Saturday, August 4, 2012

Day Three And Four At The National Sports Collectors Convention Nightly Recap With A Contest For Some Show Exclusives

Walking onto the floor of the National yesterday and today you could feel a change in energy. There were definitely more collectors. Vendors were settled in and ready for them.

Certain collectors looked as if they had just gotten in from the airport because they were rolling suitcases behind them, but most of the time their luggage was empty. But it wouldn't stay that way for long as collectors filled them with purchases of every kind of collectible from cards to autograph balls to bats.

While every sport is represented here, Baseball is king. Negotiations between dealers and collectors was fairly ridged to start from what I saw, but that started to loosen up by late Saturday.

There was the usually run of small change bin finds, but also a lot of movement on graded cards.

For merchandise like jerseys and gear there seemed to be more lookers than buyers at first, but by Saturday items were moving.

A nice sight to see was an increase in the amount of kids who were here with parents or grandparents. There was plenty of hobby educating going on, happy to see the torch being passed.

The Topps booth had a situation on their hands thanks to some dealers who had early access to the floor to set up their own booths. These dealers decided to use that advantage to get on line for the Bowman Blue Foil redemptions even before the general public could get in. When the doors finally opened, collectors had to sprint across the convention floor to get to the line behind those dealers

After talking to the collectors on line it seemed most of those who got sets arrived at the convention center before 8:00 AM. Those who just missed getting one of the 100 sets allotted for each day arrived closer to 9:00 AM.

Clearly the system did not work, a problem acknowledged by Mark Sapir of Topps. After talking at length with Mark I can say, with confidence, that a better system will be put in place to even the playing field for the National next year in Chicago. I can also say that he and the whole Topps team are genuinely concerned with trying make this a fun experience for collectors. Sapir mentioned a lot of different options to improve the system, from tickets given at the door to a lottery system, but the bottom line is things will change. And with that change, I think the dealers that bucked the system have to reevaluate their sense of fairness. Yes, they have a right to these sets, they are customers as well as merchants, but it seems that when it comes to freebies, some people lose all rational thought and sense of decency. May be wishful thinking but this whole problem could have been avoided if these dealers had just done the right thing.

Bottom line is collectors covet limited edition items, especially when they are giveaways as nice as the ones Topps produced. Limited items lead to a limited amount of people who get them, so even with a better system in place it is impossible to make everyone happy. But an improvement in the way these are distributed should lessen the blow for collectors who miss out.

But with all that, collectors were briskly ripping through boxes of Topps cards and were pulling some really nice hits. Collectors were also buying up the 2012 Topps Baseball Mini Cards, normally an online exclusive that was available in limited quantities at the Show. I got a box and will do a review on it when the show is over.

On Thursday, Russ Cohen of Cardboard Connection Radio did a live segment from the Topps booth with the affable Clay Luraschi and Mark.

There was a lot of talk about the upcoming release of 2012 Topps Football which collectors were eyeing in glass display cases around the booth. You can go to Cardboard Connection Radio to hear the archived interviews.

Also at the Topps booth, stickers with an unidentified logo appear, without any explanation which got collectors buzzing, speculating what the logo was tied to but no concrete answers were provided. If anyone has a guess as to what it could mean, let me know.

Topps was also offering a free special preview edition of kids novel, a Topps League Story titled "Jinxed!" the first release of what should be a series of books. The book is published by the same company that does the "Diary of a Whimpy Kid" series. It features a batboy named Chad during his first season with the Pine City Porcupines. It reminded me of a book I read as a kid, "The Horse That Played Centerfield."

On Saturday I had the opportunity to talk to Clay. We discussed the hobby in general. Towards the end of our talk he asked me questions geared towards feedback on Topps Cards. He values collector input and often checks out card forums to see what collectors are saying so that he can gauge what is working for collectors and what Is not. Clay was also nice enough to offer some items for future giveaways, so on the look out for those.

The wrapper redemption Gypsy Queen minis seemed to last further into the day, so those collectors showing up for the final day should have a good shot at taking some home.

Over at Panini, the wrapper redemption program did not start until noon. On Friday, the line started forming early. To keep collectors occupied, Panini brought in Ryan Tatusko, a propect pitcher in the Washington Nationals system, to sign autographs.

Tatusko is a card collector too. When he saw his Panini card, he tweeted about it, which started a dialog that lead to him coming in for the signing.

Panini's ever ebullient Tracy Hackler was nice enough to supply me with some items to give away now and some to giveaway at a future date. I will start by giving away one of Ryan Tatusko's autographs along with a pack of the six card exclusive National set that features Andrew Luck, RG3, Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, Kyrie Irving, Michael Kid-Gilchrist and Anthony Davis. For a chance to win this package, leave a comment below with the one item that you would most be looking forward to purchase if you came to the National. To be eligible to win, you have to be following us here on the blog or on twitter, or like us on Facebook. Please let us know where you follow us and your handle with your comment to ensure that we can contact you if you win.

At noon the line for wrapper redemptions was 200 deep. Panini did not run out of redemption packs, every collector walked with cards. I saw towel cards, lots of 1/1s and cracked ice parallels. There were single color progression cards that were limited to 5 that were pulled.

By the end of Saturday, there were over 30 collectors that had busted enough product to get an invited to Panini's VIP party. Along with getting the VIP invitation, they also received wrapper redemption packs for all of the product they opened, which led to some pretty impressive hauls.

Here are some of the big breakers showing off just the best of their take from the redemption program. In some instances, several collectors pooled together their Panini bucks to get a single ticket to the party. Only one of them could attend Saturday night's event but the spoils from the party will be split equally amongst all of the collectors in the pool.

Shortly after Tracy was on Saturday's edition of Cardboard Connection Radio, the VIP party started. At the party, the really special guest of the evening was hockey legend Gordie Howe. Also in attendance were John Riggins, who celebrated his birthday, Wes Unseld, Elvin Hayes and Ivan Rodriguez. VIP guests received Panini Black Boxes, shirts, jackets, more wrapper redemption packs, a raffle for more auto and memorabilia items and live signings all why Biz Markie was spinning tunes.

I had the opportunity to talk with several artists at the show.

Dick Perez, famed card illustrator who did a lot of early work for Donruss and is the official artist for the Baseball Hall Of Fame, was here for his first National. He was exceedingly nice and shared stories about some of his paintings and the players that have personally commissioned him to do private works. One of those players is Ichiro. Turns out he is an avid historian of the game. When he was visiting the Hall of Fame, he saw one of Perez's paintings of kids from the 1950's playing stickball on the streets of New York. Ichiro wanted the painting but, obviously, the Hall wouldn't sell it to him. So Ichiro called Perez and asked him to redo the painting with a change. He wanted to be included in the redo, with his wife and dog as spectators to the kids' game. Perez was a little reluctant to revisit one of his works, but he agreed to the new painting which he feels turned out great. That painting hangs prominently in Ichiro's home.

I also had the opportunity to spend some time with a very talented sketch card illustrator, Brian Kong, whose work can be seen on cards found in boxes of Topps, Upper Deck, Leaf and In The Game products. He origninally started as an illustrator at Marvel comics and then segued into doing sketch cards. He is an avid sports fan. We talked about his process for cards like the 1/1s he did for Rittenhouse Archive Ironman. He is penciling, inking and coloring those exactly as if he were drawing a comic book. He really enjoys sketching athletes, especially the ones on his favorite teams.

Another artist I had a great time talking with was Paul Madden at the In The Game Booth. He often gets commissioned by athletes and celebrities to do private portraits. He shared a story of drawing a portrait of Mel Blanc, the original voice of Bugs Bunny, Porky Pig, most of the Looney Tunes characters and Barney Rubble of the Flintstones. Afterwards, Paul and Mel became fast friends and remained friends until Blanc's passing. Paul later found out that he was one of two people that Mel kept in touch with on a consistent basis.

Also at In The Game's Booth was their redemption program that has been going string since day one of the show. Boxes and cases of Sportkings Series E, Broad St. Boys, and Between The Pipes have been busted by a continual stream of collectors. Redemption cards that were pulled include single and dual memorabilia cards numbered to ten and 1/1s and special Jared Kelly 1/1 original sketch cards.

A great moment I saw was when a kid, who could not have been more than four years old, came up to the booth and asked if he could have some cards. The kid walked away with one of the exclusive National ITG 9 card puzzle sets.

The last two days have been big for photo ops and autographs. At Steiner Sports I got my opportunity to meet Don Larsen and see his Perfect Game Uniform.

After a nice photo op with him, I waited for the line to thin out. At that point I introduced myself to Don's wife who was by his side and I had a great discussion with the two of them about his intent to help his family with college tuition from the money generated by the sale of the uniform through the upcoming Steiner Sports auction. He feels fortunate to be in a position where he can help with expenses. You could see on both of their faces the obvious concern that they have for their family's comfort and well being.

During that time I met Navy photojournalist students Seaman Apprentice Matthew Hogue and Seaman Curtis Spencer who are currently attending the Defense Information School studying to be Mass Comunication Specialists while they are stationed at Fort Meade. My father followed the same route, but with the Army, so it was a nice connection to make on all fronts. By the end of the year they will be deployed, using their skills, along with their basic training, to help the cause. I made a point to thank them for their service to our country.

Later at Steiner, Doc Gooden was signing for free with the purchase of any item. Doc took the time to greet each collector and provided a photo op with each one. Kudos go to Steiner Sports for creating a such welcoming, causal environment.

Over at the TriStar autograph pavilion there were some great signings, but the crowds realy came out strong on Saturday for great players like Brooks Robinson, Reggie Jackson, Cal Ripken Jr. and Rickey Hnederson.

As a Yankees fan, it was great to see Mariano Rivera signing too.

Over at the Leaf Booth, the most saught after autographs were of Bradley Beal, the 3rd overall pick in the 2012 NBA draft. He is only 19 but has great composure. He signed non stop the entire time he was there.

On Saturday, you didn't even need to see who was at the Leaf booth to know who was signing. The constant streams of YUUUP! was the giveaway that Dave Hester, of Storage Wars, was putting pen to posters. There was a chorus of collectors shouting Hester's catch phrase, including the owner of Leaf, Brian Gray. On both days, when there wasn't a signing to oversee, Brian was buying collectors' cards. It was quite a site to see his negotiation skills. He could probably give Dave Hester a run for his money.

At the Beckett Booth, they were handing out promo cards, doing gradings and showing collectors the magazines, price guides and online site. Sharing time running the booth were Beckett editors Chris Olds, Dan Hitt and their newest editor Susan Lulgjuraj. I talked to Chris Olds for a bit about social media and movies. He gave me one of his annual National business cards. This year it is a picture of him shopped into a Canseco rookie card that has been encased and Beckett graded a 10 pristine.

There were a few more happenings late Saturday that I will spill over into the next recap about Day Five, the last day of the National, but I won't be able to post that one until Monday or Tuesday because of my flight home. So make sure you leave your comment to enter the contest. The winner will be randomly selected from all of the entries.

Thanks for following along with me during the past few days. I hope you enjoyed the coverage. Goodnight from Baltimore.

Thursday, August 2, 2012

Day Two At The National Nightly Recap

Day Two at the National is the first full day and the first day In general for many, so in some respects collectors are still getting their feet wet.
But today was dominated by Topps. Again their allotment of wrapper redemption cards were gone early in the day. All Bowman Blue Foil sets were claimed within 45 minutes and the GQ minis were gone in 2 hours. But baseball is not the only thing going on at Topps.

On display were cards from the upcoming release of 2012 Topps Football. These cards look great in person, but probably the most impressive would be the clear acetate die cut cards. Topps has done a great job with these.

A nice surprise was seeing a good amount of space devoted to a Topps non-sports release.

Mars Attacks cards were drawing a lot of attention. Perhaps this display helped.
Topps also had their Meet and Greet at the end of the day, but that is deserving of an entirely separate post, more on that later.

Directly across from the Topps booth is Blowout Cards. Boxes of cards were being briskly sold. But things really got hopping at 3:00PM when the owner of Blowout Cards, Tom Fish, started their free daily raffle.

They were giving away box, after box of product to several lucky winners. It was great to see a kid, who must have been around ten, walk away with 8 boxes of cards.

The largest prize was a whole sealed case. If you are in Baltimore, make sure you get your free raffle ticket and show up at the Blowout Cards booth by 3PM. Your ticket is good for the entire run of the show. While you are there, you might want to take a shot at picking you a box of Historic Autographs Legends of the Hall.

Each box contains one signed item from a Baseball Hall of Famer and if you take your box to the Historic Autographs booth they will give you an additional autograph, 2 for the price of 1.

In addition to their promotion, they were providing an advanced look at their upcoming product, "Why The Hall Not" a set devoted to players who haven't made it to the Hall and are the topic of a lot of discussion as to whether or not they should be in the Hall. Case in point, Pete Rose and Shoeless Joe Jackson.

That is a first name only, dual cut signature card of Rose and Jackson. There will only be 3,000 of these boxes made.

There will also be a full Joe Jackson Cut Auto along with many others.

Right near Historic Autographs is Baseball Card Exchange.

They deal exclusively with unopened boxes and packs of cards from previous years. There is often a discussion amongst collectors about what the cut off year is for a card to be considered vintage. Looking at these loose packs of Topps Baseball gives you a good idea based on price alone.

The prices are as follows - 1972=$275, 1973=130, 1976=$65, 1977=$32, 1978=$22, 1979=$12, 1981=$3. Here are some other premium items they had on display.

1986/87 Fleer Basketball, which contains Michael Jordan's rookie card, priced at $14,000.

1959 Fleer Ted Williams cards priced at $19,000.

A box of 1954 Bowman Baseball priced at $45,000. By the way, the box is no longer available, someone bought it. Baseball Card Exchange also has graded unopened packs.

Today Upper Deck's wrapper redemption program was in full swing.

There were collectors that were doing small amounts of packs, all the way up to multi case breaks of Exquisite.

But it didn't take busting a case to pull a big hit. One of the redemption packs yielded this card.

A Sidney Crosby autograph #/15.

Panini's wrapper redemption program was still going strong.

The line to get packs was over 100 collectors deep.

Most collectors I talked to were hoping to pull an Andrew Luck auto and there was also interest in the packaging box printing plates.

There is an abundance of game used jerseys here at the National. The items pictured above may not have been worn by the most famous of players of the game, but they are great looking.

But, of course, there are the game used items from the legends of the game, like this Babe Ruth Yankees Cap.

This trio is from Gil Hodges, Tom Seaver and Rogers Hornsby, all a part of Heritage Auctions' items.

One of the interesting booths that was not card or memorabilia related was Fantasy Player Exchange.

This brand new startup is a fantasy sports website that adds Wall Street type elements to their leagues. Players are exchanged and rated like stocks with values that go up and down based on performance. By assigning these values it allows for athletes from almost every sport to be used. For a more in depth explanation of how it works, check out their site.

Beyond the items available at the National, I spent a lot of my time talking to different collectors about what they are looking to pull and what brings them to the National. I met a great father and son duo who live very near to where I do in California. They came to the National to look at vintage items. It keys them into memories of shared sports experiences. They love the social aspect of meeting different collectors and dealers who have their stories to share.

Tomorrow, Day 3, is the kickoff of the heavy hitters at the autograph pavilion, so that area should start buzzing. Cardboard Connection Radio will be broadcasting live from the floor. After show hours there is the Steiner Sports party and the Freedom Card Board get together.

That will do it for this recap. Make sure to look for a recap of the Topps meet and great along with another nightly recap tomorrow. Good night from Baltimore.