There was a short list of things that led to the growth of my interest in baseball: My friends as a kid, MLB 2K8 and baseball cards.
I spent countless days in the backyard, picking through my collection of baseball cards as a kid to choose my lineup for the day. A friend and I would pick our nine batters, a starter and two relievers. Then we’d spend the afternoon taking on those players batting stances and windups and play a full nine — with ghost runners and all. At the time my favorites to choose from were Yu Darvish, Koji Uehara — Boston Red Sox legend, of course — and Chris Davis. I won a lot of those games thanks to my ability to mimic Davis’ stance from the left side, I must say.
Those summer days lit my passion for baseball. Thinking about that era of my life makes it even harder to stomach considering what young fans have to wrestle with now.
I implore any reader to stop by the sports card isle of your local Target, Walmart or any store of the like. What you’ll likely find are empty shelves, cleaned out of every card, every box or sticker available. Unless you happen to catch the store on truck day, you’re out of luck.
The sports card market has taken off during the pandemic, which is a good thing no doubt. However, now that cards are seen as an investment by entrepreneurial types rather than a hobby item for the passionate fans, the younger generation is being priced out of even the cheapest options.
This is a major issue for a game that’s already struggling to appeal to young kids. Only so many free meals at 99 restaurants after Red Sox wins will do. Kids need something they can feel, something in their hands that they can touch and connect with on the screen. Nothing anchors them to the game like a binder full of their favorite stars.
Like many of the other aspects of baseball, access to the sport is limited by the price of entry. Equipment costs are massive, travel ball fees are through the roof and now kids can’t even find base set level cards.
I went to a Target over the weekend, and it had a sign out in the card aisle saying all MLB, NBA and NFL products over $19.99 would be on sale at 8 a.m. every Friday morning on a first come, first serve basis.
Now I ask you, what kid is available at that time? None. They are in school then. No parent in their right mind is going to let their kid skip school to go pick up some baseball cards on a Friday morning. By the time they could be there, all the cards will likely be gone.
Now how does this problem get fixed? I say Topps, Panini and Upper Deck mandate that every major retail store withholds 35% of its card stock for children ages 16 and under. Hold it behind the counter like a pharmacy puts the expensive perfumes behind the checkout area.
The best ability is availability. MLB, Topps and Panini are not giving kids a shot. It is better for the future of baseball and for their companies. Give these kids a shot and they’ll surprise you. Don’t let adults with money ruin the future of baseball and the future of card collecting.