Third Inning: The simple joy of opening a pack of baseball cards

In commemoration of the impending (stateside, at least) Opening Day, the BtB staff is pleased to present Nine Innings, a series of posts on, about or tangentially related to the game. Today, one of our own opens his first pack of baseball cards in years.

Third Inning — I was wandering the aisles of a major big box retailer this weekend when I felt a pang I hadn’t in a very, very long time. There, in front of me, was a box of 2019 Topps Opening Day baseball cards. My daughter looked at them, then looked at me, bewildered at what was happening. Frankly, so was I.

Baseball cards were more my brother’s thing. I got into them because, well, they were my brother’s thing and I wanted so badly to be the portly, pale imitation of him that, well, allowance money routinely got wasted on trips to the local hobby shops in Stevens Point, Wisconsin of the time: Dave Koch Sports, the Overlook. Larry Fritsch was way out in the boonies and thus prohibitive when my main mode of transport was Mom’s Cutlass Ciera. Did I know what I was doing? Of course not. Did I care? Of course not. The sports card thing mostly fizzled out in my early teen years, when sports gave way to a different kind of nerddom: Star Wars. So much money blown on Star Wars CCG, so few dates.

(Dave Koch went from being a sports card and memorabilia shop to a full-line sports apparel store and is now more known as a digital storefront for sports simulation games. Fritsch still exists as one of the more prominent mail order and online card dealers out there; though the namesake passed away in 2007, his company lives on. A few other storefronts came and went along the way as the sports card industry boomed and busted in the 90s.)

I asked me what they were. I told her they were baseball cards, as though she was going to understand the concept. She just acknowledged it at face value and we went on our way. I got home and that’s when the fun began.

There isn’t a feeling quite like opening a pack of cards. I suppose, for the more degenerate amongst us, it’s like blowing cash on a stack of scratch-offs or pull-tabs. I suppose if I’m being fair, at least those degenerates have a (slim) chance at getting their money back. This was $15 I knew full well I wasn’t getting back.

Until I opened the first pack and saw the red parallel Mike Trout card staring back at me . At that point, all bets were off. I became a little kid, carefully opening every pack and then flipping through the cards to see what I got. Inexplicably, in 17 packs of cards, I ended up with only one Brewer, Jesus Aguilar. But this was pure joy, the same joy I found crate digging at garage sales and shops, wandering used bookstores and, yes, when I blew all sorts of money on SWCCG. The thrill of the unexpected find, the self-imposed naivete, daring fate to intersect with me and a particular item: my first Darth Vader card, a goldmine of Blonde Vinyl releases, an early edition of Dag Hammarskjold’s Markings, an unusual Fisher stereo receiver or a Mike Trout card: in a world where you can get just about whatever you want in the matter of a few keystrokes, there is something pure in discovery that can’t be replicated by plucking the same thing off eBay.

It’s a decidedly uncynical experience — discovery for discovery’s sake, without the drive to profit or the desperation of an investment vis-à-vis gambling. It was $15 spent after an unusually harsh Upper Midwestern winter, in the closing days of Spring Training, a celebration of what is to come: the warmth of spring and summer, and another season of the greatest sport on the planet. I won’t get that money back, but the delight it brought me was priceless.

In the way that only baseball can.

Brent Sirvio is a co-founder of Bronx to Bushville.

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