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Fandom, An Old Hobby, and a Pandemic

Everything feels different if you adhere to the isolated life demanded by a proper public health response to COVID-19. It is easy to feel isolated no matter how effective modern technology is in bridging the gap. FaceTime, Google +, and Zoom are delightful conduits but each time one exits the artifice, it is easy to feel empty.

A sixty-game baseball season was a positive immersive experience, LeBron dismantling the NBA was even more so, and a Browns teams that punishes underperforming NFL teams has been thrilling.

However, before this public health crisis, fandom was becoming increasingly complicated and disappointing. Anyone who has suffered the great toll of my commentary on Major League Baseball knows that baseball is increasingly less fun when billionaire owners spend their time leveraging an absurd pre-arbitration and arbitration system, then complaining about their profit margins. Unfortunately, as big league baseball teams attempt to pass absurdist loss numbers to the press to justify what will be the bleakest MLB offseason since a strike, fandom is difficult.

Further, having written about baseball with an analytical approach for approximately five years, seeing them wielded primarily to talk about whether a human being has surplus value for ownership (I certainly have done it too) has felt more and more separate from fandom.

Perhaps this piece is lost, the author is certainly prone to losing the point for thoroughly incompetent jabs. However, as the Cleveland Professional Baseball Club is poised to thrash their payroll in half following a 2019 season where they already slashed $30 million, and still appeared in the playoffs, fandom is hard.

In early 2020, the author was losing his fandom, and ultimately joy in watching sports at all, but a new fandom, or old one was discovered.

At ten years old, one of the most exciting times of the week was when my father would drive me to the hobby shop to purchase whatever I could afford from mowing neighborhood lawns. Upper Deck Evolution to chase a Albert Pujols rookie card, the Ichiro Topps chase? Awesome. The smell of new cards was exquisite, and the smell of Bowman Chrome was somehow both perfect and entirely synthetic. When you are ten, eleven, thirteen years old ripping cards in pursuit of your heroes is intoxicating. Trading, with friends, well that was even more fun.

Of course, once you reach high school, wish to establish yourself in the social hierarchy, these hobbies disappear, and they do not grow in college.

In November of 2019, I was distracted in the local Target as my wife attempted to rectify all interior design issues of our house in a single visit. I went over and bought a little blaster box of baseball cards, just hoping that the feeling of ripping cards would remind me of the more stressless moments of my youth. It was much more.

Soon, I found a few friends of mine were diving back into the hobby, buying wax, stalking auction prices on eBay, and well, reading checklists way too late into the night. Shortly after that, came the big hit a short print Ja Morant that made a few professionals lose their minds like ten year old kids in the lunch room.

When the pandemic came, the hobby exploded, and I was one of the reasons. Buying boxes, buying into rips, looking for market opportunities amongst rookies, and using analytics to identify players undervalued in the card market became a daily practice outside of work hours. Streaming rips from former big leaguer Phil Hughes is an absolute highlight. Beyond golf, few things felt more addictive, and distracting from the isolated existence.

Buying boxes with friends, sharing the risk, sharing the joy, it was all an essential distraction. When working 45-60 hours a week from home, having interests and fun in the pandemic is such a challenge, cards really saved me.

Today, over FaceTime with four others observing I ripped multiple packs of Mosaic Football for all of us, nothing major was hit but for forty-five minutes I felt like I was twelve years old again, and if that was not the best possible feeling in these times, I cannot imagine what is.

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