What is a sports reporter to do when there are no sports to report on?
When the COVID-19 pandemic began in March and forced the sports world, and so may other things in life, to shut down, I found creative ways to keep my mind on sports and stay engaged with sports fans who follow me on social media. I started by going through my vast collection of ticket stubs and posted some of them each day. From there, I started posting old press credentials that I had saved over the years.
But there was also an activity that kept me busy when the sports world was dark and even when the games returned over the summer and that was re-igniting my love of collecting sports trading cards. When the pandemic is over and I think back to the things that kept me going and kept me inspired through the months, it will start with the time I was able to spend with my family and the activities that we were able to take part in together.
One of those things was sharing the love of sports card collecting with my sons Bradley and Jared. But it wasn’t just us that fell in love with sports trading cards again…it was so many people around the country.
“This along with a lot of other hobbies that people enjoy because they’ve obviously had a little more time to spend with them,” said Clay Luraschi, Vice-President of Product Development at The Topps Company. “People were at home, diving deeper into their hobbies and it’s also a great parent/child activity. They’re looking at their stuff and they’re finding their cards and they’re like wow this is something I enjoyed growing up and I’m interested in seeing what’s out there again.”
Even before the pandemic, my sons were active in collecting sports cards as I took them to various sports memorabilia shows and local card stores. It’s always special to see the look their faces when they open up packs of cards. But during the pandemic, the excitement about sports cards really kicked in. We needed something safe and fun to do at home, especially before stores and other activities began to reopen. So, one day, when my wife Sheryl and I were cleaning up and organizing a storage/activity room in our home, I couldn’t resist going through my collection of cards that were in albums and stored in large plastic tubs.
That’s when the idea hit me…let’s go through cards together each week, the cards that my sons collect and my collection of older cards. I told them we’ll pick a day to post some of our favorite cards on social media and that’s how #SchwartzCardsWednesday was born!
“People have always found trading cards to be a level of entertainment because it really is great fun opening up a pack of cards not knowing what’s behind that wrapper and then uncovering a mix of different players from across the league and that’s a form of entertainment that people were looking for,” said Luraschi. “It’s affordable, it’s something you can do at home, it’s something you can do with family members and it’s a great outlet for people to enjoy something that wasn’t on television. It eventually got to being around…the games on TV but while there weren’t games, it was a great replacement for that.”
The boys and I have been having a blast during the pandemic going through our cards, opening up packs that we would buy in stores, and even making some trades. While we certainly enjoy our trips to the local sports card store, we do miss being able to go to big shows and hopefully that can resume sometime in the near future. But after a few weeks of posting cards on social media, a friend of our family reached out to me because he had seen our posts. He wanted to know if I was interested in his son’s collection of cards and of course I said yes.
So, one day, our friend brought over boxes and boxes of cards, mainly from the early 1990’s, and my sons and I have been going through them diligently. Even though my kids never saw any of these guys play, it was an educational experience going through the cards because they would ask me questions about the players and look at the stats on the back of the cards.
But pandemic or no pandemic, sports cards have always been educational and they have served as a strong connection between fan and athlete.
“Trading cards have always resonated with sports fans because they’ve been a connection from the fans to their heroes,” said Luraschi. “That goes back to when trading cards were first started. If you think back to the 1950’s when Topps first appeared, if you were living in rural America, you may have never seen Mickey Mantle. “The only time you may have seen Mickey Mantle was in a black and white photo in the newspaper but a trading card brought Mickey Mantle to life. It still has that same effect. It’s this connection with your hero and when there were no sports going on, people were making this connection to their heroes that they weren’t able to see on-field through other mediums and one of those mediums were trading cards.”
I grew up with Topps baseball cards and all of the other products that the company has come out with over the years. Sure, there are other companies who make cards and my sons and I collect them all, but there’s something super special about cards made by Topps who will be celebrating their 70th anniversary in 2021. They have a lot of interesting things planned for the 2021 baseball card set including reprints of classic baseball cards, current players on old styles of baseball cards, and some lucky collectors may even find some real Topps cards from the 1950’s including some great players in a pack of 2021 cards.
“We’re ramping up for an incredible year,” said Luraschi. “We’re going to be able to tell the story of the game going back to the 50’s and we’ll do it with generational themes. When you take us having one of our giant anniversaries and you take the heat of what’s going on in the industry, we’re really aligned for something special. We’re going to try and touch on everyone’s heroes. We have a pretty big lineup of retired players who are signing autographs for us who will be featured in the products. It’s all in for us and everyone’s involved.”
I’m fortunate to have some really cool sports memorabilia in my collection and there are two things that stand out. One is a Yankees pennant that my grandfather gave me and the other is a framed collection of all nine Thurman Munson Topps cards. The late Yankees Captain was my favorite baseball player growing up as a kid and his cards are a big part of my collection. In fact, if my sons or friends of ours ever find a Munson card, either an old one or perhaps a throwback insert card in newer sets, they are kind enough to pass them onto me.
And now I see the same pride and joy in my son’s eyes when they open up a pack of cards and they are excited to get their favorite players. It doesn’t matter if it’s baseball, football, hockey or basketball…sports cards are fun to collect and it’s a special activity that families can take part in. The pandemic has been hard on everyone and my heart goes out to families that lost loved ones over the last eight months. One of the ways that my family has been able to get through these tough times is through sports and that’s my own kids returning to play, the pros returning to play, and the fun and excitement that is collecting sports trading cards.
My fire for the hobby has been re-ignited and it makes me feel like a little boy again.