Depending on if you start counting from when the prep sports season was put on hold or from when the state essentially was locked down, we’re anywhere from a few days to nearly a couple of weeks since the reality of COVID-19 has changed our lives.
Last week, I wrote a column I felt ended up a little too somber, so I figured I would try to lighten the mood this week as we collectively attempt to avoid losing our minds. For some, it might give a new hobby to take up, and others might feel a wave of nostalgia that calls them to their basements and garages.
I’m a bit of a sports card nerd. It is a hobby I took up in my youth with a little help from my dad, an avid collector from his own youth. Whether it was an after-school stop at Ken’s Koins and Kards or pleading to stop by the semi-annual card shows at the mall, I often was spending my allowance on cards.
My friends and I collectively had to have spent thousands of dollars during the first six years of the century on MLB Showdown cards, trading cards that doubled as a board game. (Think Magic: The Gathering but for baseball.) I still have about three-quarters of the Esteban Loiaza card I started ripping up when he blew a save in extra innings.
As I got my first job in high school and had my first taste of disposable income, my collection really came together. I still remember the pure shock when I pulled my best card — a 2008 Donruss Classics card that featured jersey swatches from Eric Dickerson, Barry Sanders, Walter Payton and Emmitt Smith and when I finally saved enough money to fork over $200 for an autographed Derek Jeter card.
Since then, hundreds of cards have come and gone, including autographs from legends such as Ken Griffey Jr., Barry Sanders and Tracy McGrady to once-promising blue chippers such as Mark Sanchez and Josh Vitters (sorry, Cubs fans).
My love for the hobby fell off in college, as gems such as LeBron James rookie cards were sold to pay for the piece of paper that says I’m smart. But during the past couple of years, the itch has slowly crept back, especially now, when there really isn’t much else to do.
I know the uncertain times and coming (already here?) recession is going to make it difficult to justify unnecessary spending. I really only can afford to window shop at the moment. But for those who have the time and resources, collecting might be a nice way to pass some time and escape from this craziness.
Collectors of yesteryear might remember the good, old days, when there were three or four companies that each put out one to three sets, with nothing much other than base cards. Now, each sport really has one company that has an exclusive trademark license (Panini for the NBA and NFL, Topps for the MLB and UFC and Upper Deck for the NHL), but there are dozens of different sets, with cards ranging from regular base cards to fancy, shiny inserts, some even including signatures or pieces of game-worn jerseys.
And the ways to collect are just as overwhelming. Hobby boxes are pretty pricey, typically $100 or more, but more affordable options can be found at stores such as Target, Walmart and Meijer. But even the affordable retail options often can reach crazy levels, such as the current basketball market, where resellers follow delivery drivers and buy out product to resell for three-to-five times the price, all thanks to Zion Williamson.
With the coronavirus lurking at every corner, buying online is probably the best bet, with options available on retailers’ websites, sports card resellers and eBay the most common options. Social media has allowed collecting to surge as well and introduced group breaks. Group breaks are when a group of people will pay a certain amount for all cards from a certain team from multiple boxes, often opened by professional breakers.
As the sports card market has enjoyed a rebirth during the past few years, thanks in large part to American sports continuing to find their way onto more televisions and cellphones across the world, the options can be a lot, which is why I have a little advice for anyone interested.
Don’t start with a broad collection in mind. Start small. Collect different cards of a certain player from a certain year, or work on building one set at a time. For individual collectors, eBay and group breaks are your best bet, but keep in mind some of the most desired cards of some of the brightest stars will fetch three and four figures, and set builders might want to explore their retail options.
Whether you’re someone who remembers the days of throwing some cards in your bike spokes or the children of that generation, there’s not a bad place to start. With no sports to watch or play, looking at pictures and reading the stats of when sports were a thing can be a great way to pass the time.