For me, the release of Topps Heritage Baseball is an exciting time. Sure it's not a high end product filled with nasty patches and low numbered autographs, but it is a classic set with a large following. And it's the perfect set for me as a collector considering I tend to gravitate towards cards that represent the history of the game and the hobby.
Today is the official Heritage release date set by Topps. However, last week the retail version of Heritage began to pop up and a frenzy swelled amongst collectors trying to find it's early arrival at their local retail locations. This usually means a number of trips to Walmart and Target, which under normal circumstances would drive the average American absolutely insane. However, if you're reading this you know as well as anyone that this hobby can lead you on a fool's errand.
Like many others, after the word spread that Heritage was popping up I found myself checking my local retail spots when it was convenient. And each time I left empty handed. When Monday came around I had plans to go visit my grandfather in College Station, TX. Of course as a collector that is borderline obsessed with the hobby, I knew in my heart of hearts that I would was going to try and push my luck in College Station. I had no idea just how much luck was coming my way.
After arriving in College Station and visiting with family for a few hours, my grandfather asked me to run an errand with him. I happily accepted knowing full well this was my opportunity to hunt down some Heritage. So I set him up nice and easy. "Hey Grandpa, you think while we're out we can stop at Walmart real quick?". After I told him why, the confusion left his face and he obliged. It just so happened that Walmart was on the way. My grandfather stayed in the car while I ran in. I told him I knew where it would be and exactly what I was looking for, so it should be an in and out mission. And it was just that. There was no Heritage to be found. I was in and then I was out.
So empty handed we got back on track to run that errand for my grandfather. On the way I spotted a second chance. While I hadn't heard of anyone finding Heritage early at Target, when I saw it I knew I had to stop. I decided to wait until after we finished my grandfather's chore. On our way back we stopped at Target in a last ditch effort, but this time my grandfather decided to come in with me.
We walked straight up to the card aisle and I quickly began skimming all the options. To my dismay there was no Heritage to be found. I was ready to walk away empty handed, again. I then spotted six sealed shipping boxes just to the left of the cards. I looked at my grandfather and I could tell he was already a step ahead of me. He then quickly pulled out his trusty pocket knife and handed it to me.
I cut the tape on the first box. Pokemon?! The second, the third, and the fourth box didn't contain my prize either. We were four boxes in and I was sure that an employee or security guard was going to come up and kick us out. Yet no one seemed to notice, or if they did they surely didn't seem to care. I opened the fifth box and looked in, then looked at my grandfather. I had finally found what I had been searching for. Inside the box I found several $20 blaster boxes, a sealed box containing rack packs, and the large "floater" box full of individual packs. I know some collectors in that situation that would clean out the box. However, I grabbed the first blaster box I could reach. I then cut the seal on the rack pack box and took two. We checked out and headed back. The entire ride back we chuckled over what we had just done.
Once we got back I got ready to open my haul. If I had been at my home, I would have waited until I could open them alone and undisturbed. I wasn't going to be able to do that, so I sat at a small table with my wife, my grandfather, and his wife (my grandfather remarried over the summer several years after my grandmother died from Alzheimer's) sitting and watching me turn into a kid as I began to open packs. All the while, my family talked about me and my hobby. I started with the rack packs, which yielded some nice cards and even a few cards of players I really enjoy collecting.
I then turned my attention to the blaster box, still fielding questions about my collecting habit, or addiction as my wife prefers to label it. As I began ripping into the box, my expectations weren't high at all. Those who open a fair amount of retail know just how difficult it can be to pull a card with any significance. About half way through the packs I pulled a "hit". I was pumped to find a Ian Kinsler hand numbered 7/99 Gold Clubhouse Collection Relic card. I was pleased as punch just to pull a card like that out of a blaster box. I showed it off to my family and then returned to opening packs thinking my highlight had come and gone.
At that point I wasn't expecting to see anything else of note. I was wrong. I came to the last pack and opened it without anticipation. When I got to the last card in the pack, time itself seemed to slow down. Bob Gibson was looking back at me and there was writing at the bottom of the card. I thought to myself, is there an insert with facsimile autographs in Heritage this year? I inspected the card closer. My family looked at me strangely. I was in a sheer state of amazement. The last card in the last pack of a blaster box was a Bob Gibson Real One Autograph. I could not contain my excitement, even amongst polite company. I did my best to not go off on a joyous, expletive laden, celebration.
I shared with my family about Bob Gibson and the improbability of pulling such a card. We talked about how unlikely it was for me to find this card, of all cards, through the string of events that took place. What if I had found Heritage back home in Longview? Or at the Walmart in College Station? What if those shipping boxes weren't out sitting in the card aisle at Target? What if we decided to not open them? Or grabbed any other blaster box? It's difficult to get an on card autograph out of a retail product. Especially out of a product like Heritage. On top of that, it's markedly more unlikely that it will be your favorite player to collect.
Bob Gibson is hands down my favorite player to collect. He was my grandmother's favorite pitcher and it was my grandmother that got me into collecting as a child. She would tell me stories about "Gibby". Mostly about how damn good he was. And mean too. I don't collect Gibson just because of my appreciation of what he did on the mound as a Hall of Fame pitcher, I also do it because it is a connection to someone I love.
To pull a Gibson autograph under those circumstances, with my grandfather next to me is something I will always remember. To me, this was something more than good fortune. It's a story I will tell to my son Cohen time and time again. His great grandmother may not be here with us in the natural, but she isn't that far away. She is, in fact, right here. Through the collecting, through the stories, and through our heritage.
|My first Bob Gibson autograph, given to me by Vera.|