I was born in 1985 and growing up as a boy in the late 80’s/early 90’s you had two very important priorities: collecting baseball cards and playing with Hot Wheels (Nintendo came a little later for me).
I can remember taking those new Corvettes out of the package and playing with them for hours. I can remember taking them outside and playing with them in dirt piles and making the hours pass like mere minutes. We would fly them in mid air as if they had wings on them and get lost in “Hot Wheel world.”
But what really got me all jacked up as a kid was getting that brand new unopened pack of Topps or Upper Deck baseball cards. The mystery of peeling back that plastic and not knowing which players you were going to pull from that pack was indescribable.
Remember that feeling? It was a feeling of anxiousness and excitement, wondering if you would get something special like a Ken Griffey Jr. or a Rickey Henderson or, in my case, a Nolan Ryan card.
Most kids I knew longed for cards of those big home run hitters like Frank Thomas or Mark McGwire. I mean, Tony Gwynn was good and all but I didn’t need, nor did I want another card of the round mound from Padre town. I wanted another one of those Nolan Ryan Express beauties, and opening each pack of cards was like playing the lottery for that grand prize.
Of course, the packs you would get came with only roughly 10 cards in them, and out of those 10 you MIGHT get one or two cards (at most) that were actually worth holding on to. The other eight or nine would be labeled as “common cards” in the Beckett pricing guide – the Holy Bible to card collectors – holding a value of just around 15 cents. Those were the ones most likely to end up with crayon marks on the back of them or placed in a separate box designated as “cards that stink”, cast away like a crumpled up, losing Powerball ticket.
One of the more memorable baseball card moments that stood out to me as a child was when my brother came home from school with a 1961 Stan Musial. He had a classmate who gave him a ’61 Topps Stan “the Man” for doing his homework. I was jealous for a year over that card. It was like the Holy Grail of baseball cards in our house. Too bad that kid wasn’t in my class; we would have negotiated a one-year, cards-for-grades contract. If he had had a Babe Ruth or a Joe DiMaggio, we would have instantly become best friends. I mean seriously, a Stan Musial for doing a few math problems?! How lucky could you be? I’m over here pulling an 8th year Kirby Puckett out of a pack of Donruss and my brother hits the jackpot.
But that was a long time ago. Over time, the hobby of card collecting has lost its luster.
These days, kids are more focused on the latest technological gadget. I’m not sure if there are even stores that sell baseball cards anymore. Back in the day, you could walk into your local convenient store and there would be several different brands available. Or you could go to Wal-Mart and they would have huge bundles (for a nice price of course). But all of that has changed with time, and collecting baseball cards (or any other cards for that matter) has become something of the past.
You see, for a kid like me, it was the thrill of the hunt involved with collecting baseball cards that sparked my interest in baseball. That interest got me playing the game. It instilled in me the love I have for the game today.
Looking over my collection – a pretty nice one if I do say so myself; I have over 200 Nolan Ryan cards, a Mike Schmidt, Rod Carew, Pete Rose and Carl Yastremski, among others – I realize that these old faces on these small little rectangular cards opened up a world for me that I otherwise would not have had. I will forever be grateful to Topps, Donruss, Upper Deck and the other baseball card makers for introducing me to the game of baseball.
But with the decline of card collecting, what’s left out there to spark the interest of the next generation of baseball fans? What’s left out there to introduce them to baseball?
Earlier, I wrote about baseball needing more mustache, but it’s more than that. Baseball has fallen out of favor among the casual sports fan. It needs things that capture their attention again. Things that make the game worth talking about. In card collecting, the MLB had created a hobby within its sport that no other professional league could ever really rival. But as it become a thing of the past, the uphill battle that baseball popularity is facing gets even steeper.