Ten-cent bins as far as the eye can see. Old baseball players wandering around, autographing everything in sight. Pallets of junk-wax door prizes. Crusty dealers refusing to make eye contact with anyone under the age of 30. Children bedecked with lanyards and Becketts. Stooped collectors jockeying for position in front of trays upon endless trays of 1952 Topps low-series commons. Old guys scarfing down over-priced hot dogs. Loudmouths squawking into cell phones.
Ah, the time-honored trappings of the baseball card show. From the small-time shows of just a few folding tables and gooseneck lamps at the local mall and elementary school gymnasium to hotel conference rooms and county arenas, I've been to a few. And next weekend, by attending the 33rd National Sports Collectors Convention in Baltimore, I'll have been to the biggest of the bunch.
According to its official press release, The National touts itself as a "collector's paradise" and by its estimate expects somewhere in the neighborhood of 45,000 [gawking, sweaty] attendees. There will also be something called the "TRISTAR Autograph Pavilion," with 90 "high-profile" athletes. (Out of curiosity, would J.D. Salinger's have been considered a "low-profile" autograph?)
Also, there will be something called the "Fantasy Football Fest 2012," which apparently won't be the real "Fantasy Football Fest 2012," but just a preview to an event taking place in Atlantic City, New Jersey, later in August. Snooze.
There will also be the usual stupendous, amazing auction previews and memorabilia finds, including Don Larsen's jersey and pants from his World Series perfect game and a purported Babe Ruth game-used jersey. And this year's big draw is the "Black Swamp Find" of Defiance, Ohio—700 cards from the E98 set found in pristine condition.
So besides the shock and awe of game-used rarities and high-end mega-finds, what should I expect? I don't plan on waiting in a three-hour line for Larry Sheets's autograph, and elbowing another collector out of the way for a free pack of promo cards doesn't appeal to me. No, I'm thinking I'll skip the loudmouth cell-phone-squawkers and the hot dog cart and make my way to the back of the convention floor and revel in a nationwide selection of ten-cent bins.
Of course, this plan could backfire. There probably aren't too many dealers at The National paying their fees so that they can sell ten-cent cards at the back of the convention hall, right? There will be dealers representing at least 36 states, plus Washington DC and Canada, so I'm guessing there will be tons of one-of-a-kind memorabilia from those places, and fewer ten-cent bins and junk-wax grab bags.
So they've got a big place for autographs and snaking Disneyland-style lines, they've got a "Corporate Area" where I'm guessing the manufacturers will be, and then there's the rest of the convention hall. But here's something that isn't mentioned anywhere on the official floor plan or agenda: an auditorium (or room with folding chairs) for a panel discussion and talk-back session about the state of the industry. Likewise, there will be no forums or developmental workshops for how to create a baseball card blog, or start or maintain a collection, or a history of the hobby (before it was an industry). There will be no cocktail hour away from the trade show floor, and likewise no official meet-and-greet with the editors of Beckett, Sports Collectors Digest, or Card Trade.
Granted, The National doesn't bill itself as a conference—that's what the annual Industry Summit is for—but the summit is for industry insiders and enterprising dealers, not everyday collectors looking to expand their knowledge of the industry behind the hobby. I feel like I've been beating a silent drum over the past few years on this, but panel discussions and greater transparency between industry insiders, industry-specific media, and everyday collectors would do the hobby a great service.
I'll be blogging about my experience at The National starting next Saturday, August 4th.