House of Cards

The National Pastime + cardboard + the Internet = one man’s renewed obsession.

I have a problem. Actually, it’s more like 23,611 problems.

That was the total number of baseball cards in my personal collection at last count. Actually, that number is low — it doesn’t include a few extra stacks that I’ve yet to enter into my database.

Yes, that’s right. I keep a computerized inventory of every single card that I own. I told you I had a problem.

It’s becoming more and more likely that I will someday need to set aside a separate room in my house for these cardboard totems. As it is, they seem to be multiplying like Catholic rabbits: They fill two storage cubes the size of milk crates, several more boxes stacked on top of one another in my closet and 11 three-ring binders stuffed with clear plastic sheets (the sheets hold nine cards each). Then there are the piles of recently acquired and still-unsorted cards on my dresser, my computer desk, and the end table in the living room.

You can imagine the sort of patience that it takes to live with me. My ex-roommate Mikey used to joke that he expected to come home some night and find me lying on the floor, completely naked and covered in baseball cards.

Like many adolescent boys, I started collecting between the ages of 11 and 13. But the combination of a prolonged players’ strike and an increased interest in other pursuits (alternative rock music, girls, and what have you) soon pried me away from the hobby shop. Over the next dozen years, I bought a few packs here or there in fits of nostalgia. Occasionally, when seized by a burst of restless energy, I even reorganized my collection, arranging cards, by year and brand, or even alphabetically by each player’s last name. But for the most part, I had squashed the collecting bug — until early last year.

In my various boredom-fueled travels across the Internet, I discovered Ben Henry’s Baseball Card Blog, a quirky love letter to the various idiosyncrasies of my dormant hobby. It was something of a gateway blog, inspiring dozens of other mild-mannered, functional adults to wax poetic on their own card collections. I expanded my online reading list, and before I knew it, I found myself inspired to stop by the card shop near the train station on my way home from work for the first pack of my second wave of card collecting.

I started two baseball card blogs of my own, one focusing on my favorite team, the Orioles, and another documenting my efforts to complete a 598-card set from 1965. I also contribute to another collaborative blog. (From the eds: As if that weren’t enough, Kevin also feeds his addiction with his NumerOlogy Web site, as described in this Snackable article.)

One of the most surprising and enjoyable things that I’ve discovered in the last 18 months of collecting and blogging is that many of my readers and fellow writers are incredibly generous. I’ve traded with several folks across the country — and even one in the UK — as we help each other complete sets or pick up cards of favorite players and teams.

I’m astounded by the considerable number of collectors who give without expecting much (or anything) in return. Their selflessness has taught me to do less hoarding. Instead of just parting with cards that are duplicates, I find myself opening a new pack and thinking, “Oh, Bill would really like this card,” or “I wonder if Eric needs this.” I didn’t really do any trading when I was younger, so this is a completely new phenomenon to me.

Which reminds me: I’ve got to go dig through my closet and find some Braves cards for a friend in Georgia.

Article © 2008 by Kevin Brotzman