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Re-entering the Hobby: Getting insanely lucky and solving the Acuna problem

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I continue my foray into baseball card collecting with some tips I have learned along the way that may or may not be correct as well as ways I have found to solve the problem of collecting Ronald Acuna....well....anything.

Japan v MLB All Stars - Game 4 Photo by Kiyoshi Ota/Getty Images

For those that are not aware, this is a series I started a few weeks ago about my foray into the baseball card collecting world after a long absence. If you want to read about my decision to do this and why, you can look at this link right here. Also, this post is a bit lengthy as it has some primer elements to it. Subsequent updates won’t be nearly as wordy.

A few weeks, I started a journey in earnest to re-start a hobby that I had abandoned a long time ago: baseball card collecting. Up until recently, I hadn’t opened a pack of baseball cards since probably 1994. However, I have always enjoyed the idea of collecting in general and recently with some of the work that has gone up here at Talking Chop plus my general desire to be involved in Braves baseball in as many ways as possible, I had really gotten the itch to start collecting cards again.

For the last few weeks, I have been very busy exploring this vast (and really fun) hobby, so here is an update on my progress so far. The video below highlights some of the cards I am happiest about from the last few weeks as well as some random observations I have made. If you all would subscribe to the Youtube channel that said video is from (its free, just have to click a button), I would greatly appreciate it. I want to do cool mail day/mailbag videos and pack openings on that channel (plus prospect footage and the like as well) and if I can get enough subscribers, it would allow the series to expand into more and better products and sweeter cards which sounds like a lot of fun. I am already aware that the video didn’t stitch together properly which I will fix next go around and I’m working on the lens distortion from the GoPro as well.

Anyways, on to the written portion of today’s program

Getting Started

It is easy to say “I am going to start collecting Braves cards”...but I have found that it not that easy or inexpensive at all to actually do so. Also, we are talking about some vast swaths of Braves history that one could dip into if you so desired and that turns into information overload in a hurry. With that, here are some decisions that I have been loosely holding myself to:

Focus on recent prospects/young players - Don’t get me wrong, I have fond memories of the Braves run of division titles and I have a lot of love for Braves historical figures like Hank Aaron, Eddie Mathews, and Dale Murphy. However, I have to start somewhere and not only did I desperately need to decrease the scope of things to get started, but I have a track record of loving prospects, in particular this group of young players that have debuted in the big leagues over the last couple of years or are making their way through the minors right now. As a result, that was a starting point for me. Others may want to hunt down Chipper Jones rookies or go after vintage cards and I could end up down those paths eventually (and honestly those sound like a lot of fun, too), but for the moment my primary focus is on the young guys.

Not restricting myself to buying singles - There are going to be hard core collectors out there that are going to say that I should just hunt down the individual cards I want on eBay or COMC and then enjoy the results. Honestly, that may actually be the most efficient way to go about things. However, my goal is to not just buy the things I want and show the results because, well, that would be pretty boring. I genuinely want this series to be an exploration of this hobby. I also want to share the thrill of getting lucky with crazy pulls out of packs or in a razz (more on those at a later date...but basically they are raffles) or in a group break (more on those coming here in a bit). That was some of the most fun I remember when I was a kid and I wanted to experience that again not just for myself, but also to share with you guys. Don’t get me wrong, I have been buying single cards and I will share the fruits of that labor soon enough, but that isn’t as interesting to me to start things off with.

Not throwing a ton of money at cards - I know this will shock many of you...but being a Deputy Site Manager is not making me rich. I have a day job and I also have a family of four to support, so chucking a bunch of money at a hobby isn’t feasible especially if I don’t want to come home one day with the locks changed and my stuff on the front lawn. Moreover, I want to try to focus on ways to make this hobby accessible to a lot of people...not just those who have the means to get whatever they want. Yes, if you throw a few thousand dollars buying cards over a two week span, you will assemble a pretty neat collection. There are some CRAZY high end baseball products out there that are awesome, but not exactly accessible to just anyone. However, I have found that there are ways (if one is smart about it) to get to the same point without spending obscene amounts of money and you can have a lot of fun along the way doing so…..although I freely admit these ways take longer and require a good bit of research.

Focusing primarily on licensed product - I have already broken this rule a few times, but I am focusing mostly on Topps products. They tend to hold their value better since the Panini owned companies cannot display team names or logos due to not owning a license with MLB. Don’t get me wrong….a lot of those cards look awesome and I have acquired a few, but since I have been buying sealed product, I want to be able to turn sweet cards from other teams into the Braves cards I want. As a result, the focus for now will be on Topps stuff, although I imagine after the 2019 draft I will dip into some Panini stuff as well.

Collect what I like - This has been the most prevalent piece of advice I have gotten from a LOT of people over the last few weeks. Obviously I have a predisposition towards prospects, but I already have a pet card that I am pursuing all of the variations of (I will disclose that in another article once I get a bit closer to my goal there) and I am keeping an open mind as to what catches my interest. I expect that I will find some young players that are not Braves that I will get into as well, although for the moment I haven’t dabbled in that quite yet.

One note that I wanted to mention before we get to the good stuff: a few people have expressed a willingness to send me cards to help with my collecting as well as have let me know what they have available to trade just so I knew about them. I did not expect that response and frankly it is super flattering and humbling. I really like the idea of creating a lot of interaction with folks with this series, so here is what I will say about this. If enough folks have genuine interest, I will open a P.O. Box solely for Re-entering the Hobby stuff and every couple of weeks, I will check it and everyone that sends in cards will be entered into a drawing to win stuff that I will send back. I don’t have all the details of what that stuff will be yet, but I want to make sure I give back to those that help me out. If there isn’t interest, that is totally fine as well and the series will go on as normal.

Cracking Packs

Remember when I said that I liked opening packs of baseball cards? Yeah...it turns out I still REALLY like opening packs. However, it has been a bit disappointing in the sense that it isn’t nearly as easy to find them as it used to be. Most drug stores don’t carry them anymore nor do most grocery stores. You can find them at Walmart and Target, but you are at the mercy of their selection which can be dicey. However, when a new base set comes out, those are your best bets to be able to find them. Oddly enough, Dollar Tree also has sports cards most of the time, but their baseball card selection is a bit rough in my experience. Obviously, you can order boxes of packs online readily, but buying whole boxes and cases at a time is expensive and doesn’t guarantee you will get the autograph or parallel you want. I will likely expand to that point later just because, again, I really like cracking packs, but for the last few weeks I have stuck to opening retail packs and blaster boxes here and there.

Honestly, my luck with packs has been pretty amazing. Thus far, again in terms of retail products from 2018, my favorite set has easily been Topps Update with Topps Heritage being up there as well since the design has a cool retro look and it has lots of prospects and rookies. I expect that the upcoming Bowman sets will get my attention in 2019, but Update has all of the rookies one would want including Acuna, Albies, Soroka, etc. (plus Ohtani, Soto, and Gleyber for trading and selling purposes) and I really like the way a lot of the inserts and parallels look. Oddly enough, my best pull out of retail (the products you can get at Walmart, Target, etc.) came from a Topps Heritage blaster box that I found on the floor at Walmart. It contained a redemption (a card that gives you a code for a specific card that Topps has to mail to you) for a uniform patch autograph of Paul Goldschmidt that was limited to 25 copies (or to /25 for those that already speak collecting language). I redeemed it successfully and it was very cool, but I traded it to an awesome guy to bring in some Braves autographs I wanted. More on the trades I have done here in a bit.

However, my biggest pull by a mile was out of 2019 Topps Series 1. I was initially excited about Series 1, but found myself leading up to the release underwhelmed by the design of the cards and that, combined with fairly poor odds that come with these inexpensive base sets, dampened my excitement. As a result, I did not plan on investing a ton of money or effort into the product. However, I also really wanted to support my local card shop, The Sports Odyssey in Douglasville, GA, and I knew that they were going to be getting hobby boxes in right around release day. So, I went down there, picked out a box and just for kicks, I opened my box in the shop while chatting with Dave about the design, the rookies in the set I was looking out for, etc. Well, then this happened.

That escalated quickly. I literally stopped mid-sentence when I saw it. I saw the red in the pack which, with most Topps products, almost always indicates that it is a really low-numbered card. What I didn’t expect to see was said red card to be an autograph of the best player in baseball. The card was numbered out of 25 and was in great condition out of the pack. Dave (the owner) and I freaked out together a bit and we quickly got him in a top loader. After that is a bit of a blur, but to say I was excited and surprised is a bit of an understatement. If you want to know the fate of this card, make sure you read the section on Trades below.

Group Breaks

Group breaks are easily my favorite discovery during my start back collecting. They feed both my love for opening packs and seeing what awesome surprises are in store without nearly as much of the “setting my money on fire” feel of opening a box and getting nothing of value and not even getting Braves players’ base cards I want/need. While these are done in a bunch of different ways, the two main ways are where your pick your team (labeled as PYT breaks usually) or random teams. Random team breaks are a set price for everyone and before the case (not just a box usually, a number of boxes which helps a TON) is opened, everyone is randomized against a list of teams and whatever team you get, you get all the cards for that team. Pick your team is exactly like it sounds where you buy a specific team and get the cards for that team. However, the pricing on teams varies based on demand and desirability which means that certain teams (including the Braves) can be a bit pricey depending on the product.

For this part, I wanted to focus on two breakers: one big and one small. Again, highlighting people in the hobby I like a lot is important to me. I also was looking for breaks where all of the cards shipped, not just the big ones. There are several big companies that won’t ship base cards because its too much hassle to sort which I can respect. However, for someone that is just getting started again...getting base cards has value since, well, I didn’t have anything. Fortunately, the big company that I liked the best also has a ton of breaks where all of the cards ship and that was Firehand Cards. Both Chad and Ryan are great both in terms of how the breaks are presented and dealing with any questions one has, they have a rewards points program and random bounties for their customers, and their shipping is incredibly fast especially for being on the West Coast. I find myself watching their livestreams on Youtube a lot even when I am not participating. They do breaks of all levels of price from base sets that are accessible to almost everyone to things like Topps Transcendent which is crazy expensive (but fun to watch).

I did a couple really small entry breaks with them to feel things out before I decided to try out a random teams break of 2018 Bowman’s Best. While I did not get the Braves, I was quite fortunate that I did get the Angels which is a rather expensive team normally because of the presence of Shohei Ohtani rookie cards which can be big money and Mike Trout among others. Video of that break is below, but the highlight for me other than the two prospect autographs was a gold Shohei Ohtani rookie card insert numbered to 50 which essentially paid for my entry. I still have it, not sure if I am going to trade or sell it quite yet. There was also a really sweet 1/1 Amed Rosario superfractor autograph (sadly not for me) that was pulled towards the end of the video.

Once I got a taste of success, I was hopelessly hooked. All of my cards arrived in great shape and quickly as promised, so next I wanted to pull the trigger on PYT break so that I could get some Braves cards. In a lot of 2018 sets, the Braves are expensive because of the presence of Ronald Acuna Jr. rookie cards and autographs not to mention Ozzie Albies, Freddie Freeman, and others. This made this quest a bit problematic. However, in 2018 Bowman Draft, the Braves are actually really reasonable in terms of price since the only Braves autograph in the set is Greyson Jenista due to the unfortunate non-signing of Carter Stewart and there are still non-autograph cards of Braves I like. I pulled the trigger on two of these breaks and got a Greyson Jenista base auto, a Greyson Jenista black refractor auto numbered to 75, and a bunch of refractors and parallels I needed. Videos of those breaks are below with the Jenista black refractor coming really early on in the second video.

Before I did those breaks with Firehand, my first experience with a group break was actually with a much smaller operation in Hall of Fame Baseball Cards. They also based on the West Coast, but are much newer to the group break game and I love these guys. Cardshop Eric has an enthusiasm for the hobby that I thoroughly enjoy plus they randomly start playing music in the middle of the proceedings as well as engage in a lot of chat and customer interaction which I like. My first PYT break was with them where I bought the Braves in a break of a case of Topps Series 1. I got a really sweet red Mike Foltynewicz autograph /25 and a Ronald Acuna medallion (basically a relic card that is manufactured specifically for the set and not a piece of uniform or anything like that) that was numbered out of 150. Unfortunately, technology issues outside of their control was causing issues with their video of that break, but you can still watch it here although I recommend going to the last 10 minutes so you can just see all the good cards that came out of that break. Normally, their breaks go off without a hitch, so here is an example of another Series 1 PYT break they did shortly after of the one I was in.

Trading

This is an area I am still figuring out because of a lack of connections and people I know that collect….plus I don’t have much of a collection to trade from yet anyways. However, I have done a few smaller deals with my local card shop, The Sports Odyssey, to get a Ronald Acuna Jr. refractor I really wanted and a few Bowman’s 1sts and rookie cards I was looking for. Dealing with Sports Odyssey has been great because not only has gotten a brick and mortar store some exposure which was an important goal of mine, but it also has been teaching me about what cards are valued in that setting versus say online. I now have a rough idea of what they are looking for that they can move and they know what I am looking for to keep an eye out for me for which I am eternally grateful.

That all changed when I got the two pulls I mentioned above. The Goldschmidt patch auto from Heritage wasn’t a big dollar card or anything, but was still really cool and I had to figure out what I wanted to do with it. Listing it on eBay was certainly an option, but after fees and whatnot, it would have diminished the value of the card a decent bit. So I did what I have done alot....I asked Stacy. Specifically, I asked her if she knew any Diamondbacks collectors or collectors that had interest in Paul Goldschmidt stuff and as it turns out...she did! She got me in touch with a friend of hers in the hobby who is an avid Diamondbacks fan and after about three minutes of talking to him, I realized he was a great dude and we worked out a trade that included a William Contreras 1st Bowman autograph, a Kolby Allard RC autograph, and a Kyle Wright autograph from his draft year along with some non-autographed parallels. Lo’ and behold, when my package comes in....he has thrown in a Drew Waters autograph as well which was incredibly generous of him. Now I have a mission of finding more Diamondbacks (and Nationals since he is also a fan of theirs) to send him to repay him for that.

As for the Trout, after the buzzing in my brain subsided after I opened it, I posted a picture of it on Twitter (the very tweet in this article in fact) and within about 15 minutes, a prominent Mike Trout collector named Mike McKenna contacted me. In a very non-pushy way, he congratulated me on the pull and told me that if I ever considered parting with it to let him know and that he would be happy to put together an offer.

Here is the problem with a card like that: I will very likely never open another card as crazy as that one ever again. A conservative estimate is likely in the $350-$400 range and cards like that are really, really hard to pull especially out of a product like Topps Series 1. I also really do love Mike Trout as a player and I firmly believe he will go down as one of the absolute best to play the game of baseball. However, I really want to build my collection of Braves as that is where my heart is and the idea of getting that card to someone who feels the same way about Trout was really appealing to me.

It also didn’t hurt that his collection is NUTS and he had a number of Braves cards that I both really wanted and was not likely to be able to buy or acquire for myself anytime soon. As a result, instead of talking about a monetary offer, I settled on purely a trade and he agreed to send me a 2018 Topps Chrome Update Ronald Acuna autographed rookie card, Crisitan Pache Bowman 1st autograph, Ronald Acuna short print rookie card from 2018 Topps Series 2, and a purple refractor Drew Waters Bowman 1st autograph. There were some other goodies in the box as well including all the Mike Soroka rookies a boy could ever want (it didn’t take Mike long to figure me out, it appears). The first video in this article shows them all off, but the short version is....I am quite happy.

That is all for this fairly long update on my start back collecting. Next time I promise it won’t be as wordy, but hopefully I will have more cool cards to show off and stories to tell. Let me know in the comments if you have specific sets/cards/topics you would like to see covered and I will do my best.