Pat Neshek, Card Collector

61nefYpg0RL._SY445_I’ve had a few opportunities to be in the Colorado Rockies clubhouse and to ask players about memorabilia they collect. Those who do collect are few and far between, though Mark Reynolds has a pretty extensive Hall of Fame autograph collection.

Pat Neshek, who was acquired this past July by the Rockies from the Philadelphia Phillies for their wild card push, is a bit of a throwback in that regard. He loves collecting baseball cards and autographs. His passion comes across in the many interviews he gives on card collecting, how he interacts with his fans on Twitter and his eagerness to autograph any cards he receives. Not only does he collect cards about himself, but he approaches collecting with a professional eye as he cultivates cards that improve his 1970 Topps set which in 2014 was ranked third best in quality in the world. He’s since improved that to the best set in the world. Recently I got the chance to talk to him and ask him about his favorite cards and his collecting beliefs.

Richard Bergstrom (RB): Do you remember the process for getting pictured on your first card?

Pat Neshek (PN): The first card you get is when you are in the minors, when you will get one with your team. It was in 2002 with my first team, the Elizabethon Twins. But my first Topps card was a 2006 Box Topper.

You had to buy a case of cards, then if you opened the case the Box Topper is the one on the top. They weren’t even in pack, but that was my first card. There were 50 different box toppers so your chance of getting it was 1 in 50 so it was really hard to get. They made 600 of my Box Topper and then they made a refractor of that. Twenty-five of those — it was pretty cool that Topps did that but I had to rely on eBay to get those. Once, I actually did buy four cases and I did pull a couple of mine but I didn’t get one of the refractors. Still eBay is a great source.

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RB: What’s been your favorite baseball card of yourself?

PN:They made a short print card in 2007. I don’t know what quantity was released but it’s kind of a hard card to find. It was in Topps Heritage. I just don’t see many of them. People send autographs in and I maybe get two or three of them a year in the mail, so it’s pretty rare.

RB: What’s your favorite thing about that Heritage card??

PN: It’s scarcity. I tried to get a print run of them but they never gave it out. Whenever I see them, I usually buy them. You can usually get them for like three, four or five bucks. Sometimes you have to pay eight or nine. But there was like a hundred and ten short prints that year. I just don’t see the card so it’s a card I collect of myself.

RB: So Topps didn’t send you one directly?

PN: No, they never do. That’s the thing. People think we get boxes of them. No, you don’t get any. They’ll give you a check in spring training for $500 bucks for using your image. But no, we don’t get any from them. I have to buy my own usually or people will send them to me and I’ll give them out.

RB: How did you get into collecting?

PN: Like a lot of kids in the 80s, that was the cool thing to do. Then I kind of got away from it. But when I went to college, my roommate, he used to collect autographs a lot at hotels and after Triple A baseball games so I kind of tagged along a few nights and I thought it was really fun so I started getting into it a little bit. A lot of good stories, that’s what I enjoyed the most.

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RB: It doesn’t seem like many players collect cards anymore.

PN: It’s weird. Certain guys collect certain things. I know with the Phillies, Howie Kendrick did a lot of bobbleheads from the 60s. A few guys did balls, some guys did jerseys. But not many guys collect. There’s a few guys who do cards. Brad Ziegler does it. Chris Perez did for a little bit. You kind of got to get to know each guy. I think a lot of guys do collect but they just don’t let it be known.

RB: It seems harder to get autographs from players than it used to be.

PN: It does. That’s why I started building a lot of these Topps sets to get signed. I think a lot of these guys are making a lot of money and it’s not worth their time to do a signing for $500 bucks and a lot of guys don’t do their mail so I don’t think it’ll be as easy as it was in the 70s and 80s with the fan interaction.

RB: What are your favorite sets?

PN: I love the old cardboard. I don’t like the new stuff with the gloss. I really like the Topps Heritage design. They’ll take it back 49 years so they’re doing 1968 this year. I’m looking forward to [2019 when] the 1970 set with the gray border comes out. I got the best PSA graded (original 1970 Topps) set in the world. I’ve been doing that for 11 years now. It’s hard. I always look for upgrades but they’re not out there. I’ll look forward to it in two years when they make that Heritage set.

RB: Do you have any favorite statistics on the back of cards?

PN: I liked it when I was a kid a lot because it helped you understand math and you could compute averages and make sure your work was right. The set building you get to know, I was born in 1980 but when I work on my 1970s sets I know a lot of who was on that team that year, where that guy’s been, what kind of hitter he was. And they had really cool cartoons back then. Some of the heritage do have good cartoons this year.

RB: Do you still chew the old gum?

PN: I did buy a box of Garbage Pail, built a really cool set of Garbage Pail Kids like eight years ago. I tried some of that gum… it was disgusting! Yeah, I bought like six boxes so when I got done. I think I put a picture on Twitter. It was pretty nasty. Some of it had brown stains on the gum. If you go back to the cellophane packs from the 1970, that gum is completely white. It can’t get any worse than that. It just turns into this candy cigarette chalk.

RB: When I was a kid, I’d buy packs, then boxes, then I’d skip and just buy the set. How do you collect sets these days?

PN: It depends. Like, if I’m in it, I’ll try to buy some of the boxes just to see what I crack open. It’s hard to pull some real nice stuff in some of those boxes. I’ve come to the point now where I’m relying on eBay and I’ll just wait for that card to come up. There’s a lot of really cool local sets. Especially in the 1950s, the dog food ones. It seems every restaurant had a local team set.

RB: If you could bring back one thing that was done on older baseball cards, what would that be?

PN: I want cardboard. Just real cardboard. I think that would change a lot of stuff for me. Maybe make the printing process not as good as it is. Some cards are off-center so it really makes it tough but fun to find nice gem mint cards. I like the gum in there. They tried that with Topps Heritage a few years ago but I think that’s more of a logistics thing where they try to ship so much and for such a cost that the gum kind of screws everything up. But I’d really like to see the cardboard come back.

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Plaques and Cards – An Induction 2017 Recap

Induction 2017 is over. It was a great weekend and I could tell you stories about chatting with Tim Raines, joking with Randy Johnson, welcoming back a healthy Rod Carew, sharing a beer with Bill Lee on my front porch and having my son meet Frank Thomas, but I won’t. There will be plenty of names to drop along the way, but let’s talk cards.

It’s a generally held belief that Cooperstown baseball shops are card shops. Not so. Most of the shops are cap, t-shirt, jersey and autograph places. That’s not to say that those don’t have a smattering of cards, but there are only a few stores that are card stores at their core.

The days leading up to, and including, Induction were filled with baseball cards. Some of my houseguest friends are card people, so we took a daily walk to Baseball Nostalgia in the Doubleday Field parking lot. I wasn’t looking for autographed cards, but I never really do. Still, I buy the ones that catch my eye and there are ones that always catch my eye.

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Jimmy, who comes for Induction every year, brought with him an unopened box of 1990 Upper Deck. It was the hit of the weekend. People tore open packs, shouting when they got a Tim Raines, puzzled when they got a Chuck Cary.

On Friday night, after a big Hall party, my wife and I went to a bash put on by some of our Canadian friends. Cooperstown was invaded from the north, but they were the friendliest hordes. The first person I saw when I got to the house was Bill Lee. His wife showed me a bottle of Bill Lee wine, which had the coolest baseball card label. Better yet, the label is his business/baseball card.

Lee card

Lee and a bunch of ex-‘Spos were signing for charity on Saturday. After a few seconds with Dennis Boyd, I hovered around my pal Jonah Keri who was signing books and his Allen & Ginter card, which I had to have. Plus, the money went to a good cause. (Explanation of autograph – Jonah says he’s often told this picture makes him look like some Eastern European politico).

Keri card

Jay Jaffe was in town signing his new The Cooperstown Casebook. With each book, Jay handed out a card of the book cover. Rookies, a company that makes custom cards, made some for Split Season as well. People really dig them.

The Raines party was on Saturday night and it was a cardboard filled extravaganza. There was a collage of all his cards (Jimmy noted one was missing, a 1996 something or other), there were cards in the goodie bags and, best of all, cookie cards. This is the first card I’ve eaten since gnawing on a 1964 Eddie Bressoud when I was almost 2.

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Lots of cards each and every day and that doesn’t even count some 1933 Tattoo Orbit and 1956 and 1960 Topps that I got in the mail. There’s a big pile on my dresser that sorely needs to be put away.

Oh, did I mention I chatted with Tim Raines, joked with Randy Johnson, welcomed back a healthy Rod Carew, shared a beer with Bill Lee on my front porch and had my son meet Frank Thomas?

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Breakfast with a Big Leaguer

Players of the 1970’s and 1980’s are so familiar to me. I recognize their faces way more than I do those of current players. It’s not a rare skill. My guess is that everyone who reads this blog has the same ability. Because of that connection, it’s more exciting to meet a non-star from that era than a star from today. (Maybe. I’ve never met Bryce Harper or Mike Trout).

I met David Jordan a few years ago at Bergino Baseball Clubhouse when I did the first big event for Split Season. David’s a cool dude and we both have baseball and finance as major interests. In 2015, David was working on a book that would become Fastball John, the autobiography of ex-big league hurler John D’Acquisto. Both guys were in Cooperstown on Wednesday and, since I had a meeting on revising tourist accommodation laws (being Mayor isn’t all glamorous), I wasn’t going to make their author’s event at the Hall of Fame. Instead, the three of us met for breakfast at Doubleday Café.

I went on a search for doubles to bring. I’m not above getting stuff autographed, when appropriate. (I never never do that at Hall parties, for example. That is uncool.) I had no interest in finding John’s 1974 rookie card, where he gets ¼ of the real estate (the other ¾  are Bob Apodaca, Dick Baney and Mike Wallace). I didn’t have an extra 1975 or 1976, but I did have a spare 1977.

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It’s de rigueur to mock Topps’ airbrushing skills. The usual vandalized photos are atrocious, but look at this card. It’s amazing. D’Acquisto, still a Giant, the Candlestick Park setting the giveaway, has been repainted from head to toe. Unlike every airbrushed monstrosity I can think of, the cap, the colors, the letters and numbers are perfectly in proportion. No giant bowl for a cap, no electric neon uniform colors that no team has ever worn. I’m impressed. Is there a better airbrushed card out there?

We chatted for over an hour about baseball, Cooperstown, trading, Doug DeCinces, and more. John talked about going from worshipping your heroes to knowing them and, in my small way, I could relate. Most famous people I’ve met have been great, but there are a few I wished I hadn’t encountered face to face. Not John D’Acquisto. He was all sorts of awesome to sit down with. He signed my card and I bought the ebook of Fastball John as soon as I got home.

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Walking from my house to Main St., I found, in a too perfect Cooperstown moment, a baseball on the sidewalk. I brought it with me to breakfast, figuring I’d give it to some kid on my way out. John asked if I wanted it signed, but I told him it wasn’t necessary for me, I was going to get rid of it. But, I thought it might be neat if he wanted to sign it and give it to some 12-year-old. As I left breakfast, I saw ex-big leaguer John D’Acquisto, talking to a family, probably explaining who he was. Maybe they believed him.

Leader of My Packs

I like “What If” history and I’ve put my time in to back that up. I was published in a book called Play It Again, with a bit of historical fiction about Sandy Koufax. I wanted to know how Koofoo’s career would have played out had he undergone surgery, so I wrote it. Years later, I created a 52-story series of rock and roll “what ifs” called Maybe Baby (or, You Know That It Would Be Untrue). That was a hoot to write, a self-taught class on different perspectives and styles. I ended up with some worldwide readership on that one.

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My penchant for “what ifs” is why I like Topps Archives (though doesn’t explain why I dislike Heritage). Multiple alternative history cards in one pack? I’m in.  And though Archives packs are expensive as hell, at least where I buy them ($5!), they’re still worth the occasional purchase. If you read my posts, you know I’m a sucker for packs and recently I got a good one.

Frazier 1

1992 Topps is one of the best, simplest designs. It’s right up there with 1957 and 1967 (don’t argue with me). Do I care about Todd Frazier? No. But the Toddfather in a 1992 card elevates his status.

Stargell 2

The Archives card of Pops is better than his regular ’82, not as good as his Action ’82. That’s not to quibble. Pulling a Willie Stargell card out of a 2017 pack is a smile-producer. Over the years I think Stargell has become undervalued, but if you were a fan during his heyday, there were scant few players more highly regarded. None were more loved.

Clark 3

I didn’t spend a moment thinking about Tony Clark when he played, but I’ve met him several times over the past few years and he is one of my favorite people – smart, engaging, a towering figure that commands your respect in subtle, but real, ways.  A Clark card for his union role? Sign me up! After all, I wrote Split Season about the players’ union battles against Cro Magnon ownership.

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I don’t even want to go into this. I thought I was selling a Judge card high and I turned out to sell it low. It’s no fault of his, but Aaron Judge makes me upset.

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I’ve always collected autographs. Not at the level I’ve collected cards, but I was an incessant letter writer in the 1970’s and still pick up the occasional signed card. Pulling an autograph from a pack is a blast, my mixed Aaron Judge experience notwithstanding, but there are times when it’s a letdown. John Hirschbeck? Why? Where’s the demand for that? The one I pulled is a limited run of 25, but still, are their 25 people who want this?

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Simply a terrific card.

Trout 7

A few months ago I was toe-deep in a 1960 Topps set. Now I’m up to my neck in them (about 100 to go), so the 1960 look is on my mind a lot. The Trout card could fit in to the original set nicely. There’s a falseness to the look of the color picture, but there are lots of 1960’s that aren’t photographic, more like hand painted photos. The black and white action is more kinetic than the usual 1960 static B & W, but it works. And it’s Mike Trout!

Kyle 8

Wrong Seager, great card.

Archives is very good and yet, for all their history and skill and budget, Topps doesn’t do nearly as good a job as the “cards that never were” producers. Chase down whentoppshadballs.blogspot.com, cardsthatneverwere.blogspot.com, @BottommsCards (on Twitter) for some incredibly solid work. Every time these guys post something, it’s like opening a pack of unexpected goodies, and they’re free.

You Can’t Judge a Judge (By Looking At Its Sale Price)

I was an options trader for about 20 years. Was I a good one? There were things I was good at and there were things I wasn’t good at. On the whole I did all right.

One thing I was bad at was picking stocks. That wasn’t a skill set I needed for trading, so when I owned stocks (which was infrequently), I tended to ride them into the ground. Unless I stumbled my way into something that was a no-brainer and, through circumstance, had a lot of stock that I needed to blow out. Which I did.

About one month ago, I bought a pack of 2017 Gypsy Queen at Yastrzemski Sports on Main St. in Cooperstown and pulled an Aaron Judge autograph. Judge was already a great story, I’m not trying to take away from that, but he doesn’t do much for me. I’m not overly excited by Aaron Judge and had no emotional reason to keep the card. Plus, it seemed the perfect time to sell high.

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I checked eBay and watched a few auctions that were close to ending. One closed with a final bid of $26, another closed at $28. I saw there were a few Buy It Now listings at $35 that were not selling, so I put in a $30 Buy It Now of my own. In trading, we used to call  marginally improving the market “carping. ” The card sat for about a day, and then Judge hit another home run.

There was a market frenzy! My card was bought, the $35 cards were bought, and then the market seemed to have hit some sort of equilibrium – for a few days. Then he kept hitting home runs. Now he’s on the cover of Sports Illustrated. The card I sold at $30 is going for $100 more than that.

I’ve been selling a lot on eBay lately and if you sell enough, things even out. I sold a lot of 1969 Topps hockey cards in overall VG condition for over $60. I thought I get $20, if I was lucky.

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Did I learn anything from this? I don’t know. It seemed like a good move to sell and who knows, Judge might be Babe Ruth or, as so many previously burned rookie card buyers have cited, Kevin Maas.

In 2000, I sold a Tracy McGrady Topps Heritage autograph card for 75 bucks. It was a similar kind of situation – McGrady was hot, but I didn’t care, so I sold the card. Years later I looked and the card could be had for less than $10. Now that McGrady is a Hall of Famer it goes for around $20.

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In options trading, all options have an expiration date. I won’t get too technical but on an option’s expiration, either it’s worth something or worth nothing. You could’ve sold it for $.50 and you could’ve sold it for $100 but if it goes out worthless it goes out worthless. You just don’t know until the cycle runs its course. Selling Aaron Judge was like selling an option early and riding out the wave to see where it ends up. And here I thought I left trading behind!

Autographed cards

A friend of mine is trying to put together a complete set of autographed 1968s (at least I think they are 1968s). Its something that I always wondered about  -how does anyone chase down the gold insert sets, or the Target Red sets, or get a full autographed set?

Obviously money is a key player, but it is time and dedication well beyond opening pack after pack to collate a 2016 set.

I was amazed to discover you could collect *this autographed set:
http://www.sportsartifacts.com/aagpblcards.html

Impressive.