Sunday, January 6, 2019

Blog Bat-Around: The Reminiscence Bump

A couple of months ago, Night Owl started a blog bat-around on a phenomenon called the reminiscence bump. To summarize it once more, research shows that many people age 40 and over have a spike in memories of events that occurred during their adolescence and early adulthood. The psychological concept is interesting and understandable. We're generally impressionable for many of those years, which can certainly lead to the spike. 

I enjoyed reading Night Owl's entry, as well as other bloggers who've since tagged on with their own. It's a great way to record some fond memories of our card-collecting youth, isn't it? And as the new guy, I think it's a good subject for an introduction. So here's my at-bat:

1983: The first packs I ever remember opening were from the 1983 Topps Baseball Stickers set. I've still got the album, and man, those foil stickers. How cool for a little kindergartener who was already wide-eyed over the sport.

If you finished collecting for the year and still needed some stickers to complete the set, you could send away for them (10 for a dollar, plus a self-addressed stamped envelope). Looking at the instructions on the inside-back cover now, the P.O. Box that Topps provided was located in the next town over from where I grew up. I'm pretty sure we sent away for a few stickers. We could have almost walked the letter over to the post office.

1984: in 1984, weekends with dad often involved a small stack of Topps Baseball wax packs, and one particular weekend at South Street Seaport was no different. I had a few packs in hand while dad, stepmom, sister, and I walked around and took in some of the history. Eventually we sat down to watch a black-and-white film documenting the rigors of sailing life in the early 1900s. Despite the rolling, tumultuous waves and sea spray out there in the middle of the ocean, deckhands were still climbing the netting all the way up to the crow's nest. And that was just part of the job, the film said. I was so taken aback by their courage (or lunacy) that when the film ended I left my wax packs sitting there on the bench. However, a few moments after we walked away, an older man approached and handed something to my dad. How thankful I was when I saw that stack of green wrappers. Crisis averted.

1986: Mom had a light blue Plymouth Volare. Every so often she’d drive me to the local baseball card shop. As we cruised down one particular avenue on the way, we’d always look for a happy guy holding a wine bottle in a brown paper bag, watching the traffic light from the sidewalk and directing traffic safely through the intersection. I knew what was really going on, but his enthusiasm was contagious anyway.

Coming home from the card shop one summer weekday (mom was a schoolteacher), we spotted one of my friends on his bike. He saw us and stopped, and mom pulled aside too. My friend saw that I had a binder and some new cards with me, and asked what I got through the open car window. And why wouldn’t he? Seems like every kid in my small New York town was on a Little League team and loved baseball. The Mets were on their way toward winning the World Series, and the Yankees had their share of stars, too. Mattingly, Winfield, Rickey, and "Pags" here.

1987: The baseball card boom was hitting its stride, and cards of all kinds could be found almost anywherestationery stores, Toys R Us, Woolworth, Kay-Bee Hobby, supermarkets, cereal boxes, snack food packages, and more. It was also a time when small local drug stores were plentiful, and our town had one of its own. 

Medicines and prescriptions were only part of the local drug store. You could also find an abundance of non-perishable items you might need to pick up if you didn’t want to go to the supermarket. And quite a few of those items were geared toward kids: toys, Wiffle Ball bats and balls, towering shelves of candy and chewing gum, and school supplies. I’d browse around those aisles, and would always briefly stop at the hangers of Topps Baseball rack packsbriefly because the pharmacist had a unique talent. He could take a matchbook in his hand, and somehow, by flicking his fingers a certain way, he'd get that matchbook to spin like a Frisbee through the air at an impressive speed. If you spent too much time looking through the candy or toys, WHACK! A matchbook would suddenly deflect off the shelf a few inches away from your head, just like in the old Westerns when a bullet would deflect off the boulder that the bad guy was hiding behind. From his perch behind the counter, I swear the pharmacist could even curve the matchbooks around corners. He could also bark like a few different dogs. I really do miss that place.

1988: Baseball was very important to ten-year-old me in the summer of 1988. In the phone book I found an indoor batting range not far away, and once or twice mom obliged and drove me there for some practice. You’d rent a cage for a half hour, feed the hopper with baseballs, start the machine, and take your cuts. When the machine ran out of baseballs you’d turn it off, shoot all the balls back toward the hopper with a street-hockey stick (more on hockey next), and fill up the hopper again. Mom would wait patiently, and after the 30-minute session ended she would extend that patience a little more as we walked up a ramshackle wooden staircase and into a baseball card shop. Yes. Amazingly, at a batting range, tucked into what didn’t even look like a finished second floor, there was a baseball card shop. And I remember buying packs of Topps Big Baseball cards there.

1989: This was the year I met a new friend at school. He had many older siblings, and they all played ice hockey and roller hockey. We'd play Blades of Steel on the NES in his basement, surrounded by hockey sticks and bags and bags of equipment. He began teaching me about the sport, and I started to love it for its combination of teamwork, toughness, speed, skill, finesse, physics, and geometry. That season I’d ask my mom for a pair of roller skates and a hockey stick. I was still playing baseball and opening packs of baseball cards, but I’d also open packs of hockey cards for the first time. I remember finding a Luc Robitaille card inside one of my first packs of 1988-89 Topps. I knew he was a good player, but I also remember pronouncing his last name Robe-a-TELLY. If I kept up my interest in hockey, I’d have to learn how to pronounce a lot of French-Canadian names.

1991: Russian hockey players had already started to come over to the NHL, but with the fall of the Soviet Union the next wave of Russian players would be much larger. The 1991-92 O-Pee-Chee hockey set capitalized on this movement by including special cards that featured a few Soviet teams: Central Red Army, Dynamo Moscow, and Khimik. They had come to the States the previous season to play a series of friendly games against NHL teams. I’d gone to one of those games at Nassau Coliseum, between the New York Islanders and Khimik (pictured on this card). They played to a 2-2 tie, but had a friendly breakaway competition afterward. Pat LaFontaine scored a beauty forehand-backhand-forehand goal.

Looking at their roster now, Khimik had some good players who'd eventually make their way to the NHL and have successful careers: Slava Kozlov, Valeri Zelepukin, Sergei Berezin, and Igor Ulanov.

Red Army was the strongest team, however (Kamensky, Konstantinov, Kovalenko, Kravchuk, Mironov, Nemchinov, Zubov), and they went 6-1 against NHL teams, defeating the Red Wings, Rangers, Blackhawks, Flames, Jets, and Canucks. Their only loss was to the Oilers.

Khimik went 3-3-1, and Dynamo Moscow went 3-2-2.

1992: At a big card show 30 minutes away, dad and I split up to cover more ground. Later, at our designated meeting spot, I saw him walking toward me with big grin on his face. He reached into a bag and pulled out a box of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles trading cards. The cost of the entire box? Less than 10 dollars. That's what prompted the grin. 48 packs of Turtle Power. I think my brother still has at least one complete set we made from those packs.

1992: At a card show in a VFW hall I came across a dealer who had wax boxes displayed from previous years, and was selling individual packs from each box. One of the boxes contained packs of 1978-79 O-Pee-Chee hockey cards (Mike Bossy’s rookie card was the big draw). At $3.00 a pack, dad said I could have four. 

“Pick your poison”, the dealer said, and held out the box. I chose four packs and didn’t get much else at the show. When we got home, I opened a pack. Dave Taylor rookie card. Not bad. Second pack? Not much. Third pack? Not much.  

I'd thought about saving that last pack, and maybe just never opening it. But after some mental pacing back and forth, and despite feeling some regret, I peeled open the wrapper. The result?

A Mike Bossy rookie card.

1993: My hockey-playing friend and I were now in high school, on the same team, and we'd often attend a monthly card show at the local Holiday Inn. Sometimes we’d pool our resources so we could buy a box of inexpensive hockey cards. Then we'd walk back to my house, open the packs, and play NHLPA '93 on Sega Genesis.

1998: It had been a few years since I bought any cards or did any collecting at all. I was in college, and had developed such an affinity for hockey that I was now playing for my college team. I was also working at a sports memorabilia store that sold packs of cards. Eventually I’d start closing the store with a co-worker who was a big football fan. On the weeknights when it was just the two of us on the clock, we’d pull down the gates at closing time but keep the registers turned on and buy a few packs as the final transaction of the night. He’d buy football, and I’d buy hockey or baseball. He was a fan of Mike Alstott, running back for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. We’d open the packs right there at the register, and if he pulled an Alstott card he’d hold it up and sing out, Mike Al-STOTT! Mike Al-STOTT! Opening packs again was fun, but all the inserts, parallels, die-cuts, and short prints that had invaded the market (I’m looking at you, 1997-98 Black Diamond Hockey) were overwhelming, and kept me from becoming a collector in earnest.

2014: After about 15 years away from the hobby, I found my childhood collection in the attic at mom’s house. What a tremendous feeling of nostalgia. I’d spend the year gradually sorting through everything, and brought the real sentimental stuff home with me. I’d also start to discover the first of many well-written blogs on trading cards, such as The Topps Archives, Night Owl Cards, Shoebox Legends, and The Shlabotnik Report.

2016: I signed up at a trading card website, partially to reconnect to the hobby, and partially to try to trade some cards in an effort to complete a few sets from my childhood that I hadn’t quite completed back then. I'd quickly learn just how generous fellow collectors were.  

I'd also occasionally buy an old wax pack or two from reputable collectors or online stores, and pulled a few great cards including the 1983 Donruss Wade Boggs rookie and a second-year Wayne Gretzky card (1980-81 Topps).


2019: The blogging begins. I’d thought about it since 2016, but wasn’t sure if I’d have the necessary content to post on a regular basisat least not as much as some of you pros out there. Sometimes I'm still not sure about that. But if nothing else, blogging will be a way to document some great trading card memories, and Nine Pockets is that vehicle for me. 

I plan to post content every Sunday morning. Here's to the new blog. Thanks for reading.


  1. This is an excellent intro to you and your collecting history. I'm only a couple years younger than you so a lot of my fond memories are very similar - TMNT cards, 87 Topps, 88-89 Topps hockey. Blades of Steel was a blast.

    A pack-pulled Bossy RC is pretty sweet. Do you still have it? I was an Alstott fan (I collect all four major sports) and worked in a card shop, but didn't have a co-worker my age. I did open a few packs on company time though (still have my Vince Carter Black Diamond RC from one such work day)

    If this post is any indication you'll have plenty of great content to post about. I'm following along and looking forward to the next entry.

    My blog is The Collector if you want to follow back. Great to meet you!

  2. Wow, that was solid first full post! Stickers were a such a big to deal me in the late 80's, I remember sending in for missing stickers too. And of course, with Panini, you could trade duplicate stickers in for one's that you needed, I did that too. Love the story about your dad and the TMNT cards, both he and your mom sound like really great parents/people.

  3. For a brand new blog, this is probably the perfect intro. I wish I could recall my youth so well!

  4. I second what Jon said, awesome post! (Thanks for mentioning my blog as well!). I might be a few years younger than you, but we share a lot of the same backstory when it comes to collecting and playing hockey, what a fun read. Your description of your neighborhood drug store really took me back to the one we frequented when I was growing up. And of course, many hours of my life were spent playing Blades of Steel other hockey video games. I'm looking forward to next Sunday's post already, keep up the great work!

  5. Thanks very much for the warm welcome, guys (and nice blogs, all of you)! Glad to know the memories are resonating. New post to come tomorrow.