Heavy times can offer perspective on the hobby’s purpose in our lives

Posted in Commentary with tags , , , , , , , , on February 25, 2022 by Cardboard Icons

Baseball cards have long been a type of medicine for me. As a child I dealt with my parents fighting and eventual separation by using the hobby as a means to shield myself from pain, to help me escape the situation. These pieces of cardboard have been my constant for 35 of my almost 42 years. They ask nothing, but at times provide me with everything.

Over the last five days I’ve again been dealing with some stuff. A colleague, who was a supervisor and mentor, passed away earlier this week. I then learned two days later that the Sports Information Director of my alma mater, a person with whom I had many interactions with as a student journalist at San Jose State, also died the same day. These two losses have caused lots of pain as I recall the countless interactions with both.

And then Thursday, the inevitable came as Russian invaded Ukraine. I have no ties to either country, but waking to a timeline full of tweets and headlines about the situation seemingly made a dark situation even worse. How on earth could I even think — THINK! — about cards at a time when folks are worried about their safety, and others were dealing with lost life?

The feelings of guilt ran through my body; thoughts of uncertainty through my head. I posted a message stating as such and then I walked away from Twitter and social media all together for a few hours. I know I’m not the only one who feels guilt for having serious thoughts about a silly hobby like ours, but it is times like these that remind me of the purpose this hobby serves in my life. Collecting has been huge part of my journey — it’s been there through good and bad. It serves as a means of celebration, as well as a distraction during times of pain. We have to give ourselves permission in these times of grief and sorrow to enjoy the things that we like. Abandoning such activities would be a protest of our own personal joy.

All this to say, we all deal with things differently. What works for me, may not work for you. Sometimes we simply need a few hours away from all things, the painful ones and the joyous ones, to help us gain perspective on our own lives and figure out our game plan in our pursuit of happiness. Other times we just keep moving forward with the hobby because it fulfills a need in our lives. It’s important, however, that we as observers or role players in each others lives do not judge others for doing what works for them, so long as it is not a threat to others. We all grieve differently.

Cardboard Connections more valuable than Cash: A personal pull return after being gone for a decade

Posted in Commentary, Dad Life with tags , , , , , , on February 20, 2022 by Cardboard Icons

It was a Wednesday morning, February 2, 2022, to be exact, and I had just finished making my kids their breakfast when out of the blue I got this nostalgic feeling about a card I used to own. Every now and again a conversation leads me to wonder what came of certain cards I owned and sold or traded during my life.

Sometimes the card is a cheaper one, or other times its a more modern shiny classic that if I had known better I would’ve held onto for another year and had the equivalent of a down payment on a home. Other times it’s cards from some of the best years of my hobby life. In this case, it was a 1998 SP Authentic Randy Moss Rookie Card.

I mentioned this to a friend and he sent me a few listings of Randy Moss SP Authentic rookie cards for sale. Many were slabbed by PSA, but about halfway down there was one slabbed “Gem Mint” by Beckett Grading Services. This intrigued me enough to click the listing. I glanced at the image and thought: “That looks a lot like …”

***

It was a Tuesday night, some 23 years ago. I had plans to meet with my friends at the local bowling alley that offered $1 games one night a week. It was something we often did in my late teens and early 20s after we got off work and school. On this particular evening I first decided to swing by a local card and comic shop (R&K Comics in Sunnyvale, California) to see what they had for sale. At the time I was a collector of three sports (Baseball, Basketball and Football) and football was in full swing. I remember, because the Draft Class that year was smoldering, and I had a hot hand, pulling multiple rookie cards of Randy Moss, the newest wide-out in the league who was destined to become the next Jerry Rice.

Upper Deck made a product called SP Authentic and that year the rookie cards were seeded roughly two per box and they were limited to just 2,000 copies, and they were HOT. Bowman Chrome and Topps Chrome were a thing then and they had a following, but neither of those products offered serial numbered rookie cards. Serious collectors wanted serialized rookie cards, and they decidedly targeted the SP Authentic ones as the top — or one of the top — releases that year.

The packs were not cheap, somewhere in the neighborhood of $5 or $7 each, or at least twice that of any other pack. I believe I purchased four or five that night when I saw that the box on the shelf was full, meaning the contents were likely fresh and not the dregs of multiple blown boxes. In hindsight this was entirely possible, but I knew this shop didn’t get a lot of cards, they were heavy in comics and related items. This was probably the only box of SP they were going to get all year.

I purchased the packs and began opening immediately in a slow fashion, long before this became the norm for social media. In one of the early packs I could see a solid-color card back, which was an immediate indication I’d located a rookie card. The base cards that year were all oriented in a vertical fashion and featured a foil-type front and a back was complete with stats and a softened full-bleed image. So when you pulled a rookie — which was horizontal and a solid color back — you knew you had something. The color was gold, and the face on the front of the card was non-other than Jacksonville Jaguars running back Fred Taylor, the ninth overall draft pick that season. Taylor had been having a solid season and I knew at this point I was already playing with house money.

I opened the remaining packs I purchased, hoping to continue the good luck. Sure enough a few packs later another solid-color backside of a card revealed itself. This time the color was purple and the face on the front was Randy Moss, the 21st overall pick out of Marshall. I flipped the card over to look at the serial number, but the light bounced off a defect in the card. Right below the number “18” in the corner there was a crease that ran about a quarter of an inch, parallel to the edge of the card. I was still pleased with the pull but the factory damage put a damper on things just a tad.

I placed both cards into their own top loaders and headed to the bowling alley (Saratoga Lanes) where I met up with my friends, one of whom was also into cards at the time. I decided to play things modest. I told my friend (Nate) that I had bought some packs before heading to the alley and I told him that I pulled a Fred Taylor rookie. I showed it to him and he was happy for me, but this guy also had some luck of his own. He had purchased some of his own SP Authentic packs at the comic shop in the mall where he worked and he pulled a Ryan Leaf, the second-overall pick that year, news he provided me as he attempted to one up me with a card that was in fairly high demand at the time. At this point I could no longer contain myself — out of my pocket came the Randy Moss. “I also pulled this,” I said through a gigantic smile. This shut him up for the night on the card topic as Moss was blazing hot, and Leaf was regressing a bit after a piss-poor start to a classically bad tale of a bad draft pick. Victory was mine.

The following day I kept staring at the card, but I’ll be damned if I didn’t keep staring at that crease on the reverse of the Moss. The Taylor was a beauty, but the Moss was clearly damaged. I decided to reach out to Upper Deck, wondering if they would fix such a flaw, although I wondered how they might do so given that my card was factory serial numbered in gold foil. I called UD to inquire and they advised that they would send me a new version of the card if I sent them the original and a letter stating the issue. So I took a photo of my card — I swear I still have the Polaroid somewhere — and shipped it off. A few weeks later a new Moss arrived. I flipped the card over immediately to see if the flaw was gone, and it was. However, my eyes locked onto the serial number “1541/2000” which was now written in gold marker pen and not stamped in gold foil like other cards. It was then that I learned how UD rectified such situations where a factory-stamped serial numbered card had to be replaced.

I remember struggling with the idea of not having a factory stamped serial numbered, and how some might think the card was fake. But ultimately I had to let this go because the alternative was owning a stamped one that was creased. Little did I know that the hand-written detail would be my saving grace.

***

The years 1997 through 2001 were easily some of the most important years in my hobby career. This was a time when I was graduating high school, earning my first paycheck; had some adult freedom and was working toward a college degree of some sort — I did not declare a major until my third year of school. While others my age had ditched cards, I decided to stay the course on three sports and the hobby at the time was changing, moving light years away from packs full of base cards and going full-bore into an age with seeded, short-print and serial-numbered rookie cards, as well as the early years of game-used and autograph cards. I had some insane luck for a guy my age, spending as “little” as I was compared to my Silicon Valley collecting cohorts who found riches during the DotCom Boom. The Fred Taylor and Randy Moss rookies were massive pulls for an 18-year-old, but during this time I’d also pulled a Nolan Ryan autograph from 1999 Fleer Greats of the Game; Topps Chrome Rookie Refractors of Tim Duncan and Vince Carter; as well as autographs of Joe Montana and Dan Marino from the same box of SPX Finite; and the piece de resistence, a 2001 Upper Deck Hall of Famers Walter Johnson Cut Signature I unearthed from a pack at a 7-Eleven in San Jose, California.

Also during this time in the hobby, third party grading was all the rage. PSA had been slabbing cards for years, and in order to send cards to them you needed to purchase a membership. In 1998/1999 Beckett announced it was opening “Beckett Grading Services” to rival PSA. BGS offered thicker slabs, a grading scale that included half-grades, and every submission included subgrades, or a breakdown of the grade for four specific categories, edges, corners, surface and centering. The kicker? No membership fees. Color me sold.

Among the first cards I submitted were the Taylor and Moss. On August 9, 1999, both cards were graded Mint 9. The Moss came back with subgrades of 10 centering, 9s for edges and surface, and an 8.5 corners — which was mind-blowing since there were no obvious issues. I left the card in that slab for a little more than seven years until I decided to re-submit it in early 2007 with another batch of cards that included a Joe Montana rookie card, and a 2006 Bowman Chrome Draft Refractor Clayton Kershaw autographed card, which I had pulled myself just months earlier at a Wal-Mart in Milpitas, California.

***

I grew up here in the San Francisco Bay Area and had the good fortune to be around for a lot of successful 49ers football teams during my youth. Niner fans have been seeking that sixth Super Bowl since 1995, and whenever the team gets close to the Championship game I break out my Joe Montana rookie card and show it off on Social Media as a way of showing my support for the team. Things were no different this year as the team entered its NFC Championship game against the Los Angeles Rams. On January 30, 2022, I featured on Twitter my Montana as my “Card of the Day.” The image shows the overall grade of 7.5, the killer sub grades except for the centering, and the slab serial-number “0004886812” is emblazoned in the corner. Before posting that image I checked the BGS database to look at the specifics of the card — the card was slabbed February 6, 2007, and I reflected on the idea that it had been 15 years since I submitted the card. I shook my head and made the post, and merely put the card to the side hoping it would bring luck to the Niners. Little did I know this post would be crucial just days later.

Graded cards often get cracked and re-submitted for various reasons. Some owners do it for continuity of their collection, others do it for financial purposes, and sometimes folks do it because they believe the graders made a mistake that hurt. This was the case for me in 2007 when I decided to crack the Randy Moss SP Authentic from his 1999 holder and then re-submit it. When my Moss came back in 2007 it carried a gold BGS label and a Gem Mint 9.5 grade with three 9.5 subgrades, including for the “corners,” the category I felt they mistakenly undergraded the first time.

By 2007 I had already sold most of the football cards I owned. I decided to keep a handful to which I had an attachment, these included the aforementioned Montana rookie, as well as those sweet Taylor and Moss pulls from 1998 SP Authentic.

In May 2008 — just months before I started this blog — my then-wife and I found out we were having our first child. A funny thing happens when you learn you and your partner are going to be first-time parents. As a collector working in a profession (journalism) that offered a fair wage in an area where a spectacular income was needed to own a house I felt the need to sell something large in my collection in order to feel like I was doing right for my family, or to subsidize whatever else I wanted to add to my collection in the future. So I sold the Randy Moss to the highest bidder, and away in a padded envelope I sent a piece of my collecting history.

***

As I clicked the listing, I got a little giddy because at this point in 2022, the BGS legacy had been heavily tarnished for various reasons. Many folks were cracking their BGS slabs and sending the cards to PSA because cards in a PSA holder tend to fetch quite a bit more money than those graded by their counter parts. So to see a Randy Moss still in a BGS case at this point was intriguing. I clicked the close up of the Moss and saw the BGS slab serial numbered “0004886811.” That string of numbers sounded familiar.

“That looks a lot like the serial number I entered for the Montana,” I said to myself, trying to contain my wishful thinking. I then looked at the second image shown in the listing and saw the numbers “1541/2000” written in gold ink and nearly lost my mind.

“Holy shit! That’s MY Moss!” I said, both of my kids asking what the hell I was talking about.

All sorts of thoughts ran through my head, including the fact that I was mistaken. So I ran the Moss serial number through the Beckett database and confirmed it was actually graded on the same day as the Montana. I went and grabbed my Montana rookie and confirmed that the Montana was serialized one after the Moss. I then went to locate two other cards from the BGS batch I submitted in 2007, including the Kershaw card. It was confirmed, the Moss in the listing was mine.

Now, here’s where things get really tense. I immediately tweeted a picture of the listing and proclaimed MY Moss card was available on the secondary market. This was exciting, but also nerve-racking because I then feared that someone would swoop in and grab the card before I could figure out how to make it mine again. I sent a message to the owner, sharing the story about how the card was previously mine, how the card was hand-numbered as a replacement, and so on and so forth. For several hours I waited for a return message, often wondering if tipping my hand about the sentimental value would hurt my chances of securing this card.

As I waited I thought about this card journey of mine and how it started when I was 7 years old as two brothers befriended me when my family moved into a four-story apartment building across from a shopping center that housed Brians Books, a comic shop that was really my first true LCS. I thought about the Junk Wax Era and mass production; I thought about how a connection to sports cards is what brought my friend Nate and I together; I thought about the insane highs I felt in this hobby during that 1997-2001 run and how crazy it was that a teenager like me could walk into a comic and card shop and pull a card like this Randy Moss when there were adults with massive paychecks doing the same but with no such luck. I thought about the moment when my ex-wife told me she was pregnant and how that child of whom she spoke just turned 13 years old less than a month ago. I thought about how insane it is that on this random day in February, almost 15 years to the day after Beckett slabbed this Randy Moss card, that I was sitting at the kitchen table with both of my kids when I discovered that the card to which I have such a connection but set free in the world more than a decade ago had suddenly appeared back in my life.

I thought about how we only live once and sometimes you just gotta make shit happen.

And so I did.

I made some moves (Thanks to the friend who helped connect the dots on a few things) and sealed the deal. The Moss — MY Moss — was headed back home.

I wish I could say the re-union was seamless. I had plans for a homecoming, a video of me discussing this journey and then a trip back to the location of R&K Comics, which closed many years ago and is now home to a Boba Tea shop. But the journey back home also included one more hurdle – the actual delivery.

The card was In Transit from Missouri to California for about five days, and on February 9, the day the card was set to arrive by FedEx, I logged into my account and made sure that my notifications were set to send me a phone text message when the item was delivered. The sun rose, crested over the country, and then set again, all without a delivery message. Then just after 6:30 pm I got the message that the item had arrived. I drove as fast as I could to the home where I have all of my deliveries made. There was no package.

I asked my sister and her husband. There was no package.

I looked in the mail box, around the backside of the shrubs and the hedges. There was no package

My heart sunk. I was scared that this whole effort was for nothing. I explained to my family what the hell I was looking for, and I vocalized being worried that they delivered the package to the wrong address.

That’s when the neighbor came walking around the corner carrying two packages, including one from Missouri. I thanked the man five times over the course of 8 seconds and inspected the box as the man disppeared. The box was closed, but the tape was loose and it was not clear if the contents were inside. I thought about my plan for a video, but I had to know — was My Moss really back with its rightful owner?

I scooted the poor-tape job to the side, threw the inner packing material on the car seat, and then ripped open one end of the bubble mailer inside the box. I pushed the slab toward the opening, and it was then that I again laid eyes on the color purple just as I had some 23-plus years before when I first unwrapped the original 1998 SP Authentic Randy Moss rookie. And moments later, for the first time in almost 13 years, I laid my hands upon the BGS slab that I sold. Sure, the case has some imperfections, a few scuffs here and there, but it was back in my hands and there are no plans to ever let it leave my collection again. I wish the slab could talk. I wish I knew how many people held it, looked at it in envy. I wish I knew how many people looked at the hand-written serial number on the reverse and opted not to add it their forever-collections.

Whatever the un-told story is, I’m thankful that all roads led back to my collection. I’m super appreciative that I get to share this story on my blog since I’d never written about the Moss. I’m also thrilled that I get to share with my son — with whom I collect these days — how Serious I am about having personal connections to my cards and it reinforces what I’ve been teaching him over the last year or two: When possible we keep the cards that we pull.

Pack Break: 3 2021 Donruss Football Fatpacks — Will the cards tell us who wins this Super Bowl?

Posted in Box / Pack Break with tags , , on February 13, 2022 by Cardboard Icons

I don’t buy much football these days, but I managed to find these three fatpacks at Walgreens today while picking up a Valentine’s Day card.

Given that today is the Super Bowl I figured this would be a fun, silly way, to see if it’s in the cards as to who will win this game.

Pack One:

Well, Rams star receiver showed up three cards into this pack, but then A Joe Burrow mask variation blue Press Proof came up near the end of the pack. The highlight here is probably the Trevor Lawrence Rated Rookie. The Travis Etienne Jr is the canvas portrait variation.

Pack Two:

Had some repeats in this pack including Cooper Kupp. Perhaps that’s an omen or reassurance that the Rams will win. The actual card highlight here is that Elite Series Bo Jackson.

Pack Three:

Really heavy quarterback pack here with Joe Montana, Tom Brady, Peyton Manning, John Elway and Josh Allen.

Conclusion:

In all this break revealed a single Bengals card, a blue parallel of Burrow, and a pair of identical Kupp base cards. The OBJ offers somewhat of a third Rams card, but he’s shown as a Brown so that doesn’t really count.

Rams have advantage for quantity, but the Bengals get the upper hand with quality so I’m going to say these packs are telling me it’s going to be Burrow and the Bengals.

Cousin wanted out of the hobby so I acquired his collection

Posted in Memory Lane with tags , , , , , on February 11, 2022 by Cardboard Icons

This is a bittersweet post to write but I feel I should document it properly and not just in a series of Tweets.

My cousin and I are five years apart in age. We really came into eachother’s consciousness when I was about 10 years old. He’d always been around but he was living with our grandfather (Lolo) whom I didn’t spend much time with at my age. But around 1990/1991 our lives intersected more.

Our family dynamic was changing. My mom and dad had split and as a result I wound up spending more time at Lolo’s house and with my cousin, JR. I wasn’t sure on what level we would connect given the age gap, but we happened to bond over trading cards and wrestling.

One of the first card adventures I had with JR involved us walking alone — which in hindsight is batshit crazy considering he was 5! — to the nearest 7-Eleven where they had packs of 1990-91 Hoops and Skybox for sale. We bought some snacks and packs and we were off to the races.

I didn’t know how large a part of my life trading cards would be. I didn’t know that my “hobby” would basically consume me. I struggle with this notion even at the age of 41 — I swear there is a bit of guilt for being an adult who loves something folks still associate with something kids do, but I know I shouldnt feel bad for loving what I do.

I digress. My cousin — whether he actually enjoyed it or not I still am not entirely sure— came along with me on this journey. We ripped, ripped and ripped some more. We played poker for cards; we swapped our favorite players. Our grandfather would often take us to the card shop (Brian’s Books) and the arcade (Keystone) and give us a $20 to split. We’d spend some on cards, some on video games. And every now and again we’d even have a few bucks left over for the Ice Cream truck which always — ALWAYS! — had those WWF Ice Cream Bars that also contained a card on the package.

By the mid 1990s the hobby became central to our relationship. We’d pick him up from his house on a Friday night and he’d stay with me at my mom’s house all weekend. We’d sort cards, play cards, wrestle — I’m still sorry for the black eye you got when I whipped you into the “turnbuckle” that was the corner of the bed — and when things were really good, we’d stay up late at night watching “Shop At Home” as Don West and Eddie Lewis sold trading cards to the world.

By the late 1990s, I was changing and I didn’t know how to deal with it. I started dating a person — who’d eventually become my wife, the mother of my children, and then my ex-wife — and suddenly hanging out with my younger cousin was no longer a priority. Don’t get me wrong, we still got along great and we did card stuff. Hell, years 1998 and 1999 were awesome after I got my driver’s license. My cousin and I would often drive out to the 24-hour Walmart at 10 pm in search of the latest retail product. Remember, I was 18/19 at the time and he was 13/14 – I’m pretty sure his mom thought we were up to no good, but really it was just cards.

As I entered college we grew apart a bit mostly because our interests had changed and we were in different stages of our lives. He was entering high school and was doing his thing, and I was on my way to earning a degree. Needless to say the overnights ceased, as did much of our bonding time.

I kept collecting, and he kept most of his stuff and I’d later find out he bought quite a bit for himself once he was able to get his own eBay account. But again, our collecting ways we’re going different paths. Cards have been my life; and cards were merely a part of his.

Over the years our conversations would revolve more around real life than the hobby, but every now and again I’d inquire about his collection. And then seemingly out of nowhere he reached out to me about a year ago asking if I could help him sell his collection — the time had come to move on for good.

He hadn’t really collected cards for more than 15 years, but he knew the hobby saw an upswing again. Also, life dictated a situation where he needed to make some space. So he turned to me for the assist.

I immediately helped by taking possession of everything he could immediate find, but he knew there were a few pieces he couldn’t locate, including his 1996-97 SP Kobe Bryant rookie. Nonetheless I said I’d go through it and figure things out for him.

Over the last eight months or so his collection sat relatively stagnant in my closet as my own life has seen many changes over the last year and my desire to go through his stuff whilst thinning out my own collection just wasn’t there. But yesterday I grabbed one of his boxes, took another look and spoke to him again. I Confirmed he wanted to move everything as a whole and we came to an agreement for me to acquire the lot.

An outsider looking at the collection would likely latch onto the 1986-87 Fleer Charles Barkley Rookie PSA 6 as the key item, or even the Charles Woodson 1998 SP Authentic rookie card. But for me, the prize of this acquisition is a 1998 Ultra Randy Moss rookie card.

In 1998 rookie cards were hotter than they had been in years for two reasons: They were often short printed then, seeded at 1:4 packs; Also the 1998 NFL Draft Class was amazing. I pulled the Peyton Manning from Ultra that year; my cousin pulled this Moss and that card was always the object of my affection. True I owned better Moss cards, but the Ultra one was always a card I had my eyes on. And even though I was five years older than my cousin I never took advantage of him in any deals — I always encouraged him to keep the good things he pulled.

Needless to say the Moss is one card from this collection that will be staying with me and remain in the family. There are many cards in this collection, a few hundred of which I think I will send to COMC and a few thousand that I will need to move onto other collectors to enjoy.

There are a few dozen more cards that I’ll be holding onto from JR’s collection as his hobby journey comes to an end and he moves into bigger things. But perhaps I’ll show some cards here from time to time to keep open that chapter of my — our — hobby history. Love you.

1989 earthquake commemorated on card, encapsulated and now in my collection

Posted in Commentary with tags , , , , , , on February 8, 2022 by Cardboard Icons

A funny thing happened last week. I was sitting at my kitchen table sipping my decaf coffee and out of nowhere I decided to check eBay for graded copies of some junk wax era cards. I wasn;t looking for stuff I normally collect like rookie cards. Instead I was looking for a handful of special cards that were released around the time I was 10 and 11 years old.

The very first card I looked up was the 1990 Score card 701, better known as the “Lights Out: Candlestick” card commemorating the 1989 Loma Prieta earthquake here in the San Francisco Bay Area that disrupted the World Series between the local teams Oakland Athletics and San Francisco Giants. I’ve told my earthquake story here before. I wasn’t at the game, but I sure as hell remember every detail of that evening. And when this card was released the following year I found myself in awe. And truth be told, when I see copies of this card I tend to buy just for the hell of it since I’m not sure a lot of folks appreciate it. On a side note, I’m not 100% sure of this, but I’m betting Score made this card 701 because … the earthquake was a 7.1 on the Richter Scale.

Anyhow, as I looked, I located a copy of the card graded Mint 9 by BGS. I gasped, checked the pop report — I knew there couldn’t have been many slabbed — and then bought the card. This copy was graded in 2013 and is one of only five total cards submitted to BGS, and the only one that received the Mint grade. There is a single Gem Mint copy in existence, but I don’t need that one, this one does me just fine. And to make things even better, my purchase cost was less than what the grading service actually charges these days, which always feels like a win.

I own multiple raw copies of this card, including one my son pulled from a box we opened last year, but as I get older I tend to find myself looking for slabbed copies of certain cards that evoke memories. The kicker for me with slabbed copies is they just present so differently than those sitting in binder pages, all of which are beautiful in their own way. Owning slabs is not a necessary part of collecting these days, but it is something that brings me joy.