Like every other kid, I used to wake my parents up at dusk on Christmas morning.
To me, the holiday was about presents, presents, and more presents! My Christmas list was filled to the brim with things I wanted from Santa.
Quite possibly the biggest benefit of being an only child was the fact that I didn't have to share anything with anyone.
It was all mine.
These days, I view Christmas in an entirely different light.
I'm at a point in my life where I view the holiday as a time for family, a time to cherish. I get much more swept up in the actual meaning of "Christmas spirit" then I ever did as a kid.
Sure, it's nice to get presents, but I've come to realize that it goes hand-in-hand with all of the other things that make the holiday so great.
I actually only put one thing on my Christmas list this year.
A box of Panini Cooperstown.
And while my dad already noted that he went on a bit of a COMC splurge for his gift to me, I insisted that neither of my parents had to get me anything else this Christmas.
In the end, though, I'm sure I'll be getting a few other things, because they're simply the greatest parents I could ever ask for.
Aside from all that, there's another reason that Christmas time has just felt a bit different this year.
I'm starting to get gifts from outside of my family.
A couple members of the blogosphere have been generous enough to send me some "Happy Holidays" packages in the mail as of late.
I guess it shouldn't come as any surprise that one of the most accommodating citizens of the blogosphere was one of them.
William over at "Foul Bunt" has sent me so many things over my year of blogging that I've lost count. He even sent me a ticket from The Who once.
It's safe to say that he's surprised me with every single package he's sent my way.
When I saw a Jon Stewart/Bill O'Reilly combo card fall out of his most recent gift to me, I knew I'd be in for more of the same this time around.
With the '87 Leaf Pete Rose that William sent me, I'll be able to showcase another Donruss/Leaf combo in my binders.
Apart from the logo, I'd always thought that Donruss and Leaf cards were exactly the same.
Evidently, though, Leaf decided to use a lighter tint in this case.
Rose was 46 when this card was released, but you'd never know it from that shot.
William has shown himself to be a "go-to" guy when it comes to cool new Vlads for my collection.
This pair will look absolutely fantastic next to each other in my Angels binder. The one on the right is of the see-through variety.
Although I'm not quite sure why, I've always been a huge sucker for those types of "gimmicks".
What can I say?
I'm easily amused.
I had to stop for a moment when these fell out of the mailer.
Although I've never sat down and compiled a list, I'd imagine that these would rank in the top fifteen or twenty of my favorite Vlads, at the least.
Considering the 600-plus different issues I own of his, that's quite an accomplishment.
Thanks to William, my holiday spirit was bolstered even more, something I didn't think was possible given how giddy I usually am around this time of year.
I couldn't have asked for a much better gift.
I figured Saturday's card show would be my present to myself this Christmas.
In many ways, it was. Although I didn't come away with as many cards as I'd originally hoped, I was ecstatic to find all the great pieces I did.
When I got home that afternoon, I didn't think the day could get much better.
That all changed after I checked the mail.
I found a large, bulging mailer waiting for me. Initially, I didn't know who the culprit was. To my knowledge, I wasn't expecting anything like this from anyone in the blogosphere.
To my surprise, I found that it came courtesy of Michael, author of one of the finer new blogs around, "The Card Raven".
He's provided the absolute largest ego-boost I've received during my time as a blogger. He's noted in the past that my writings inspired him to start his very own blog, something he never thought he'd be able to do.
It really is good to know that people take solace in what I write here. When I first started out, I thought I'd be happy to get five or so followers. Ten at the most.
Never did I think my writings could accomplish anything like that.
I was overjoyed when I dug through the contents of Michael's mailer. He managed to send me a little of everything.
And, as I've recounted in the past, those are my favorite packages to receive. It's not a whole lot of fun if you know exactly what's coming every time.
With the A&G Haren insert, he managed to include hits to my set needs...
...as well as a few new pieces to my player needs.
I'm starting to think that people specifically set aside Vlad cards for me. A few seem to come up in every single package I get.
Although I'm not the biggest fan of those X-shaped parallels from the appropriately-named Upper Deck X set, I'll definitely take anything new for my Vlad collection.
Chalk me up as one of the people who could care less about Bowman Chrome. They're nice cards, but I can't get excited over them.
In fact, the Freese is my first card from this year's release.
They'll start to pop up in dime boxes soon.
A lot of what Michael sent proved to be wonderful new additions to my Cubs binder.
I specifically love when I can add "variation" pieces to my nine-pocket pages, as we have here with this pair of Garzas.
This, in my opinion, is the absolute biggest benefit to storing cards in binders.
You just can't get this type of beauty with an ordinary old cardboard box.
Don't look now, but we have a mini sighting!
It's apparent that Michael took a good look at my various player/set needs pages on the sidebar, something for which I wholeheartedly appreciate.
Thanks to quite a few members of the blogosphere, my Mike...excuse me, Giancarlo Stanton collection is moving into uncharted territory.
I started out with only two cards of his. With this short-printed A&G mini, I'm closing in on the thirty-card mark.
When I decided to "induct" him into my binders, I though it'd take at least a year to get a full page of his into my Marlins collection. It's only been a few months, and Stanton already has close to two entire pages to himself.
I couldn't have done it without the blogosphere.
Initially, I thought I already had the "Splendid Splinter" Obak mini. I'd picked up a copy of a similar card from a flea market quarter box last year.
Upon closer examination, though, I found that the backs were different. The one Michael sent has a circle around the card number, a variation that earns it its own spot in my binders.
Hey, the smallest things matter in this hobby.
And while we're on the topic of Obak...
Michael thought to send me a few of those, too.
I seem to learn something new every time I get something from the Obak set.
Here's your fun fact of the day.
On July 19, 1911, Walter Carlisle of the PCL's Vernon Tigers became the only known outfielder to complete an unassisted triple play.
I probably couldn't tell you what was on my Astronomy final from a couple weeks ago, but I'll retain that little tidbit of information for as long as I live. Baseball factoids tend to do that.
Useless to some, but not to me.
Next to Vlad, I think I've received the most cards of Ichiro during my time as a blogger.
There really isn't much of a contest. Ichiro is my favorite player in the game right now.
It's not a Cub, it's not a White Sock.
Just like the little pieces of trivia I get from Obak, I seem to learn something new about the hobby as a whole every time I get a package from a fellow blogger.
I'd never, ever known that Topps issued "limited edition" factory set cards in 2010. I've never been that big on factory sets, but I thought I would've at least heard about those at some point in the past.
I guess you really do learn something new every day.
That's certainly been true during my time as a blogger.
Even with minis, Obaks, and Ichiros, I think this one gets the "Best Card" award for this package.
On the surface, some cards don't seem like anything special.
If I post something of Calvin Pickering on this blog, I like to go into exactly why he became a part of my collection and why the certain card means so much to me.
Sometimes, though, my writing could not possibly add anything more to the card in question.
I'd have to believe that this one falls into that category. In the three days I've had it, this "Brooksie" has instantly become one of the focal points of my Orioles binder.
I probably don't have to tell you why, though.
I think you can see that for yourselves.
Although Michael sent a whole lot of cardboard greatness in his "gift" to me, none of them meant as much to me as the note he included in the package.
"You continue to inspire me on a daily basis, on and off cardboard."
That really struck a chord with me.
Look. I pretty much know where I stand in this world.
I know my dreams of becoming a world-famous bass player or a Gold Glove-winning center fielder for the Cubs probably aren't going to come true.
I know my limits, and I like to think I'm a rational guy.
I'm simply a twenty year-old college student pursuing my dream degree in education.
I get good grades. I enjoy hanging out with my friends on weekends. I often hunt for new music to add to my MP3 player. I'm still looking for a job. And, no, I don't have a girlfriend or anything yet.
I'm really not all that different from a lot of people my age.
And I'm fine with that.
But, yes, to actually hear that I inspire someone, both during and away from this hobby, meant a lot. More than I could ever really put into words.
I mean, how many twenty year-old education majors can say that?
So, thank you, Michael.
That really was one of the greatest gifts I've ever received.
No doubt about it.