Wednesday, July 19, 2017
Penny pinching (more from the flea market)
So where was I?
Oh, right. I left you with this cliffhanger from yesterday's post. So...to finish the story, one of the very last tables in the entire flea market was loaded with boxes and boxes of loose singles. But again, remember: I was fresh out of money at this point and didn't want to run to the ATM unless it was an absolute emergency.
When I arrived, the vendor was talking to a guy who had a large stack of cards in his purchase pile, and it seemed like the two were friends. Both of them greeted me warmly when I walked up to the table. I casually poked around the boxes and saw quite a few things I needed. Only problem was I didn't see a price on any of it.
Naturally, I asked: How much are these?
It was actually the customer who answered me first -- he said, and I quote: Can you believe it? ONLY A PENNY EACH (emphasis mine).
It took all the willpower in the world for me to calmly reply: I'll be right back.
And I just about ran to the ATM and withdrew a $20 bill, my head spinning the entire way.
The words rang through my head: A PENNY EACH. A PENNY EACH! A PENNY EACH!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! I've seen penny cards maybe three times in the nearly two decades I've been collecting, and almost all of those were late '80s/early '90s cardboard.
These boxes, on the other hand, were...well let me just put it this way: if I could custom-build a giant assortment of cards to sift through, it'd probably look a lot like the ones I found on Sunday.
I'm talking stacks and stacks of late '90s singles that I almost never see anywhere else, including -- again -- Pacific!
As I mentioned yesterday with the Pacific Online box I'd found at an earlier table, Pacific was famous for their exceptionally large checklists, and you know what that means: get the obscure players and/or unfamiliar uniforms ready! In addition to the short-term sight of the Big Unit as an Astro seen above, this scan features another legendary hit with Ozzie Guillen as a Brave.
And, as a longtime fan of journeyman relievers, I was psyched to find my very first cards of Miguel Batista as a Marlin and Jose Mesa as a Giant: all for a penny each!
But perhaps none of the short-term penny-box sights were better than this one of John Kruk as a member of the Chicago White Sox.
This was a doubly exciting find because I'd actually purchased this same card (for 50 cents) as part of a Just Commons order a while ago, but it went missing from the package and never did arrive.
It took a bit of patience, but I ended up finding a copy for one-fiftieth of the original price.
It's impossible to convey the sheer rapture I felt while digging through all those boxes...I mean, I would've paid a dime or quarter for most of these in a heartbeat, and here they were FOR A PENNY.
At such a bargain price (and I don't know that the word bargain is strong enough here), I threw anything and everything that caught my eye into my purchase pile: online cards, steel cards, cards with a lot of balls (sorry), cards with cornea-scratching amounts of teal.
Few '90s sets give me the warm fuzzies as much as '97 Ultra does.
I'm not exactly sure why -- I didn't own a lot of these at the time -- but something about the ribboned font and fresh photography takes me right back to my youth.
Shiny baseball cards were still a new fad in the mid '90s, and here's a couple earlier examples.
(RIP, Doug Million.)
Almost as fulfilling as the cards themselves were the conversations I had with the vendor and other customer during the hour-plus it took to sift through all those penny boxes.
The two obviously knew their baseball, and the customer was picking out cards of obscure '90s Cubs -- think Manny Alexander, Tyler Houston, etc. -- and sharing stories of his trips to Wrigley and Sox Park, like the time he got hit with an Ozzie Guillen foul ball and the night he almost got into a fight with one of Cliff Floyd's relatives.
When you put all of it together, you get what is definitely in the running as my all-time best Discount Box Experience.
Penny cards and great conversation? And did I mention penny cards? I mean: penny cards. PENNY CARDS. And GOOD penny cards. Penny cards of minor leaguers like Terry Mulholland (who was perpetually 40 years old, from the looks of it) and Dave Roberts during his brief stay in the Tigers' organization.
I can say it over and over again -- PENNY CARDS, PENNY CARDS, PENNY CARDS -- but it's been three days since this happened, and I still don't quite believe it.
Penny box oddballs: yup, that's a thing (apparently).
One of my favorite sets of the '90s is 1999 Fleer Tradition, and this guy had scores of these rare red-foiled Warning Track parallels in his penny boxes.
What's more, the Hollandsworth and Beltran are both mini-collection hits for me, which reminds me...
...holy hell did my themes take a pounding at this table.
The mid-to-late '90s is the unquestioned king of mini-collection production: I'd say nearly half of my themed cards in total come from the era, if I had to guess.
And yet, all told, I still scored probably around 100 new ones from these penny boxes, only a tiny fraction of which are seen in this nine-pocket page here.
Many of my favorite guys played during the late '90s, which means that collecting them is both a blessing and a curse.
A blessing because they have a lot of cards to chase, and a curse because OH MY GOD do they have a lot of cards to chase. As is the dilemma of a late '90s player collector, I'll tell you.
That's why these boxes were such a gift from the heavens: I could've easily gone the rest of my collecting life without finding cards like that Pacific Mark Grace or the Darryl Kile silver signature parallel, yet here they were for a penny.
Even with the aforementioned frustrations of late '90s player collecting -- and apparently because I'm crazy -- I recently decided to add a couple more guys from the era into my binders with Lima Time and Shooter here.
Seriously, does it get any better than a Rod Beck card for a copper Lincoln?
Believe me, I could go on for hours and hours and hours about how much I loved digging through all those penny cards, but then this blog post would just about turn into a personal memoir.
So many sets I rarely see, so many players I rarely see, so much joy I rarely experience: and yet here all of it was at one of the very last tables at my local flea market...for a gosh darn penny a piece.
Seriously: here's what my purchase pile (if you can call it that) looked like after all was said and done.
That's a grand total of 540 cards right there, and they all became mine for five bucks. I'm no math major, but that's less than a penny per card! Anything and everything made it in there: cards for my binders, frankenset hits, and yes, quite a few goodies to send out to fellow bloggers.
Funny thing is, even an hour and over half-a-thousand cards later, I still didn't get through everything the guy had on display. That's how much he had. He told me he'd be back at the flea market a few more times throughout the rest of the summer and, needless to say, here's hoping I can catch him another Sunday in the near future.
When you're done reading this post, do me a favor and wake me up from this dream I'm apparently living.