Update: There has been a price change since this story was published.
By CHRIS OLDS | Beckett Baseball
The JUCO World Series began on Saturday with 10 NJCAA divisional championship-winning teams squaring off in a bracket-style tournament high in the Rocky Mountains.
But one player, perhaps more than most, is known among those playing in Grand Junction, Colo., (population 53,662) this week. You might have heard of this member of the Region XVIII champion College of Southern Nevada Coyotes as he’s expected to be the No. 1 pick in the Major League Baseball draft on Monday.
He’s 17-year-old Sports Illustrated and Beckett Baseball coverboy Bryce Harper. (How impressive has his play been this season? Click here…)
And it’s only in Grand Junction — well, there’s one other place, but we’ll get to that — where fans can find Harper’s latest baseball card, one that will cost collectors a whopping $5 to obtain him and the rest of his teammates.
Each of the Juco World Series teams appear on cards made for the event and sold at the event. The players arrived in town late last week and were photographed for their cards, which were built, printed, packaged and ready to sell when play began on Saturday. That’s the kind of turnaround that would make even the big boys at Topps blush.
The cards will be sold until the tournament ends this Saturday. Harper’s team has advanced to the third round and will face Iowa Western Community College tonight at 7:30.
This is the third year for the World Series cards program, which offers one of the earliest cardboard looks — and perhaps only looks — for the players on the field. However, don’t think that these are players who won’t move on to the NCAA ranks or get drafted. In fact, a bonus set for those who buy all 10 teams’ sets includes cards of last year’s World Series cards who were MLB draft picks. (Full disclosure: This writer picked up the full run of teams in the inaugural 2008 release … I haven’t checked the players’ whereabouts these days but I should. That’s some serious prospecting.)
Of course, none of the players in the past sets are as high-profile as Harper, whose cards alone are pushing as much as $31 on eBay. Other auctions have the card available for $25 and $50 — but keep reading.
While these cards are perhaps more akin to minor league card sets, they are fully authorized by the NJCAA event, which doesn’t have as intense guidelines as the NCAA. Card sets for NCAA teams must be tied to team giveaway nights or other promotions but can’t be sold.
Can’t make it to Colorado this week? There’s another option for collectors. You can buy team sets for $5 apiece, plus shipping, at www.jucocards.com. Those who order all 10 sets will receive a free 2009 draft picks set, but each school is available as supplies last. That means if all you want is five sets of the CSN Coyotes, then you can get just that.
The sets will be produced while the teams are in play. Once a team is eliminated, then the sets are no longer made (as demand presumably dies down and teams’ fans go home). Once the event is completed, the remaining sets will be sold and that’s that. (The sets sold at the ballpark and online are identical.)
With all the talk about Bryce Harper and all the money spent on his USA Baseball cards in the last year or so, this one might not be chalked up as the most expensive of the bunch. But it’s definitely one of the more obscure fully legitimate cards that he appears on so far (unlike all of the unauthorized custom cards featuring Harper that have sold quite well).
But if the Coyotes win it all — and Harper is as key as he’s been (he went 6-for-6 with four home runs in the division-clinching game) — then this card will be one that will have even more added interest among baseball fans.
And that’s just in Grand Junction, Colo.
Chris Olds is the editor of Beckett Baseball. Have a comment, question or idea? Send an e-mail to him at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter by clicking here.