It's True, Kids Used to Collect Baseball Cards

Mccann_mediumI know that there are kids that still collect baseball cards, but for the most part, they must be in hiding. I’ve seen the occasional kid with his Dad at a card show. A few were clearly there against their will, but most seemed to be truly into the experience. I can distinctly remember one kid running across the room to tell his Dad about a card displayed by one of the dealers at a show I went to late last year. Other than card shows though, I can’t remember the last time I saw a kid anywhere near baseball cards. I don’t think that I’ve ever seen a kid at the baseball card rack at Target or Wal-Mart. I’ve never seen a kid in one of the (admittedly few) local card shops I visit. They just aren’t there.

When did the kids leave the hobby? My Dad and my Uncle collected baseball cards. My brother and I collected baseball cards. A great many of our friends collected baseball cards. There were kids younger than me in the neighborhood where I grew up still collecting cards in the early 1990s. Where are they now?

Prado_mediumI’ve heard numerous theories expounded. Truth be told, I don’t think it is so much a problem with the hobby itself, but more of a problem with the game itself. Kids just don’t seem to be as interested in professional sports as they were when I was a kid. Why? I have my theories, as do many others. When I was younger, even after we got cable, there simply weren’t a lot of television channels. Programming that catered to children couldn’t be found all day long. If I wanted to watch cartoons, my options were early morning, when I got home from school and then Saturday morning. Outside of cartoons, the only children’s programming available was on PBS. Additionally, most households of the time only had a single television set. If Dad was watching a baseball game, and you wanted to watch television, you watched the game too. Eventually, you were a fan.

Oh, I know there are many kids that still like sports and are big baseball fans. You can go to any Braves game and see the kids. Many are having a great time at the ballpark too. Still, is it just me, or are many of these kids less interested in what’s going on down on the field than years ago? The game itself was enough for me. Now, the ballpark is practically a miniature amusement park. Outside of the concession stands, the music, the fireworks, the silly mascots, and the dancing girls, let’s face it, the game itself almost seems secondary.

Homer_mediumI’m reminded of a conversation I had last summer with my ten year old nephew Alex. I was watching a Braves game while he set next to me on the couch playing his sister’s Nintendo DS. He told me that he liked going to the ballpark to see a game, but he really didn’t see the point. I suppose I could say the same about his video games. Still, what happens when kids like him get older? Do they become fans of the game? I’m sure many do. I doubt many of them will ever be card collectors though. It is, after all, a silly hobby. I collect, and frankly, I go crazy over pieces of thick paper with picture of baseball players on them. I still go crazy over the game of baseball itself. Yes, it may be silly, but for me there is a point.

Baseball connects me to the memory of sitting at my Grandpa’s knee when he told me the story of Harvey Haddix. It connects me to my Uncle telling me the story of going to St. Louis and getting to see Stan Musial play in person. It connects me to the hours upon hours I spent watching the Braves on WTBS with my Dad. It’s baseball cards that connect me to the game that connects me to those memories. To me, that’s the point of both the game and of the hobby.

Nonetheless, I can see the day when there will be no more new baseball cards. I’m certain the game itself will go on. Kids will find other ways to connect to the memories of their Dads and their Grandfathers. The world will be just fine. That doesn’t mean it won’t break my heart a little bit.

Mccannfs_mediumOf course, you can’t expect Topps to give up on kids and the hobby itself without a fight. It seems as though Topps has dramatically increased the amount of promoting they do, especially with respect to children. Each year though, there is but a single product that Topps releases for children. That product is Topps Opening Day and the 2012 edition was released this past Wednesday. It’s a product that many older collectors love to direct their snark at, but it looks to me to be the perfect introduction to card collecting for children.

Why do I think Opening Day makes a perfect introduction to card collecting? Many, many reasons. For one thing, you can get a pack of cards for just 99 cents. Outside of stickers, Topps doesn’t release another product at this price point. The product is always available throughout the season at every retail establishment that carries baseball cards.

Price and availability is just the start though. The Opening Day set clocks in at just 220 cards. That’s large enough to include most of the game’s best players, but not so large to be daunting to complete. In fact, I’d go so far as to say it might be the perfect size for a beginning set collector. There’s but a single parallel version of the set, a blue version, and the cards come at a rate of only 1 per 6 packs so they won’t interfere too much with acquiring cards for the set. The inserts sets are far more interesting, in my opinion, than those included in Series 1 and come at one card per pack. The 3D Opening Day Stars insert set is particularly nice, even if it doesn’t include any Braves.

If you are looking to get your kid, any maybe a few of his or her friends involved in the hobby, buy them each a hobby box of the product. This should put them each within about 20 to 30 cards of the complete set. They can then buy one dollar packs looking for cards to trade and additional inserts. If the hobby is going to survive, there will need to be a constant supply of new blood. It’s up to those of us who are veteran collectors to supply it. Get your kid hooked.

Uggla_mediumAs fans of the Braves, the set offers some curiosities. The pictures of the players who appeared in series 1 are the same, except for Tim Hudson. His Opening Day card is nice, but pales next to his Series 1 card, a card which I’ve gone on and on about. (To be honest, I wasn’t aware that Opening Day cards ever featured a picture different than those of their series 1 or series 2 counterparts. This is a new one to me.) The Braves are not well-represented in the insert sets, but have 11 different players featured in the base set. The Brian McCann base card features a particuarly excellent photograph, even if you dont see his face. For reasons I cannot explain, the insert card of Homer the Brave says Atlanta Braves on the front, even though many of the mascot cards have the name of the mascot on the card. (In fact, Homer has been correctly identified in sets released in previous years.)

I’ve stated many times here that I wouldn’t be opening any new product this year. For a set collector like myself, it’s easier and cheaper to let the big time case breakers pay the premium for unopened cards and bust the new product and then buy up the sets already complete off of eBay. While that’s good for my wallet and my set collecting, I do miss the rush of opening new packs of cards. With Opening Day at such an affordable price point, I broke down yesterday afternoon and headed to a local card shop and purchased a hobby box.

I haven’t opened a hobby box of cards since 2005 where there was virtually no chance of obtaining a relic card or an autographed card. It made for a strange break, but this is a fun product. I doubt I’ll do it every year, since the vast majority of the cards are nearly identical to Series 1 and Series 2. At least not until I have a kid anyway. When that happens, he or she will be getting a hobby box of Opening Day every year until they beg me to stop.

2012 Topps Opening Day Atlanta Braves Checklist

(Thanks to Sports Card Radio for the checklist information.)

Base Set (Parallels include Blue Borders and Printing Plates)

Fantasy Squad Inserts

  • FS-14 Brian McCann

Superstar Celebrations Inserts

  • SC-3 Dan Uggla
  • SC-20 Martin Prado

Mascot Cards Inserts

  • M-8 Homer the Brave
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