It was with a heavy heart that I attended a card show this past Sunday.
It's rare that I have a Sunday off work, and I wanted to use the day for something special. I was originally planning to hit my local flea market, only to find it cancelled for the afternoon. But the damage was done. I had the cardboard itch, and it wasn't going away.
That, coupled with the fact that I hadn't been to a card show in several months, led to the decision to make the hour-long drive to a (semi) local show downstate -- the first time I'd done so in nearly two years. The work week couldn't end fast enough, because all I could think about was the card show.
And then I woke up to the news of Jose Fernandez's untimely passing Sunday morning. Suddenly the card show didn't seem as important. I seriously considered not going at all. But it was either the show or sitting around the house all day in an emotional stupor, so into the car I went, though Fernandez was on my mind during most of the drive. I couldn't get his age out of my head: 24 -- the same age as me.
The thought haunted me as I arrived at the village hall and stepped out of the car.
I was so out of it that I nearly bumped into a man while walking up the steps leading to the village hall.
The man greeted me warmly and, seeing the bag I was carrying, asked what was inside. It was then that I remembered that I was holding a stack of White Sox (and others) for my buddy Jeff of "2x3 Heroes" fame, who I met up with later in the day. I'd forgotten about that through the haze, and remembering it caused the original excitement I'd felt for the show to seep back into my psyche once again.
Then the man asked what I collected, and I found that we both carried a mutual affection for the cheap cards, the underappreciated suspects of the cardboard universe. The man went one way and I went another as we entered the village hall, but he wished me luck as we paid our $1 admission fees. The interaction couldn't have lasted more than twenty seconds, but something about being wished good luck by a fellow collector before a card show stuck with me.
There were many great cards to be had at Sunday's gathering -- this blue sapphire Coco Crisp (numbered to 25) being among the day's more stylish buys -- but it probably won't be the cards I'll remember most from this show.
It'll be the sheer experience of attending.
The show certainly didn't make the pill of Jose Fernandez's passing any easier to swallow, but it did dull the pain a bit. There is something infinitely soothing about being in a space with a group of people who share the same hobby as you, no matter the hobby or how temporary that space is.
The morning started out a bit slow in the village hall, but that familiar chatter soon began to float above me as the day went on. The kind of chatter only a card show can produce. The dime boxes seemed to gain strength by the hour, with this page of '15 Stadium Club gold/black parallels (trust me, they are) being among my final finds of the afternoon.
I know these parallels aren't all that exciting, but I'll use any excuse I can to show more Stadium Clubs on this blog.
I didn't realize how much I enjoyed these Bowman International parallels until I found a bunch of them in one place.
One vendor had a 5/$1 box that basically amounted to a dime box with the volume discount he gave me.
Most of his selection was vintage (more on that in Part 2) though I did dig up some faux-vintage from the bins as well with these '53 Bowman B&W/Color reprints. A stunning display of cardboard artistry.
And yes, that's a new Hoyt in the top-right there.
One vendor near the end of the show informed Jeff and I that anything in his boxes was marked down to a dime because (quote) I just want to clear some space (unquote).
Those are among the seven best words you want to hear if you're a bargain hunter like myself. It usually means the cards were priced higher at one point (often meaning better quality) and also that the seller is willing to cut you a deal.
I purchased this entire page of Panini inserts for just ninety cents, because I'm always willing to help others clear space if it benefits my collection.
I miss Golden Age.
These cost a whopping 35 cents combined -- Altuve a quarter, Hernandez a dime.
I recently started a player collection of King Felix, but that one would've been a no-brainer for the cartoon alone either way.
The first vendor I stopped at on Sunday had an entire dime box filled with retired players.
I ended up pulling north of a hundred cards out of it, but my favorites might've been the small sample of 2004 UD Timeless Teams inside. This set doesn't pop up at shows very often. I love it for the sheer variety of players it features.
I'm pretty sure it's the first time I've found Ron Cey, Dusty Baker, Paul Blair, and Bake McBride together in a single dime box.
Dime box oddballs, for your viewing pleasure.
I'm calling the Neon Deion an oddball because it's technically a football card, but the Atlanta cap wins it a spot in my Braves binder.
Although my cardboard OCD is already trying to tell me I can't have a football card in my baseball binders...
The mini-collection hits were a little more sparse than usual on Sunday, but it wasn't a complete 0-fer.
(Insert snarky comment about Donruss actually producing a decent card for once.)
These two 2016 insert mini-collection hits set me back a quarter a pop.
Because quarter boxes can have their fun, too.
Here's one of the big surprises of the day.
That same vendor who had the dime box of retired players also had quite a few other large dime boxes on display, each one absolutely loaded with 2016 singles. I licked my lips and went to work.
It didn't take long for me to find this Collin McHugh, which is actually a photo variation short-print from this year's Flagship. Many of the SPs in Series 2 showed players in the special Jackie Robinson 42 tribute jerseys -- a theme I could support a lot more if they were just part of the ordinary base checklist.
But Topps will be Topps, and it's certainly a nice treat to find one of these for a dime.
I ended up doing a ton of damage at this guy's table.
One of my favorite/most convenient aspects of the card show experience these days is picking up recent singles on the cheap. Whether it's Museum Collection (people actually put Museum Collection in dime boxes?), Donruss Optic (blah), or Bowman Platinum (not bad, actually), it's an affordable way to sample many different areas of the hobby.
The 200 or so I found set me back the cost of a blaster and saved me the hassle of wondering what the heck I'm going to do with all the Rangers cards that inevitably fall out of every blaster I buy.
One guy had a 20-cent box full of recent Cubs, and I was a little shocked to find this Schwarber in there.
I want to believe this shot is from Schwarber's famous Budweiser bomb in Game 4 of last year's NLDS, but I suppose there's no way of knowing for sure.
In my heart, it is.
That same vendor filled most of my needs from this year's Wrigley Field insert series.
There's a lot to love here -- Ron Santo and his wife, images of WWII-era groundskeeping, Jon Lester at the plate -- but I'm still a little lukewarm about Topps's decision to feature non-Cubs like Hal Newhouser and Jackie Robinson in this set.
Guess I was subconsciously chasing an Ichiro rainbow on Sunday.
I wouldn't say this show is gigantic -- it advertises as 70 tables, probably about 30-40 vendors in total -- but the quality is right on par with the biggest of card shows.
I probably made purchases at about 10-15 of the tables on Sunday, and almost everyone was cordial and had fair prices. I've been to card shows where all the vendors seemed to have woken up on the wrong side of the bed in the morning. I've been to shows where everything was woefully overpriced. Sometimes, it's both, and I can tell you, there are few more frustrating experiences in the hobby.
One vendor had a big stack of this year's National Baseball Card Day singles at his table, which leads me to believe he either owns a card shop or knows someone who owns a card shop.
Though I could've bought a lot more of these, I decided on this quartet, which set me back a buck all together.
That same vendor also had something I wasn't expecting to find at Sunday's show: 2016 Heritage High Numbers.
The set was released on Wednesday, and I didn't think that'd be enough time for dealers to do whatever they do (I don't know, I've never set up at a card show before) between a set's release and selling them at a show. Guess I underestimated things there. I'm usually not huge on Heritage parallels, but I decided to pick up these purply refractors of Zobrist (two dollars) and Steven Wright (a buck).
I'm pretty sure that's Wright's first MLB-licensed card, and I've decided to collect him because he's a knuckleballer and shares a name with one of my favorite stand-up comedians.
Parallels are fine and good, but what I was after were the base cards.
I'd bought some High Numbers earlier in the week -- I pulled a Nomar Mazara black refractor that financed a portion of Sunday's show -- but was still in need of a lot of base from the set. This vendor took care of every last one of those needs for a dime a pop.
I'm a big fan of the player selection in this year's High Numbers, as I believe these are the first cards of all of these guys in their new uniforms. That's Darwin Barney's first card since 2014, and I'd actually forgotten that Geovany Soto was still hanging around the big leagues. But there's no way that Tim Lincecum is real: I refuse to believe he ever played for the Angels.
There was one last pressing need from High Numbers...
That's right, despite the fact that he's played in all of nine games for the Cubs this year, Munenori Kawasaki received a card in this year's High Numbers checklist. It's just my second MLB card of his, the other being a masterpiece from 2014 Heritage.
Even if it was only for a few hours, something about the camaraderie I found in the halls of Sunday's gathering helped lift the fog of the morning's tragedy. It may not have been the easiest day to be at a card show, but I'm glad I went. And hey, there's still more to show from Sunday, since I haven't even gotten to the vintage-heavy tables yet. The cards are definitely what keep us going back, but there's so many other, more emotional reasons to love card shows.
It's hard not to be romantic about them.