One night not long ago, with my 3-year-old son finally asleep and my wife wisely heading to bed, I settled onto the couch, beer in hand, to catch some baseball. Well, not really baseball. I opened my laptop, navigated to breakers.tv, and prepared to watch a pair of rubber-gloved hands in East Wenatchee, Washington, open an entire case of baseball cards—more than 4,000 cards in all.
If that sounds like the only activity more tedious than sitting through four hours of pitching changes and batters calling time, I shared some of your skepticism. Though I was once a middle schooler with a pack-a-day habit, whose heart raced whenever I crossed the threshold of Gilbert’s Sports Nostalgia in suburban Boston, the last time I tended to my card collection, Bill Clinton was president and Barry Bonds was a speedster with some pop. I’d been under the impression that the card industry had all but died out around the time I went off to college, eclipsed in the adolescent imagination by Nintendo 64, Pokémon, AOL.
And yet, here I was, staring at the tightly framed hands of Billy Byington, the proprietor of Gargoyle Card Breaks. Byington, an affable father of seven, was about to open a case of 2019 Topps Series 2 live on streaming video. Like the other dozen or so participants in this “break,” I’d purchased a stake in the cards. For $18.75, I’d secured the rights to any cards depicting members of the Oakland Athletics. I don’t root for the A’s, and can name only a player or two from their current roster. But I’d read that this set had a few throwback cards dedicated to Oakland old-timers I do know a bit about—Dennis Eckersley, Reggie Jackson—and the A’s were priced more competitively than my hometown Red Sox were.