For Part One, click here
For Part Two, click here
"I have enjoyed the years enormously in Cleveland and especially in Baltimore." -- Art Modell
For those that have yet to visit this fair city, I feel obliged to warn you: Forcible sodomy is now 100% legal in the City of Baltimore. I should know, I was victimized first hand.
On Saturday, rather than take the Light Rail train into town, I decided to drive. Earlier in the week, I received a message over the Mojo Wire from Chris Thomas, my collaborator/co-conspirator on baseballcardpedia.com, that he and a couple of his friends were coming down from Ohio for The National and wanted to know if I could join them for drinks that evening. Unfortunately, the Baltimore Light Rail doesn't run past 11pm, and I'm not exactly the kind of guy to take chances when it comes to transportation.
So I got into the Big Blue Whale, threw a Kraftwerk CD into the car stereo, and drove the 55 miles from The Republic of Fairfax into The Inner Harbor. Even though I'm used to longer drives (from The Republic to South Jersey usually takes me three hours and 160 miles), it's still nice to have that one "driving record" you can rely on for situations like this. In my world, a 55 mile drive is routine, kid stuff; but it seems to go by a little quicker under the pulsating beat of the Trans Europa Express album.
Downtown Baltimore is a convenient place to drive to, with a spur off I-95 leading directly past Camden Yards and the Convention Center. Unfortunately, there are very few places to park. I spent about 20 minutes circling the Inner Harbor looking for a place until about two blocks east of the Convention Center, I see a sign for a parking garage. Why not? It seemed like a perfectly reasonable place to park; plenty of space on a Saturday Morning.
It wasn't until I took my ticket from the machine, and drove over the barrier that I noticed the big white sign with "$23.00 ALL DAY."
$23.00? TWENTY-THREE FUCKING DOLLARS? TO PARK A CAR? AND IT'S NOT A WORK DAY?
I felt raped. I mean, for that money, the least they could do is throw-in a complementary reach-around.
I finally got to the floor around Noon. Immediately, I knew this would be like no other day. Saturday is usually the busiest day during a mega-show like this. Not only do you get the die-hard collectors, like myself, but the civilians, the curiosity seekers, and the dumb schmucks who actually work for a living. Very busy. Very tense. The air was filled with the pungent scent of avarice and corruption. Me? I just wanted to pick up some cheap singles.
And boy did I find cheap singles, a whole boatload of them, tucked away in the far corner of the convention floor. I've been scoping this particular dealer for the last few days, with his dozens of 3200-count boxes of late-90s-era inserts for a nickel each. And not just any late-90s inserts. 1997 Pinnacle Certified Mirror Red parallels by-the-dozen; scores of 1998 Leaf Rookies & Stars short-prints; '97 Pinnacle Certified Team inserts; at least a dozen 1997 Select Darin Erstad Rookie Revolution inserts, all in serial-number order (i.e. 0505, 0506, 0507... all the way down to 0520); all for only a nickel each.
I couldn't believe my eyes! Some of these were one-per-box hits, and here's this guy with 20 copies of the same 1997 Leaf Garret Anderson Die-Cut Fractal Matrix! There were only about 100 of them made, and he has 20 in one box! Where did he get them? Who's his connection? It's as if the bitter ex-employees of Pinnacle Brands helped themselves to these cards on their way to the unemployment line. Aww, who gives a damn, they're ONLY A NICKEL EACH!
Why not? I must have spent about four hours picking through this guy's boxes and I wound up filling a 400-count box full of late-90s/early-00s inserts. Total price: $40.
I spent the remainder of the afternoon wandering around, looking at whatever caught my eye. I noticed the ladies of A Cardboard Problem hanging out at the Freedom Cardboard booth -- unbeknownst to me at the time, but they were working for FCB. Susan was in the midst of interviewing someone for Freedom Cardboard, and I didn't want to interrupt. Besides, the last thing I need on my record is yet another restraining order.
Which leads me to think for a moment. How in the hell does a website, a website which does not charge its end-users anything, afford a corporate booth at The National? Sure they have advertisers, but really? A corporate booth at The National? Do you know how much that costs? With former NFL MVP Mark Mosley signing free autographs? And promo card giveaways? And free t-shirts and FCB-emblazoned blue tumblers?
Maybe Five Guys Burgers & Fries fronted them the money for Mosley. Who knows? But I find it a bit curious that a website that's only been around for a couple of years is able to afford something this extravagant.
Cazart! Why not a Stale Gum booth at next year's National? Shit, if FCB can scrape up the money, why not me? Step right up folks, and shake the hand of the bitterest, most angry, pundit in the cardblogosphere! Watch him as he trashes another garbage card set during a video box break! Grab your complementary "Jefferson Burdick Has A Posse" sticker!
Indeed. But I think the last thing The Hobby needs/wants is a drunkard/gonzo journalist setting up a booth at The National. What would I do? Blather about Jefferson Burdick all day?
Speaking of our friend Jeff, I found it shocking how little the legend of Jefferson Burdick is known by the modern collector. A few days earlier, when I was in-line for my Strasburg Topps Heritage card, I handed one of my Burdick gimmick stickers to a guy who vaguely recognized me. He actually thought my name was "Jefferson Burdick."
I felt personally insulted. Not because he thought my name was Jefferson Burdick, but that he didn't know who ol' Jeff was. Don't you realize that if not for Jefferson Burdick, The Hobby as we know it would not exist? and that you, and The National, wouldn't be here, in Baltimore, on a Friday afternoon, in-line for a $100 Stephen Strasburg card? You should be on your knees, preparing sacrifice and making a pilgrimage to his final resting place to pay your respect to the greatest collector who ever lived!
I turned to him and laughed. "Don't worry," I said. "I'm just another good American like yourself."
His smile disappeared. Did he understand? I couldn't be sure. But that hardly mattered now.
Look for Part Four, soon!