“Man, it has been a long time,” I said to myself as I drove over the mountains from my home in Tennessee to Wes Starkey’s Inside Pitch Promotions Sports Card Show at the North Carolina State Fairgrounds in Raleigh on June 19.
It is always one of the bigger shows held in the Southeast each summer, and by my recollection it will be the first major show that I have attended since February 2020. I am fully vaccinated and ready to go, and it has been a long 17 months. A lot of the dealers are older, retired guys, and I hope they have made it through COVID without any problems.
I enjoy the shows, especially the social aspect of it — just spending the day searching for cards, talking with dealers and friends I have made over the years, and making new acquaintances. If you’ve been at this for a while, you know that the hobby has its steady patrons and longtime contributors, and it also has a stream of those that seem to come and go. Boy, have I missed it.
It will be interesting to finally find out what is really going on in the card market. People with time and money on their hands have been entering the market over the course of the pandemic and driving the price and availability of cards higher than any time since the boom period of the 1980s. Cards are once again making national news with million-dollar sales. The National, scheduled to return in Chicago, a hot bed for collectors, is looking to have record attendance and ticket sales July 28-Aug. 1. And where in the world are all of the 2021 Topps baseball cards going? I’m hoping to get some answers.
People are lined up around the lobby and out the door waiting to buy tickets to get in. That is always a good sign. I walk a loop around the floor, scouting things out, and the tables are already crowded not long after the show begins. All the tables appear to be full and sold out and the two-day will attract more than 1,400 people.
I stop to talk with longtime friend Edward Lawson, a collector and seller of vintage cards who hails from Morristown, Tenn. He lets me know that he has lost his voice, but he is hard at it, talking in a whisper and writing notes as he works his tables.
“The last few months are the best I have ever seen,” he says. He waves his arm over his tables, and adds, “They are buying a lot of older cards, which is good for me. It has been crazy.” He gives me a thumbs-up.
As usual, he has several very nice cards of Mantle, Mays, Aaron, Musial, and Koufax in his cases. He points to them and winks.
“Are you going to Chicago?” I ask him, knowing he usually attends.
“Probably not this time,” he says, pointing to his throat. “I’m gonna sit this one out.”
“I’ll miss seeing you there,” I tell him as I buy some of his cards from the ‘50s and ‘60s.
My next stop is two young guys I don’t think I have seen before, with a banner at their table that says “Oak City Sports Cards.” Holden Watkins and David Amato introduce themselves to me.
“Old Oak? Where is that?” I ask.
“We’re from Raleigh, that’s its nickname,” Holden tells me, and says they are working on opening up a card store, plus working shows.
“Vintage baseball is really hot, plus cards of the younger stars such as Shoehi Ohtani and Vlad [Guerrero] Jr. are really moving.”
He told me they will be in Chicago and are looking forward to going.
David tells me they have been selling a lot of basketball cards as well, with Jordan, LeBron, and Kobe leading the way.
“What we have seen lately is that people are buying pretty much any basketball, and not just the star cards,” he says.
“This is North Carolina, after all,” I say to them. I tell them I will try and find them at The National.
I move on, spot a guy in a Braves jersey and stop to chat him up. We talk a little bit about what is wrong with our favorite team. His name is Jon Robinson and he is from the Raleigh area as well. He has his young son, James, with him, and I’m guessing he’s just a few months old.
“I’m getting him started early,” he says with a grin. He tells me he deals in mostly newer stuff and I notice he has a few boxes of the hard-to-find ’21 Topps.
“My friend has the next table over there,” Jon says, pointing down the row. “He sells only vintage baseball and says that he has never seen sales like they have been since we have been able to start shows back.”
Chandy Greenholt from Winston-Salem, N.C. has long been a staple at the North Carolina shows. He is legendary among fellow collectors for what he shows up with to sell, obviously having picked up items from estate sales and from those that want to get out of the hobby. His tables are loaded with a little bit of everything sports-related and there are customers who go straight to him as soon as the doors open.
He tells me that business has been good. Over the years I have bought several items from him and he is always a good source for ticket stubs, something I like to collect. He does have boxes and boxes of cards of all types and you will usually have to wait in line to get a crack at them.
Set up right across from him is Kurt Tourdot and he deals strictly in vintage cards, and you always see a lot of business at his tables, with this year being no exception. “Business has been very good for guys like me who sell older cards,” he tells me.
James Wall from Morven, N.C. also deals only with vintage cards.
“At the last show I did, a couple of weeks ago, I sold over $700 in 1959 Topps baseball commons, and not all to the same person,” he tells me. “That was a little unusual, but it kind of tells you what is going on with older cards.”
Just like his good friend, Edward Lawson, they both have a lot of collectors that show up to see them with wish lists for sets they are working on. I pick up a few ’54 Bowmans from him, a set from the year I was born. I love the colors of them and the fact that most are shots of the players that show off the uniforms from that era. The Raleigh show has long been a mecca for vintage cards, and this year in no exception.
One guy that is easy to spot at these shows is John Mangiaracina as he always has on his New York Yankees hat. He deals primarily in rookie cards, and he has a lot of them. Pretty much anybody you would want. I got a couple Bowman chrome cards of Braves catching prospect Shea Langeliers. “He’s the one that’s gonna be the Braves catcher of the future,” he tells me confidently.
“These rookie cards, it is my passion,” he says. “After I retired, I moved to the Raleigh area to be closer to my daughter and grandkids. I love to study the up-and-coming players in the minors and see how they are doing, and then pick up their cards as they come out. I’m on the computer in the morning to see how they did the night before, and I have people that get me the cards of the players I want. I just enjoy it, and I enjoy working these shows.”
We have something else in common besides baseball cards. Our dads were both retired Navy guys and so we both spent time in Norfolk, which is where I was born.
One last thing, those 2021 Topps cards? I saw dealers with boxes of them for sale, but not a lot of the cards were being sold as singles or individual packs.
“It is kind of like the ‘80s all over again,” one dealer who had some told me, asking to remain anonymous. “There are people who have figured out how to buy them all out as they hit the shelf, and maybe even before that. In a lot of cases, they are just hoarding them up. You even see them in places that don’t normally sell baseball cards, with crazy high prices. That’s what I have to say about that.”
Hey, it is great to be back at a show and talking to people and finding out what is going on. Hope to see you at one down the road!
— Barry Blair is an author/writer from Jonesborough, Tenn. You can reach out to him at firstname.lastname@example.org or check out his website www.rightfieldpress.com.