I have collected sports cards from as early as I can remember. I vividly remember walking to Collector’s Haven, the only card shop in my hometown of Northumberland, Pennsylvania. It was owned and operated by a man named Kirk McGaw, or at least that was what all the kids in town thought his name was for some reason. It was a dusty corner store that offered boxes and packs and if memory serves, a few singles here and there. It was really the only game in town and I frequented the establishment quite often.
The shop offered, coins, comics and a variety of other items as well. To the best of our knowledge, McGaw lived in an apartment above the card shop. He was a bit of an odd fellow. Fittingly, this was my first introduction to a real life baseball card shop.
If I couldn’t find what I was looking for, I would ask whoever I could talk into driving me to Shaffer’s which was about 15 miles up the road in Lewisburg. That was the sports card and collectibles mecca in our area.
The shop had been in business for decades and housed pretty much anything and everything you could ask for as a sports card and memorabilia collector including showcase after showcase of singles, cases of cards, boxes, packs and a wide array of memorabilia, most notably to my young mind being the showcases and shelves of autographed balls, Hartland statues and Starting Lineups.
Even from a very young age, I have always drawn to the magic of the rookie card. I just see a fresh faced, young kid who is heading out on an unknown journey that will fall somewhere between being a one year wonder and carving out a twenty year, hall of fame, legendary career.
In same strange way, having a players’ rookie card early on and watching their career play out year after year brought you closer to them as a player and closer to the game. Adding a significant rookie card to your collection well after the players career came to a close is a sense of accomplishment in its own right.
From the age of five years old up until my late teens and early twenties, I collected very seriously. You could call it an obsession and I wouldn’t disagree with you for a second. I spent far too much time energy and money feeding this addiction.
As I got older the collection, and how I obtained the cards, began to get out of control. I was doing well financially but I was spending more than I should from my paycheck as a retail manager and charging far more than I should have on my credit card. Don’t get me wrong, I spent years acquiring countless great rookies as a young kid where it the great hobby of ours wasn’t an issue but a time came when it was getting out of hand.
I sure as heck spent too much time on eBay and other online platforms buying, trying to sell and just window shopping for cards. With the advancements in technology, it was becoming far too easy to make a purchase, plain and simple.
My good friend (and coworker) and I would drive from State College to Williamsport to the famed Dixie Card Shop each and every Wednesday and spent hours and hours in the little store, scouring it from top to bottom and front to back to find that next great addition to our collection. The deals were out of this world and the times were some of my favorite from that period of my life but again, it was even more time, energy and money invested in the hobby that I was already deep into.
I had a great collection but it was never enough. It’s always never enough. I had everything from multiple 1986-87 Fleer Jordan RCs, 1933 Goudey Ruths and Gehrigs, a 2000 Contenders Brady RC (which I found in a commons box at Dixie Card Shop), countless 2003-04 LeBron James RCs and any major and minor rookie in between. When it came to RCs, I had pretty much everything in all the major sports.
I followed (and still follow) baseball, basketball and football religiously. I even dabbled in collecting golf, tennis, racing and other lesser collected sports. I didn’t even watch golf, tennis or NASCAR but I had to have the stars of those sports RCs. I guess I am what would be considered a completist.
As I became more and more enamored with the growing sport of Mixed Martial Arts, I decided, knowing full well what I had and what I was doing, to sell my collection off card by card to stop the insanity and also to launch an MMA inspired clothing line. Yes, that is my ‘big fish’ story. I had it all and sold it all off. The only difference is that my story is 100% true.
In my early 20s, I had dug myself a hole while collecting and I got bailed out, plain and simple. Someone basically paid off a portion of my debt. I returned the favor as much as I could but it wasn’t nearly enough and for that, I will always be indebted.
I then left the hobby cold turkey. When I say cold turkey, I mean cold turkey. For the better part of a decade, I didn’t as much as pick up a price guide, buy a single card or even peruse the internet for cardboard once during that time.
The MMA clothing line didn’t work out but it opened the door for me to spend over a decade as one of the top content contributors in the sport. I wrote for the largest magazines and some of the largest websites in existence.
Fast forward nearly a decade and as my young son and I were watching a Pittsburgh Pirates game on TV, the topic of baseball cards came up. I hopped online (for the first time in nearly a decade, mind you) and went searching for, of all things, a Starling Marte card for my son. We had recently gone to a Pirates game and Marte was kind enough to throw my son a ball between innings. That, of course, piqued his interest in Marte even more than it had already been piqued. So long story long, I found one. It was a basic autograph of the Pirates All Star. I bought it for him. No big deal.
A few weeks later, I remember sitting on the couch at my brother and sister in law’s house. The itch was back. I was window shopping on eBay and I realized I missed the hobby. I missed collecting. I missed following sports and being connected in that special way. I decided then and there that I wanted to try to rebuild the great rookie card collection I once had. That day, I pulled the trigger on a 1986-87 Fleer Patrick Ewing RC. I was back. Boy, was I back.
On my way back to the hobby I so dearly loved, I started stopping in a little card and comic shop right next to the Subway restaurant my family owns in Sunbury, PA. I would pick up a blaster or a few packs for my son or something small for myself. Jason, the owner, was a nice enough guy and the more I stopped in the more we got to talking. We eventually starting kicking around the idea of me actually helping him out a bit and working there. I was in a dreadful corporate job I wanted no part of and, as always, I try to follow my heart and my passions and I wanted to make a move to sports and sports cards full time. I was more than willing to sacrifice a few dollars for the piece of mind and enjoyment of working in the industry full time. More on that later.
This time around I promised myself that I would never, ever use a credit card for a baseball card or spend money I didn’t have in my pocket or in my PayPal account. I wanted to recoup some semblance of the original collection I had the best way I could. I also had to come to the realization that some of those super high end cards were gone for good, and that is OK.
Here was the deal I made with myself: Every card I acquire in this second go round in The Hobby will be purchased with money directly from my third job as a freelance writer. My wife gets the check from my first job. When I get paid for my third job, well, I add to the PC. I do very, very few packs and even fewer boxes. I see that side of the business on a daily basis and it just does not interest me. I just add PC cards one by one, to my ever growing rookie card collection, version 2.0.
It may sound a bit odd but on some level I am proud that I have managed to build such a nice collection and did it the right way this time around. Maybe the pride comes from my accomplishments in my writing and the fact that it correlates directly to what I have the ability to add to the collection. The more I write and the more I work, the more I can add.
The ultimate litmus test is the fact that I now work full time in the industry that I’ve been so passionate about my entire life. I’m at a card shop all day, every day. It’s going incredibly well and I like to think that is due to the fact that I’ve made some necessary changes in my mentality and mindset that even allow that to be a reality.
I’m back and I’m here to stay… and I promise (to myself) to do it the right way.