20 July 2013

Back in with Both Feet

My first recollection of sports cards comes from 1991, when I went to the base commissary with the neighbor family, and for some reason we got to pick out something to buy. I chose a big rack pack of 1990 Topps baseball cards. I don't remember much else about the pack, but I do know that I spent a lot of time flipping through those cards, looking at stats and deciding that Nolan Ryan was my favorite player. Because the card I got of him featured an Astros uniform and my short-lived stint in T-ball was as a member of the Astros, I sadly chose the Astros as my favorite team. I am still an Astros fan, but I really wish the rebuilding would hurry up and go somewhere. During this time I attended my first and only major league game with my dad and my maternal grandfather, featuring the hometown Cincinnati Reds vs. the Houston Astros. I remember feeling conflicted about who to root for and my dad telling me it didn't matter who I rooted for since I hadn't cheered or made a sound all game. He traveled a lot with the military, so he brought home stuff for me, like a St. Louis Cardinals pennant and a batting helmet.

After our time in Ohio we moved to Alaska, and the collection that really took off for me there was postage stamps. I still had those 1990 Topps cards and a few others that I had picked up, but most of my efforts were directed at obtaining postage stamps. Most of the magazines I read at the time had ads featuring offers of 50 stamps for a dollar or two, and I would send off for a few packets of stamps as often as I could. There was a stamp shop down the hill from our house and I would go in there sometimes, but I recall most of the stuff being well out of my price range. I probably annoyed the heck out of the guy who ran the place. For a Christmas gift exchange at school I bought a couple of X-Men comics from the X-Cutioner's Song event and I recall being so intrigued by the packaging (polybagged with a trading card included) that I chose my own gift from the table so that I could get them. In a previous year I had chosen a gift at random and got something I really didn't like, so that bad experience probably fueled my decision to go with a known gift. This was right around the Death of Superman event, so when I dropped in at the local comic shop, there weren't many comics I could afford. I picked out a Wolverine comic and when I got home I think my dad threw it away because in the comic a pregnant woman was killed in some way and that was inappropriate for me to be reading at that age. But I still loved me some comic books, especially my beloved foil-covered Doom 2099 #1.

When we moved from Alaska down to Idaho around 1992, one of the things I was able to make friends over was comic books and also comic book trading cards. I don't remember actually buying any comic cards ever, but I know I must have got a box of various cards from somewhere to look through and trade with other kids. There was a card shop near my school, but again, I didn't have the money to buy anything there, especially not the cool hologram inserts from the Marvel Universe set. I did faithfully read Wizard magazine and bought comic books at the gas station down the street, so whatever I would read was limited to what was on hand there or on the other spinner racks in town. This is when the Fantastic Four became my favorite super-heroes. Prior to that it was probably the X-Men. DC comics didn't really appeal to me, and I knew most of the Marvel characters due to those trading cards everyone at school had. I wonder if DC had put out similar sets if they would've had a better chance at grabbing our attention as kids and farming future fans?

In 1993 or 1994 my cousins gave me a box of Upper Deck NBA cards that was shaped kind of like a locker. Inside it contained probably around 100 cards from the 1991-1992 set. In sorting through those cards I found what I believe is card #254, featuring Hakeem Olajuwon of the Houston Rockets dunking the ball while wearing some goggles. The back of the card featured his impressive stats, and the combination of the picture, the stats, the goggles, and the Houston connection meant that he would go on to be my favorite player and the Houston Rockets would go on to be my favorite team.

Throughout middle school and high school most of my free cash went toward basketball cards of all kinds. I sent out a bunch of cards through the mail for autographs, and many of them didn't come back. Some did, though, and I got a big batch of football cards back from NFL players on the Denver Broncos. A few other NFL players sent signed cards back to me, but I got a number of autographs from Broncos linemen and their Tight End, Shannon Sharpe. This experience meant that my new favorite NFL team and player broke the Houston connection and the Denver Broncos and Shannon Sharpe were number one in my book. But most of my passion was centered on the NBA and the Houston Rockets. I built up quite a collection of base cards and low-end inserts, and even got a couple of letters printed in Beckett Basketball Monthly. I rotated players through my binder based on a faithfully-kept monthly list of favorite players, which always featured Olajuwon at the top and a variety of other players in spots 2-20. Notable names I remember being on the list are Jason Kidd, Grant Hill, Clyde Drexler after his move to the Rockets, Charles Barkley (the same), and my second-favorite collecting target, the novelty-tall player Gheorghe Muresan of the Washington Bullets. I believe he eventually set himself up in spot #2 on my list. Other sports and some comic and movie cards floated on the periphery of my collection, but for the most part I focused on cheap packs from the various base lines in basketball. Upper Deck's Collector's Choice line was basically created with me as the target demographic. I never pulled many hot cards because I didn't buy the packs with the hot cards in them. One of my greatest achievements was saving up $32.50 so I could go to the card shop in my town and buy Hakeem Olajuwon's 2nd-year card.

After high school I left home and fell away from card collecting for quite a while. There were too many sets and I couldn't hope to get all of the autographs and serially-numbered cards of my favorite players, so I bowed out for a long while. I picked comic book collecting back up a couple of years later, probably prompted by the presence of a comic book shop in my college town, and started buying comics to read and also Heroclix, little figures based on comics that you could use to play a game. After my first tour to Iraq in 2004-2005 I stopped buying Heroclix and began to focus on miniature wargame figures that you built and paint, like Warhammer Fantasy Battles and Warhammer 40k. This continued for some time, but as I have started having kids, going to school, and working full-time, I just don't ever find the time or the desire to work with the figures. During my second tour to Iraq I read that Upper Deck had released a couple of Marvel Comic book card sets and I ordered a couple of base sets from eBay to look through and put in binders.

A few months ago I found my old card binders again and fiddled around with the cards I had in my teens. I ordered a couple of cards that had been elusive in my youth, like a Hakeem Olajuwon RC that I believe was under $20 as it is only graded at an 8. I remember when that card was $200. I also ordered a Shannon Sharpe RC and a Tim Tebow RC that I know will never make me any money, but he sure had an exciting run with the Broncos up through the playoff win over the Steelers.

A couple of months ago I found out that Cryptozoic was putting out a few DC Comics card sets with a sketch card in every box. I went in to the only card shop I know of that remains in the local area, the same shop I went to with my cousin throughout the 90s, and saw an amazing Princess Leia sketch card from one of the Star Wars Galaxy sets put out by Topps. I thought those were pretty neat, so I ordered a boxes of DC: The New 52, Marvel Bronze Age, and Topps Star Wars Galaxy 7 from Dave and Adam's Card World. The DC and Marvel sets lived up to my expectations, with some really nice sketch cards of Cyclops and Black Canary, but the Star Wars sketch was of such poor quality that I was infuriated. I posted my displeasure on the Topps Star Wars Facebook page, but didn't get any official response. Oddly enough, the Star Wars sketch I was angry about was by the same artist as the amazing one I had seen in the card shop. The card I saw at the shop is up on eBay and has been there for quite some time, and the card I got is pictured beneath it. I think the first one is from Galaxy 5 and the one I got is from Galaxy 7. I guess at some point Kevin Doyle got tired of doing his sketches and just mailed it in for Galaxy 7.

My next order of cards was for the remaining Cryptozoic DC releases, Batman and Superman. I didn't have much preference for Batman, but for Superman I was really hoping for a Power Girl sketch, as she's the only Superman universe character I have any affinity for, mostly based on the humor and fun in the fairly recent JSA: Classified and Power Girl series, which filled a hole left by the discontinuation of the similar She-Hulk series from Marvel. I wound up pulling an appropriately-dark Batman sketch and a well-done Power Girl sketch, so I did about as well as I could have on those boxes.

In spite of my anger at Topps over their poor sketch quality control, I couldn't stay mad at Star Wars for too long. My next purchase of cards included a box of Jedi Legacy, some My Little Pony series 1 and 2 (don't judge me!) boxes, and a couple of throwback releases, 2012 Topps WWE Heritage and 2013 Topps Archives Baseball, which I had noticed because it featured designs from the set that had started it all for me, 1990 Topps Baseball, and also because the smaller 200-card checklist seemed attainable for someone who likes set-collecting. Somewhere in all of this is a box of 2013 Press Pass Ignite Racing cards, but I can't see it in my dacardworld order history, so I don't remember which order it was in. Anyway, the Jedi Legacy box didn't yield anything too exciting, although the Ewok fur relic card was pretty neat. I had been hoping for a Jabba's Sail Barge relic card, but the Ewok fur was pretty good.

The WWE Heritage set was a lot of fun. I enjoy the over-the-top action of wrestling and have some nostalgia for the wrestling heroes of days gone by. I was pretty happy with the set overall, and the big pull was an autograph of Jake the Snake Roberts, which is pretty decent as far as the autograph list goes. The set also features a small insert set highlighting the career of Andre the Giant and puzzle stickers, which are both pretty cool. I wound up ordering another box later on to fill out some more of the insert sets and wound up with a mat relic from Wrestlemania instead of an autograph, which would have been preferable to me. Oh well.

The Press Pass Ignite racing cards were pretty attractive in design, and there are a couple of insert sets I'd like to complete, mostly the ones featuring the semi trucks that pull the cars from race to race. I guess the big pull was a Danica Patrick race-used firesuit card numbered 49/99. It appears to have part of the suit featuring the 'ca' from Danica on it, so it is a pretty cool swatch as far as swatches go. I also pulled a Aric Almirola autograph numbered out of 25, but this is apparently the first Press Pass product to use sticker autographs and I just can't get excited about the card.

Now, on to the 2013 Topps Archives Baseball. I had a lot of fun opening these cards. The variety of designs for the base cards seemed nice and the inserts all are fun nods to the past. You get a couple of autographs, some serial-numbered foil parallels, some small cards, some short prints, and just enough stuff that you can collect most of it without being entirely overwhelmed. I also pulled a 1/1 card, which was pretty darn neat, even though 1/1 doesn't mean what it used to when serially-numbered cards first hit the scene. It is the Homer Bailey Cyan Printing Plate. It is cool because it's a 1/1, also because it's of a player who has occasionally been on my fantasy baseball teams, he wears the jersey number 34 which has kind of become a pattern in my favorite players although that was largely unintentional, and also because he recently threw a no-hitter and was in the news cycle for a few days.

So that was pretty neat. I stopped at the kind of local card shop, Jerry's Rookie Shop, to get some card pages, but they were out of card pages, so I grabbed a few more packs of Archives to see if I could fill some holes in the base set. The owner opened a new box to get my packs, and there was a box-topper in the box, so he offered to sell it to me. I agreed to buy it, and when I opened it the card inside was okay, but not amazing by any means. He looked at it, I looked at it, and he said, "That's not worth $30. I thought they were all autographs. Go ahead and grab four more packs of Archives." So I did. All of the base cards in the packs were duplicates, but I got a couple of the inserts I needed and I also pulled a Bobbie Brown Heavy Metal Autograph. I would have preferred to pull an actual musician Heavy Metal Autograph, but I guess a music video eye-candy girl is okay. I was impressed with the customer service and care for the customer, but maybe that's why he's been around for all this time while other card shops have all folded up shop.

My most recent order was another box of 2013 Topps Archives Baseball and two boxes of 2012 Topps Archives Baseball. There wasn't anything too noteworthy in any of the boxes, but I did complete base sets aside from the SP cards and I've spent the rest of my time trying to line out the goals of my collection. I can't buy everything and I'd prefer not to go all willy-nilly and wind up with an accumulation rather than a collection, so I need to figure out what I'm going to seek out. I would like to continue my player collections for Hakeem Olajuwon and Gheorghe Muresan, but lately the NBA has left me a bit cold and I won't likely pursue much more outside of them. For baseball I would like to continue with the Topps Archives sets as long as they keep printing them, and maybe choose a couple of players to focus on for building collections around. I like the NFL, but I don't know what direction I'd go in there. I could search out Denver Broncos cards or Shannon Sharpe cards, I suppose, but I haven't sorted out what to do with football. For other stuff, I may try to collect a few NASCAR sets here and there, some wrestling stuff if it catches my eye, and comic book sets that fall inside my price range. I really like the stuff Cryptozoic is putting out and I wish they would get a Marvel license. The Upper Deck Marvel cards left me a little bit cold. Star Wars is really cool, but it's hard to keep up with all of the releases and stay focused on something specific. I guess I could try to keep up with the Galaxy base sets or just focus on characters I like and cards that catch my eye, but at the moment none of that appeals to me as much as the Cryptozoic releases and Archives Baseball, as well as filling out gaps in my player collections.

So that's where I came from and where I'm going when it comes to card collecting. I'd like to come up with a better title and maybe a banner for the blog, as well as get a decent small desk scanner for cards so that I don't have to rely on crappy cell phone pics that won't rotate even when I rotate them. And I would like to explore the social side of the hobby, which is something I miss out on quite often with my hobbies. There seems to be a very healthy trading community on the blogosphere, and that sounds like a lot of fun.

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