Young Angels spark card sales
To find the most comforting thought before another World Series without the Angels, Bryan Chairez flips open his three-ring binder.
It contains plastic pages protecting baseball cards with perfectly sharp corners, all mint condition Topps and Bowman collectibles fronted by the bright boy faces of the Angels' newest and youngest talents.
It's an investment — the Angels' and his.
He sees the promise in the call up of Mike Trout, the surprise AL Rookie of Year campaign of Villa Park High's Mark Trumbo, the Gold Glove-caliber first full season of center fielder Peter Bourjos and an All-Star selection of rookie closer Jordan Walden.
This season also marked the big league beginning of right-handers Tyler Chatwood and Garrett Richards and catcher Hank Conger (Huntington Beach High).
"This is the future," said Chairez, who waited outside the players parking lot on the final day of the regular season with the hope of getting autographs on his growing collection.
"I quit collecting in 2001 but got back into baseball cards because of the new Angels and my son, Edgar. These players are going to be All-Stars some day."
Baseball card collecting, once the popular childhood hobby of many young fans two decades ago, might have gone the way of the cassette tape. But this season's Angels, despite their absence in a second consecutive postseason, helped revitalized struggling sales at the some of the few local card shops that have survived their endangered status.
"We've seen a lot of people want to get back into collecting and want to get their kids to start collecting because of this season's Angels," said Brian Nicalek, who co-owns Anaheim's OC Dugout with Lance Kirkland.
Among the OC Dugout's customers recently was a family of Angels fans with three children — two boys and a girl under age 10. They spent $25 and purchased single rookie cards of Trout, Trumbo and Bourjos and cards of All-Stars Jered Weaver and Torii Hunter, among others.
"The kids were super happy, like being in a candy store," Nicalek said. "Even the parents were happy to return to a hobby that had gone away for a couple generations."
Nicalek can recall from his own youth the early 1990s when fans regularly visited the local cards shops to buy card packs, tear them open, eat the stiff, pink gum and hoped to find a treasure immortalized in 2x3-inch cardstock.
In the glory days of card collecting, children used to commit their allowances to cards. The hunt for the rising rookie, the star player or the last card to complete their numbered sets proved to be as fun as the possession.
But for several reasons the popularity of this pastime faded with the generations.
"The biggest problem was that too many card manufacturers made too many different sets, and instead of each player having one card every year, they had five, 10 or 20," said Brian Farole, who has owned Huntington Beach's Baseball Cards Plus for 30 years.
"It became too much and collectors just stopped trying to keep up."
The venerable Topps faced competition from rivals Donruss, Fleer and Upper Deck. which flooded the market with so much variety of product targeted and priced for everyone from the novice to the deep-pocketed hobbyist that one's collection could never be complete.
Overwhelmed, many collectors surrendered rather than continue the near-impossible search for each player's card by every manufacturer, from prospect to pros and from every set that offered another pose, a glossier look, a rarer parallel or a potential autograph or jersey-patch insert.
Who would pay $300 for a four-card pack guaranteed to contain one memorabilia? The demand, especially with the economic downturn, was limited.
Would-be card collectors turned to acquiring more one-of-a-kind memorabilia such as autographed baseballs and photos and game-used equipment. The scarcity of such items made them better investments for posterity.
Newer generations never got bitten by the card-collecting bug. They embraced more interactive appreciations of their baseball players, becoming them in video-game simulations "MLB The Show" and "Major League Baseball 2K" or befriending their heroes through Facebook or Twitter.
Internet sales pushed brick-and-mortar cards shops toward extinction if they didn't start Web sites. (OC Dugout has ocsportscards.com and Baseball Cards Plus has surfcitycards.com.)
Major League Baseball, hoping for the hobby's renaissance, responded this season by granting an exclusive license to 60-year-old Topps Baseball.
As a result, there is a more manageable selection of the 2011 Angels available. The demand for Trout and Trumbo cards, valued at $5 and up, is so high that these players' cards move in and out of the glass display cases at the OC Dugout in two or three days.
"We haven't seen this kind of interest for the Angels in years," said Nicalek, who has just opened a second store, OC Sports Cards, in Anaheim Hills, and had a grand-opening autograph session featuring Bourjos, Walden and pitching prospect Garrett Richards.
"People know it's a good time to get back into collecting."
With the 2011 baseball season over for all but the World Series-bound Texas Rangers and St. Louis Cardinals, prices for memorabilia, including cards, have dipped slightly to meet the decreased demand, making it a more affordable time to get started.
"Collecting became too hard because there was so much out there," said Angels fan Lori Parker of Huntington Beach. "But it's a little more manageable now, so I started giving my son (Noah, 12) packs of baseball cards as treats."
The Parkers are up to 1,000 cards, including many Angels. They, too, seek to get the young Angels to autograph the cards before games.
They've got a Trout, a Trumbo and a Bourjos. They've got 2011 All-Stars Weaver and second baseman Howie Kendrick. They've got the newest Ervin Santana, knowing that the Dominican right-hander hurled a no-hitter this season.
They'll likely join the collectors who will turn out in the coming week when Topps releases its 2011 Bowman Chrome series, which will feature rookie Trout in his Angels uniform.
The card won't just be a piece of Angels' history but their future.
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