For Baseball, it's in the Cards

joel kirsteinCorrespondent IApril 6, 2009

ATLANTA - APRIL 6:  A statue of Hank Aaron stands outside of Turner Field before the start of the New York Mets versus Atlanta Braves during the Braves home season opening game at Turner Field April 6, 2007 in Atlanta, Georgia.  (Photo by Streeter Lecka/Getty Images)

This being the start of the 2009 Major League Baseball season, I am amazed at how far baseball cards have evolved since I was a kid collecting them back in the 1960's and 1970's.

Even though I grew with hockey as my first love, baseball occupies a strata above all.

The history. The rich texture that makes baseball so experiential. From day one, baseball cards have been an integral part of the game.

I started collecting baseball cards in the late '60s when my favorite team, the Montreal Expos, came into the league. It was a near-religious experience for me.

For an 8-year-old kid like me, it was surreal to go to a game and see the players whose cards I had collected, in action.

I had no idea collecting baseball cards was going to become the industry it morphed into a decade later. For me, it was worth rotting my teeth chewing all those crappy hard, pink, powder-covered sheets of bubble gum.

I would have been better off chewing on the cards.

Whoever said collecting baseball cards is a total waste of time never saw the big picture. Back in the day, I used to organize my cards by leagues, divisions, standing order, team, and even alphabetically.

If I liked a certain player, he got moved up to a better spot so I could obsess over his card more often. It was my first experience in prioritizing and developing organizational skills.

It gets even better.

I studied all the facts and memorized the stats on the back on the cards. Then I dove even deeper.

Baseball cards were uniquely responsible for me getting an "A" in geography throughout grade school because I was intrigued to find out where places like Mobile, Alabama and Fresno, California were.

I started pouring all over my dad's atlas's and road maps to see where my favorite players came from. Needless to say, any geography teacher I shared this with was NOT impressed.

The pivotal moment in my baseball card collecting career came when I successfully amassed the complete 1970 set.

It wasn't easy. The 1970 set was distinct because, at that point more, baseball players who took the field that season went on to be inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame than in any other year.

It was an historic crossroads that saw the old guard of Hank Aaron, Willie Mays, Carl Yazstremski, Willie McCovey, Brooks Robinson, Al Kaline, Frank Robinson, and many more soon-to-be HOF inductees pass the torch onto a new generation of future Hall of Famers like Rod Carew, Pete Rose, Tom Seaver, Johnny Bench, Joe Morgan, Nolan Ryan, and Reggie Jackson, among others.

Fast-forward 10 years to when I was finishing up college and counting up my nickels and dimes to finance attending the Art Institute of Pittsburgh. I started tearing apart the house looking for my pristine set of 1970 baseball cards to sell and help my own cause.

They were MIA.

Seems as though mom decided they were a dust-collector and truly served no purpose lodged at the bottom of my drawer all those years, so she threw them out!

It all went downhill from there.

By the late 1980's, the collectible industry was exploding and I walked into my parent's home to find my dad watching a story on the news about the value of baseball cards.

At this point I was fuming.

Then my mom chimed in, saying, "Didn't you used have a a ton of baseball cards? You should have taken better care of your things. They could have been worth a lot of money!"

Had I not walked out at that point, I'd still be on death row today. Thanks a lot mom!

Since then, I rarely checked out baseball cards until recently, and I'm impressed with them on many levels.

The printing technology advancements, quality, value, production techniques, photography, and design are all remarkable. There are more adults my ageI'm almost 50than kids who collect cards.

The industry has been struggling to keep it's youth-based market share, fighting the onslaught of instant gratification of Xbox 360's, PlayStation 3's, and other technologies that baseball cards can't compete with.

When I was a kid, the thrill of getting a player's card you were hoping to get was all you needed.

Now, 8-year-olds approach collecting baseball cards like managing a stock portfolio: It completely sucks the fun and life out of it, but if it helps you pay for your future education, more power to you.

I always loved the specialty cards, like the 3D cards that came in Kellogg's cereal. The spot varnishes, UV coatings, glossy-coated stock, foil stamping, embossing, and holographic effects used today are top-shelf.

The photographs are all in-game action shots. No more goofy strike-a-pose cards anymore.

The graphic design quality is terrific and the various baseball card manufacturers, like Upper Deck, Topps, Fleer, Donn Russ, and many others keep on raising the bar to out-do each other and deliver something memorable.

The core essence of baseball is memories.

A word to the wise: If you have baseball cards, keep them away from your mom!