What I’ve Learned, Part One

2012 was my accidental return to the baseball card hobby. A combination of several things, including having too much time on my hands, the real and present danger that Mom really would finally throw them out, my oldest child getting to be about the age I was when I got my first cards, and some sudden spark of interest that struck me for some reason.

Somewhere in the middle of all that was the realization that 12 year old me was a fool, and 35 year old me had to take a big breath and acknowledge that the pieces of paper I had loved so much were not the gold mine I had planned for them to be. There would be no paying off college loans or mortgages or even full tanks of gasoline.

11 year old Jim might have wrestled a grown man to get this. Luckily, I’m pretty sure he only paid $1 for it. Still.

So what I learned was to quickly decide what I did, and do, like about the cards, and the hobby in general. There were a lot of smaller lessons under that though. First, and most surprising to me was the Topps logo on basically every product. Fleer had always seemed so interesting and exotic to me. I will always have a special love for 1988 Fleer, because when Walgreen’s got a box of them in, it was gone the next day, or the day after. Mom made several special trips to Walgreen’s after school because word in the gym was they had some in. Without realizing it, I just about collected a whole set. Of course, if they didn’t have them, we had come all that way – all five minutes across town – so no point in not getting cards from Donruss or Score (also gone) or especially Topps.

It must have happened much more frequently than I remember, because I’ve got somewhere approaching 10,000 cards from that year alone. If memory serves, a guy got 15 cards in a pack from any of those sets. Which means, I got about 650 packs of cards that year. Figure my brother got about the same. Then there are the singles bought and traded for, the complete factory sets for my birthday and Christmas, and a few miscellaneous things acquired here and there. It makes a man wish he had eaten his vegetables, or kept the room picked up at all. Mom and Dad spent about $1,000 that year on baseball cards, and can certainly never be repaid for the amount of whining, begging, and fighting they caused.

So, the giant “these aren’t worth any money” pill was a bit tough to swallow. I am blessed with children who really do not ask for much, financially speaking. Every few weeks, there will be a suggestion we cruise through the dollar store and blow some cash on toys, but outside of that, even birthday and Christmas lists are pretty modest. Therefore, every memory of me demanding a trip to the card shop (or Walgreen’s) to get some cards, and every recollection of insisting we drive an hour to the card show next month, stings a little bit deeper than just a lousy return on investment.

Maybe I hate this hobby, I thought. Why keep 40,000 little reminders that Pete Rose broke my heart and the Cubs were always pretty lousy, and I was pretty much a spoiled punk? Not to mention the evidence that my ’83 Donruss Wade Boggs I traded for an ’85 Topps Eric Davis was about the worst deal I made prior to age 30, and unwrapping my ’86 Topps Traded Tiffany set was a bad move?

Because it’s fun.

It amuses me greatly. I love remembering that I basically spent an entire summer sorting cards while the VCR played Major League for background noise, and that was only interrupted by Mom’s occasional insistence that we go into town with her, which led to me checking some baseball books out from the library (and probably prying a few bucks out of her for cards). By the way, I still prefer the edited-for-TV version of Major League. “You may run like Mays, but you hit like his sister,” is much funnier to me than what the script said.

Anyway, 20 years changed me a lot, apparently. I had to get over the money thing, which actually wasn’t difficult. Spreading out all over the floor with cards all around me was tons of fun, and this time, the kids were with me. Of course, they didn’t care at all when I went “Wow” at every Gregg Jeffries card I pulled out. They did like to see the Nolan Ryan cards I collected, but it helps that they know a kid named Nolan.

I quickly realized I needed proper, grown-up type storage, so I found a card shop and loaded up the kids and went. I had a blast, the kids got some cards out of the deal, and I was back. It was pretty fun buying a pack of 1989 Donruss cards for the boys, and they cost less now than they did then. Pretty sure they were glad to hand them over. I, of course, had to get caught up on what people collect now, and there was plenty. Probably too much. As much as I may have felt a little shame and guilt at the number of cards I got when I was 11, it didn’t slow me down a whole lot when I was 35.


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