I've been in this hobby for around twelve years now.
Although there have been a few aspects of collecting that I've enjoyed from day one, much of my experience has been an ever-changing state of affairs.
During my first year or so, I collected Sammy Sosa and Jose Canseco.
Yes, you read that right.
Sammy Sosa and Jose Canseco.
Otherwise known as my two least favorite players of the '90s.
I enjoyed the hundreds of sets that were available to me during my early days in this hobby. I was like a kid in a candy store whenever I'd see that array of cardboard on the shelves of my LCS.
Now, I could honestly care less about many of those horrific late '90s sets.
However, the opposite has been true as well.
As I've matured, I've come to enjoy sets that I didn't much care for as a young collector. Sets that had been under my thumb for years.
A good example of that is none other than 1973 Topps.
I've always had a special place for vintage in my collection, no matter the year.
But as far as old cardboard was concerned, '73 Topps wasn't too high on my radar. For years, the design seemed rather plain and unappealing to me.
As I've started to delve deeper into the world of vintage, however, I've developed a strong affinity for the set.
Recently, I've come to see the little "shadow player" in the bottom-right corner as one of the greatest little "quirks" in the history of vintage Topps.
In the end, though, the photography is what really sold me.
If you really go back and take a good look at it, you'd probably find that '73 Topps has the strangest photography on record.
Anytime I bring up this topic, I have to point people to the spectacular "used car lot" Luis Alvarado card.
It's the law when it comes to '73 Topps.
That strangeness is part of what makes it so terrific, though.
Heck, even simple posed shots like this Blyleven have a certain "feel" to them, which is a part of what makes '73 Topps so irresistible to me these days.
It'd easily rank among my top 10 all-time favorite Topps sets.
Perhaps even top five.
My twelve year-old self would probably think I'm crazy.
I tended to write off most overproduction-era sets as pure "filler" back in the day.
Because of that, I missed out on a lot of the surefire "gems" that emerged from around 1987 to '93 or '94.
And, believe me, there are quite a few.
For a long time, I never much cared for '91 Fleer.
Nowadays, I love the yellow borders and the splendid photography that the set provides.
1993 Upper Deck was basically the same story. I never really got much into that set until I joined the blogosphere, in fact.
But the one that really stands out to me these days is 1991 Topps.
It's not that I didn't like it as a young collector.
I hated it.
I just thought it was boring. Plain and simple.
Thankfully, I've changed my tune in recent years.
Although the design is mid-range as far as Topps goes, the photography provides a little something for everyone.
And for a collector such as myself, photography is a major part of what makes or breaks a set.
It's fitting that the above issue of "The Ryan Express" is card #1 in the checklist.
Few sets have emerged with more of a "bang" than 1991 Topps.
Frankly, I'm not sure what I was thinking as a kid.
Overproduction era or not, '91 Topps is a legendary set.
I just can't believe it took me so long to realize that.
This whole "under my thumb" thing is a little tougher with more recent sets.
As I've mentioned before on this blog, I re-started my baseball card collection during the winter of 2005-06.
I really didn't think in terms of "sets" back then. It all boiled down to whether or not I needed the player featured on the front of the card.
True, that's still what I've done in recent years.
But, unlike before, I try my best to really analyze a set up and down nowadays.
Because of that, a few sets have started to grow on me from those earlier "player-based" years. Sets that I never really took the time to look at the first time around.
Sets like 2007 Bowman Heritage.
I've barely seen it get any type of real "airplay" since its release.
To me, it's always been one of the better-kept secrets in the world of cardboard.
The vivid colors, back-to-basics fronts, and old-time card stock all combine to give off the feel of vintage cardboard.
And with a "throwback" set such as Bowman Heritage, that's all I could ever really ask for.
I can't help but give them a second look whenever one pops up in my binders.
They certainly deserve it.
I'm just starting to realize the greatness of the Stadium Club brand as a whole these days.
More than ever, though, their 2008 release has certainly garnered a few extra glances in my binders lately.
Back when it was on the shelves of my local Target, I never had much interest. The three-dollar retail price tag largely scared me off at the time.
However, although I still believe three bucks is a hefty price to pay for any pack of cardboard, Stadium Club proved to be at least close to earning their paycheck.
The fairly minimal design works tremendously with the awesome photography found throughout the set.
Take this Jed Lowrie card, for instance.
It's one of the best pieces from my Red Sox binder.
Thanks to Stadium Club, I can tell you for certain that Jeff Mathis was indeed out on that play.
But, at the time, the fans in the backdrop didn't know that. The anticipation on the faces of every single member of the Fenway faithful conveys the sheer excitement of a close play at third.
All the elements combined to produce one truly spectacular piece of cardboard.
And it's all thanks to Stadium Club.
There are quite a few sets that I was planning to include in this post. More than the four that made it in the end.
Due to time constraints, however, I had to cut it short. Perhaps I'll have to succumb to creating a sequel down the road.
In the meantime, sets like these have taught me a major lesson when it comes to cardboard.
Never think you've got it all figured out.
There's always a discovery to be made.