Is it worth it?

Kimbrel_mediumAs a baseball card collector, there are few things more fun than opening up a stack of packs from a new box of cards. There’s this feeling of hope that you just don’t get from any other aspect of collecting. You have no idea what’s in the box. Will you get that last card you need to complete that set? Will your pack contain any Braves? Will you be one of the few to find a Hank Aaron autograph?

In this day and age, most "serious" collector’s buy their packs in boxes from a card store, either online or at their favorite local shop. Topps typically guarantees a few "hits" per box. For many, the whole purpose of buying a hobby box from a card shop are the hits, autographed cards or relic cards with embedded memorabilia. There is a chance at pulling one of those all too rare Hank Aaron or Sandy Koufax autographs. The literature that Topps sends out to promote each set is filled with pictures of the autographs you could land. Get your Albert Pujols here! Roy Halladay? They’ve got him too. I’m sure there are people who land those cards too. I don’t. I am, however, building a nice collection of Felix Pie autographs.

You see, the reality is that you probably won’t get a great card in your box. Oh, you might complete that set. You might even get a stack of Braves, although, depending upon the set in question, you might not. You might even get a great player’s relic card. The likelihood that you’ll actually land a whale with an auto is slim to none. Of course, this might not affect your enjoyment of the box. The anticipation of as you pull each pack out of the box, the physical act of opening the packs, and the sorting of the cards are a rush that I could never adequately explain to a non-collector.

So, if I get that much enjoyment out of the experience of just opening the packs in a box, it’s always worth it, right? Well, no. Maybe it’s the cynic in me, but more often than not, I find myself with buyer’s remorse. Why? It’s all about what I look for in a box.

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If I’m buying a box of the Topps base set, I’m just looking to complete the series and grab a few insert cards featuring Braves. On release, a jumbo box costs around $90 and will almost certainly complete the series for me. Additionally, I’ll get two relics and an autograph along with an assortment of other insert cards. So, I will complete the series. Whatever duplicate cards I get, I can usually get rid of in trades. Typically, I even pull a parallel or insert card of a Braves player or two. As for the relics and auto? I rarely get good players, but I trade with enough team collectors that I can almost always find someone to take them off my hands.

Still, I always regret buying a box of base Topps. Why? I can usually find the complete series for a measly twenty dollars on eBay. That leaves me with more than enough money to track down the other Braves cards I want from the set. When I go this route, as I often have in recent years, I do miss the excitement of opening a fresh box. I miss building up a stack of cards that I can use for trades. I miss the very idea that I could pull something great. That’s my dilemma.

Heyward_mediumRecently, I decided to purchase a box of 2011 Topps Chrome from a local card shop. This isn’t a set I look to complete. Most years, I just buy some random packs and maybe the occasionally blaster from Target. So what could I be looking for from this box, other than the excitement of opening it? Well, the cards are beautiful and eminently tradable. More often than not, with Topps Chrome, I always land a few Braves. Plus, this year, the autograph list gave me real hope.

Each box of Topps Chrome includes two rookie autographs from a checklist of twenty cards, on average. It was the checklist that gave me hope. Three of the twenty players are Brandon Beachy, Mike Minor and Craig Kimbrel. Not necessarily perfect odds, but decent ones at that. It also didn’t hurt that I had purchased a few packs at Target and pulled an Orange parallel of Jason Heyward to whet my appetite for more.

Was it worth it? Well, I got a decent stack of Braves and a Freddie Freeman refractor parallel. I got an auto of young Yankee pitcher Hector Noesi that I’ll be able to turn over in a trade. I’ve already helped one friend on his way to completing the set with my extra cards. This time though, I got the exact autograph I wanted. I got Craig Kimbrel. It’s a beautiful shot of the kid. His signature is readable, includes his uniform number and is on card. Plus, it’s a serial numbered refractor. I’m in love with the card.

This time, there’s no buyer’s remorse. Technically, I still didn’t get the value that the price of the box suggests I should. I could have purchased the Kimbrel autograph directly for just 25 dollars. Still, I’m more than satisfied with the box. I suppose my happiness comes from the lowered level of hope I attached to the box. When I open a product like base Topps, I can’t help but picture that Hank Aaron autograph that was on the sell sheet. I sit down with my box and picture what it would be like to find that card. I picture my reaction. With each pack I open, I get a little catch in my throat. Then, when I pull a guy like Travis Wood, I’m crushed. With this box though, my entire focus was on the rookie autographs. I knew there would be two in the box. I got the Brave.

So what will I do in the future? Well, I know myself pretty well. I will, on occasion, be the "hopeful" collector and purchase a box of cards. Maybe I’ll get lucky and hit an autograph I love as much as my Craig Kimbrel auto. More than likely, I’ll just land yet another Felix Pie. That’s why, I will also, all too often, find myself in the position of being the "cynical" collector. If I want a set, I’ll let other people open the boxes and chase that mythical Aaron autograph, while I just plunder eBay and purchase the set or individual cards I want. As much as I love to open a box of cards, when I just buy the cards I want, I’m never disappointed.

(Has anyone bought a box recently? What were your hits?)

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