Newsflash: at just after 10:00 AM Central Time on the morning of Saturday, July 29th, the nation of Dime Boxedonia declared war on the 38th National Sports Collectors Convention.
As king of the land, I have, admittedly, been long awaiting for this moment, counting down the days when I would finally get to take on The Mighty National. (Stalking loads of Twitter posts about everybody's finds on the Wednesday, Thursday, and Friday of the show certainly didn't help my patience.)
That said, I'm perfectly aware of one thing: I am not the target audience for The National. I'm a low-end collector with a low-end budget. I saw people buy single cards for well north of what I spent all day. I make in a year what some people probably spend in an afternoon at this place. I don't open boxes. I don't chase prospects. I don't sell on Ebay. I dislike large crowds. I can go on.
Still, as far as the sheer experience of it all, believe me when I say that nothing even comes close to The National. It's really quite something to see literally thousands of collectors from across the country gathered together in a single massive room (the picture above doesn't do it justice), all of us surrounded by the sights, sounds, and smells of the hobby. In a perfect world, everyone would be able to trek to this Cardboard Mecca at least once in their lifetime.
As far as baseball cards go, I apparently live in this perfect world: I'm located a short 30-minute bus and train ride from the convention hall where The National is held -- as opposed to other collectors I talked to who hailed from distant lands like Cleveland and New York.
I'd like it on record that The National first tried to attack me with simple mind games.
The very first table I hit had a '71 Topps Rusty Staub for 75 cents (a fraction of the $5 I paid for it at a show earlier this year) as well as a '75 Topps Robin Yount for $11 (about half of the $20 I spent on it). I'd been wounded!
But I wasn't about to let that deter me. I've been searching for the Big Unit's 1989 Upper Deck rookie over the past few months, and nearly pulled the trigger on five- and six-dollar copies of it online before pulling back at the last second thinking there had to be a better deal out there. Turns out my instincts were right: I found a copy for $2 in a box about midway through the day.
It didn't take long for The National's discount bins to hit me with the usual suspects.
It makes sense that I'd score a huge stack of high-end base cards from the dime boxes at this gargantuan show, given the large number of big-dollar dealers who set up shop there.
A surprise attack of dime box minis.
A strong army of discount bin parallels followed close behind -- including a numbered Diz for 50 cents, retail-only Heritage beauties at a quarter per, and a Megabox Carew that nearly staggered me when I found it in a 12/$1 box.
Then came the dime box legends, including the second straight post in which I've featured a card of Jimmy Piersall on the Mets that I somehow never knew existed in the first place.
I fended off an attack of shiny Vlads.
Then an assault of Ichiros.
Mini-collection hits swarmed all around me during the eight hours I spent in the convention halls of The National, including that adorable insert of new Yankee Sonny Gray which has been on my want list for nearly two years now.
Dime box oddballs can be both expected and unexpected.
Expected because I seem to dig them up at every show I attend. Unexpected because the ones I find continue to both fascinate and educate me. For example, did you know companies like AT&T and Arby's made baseball cards? I sure didn't. I'm also completely stumped by the Pete Rose in the top-right: the back is blank and it has the feel of an old Polaroid.
And yes, that's a brand new HOYT in the center!
I cleaned up a good chunk of my remaining 2017 needs for loose change: everything you see on this page was a dime.
One of the more surprising discoveries of The National, however, was the sight of 2017 Honus Bonus singles in a dime box early on in the show, a set I wouldn't have even known about had Tony not posted about it earlier in the week.
The cards are grayscaled (ick) an are apparently linked to some kind of fantasy baseball game, which I don't care about. And there's not even the slightest effort to airbrush: Chris Sale is listed with the Red Sox on his card, despite the clear presence of a pinstriped White Sox jersey on that photo.
However, Honus Bonus immediately redeemed themselves by producing the only card I've seen yet to chronicle Justin Morneau's brief stay with the White Sox at the tail end of 2016 (and in a throwback jersey, no less).
Another expected attack came in the form of an all-2017 A&G dime box, a welcome find since I sure don't want to spend three bucks on six-card packs of the stuff.
The dealer had obviously opened a few boxes of A&G and simply threw everything of "little value" out to the general public for 10 cents a pop.
Base, SPs, and inserts were all fair game, including the trio of "World's Fair" singles which were much appreciated since I've been interested in the history of World's Fairs ever since I read Devil in the White City back in high school.
Also present were a handful of mini inserts from A&G, which Topps definitely knocked out of the park this year.
Magicians, dance moves, the hilarious selection of World's Dudes (including Egyptian Sultan Dude), and even a set to satisfy my bookish side with the "Required Reading" series -- the above example featuring a selection from Charles Darwin's Origin of Species.
But here's where the war with the National began to utterly devastate my armies.
These, as you may be able to tell, don't look like your standard A&G cards: they have foil. I found it to be something of an afterthought when I read that each case of 2017 A&G contained one "hot box" of all-foiled base cards. Since I had no plans to open any boxes of the stuff, it was nothing I needed to note.
Or so I thought...until I found about half of this A&G dime box was packed with these foiled singles, including some legends and other fairly big names from the "hot box" the vendor may or may not of realized he'd opened in the first place.
I was in the process of calling reinforcements when The National dealt another crushing blow.
Out of an otherwise ordinary dime box came this Xander Bogaerts, which I immediately knew to be one of the 42-jersey-themed photo variations from last year's Flagship -- actually a dual mini-collection hit when you factor in the bonus double dip shot.
The Bogaerts had felled me, and then out of nowhere came more dime box short-prints.
There's another Flagship photo variation SP with the Cano, a rare shot of Luis Aparicio as an Oriole, and a couple of the high-numbered and mighty tough short-prints from 2016 Archives in the form of fan favorites Kris Benson and Phil Nevin.
Then came a machine-gun-like assault: a whole quarter box of past and present short-prints.
I've personally never seen an entire box of SPs, and while most of it was filled with relatively recent short-prints, I dug up a few blasts from the past with the Kile and inaugural-year A&G Haren -- the latter of which was a gaping hole in my "pitcher at the plate" collection.
One of these floating heads is a Hall of Famer, and the other is going to give me nightmares.
I was already under duress when the dime box rookies showed up: a zero-year Jason Bay rookie, a David Wright rookie which was way out of my price range during my high school collecting years, a rookie of the resurgent Ryan Zimmerman.
And even my first card of Hunter Greene -- the most hyped prospect in this year's draft -- which I figured why not? when I found it in a 12/$1 box.
Rookies also contributed to a new Dime Box Experience at The National: an entire box of various Pro Debut singles.
I don't pay much attention to Pro Debut when it hits the shelves -- about 95 percent of the players in the set are unknowns to me -- but we've gotten to a point now where some of the guys who showed up in earlier editions of the set are starting to make a name for themselves in the bigs. Finding early minor league cards of Craig Kimbrel and Moose and Shelby Miller proved to be an immensely enjoyable way to spend a few minutes immersed in a dime box.
And I'm also proud to say I now own a card of David Denson, a first baseman in the Brewers' chain who made history by becoming the first active ballplayer to come out as gay.
But just when I thought I'd survived, just when I thought I'd handled everything The National had been able to throw at me -- that's when the NICKEL BOXES struck.
Had I had the time (or the ability to attend The National for a second day), rest assured I could've easily filled up an 800-count box from this guy's nickel cards for a cool $30.
End-to-end nickel boxes lined his table, at least a dozen in all, each of them absolutely stuffed to the gills. Knowing the massive size of the convention hall -- you have to budget time as well as money at a place like this -- I only dug through three of the nickel boxes in fear of compromising my ability to get through the entire show.
What I found in those three boxes -- these four included -- still have me wondering what unknowns I left behind in the cards I was forced to leave unturned.
More beauty from the nickel boxes in the moments before they and I were forced to part ways.
I think I ended up with right around 200 cards from the guy's table (ten bucks!), including Dale Murphy with a sledgehammer(?), an oddly-shaped insert which was probably going for a different shape than the apple I can't help but see, a radar-themed insert, and a rare new hit for my LIMA TIME collection.
I was just about ready to wave the white flag when I stumbled upon A HUGE TUB OF UNOPENED JAPANESE BASEBALL CARD PACKS.
The sight left me so flabbergasted that I completely forgot to take a picture of the rest of the guy's table, which featured several drool-worthy pieces among the likes of Saduharu Oh autographs and game-worn Seibu Lions jerseys.
But oh my god packs of Japanese baseball cards...FOR ONLY $2 EACH!
On the one hand, I'm still kicking myself for not buying more than the one I purchased -- a pack of 2002 BBM that my dad picked out. The sheer experience opening it was worth the price tag, and the fact that I actually pulled a Kosuke Fukudome was a cherry on top.
On the other hand, I don't know what would've happened to both my sanity and my budget had I caved in to buying more than the one pack because there's a good chance I would've gone rogue and asked the guy HOW MUCH FOR THE WHOLE DAMNED TUB?!?!?!?!?!?
Eventually, I'm happy to report that the epic battle between The National and Dime Boxedonia ended in peace.
Late in the day, with the aisles clearing out and my budget wearing thin, my dad and I found a small table run by a guy with a couple little-of-everything dime boxes on display. My dad sat before one box, I sat at another, and we both kicked back and started digging -- just a father and son finding a tranquil experience at a place as sensory-overloaded as The National.
And when I say these boxes had a little of everything, I mean a little of everything: Goudey reprints, AC/DC cards (not pictured), Turkey Red reprints, even a TCMA minor league oddball of good ol' Pumpsie Green.
I spent the last of my time and money (and even some of my dad's) at that table, and I couldn't have asked for a better ending to my day of discount bin diving at The National.
In all seriousness, there are many adjectives you could attach to this show: overwhelming, gargantuan, electrifying, manic. It can honestly feel like a war sometimes, there's just so much to take in. But I'd add one more adjective to that list, one you don't hear a lot in accordance with The National: peaceful. Peaceful because I spent a day walking through countless aisles of baseball cards with my dad.
Peaceful because I shared a room with thousands of people who embody my passion for a hobby that makes me feel less alone in the world.