Tuesday, August 15, 2017

How I spent my National Baseball Card Day


This past Saturday was, as you may have heard, National Baseball Card Day, and I participated as best I could.

Dad and I were able to carve out a good chunk of time during the afternoon and hit each of the only three card stores I know of around my general area. I wasn't planning on spending much money -- the only main goal I had was to get this year's exclusive Mike Trout card, only available to those who made a $10 minimum purchase at their local LCS.

Turns out I netted a pair of Trouts, as I (somewhat unintentionally) crossed the $10 threshold at two of the three stops I made on Saturday.




Of course, the packs of free, exclusive six-card National Baseball Card Day packs -- handed out to anyone who stepped foot in a card shop on Saturday -- were one of the main draws of the afternoon as well.

Better yet, each of the shop owners were nice enough to give both my dad and I a free National Baseball Card Day pack despite the fact that my dad didn't spend a single cent on Saturday. This meant that I received 36 cards on the house (38 if you count the two Trouts), giving me a fair shot at completing this year's 30-card NBCD set (featuring one player from each team and a step down from last year's 50-card checklist).

Turns out I didn't get the full set -- there were a fair amount of doubles in the packs I opened -- but I came pretty darn close, and I think we all know that few things in life are better than FREE CARDS.




But National Baseball Card Day is about more than free cards to me -- Topps's decision to revive the hobby-centric holiday is one of the better and encouraging decisions the company has made in the last few years.

Firstly, it gets people out and into the doors of their local card shops. One of the store owners told me that he sees a noticeable increase in business on NBCD. Some of the people who walked in his store on Saturday were regulars, some were probably people he'd never see again (And that's okay, he told me, because that's what the day's all about), but almost none of them would've been there without National Baseball Card Day, myself included.

Secondly, unlike some other kid-centric promotions, NBCD really does seem to attract collectors of a younger age. I saw no less than four sets of fathers and sons/daughters walk into the three card shops I stopped at on Saturday (five if you count my dad and I).

Thirdly, it allows people to sift through some items at their LCS that they might've previously missed out on -- as I did, because my day wasn't all about the free cards.




Destination #1 -- Elite Sports Cards, Chicago, IL

My first stop of the day was at Elite, which probably earns the claim of being my main LCS even though I only go there two or three times a year.

The owner's inventory doesn't change a whole lot, but it changes enough to get me to check in every now and then. The prices aren't anything spectacular, either: everything in the next few scans came from the shop's dollar boxes, not a lot of which I would've paid a buck for under normal circumstances. But this was National Baseball Card Day, after all, and I was happy to support the LCS with a few extra dollars if it netted some new adds to my collection.

My Elite haul included this Vlad from an insert set called "Final Answer" (tough to decipher from the unscan-friendly design) which of course comes from the early 2000's since it features a Who Wants to Be A Millionare? reference.




These actually weren't bad buys at a buck each: a scarce camo parallel depicting AJ Pierzynski's brief stay in Boston, and a high-end issue of Mr. Puig.




This pair of dollar-box finds includes a refractor from the brand spankin' new Topps Chrome release and an obnoxiously thick Jacob deGrom insert -- probably as thick as 6-7 standard cards stacked atop one another.




Some legends from the dollar boxes, including a Willie McCovey parallel numbered to just 99 copies and a rare glimpse of an All-Star Game MVP trophy from the '60s.




I start to salivate any time I see anything from Topps Retired Signature -- which doesn't happen often -- so I was happy to pay a buck a piece for those dueling Robinsons.

Also present was a rare card of Ty Cobb as a Philadelphia Athletic and a nice Gary Carter from another unheralded Topps set: Topps Rookie Cup.




As I left, the shop owner graciously handed me a free pack he had left over from 2006 National Baseball Card Day, one of the last incarnations of the original NBCDs.

Topps and Upper Deck (remember them?) both got in on the fun that year, but I must not have participated at the time since most of the cards in that pack were new to me.

Such a gracious gesture put a happy end to my first stop on National Baseball Card Day.




Destination #2 -- Tim's Baseball Card Shop, Chicago, IL

This is the place that sent me into a semi-coherent rage a couple years ago, but if I could go back in time, I wouldn't have written that post.

That rant came during a period in which I seemed preoccupied with people overpricing their cards, which has always generally been par for the course at Tim's. Now, I don't mind it as much -- people can ask whatever they want for their cards, all I have to do is refuse to pay it. That's all. Plain and simple.

But even with the inflated prices, Tim's seems to do pretty good business -- he was even featured in a Super Bowl commercial a while back. I've been going to this shop on and off for about five or six years now, and Tim was genuinely excited to see my dad and I stop by on Saturday.

And hey, I actually found a decent deal in the rubble of high prices: though he was originally asking $20, Tim let me have this beautiful '62 Kaline for $15, now the oldest card in my collection of his.

Not the Steal of the Century or anything, but a purchase I'm still ecstatic about nonetheless.




Destination #3 -- Sport & Gaming Cards, Niles, IL

My last stop of the day was a bit of a wild card.

This shop is located in a barren mall -- chillingly so, like something out of an old horror movie -- and I honestly didn't even remember the place existed until I noticed it on the list of stores participating in this year's National Baseball Card Day.

The last time I went to this shop was nearly six years ago, and I only remember that because it was right around the time I started this very blog. Those early posts of mine (Bad Writing Alert if you choose to read them) featured a handful of 3/$1 grab bags I picked up, and wouldn't you know it, they were still there all this time later. I grabbed all 12 of the baseball-filled bags the shop had left.

While they were mostly late '80s/early '90s kindling, it still netted a few goodies -- notably some gems from '95 Pinnacle as well as a handful of cards from the 2007 Topps Cubs team set -- and that's not to mention the fun I had digging through those piles of random cards for a mere $4.




There was also a small dollar box off to the side which I don't remember seeing during my last trip to this shop.

Now that he's no longer a Cub, Jorge Soler has been sent out to pasture in discount bins all across Chicago. I'm sure this is the case in almost all big cities whenever a former hometown name gets traded.

I still collect Soler, however, and these are actually pretty good deals for a buck per, including that card on the right, which is a photo-variation short-print.




I'll end the National Baseball Card Day festivities with this Museum Collection David Price from the dollar box, which I picked up for the sole reason that Price is seen wearing a nifty Red Sox throwback here.

That was my National Baseball Card Day, in a nutshell. Free cards, nice deals, good people, and a whole lot of unfiltered fun.

Because that's what this hobby should be all about.

Wednesday, August 9, 2017

A day in the bleachers


In a great moment of happenstance, my dad acquired a pair of bleacher tickets to a Cubs game I'd had marked on my calendar for a while: a Cubs-Nationals matchup at Wrigley this past Saturday.

For starters, it was a landmark day on a personal level since it marked the first time I'd ever sat in the bleachers at a baseball game. I've been frequenting ballparks for almost twenty years now, and I've sat everywhere from a few rows behind the dugout to along the foul lines, from the upper deck to the nosebleeds. But never the bleachers.

Dad and I got there when the gates opened (another first, as we usually arrive closer to game time) and the Nationals were taking BP when we found our seats in the bleachers about five or six rows back from the basket. And I swear to you, the moment we sat down, I remember thinking: maybe I'll catch a ball out here.

Wouldn't you know it, I saw a fly ball headed on a line to me minutes later, the trajectory of it hovering a bit above where I stood (I couldn't tell who hit it since the Nats were all wearing lookalike BP jerseys). I turned on instinct, hoping it'd rebound off the people a few rows behind me and ricochet down my way. And that's exactly what happened.

It wasn't the most graceful of catches -- the ball bricked off my fingertips on the first attempt before I snatched it from the empty row behind me, and I kicked over my half-full beer in the process -- but just like that, I had the most unexpected first of them all: the first time I'd actually caught a ball at a baseball game.




Better yet, the game itself -- which was almost an afterthought after all the pregame excitement -- was a good one, enshrined for all of eternity in my trusty scorecard.

Every fan seemed to get what he/she came to see. Nats fans (and there were quite a few, though the raucous Cubs bleachers drowned them out) saw Bryce Harper hit a first-inning solo shot. Cubs fans saw some early offense, powered by Alex Avila's two-run homer, also in the first. Pitching fans got to see some dominant mound work in the middle innings. Harper haters (like my dad) got to see him strike out to end the game, representing the tying run.

And Cubs fans got to see a 7-4 Cubs win, which haven't been as common as they were a year ago.




But -- as I mentioned at the beginning of this post -- there was a reason I'd had this game specifically marked on the calendar long ago.

As I was browsing the Wrigley Field giveaway listings early in the season, one in particular caught my eye, the one for August 5th: Commemorative Trading Card Pack Presented by Topps. 




Wait: CARDS?!?!?

I'm there.




This isn't the first time the Cubs have used cards to lure me to Wrigley -- they issued a special set of hometown heroes over four separate dates back in 2013.

This time was a little different: I didn't know what the cards in question would be, and I couldn't find a single shred of info on the topic despite countless Internet searches on the days leading up to the game.




Turns out the cards are a preview of what I'm guessing we'll see on 2017 National Baseball Card Day this upcoming Saturday (which I'll most definitely be participating in), and they've been given out at ballparks across the country over the past couple weeks.

Dad and I each received a four-card pack of Cubs, and I managed to collect six of the subjects in the 10-card set (after pulling doubles of Arrieta and Baez).




The cards themselves aren't anything noteworthy, but they'll always carry a little extra meaning to me since I had to go all the way to Wrigley to get 'em.




Between my dad lucking into bleacher tickets, getting to see a great game (and a Cubs win), actually catching a home run ball, and CARDS, I couldn't ask for much more out of an afternoon at Wrigley.

I use cards for a lot of reasons, one of the primary functions being that they simply keep me better connected to the game I love. Stats, birthdays, current photos, and all other pieces of baseball minutiae are at my fingertips in seconds, if needed.

That, in a way, is what bleacher seats did for me on Saturday. You don't see a ton of candid player activity sitting along the foul lines or in the upper deck. In the bleachers, I saw players trying to shag fly balls with goofy behind-the-back catches. I saw Stephen Strasburg give baseballs to a couple young Nats fans. I saw Max Scherzer banter with a pack of hecklers. I saw Jason Heyward salute the crowd as he took his position in right field. I saw a very human side of the game that can sometimes get lost in the brand-name universe of TV.

It was one of those special afternoons that reminded me why I love our National Pastime so darn much -- not that any of us need reminders in the first place.

Wednesday, August 2, 2017

The huddled masses (Discount vintage from The National)


The National is a window shopper's paradise.

I have a hard time believing any show can top the sheer magnitude of memorabilia housed at this one. The National serves as somewhat of an auction house during its five-day run, and some of the items up for bid this year included a baseball signed by both Shoeless Joe Jackson and Buck Weaver, a game-worn Boston Red Sox jersey from 1911(!), and -- my personal favorite -- the bat Eddie Gaedel used for his lone big-league at-bat in 1951.

And that's not even mentioning the cards. Even with the frantic pace of the show, I found myself stopping to marvel at a number of display cases throughout my afternoon at The National. That includes the table you see above, which I somehow remembered to snap a picture of in my starry-eyed haze.

No, you're not seeing double -- that's actually three, four, five copies a piece of sacred Goudey Ruths and Gehrigs. Oh, and that card with the sign next to it near the top? That's a 1915 Sporting News Babe Ruth, commonly acknowledged as his rookie card.

Please excuse me while I wipe the drool off my face.




But let's be real here: I don't go to The National to window shop.

When it comes to actual shopping, you and I both know that I probably won't be able to afford any Lou Gehrig Goudeys or Babe Ruth rookies in this lifetime. That's why my home lies in the discount vintage bins, the huddled masses of beat-up, well-loved pieces of cardboard history.

In terms of cheap vintage, The National really isn't that different from the standard tri-annual show held in the Rosemont area every year. There's more binders for set builders, and certainly more four- and five-figure dream cards than your average show, but in terms of the random never-know-what-you'll-find piles of discounted vintage, I don't think The National strays much from the herd.

But that's most definitely not a knock against it, because the standard Rosemont shows are spectacular -- case in point: this '56 Elmer Valo was the very first card I bought on Saturday, a beauty that I found in a 90% off (yes, 90% off) vintage bin for the slim price of $1.50.




And in what would turn out to be my oldest pickup of the afternoon, this was the second card I bought shortly after the doors opened at 10:00 AM, another 90% off find of a young Joe Nuxhall for a whopping two bucks.




After that, my memory gets a bit hazy, because good luck keeping a sane and centered mind at The National.

These both came from that same 90% off vendor, though I don't remember if they were among my first or last gets of the table.

I do recall, however, the cost: 50 cents each, a small price to pay for a couple Hall of Famers.




A couple heavy-hitting Bronx Bombers from the 90% off files here.

The '57 Slaughter was a real coup at three dollars, while the Stengel -- a tough '59 Topps high-number (#552) of the Ol' Perfessor in action -- became mine for a mere two-spot.




Here's perhaps my favorite of the 90% off finds: a '59 Whitey Ford -- now my oldest card of his -- for a grand total of three bucks.

There's a significant amount of paper loss on the back of this one (so much so that it causes a slight tear in the front of the card near the middle), but it's going to take a lot more than that to get me to pass on Whitey at that price.

And so all that came from the very first table of The National, and you better believe I was already in a whirl.




Let's go to the first table of the day to the last one, and specifically the vendor I discussed at the end of yesterday's post who provided a peaceful dime box dig for my dad and I.

Adding to the little of everything he had on display was, yes, vintage, including this fun quartet of early '70s Topps that all earned a place in my frankenset without much of a fight.




Truth be told, though, I'm not sure I would've even stopped at that guy's table in the first place had he not had a whole stack of Kellogg's lying on top of his dime box.

I thought there was some sort of mistake. The box said 10 Cents Each, but those couldn't possibly be a dime. Someone was sitting at the table when my dad and I arrived, so I asked him: are these yours? He replied: No. He left shortly after, and I asked the vendor: are these a dime, too? He replied: Yes.

Whoa: DIME KELLOGG'S -- plus the cracks on these aren't nearly as bad in-person as my scanner might indicate -- and besides, you can't beat 3-D oddballs of stars like Bench or Brett or Winfield or Carew for a dime per, cracked or not.




The Kellogg's train wasn't about to leave the station just yet.

The Perry was a $2 purchase (for some reason, he never looks quite right to me in a Cleveland uniform), and the Sweet Lou (no cracks!) was an easy buy from a 3/$2 box.




And here's a couple Hostess, lest you think I ignored the other end of the '70s oddball spectrum.

I have to give my dad full credit here, as he's the one who actually dug these up from a quarter box about halfway through the show -- thanks, Dad!




Here's a couple long-standing needs I was able to cross off the list at The National.

At five bucks, the '70 Santo high-number (#670) marks the completion of yet another Topps Set, as I now have all of Ronnie's Topps cards from his '61 rookie to his '75 sunset issue.

The Schmidt was a steal at two bucks, and now only his multi-player '73 rookie separates me from completing his Topps Set -- though I'm guessing it'll be a while before I'm able to afford one of those.




Time to take a ride in the wayback machine with these four old-timers.

TCMA oddballs (a quarter each) always make me giddy, especially so with the Everett Scott -- the man who held the consecutive games played record before Lou Gehrig -- which has to be the only card to depict his brief 33-game stint with the 1925 Senators.




Ironically enough, one of the better discount vintage vendors of the day was located just a few feet away from the table with the four-figure Ruths and Gehrigs I featured at the top of this post.

If you can believe it, these four were just a dollar each, and I must admit that the Hodges is one of the most beautiful manager cards I've ever seen despite the ghastly burlap.

And keep an eye on Brooks there...




...because he's about to become a theme over the course of the next couple scans here.

Just when I thought the dollar box couldn't possibly top a '69 Topps Brooks All-Star...out falls a '68 Topps Brooks All-Star(!).




This same discount vendor also had a few small stacks of $5 vintage singles off to the side, and you better believe I could've dropped a good chunk of my day's budget on those piles alone.

In the end, I ended up snagging the two cards I thought packed the most punch for their respective five-dollar price tags. I opted for the full Brooks Robinson Experience (band name!) by picking up his '66 Topps single, and I threw in an Al Kaline from the same set for good measure.

I think I spent about $25 all together at this particular table -- or exactly 1% of what one of those Goudey Gehrigs sitting just a few feet away would've run me.




But I have to give Vintage Table of the Day honors to one of the last ones my dad and I hit, coming in the form of a huge tub of random, strewn-about oldies from a local vendor who I've purchased from many times at past Rosemont shows.

You may remember that I've composed a list of specific cards to hunt down at shows as of late -- aka the Elusive Three. I had an Elusive Three all set for the National: a '63 Topps Stan Musial, a '72 Topps Rick Monday high-number, and an '83 Topps Ryno rookie.

Turns out I set my sights a bit too high this time. I didn't see a single '72 Monday all day (and most other '72 high-numbers were out of my price range, besides) and none of the Musials I encountered were priced cheaper than $60, quite a bit more than I was willing to pay.

I was resigned to going oh-for-three on my targets at The National when -- to my complete and utter surprise -- out popped a Ryno rookie from that random bin of vintage, one of the Elusive Three captured for the sweet price of five bucks.




A couple two-dollar '67 North Siders from the random bin, including the first Topps card of Fergie as a Cub.




As far as sheer shock value goes, this may have been my Steal of the Day: a 1954 Topps Monte Irvin (my first real vintage card of his) for just $2.50!

I actually saw the vendor sticker, price, and throw Monte into his discount bin...where it lasted on the sale floor for no more than ten seconds before my eager hands snapped him up.




It was an Al Kaline kind of day at The National: in addition to the '66 Topps card I've already shown, I snagged this '70 Kellogg's gem for about the price of bus fare here in Chicago -- just $2.50.




Here's one that I'd long put in the Cards I Never Thought I'd Actually Own category.

I've had a Topps Archives reprint of this one in my Cardinals binder since my early collecting days, always reminded of the fact that the real thing had continued to elude me -- in no small part because Red Schoendienst's 1962 Topps sunset card is both a high-number (#575) and a short-print. The vintage double whammy.

But then -- a full 16 years after I opened the pack of 2001 Archives that resulted in the reprint I've owned for years -- then finally came the real one, an actual '62 Topps Schoendienst for my sunset collection for the glowing price of three dollars.




Here's yet another Card I Never Thought I'd Actually Own.

Again, here's a card I have several reprints of, and I figured the chances of one day acquiring a real copy of it were less than the Schoendienst. This is, after all, Tom Seaver's first solo Topps card, and one that features a glorious Rookie Cup, to boot.

But I guess the random vintage tub is where far-off fantasies come true: I now own a '68 Topps Tom Seaver, a card that I never dreamed would become mine for as little as the five bucks I paid for it.




In what proved to be the most expensive purchase of the day, I bought this '58 Topps Pee Wee Reese from the random bin for a whopping $8 -- pure child's play for the majority of other deep-pocketed collectors who attend The National.

Like the Schoendienst, this is one I've long wanted for my sunset collection, but could never afford. It's also the only Topps card to feature Reese as an LA Dodger (as opposed to the Brooklyn cap he'd worn since his rookie season in 1940). Pee Wee's long held a special place in my heart ever since I found a '55 Bowman of his at a show as a young lad, and now I'm proud to finally own what is my very first Topps card of his as well.

So, yes, an $8 card made for my big splash at The National, the true mark of a low-end day at a high-end show if I've ever seen one. Though it wasn't a conscious decision on my part: I simply didn't see anything splash-worthy that would've provided more joy than the cheap array of discounted vintage I managed to pick up on my limited budget.

If nothing else, I hope this post and the one from yesterday conveyed one thing: no matter what the stream of high-end hits and box breaks might suggest, believe me when I say that the low-end collector still has a place at The National, and it's a heck of a lot of fun.

Tuesday, August 1, 2017

The National vs. Dime Boxedonia


Newsflash: at just after 10:00 AM Central Time on the morning of Saturday, July 29th, the nation of Dime Boxedonia declared war on the 38th National Sports Collectors Convention.

As king of the land, I have, admittedly, been long awaiting for this moment, counting down the days when I would finally get to take on The Mighty National. (Stalking loads of Twitter posts about everybody's finds on the Wednesday, Thursday, and Friday of the show certainly didn't help my patience.)

That said, I'm perfectly aware of one thing: I am not the target audience for The National. I'm a low-end collector with a low-end budget. I saw people buy single cards for well north of what I spent all day. I make in a year what some people probably spend in an afternoon at this place. I don't open boxes. I don't chase prospects. I don't sell on Ebay. I dislike large crowds. I can go on.

Still, as far as the sheer experience of it all, believe me when I say that nothing even comes close to The National. It's really quite something to see literally thousands of collectors from across the country gathered together in a single massive room (the picture above doesn't do it justice), all of us surrounded by the sights, sounds, and smells of the hobby. In a perfect world, everyone would be able to trek to this Cardboard Mecca at least once in their lifetime.

As far as baseball cards go, I apparently live in this perfect world: I'm located a short 30-minute bus and train ride from the convention hall where The National is held -- as opposed to other collectors I talked to who hailed from distant lands like Cleveland and New York.




I'd like it on record that The National first tried to attack me with simple mind games.

The very first table I hit had a '71 Topps Rusty Staub for 75 cents (a fraction of the $5 I paid for it at a show earlier this year) as well as a '75 Topps Robin Yount for $11 (about half of the $20 I spent on it). I'd been wounded!

But I wasn't about to let that deter me. I've been searching for the Big Unit's 1989 Upper Deck rookie over the past few months, and nearly pulled the trigger on five- and six-dollar copies of it online before pulling back at the last second thinking there had to be a better deal out there. Turns out my instincts were right: I found a copy for $2 in a box about midway through the day.

Revenge!




It didn't take long for The National's discount bins to hit me with the usual suspects.

It makes sense that I'd score a huge stack of high-end base cards from the dime boxes at this gargantuan show, given the large number of big-dollar dealers who set up shop there.




A surprise attack of dime box minis.




A strong army of discount bin parallels followed close behind -- including a numbered Diz for 50 cents, retail-only Heritage beauties at a quarter per, and a Megabox Carew that nearly staggered me when I found it in a 12/$1 box.




Then came the dime box legends, including the second straight post in which I've featured a card of Jimmy Piersall on the Mets that I somehow never knew existed in the first place.




I fended off an attack of shiny Vlads.




Then an assault of Ichiros.




Mini-collection hits swarmed all around me during the eight hours I spent in the convention halls of The National, including that adorable insert of new Yankee Sonny Gray which has been on my want list for nearly two years now.




Dime box oddballs can be both expected and unexpected.

Expected because I seem to dig them up at every show I attend. Unexpected because the ones I find continue to both fascinate and educate me. For example, did you know companies like AT&T and Arby's made baseball cards? I sure didn't. I'm also completely stumped by the Pete Rose in the top-right: the back is blank and it has the feel of an old Polaroid.

And yes, that's a brand new HOYT in the center!




I cleaned up a good chunk of my remaining 2017 needs for loose change: everything you see on this page was a dime.

One of the more surprising discoveries of The National, however, was the sight of 2017 Honus Bonus singles in a dime box early on in the show, a set I wouldn't have even known about had Tony not posted about it earlier in the week.

The cards are grayscaled (ick) an are apparently linked to some kind of fantasy baseball game, which I don't care about. And there's not even the slightest effort to airbrush: Chris Sale is listed with the Red Sox on his card, despite the clear presence of a pinstriped White Sox jersey on that photo.

However, Honus Bonus immediately redeemed themselves by producing the only card I've seen yet to chronicle Justin Morneau's brief stay with the White Sox at the tail end of 2016 (and in a throwback jersey, no less).




Another expected attack came in the form of an all-2017 A&G dime box, a welcome find since I sure don't want to spend three bucks on six-card packs of the stuff.

The dealer had obviously opened a few boxes of A&G and simply threw everything of "little value" out to the general public for 10 cents a pop.

Base, SPs, and inserts were all fair game, including the trio of "World's Fair" singles which were much appreciated since I've been interested in the history of World's Fairs ever since I read Devil in the White City back in high school.




Also present were a handful of mini inserts from A&G, which Topps definitely knocked out of the park this year.

Magicians, dance moves, the hilarious selection of World's Dudes (including Egyptian Sultan Dude), and even a set to satisfy my bookish side with the "Required Reading" series -- the above example featuring a selection from Charles Darwin's Origin of Species.




But here's where the war with the National began to utterly devastate my armies.

These, as you may be able to tell, don't look like your standard A&G cards: they have foil. I found it to be something of an afterthought when I read that each case of 2017 A&G contained one "hot box" of all-foiled base cards. Since I had no plans to open any boxes of the stuff, it was nothing I needed to note.

Or so I thought...until I found about half of this A&G dime box was packed with these foiled singles, including some legends and other fairly big names from the "hot box" the vendor may or may not of realized he'd opened in the first place.




I was in the process of calling reinforcements when The National dealt another crushing blow.

Out of an otherwise ordinary dime box came this Xander Bogaerts, which I immediately knew to be one of the 42-jersey-themed photo variations from last year's Flagship -- actually a dual mini-collection hit when you factor in the bonus double dip shot.




The Bogaerts had felled me, and then out of nowhere came more dime box short-prints.

There's another Flagship photo variation SP with the Cano, a rare shot of Luis Aparicio as an Oriole, and a couple of the high-numbered and mighty tough short-prints from 2016 Archives in the form of fan favorites Kris Benson and Phil Nevin.




Then came a machine-gun-like assault: a whole quarter box of past and present short-prints.

I've personally never seen an entire box of SPs, and while most of it was filled with relatively recent short-prints, I dug up a few blasts from the past with the Kile and inaugural-year A&G Haren -- the latter of which was a gaping hole in my "pitcher at the plate" collection.




One of these floating heads is a Hall of Famer, and the other is going to give me nightmares.




I was already under duress when the dime box rookies showed up: a zero-year Jason Bay rookie, a David Wright rookie which was way out of my price range during my high school collecting years, a rookie of the resurgent Ryan Zimmerman.

And even my first card of Hunter Greene -- the most hyped prospect in this year's draft -- which I figured why not? when I found it in a 12/$1 box.




Rookies also contributed to a new Dime Box Experience at The National: an entire box of various Pro Debut singles.

I don't pay much attention to Pro Debut when it hits the shelves -- about 95 percent of the players in the set are unknowns to me -- but we've gotten to a point now where some of the guys who showed up in earlier editions of the set are starting to make a name for themselves in the bigs. Finding early minor league cards of Craig Kimbrel and Moose and Shelby Miller proved to be an immensely enjoyable way to spend a few minutes immersed in a dime box.

And I'm also proud to say I now own a card of David Denson, a first baseman in the Brewers' chain who made history by becoming the first active ballplayer to come out as gay.




But just when I thought I'd survived, just when I thought I'd handled everything The National had been able to throw at me -- that's when the NICKEL BOXES struck.




Had I had the time (or the ability to attend The National for a second day), rest assured I could've easily filled up an 800-count box from this guy's nickel cards for a cool $30.

End-to-end nickel boxes lined his table, at least a dozen in all, each of them absolutely stuffed to the gills. Knowing the massive size of the convention hall -- you have to budget time as well as money at a place like this -- I only dug through three of the nickel boxes in fear of compromising my ability to get through the entire show.

What I found in those three boxes -- these four included -- still have me wondering what unknowns I left behind in the cards I was forced to leave unturned.




More beauty from the nickel boxes in the moments before they and I were forced to part ways.

I think I ended up with right around 200 cards from the guy's table (ten bucks!), including Dale Murphy with a sledgehammer(?), an oddly-shaped insert which was probably going for a different shape than the apple I can't help but see, a radar-themed insert, and a rare new hit for my LIMA TIME collection.




I was just about ready to wave the white flag when I stumbled upon A HUGE TUB OF UNOPENED JAPANESE BASEBALL CARD PACKS.

The sight left me so flabbergasted that I completely forgot to take a picture of the rest of the guy's table, which featured several drool-worthy pieces among the likes of Saduharu Oh autographs and game-worn Seibu Lions jerseys.




But oh my god packs of Japanese baseball cards...FOR ONLY $2 EACH!

On the one hand, I'm still kicking myself for not buying more than the one I purchased -- a pack of 2002 BBM that my dad picked out. The sheer experience opening it was worth the price tag, and the fact that I actually pulled a Kosuke Fukudome was a cherry on top.

On the other hand, I don't know what would've happened to both my sanity and my budget had I caved in to buying more than the one pack because there's a good chance I would've gone rogue and asked the guy HOW MUCH FOR THE WHOLE DAMNED TUB?!?!?!?!?!?




Eventually, I'm happy to report that the epic battle between The National and Dime Boxedonia ended in peace.

Late in the day, with the aisles clearing out and my budget wearing thin, my dad and I found a small table run by a guy with a couple little-of-everything dime boxes on display. My dad sat before one box, I sat at another, and we both kicked back and started digging -- just a father and son finding a tranquil experience at a place as sensory-overloaded as The National.

And when I say these boxes had a little of everything, I mean a little of everything: Goudey reprints, AC/DC cards (not pictured), Turkey Red reprints, even a TCMA minor league oddball of good ol' Pumpsie Green.




I spent the last of my time and money (and even some of my dad's) at that table, and I couldn't have asked for a better ending to my day of discount bin diving at The National.

In all seriousness, there are many adjectives you could attach to this show: overwhelming, gargantuan, electrifying, manic. It can honestly feel like a war sometimes, there's just so much to take in. But I'd add one more adjective to that list, one you don't hear a lot in accordance with The National: peaceful. Peaceful because I spent a day walking through countless aisles of baseball cards with my dad.

Peaceful because I shared a room with thousands of people who embody my passion for a hobby that makes me feel less alone in the world.