When I was a kid, my friend Danny and his dad would always invite me to Blue Jay games with them. But before we even sat in our horribly stiff and uncomfortable chairs at Skydome (yes, it was still called Skydome then, and it forever shall be in my heart), before the greasy hot dogs even went near our mouths, before we pretended to transform into Roberto Alomar and John Olerud, we’d get so excited to just walk the Skywalk.
On our way through the never-ending walkway (at least to an 8 year-old) we’d have to stop by the memorabilia store and drool over the autographed cards. (We wouldn’t actually drool on them – they’d kill us and hang us in the front store windows as examples if we ever did that.) The store would always be filled with guys in their early 20’s to mid 30’s, so Danny and I would always get a sense of maturity rush through us as we mingled with the grown-ups.
These days, though, it’s much harder for a child to get really interested in card-collecting.
According to Steve Edgar, an eight-year “veteran” employee at Legends of the Game, located at the intersection of King and John Sts., it’s players like Sidney Crosby that draw kids to card collecting and sports in general – they want to want to emulate them, know everything about them and collect all sorts of memorabilia like jerseys, action figures and trading cards so they can feel some sort of existential connection to Crosby; as if that kid has some hand in every goal Crosby scores. And from there, they create connections and friendships with like-minded enthusiasts.
The problem according to Edgar is adults have bullied kids out of the card-collecting picture by jacking the price for a deck of cards to as much as $700. Inside these limited edition packs may lurk that magical rookie Sidney Crosby or Alexander Ovechkin card, valued at around $11, 000.
“There’s something about putting a collection together,” Edgar said, “especially with your kid. And best of all, it’s affordable for kids. Dad can go out and buy his kid a $40 collection of cards as a present and that kid will be so happy.”
Condition, availability, desirability
With an increase in price, popularity in the hobby has waned. Edgar believes the reason Fastball Sportscards, another sports memorabilia store downtown, closed down was that they fell into that trap of pandering to the older, more financially secure crowd.
“Fastball charged stupid prices and the entire city knew that – you can’t charge those kind of prices,” he said. “This isn’t exactly a booming business.”
Fastball fell victim to what is essentially, the stock market of the sports world.
“Nobody used to know that collecting cards was worth a lot of money,” Edgar explained, “then guys who are now 18-40 years old came to the same realization that all of those mint collectible cards from their childhoods were worth a lot of money.
“As the idea grew, it became easier to get a hold of mint collectibles, so people bought less. In a panic, others started to sell off items and it gave the impression we were bailing on trading cards. People were selling cards worth $550 for $50 just to make some money back.”
And according to Edgar, like the financial stock market, there are factors to take into consideration in the card collecting market: Condition, availability and desirability.
“Availability is key,” he said, “everything else is negotiable.”
Right now there isn’’t much in terms of availability, so popularity, or desire, has decreased.
“Instead of making this many cards,” Steven said, putting his hands inches apart from each other, “card companies should make this many,” stretching his arms as wide as possible. “It’s just not fair otherwise.”
Granted, producing more rare Crosby rookie cards would decrease the value of existing ones, but it would spark the return of a traditional pastime that almost seems pastoral in the age of the Xbox 360 and the internet.
A priceless hobby
It’s an important tradition to continue, because it’s a great way to connect generations – whether through nostalgic recollections of our childhood or an opportunity to bond with our children.
David Cheda used to be an avid collector as a kid until his mom threw out all his cards because he’d always forget to clean up after himself. As he grew older, he said forcing himself to move away from home, maturing and taking on a whole world of responsibilities eventually put some distance between him and his passion for sports.
“I got away from hockey,” he said. “Moving from Toronto to Hamilton, focusing on paying rent every month, being away from the sport for three years – I don’t know who’s good anymore. I remember I loved watching Paul Coffey play and I cherished his cards. Now my time is past.
I’d still collect to this day but the reason I don’t is I’m not going to find a 2007 pack with a Dan Marino or Jerry Rice card.”
Now with a child of his own on the way, Cheda says “it’ll be different because he’ll grow up with his generation of players, his own Dan Marino.”
Card collecting isn’t just a meaningless hobby; it’s a way for a person to associate time, people and places in their lives to certain memories and emotions, cataloguing their very existence through the value that a Bret Favre card holds to them.
Like owning a pet teaches a child how to take care of another living being, collecting – whether cards or rocks or anything else – teaches them how to integrate themselves with society through a passion they have and share with others.
Asking a child to pay $700 for a pack of cards is robbing them of a crucial life lesson.