When I was about seven and used to get a dollar a week for allowance, I remember once saving a few months to buy a box of baseball cards. I had started buying packs of Topps, Donruss, and Fleer maybe a year before, a pack or two at a time from the grocery store or card shop, and the idea of getting a few dozen packs at once enthralled me. I saved with resolve, my nylon wallet increasingly stuffed with ones even during times I wanted to break and buy a pack. It felt like Christmas when I got that box (1991 Fleer), and the last of the packs couldn’t have gone unopened more than a few hours.
That scene repeated itself a few times the rest of my childhood until I grew out of spending my allowance on trading cards. I’m 27 now and haven’t collected since middle school, but last Friday, I got a reminder of the past. I have been working as a delivery driver the past few months, and on my San Jose route last week, I spotted a sign for a baseball card store near one of my stops. Intrigue, plus desire for a quick break, got me in– one simply does not see many pure baseball card stores anymore, since the bottom for the market fell out around the time I hit adolescence. Even my old card shop in Sacramento had to start holding Magic card contests at the shop, the sports cards tucked almost apologetically into a corner of the display cases.
The San Jose shop was pretty barren, and I was somewhat amazed it was still in business and relatively free of Magic, which I never got into. There was a pretty good selection of vintage cards, with the likes of Mantle, Mays, and Koufax available if one was willing to hand over at least $100. I don’t make that kind of money, and I get leery of buying counterfeits. But behind the case of Hall of Famers were a few boxes of cards, including a 36-pack box of 1990 Score for $10, which I bought along with a July 4, 1983 copy of Sports Illustrated with Dale Murphy on the cover.
The nice thing about the card market having collapsed is that I can pay the same price now that I would have paid in second grade. In fact, with inflation, it’s probably cheaper. One might say the cards don’t have any value. That’s true in a literal sense, but I’m reminded of a series of Calvin & Hobbes strips where the family house is burglarized, and a distraught Calvin can’t find Hobbes (who he simply misplaced.) Calvin’s mom tells him Hobbes wouldn’t have any value to thieves, but a tearful Calvin remarks, “I think he has value.”
Back in the car, I opened maybe 10 or 15 packs before going on with my delivery route. I’ve opened most of the remainder, moving at a curiously slower pace than I would have 20 years ago. I’ve been enjoying getting players who were once icons to me: Will Clark, Ken Griffey Jr, Nolan Ryan, so many others. I’m not sure what their value is today, but it was worth ten bucks for the blast from the past. Would if I could, I’d reach back in time, and give the box to the seven-year-old version of me.