This past year I received my baseball card collection in stacks of boxes from my home in Seattle. I still remember racing home that day to haul those boxes inside. It was a warm summer day (heat seems so far away in the middle of January!) as I walked up to our path and saw my boxes. It felt like my childhood had arrived and I couldn’t help but smile as I got them in the house. Going through these was going to be a lot of fun. I had started seeing others posting about the hobby and TTM – through the mail requests – and decided I wanted to jump in and share my experience unboxing my childhood years in cardboard. I’d done some autograph requests as a kid. I still remember holding my 1991 Upper Deck Tom Glavine autograph in its top loader, sitting on the window sill at my house, reading a think fantasy novel. I’d used it as a bookmark and it just brought me joy to have nearby. I still have that card and it remains one of my favorite all-time successes. I remember it well because it was also one of my first ones. I didn’t get too many out per month as a kid but it was steady. I also got guys like Andy Ashby, Benji Gil, Luis Gonzalez, Charles Johnson, Ramon Martinez, Brad Ausmus, and Bill Pusiphier back then.
So as I started going through these boxes I decided pretty quickly that I wanted to get back into doing mail requests. Seeing requests online encouraged me that it was still worth it.
My main inspiration for doing so was Dub Mentality, Autograph Blog, and TTM Requests on Twitter. I had no idea if anybody would read this or care. It’s remarkable but I think there are a few people out there who actually read my posts. I’m not sure why. But thank you very much for doing so!
Pausing one dream to start another
My hobby year started in midsummer with those boxes. With their arrival, I decided it was time to rejoin the hobby that had brought me so much joy as a kid. I needed it as I was doing my best to put aside another dream, that of writing a novel. The distraction of cards would help. And blog writing could be another form of creative expression. I wasn’t sure if it would work. I’ve tried giving up novel writing before and haven’t succeeded. It’s a form of writing that takes a lot of time, effort, and involvement, and is hard to stop and start. Right now I just can’t take on that kind of project as a dad with a full-time job taking classes for an MBA. I’ll get back to the writing. I still have a story to get out, one I haven’t quite figured out how to tell yet. I’ve written four bad books (fantasy and mystery). I’ve put that aside for now and I’m at peace with it. Because I have the blog writing as an outlet along with my photography, and the amazing online hobby community starting to become known as CardBoardMafia. Since starting the blog I’ve made many friends online and have formed a new dream. I’m going to be starting a photography company down the road. For sports and landscapes. So that’s a new dream. To build my photography company, and share the journey with everyone in the hobby community. It continues this Spring with a Financial Accounting class. That will be a switch – from writing novels to learning to account!
From the flagship to the shiny
On to the hobby. This past year I didn’t have a plan for my hobby purchasing. It was the first year I’d really consistently bought anything new. It started with my first full hobby box around my birthday. I chose to get the flagship product, Topps 2017. I had the thought that I might use this set for mail requests at the time. This was before I was really ready to jump in. I didn’t end up using many of these cards for the mail because of the surfaces. They do take a fair amount of prep to get ready to sign. There are other card sets out there that don’t, like Topps Heritage. This is really the only drawback to the main flagship Topps 2017 set from my perspective. The surface isn’t autograph friendly. However, the price point for the box was not prohibitive and I had a blast going through it. This was a good starting point for getting back into the hobby. The set is large with a good checklist which is something I remembered from my old junk wax 1990s sets.
After this purchase, I didn’t buy any big boxes for a while. I had the budget of a Dad, after all. Still, I’m lucky enough that this translates to about two blaster boxes of cards each month.
Topps Chrome and the Judge chasing
After the flagship purchase was Chrome. The summer was in full force and so was the Aaron Judge chase. I’ll admit I wasn’t sure I’d like this product at first. I bought it with some hope of pulling a Judge. I think we all did. I try not to chase the hot rookie like that but it’s part of the hobby, and is fun, to an extent. Chrome grew on me quickly. It uses the exact same photographs as the main set but the shiny factor overtakes that potentially boring aspect. I decided I liked it a lot. This harkens back to when I was a kid. Some of my favorite cards are old holographic inserts from Upper Deck. Sets like the 1993 Upper Deck Then and Now set. These feature a headshot of a star player like Tony Gwynn or Ryan Sandberg against a shiny holo of a city landscape. I love these cards and the shine. Chrome recalled this for me and I bought a few more blasters of this product than I thought I would. I didn’t pull the Aaron Judge from this set but did get a Bellinger, and a Yoan Moncada. This was about the time Judge had been really hot but was starting to perhaps fade just a tad. At this time I was still on the fence about Judge. I thought he’d end up more like Kevin Mass. He may still do so. Even if he does I’ll always remember the summer of Judge. My Judge pulls ended up coming from individual packs of Topps Archives. I never got a full blaster of this product and wish I’d done so. But I still did pretty well. In one pack I pulled a gorgeous Steve Avery autograph. It pairs perfectly with that Tom Glavine and another Steve Avery autograph I got as a kid. In fact, I got John Smoltz as well as a kid and traded for an upgrade online this summer. So from that killer Braves rotation, I just need a Greg Maddux. That’s going to be a goal this year for me, to acquire one. But this a tangent.
Judge Karma with Archives
My luck with Judge was in Archives, as I pulled the 68 version and the mini version of the Judge rookies. Both solid cards. I also later acquired from the kindness of Howling Fury some early Judge Bowman cards, so I am well covered. These aren’t investment pieces but collection pieces. I feel like I need to have a decent representation of his base rookies, just because of who he was over the summer. He was the Kevin Mass of this year (hopefully with staying power). What I’m trying to say is he was the hot fun rookie of the year. His surge took me back to when I was a kid, chasing down rookies and prospects and having a blast. So thank you to Mr. Judge for adding fun to the hobby summer.
I remember that after the Judge mania Bellinger became hot again. I didn’t pull as many of his cards this past year. In fact, I think I got just the Topps Chrome version. Still a good card to have.
Aaron Judge has gotten numerous awards but I think I’ll name him the “best Kevin Mass impersonator” and thank him for the fun of chasing his cards. I do think he’ll have staying power if he can perhaps cut down on some strikeouts.
National Baseball Card Day
I thought this was a really fun promotion this year. The cards were well designed. I made a 90-minute trek up to a favorite shop in the Twin Cities with my boys to make sure I got my pack. Pulled Kris Bryant, Corey Seager, and Francisco Lindor. I hope this expands in 2018. Free promotions like this can only help bring people in. I just wish the odds on an autograph were a bit better. Increasing those odds and giving more chances for kids to pull something big can only help!
Bowman Prospect hunting and Bargain Blasters
From there I shifted to buying some Bowman blasters. I was lucky enough to find some of the Bowman Chrome mega boxes. No autographs but I did pull some lower numbered parallels like a Franklin Barreto Green 62/99, and some of the Purples out of 250 (Jack Flarety, Tyler O’Neil, Bradley Zimmer Talent Pipeline). I got a Rhys Hoskins base RC and some of the other main rookies like Glyeber Torres. One never really knows about Bowman right away. I liked the product but not sure I’ll invest much in it in 2018. There’s just a bit too much risk with Bowman blasters. It may be worth getting a full box of it, though, to guarantee some autographs at least.
At about this time I also started paying attention to the bargain blasters at Target, priced at $15. These ended up being a lot of fun. I found some 2015 Panini Colliegiete Contenders boxes. The best autograph I pulled was a Phillip Pheifer out of 99 and an Adam Brett Walker III, former Twins prospect. He has prodigious power but hasn’t made it to the bigs yet. These were fun because there are cards of star players in college uniforms (Randy Johnson, Will Clark, Dave Winfield, John Elway to name a few). I highly recommend glancing through the bargain blasters whenever you make a Target run. The 2015 Panini Collegiate Contenders get my award for the best bargain buy. Three baseball autographs at $15 are something I can’t pass up, and the design is superb and doesn’t feel cheap. See this post for more about my pulls.
GOGTS Live Hobby Show
I discovered this show near the second half of the summer, I think. I’ve watched it religiously ever since. They’ve been pulling in bigger and bigger audiences and it’s been fun to see. Rob and Ivan spend about two hours or more each Thursday night talking the hobby and breaking boxes, giving away some great cards. I won once early on but no luck since. It’s been months, hah. Oh well. The fun aspect is their attitude. They clearly love the hobby and want to keep collectors informed. So I watch as often as I can. Their Christmas special was nuts with the giveaways. I, unfortunately, missed their end of year awards show due to being sick in bed. It makes each Thursday night fun and helps me get through to Friday!
CardBoardMafia and HobbyLove
The online community shines. This has made getting back into the hobby so much fun. I remember one week this year where I got a package in the mail each day from members of the community. Trades, or just kindness. This is one thing I have seen over and over. The kind, helpful nature of the community. Everyone really wants to help each other out. It’s fun sending cards to each other. I’ll have a stack of random Tigers cards lying in my collection gathering dust. They’ll mean much more to someone else if I send them out. I’ve gotten Twins cards in the mail and Mariners cards. I collect both teams and it’s really fun coming back after a long work day to a stack of new team cards. Everyone has those tough days where cards are the best therapy. There’s something just calming and relaxing about going through a stack and looking for autograph guys or just sorting. It’s meditative and helps with mindfulness and the staying in the present. One of the biggest acts of HobbyLove I saw was Robert Ballis sending DubMentality a Frank Thomas signed jersey after one of his posts. Dub mentioned he’d love to own a Frank Thomas autograph, and Robert sent it on to Dub just like that. This still sticks with me and is something I try to emulate. It’s my personal top random act of kindness for the year. Bravo. I can’t give away jerseys but I can give out autographs and cards.
The CardBoardMafia is a core group of collectors that hang out on Twitter chatting the hobby. This is where we are now. Howling Fury on Twitter came up with the name and it’s a great descriptor for the group. I wrote about it in a previous post. We’re brothers helping each other out and encouraging kindness in this hobby we all love so much. It’s about the joy in the cardboard, and being there as a safe group to talk about the stresses of daily life. That’s what this hobby is. It’s a place of joy that can heal the pains of the day-to-day.
My first big goal for 2018 will be to involve my oldest son more directly with TTM. I’ll deliberately take time on weekends with him to start opening his box of 1990 Upper Deck, search for players, and write letters to him. It’ll be a great way to help him with handwriting and composition of sentences. The other fun part of this will be to tie in geography. We’ll track successes on a map of the US. That’s the idea, at least.
I also want to focus more on Mariners and Twins autographs, in particular, TTM for the mid 90s Mariners teams and the 1995 team. I’ll also trade for any autographs from that team as they seem a bit difficult to get.
I love 1993 Upper Deck as a set and will continue to get those signed. But I also love just getting pretty, well-designed cards signed as well that Aren’t part of any set. This helps keep things fun.
Another goal of mine will be to obtain a certified auto of Ken Griffey Jr, my all-time favorite player. The only auto I have is faded and I’m unsure its real. If anyone has any available please let me know.
Hobby in 2018
I really like what I’ve seen in the hobby this year after being away for so long. Topps has done a solid job stewarding the hobby, but I really hope some other manufacturers can get a license. I like some things Panini does but not others and we all heard about the issues they’ve had. We need another official company back. And I’d love to see Topps doing football cards again.
I really hope to see more involvement with National Baseball Card Day and other promotions. It’s a great way to offer young collectors something fun and to give them a shot at a great autograph, even if it’s a small chance. Good job Topps with this!
One other reason I do TTM is I’ve noticed the few times I’ve tried to do autographs in person at a park, it’s been really difficult. This is Target Field. I haven’t had a chance to try others and I followed a guy on Twitter who got to try multiple parks and did seem to have some success. But in person graphing seems to be a lot more difficult than I remember. It will likely remain this way with the negative impressions Autograph collecting can garner. It’s so important for all of us to act in a courteous, polite manner for this reason. It just takes one bad experience for a player to quit.
Another thing I want to see improved. Initials syndrome. GoGTS Live talked about this on their show, how athletes these days seem to have poor autos. I think instead of calling out and shaming athletes for bad signatures, let’s try to highlight the good ones. Maybe this way some current athletes might want to try and change their autographs. I write more about this in this post.
I’m going to close this post with my favorite TTMs from 2017.
Carl Erskine. This is my favorite one for sure. I got an awesome note from him with a fun inscription. I highlight the letter in this post. I’ll be framing this somehow with the card, which turned out great as well but is almost secondary to the letter!
Walter Ioos Jr. This means a lot to me. I love his photography and his 93 UD set. He was a big part of my inspiration to start photography. I write about that here.
Will Clark. This was one of my first TTM successes this year. I loved him as a kid and really wanted him on the Mariners, of course. His signature turned out great.
Turk Wendell. I love his quirks as a player and a great auto on a really fun card. One of my favorites for sure!
Shaq! Not sure these are real, but they look cool. I’ve heard mixed reports about these autographs. I sent to Mine O Mine Company. If not real, oh well! Still worth a try.
Al MacInnis. This is on the list because of the card and the autograph turned out great. I’ve had the card since I pulled it from one of the few hockey packs I bought way back. So it’s sentimental with good design and a great photo. And he signed it in just the right spot so you can see it easily!
Chad Brown. I love the inscription on this one. Thank you for taking the time!
That’s a wrap on my 2017. It’s been so much fun to get back into this hobby. I’m going to make up for lost time this year!
Happy collecting everyone!