When collectors attend sports card and memorabilia shows, they are usually on a mission. Some are looking for particular cards. Some seek the hottest products on the market. Others simply enjoy chatting with the dealers.
John Mitchell has a mission on his mind, too. But this one is much more secular.
The longtime Florida dealer is spearheading a sports card and memorabilia show in a suburb of Orlando on Labor Day weekend. The show will be held on Saturday, September 3, from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. at the Sheraton Orlando North Hotel in Maitland. Admission and parking is free, and there will be door prizes and a raffle.
Money earned from table fees and raffles will be donated to the ministry run by Central Florida pastor Jim Dycus, Mitchell said. Listings on Mitchell’s website note that the money will benefit “World Missions.”
Mitchell has known Dycus, who was at Calvary Assembly Church of God for many years and is currently doing missionary work in Thailand, since 1987.
Dycus’ story was published in his 1988 autobiography, Not Guilty! From Convict to Christian. It’s a harrowing tale. Dycus, now 77, was a heroin addict for 15 years, had four failed marriages and his criminal activities landed him in jail. Dycus explains his transformation to being a committed Christian, a faith that was tested sorely when his youngest daughter Dinah died in September 2011.
“This guy is a tremendous person,” Mitchell said. “This is my way of helping.”
Mitchell spoke about Dycus in Tampa as he tended to customers at the monthly show held in a wing of the Big Top Flea Market. He talked excitedly about the Orlando show, saying he has commitments so far from 17 dealers.
“I think I can get 20,” he said. “I am fully committed. This is gonna go.”
This isn’t the first time Orlando has hosted a card show. During the hobby’s heyday in the late 1980s and early 1990s, Kissimmee shop owner Gary Nagle brought large shows to the Belz Factory Outlet, a retail mall located between downtown Orlando and Walt Disney World. Currently, there is a monthly show at the Orlando Fashion Square, run by longtime dealers Bob and Val Pacuraw.
Mitchell said he made sure his show would not conflict with the monthly Tampa and Orlando shows.
“I didn’t want to go up against the Tampa show or Bob and Val,” Mitchell said.
As a 30-year veteran of shows, Mitchell can appreciate that shows that go head to head takes away from both venues. He spoke with the Pacuraws and they had no objections.
“I told them what I wanted to do and they were very supportive,” Mitchell said.
Mitchell, who turns 71 in December, began working shows in 1987 with his two sons. That lasted until the early 1990s, when Mitchell decided to sell off his inventory. He found a card shop in Leesburg and told the owners his asking price was $15,000.
“I said, ‘here’s what I’ve got. You’ve got to bring a U-Haul.’ ”
The Leesburg shop owners worked out a deal and sent Mitchell $1,500 a month until the balance was paid off.
As a youth, Mitchell never had much of a collection while growing up in Brookville, Pennsylvania, a town located 100 miles northeast of Pittsburgh.
“I never had a big collection,” he said. “I was in the hospital once and friends sent me 1952 Topps cards. I’d paste them into my scrapbook.”
Mitchell went to Florida for college, earning an accounting degree from Drake College in Fort Lauderdale.
“I never used it,” he said. “I came out of school and became a stockbroker.”
Since 1980, Mitchell has been a head-hunter, “my real job.”
“I do executive recruiting for Blooming Brands,” a business that owns Outback Steakhouse, among others.
He finds Jim Dycus’ story compelling and wants to help the ministry. After reading a 2005 article by John W. Kennedy in Pentecostal Evangel, it’s amazing that Dycus is even around to help others.
“Jim grew up in Chicago. He was into drugs, all sorts of bad stuff,” Mitchell said. “Then he got involved in the ministry and turned his life around.”
Dycus was a pimp in Chicago, but that was not enough to satisfy a $300-a-day drug habit. He led a troubled youth, at first smoking marijuana before shooting up with heroin; his father was an alcoholic with violent tendencies, and Dycus’ mother committed suicide when he was 21. He turned to robbery and was arrested after holding up a drugstore in Chicago.
After serving nine months in jail, Dycus drifted in and out of rehab centers and returned to his addictions until landing at the Teen Challenge Center in Chicago. Under the guidance of Rev. Ken Schmidgal, the center’s director, Dycus embraced religion and began to change.
“I want to raise money for his ministry,” Mitchell said. “He really turned his life around.”
Hosting a card show is the perfect outlet for helping someone like Dycus, and Mitchell said this generation of collector has a bigger love for the hobby than the ones who specialized in investing during the 1990s. There is more interest, more deals — and more love for the hobby.
“The hobby has changed for the good. Back then there were more speculative collectors,” he said. “Right now I am seeing collectors, set builders, team collectors.”
“When I stop enjoying it, I’m done.”
Mitchell can be reached via his email ([email protected]) or by telephone, (352) 589-7981.