Cautionary tale of jumping back into the hobby – a quick “L” for a returning hobbyist

Posted in Commentary with tags , , , , , on December 11, 2020 by Cardboard Icons

I was sitting in my car the other day when I received a text message from a relative who wanted to put me in touch with someone who needed some direction in this hobby.

I’m always down to help of course so I offered my assistance. And within seconds I was linked up to a 30-something who like many others collected during their youth and for one reason or another left the hobby but now find themselves coming back.

He’s into football and basketball and loves Panini products, which of course is no surprise given products for those two sports are produced by that company.

During the course of our conversation this person told me he was interested in more information about the current state of the hobby, and told me just a night prior he had already made his first purchase.

“I’m into the autographed stuff,” he said as he sent me a picture of his buy – two boxes of Panini “One on One” basketball from his LCS. The allure of a big-ticket auto of course came with a whopping price tag of $1,700 for the pair.

I cringed. I had a feeling it didn’t go well. What did he get for his money? Four cards highlighted by a Jarrett Culver rookie patch auto and a signed Mike Conley relic card.

What a brutal break. I joked that his return was about $17 in cards, which of course isn’t completely accurate but it’s not too far from.

I told him I wouldn’t blame him if he just walked away from the hobby after that kick to the groin, but alas here we were talking about the hobby and he was as interested as ever.

I schooled him up on some basics and got permission to share this story as it seemed like a good cautionary tale for new comers or folks returning to the hobby. It’s a lesson that spending big money will not always get you a big return, or even cards that you’re pleased with.

Not everything is going to yield a card worthy of TMZ reporting. Please seek information before spending money, especially if it’s going to be a significant purchase like those two boxes. Yes, the market on those specifically is hot, but the contents as you can see can be frigid.

Here are five quick tips for people returning to the hobby:

-Identify WHY you’re coming into this hobby. Do you like cards, the gambling aspect, or just want to revisit some old feelings? None of these are wrong. Just identify your purpose and then figure out how to chase success.

-Compare prices online versus your Local Card Shop (LCS) to make sure you’re at least in the right ball park if you decide to buy something today. Cost at the LCS will almost always be more since there is overhead and of course the convenience factor, among other things.

-Seek information: Who is actually in the product? Wondering why there are no Michael Jordan cards in Panini? A quick internet search will tell you about his Upper Deck exclusive.

-Pace yourself. This hobby can be exciting, but it also has addictive qualities, especially if you’re info opening packs and boxes. There’s a constant chase of the euphoria felt when opening a package of promise. Once you get a taste of it there’s often an urge to again meet or exceed the feeling. This feeling probably will never go away.

-Find a trustworthy ally who can help when you have questions, and preferably someone who is not trying to make money off your decisions. Card shop employees can be great sources of information, but remember their job is to sell product in the store and I’m sure some of them work on commission so realize there could be an ulterior motive.

Sour card experience by day; hobby redemption by night – the story of my Wednesday.

Posted in Misc. with tags , , , on December 10, 2020 by Cardboard Icons

A 40 year old man walks into a Target on Wednesday morning after running an errand. As a card collector it’s almost a habit to stop at whatever store nearby sells cards.

And so he does what he does: He sets the vehicle in park, dons a mask due to COVID-19 protocol and heads into the store hoping there will be something to buy.

He’s a baseball collector and dabbles a bit in basketball these days, but this time it’s mid December and neither of those sports are in season. The cards at the front of folks mind these days are those of football, a sport the man abandoned as a true collector almost a decade and a half prior. But here he is, two weeks before Christmas, walking into a Target, grabbing a hand basket and heading to the card aisle.

The collector sees two heads already over there, which of course piques his curiosity. It was only a year or two earlier when the only heads seen in that area were those of kids or others of his kind. Now the collector contends with young adults half his age, more wise to technology, mostly there seeing an opportunity to profit. The collector had stopped at Target out of habit because that is what he knows. As it turns out the two heads he spotted from a distance are really three, and all of them were here because they heard in a Facebook group that new cards were being stocked today at this Target and there was an opportunity to double or triple their money.

The collector walks up with a basket in hand, and from the left the card vendor shows up with a half dozen boxes of promise, or so it seems anyway.

As the vendor eyes the shelf to make room for the newest product, one of the three heads who’d been waiting wheels his shopping cart out of hiding — it is already full of new product that draws the ire of the vendor and his other two Facebook partners.

“Did you get those from here?” The perplexed vendor asks, motioning to the seemingly sealed boxes of product he had been sent there to stock.

The man with the shopping cart plays dumb, saying a female employee had placed the cards out earlier and he grabbed them all. But all standing there already knew the fix was in; the man with the shopping cart had an insider with whom he’d been working. The game was unwinnable for all others who were there to play.

There were a dozen of one box, two dozen of another, and yet another row of unknown product beneath that. The man with the shopping cart had already won the lottery and he stuck around to press his luck a bit more.

The collector was at a crossroads. Does he stick around to see if he can get some of the leftovers — assuming the other two heads even agree to share — or does he walk away in frustration, resigned to the fact that the old ways of his hobby are antiquated to a degree?

After a brief moment of internal struggle the collector decides to bow out knowing it is not in his nature to argue in public over the ability to purchase baseball cards. After all, what exactly was he there for anyway? Certainly it was not the heartache and frustration this seemingly spontaneous trip was beginning to cause.

***

The story above was my experience on Wednesday and I’m somewhat ashamed to admit that this situation really put me into a funk for a good portion of the day. Sure, part of it was the actual happening, but majority of the depressive thoughts were due in part to the fact that the sharpened hooks of FOMO and hobby addiction had again become sunken deep into my cheek and the barb wasn’t allowing for a simple catch and release.

Realizing this, I had to step away from Twitter for much of the remainder of the day. And instead of sharing here, I’d honestly still be wrestling with this internally if it weren’t for something I saw later that night.

For one reason or another I realized that Greg of NightOwlCards was going to be on the About The Cards podcast. I’d been following Greg since 2008 when I found his work in the infancy of this blog and remarkably this east coast native made time to be on the only podcast I consume regularly, one that doesn’t start until 11 pm on his side of the country. I listened to Greg talk for about 45 minutes and he reminded me of times gone by and really about how much I used to enjoy writing here about my experiences in the hobby.

I realize that my experience in this hobby is very specific to my situation; hell, much of this is true for all of us save for the the cards themselves, those are the ties that bind us.

That said, Greg’s appearance on the podcast really hit home for me in a time when I sort of needed something to bring me back to center; that is why I chose to share the entirety of my Wednesday experience and thoughts here instead of in a format built for stream of consciousness sharing. Maybe I need to revisit this writing thing and not just condense all of my thoughts into snippets every time something pops up – after all, writing IS part of my hobby experience which I realize I’ve been neglecting.

I am an attention-seeking hypocrite … there, I said it.

Posted in Commentary with tags , , , , , on December 9, 2020 by Cardboard Icons

Hypocrisy is often something I wrestle with. I cannot tell you how many times a day I scroll through my Twitter timeline and either groan or shake my head at something that I see posted by one of the persons I follow. 

Every morning I can count on three things:

-Someone is bitching about a facebook post involving a card that appears to be grossly overpriced.

-Someone is posting about a shopping cart full of retail products they scored that morning; or conversely a picture of empty shelves.

-Someone stirring the pot about the collector versus investor/flipper.

It’s fucking tiresome. I stare at the stuff and wonder why folks post what they do, and almost always it comes back to one thing: Attention.

Whether you realize it or not, your decision to type 140 characters and hit the “send” button is often an act of self indulgence, an exercise to reassure that you have a space in this world, in this card hobby. Sure, every now and again your intentions are pure. Maybe you’ve got a question about a product or are seeking something. But when you’re posting random stream-of-conscious thoughts, pithy messages or even meaningful ones — particularly vague ones — or pictures of stuff you own, there is only one reason you do so: It’s because you need the attention.

And don’t get me wrong, I write this column KNOWING that I often do the same thing. I wrestle with this every day. There is indeed a desire for attention, but also an addictive quality to this whole social media phenomenon in which we participate and it’s good to call it out every now and again.

We love writing something that gets people talking; we love having a unique take or being the one to break news. We love the “like” and “retweet” notifications, and we get off on the number of followers we have.  All of this is part of what some deem a form of “social currency” — it gives us purpose, value in a world — digital or not — where it is easy to go from super popular to someone who gets lost in the shuffle. And at age 40, some 33 years into this collecting career, I fear this is where I am.

I’ve never been one to seek attention, yet here I am almost every day looking for a way to hold my space in this hobby. There is a real fear that I may in fact become irrelevant, and after being somewhat public for the last 12 years through my blog and Twitter, that is a reality with which I am having a hard time coming to grips.

And don’t get me wrong, I’ve never believed that I was/am super important in this space. I’m just a dude in California who got into cards at age 7, spent a bunch of money over the years, amassed some desirable cards, retained a bunch of information relative only to this hobby, and decided to start a blog one day to chronicle my journey. But the blog got some attention, it was coupled with the birth of Twitter, and was taken to another level a few years later with some thrift store finds that opened doors to some magazine writing opportunities. All of this created this idea that the account “cardboardicons” was worth following for some of you; and with each of the likes, retweets and follows grew this notion of importance. And with that “success” comes this incessant desire to maintain it.

Where I struggle though is realizing that some of this forces me to be something I never was or really wanted to be: An attention seeker. And while I have days where I tweet whatever I want, whenever I want, I have many other days where I self edit because I can see myself groaning and shaking my head at some of the very things I begin to write. Because I know that I am indeed a hypocrite.

Having said all of this, I cannot say this changes anything. So much of the hobby experience — at least for me — these days is dependent on sharing thoughts and experiences with persons whom we have deemed friends because we follow each other on Twitter. And I enjoy this little space that I occupy in this hobby, even if it’s shrinking in relevance given today’s market and current practices. But the one thing I will continue to be is real, and that is why I felt it important to identify these feelings I am having. Hell, maybe some of you also feel the same way about hypocrisy and need someone else with whom you can talk to about them.

Collecting Kershaw: Game Used baseball likely used for his 898th career K (Mark Buehrle)

Posted in Collecting Kershaw, Misc. with tags , , , on November 6, 2020 by Cardboard Icons

I think I found myself a gem in the rough. Today I present you with what I believe to be the ball used for Clayton Kershaw’s 898th career strikeout on August 10, 2012.

This ball bears the Florida Marlins Park 2012 inaugural season stamp and is authenticated by MLB as a third inning foul tip by batter Donovan Solano, who would end up being Kershaw’s 899th career K.

Authentication processes at the time did not detail the same way as we see these days with multiple pitches, their speeds, pitch type, etc. So I did a little research and here’s what I came up with for the life of this ball.

In the prior at-bat, Kershaw faced opposing pitcher Mark Buehrle, and got ahead 0-2, the second strike coming on a ball fouled out of play. A new ball is introduced — the ball I believe I now own — and Kershaw missed high (73 MPH curve) on the next pitch and then away with a 94 MPH fastball on the following one. The third pitch is a 93 MPH fastball that Buehrle can’t catch up to and he’s down on a swinging strikeout; the catcher throws the ball around the horn.

Video shows Kershaw circling the mound and then waits for the third baseman throw him the ball and he gets right back on the mound. No new ball is introduced.

Kershaw then faces Solano, starting with a 94 MPH fastball down the middle of the plate, then an 84 MPH (changeup?) pitch off the plate. His next pitch is an 85 MPH curve that spikes at the plate and Solano swings. The ball hits either the bat (play by play said swing and miss) or the catchers knee saver/shin pad and then ricochets toward the Marlins dugout. A new ball is then introduced and Kershaw then misses with a ball and then gets Solano to swing and miss on another curveball in the dirt which the catcher gloves and tags the batter — the catcher keeps the balls and heads to the dugout.

Given that the ball is authenticated as a “foul tip” and Solano only swing twice in that atbat, it’s likely the ball is from the third pitch of the atbat, which with a swing and an audible “thud” and ricochet could be construed by the authenticator as a foul tip. And we know that ball to have been used for pitches 2 and 1 of the Solano atbat, which I also believe to have been used for the final three pitches of the previous atbat which ended in a strikeout.

Not sure if I’d be able to get MLB to add a note to the authentication, but the evidence looks pretty strong to me and I’ll plan to display it in my collection as such. It’s NFS anyway. 🙂

Link to the YouTube video (full game) is here (https://youtu.be/-cIpHsjTmEE) The Buehrle atbat is around the 47:00 mark. This ball was in play for about 2 minutes and 30 seconds.

The Man is finally a Champion: Kershaw now pitching with a lead instead of from behind

Posted in Collecting Kershaw with tags , , , , , , , , on October 28, 2020 by Cardboard Icons

For all of the regular season accolades Clayton Kershaw has achieved during his 12 seasons in Major League Baseball, detractors of the lefty have always had one major gripe: How’s he going to screw up in the playoffs.

But after a stellar performance in the 2020 playoffs, including two key wins for the Dodgers in the World Series (Games 1 and 5), Kershaw may have been able to re-write the narrative on his own career as he is now a champion.

As a collector of Clayton Kershaw memorabilia — namely his baseball cards and his game-used baseballs — this has been a hell of a roller coaster ride. I took a liking to the lefty around the time of the 2006 MLB Draft. I’ve always been a fan of pitching and while that’s not where folks advise to “invest” your time and money in this hobby, such advise has never dictated what made me happy. Around the time of the draft I had seen many a clip highlighting the lefty’s knee-buckling curveball. It was then that I felt this urge to own something of his. As fate would have it, I came to own perhaps one of his most coveted baseball cards: his 2006 Bowman Chrome Draft Refractor autograph.

At the time, Walmart had begun selling blaster boxes of the product. And unlike with everything being sold today, the stuff didn’t always immediately sell. I opened one blaster and pulled a blue refractor (non-auto) of then-prospect Travis Snider. That success made me go seek out more of the product, and a day later I came across another blaster in a Walmart in another city. It was then that I hit the jackpot. In one of the packs from the blaster was the card that would be the foundation of a player collection of a guy who’d eventually become one of the baseball’s finest.

I’m not going to lie. I was not always considering myself a Kershaw collector per se. My PC, or personal collection, at the time revolved heavily around rookies (and first prospect cards) of anyone who had cards. Really.

I enjoyed Kershaw cards early on but was not holding them as an investment. In fact, my mentality was about obtaining the aforementioned rookie cards because they felt like good monetary buys in a relatively volatile market. Collecting isn’t all about the money, but sometimes you can’t help but at least consider it. Besides, I had just taken my foot off the gas pedal a bit with my other player collection: Roger Clemens. While I enjoyed collecting single players, I really wanted to achieve bigger goals – I wanted the icons of cardboard.

For years I focused on that rookie collection, and at times I missed the simplicity of player collecting. It was at that time I decided to really dive into the Kershaw collection. It started with every base card I could find in my boxes. And then with the ease of COMC and eBay I acquired more. Then through trades the collection continued to grow. Sometimes I focused on quality, other times quantity. And to date I have more than 1,200 unique cards in my possession and another 300 or so on the way. By the time those cards are catalogued, the Kershaw collection may very well outnumber the Roger Clemens collection, which is right around 1,500 unique pieces.

Cards are my first hobby love, and at some point I intend to photograph and post each of the Kershaw cards either here or on another platform. But my hobby desires over the last half-decade have shifted and now include game-used memorabilia, specifically baseballs.

***

The very first time I saw Clayton Kershaw pitch live, he was involved in a battle with Giants ace Madison Bumgarner. I live in northern California, so up until Sept. 29, 2015, I had only been able to see Kershaw pitch on television. And then that late-season matchup was announced and thre NL West crown was on the line. Kershaw — the guy who I could not wait to see pitch live — was facing off a local lefty whom I had seen pitch plenty and also enjoyed. The battle, in my mind, was going to be epic. To some degree the real outcome was epic. Kershaw tossed a 1-hit, 13-strikeout complete game masterpiece as the Dodgers clinched the title that night in San Francisco. After the game I located the game-used memorabilia booth hoping to get a piece of the action, but learned quickly that obtaining game-used items isn’t always easy , even if you’re caught up in the moment and willing to spend whatever you’ve got. Typically the home team controls any used items, including bases and balls, however since the Dodgers had clinched the NL West title they worked out some sort of deal and the Dodgers took possession of it all. In short, that night I left with no physical memorabilia, just a smile, great memories and a bunch of photos I took from the field-level seats my sister and I had along the third baseline.

A year or so later while searching eBay I found a ball from the game for sale. Needless to say I made it mine — it was a pitch in the dirt thrown by Kershaw to Giants shortstop Brandon Crawford. And about a year after buying that I found another from the same game involving the same players from another at-bat in the game.

The first of those balls was the first Kershaw-used item (non card relted) I owned. And to date, the collection of Kershaw-used baseballs is now nearing two dozen, the biggest two in my mind being a 2018 ball used by Kershaw to strikeout former NL MVP Ryan Braun, and one thrown by Kershaw in Game 5 of the 2018 World Series, the contest in which the Red Sox would rough up the lefty and win their fourth title of the century. This ball is valuable to anyone who collects game-used balls since World Series memorabilia has a lot of desire. This ball for me, however, is literally priceless because I was at the game.

I’d written about this experience before — about being a kid from the San Francisco Bay Area who as a youth chose Roger Clemens as his favorite player and then latched onto the Boston Red Sox; about sticking with the Sox even after Clemens went to Toronto, then Boston, then Houston, and back to New York. I’d chronicled how the night of Game 5 of the 2018 World Series I wept while standing at Dodger Stadium watching my team celebrate a championship — something I’d hope all fans would be able to claim.

While the baseball from that night is something I’d never willingly part with, there are other items I’d also have a tough time moving, including a single game-used cleat from Kershaw’s 2009 season.

***

If you follow me on Twitter, I’d been discussing this cleat in vague terms for almost half a year, or pretty much since COVID changed the routine of our lives. I’ve yet to share the full story. Now is as good as a time than any other, right?

In early March while doing an eBay search for Kershaw items, I got frisky and looked for “better” items, meaning not just cards or baseballs. I wanted something more substantial – I wanted something that I could display.

During the search I found a listing for a signed and authenticated Clayton Kershaw used cleat. Not a pair of cleats, but a single cleat — one dirty right shoe that was caked with mud but was emblazoned with a Steiner Memorabilia sticker/COA. The asking price was much higher than many of the other items I usually purchased, but this was to be expected, especially since I was looking for a substantial piece.

I did a bit of research and saw more modern cleats sold in pairs were well into the four digits. This single shoe from early in his career looked like a deal. And when I photo-matched it to several games, including a a few from the playoffs in 2009, I knew it had to be mine. A bit of haggling ensued and a deal was struck. The overtime I had worked that week was going to fund a special item in my collection and I wasn’t mad at all.

Now, here’s where the story gets a bit funky. Remember the context of the time. The deal was struck in the first week of March, and it was shipped pretty quickly using USPS Priority Mail. At the time the United States was still fully functioning. The discussion about COVID-19 was still somewhat of a international story, not exactly one that had turned into the giant mess that we know it now to be. On March 16, it was announced that the Bay Area — where there had been a high concentration of presumed positive tests — was one of the first areas in the state to go into a “Shelter In Place” order. This was new to everyone, we had no clue what we were getting into.

That day I had an emergency dental appointment and my sister was home all day, so she would have been there to receive the package. When I got out of my appointment, I checked the shipping status and found that USPS had tried to deliver the package but left a notice behind. As I drove home the SIP order was just being leaked and I feared I would NEVER receive the cleat I had paid for. Remember, we had not had an SIP order before and had no clue what we’d be allowed to do, if mail would be delivered or what. For all we knew, we could have gone into a full military lockdown state.

I rushed home to confirm there was no package, and was furious because my sister was literally inside the house all day working from home. There was no knock at the door — the postman left a silly note on the door without even really trying to deliver the package.

So I drove through our neighborhood looking for the guy, I drove through the next neighborhood and didnt seem him either. I spotted a letter carrier at a local park to ask if he had any idea where the guy was and he said he should still be around. So my search continued and just as I was about to give up, I located the guy eating his lunch — I had zero shame bugging him for my package seeing as how he didn’t even knock on the door.

In the end it turned out well. I got my shoe, and I did thank the postal worker for his service and wished him safety in this time of uncertainty. The package indeed contained a single shoe inside a massive Ziploc bag — mud, gravel and even what looks to be a piece of gum is stuck to the spikes. The cleat is signed by Kershaw, even identifying it as “2009 game used.”

***

The collectibles market is a crazy business and prices fluctuate greatly, as by now I am sure you’ve seen. Just in the last eight months we seem to have experienced intense growth, increased interest and a swell in “value” for some pieces. And with the Dodgers winning their title this week, there surely is another boon to Dodger items, particularly those associated with Kershaw.

For more than a decade, baseball fans have known Kershaw and his domination. He’s the winner of three CY Young Awards, an MVP, a pitching triple crown, author of a no-hitter, and holds various records and is quite possibly the best all-around pitcher the sport has seen this century — others who could also lay claim would include Justin Verlander and Max Scherzer.

But now, Kershaw is a champion. I’m happy to have been along for the ride — to this point I’ve seen him in person pitch about a half dozen times, including in Division title-clinching setting and on the sports’ biggest stage. I’m thrilled that I personally pulled one of his most desirable cards and that it later led to me collecting his items. And really I am elated for Kershaw as his postseason faults are no longer highlighted with such a heat lamp that it sears the accomplishments of his stellar career.

The pressure is gone. He’s now pitching with a lead. I’m curious to see what he does from here even though his legacy is now firmly solidified.