Collecting cards as I inch closer to 30

Jason Varitek #473 Topps 2010

I'm just as happy finding this in 2010 as I was finding Mike Greenwell in 1990.

I have bouts of self doubt almost daily. Where is my life going, does it mean anything, where will I be in five years, blah blah blah. But that’s not special. Lots of folks have that, and it comes out in different ways.

Mine comes out when I realize I’m not too far beyond the 11-year-old version of myself. Sure, it’s a version with more gray hair that pays its bills regularly and can hold down a job, but still, I’m 28 years old, I watch cartoons, I like ice cream, and, restarting about three years ago, I collect baseball cards.

If you’ve read this blog before, you’ll notice that on most days, I’ll use one of my baseball (or hockey) cards to illustrate a post. And one of my favorite blogs (and books) is Josh Wilker’s Cardboard Gods, which has set the standard on writing and bringing meaning to card collecting.

At first, as a seven-year-old, I carried all of my cards in a tupperware, divided into two piles for each league, and held them together by rubber bands. I realized that the rubber bands damaged the top and bottom cards a bit, so I ditched those and just had them loose (but still sorted) in the box.

Not long after, I discovered kids at school who had bought clear pages to store their cards, nine to a page, held together in a three-ring binder. This seemed perfect; I could still have them all in one place, look at them all at once, and carry them with me wherever I go. A binder (at first a Trapper Keeper) slid into my backpack nicely, and it fit all my personality defects perfectly — my clinginess, my anal retentive tendencies, my near-OCD, and so on.

Time went on, and the binder got bigger and thicker. Soon, I needed a bigger binder. At some point, I split the Red Sox cards off into their own binder, with the rest of the league (sorted by divisions — AL East, AL West, NL East, NL West) in the main binder. Then, I had the American League in one and the National League in another, and finally, one binder per division. That’s how it stays, save for a couple of sets I keep separate in a box. My other decent collection were hockey cards, but these days I’ll only add the scattered Bruins card to its corresponding binder, the rest of the league housed in a zip binder in my closet.

I look at collecting now as assembling a physical scrapbook, getting all of the players of my favorite team (the Red Sox, of course) and a smattering of guys from across the league. And it’s actually much easier to focus my energies on one team, too. Buying packs in the late ’80s and early ’90s, it was always a crap shoot trying to find any Red Sox players. I liked getting just about anyone though (George Brett, Kirby Puckett, Mark Grace, Tony Gwynn, Cal Ripken, Kevin Bass, Dave Stewart, etc.), and sorting players into teams and leagues was an early joy. But Red Sox cards were the treasure pieces. It didn’t have to be a star, either, like Dwight Evans or Mike Greenwell. A Randy Kutcher card or a Herm Winningham always eclipsed any Ripken or Brett.

Thanks to eBay, flea markets and stores, collecting just Red Sox cards can be and is extremely easy. That’s how I usually operate, buying singles here and there, finding deals online (12 Dwight Evans cards for 99 cents? Sold!). And even though I don’t really have interest in finishing a complete set anymore, I still enjoy opening packs, sometimes to see the new design for the year, sometimes just to see who’s there.

For the past three years or so, I’ve been pretty attentive to my baseball cards, the five binders on call to be studied at any time. And, for the past three years or so, I’ve enjoyed buying packs of cards whenever the mood strikes. I was in Target on Monday afternoon, and I saw a jumbo pack (36 cards) of Topps 2010, Series 2, and they had Dustin Pedroia on the cover. How could I say no?

I opened it up later when I got home. The first card was of the Tigers’ Joel Zumaya, followed by the Rays’ Andy Sonnanstine, followed by the Rockies’ Ubaldo Jimenez. Shuffling through, there he was in the middle, my captain, Jason Varitek. A 2010 Varitek Topps card, number 473, is worth about 25 cents to the outside world. But as my unquestioned favorite player, Varitek is the pinnacle of card collecting. There is no better outcome possible to opening a pack of cards than finding ‘Tek standing there, post-swing, eyes down the line.

I long ago gave up on the idea of collecting cards for monetary value. I don’t put any value in the insert sets that invaded the hobby in the ’90s, and I’m not obsessed with collecting cards of players as if they were stock. If I happen upon a Stephen Strasburg rookie card, for example, that’d be great. But I won’t break my neck searching.

And sometimes, there’s doubt, doubt that I’ve actually grown up, the lingering feeling that I really should move on (again) from this dumb little exercise. But the excitement of finding a card of my favorite player in a pack hasn’t gone away, and I still get a kick out of looking at them, sorting them, and putting them away for next time.

So I believe I’ll keep this dumb little hobby, if that’s all right.

Some 2010 Topps cards, some Varitek cards, and some Bruins.

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