My card collecting journey: Mariners fandom from Ken Griffey, Jr. to Julio Rodriguez

Cleveland Guardians v Seattle Mariners
Cleveland Guardians v Seattle Mariners / Steph Chambers/GettyImages

My favorite baseball player (still to this day) was Ken Griffey, Jr. It was at some point around his rookie year in 1989 (when I was 10), that I started collecting cards and buying packs when I could. I remember one weekend my mom had gone on a trip with her friends and bought me some packs of cards while she was there – 1989 Upper Deck. 

The excitement was palpable as I opened each pack and sure enough, I found the card I sought – the Ken Griffey, Jr. Star Rookie card! I was so excited I could barely contain myself. I held onto that card for over 30 years until selling it a few years ago, but we will visit that later. Over the next six or seven years I kept collecting and getting rookie cards of my favorite players – Ken Griffey, Jr., Frank Thomas, Roger Clemens, Randy Johnson, and many others. 

From Ken Griffey Jr to Julio Rodriguez, collecting cards played a big role in my Mariners fandom

I went to card shops everywhere in my hometown and had my dad take me to card shows constantly, especially when there were big-name players there to sign autographs. We also went to numerous baseball games and regularly waited outside the gates after the game in hopes of catching a big-name player exiting and willing to sign autographs.

I had accumulated a pretty large and solid collection of cards with hopes that some of these players (many would go on to become Hall of Fame players) cards would be the next Mickey Mantle rookie card that was worth a fortune. Unfortunately, cards in this era are what is known as the “junk wax era” and the real value from them never materialized, not to mention this was before card grading was a thing.

Let’s be honest, what did we know about properly taking care of our potentially valuable cards at that age in that time? As I got older and more involved in high school and sports in high school, the collecting fell by the wayside until, at some point, I only had a handful of cards left I wanted to hang on to. To this day I still don’t remember what happened to all those cards I had accumulated.

Over the next two and a half decades I chose to follow players and teams in my favorite sports but not to buy sports cards. I had lost touch with baseball players and decided to start collecting and started a business selling sports cards and doing some research on prospects. The top prospects were a little pricey and I landed back with a prospect from my old favorite team named Julio Rodriguez.

I did lots of research and I gotta admit, something about him brought me back to being a kid again and watching Ken Griffey, Jr. I went all in on him and started my card business. Of course, we all know how well he performed last year and continues to be a bright, shining star for the club we follow. It was a great decision. Now, I will give you some ideas, and tips to invest in cards yourself.

The first thing I learned, part of which I already knew – was that rookie cards are king. Seems obvious right? What they do not tell you off the bat is that rookie cards of players not in their pro uniforms may be expensive when released but regardless of the success of the player, will be worthless in the long run and you will lose money. 

I would also avoid buying cards of your favorite players/players you are investing in, immediately after the cards are released as this is when the price is the highest. In some cases, it is the highest they may ever go as you need to familiarize yourself with which products are the best for holding value and appreciating. Another great tip that I have learned is that the best time to buy cards for any sport is during the offseason. During the season will be when those cards will have the best value, especially after a big game or a great stretch of games by the athlete.

Each sport also has a particular position or positions that will hold the highest resale and investment value (obviously depending on performance). For instance, in football that would be the quarterback. Regardless of how great a player is at any other position the drop-off in value is precipitous. Once you have done some research on players and positions, of course, it will be time to start looking at making some purchases, you can buy packs/boxes or just go for singles. 

From my experiences, as exciting as opening packs can be the reality is that purchasing packs or boxes that could have expensive cards can get very expensive. The simplest way to ensure you are getting a solid card of a player you are looking for is to buy singles. 

You can, of course, do this at a local card shop or on eBay or Mercari, which is where I have bought most of mine. There are ways to ensure you are getting a fair price when buying on eBay or Mercari and that would be to look at recent sales of the card or to check at though another alternative is to check a site like Card Hedge.

When you have good cards, the best thing to do for your highest return on investment is to get them graded. When I started my journey it was during the pandemic and the major companies – PSA and BGS, both had huge backlogs and the price per card was astronomical (PSA was $100 per card, and you may not get your card(s) back for a year or longer).

I, and many others, were forced to look for alternative grading sources. I used many companies to accomplish grading and slabbing my cards to save money as well as time in receiving the cards back such as Golden Grading, FCG, HGA, and C3 Grading. While I like the service level and costs associated with each of these companies, I quickly found that the appetite for cards graded by them as well as the return on investment was minimal if you were lucky. The real and best value for your return on investment is PSA plain and simply put.

Fortunately, over the last year, PSA has re-opened all grading tiers, caught up on their grading and it is easier to get cards graded affordably with reasonable return times, so I would not recommend using anyone but them for your card business or investments. I learned how to effectively clean cards from Kurt’s Card Care, for the best chance at the highest grades for my cards and purchased his kit. I clean all my cards before sending them in for grading to ensure each card receives the highest grade possible. 

Additional items that I use to help to see any flaws and clean the cards are as follows: Magnifying glass, Microfiber pads, cotton squares, and foam swabs. These are simple items to help you see the flaws and wipe them down effectively. I would still get the polish at the least from Kurt’s card care if not his whole kit and add these items to ensure you have enough of them. When shipping cards, either for grading or when sold, I also use these as they are a great product and to keep from cutting up random boxes to secure the cards, Hobby Armor shipping protectors.

Please also, do not forget, when sending cards in for grading anywhere or when selling higher priced cards – always add insurance, it may be costly, but it is worth it having the protection and peace of mind. The first card I sent in for grading was a very expensive autographed card numbered to 5. The card graded almost perfectly and was lost/destroyed in the return to me from BGS. I had not insured it and was out the money I spent on the card as well as the amount I could have made on a sale of it. A very hard lesson learned.

In addition, I have found some great sites you can subscribe to, add your cards and follow the prices of those cards as they (hopefully) increase. This can help you to decide when is best to sell a player’s cards or when you should hold onto them. They are Card Hedge (previously mentioned), and No Off-Season. It makes following the prices of your cards like watching stocks. Using these tools has certainly helped me make smarter decisions on my inventory on who to hold and who to sell as well as what players' cards to look at investing in.

If you would like to add sports memorabilia to either your personal collection or to re-sell, you can look to Fanatics. They have the best collection of officially licensed memorabilia, and they also sell cards and packs on their site as well. For those who don’t know, they also won the contract to create officially licensed cards for most major sports in a few years. What this means is that known brands like Topps and Panini will lose their licensing to create sports cards.

There are many tips in this article, and I know a lot are basic tips, but tips I wish I had received when I first started on this path that could have helped me and my wallet. I look forward to sharing more with you as well and always welcome questions and comments.