How baseball cards got us through a year and a half of remote learning

So school finally started a couple months ago. In person. We’re lucky to live in a district which is taking things seriously so everyone’s masked, anyone who can be vaccinated has gotten vaccinated, HVAC has been upgraded districtwide, and our class sizes are even reasonable. Is kind of a weird feeling since it’s been a year and a half since I last had this much time to myself.

I haven’t written too much about what we’ve been doing day-to-day. Exciting stuff like bats and fires? Yes. But the everyday grind of trying to keep things interesting and moving? Not so much. It’s been tough. School is hard and while I appreciate being able to know what they’re learning, it was a lot to stay on top of all their work.* Plus the daily grind of lessons and homework is not the most compelling stuff to write about.

*Though it has paid off as real-world events have required us to better explain things.

I can however comment on how baseball and baseball cards have given the boys somewhat of a rock to hold on to amidst all the uncertainty over the last year and a half. Not collecting—lord knows that that’s been basically inaccessible to them as Target was always sold out for months before they stopped carrying cards at all—but the hobby itself has given them something reliable to turn to for multiple school assignments.

My youngest started off remote learning with a “passion project” where he would have to research something he was interested in and then report about it to his class.* He picked baseball but sort of panicked about his presentation because he hates being on camera. After talking things over we figured out that if he made oversized baseball cards he could draw something on the front and have his notes on the back.

*Not the best assignment but his teacher used the time to put together an excellent remote-schooling curriculum so it worked out great.

So that turned out to be a fun thing to work on. We’ve got plenty of books and could also watch the Ken Burns documentary. He ended up doing a mix of small stories about early rules*, early games, and some stories about how teams got their nicknames.

*Something we all learned about at a vintage baseball game a couple years ago.

My two favorite cards that he drew feature the first game in Hoboken—very appropriate given that we live in New Jersey—and a picture of a trolley mowing down inhabitants of Brooklyn. We may be a Giants household but the Dodgers nickname story is vastly superior. Oh, and these are intentionally uncolored because they’re supposed to be old and old photos are black and white.

My eldest meanwhile did a similar project and ended up making a presentation about the Giants where he picked the “best” lineup from their time in San Francisco. So he did some research into stats and had to make an argument about why he chose who he chose.

It wasn’t specifically a Baseball Card project but he ended up using baseball cards as his illustrations. Part of his choice to use cards was because it made for the easiest way of finding photos online and having them labelled clearly on his Power Point. But it also worked as a way of situating those players in time and showing when they played.

He’s made some noises of using this to make a small sent of custom cards but aside from a few design experiments nothing’s really come to fruition. As much as he likes the idea of making custom cards like I do, he hasn’t quite figured out that having a set theme is a good idea.

The following school year, my youngest decided to research baseball cards for one of his writing projects (specifically a research paper). This one felt a little weird to me since he had to list his sources and, while I didn’t spoonfeed him things, he definitely consulted with me.

At the same time, he has been to museums and seen old cards* and has a decent understanding of both card history as well as the nature of the hobby today. He definitely knows more about cards than I did when I was his age since I never got to see any of them.

*Also the Burdick cards at the Met.

He also was writing his report right when coverage of the hobby started to hit national media again. Between the number of high-profile sales—in particular the Mike Trout Superfractor which was briefly the most-expensive card out there—and the amount of other market craziness we all experienced last year, his report had a lot of almost current events to cover as well. I got a chance to see a lot of surprised comments from his teacher and he got to learn how nice it is to turn in a research project that teaches the teacher.

I don’t have screenshots of either of their reports (sharing writing seems a lot more personal than sharing drawings) but I was very happy to be able to read both of them and recognize how with everything else in upheaval, they were still able to draw on some hobbies as a source of inspiration and comfort in their schoolwork.

Author: Nick Vossbrink

Blogging about Photography, Museums, Printing, and Baseball Cards from both Princeton New Jersey and the San Francisco Bay Area. On Twitter as @vossbrink, WordPress at njwv.wordpress.com, and the web at vossbrink.net

13 thoughts on “How baseball cards got us through a year and a half of remote learning”

  1. Some of the writers here just cannot resist the political commentary. It’s disappointing–and unnecessary. Your article is probably a good one, but when I can’t get past the first paragraph because of the latest COVID commentary being thrown at us (and it’s always from the same perspective on SABR), you are defeating yourself in the process.

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    1. There’s really only one group of people who consider basic science to be “political” and we know exactly who they are. As for the leanings of SABR, it should be pointed out that the members of that organization, on the whole, are learned individuals who have studied and understand the role that history plays, and that certainly influences their own perspectives. Sadly, some people are surrounded by history on a daily basis and have instead chosen to live in ignorance. I am a proud SABR member who happily proclaims that most of us have chosen a different path.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Politics are constantly being inserted into science, and it is done by both Democrats and Republicans, particularly on the extremes of both political parties. When you talk about yourself as one of the “learned individuals” and disparage me as one of the “ignorant,” you display an arrogance that is unbecoming of a SABR member. If you’d like to make an argument as to why you think you’re right and I’m wrong, fine, go ahead and do that–make the argument. But you don’t just get to wave your wand and haughtily declare your superior intelligence and morality without being called out for it.

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    1. Definitely getting the gears turning for this. Though I am kind of second guessing that Hall of Fame visit after being attacked by the guy in charge of outreach at the Hall of Fame for expressing my relief at how lucky I am that the people to whom I entrust my children’s health and safety follow the recommendations of healthcare professionals.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. I would hardly call what I wrote “attack” against you. It was a criticism of you for inserting politics into the beginning of the post when it didn’t need to be there and had nothing to do with the primary theme of the article. As a father who saw a daughter subjected to a full year of remote learning, I saw firsthand how poorly it was executed and how poorly it was received by both my daughter and niece. And if science has shown us anything with regards to the coronavirus, it is an illness, that according to statistics and basic clinical research, is less dangerous to healthy children than annual outbreaks of the flu… With regards to Hall of Fame outreach, you and other SABR members are always welcome at the Hall of Fame. I often meet with SABR members at the Hall, and am happy to do so. We often feature SABR members as guests on our virtual programs, including our Virtual Author Series and our Virtual Voices programs.

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      2. You do not get to be this dishonest about claiming that your comment was not an attack. It 100% was. There is zero reason to write such a comment except as an attack. You are attempting to intimidate me, and other posters, into writing things that cater to your specific worldview and avoiding any topics that make you feel uncomfortable.

        You’ve already admitted to not reading the post and have made your point about how you won’t read further ones that upset you politically. That’s fine. The only person I expect to read my posts is my mother, everything else is bonus, and I kind of love seeing which posts of mine get the fewest views (hint hint it’s the ones that talk about race issues). I do however have a problem with your attempt intimidate other posters as well as your attempt to derail the comments into something that has nothing to do with the article (in this case a debate about remote vs in-person learning).

        Regarding visiting the Hall of Fame. Your first comment was anything but welcoming and displays a callous disregard for the way we all are processing this post-COVID world. That you write such things knowing that we all know that you represent the Hall of Fame is astonishingly bad judgement which makes me question the Hall’s safety protocols. I do not feel welcome nor do I feel like I can trust you around my family.

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      3. Nick, in at least one past instance, a writer on this blog inserted political commentary, and then had it removed upon complaint. So the precedent has been set in that area. Second, when I comment here, I do not do so as a representative of the Hall of Fame; I did not identify myself as a Hall of Fame employee and made no reference to the Hall of Fame. Third, your comment, “nor do I feel like I can trust you around my family” is so extreme and over-the-top that it stretches the bounds of credibility. I have made no threats, implied or otherwise, against you or anywhere else here. I have not made any attacks against your character. I simply criticized your decision to insert politics into a baseball article on a blog that is affiliated with SABR. That was it.

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      4. Thank you for admitting that your comment was indeed an attack intended to make me censor myself. As I said before, you do not get to intimidate me that way.

        You did not identify yourself as a Hall of Fame employee until you responded to my comment which, likewise, did not explicitly identify you. At that point you put your Hall of Fame hat on.

        And you have clearly and plainly expressed to me that my family’s health and safety is both political and something you disagree with. That I refuse to trust such a person around my family is neither extreme no surprising.

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  2. As a parent, few experiences are sweeter than having your kid(s) express an interest in one of your passions and adopt it as their own. Way to go Nick.

    Liked by 2 people

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