For the most part, I stroll through card shows anonymously.
Believe me: I'm not trying to be rude, and it's not even really a conscious decision to keep to myself at shows -- but I just find it difficult to hold conversations with strangers when I'm trying to peruse baseball cards. I basically lurk through the aisles, peeking left and right, seeing if anything catches my eye. And if something does, I always try to at least say hello to the vendor as I walk up to his table. But apart from that, I'm not much for chatter -- most (but not all) talks with vendors over the years have felt forced and I simply prefer not to do it unless initiated. (I promise I'm not a curmudgeon even though what I just wrote, now that I read it, sounds a lot like I am.)
I went to a village hall show a couple weekends ago as an early celebration for my just-passed birthday, and many times during the day I watched people strike up conversations, exchange names, trade phone numbers with ease, in preparation for future shows. I don't do this. I'll chat with my dad, of course (who sadly wasn't present at this show), and it's been fun meeting and talking with fellow local bloggers at shows (which also didn't happen at this show), but for the most part, I stay anonymous.
But the paradox of it all is that I've been going to these shows for long enough that a lot of the people there have long since started to recognize me.
Even more of a paradox is that, despite my perceived anonymity, I actually kind of like that a lot of the people there have long since started to recognize me -- it's a small badge of honor in what is often a transient hobby, with people coming and going every minute.
I was greeted with a Hey buddy, how ya doin'? as I approached a table about midway through the show, and I was surprised to see one of the vendors from the local flea market sitting there. I had no clue he set up at card shows despite my years of browsing his cards at the summer flea markets. I know him fairly well enough that the conversation seemed natural -- we chatted about Dick Allen after I found that cool oversized oddball at the top of this post in his stacks. Aside from being a double mini-collection hit of a guy I admire, it's also odd enough that I can't find a single shred of information on it (I assume it's a team issue of some sort from during or after Allen's 1972 MVP season).
This show was also proof that, on a selfish level, being recognized can have its benefits: one vendor with dime boxes I've shopped many times over the years simply gave me a stack of oversized 2020 Topps Turkey Red box-toppers near the end of the day -- so maybe I'm not as anonymous as I think I am around here.
The box-toppers were an amazing gesture, but my real goal of the day was to knock out as many of my standard 2020 Topps needs as possible.
The huge stack of inserts I bought home were easy (and cheap) enough to snap up, but I'm really starting to worry that the base cards, ironically, are getting harder and harder to find. Not out of scarcity -- god knows Topps is printing enough cards these days -- but out of perceived demand. Quite a few vendors didn't even bring the base they had because they're not huge money makers, and it took until nearly the end of the day for me to find a guy who (thankfully) had a big dime box of 'em that took care of nearly all my wants.
Please, vendors: don't let base cards go extinct!
This show leans heavily on the latest and greatest, which meant that 2019 was a distant memory and thus easy to find cheap.
I honestly didn't know Bowman's Best had even been released, and I had to shell out a fair amount of cash for that GQ Jackie Robinson SP (two whole dollars!) -- still well worth it since it's a mini-collection hit in addition to being a simply fantastic baseball card.
One vendor had something I can't say I'd ever seen before: a dime box organized by player.
I love the randomness and general insanity of standard dime boxes, of course, but I admit it was kinda nice being able to find a new stack of Vlads here, a new handful of Konerkos there, all in nice, organized swoops.
The guy at the very next table over had about a half-dozen nickel boxes, all White Sox cards.
Again, I love randomness, but to go through stacks like these was to take a joyous lesson in Sox history -- made even more fun considering those boxes had stuff from a lot of years (early/mid 2000s) and brands (Topps Total, Bowman Heritage) I rarely see.
Hits for the big-time player collections.
Another show, another round of mini-collection thrills -- I was especially happy to find that scarce Jackie Robinson Day variation of Eric Thames (one of my personal favorite dudes in the game right now) in a dime box.
I will always find fun in oddballs.
Can't let a card show post go by without showing some dime box shiny.
For whatever reason, these 2011 Topps diamond parallels were all over the place at this show -- I seriously found them scattered at three or four different tables throughout the day.
I don't have any real reason for showing these other than just wanting to see what a whole page of 'em looked like (not disappointed!).
Dime box minis of all shapes, sizes, and species.
There always seems to be at least one vendor at every show whose cards are woefully overpriced -- leading me to believe how such vendors stay in business, or even so much as make their money back for that particular afternoon.
But then again, as much as I might fancy myself a bargain hunter, I'm not averse to overpaying if it's for cards I really want. Case in point: these two SI Magazine inserts popped up in a dollar box at one point during the show. These really aren't dollar bin material: I've found them in dime boxes many times. But that's a Jimmy Wynn I need! And a card of Sparky Lyle holding a cute lil puppy!
Well, I guess I just answered my own question: these vendors stay in business because of people like me (you're welcome).
On the other end of the spectrum, every card show also seems to produce a mass of stuff I really shouldn't be finding in dime boxes.
I'm talking numbered HOFers, online exclusives, SPs, vintage oddballs...and I didn't even realize the Hunter was actually an SSPC ad-back until after I got home.
I also saw a guy buy 2,700 dime cards (not a typo) at one particular table early in the afternoon, which beats any dime box record I ever thought I held -- not surprisingly, he and the vendor were a couple of the people I saw exchanging information at this show.
Me, I was happy with my relatively paltry haul -- I came home with just under 700 cards in total -- including this mass of random dime box finds and that neat "Topps 2020" Bumgarner insert that reminds me what Topps thought its 2020 set would look like ten years ago (if only).
More random cheapies, and another brick in my odd fascination with non-baseball designs on baseball cards.
There wasn't a whole lot of vintage at this show: my modern finds outnumbered the older stuff by about 100-to-1.
But I did find a little vintage scattered among the day's dime boxes: I'll always buy Senators cards and Wrigley Field shots for a dime, and I had no idea Claude Raymond had an equally memorable pair of glasses to go along with his unzipped-fly fame.
And oh boy did the quality of the vintage I picked up far outweigh the relatively small quantity of it.
I don't try to haggle much at card shows, but I'm better about it than I once was (I've seen people try to haggle about every single card they see at a guy's table, and doing it to that extent that annoys me). And breaking out of my anonymity to haggle turned out to be a wise decision: I knocked that '59 Spahn off my Keep Dreaming list for $8 (down from a $12 list price), and even snagged a '66 Mays (card #1 in the '66 set) for $20, down from the vendor's original $25 price tag.
But believe it or not, I seriously forgot I'd even bought these two cards until I got home later that day because of what awaited me at another table near the end of the afternoon.
Wait...is that...A DON DRYSDALE ROOKIE CARD?!?!?!?!
Never in my wildest dreams did I expect to capture this lifelong want at a village hall show way out in the 'burbs. And I certainly didn't expect it to be as affordable as it was. This was actually the second '57 Drysdale I saw that day...and somehow they came at two consecutive tables. One guy had a decent copy at $75: not a terrible price, but pass. And so, right then, my dream of owning a Drysdale rookie remained exactly that.
The guy at the very next table was actually packing up for the day when I got to him, but he said I was free to look at anything still on display. He even handed me a stack of cards he'd been just about to put away. Almost all the cards were heavy hitters (Mantle, Koufax, etc.), but two in particular nearly made me shout and break any anonymity I hoped to maintain.
The first, amazingly, was another '57 Drysdale -- the other, well...
...was perhaps the only other '57 I wanted more than the Drysdale -- CLEMENTE!
But then came the barrier that usually prevents me from owning cards anything like these: the price. Due to being off-condition, both were priced to move: the Drysdale was $35 and the Clemente was $30 (cheaper combined than the price I'd been quoted on the other Drysdale rookie just minutes before). But again: haggling. I asked if he'd take $50 for the pair, he countered at $55. And since I had a little extra birthday cash in my wallet (thanks Mom & Dad!), I agreed: $55 for both.
And just like that: DRYSDALE AND CLEMENTE WERE MINE! In that moment I could've completely lost my mind. I could've become the guy who screamed and yelled and jumped up and down at the village hall show, the crazy guy who went viral from all the pictures and videos, the guy vendors would tell stories about. Instead I turned the cards over and over again in my hands as I walked away from the table, slapped them against my palm a few times, staring hard into the eyes looking out at me on the fronts of the incredible baseball cards I'd just purchased.
It was all I could do to remain anonymous in the face of such pure joy.