Washington Nationals relief pitcher Kyle McGowin is anxious to return to good health next season, but in addition to off-season workouts and rehab, he’s busy with his growing sports card business.
One of a growing number of athletes who’ve taken an active role in the hobby, McGowin’s World Champion Breaks held its grand opening in West Palm Beach, FL on November 19.
The Kyle File
A native of Sag Harbor, New York, McGowin starred on the Pierson High School baseball team before entering Savannah State University, where he was named by the National Collegiate Baseball Writers Association as a First Team All American for his junior year in 2013.
Selected in the fifth round of the 2013 MLB Draft by the Los Angeles Angels, he was traded to the Washington Nationals after the 2016 season and made his major league debut in 2018. He pitched for the Nats during their run to a World Series title in 2019 and picked up his first big league win in September of 2020. This past season, he reached a career high in appearances, striking out 35 batters in 30 innings of work but ran into injury trouble late in the season.
McGowin is also a player in the sports collectibles business. Last month, he opened a hobby shop in West Palm Beach, FL called World Champion Sports Cards.
We recently caught up to him for a chat about meeting Derek Jeter as a kid, wanting a Topps card of his own and his involvement with the new shop, where he’s dealing with an issue familiar to all store owners these days.
TR–What card or cards made you fall in love with the hobby as a young kid?
KM-There were a few first cards. I was with my family in Florida and we went to Yankees spring training. We went to a local card shop and I don’t know if I got packs or boxes but I pulled a Derek Jeter Rookie Reprint Autograph. It was a replica of the rookie card. I think it was in 2000. I still have that card to this day. He was my favorite player growing up and the first player I ever met.
TR- Wow! Derek Jeter was the first baseball player you ever met?
KM-Yeah, you start big but you can only go downhill from there (laughs). I was with my father. My mom didn’t want to go. We went to spring training one day when we were in Florida on vacation. My dad suggested we go. By the time we got there practice was over. I was waiting outside underneath the stadium right in front of the Yankees locker room. Everybody was telling us there was no one there. There were about 20 people walking by, asking us what we were doing. They said we weren’t going to see anybody. The next thing you know I yell ‘Derek Jeter!’ and all of these people come swarming. He said he would be back later. All the fans that came over said that just meant he was going home and not to even bother. I was nine years old and I was not leaving that spot.
There was a mesh tarp there and you could barely see through it. I had a photo and had it sitting there for an hour or so, not even paying attention. All of a sudden, someone pulls it. It was Derek Jeter. He started signing my stuff. He hands it back to me and leaves.
TR– So was Derek Jeter your guy or did you have someone’s poster on the wall as a kid?
KM-It started out with Derek Jeter. Then it was Robinson Cano. I had a huge poster of him on my wall. Pitcher wise, it was Tim Lincecum. He was my idol. I collected all of his cards. I still have all of them. In 2016 when he signed with the Angels, he came to Triple A with us. I got to hang out with him. We went to the casino. In the off season he invited me over to his house to watch the Super Bowl. I got to live a childhood dream of not only meeting but hanging out with my childhood hero. It was awesome.
TR-You have a number of minor league cards but have yet to get a major league card. What was it like to see yourself on a trading card for the first time?
KM-It was pretty awesome. Like you said, I am still waiting to this day. I try to reach out here and there and hopefully they give me a card. It would be awesome for the hobby. I open cards and do breaks, so it would be pretty awesome to be able to open and sign it for people right there on the spot. Hopefully one day that happens. It’s better than signing a blank piece of paper at the stadium.
TR-Speaking of your involvement in the hobby, you opened World Champion Sports Cards in West Palm Beach, Florida. It’s a brick and mortar shop that recently celebrated a grand opening in early November. What was your inspiration to give it a go in the hobby?
KM-About four years ago when I was in the Minor Leagues I was breaking during spring training and during the off season. That was when breaks started to get more and more popular. I was doing it and met a lot of people. As I grew in baseball, I got further away from it because I was focused on baseball and didn’t have time for it.
Right before the pandemic, the year before that, I started breaking for Top Notch. Anthony and I have gone way back for years. During the pandemic I had nothing else to do. I hit up my college roommate who was my teammate as well. He didn’t even respond to me but he called me the next day and sad he signed up for the company name, the URL, the Facebook page and all of that. He basically took it and ran with it. We have been doing it ever since.
TR-A brick and mortar location is a big commitment. That’s not just breaking online on occasion. The place looks spectacular. What is it like to have a physical location?
KM-It’s amazing. I would say it’s a lot of hard work but it came together so fast that it didn’t seem like it was as much as it was. Within five months we had it up and running. I’m thankful to have my friends and family that were all able to help. To this day, my parents tell me they want to come down to Florida and work the shop. I am getting ready for next season. It’s weight off my shoulders. I am able to go work out and throw in the morning and then come to the shop after.
TR-What hurdles have you cleared that maybe you didn’t even expect to see as a hobby shop owner?
KM-Prior to Covid when everybody became breakers, you could get allocations a bit easier. This is word of mouth. I thought if we opened a shop we could get better allocations. To this day, we are still waiting for some allocations. It’s a long process but it will make it worth it in the end. Everything I have now, inventory wise, I had to get at card shows or from other card shops. It is what it is. People are still coming to hang out with us and that’s all that matters.