25 January 2008

A new tangent....

Last year I whiled away the last, long couple months of the offseason with the Royals Legacy Countdown of all 38 teams in the history of the franchise. This year, I have to come up with some new ideas. One new tangent I thought I could go into with The Pipeline is a hobby I share with masses of people all over the world -- sports card collecting. There are some good blogs out there that deal with cards (Cardboard Junkie, Stale Gum and Wax Heaven, to name a short few), which are usually thought of as a kids' hobby, but in the day and age of premium $100-$400 packs of cards, I don't see many 10-year-olds swinging those purchases. But that's why Topps still puts out cards at $2 a pack and there are several 99-cent pack sets out there in circulation. You'd think a pre-teen or teenager with a summer job or lawnmower could pour some money into some of the middle-market product, and all it takes is one hit -- one nice pull -- to maybe get you to the point you can sell a card on eBay and either pocket the money or buy one of those high-end packs.

Anyway, my own road as a collector started as a kid when I found a box of my older brother's football cards. He had left the hobby behind and didn't care that his little brother took on his cards -- he's also the type to take care of things like cards, so most were in pretty good shape. He must have been really into it in 1973, because that's when almost all of them were from -- of course he didn't have any Ken Stablers, Franco Harrises or the good rookies from back in that year, but he did have some nice ones in there -- Len Dawson, 3 Dick Butkuses (right), Jack Tatum and Art Shell RCs (rookie card, if you have no idea what I'm referring to). My mom was good enough to indulge me in card pack purchases from time to time, so I had some (now well-worn) 1981 Topps through some 1985s. The best of that lot -- a 1984 Topps Dan Marino RC -- would later be stolen by a "buddy" who had promised a package of cards including a Fleer Darryl Strawberry rookie (back when Strawberry looked like a budding Hank Aaron and hadn't destroyed his career with white powder). Of course, I being a naive junior-high kid let him take them to never see the cards again - my first experience with some of the bad traders out there who get a thrill from scamming people out of cards. I continued to collect baseball, football and basketball cards, buying and reading Beckett magazine. My collecting picked up steam in 1989 when Pro Set (left) and Score football cards came out (I, of course, made the turn toward Pro Set when Score ended up being the waaaaaay better buy) and 1989-90 Hoops basketball cards came out with the David Robinson series 1 RC (which I eventually pulled and traded to get my Art Shell RC back from a buddy). As I moved into high school, however, and pack prices continued to escalate (I still remember the sticker shock of $1 a pack for 1989 Upper Deck baseball, although if you pulled a Ken Griffey Jr. RC that was a $1 very well spent), the urge to continue to talk my mom into pack buys, which was getting more difficult with each passing year, declined and I faded out of the hobby. I kept all my cards, but the boxes and three-ring binders were put away and not touched for about 8 years.

Fast forward to 1999, when I'm fresh out of college and married with kids on the way. In a random stop i
n a bookstore during my lunch break, I ran across packs of football cards. On a whim, I bought a few packs of 1999 Upper Deck Victory (very low-end product, but a buck a pack with a rookie in each pack -- hard to beat that when you remember the days of buying packs of cards with all 5-cent base set cards inside). To make a long story short, I was hooked again. With the advent of autographs and game-used equipment cards, the thought of owning a Barry Sanders jersey card or a John Stallworth autograph (right) was too good to pass up. I was back into football and basketball collecting, dabbled in some hockey cards, and then a couple years later got fully back into baseball collecting again. It can be expensive, and it takes time to learn what the most worthy buys are (I can't believe how much Collector's Edge stuff and Collector's Choice junk I amassed), but it all pays off when you open a pack and see that game-used card or autograph or nice serial-numbered RC in your hand.

Another added facet of the hobby was the Internet, which of course hadn't been at my fingertips back in the '80s and early 1990s. I didn't have to go to my friend's house with my binders of good cards to trade, nor did I really have the time, and most of my trader friends from back in junior high had moved away, not that they collected anymore necessarily, either. I could go to Beckett's buy-sell-trade boards and take the chance at getting ripped off but
still make some trades. I also scouted the Beckett auctions and eBay and was able to buy some of those cards I always wanted as a kid or teenager but never was able to buy -- the Franco Harris (left) and Kenny Stabler RCs, the Lynn Swann RC. My pack buys also weren't dependent on my mom's income, either -- I made my own money to "blow" on cards. Much to my wife's dismay (somewhat, she's actually pretty good about it), the cards began to mount up. One five-row box of cards became two, then four. Now I've got more than 10 of those with another 8 two-row boxes and a couple four-row boxes. Experiences with the less-than-savory bad trader crowd on Beckett made me search for other pastures -- mainly those with some sort of eBay-style feedback system. A trickle of those sites has developed into a river nowadays. One key to my trading moves has been the creation of my own trading site, first on Geocities and now on Freewebs at Steel Curtain Card Trading. I started out collecting Steelers and 49ers as well as Red Sox and a handful of players in each sport. I've expanded that to sets, now, along with still collecting certain players. I also am into all-time team RCs, and I've polished off the '75 Steelers and '84 49ers on that front. Basically I've ensured that there's always gonna be something out there for me to collect.

Buying and trading habits come and go. I began buying more cards a couple years ago just because I got tired of waiting around for somebody to have one to trade. There are still those "white whale" cards (those hard to find, collection-making cards each collector has in mind) out there for me. Some lucky pulls have helped on that front. When Bowman Signature basketball came out a few years back for $30 a pack, I splurged (several times) and eventually pulled the Yao Ming and Amare Stoudemire autographed jersey RCs. I turned the Yao Ming into one of my "white whales" -- a 1981 Topps Joe Montana RC (pictured in all its splendor at right). As a young trader I had a couple buddies with the Montana RC as a prized possession, so the day I was able to get my own, as a collector and as a Niners fan growing up, was a sweet day. I turned the Amare into graded SP Authentic RCs of Paul Pierce and Mike Bibby along with a couple other cards -- can't say that trade has turned out as well, but at the time I was pleased. I've faded out of basketball and hockey trading except for the occasional pack here and there, but still am strongly into baseball and football cards.

The next pull and the next deal are what keep me interested. The great pulls, the cheap finds and the good deals where you give away stuff you don't care about for cards you've wanted for a long time make the money layout worth it. The bad deals (I have some bad memories of the Tom Bradys I traded pre-2001) and the ripoffs are disheartening, for sure, but they don't outweigh the good times.

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