Are you a card collector? If so, you should be in Chicago this weekend.
Starting on Wednesday of this week and running through the weekend, The National Sports Collectors Convention returned after a year off (thanks, COVID) in Rosemont outside Chicago.
The National, as its known (or #NSCC21 on Twitter), is the largest sports card and memorabilia show in the country. It’s ComicCon for sports fans, with incredible autograph opportunities (including New York Giants legend Lawrence Taylor on Thursday morning) and an entire convention center filled with cards and memorabilia for sale.
If you’re looking for tobacco cards from 100 years ago, they’re for sale. If you’re looking to drop $10,000 on your favorite player, that’s easy. if you need to get cards graded by one of the premier services like Beckett, they’re on-site offering same-day grading (it’s expensive).
I was there on Thursday morning to take it all in. As we stagger our way out of a pandemic, it was both exhilarating and felt a bit odd to be in a convention all filled with people.
Speaking of COVID, the rules for the convention are pretty standard: if you’re vaccinated, no mask required. If you aren’t, you should have one. But nobody was asking for proof of vaccination. (Note: I am vaccinated but chose to wear a mask anyway.)
I have attended and covered The National in four of the past five years that it’s happened. So, going into this one, I was intrigued to see if it looked for felt any different.
It did not.
The lines were still incredibly long. The product was still readily available. And people were throwing around cash and plastic like they didn’t have a mortgage to worry about.
I was especially interested to see what types of cards were being promoted by the different booths. Predictably, Shohei Ohtani was everywhere. His cards were getting top shelf treatment in almost every booth. And they were pricey.
Also getting a lot of love: a guy the Yankees hope backs up the price tag people are paying for cards years before he makes his major league debut.
Yes, that reads $1,500.
The Martian’s cards were everywhere and were priced higher than established stars like Vladimir Guerrero, Jr. There was a big push on prospects this year, with Bowman’s product getting a great deal of play.
One of the promotions that Topps and Panini both offer is called wrapper redemption. If you buy a box of certain packs of cards, you can take it (unopened) to the Topps or Panini booth. There, a brand representative will cut off the plastic wrap and hand you a pack of cards exclusive to The National.
Obviously only being able to get these cards at the convention makes them attractive. Some years they’re bold, some years they’re chrome. This year, Topps was offering relatively basic Bowman cards but with The National stamp on the front.
For the sake of writing this piece (because work comes first), I purchased a box of Topps cards and got in line for a Topps wrapper redemption pack.
After waiting for about 45 minutes, I got to the counter. They opened my box of packs and handed me a silver pack of four cards.
It didn’t disappoint. Here’s one of the four cards I pulled:
Yup, I’m happy.
There were giveaways everywhere and lots of inexpensive cards to sort through. I did note that most of the attendees on the first full day of the convention were not wearing masks, but they didn’t appear to have any fear of the variant. They were happily waiting their turn to spend money on collectibles of their favorite player — or invest for their kid’s college/their retirement.
Honestly, I’ve collected for more than 30 years and have a pretty robust collection so attending this every year can be a dangerous proposition. But I didn’t go crazy. Other than the box of packs (for business purposes), I only bought one card. For sentimental reasons.
It was on my collecting bucket list. I didn’t have one, but found one that was relatively affordable and couldn’t pass it up again.
If you’re in/around Chicago and feel safe to be in crowds, this is a fun experience. And if you’re looking for a specific card to top off your collection, there’s a really good chance you’ll find it at The National.