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Inside the Pack: Baseball Cards as Gifts? Bah, humbug!

Every holiday season, as the time for exchanging gifts gets closer, I’m overcome with a very real and terrifying fear — that someone I care about will get me baseball cards as a present. It’s not that I don’t appreciate the thought or the effort that goes into gifts like this; on the contrary, it’s that I appreciate it too much. Getting baseball cards as a gift cripples me, because I feel required to keep the gift out of some strange feeling of necessity: someone got this for me, out of the goodness of their heart, and now I must keep it forever. Bah, humbug!

I find that this problem exists whether I am vague about cards I want or extremely specific; whether I get raw singles or lots or sealed boxes; or whether I don’t show an interest in receiving cards as a gift at all and instead get surprised with them. There is something that feels very sentimental about baseball cards for me. I’ve written in the past about cards in my personal collection, and the memories associated with them for me. Most cards in my collection have a memory attached to them, and getting cards as gifts complicates things for me immensely.

Take, for example, the year that my parents bought me a box of 2006 Fleer Greats of the Game, one of my favorite sets of all time. I had bought 3 boxes of the product, and as 2007 product was getting ready to come out, there was a sale for the boxes online. I asked, and I received. I pulled a Don Newcombe autograph, which fits perfectly with my Brooklyn Dodgers collection; a Steve “Rainbow” Trout Nickname Greats autograph, which was wonderful because I loved this insert set and always had dreams of putting it together; and a Brooks Robinson bat relic. In no way does the Robinson fit in my collection, but I have to hang onto it, because I know I got it from this box, which my parents gave to me. It sits in a box as part of the “cards I got from boxes my parents bought me” collection, along with my 2001 Fleer Futures Ichiro rookie and 2002 Topps Stadium Club Albert Pujols triple relic card.

There’s also the time my wife surprised me, fairly early in our relationship, with a blaster box of 2008 Topps Stadium Club. I really liked this product, though my wife had no idea — she just knew I liked baseball cards. I pulled a Nick Adenhart autograph, just a few weeks after he’d passed away. His autographs were selling for decent money at the time, but there was no way I could sell a pull from the first box of cards my girlfriend ever got me. This card is now part of the “cards that remind me of the time my then-girlfriend-now-wife came home after shopping at Target and surprised me” collection.

When I graduated from college my wife surprised me again, this time with a signed Duke Snider card. I had about a dozen of Duke’s autographs, but this wasn’t a pack-pulled card like my others. This was a signed 2008 Donruss Threads card with a JSA certification. It’s a beautiful card, sure, but it didn’t check off any boxes on my Duke Snider checklist. Instead, the card’s white background and blue signature display beautifully next to my signed Duke Snider wood bat in the black display case I have. I guess I’m destined to keep it.

A few years back, my in-laws gave me a generous ebay gift card and told me to buy a card I wanted with it. With the funds burning a hole in my pocket, I used it to buy a rare 1958 Bell Brand Duke Snider card in rough shape. Now I’m stuck with a nearly-impossible-to-find Snider regional issue that’s too large to fit in a standard toploader or storage box. What’s a guy to do?

So now, after a lifetime of getting cards as gifts, I have…memories. Wonderful memories of people special to me, giving meaning to otherwise meaningless cards. I’m not sure why I always thought I didn’t like getting cards as gifts. What could possibly be better than memories of those who are close to you? So, bring on the gifts! To paraphrase Charles Dickens, “I will honor baseball cards in my heart, and try to keep them all the year. I will live in the past, the present, and the future!”

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