Wednesday, August 8, 2018

The National, Part 1

So things have been a little quiet on the blog.  It's been a busy summer and my stacks of cards from the big Pittsburgh show in May are still waiting to be dealt with.  But with the National only a little more than a 2 hour drive away in Cleveland, there was no way I was going to miss it.

This was my second National experience, the first coming in 2014 the last time it was in Cleveland.  It was an amazing experience, and I came away with an absolutely loaded haul.  I went in with high expectations.  And honestly, this show fell a little short.  Overall it was a great experience, and I came away with plenty of new cards.  But on the whole the show fell a little flat for me.

For those who have never been, imagine the biggest card show you've seen and multiply by three.  Cleveland's I-X Center is a huge venue, which from what I heard allowed for more space in the isles and between booths than in Chicago or Atlantic City.  It's a massive space, and navigating is an adventure at best.
My show plans ended up being pretty fluid.  Originally Kate and I had planned to go out together Saturday and Sunday, her exploring Cleveland while I hit the show.  But she recently took a (great) new job working the national news desk for Hearst Media (and getting out of newspapers, yaaaay!) that has a Tuesday-Saturday schedule.  So there went that.  Ultimately I decided to drive out Thursday and again on Saturday.  Yeah, it was extra driving and gas, but I wanted to get a jump on Pirate cards before they were all picked over and had plans to meet up with a bunch of my Team Collector pals on Saturday.

There are a lot of positives.  The show is literally a pop up museum inside a card show.  There were numerous dealers with lit standing glass cases just like you'd see at a museum filled with jerseys of Hall of Famers and other high end memorabilia that probably sell for as much as my house. 
The photo at the top of this post is my two day haul.  Overall, I definitely found plenty of new cards for my collections.  And in terms of overall scope, I was able to find something for all of my team and set collections, something I haven't been able to say about any prior show, even the 2014 National.

The boxes in the back are all from my Team Collector buddies.  As I've mentioned before, I'm part of a group of team collectors that has been together for over a decade now.  The concept is pretty straightforward: I send cards of the respective teams out to those collectors, and they ship Pirates to me.  We also do group breaks every couple months at cost.
After so many years we're friends first and card collectors second.  We typically have an annual in person meetup, since we're scattered across the country where we get together, hang out, and have a big box break.  This year we decided to get together in Cleveland for the National. 

We met up at the National Saturday afternoon for our break.  I lost track of how many boxes we had, but it was easily over 20.  It was great getting to spend some in person time with folks you usually only talk to online or via Google Hangouts.  And even though the Bucs didn't do great in the break, we pulled some real beauties.

Getting to spend some time at the show with some friends, some of whom I've met in person numerous times and others who were newer to the group and meeting for the first time, was by far the highlight of the week for me.  Plus I was about to clear out a couple thousand cards, bringing boxes for all eight of our group that was in attendance.  I came home with fewer cards than I left the house with, so that along was a huge win.  And cheap plug: if anyone is interested we currently have openings for the Braves, Dodgers, Giants, Mariners, Marlins, O's, Phillies, and Rays.  If you're interested, drop me a line or you can reach us on twitter @team_collectors.
As for the show itself?  I found myself a little disappointed.  When I've hit major shows in the past, there have almost always been a couple dealers who had boxes upon boxes of low end auto/gu blowout boxes in the $1-2 range.  The selection was always great, and I would find myself adding new Pirates and some other autos to my collection.  This time?  Maybe a stray box here or there.  But most of the "junk" autos were priced in the $3-5 range. 

I realize they're on the low, low end of the spectrum.  But you'd figure there are plenty of case breakers and resellers who are overrunning with less desired gu/autos from the last two decades.  I did find a few gems.  The Felipe Rivero/Vasquez auto was a steal at $1, and Glasnow was $2.
And my favorite pickup of the show was this Rice/Parker dual.  I love the 2005 Ultimate Collection autos, and this card has long been among my most wanted.  It was $3, presumably due to a crease in the card right near the "e" in Dave.  But it's barely noticeable, and I was more than happy to add this for that price.

The low end product on the whole was lacking.  Last time I hit the NSCC, I came across absolutely loaded quarter and fifty cent boxes.  There were dealers with tables of nothing but blowout low end product, and the boxes were loaded with serial numbered cards from the last 15 years or so.

This year basically every $.25 box I came across had nearly identical inventory of unnumbered Bowman/Bowman Chrome inserts from the past 2-3 years.  I needed basically any Pirates from those sets, since I rarely seek out Bowman cards.  But after one table, I was set. 

Finding cards that weren't vintage or older than 2015 or so was a legitimate struggle.
I was able to find a nice run of recent unnumbered refractors and some of those pesky Topps foil parallels from recent years.  But on the whole I wasn't able to find nearly as much as I had hoped.  Though I was able to find a dealer with a stack of 2000 Chrome Refractors for my set at dirt cheap prices, so that was fantastic.  I can't recall ever finding a card from my set at a show until the National.
The other thing that jumped out at me was just how disinterested the dealers seemed.  Even four years ago, I had some nice conversations with dealers during the show.  I usually wear a rotating cast of jerseys, including Mariners, Marlins, a 1999 All-Star game jersey, and of course Pirates jerseys.  So even a "are you looking for Mariners cards" comment can easily lead to conversation about how, no, I just have way too many jerseys.  I mentioned in my Robert Morris recap how chatting with dealers led to some of my best finds at that show when they pulled out cards not on display.

But the National?  I had to repeated scream "excuse me" to get dealers to look up from their phones so I could pay for my cards.  Maybe one or two dealers engaged me in conversation, and of the few I tried to engage most made it pretty clear they weren't the talkative types.

Personally I can't imagine standing around at a show in near silence for the better part of a week.  But at the very least, general sales techniques say to engage your customer.  A simple "hi" or "anything specific you're looking for?" goes a long way with me.  There was a general attitude of "just find what you want and give me money" that I found very off-putting.
I've mentioned it before, but there's just this sort of growing feeling that what the hobby is currently is no longer in line with who I am as a collector.  I get it.  Chrome is King.  Dealers are far more interested in someone who is looking to drop $800 on their graded rookie auto than the guy digging $20 in cards out of their quarter box. 

Everywhere I looked, tables were overflowing with Bowman.  A product I have zero interest in.  Nowhere did I see a Starling Marte or Jamison Taillon auto, even an overpriced one.  At one table, I was buying $2 in quarter cards while a kid who couldn't have been more than 11 or 12 was trying to haggle with the dealer to sell some cards.  He had a small box, quoting off chapter and verse the ebay prices on cards, all of which were $100, $200, or more.  When I was 11 I was happy to hit a Cliff Floyd jersey card out of a box.
Speculation has always been a part of collecting.  But it seems like that's the primary focus of the hobby now.  Or at least the one that draws the show crowds.  And that was sort of the lingering emotion of the weekend as I made the drive home on Saturday.  While there are still products like Big League or Stadium Club that get me excited, I feel like an old highway after the national interstate system was built.  Sure, cars still drive on the road.  But all the traffic is going a different direction now.

But there was a silver lining: I came home well under my budget for the show.  I don't know if that has ever happened at any show, ever.  COMC was running some sales to coincide with the National, and I spent some time Sunday morning doing some COMC shopping.  I hate to say it, but COMC had the cards and prices that I expected to find at the National.  Cool autos of uncool players for under $2, some gorgeous gold refractors for $2 or so, and filling in some parallels from the 2001 Donruss and 2000 Ultimate Victory sets I'm working on.

And that's the thing that keeps me collecting.  Even if I'm losing interest in the current product, there are still literally tens of thousands of cards for me to keep chasing out there.

Did anyone else make it out to the National?  How was your experience?


  1. The National is a showcase for all the best and worst things in the hobby. Best because you get to see everything one could possibly think to collect in a single room, worst because you have to see some of the types of people who collect those things. I'm not the most social person in the world, but even I found it baffling how many of the dealers weren't even paying attention to the people at their table, as you mentioned. Not only is it frustrating to try and get their attention, but a person less honest than myself could've easily walked away with a bundle of cards without them even knowing.

    I, too, wonder where the hobby is headed when I go to big shows like these because the kids there are all stuck on Ebay prices and hot prospects. I don't know that that's sustainable for the long-term. I've been to the National three or four times now (the Chicago show is literally just a town over from where I live), and while it's always a mind-blowing experience, there's often an underlying sense of unease. While nothing can provide anything near the WOW factor of the National, I prefer the smaller hotel/village hall shows around me.

    1. I think your first sentence summed it up perfectly. I take some comfort in collecting with others with similar collecting interests here, on twitter, and in my team collector group. But it definitely feels like the hobby winds are blowing in a very different direction. And while it's only natural for dealers and companies to follow the money, it's beyond maddening. This year's Finest has 1 Pirate card. A Josh Bell sport printed base card. No inserts. No autos. Just one card, and however many parallels they crank out.

  2. Didn't go. Never been. Hopefully it'll happen one day.

    P.S. That Parker/Rice dual autograph is sweet! The price is sweeter!

    1. I hope the west coast gets a National again at some point. Though I'll selfishly admit I would like to see them in Cleveland every year.

      The dual was definitely the pickup of the show for me. Especially considering that most of the other cards in that dealer's $3 box were junk autos that should have been $1 cards.

  3. Never been and have been thinking about making the trek up to Chicago, but I would have to take a couple of days off from my fall coaching duties and I'm not sure how that would go over with the administration.
    "There was a general attitude of "just find what you want and give me money" that I found very off-putting." -This statement bothers me and it's not the first time I've heard this sentiment about the National. If I go I want a good experience. I'm a collector, not an investor... I may not feel I fit in.

    "I've mentioned it before, but there's just this sort of growing feeling that what the hobby is currently is no longer in line with who I am as a collector." - This also sounds a lot like me. I still do it my way even though the collecting world is changing around me.

    Thanks for your take on the National. Seems very honest and quite informative. I truly appreciate that.

    Lastly, if the Cubs ever come open in your trading group I hope my name makes the list to be considered to fill the vacancy. Sounds like a real nice way to collect and socialize!

    1. I hate to generalize, but it was definitely a more pronounced issue among the "Bowman Chrome" dealers. A lot of the bigger vintage dealers do the big Pittsburgh spring show, and are always very friendly and great to talk with. But since my vintage needs have become fewer (and more expensive!) I pretty much just stuck to modern at the National. And in all fairness I didn't have any of those issues in 2014. But I found it very offputting.

      If you're interested in getting involved, we also have "Tier 2" members. Basically the Tier 1 collector would send you any Cubs doubles he gets, and you send him cards of the other teams that he would send out to the group. I was the Pirates Tier 2 for years until fairly recently, but still ended up with thousands of new cards, including gu, autos, parallels, etc. It's truly a great group of people from all walks of life that I genuinely consider friends. Even if you'd just want to join just to check it out and chat with collectors with similar interests, we always welcome fresh faces.

      If you'd like to check it out, shoot me an email and I can send over the details.

  4. Not that the National will ever come back to the West Coast, but it would be nice....

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