There is nothing quite like a day at the National.
I think the best way to describe the place is, quite simply, sensory overload. From the moment I stepped inside the convention hall to the time I left about six hours later, it was a non-stop, glorious mix of sights, sounds, and pent-up excitement. I tried to capture it all in a single frame, though I don't know if this photo does it justice.
And I'll just say that this year's National was bigger (both in size and attendance) than I remembered it being when I attended two years ago, but that might be my mind playing tricks on me. My dad and I got there bright and early when the doors opened on Saturday for a card-tastic afternoon, and the place did not disappoint.
The cards were great, and we'll get to those soon enough, but I'd like to send special thanks to William, Andrew, Frankie, and Brian for taking time out of their day on Saturday to meet up with me. (Brian and I even hit a couple tables together, including a shared dime box dig.)
I had a lot of fun meeting with some of the minds behind the blogosphere, and I hope they did as well.
On the whole, the National isn't exactly held with collectors such as myself in mind.
What I spent the entire day wouldn't have bought a single all-inclusive VIP ticket, and I'm sure a lot of those in attendance dolled out more cash in the drop of a hat than I did in my six hours at the show combined.
This is not a complaint, mind you, just an assessment of reality. The National, by and large, is for those with big budgets, plain and simple. (The media guides they gave out at the door had a picture of a kid flipping through cards, followed by memorabilia auctions starting at five and six figures on the following page.)
But I'm here to tell you that, yes, there is room for the little guy at the biggest card show of the year. I'm going to try and convince you of that over this five-post series showcasing the day's finds. (Believe me, I tried to trim it down to under five posts, but I just couldn't do it.)
We begin, of course, with the dime boxes...because have you read this blog before? I don't know whether it was sheer coincidence or not, but the very first aisle in the place might've been the best in terms of cheap cardboard.
It took me three hours to get out of that first row of dealers, and the smile on my face after all was said and done had to have been something like Griffey's on this magnificent card.
Oddly, one of the first things I noticed is how many of the vendors couldn't do basic math.
In that first aisle was a table with a miscellaneous mix of discount vintage, non-sport cards, and nickel boxes...yes, nickel boxes. Now, I didn't find anything mind-blowing in the nickel depths, but I did pick up a few neat '80s issues I needed with the two you see above. (And my dad found some nostalgic Partridge Family, Gilligan's Island, etc., etc. cards.)
In the end, I had five cards from the guy's dollar bin, 40 nickel cards, and another fifty-cent card ready to go. It must've taken three minutes for the vendor to total up the final tab.
I'm no math whiz, but that's $7.50, sir.
Near the end of that first aisle came what turned out to be, in terms of quantity, my biggest purchase of the day, 240 cards in all.
The guy advertised a 60/$5 deal on his dime bins (he had about six 3200-count baseball boxes on display) and, once again, he couldn't figure out how much the total was. He eventually had to ask his co-vendor. (Twenty dollars...)
I'm not trying to make fun here, but it is quite amazing that in a room where so much money trades hands, basic math skills are so lacking. But, hey, as long as I get the cards in the end, it doesn't make much of a difference to me.
The guy's dime boxes were filled with quirky inserts issued around the millennium which ended up being the bulk of my purchase. It's hard to tell from the scan, but that Edmonds has Japanese symbols strewn all around the design.
Just what I'd expect from the craziness of the early 2000s.
My purchase from the last dime vendor in that first aisle was painfully simple...ten cards, one dollar.
I would've bought more, but there were people parked in front of most of the guy's boxes and not budging one bit. Only one of the boxes was free, and, as soon as I saw these two spectacular Golden Age Eddie Cicotte and Lefty Williams inserts (two of the infamous Black Sox), I knew I had to dig out eight more to round out my purchase.
I'm being completely honest in saying that I could've spent the entire day engulfed in that first aisle alone.
In the past, I've found myself absolutely agonizing over having to look through every single card in a dime box.
That's still ideal these days, but I've accepted the fact that, in order to make the best use of my time and money, I probably won't be able to get through everything. I skimmed parts of some of the dime boxes I searched through, and I (gasp!) skipped some dime box vendors all together. (Mostly ones that left no place to squeeze in.)
I got through around 90 percent of the National before running out of time, energy, and, most importantly, money (although I didn't see anything special in the remaining ten percent). I maybe would've seen about half of the show had I been my old, compulsive, must-search-everything dime box self.
Even with my self-imposed dime box limits, I think I still traded my FDRs for quite a few worthy pieces of cardboard. (My dime finds for the day probably totaled north of 500 cards.)
This Ripken is at the pinnacle of 3-D technology.
I'm pretty sure these came from the 60/$5 boxes (the sensory overload isn't good for remembering specifics), and they're yet more examples of the often unappreciated greatness of the '90s.
The Leaf "Slideshow" inserts are made with actual film strips, and that's officially the grooviest Tony Gwynn card I own.
I'm scared that I'm still about three years old at heart, because I've never really escaped my love for shiny baseball cards.
These are the extroverts of the baseball card world. The ones that cannot help but get in your face.
Though I can't always say the same about overly extroverted human beings, I always look forward to seeing these shiny pieces of cardboard.
But not every dime card has to be shiny or be made with a film strip.
Some can simply be your standard mid '80s, early '90s Donruss issues. I love the image of Tony Gwynn laying one down, and the Gonzalez, as you might be able to tell, is a reverse-negative. I didn't even know there was a reversed variation of that card until Brian told me during our dime box dig.
Needless to say, it's the first card from 1990 Donruss that I've voluntarily acquired in a long time.
These two coveted zero-year cards came from what I believe was the final dime box of the day.
The Liriano rookie (which I vaguely remember being quite a valuable card during his Twins days) was the first card I saw, and it convinced me to give the rest of the boxes a look.
This vendor actually had a sign saying that there was a minimum to how many dime cards customers had to buy (fifty), which I haven't seen very often before.
I walked away with over 150 from his table, so adhering to that wasn't much of a problem.
These, for full disclosure, actually came from a 3/$1 box, not a dime box.
I don't have a post for 3/$1 cards, so they'll have to go here. Owning a Lance Berkman rookie is fine and good, but the real reason I bought that one was because of the beater car in the foreground and the Astrodome in the background.
And I think the Vaughn wins The Craziest Card from the National award. It's designed like an ornament and actually comes with a string to hang from a Christmas tree. I'd heard about them in the past, but had never actually seen one in person before Saturday.
Not surprisingly, it's a Pacific creation.
And now for something completely different, here are a couple Monkees cards.
I've been on a big Monkees kick lately (great TV show, even better tunes), but my dad was actually the one who found these from what I believe was a 6/$1 bin. He kept a few and I kept a few, but I had to go home with the Mike Nesmith card.
Fun fact: My dad missed a Mike Nesmith concert because I was being born at the time.
The oddballs were in full force at the National.
Most of these came from the dime boxes that Brian and I dug through, and I'm especially fond of the McGwire at the center because it was an exclusive giveaway at the 2002 National...held in Chicago.
I'm still shocked at the amount of jaw-dropping Hall of Famers I find for dimes.
The Kaline is yet another fantastic baseball card-magazine cover mashup, and that Mathews was one of about a half-dozen Night SPs I found from the 2003 Topps Gallery HOF checklist.
Now those are short-prints I can get behind.
I'm sure a lot of the National's attendees are the collecting-for-profit prospector types.
Me, I stick to the dime boxes, and you'd be surprised at how many big-name rookies I find for FDRs. You wouldn't normally expect to find first-years of guys like Raines, Dempster, Pederson, and (especially in the Chicago area) Soler for ten cents.
Even if your budget isn't the biggest, you can still chase the rookies at the National.
But I think this was the best rookie card I purchased on Saturday, and, without a doubt, one of my best finds overall.
I've actually had this '92 Bowman Cliff Floyd on my radar for a while, but my many searches for it had come up short. The long wait finally came to an end at the National, as I found it shortly into my dig through the 60/$5 boxes I mentioned earlier.
The infamous rookie fashion show from '92 Bowman is well known amongst hobbyists, but this is actually one instance where I don't mind seeing a player in street clothes (or what passed for street clothes in that set).
Cliff looks to be doing his best Air Jordan impersonation there, preparing for a one-handed slam with a baseball in hand. (And he looks to be doing it all on an ordinary street corner.)
It's one of the most creative rookie cards I've ever seen, and, all things considered, one of the best.
You don't have to be a math major to figure that out.