1988 was a great year, from Sparky to Fisk to Scioscia to Cecil.

I recently had something of a baseball card windfall fall into my lap. A family member had come into a box full of cards, and not knowing what else to do with them, passed them onto me. As it turns out, inside was the complete 1988 Topps set, with all the cards in damn-near perfect condition.

Naturally, that meant me spending a day or two flipping and sorting through them, checking out card backs, old player photos, figuring out doubles and reminiscing about days spent as a kid, sitting in my bedroom collecting cards, sorting them into sets and teams and trying to complete an entire year.
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I tend to keep Yaz close by when the season starts.

Opening Day — for our purposes, this falls on April 1 this season — is a little more than two weeks away. Between reading up on the team in Spring Training and psyching myself up for a couple of games where I have tickets, I’ve built up a decent amount of excitement.

So, what better place to share that excitement than here. If you’re not completely geeked out about the return of baseball, here are some ways to get there. (more…)

What better to have over your head when you sleep than a collage of baseball cards?

When I was a kid, I spent more than my share of time playing with my baseball cards. It was a constant process of sorting, shuffling, organization, cataloging and filing, getting them bunched up in boxes or correctly arranged within binders.

But beyond that, there wasn’t much in the way of projects going on in my bedroom. The closest I got was assembling lineups on card pages. Sometimes, I’d put together my nine favorite Red Sox, or that day’s starting lineup. Once, I put together Mr. Burns’ ringer softball team.

But I never thought to do anything as cool as what my friend Cee Angi pulled off.

Taking a series of doubles from the 2010 Topps issue, which she’s been collecting like a madwoman, Cee whipped up a cardboard collage, creating a colorful clash of action shots and baseball logos.

Rightfully, the Red Sox take center stage.

“I’ve always been fascinated by collages,” Cee explained. “I’ve always wanted to make a collage, but could never think of anything worth collage-ing (not a real word). I had just purchased a box of 2010 Topps cards, my fourth big-box of the season, and had them sorted all on my desk — by team, by division, by position — then a stack for duplicates.

“Having these cards strewn all over my desk was a beautiful and colorful mess, of pitchers, of catchers, of celebrating teams, and of losers, like Yankees. Seeing them chaotically arranged inspired me to Google ‘baseball collage’ and I found a link to someone who had turned a coffee table into a baseball card table.

“I thought, ‘I can make a table!’ In fact, I already had the table that he used. But since I have a lot of white wall space in my apartment, I figured a wall collage would be more my speed, especially for a first attempt. The tables also use gloss and resin, and I was unsure about using these products on a first attempt … saving those for days when I feel a bit more adventurous and want to spend the additional funds.”

So, there you have it. Cee went to work on the collage, using duplicates she’d collected from her Topps boxes, and started working on the best layout possible.

“Honestly, the design could be better. Since I’m the ‘artist,’ I see a lot of flaws in my initial design. I had so much adhesive on my fingers towards the end that I just wanted to stick them on and scrub my fingers. I think in the future I’ll spend a bit more time plotting a layout that makes sense. I’m also interested in doing some smaller pieces with a certain focus (a team, all pitchers, AL/NL), perhaps smaller canvases.”

It also goes to show that Topps had a great design this year.

Cee’s no stranger to card collecting, either, but what was an occasional indulgence turned more serious in the past year or so. Turning them into wall art was one way to celebrate that.

“The ‘serious’ collecting is new, but collecting in general is an old habit. When I was a child, my father would bribe me with baseball cards. If I cleaned my room, he’d bring home a couple of packs of Topps cards for me, which we’d look at together and discuss. I remember getting my first Barry Larkin card and keeping it on my night-stand next to my Teddy Bear.

“The serious collecting returned after a renewed love for cards last season. I found some old cards at a thrift store, then had an opportunity to buy a few unopened packs from the early 1990s, and recalled how much fun the hunt could be. This season got a bit out of control as I searched for a 2010 Topps Jason Varitek card, and I kept buying and buying.

“I’ve also been frequenting a baseball card shop here in the city [Editor’s note: she lives in Chicago] to dig through the boxes of cards. In individual cards, I’ve been sticking to early 1990s Braves/Reds cards, as well as Red Sox cards. I’ve got quite the blooming collection.”

While we were talking, Cee noted that she thought some people would see taking the cards and mashing them together with glue and gloss as sacrilegious. I suppose she could’ve glued the next ’52 Mickey Mantle in there, but that’s not likely. And besides, what’s the point of baseball cards but to have fun with them?

“As a collector, I’m a bit concerned about being judged for such an egregious use of baseball cards. These will not be a binder in mint condition. In my first attempt, I used only duplicates of cards that I had, and I used only 2010 Topps cards. On future ones, I’m not sure I will stick to just duplicates, but clearly not cards with high values. In the end, I probably will get more enjoyment out of my collages than I will of cards in a binder, so I actually don’t care if you don’t like the use of my purchase (send hate-mail to cmangi01@yahoo.com).”

I don’t think that will be much of an issue. Keep ’em coming, Cee, and if you ever make a collage tribute to the 2010 Red Sox, you have my address.

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.