseball players from two key sources; cards and RBI Baseball. And I took every opportunity to intertwine those two hobbies of mine. My love for Jose Canseco was actually born on RBI 3 and the fact that he was a hobby superstar only made it stronger.
Collecting was reading up on cards in the Beckett magazine. I had a unique way of opening packs in 1989 and 1990 that was totally dependent on me having a Beckett magazine handy. I bought the mag each month so that never was a big problem. I would open my packs with the backs of the cards facing up and would slide each card just enough to reveal only the card number for the next one. I would go to my Beckett and find the number in the price guide and my excitement would be dependent on whether it was listed or not. If it was listed, I knew it was going to be worth .15 or more and if it wasn’t, I knew it was a common. Excitement was really high when those cards turned out to be Jr. or Gary Sheffield or Ricky Jordan. Those were $1.00 plus cards and worth more than what the actual pack cost. If Beckett had published a History or Spanish book that I enjoyed as much as their price guide, I probably would have been valedictorian of my class!
Collecting was sitting in the lunch room of my high school before homeroom and comparing hits with my buddies. I hit a 1990 Donruss Diamond King Ken Griffey Jr and was the talk of the class one morning. You were somehow better than everyone else on the days you had the big hit. I remember the ’89 Bo Jackson baseball/football card, ’90 Score Frank Thomas, ’90 Upper Deck John Olerud and ’91 Stadium Club Phil Plantier as some of the bigger cards I showed off in that lunchroom. I never beat David and his Andre Dawson Elite but I had some pretty good pulls back in the day.
I enjoy going through a box of old cards, even if it’s loaded with Tommy Herr or Franklin Stubbs, because it takes me back to my youth. Even though it’s called “Junk Wax”, I have never considered those cards junk. I have a few boxes that I’ll go through every year and I already know what cards are there but I will sort them in a different way just to have an excuse to go through them again. I’ll do it with ’91 Fleer, ’85 Topps or ’89 Upper Deck; I don’t have any bias against cardboard. I may not like some of the designs, like ’90 Donruss, but that doesn’t mean I’m trashing those cards. I don’t trash cards at all to be honest. I pass them down or send them to other collectors if they aren’t going to stay in my collection. One reason is that you just never know when a particular card value may rebound. But more importantly, the cards just mean too much to me.
I enjoy autographs, patches, printing plates, serial numbers, graded cards, and just about any other modern day frill you can think of. But I’ll never forget my roots and I’ll never get too far from home. I’ll never choose a pack of 2017 Contenders over a pack of 1987 Fleer. I’m being 100% honest when I type that. For my enjoyment, I would rather have a Bo Jackson rookie than a DeShaun Watson rookie. I know that values are different and I could make more money on eBay and there is more demand for Watson; I get all of that. But that’s not why I’m in this game. Would I sell a Watson to make money? There’s no question about that. But do you know what I would do with at least a portion of that money? I’d go buy a box of 1987 Fleer! The cards I sell don’t make me rich and they won’t pay my bills, but they will help me buy more cards to support my Hobby. That’s my stance on buying and selling. I’m probably in the minority but I’d usually rather give the card to someone who would like it in their collection.
Now, if we’re talking about money cards, I have no problem flipping those to buy more cards. Again, everybody collects different and I don’t think any less of anyone who does it different from what I do. I’ve periodically sold on eBay and Twitter and have no problem with others that do so more often. That’s definitely an important sector of the community because I do buy from time to time. I just don’t see dollar signs when I open product anymore. I did when I was a kid but they were literally $1.00 signs. The tireless hunt for the 1:1’s or the star autographs can both drive you mad and break the bank. That’s part of why I still delve so much in the junk wax era. I pay a reasonable price for what I consider to be good cards and I’m not driven by money at any point during the transaction. It’s not a business to me. It can be, and is, to some; and there is zero wrong with that, but it isn’t me.
Finally, and this might be the most important aspect of collecting to me; it gives me a different purpose, tangible goals and an excuse. Let me explain. I have been married for 17 years, have 2 kids (Age 10 & 3) and have worked at the same job for 20 years. Every day I wake up, I know what my purpose is. I have built the life I have now because it is the life I wanted. I married my high school sweetheart, we have beautiful kids and I’m stable in my career. Isn’t that the American Dream? But as with most other people, it is hard sometimes to live a systematic life without sometimes feeling like a robot. That’s where this hobby comes in. I am constantly challenged by cards; whether it’s finding an old classic, reviewing a new product or trying to complete a project. “Every pack is different”, so to speak.
I am able to be the kid that never grew up when I’m sorting cards. I’m able to mentally sit in my old bedroom and watch the neon dance on the front of 1990 Topps just like I did when I was 13. And the key; there is no pressure. I have pressure in every other aspect of my life; the family, bills, the job. There is absolutely no weight that comes with ripping and sorting. It’s a freeing experience for me and is one of the few things in my life that can immediately lift weight off of my shoulders. And because it does that for me emotionally, it gives me the perfect excuse to be that kid that still wants it to be 1989.
Collecting cards truly means that much to me. It is as close to being a religious experience as you can get without actually having a religious experience. It touches me in a real, palpable sense but the hobby also has emotional, spiritual and therapeutic components to it. Cards are a complete sensory experience for me. I can obviously feel the cards but I can usually smell the card and tell you if it is Topps, Fleer, Donruss, etc. I can envision the setting I was in the first time I pulled a particular card. I can taste the horrible gum that still exists in residue form on my old cards. And the sound of a wax pack being opened is one of the sweetest sounds a 40 year old card addict can hear.
I know what you’re thinking right now. You can’t imagine that the act of collecting sports cards could ever be this important to a person’s life. I’m telling you unequivocally that it is. I love this hobby and I want to spread the feeling that I have to every collector I meet. I don’t care what you collect or how you collect; as long as you collect, you are part of the family!