Wednesday, September 19, 2012

A life without cardboard

To a lot of people, baseball cards are simply pieces of cardboard with pictures on them.

Obviously, anyone who says that has never been a part of the hobby we all love so much. After all, we know how much more they are.

It sounds silly, but baseball cards do indeed have "special powers".

Sometimes, I can't help but wonder what things would be like if I never started collecting. I've always loved watching baseball on TV, but I'm still curious.

What do baseball cards bring to the table that an ordinary Thursday afternoon ballgame cannot? How different would my love for baseball be if I never opened a pack of baseball cards?

That's where these "special powers" lie.

For starters, they can act as an incentive, or possibly even a reward, in some cases.

I took my first test of the school year this afternoon. A psychology test, to be specific. I don't want to jinx it or anything, but I had a good feeling about the results on the walk home.

As a result, I decided to "reward" myself with some cardboard. I had a bit of an itch to rip open some packs anyways.

During Saturday's pack-busting extravaganza, I'd noticed that there were only a few packs of Panini Triple Play left in the box my Target had on display.

I decided to buy out whatever was left today. So I marched down to the local mall, walked right past all those other boring mall-like shops, shuffled up to the card aisle at Target, and grabbed the last four Triple Play packs they had.

Once again, Triple Play did not disappoint. Even with all the great cards I pulled, my favorite one is probably the above Joel Hanrahan, a guy who hasn't even been "inducted" into my binders...yet.

Normally, I just throw everything of the non-binder guys onto my trade list, but the Hanrahan is staying with me. Binder or not, I don't think I could ever bring myself to let this one go.

I couldn't ask for a much better "reward".

Best of all, it barely put a dent in my wallet.

Forgive me if this sounds like bragging, but I feel that I have a pretty good knowledge of baseball history.

It's a quality of mine which went on to alter my high school years, thanks to a game of Trivial Pursuit.

It's also one that I don't think I would've acquired had it not been for my card collection. They've taught me a lot over the years, to say the least.

Thanks to my interest of almost anything featuring old-time baseball, I've become familiar with some often-forgotten names like Addie Joss, who happens to own the lowest career WHIP in history.

Even so, my baseball knowledge is fairly well spread out. I wouldn't say I "specialize" in any one area.

Thanks to that awesome Ripken insert, I can tell you the exact date he broke Lou Gehrig's hallowed consecutive games played record.

Some people might call these types of facts "useless".

Not to me, though.

Cards do more than simply teach me about the past, though.

They can actually take me back in time. The way I see it, all the vintage pieces in my collection are like little mini-time machines.

Maybe it's just because I'm a "kid of the '90s", but the 1950's almost seem like ancient history to me at times.

Still, anytime I adore my copy of Curt Flood's 1959 Topps issue, it's almost like I'm actually living in the '50s. I can almost hear Buddy Holly and Elvis in my head.

There's something to be said for understanding the history of certain topics. On a different, but not entirely unrelated, note, that idea explains why I can't stand it when a person my age calls a song from 2010 "old". And it happens a lot, believe me.

It's especially true with baseball.

Without baseball cards, and especially vintage, I don't know that my appreciation for the game's history would be as great. Baseball telecasts occasionally manage to slip in a few fast facts about the past, but most of what I see and hear during each game is about the here and now.

Like I said, "special powers".

You certainly can't get something like this out of watching a baseball game on TV.

Some cards, for lack of a better term, are just "cool".

Some are "cool" for more personal reasons. Maybe you went to the same college as a big-leaguer.

Some are "cool" because they happen to picture your favorite player. After all, I don't own a single Ichiro card that isn't "cool".

Then again, some are just plain "cool" for obvious reasons. Reasons you don't have to explain.

I think this sparkling Reyes insert falls into that last category.

While there have certainly been a good amount of "duds" over the years, a lot of cards have shown me a side of baseball that I could've never gotten by simply watching it.

Whether it be a neat action shot or simply a shiny insert, cards have made me appreciate the "art" of baseball in a way that I never could've imagined.

When I originally had the idea for this post, Cory Lidle was the first thought that came to my mind.

After all, baseball cards allow every collector to honor a player's legacy in their own little way.

Sure, I do that for hundreds of current and past players. Vlad Guerrero, Jim Abbott, and Bert Campaneris are all well-represented within my collection.

Even with all that, I might well take the most pride in honoring some of the game's more tragic figures. Guys like Lidle. Guys who left us far too soon.

I can't think of another hobby that allows its participants to do something like that.

Like I said at the beginning of this post, baseball cards a whole lot more than just "pieces of cardboard".

I could go on and on about how different I'd be if I never collected. I kind of wish I could do one of those TV drama things where I go back in time and see how things would've changed if I never delved into the hobby.

I'd probably learn a thing or two.

Perhaps I would've never developed my inherent fascination with backup catchers like Todd Pratt. They're a rare sight on baseball cards, which turns any of their cards into instant treasures.

The ways the hobby has changed us is probably different for every respective collector. As I often say on this blog, that's part of the beauty of it.

But, in the end, it's best not to dwell on what is not, especially when it comes to a shuddering life without baseball cards.

Indeed, I am a card collector, and I don't see myself stopping at any point in the future.

I'm darn proud of that.