Some Thoughts on the National

Okay, okay, so it’s been almost a week since I attended one day of the National Sports Collectors Convention. What can I say? I’m a procrastinator. I think the biggest reason I’ve waited so long to post anything about the National is either that A) I was told to take lots of great pictures to share and I realized part way through the day that I suck at taking pictures of anything other than landscapes or, B) I had mixed feelings about the National and had no idea how I wanted to construct my post.

To be honest, I still don’t know how I will construct this post. We’ll just let it flow and then edit as necessary.

National Sports Collectors Convention

INITIAL THOUGHTS

1. The Facility – This year, the National was in Baltimore and was held in the cleverly named Baltimore Convention Center. The building is absolutely gorgeous (in a building sort of way, not in a Waxaholic’s famed Ice Girl or Cheerleader of the Week way). There was ample floor space, nothing felt crowded, and it is surprisingly easy to get to. I also had to use the facility’s facilities part way through the day, which were clean and functional — always a nice touch. One point of interest: the changing table in the restroom had been vandalized by someone scratching off the “c” in “Changing” so that it read “Baby hanging Station”…which I sadly found amusing.

2. Vintage – I was under the impression that if you wanted it, it would be at the National. Apparently that should be adapted to read “If it’s vintage and you wanted it, it would be at the National.” I was blown away by the first booth I visited of the day with the large array of pre-WWII cards. Then I found another. And another. And another. And another. And…you get the idea. There were probably more vintage dealers at the show than anything else. Don’t get me wrong, it was ridiculously cool seeing all of those old sets in person that I’ve only read about before, but it was almost overkill. I did get to see the Holy Grail of cards, the T206 Honus Wagner, in person. It was in its own display case with a dedicated spotlight and piece of carpet. Even though it was graded a PSA 2, it was probably still worth more than all of my collection…my cars…and my house…combined.

3. Corporate Booths – This was probably the biggest disappointment of all. The corporate booths looked nice, what with their fancy convention signs and tables, but overall didn’t really add much content to the show. Sure there were wrapper redemptions (of which I participated in none) and some newer cards on display, but nothing to get all hot and bothered by.

4. Tristar Autographs – I wasn’t particularly interested in autographs because they charge extra and you had to wait in line, but the guy I went with wanted to meet Frank Howard and get a Dodgers picture signed. Frank turned out to be a ridiculously nice guy and although his line moved obnoxiously slow, it was because he was telling stories and taking his time to make sure he got the inscriptions, pen color, and auto placement the fan wanted. That is great. Mike Rozier’s line seemed to be moving awfully fast, so obviously not everyone is like Frank. I’m not a huge autograph hound, so the extra money wouldn’t be worth it to me, but my friend enjoyed that he not only got the auto he wanted, but got to share a little moment with a baseball legend. If that’s your thing, it’s definitely worth the wait.

5. Meet & Greet (a.k.a. build collecting community) – This was basically non-existent for me. Maybe I’m just socially awkward or I don’t know people well enough. I only recognized Tracy Hackler from Beckett and I think I saw Andrew from Sports Card Info while he was getting Mike Rozier’s auto (I have linked directly to Andrew’s picture post from the National since he got some great shots of all of the corporate booths). Other than that, I had no idea who was who and I guess I was just a little frazzled by the size of the event to try to ask around and meet people. That was definitely my fault.

MY DAY

1. Arrival – We left around 7:15am and rolled into BMore around 9:30am. The Convention Center was just a few blocks from the end of I-93, so it was very easy to access. We were not VIPs, so we had to wait to get into the show. There seemed to be a little electricity in the air. Maybe it was just everyone dreaming of their Strasburg Heritage National exclusive.

2. Browsing – After trying to walk around and take in the entire show before diving in and looking through card bins, my day was half shot. There is just so much to do and see at the National, it’s a little overwhelming, especially for a guy who’s never been there before. I definitely made mental notes of certain stands I wanted to return to, but it seemed every time I turned around, there was a new booth I hadn’t seen before. Actually, I’m not going to lie, it was a little intimidating.

3. Lunch – I took a bagged lunch on the advice from readers. The food lines didn’t look long and cumbersome, but I can only imagine what they were charging for a Coke and a cheeseburger. My bologna and cheese sandwich was just fine. While eating, I was joined by two guys in need of a breather. The one guy had a rip card from 2010 Allen and Ginter. He was trying to use his buddy’s LED flashlight to see if he could figure out what the mini was inside. He couldn’t. He decided it was worth the risk and ripped into it. If I remember correctly, he pulled an A-Rod. He was a little too concerned about book value for my liking, but I was very amused by the process.

4. Purchases – I went to the National armed with about $400 cash and fully expected to blow all of it pretty quickly. Unfortunately for my collection (but fortunately for my wallet), I actually came home with over $300 cash, and that included stopping on the way home for dinner. I was really looking to fill in my 2008 Masterpieces parallel sets binder, but couldn’t really find any dealers with those for sale. Apparently if you wanted anything other than vintage or high end (possibly faked?) singles or brand new products (or random other memorabilia), you couldn’t find it. Granted, I didn’t look through every single box from every single vendor, mainly because I draw the line at leafing through 30,000 cards with hope of finding 4 cards I need. There were a lot of guys who only had their cards organized by sport or by price (this entire table is $0.10 each). I simply didn’t feel like wasting my time with that. I found a few stands who at least had stars pulled out separately and managed to find a few with decent prices that had lots of Emmitts I did not have. I couldn’t find any of the sweet late 90s inserts I really hoped I would find, but I did come home with probably 50-75 common Emmitts, a few lower end inserts, and 2 jersey cards. Someday I’ll scan them. But that day hasn’t come yet.

WHAT TO DO DIFFERENT NEXT TIME

1. Adapted Expectations – I went to the National thinking I would come home with tons of cards I had specifically targeted as wants for my collection. I came home with none of them. I suppose it shouldn’t be a huge surprise that vintage and high end singles dominated card stands, but it definitely didn’t help me. I’m not going to get on a soapbox and argue either way whether or not the National should be so slanted for some segments, but it is what it is. If I get the chance to go again, I will definitely change my focus and maybe not even bother trying to find specific cards and just generally look for cool stuff in main display cases rather than looking through any bulk boxes.

2. Meet People – It would have been great to meet more collectors, corporate folk, and obviously fellow bloggers. I don’t know if that would take the form of me following through with my original plan to make and wear a First and Goal logo t-shirt or just me being more proactive to talk to people running the stands. There is also the possibility of organizing a meet up through the blog channels before even arriving at the show. It would be great to take a more relaxed approach to the National next time around: forget about finding singles I can get online and just go for the social face-to-face aspect.

3. Participate in Promotions – As I mentioned earlier, I didn’t go after any of the wrapper redemptions, contests, or even take advantage of reduced wax prices. This all involves buying new products, none of which are honestly appealing to me for one reason or another right now. However, it would add an element of fun to the day and could definitely help to achieve #2 above, meeting new people.

4. Take Autographs More Seriously – I’m still not a big autograph guy, nor do I expect to be any time soon. But it is still pretty cool to be able to say you have so-and-so’s autograph and got an opportunity to meet him and get your picture taken with him. At the very least, I could focus on a few athletes that others may appreciate more than I do. I get the chance to meet a great legend and can then send off an autographed card or photo to a fellow blogger. That would be pretty cool. It would definitely depend on prices though. I would probably just go after the older guys who do not charge an arm and a leg just to scribble a pen across a photograph.

OVERALL THOUGHTS

The National was a great experience and is certainly something I will remember for a long time to come. The vast quantity of cards and merchandise was overwhelming, but with a better thought out plan, the day could have been much more productive and enjoyable. Also, depending on schedule and finances, it would be great to go a few days and not just one. We left the show about two hours before it closed down for the evening and we felt wiped out. But if I had taken the more casual, social approach I talked about above, I probably would have been rearing to go back the next day.

WOULD I GO AGAIN?

YES!

Maybe in a few days I’ll get around to organizing and posting the few photos I did take throughout the day. No promises will be made, but just know I’m at least considering it.

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2 Responses to Some Thoughts on the National

  1. jswaykos says:

    Couple of thoughts, about your post and The National.

    1). You’re absolutely right: Baltimore Convention Center is the perfect name for a convention center in Baltimore. It just works.

    2) You have a friend? Totally shatters my image of you.

    3) I think you hit the nail on the head with going to The National for the experience of it. There’s really nothing there you can’t find elsewhere (other than uber-expensive vintage), and factoring in travel/admission costs, the cards aren’t any cheaper. But if you go just to go, treat it like a museum, and realize that it’s NOT a convention for junk wax inserts, it’s all good. I’d go if it were closer, but it doesn’t seem like it’s worth making a long trip for. Perhaps it’s because I’m spoiled with multiple nearby card shops and a weekly card show…

  2. CPAdave says:

    I should probably clarify that point:

    He used to work with me meaning that he was forced to be my friend for a few years. I think his big reason for going with me was that he really wanted to go and wanted a co-pilot to help navigate and I scored some free passes, one of which I gave him.

    Hopefully that helps you reconstruct your image of me…which was probably spot on…

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