Sometimes it floors me to know that I've been collecting baseball cards for over 20 years now.
I can remember having one tiny blue binder of cards as a kid, flipping through it so often that I probably had everything inside memorized. I remember when card shows were new, and all the tables were thrilling. And I have fond memories of going to the flea market on Sunday mornings with my parents - which is fitting, since I made my first sojourn of the 2023 flea market season here as a 31-year-old adult (albeit still with my dad in tow!).
Things are a bit different now. I have over 90 binders of cards at last count, and while card shows and flea markets are always exciting, they're by no means new. Card shows and flea markets alike, I know the vast majority of tables won't have anything for me - I can usually tell within ten seconds if I'm gonna find anything good or not. A fair amount of people have cards at my flea market, but very few are anything approaching reasonable - lots of poached retail blasters and/or 1990 Topps factory sets.
Still, I have a few regular flea market vendors who continue to set up year after year - I thought this Robin Roberts for $5 would be the headline of the day until I got home, flipped a binder to my pages of '56 Topps and saw...
...dammit, I already had it.
The fact that I could forget I had a '56 Robin Roberts speaks volumes about how far my collection has come. It also probably says something less flattering about the state of my baseball card memory. I could see accidentally buying a double from a random set like 2011 Bowman (which happens a lot, too) - but for something like this to happen is...telling.
The '56 Roberts I already had (bottom) is a bit sharper than the one I bought, so if anyone wants the one from the flea market, just say the word - it could use a good home, and I don't need such glaring reminders of my memory loss just lying around here!
Thankfully, that same flea market vendor had a smaller box of $1 vintage that netted a few keepers - and no duplicates!
I've taken to scooping up these older coaches cards on the cheap simply because they're fun, and sometimes educational - I had no idea Luke Appling was a Tigers coach in his later years.
This guy also sported a nice little dime box at his table that made for a nice payoff after wandering aisles full of power tools.
Found a little more vintage in there - how have I never seen that '73 Gene Michael before?! - and a few modern goodies including a tough Griffey Heritage SP.
The best dime boxes are often the ones with no rhyme or reason to them, and this one certainly checked that box.
Carlos Delgado isn't anywhere near the top of my collecting hierarchy, but I'd be crazy to pass up his '92 Bowman rookie for a dime.
I always feel like I'm about to be drawn and quartered when I admit that, while I enjoy '83 Topps, I've never thought of it as a great set - it seems like I want to like it more than I actually do.
But that didn't stop me from flipping through the entire row of '83 Topps I found in this dime box - found a few needs and generally fun cards (alas, I finally own the infamously-airbrushed John Denny!) although my opinion of this set remains the same (sorry).
These hallowed glass case purchases put a nice cap on my trip through this guy's table - the McGwire was $8, and the Posey $5, but he gave 'em both to me for ten bucks.
I grabbed the McGwire purely out of a weird kind of backward nostalgia. I saw that card everywhere during my late '90s/early-2000s card-collecting youth, and I remember it regularly selling for well into the triple figures at the time. I always thought I'd stumble into a copy somewhere, but I never did - and it's not the kind of card I'm gonna pay the present $20ish price tag for since I'm by no means a McGwire fan.
But I figured five bucks was a much easier pill to swallow - while I'm not the type of collector who believes that people should own any specific card, something about not having that one in my binders felt wrong.
My other regular vendors with the 50-cent binders was back in attendance as well - though my luck of finding photo variations and other generally overlooked rare stuff didn't continue this time around.
Nevertheless, those binders helped me cross off a few more recent needs this time around, and better yet, the guy let me have everything at 3/$1 instead of the usual 50-cent price tag.
A few more legendary gems here - I kinda like those "70 Years of Topps" inserts because my brain can't quite process them a lot of the time (what's George Brett doing on the 2006 Topps design??).
I can't say I rue the loss of UD Goudey too often, but I do miss these nifty legend SPs.
I love the fact that I have regular vendors at the flea market who I can usually count on being there any week I have the time to go - but to me the sheer intrigue of finding someone new with good cards keeps me strolling the aisles with my fingers crossed.
I made a brief stop at one table with some quarter vintage on display - nothing too exciting, although I'll certainly take old Senators and catching poses on the cheap any day of the week.
I was just about ready to give up hope of finding anything else noteworthy when I spotted someone with a couple boxes of cards at the tail end of the flea market.
The boxes had a sign that said "WHOLE COLLECTION - $100" and made no mention of individual prices. This type of thing scares me because I've seen a lot of people over the years who refuse to sell in parts and only want the whole thing gone. Although the guy kept nudging me to buy the whole thing (not happening, dude), he did, to his credit, say he'd be willing to sell singles.
In the end, I got a stack of about 100 cards for $15, which was a steal considering there were some tough team issues in there - which is heaven for this collector who's become borderline obsessed with weird team-issued stuff lately.
This table was a small goldmine for mid-aughts cards that seemingly fell off the face of the earth - not nearly enough to make me think of shelling out $100 for (not that I had anything near that on me in the first place), but easily good enough to pick out a nice handful of singles.
Names like Phil Rizzuto and Orel Hershiser are obviously a thrill, but that neat Heritage SP of Obscure Dime Box Favorite Joey Gathright brings me just as much joy.
From what I could tell, this guy opened a few packs of a bunch of different 2000s products and just threw everything in a box, inserts and all - and left them there until I came around all these years later.
(Bring back drivers' license cards!)
My heart skipped a beat when I saw these Topps Pristine singles in there - this is the dangerous intersection of a tough set that has a lot of guys I like.
Goose Gossage with the A's, The Penguin in his college days, and even my first Negro Leagues card of Monte Irvin - does it get any better?
And in the never-ending saga of my memory playing tricks on me, I grabbed this '03 Retired Signature Greg Luzinski thinking I already had it, but could give it a nice home somewhere else in the blogosphere.
That is, until I perused my Phillies binder and found that, wait a minute, I don't have this one at all! How could I forget I had a '56 Robin Roberts and think I already had this Luzinski at the same time? Is this what senility feels like?
Either way, it's comforting to know the flea market hasn't lost any of its luster over the years - although hopefully I keep the duplicates to a minimum the next time around.