Don't spread this around, but I wasn't really sick when I called off work this past Sunday.
For lack of a better term, I simply needed A Day: A Day to relax, A Day for my sanity, A Day for myself -- anyone who's ever worked a menial job knows what I'm talking about. Naturally, I chose to spend the afternoon of my Day at the local flea market, despite -- as I recently discussed -- the apparent demise of its once-great glory days.
For the first hour I was there, I felt the same disappointment all over again. A couple of my usual card guys weren't there, another had nothing of interest in his small quarter boxes, and my favorite regular vendor didn't have any cards at all this week. Like the last time, he told me: Man, you should've been here last week, I had a whole bunch of vintage! (WHAT ARE YOU DOING TO ME, DUDE?!)
But after all hope seemed lost, a small glimmer of hope presented itself at an unlikely table: I found an older woman with a large shoebox full of '80s cards, priced at 12/$1 and rubberbanded in stacks according to team.
The vast majority of cards in those boxes were your typical early/mid '80s commons, nothing I haven't seen dozens of times before.
But I'll say one thing: digging through all that old, dusty cardboard was pretty darned therapeutic. In an instant, that lone box made my Day worth taking, made the trip to the local flea market a success. I would've loved it even if I wouldn't have found a single card of note in that box just for the pure visceral experience of it all.
But there were quite a few keepers: in fact, I found well north of 100 cards for the bargain price of $9, including this early Iron Man I needed for my growing collection of his.
I've collected for long enough now to where I think I'm pretty much set on your run-of-the-mill '80s commons.
But then a box like this comes around and shows that a few select cards have indeed slipped through the cracks all these years, as these four somehow did.
I tend to write off '82 Topps as my least favorite Flagship set of the '80s, but these are doing their best to convince me that there's greatness to be found in the otherwise nondescript checklist.
Hard to beat oddballs at 12/$1, especially a Boggs box bottom beauty.
These two rookies were probably the biggest of the shoebox finds.
I've actually owned copies of the Strawberry at different points during my collecting lifetime, but this one's staying with me since I've recently decided to induct him into my player collection ranks.
And while I'll never collect Roger Clemens -- he's right up there with Barry Bonds on my Baseball Hate List -- I couldn't pass up a chance to own his (fairly iconic) '85 Topps rookie for eight cents, because how often does that happen?
And so the my Day at the flea market was saved...but there were still a few aisles left to go.
A little later, I stumbled upon a guy with a few newer cards in a glass case, including this neat melting insert of Miguel Sano which I decided was worth the dollar price tag.
The vendor also had a small snap case filled with random cards that were priced at fifty cents a pop.
Among the gets were that shiny Diamond Kings Heyward (numbered to 99 copies) and a rookie refractor of Nolan Arenado, quite a steal for two quarters when you consider he's one of the top stars in the game today.
From there, I moved over to a small pile of unopened wax the guy had off to the side. At first, nothing jumped out at me. A box of 1989 Topps, another of 1991 Upper Deck, another of 1992 Fleer. Pass, pass, pass.
But then I saw something that just about made my heart skip.
AN UNOPENED BOX OF PACIFIC ONLINE?!?!?!?!?!?!?!?!?!?!?!?!?!?!
FOR SIX DOLLARS?!?!?!?!?!?!?!?!?!?!?!?!?!?!?!?!?!?!?!?!??!?!?!?!?!?!
Sure, there are many reasons not to like this set.
1) The design won't win any awards.
2) The concept is sorely outdated: the whole Internet thing was still a fad when these were released in 1998.
3) The individual player websites don't even exist anymore -- and neither does Pacific, for that matter.
But even with all that, I still love, love, love this set, and I couldn't believe my eyes that I had an opportunity to bust a whole box of the stuff -- considering that the singles alone are painfully tough to come by.
The box added a whole bunch of hits to my various player collections that I likely would've never seen had this box not fell into my lap.
Bonus: many of them feature said players in unfamiliar uniforms, such as Shawon Dunston as an Indian and Dennis Martinez as a Brave.
And because Pacific was so generous with its checklists -- Pacific Online is a 750-card set -- we get, yes, MIDDLE RELIEVERS!
The likes of Paul Quantrill and Steve Kline make up some of my more obscure player collections, and I don't often get a chance to add new cards of theirs to my binders since middle relief is the most ignored profession in the hobby. For that, I thank Pacific Online with all my heart, and that's why opening this box was such a thrill for me.
For (I repeat) six dollars, I got to bust 24 nine-card packs that brought me right back to my childhood of slow modems and screeching dial-up connections.
Apparently, all the card vendors chose to hide in the last few aisles, because I found a guy with even more cardboard as the day was winding to a close.
His main cards of interest were priced at $1 each or 2/$1, and while a lot of it was nothing more than dime box fodder, I did manage to salvage a few gems I felt were well worth the two-quarter price tag.
I think we'd all agree that any Mini Willie (get your mind out of the gutter) is a steal at fifty cents, especially one that features his brief stay with the Mets.
A couple modern oddball-ish finds from the fifty-cent box, including a transparent Gracie and a Jeets CD (how '90s!) with a bonus double dip.
Pre-fame minor leaguers and OPCs for loose change? Sure!
This was the lone card I found from the guy's two-dollar vintage box.
Most of it was, again, comprised of cards I could probably find for dimes and quarters elsewhere. But I jumped at the chance to own this Jerry Koosman because it's one I've been wanting for a while with that glorious Rookie Cup and all.
This brought my total purchases up to twelve dollars, slightly less than the $15 I had remaining in my wallet.
That's when my eyes fell to one of the guy's glass case cards: a 1983 Fleer Tony Gwynn rookie.
It was priced at $5, but since I only had three dollars of wiggle room in my budget, I asked the vendor if he'd take $15 for everything I'd previously picked out and the Gwynn. And he did! Now only '83 Donruss separates me from owning all of Mr. Padre's major-brand rookie cards.
So that was it. My self-professed Day had been well spent, but I had to face the facts: I was fresh out of money. Sure, there's an ATM on the flea market grounds, but that's only for use in case of emergency, like glass on a fire extinguisher.
Since there were only a few tables to go, I figured I'd at least wander by to make sure I wasn't missing anything...
...and then I found this.
I normally hate cliffhangers, but consider this a cliffhanger.