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...yielded, among others, this PC gem:

[Image: Roenick5Top.jpg]

It's a rare occasion for me to hit up the LCS when I'm in the Bay Area, a 45 minute pilgrimage in each direction that often ends up feeling more like chore than treat. I suspect it has to do with the fact that as baseball goes, so goes the American local card shop. And baseball hasn't been going well.

These days, you'll be hard pressed to find a casual sports fan more interested in the ins and out of a marathon MLB season than the condensed intrigue of a NFL campaign. Television ratings tell you all you need to know about the relative popularity of these two sports: the World Series has been hemorrhaging viewership since the early 90s while the Super Bowl has picked up higher ratings every year for 4 years running. Last year's tilt between the Packers and Steelers was the most watched television broadcast of all time.

Yet baseball cards remain the bedrock of hobby shops stateside. That shouldn't be surprising. Baseball is by a comfortable margin the oldest big 4 sport in North America. Its history is woven into the fabric of Americana and its legends are national icons. Sports fans appreciate Michael Jordan's dominance and clutch play, but Ted Williams is a national treasure. 49er faithful love Joe Montana for his calm under championship pressure, but Babe Ruth is an American icon. No one really knows who Chris Chelios is, but Jackie Robinson is a luminary whose story is essential to understanding what it means to be American.

Add to all this that baseball is more obsessed with statistics than probably any other sport in the world, and you begin to see why at $2.8M, the "Wayne Gretzky" T206 Honus Wagner is worth 10x more than the most valuable football card or basketball card and 56x more than the most valuable hockey card.

To be sure, there are vibrant card outlets left in the US, including one near the World Trade Center site in Manhattan, but despite the outliers, baseball card collecting has long been in decline and it's no wonder that survivors of the mass LCS extinctions of previous decades are a haggard bunch desperately hanging on to an ever dwindling customer base, subsisting on the most recent trading card game fad to blow through.

So it wasn't altogether unexpected that my most recent visit to a card store near San Jose, California was appallingly disappointing. I'd been one of the semi-regulars there not out of abiding loyalty but rather out of wishful thinking that the only card shop within a 25 mile radius could one day become the community draw that I hoped it'd be, the type of LCS that, when I was visiting in Canada a few years ago, fueled my return to the hobby. I walked in to the Bay Area store that day looking forward to trading stories and showing off a few of my prized acquisitions and, after yet another encounter with a dismissive disinterested store owner, walked out resolving never to return.

Canada, on the other hand, appears to be from a different hobby universe. The NHL is as healthy as ever and it's no coincidence that those LCS' that depend on loyal hockey card collectors appear to be equally robust. Whenever I'm lucky enough to visit certain brick and mortars in the Great White North, I'm reminded of what a joyous place a good LCS can be.

My recent visit to an LCS in Alberta that I'd never been to before began as a simple meetup to exchange cards with Jordan, a guy with whom I'd completed an online trade. In addition to trading me the Roenick auto above and some traders, he also gave me a RC and oddball for my St. Louis PC:

[Image: th_StLouisDynagonIceRC.jpg][Image: th_StLouisProspalError.jpg][Image: th_StLouisProspalErrorBack.jpg]

The owner, Byron, provided a space for us to lay out our cards, opining when asked on the relative value of NPDTS cards, even allowing us to use his computer to look up prices in the Online Price Guide. In between customers and new trade talks, we chatted about cards, sports, and life.

There was no pressure to buy anything and the guy seemed to genuinely enjoy having people in the store just to hang out. Unheard of back home, the three of us ended up playing a few rounds of Pack Wars.

First two rounds were 11-12 Artifacts and though there was an open box already, the owner ripped the cellophane off a new box for us to work with. In Round 1, I pulled this but lost out to Byron:

[Image: MyTBLpatchmiss.jpg]

For Round 2, Jordan pulled this and managed to stave off both challengers and my prying eyes to keep it:

[Image: OwnersHitSeguin.jpg]

We tried some loose packs of 10-11 SPx on my suggestion for the next three rounds. With just base in the 3rd Round, Byron took Round 4:

[Image: FriendsHitGiguere.jpg]

And with the last round, I salvaged a win with this:

[Image: OrrSPxLegends.jpg]

Maybe I regret leaving Artifacts for SPx but I don't regret only my second session of Pack Wars. And having relinquished a Stamkos SPGU RC Gold parallel /100 in my first go at it over year ago, this butt kicking wasn't bad all in all.

With an earlier head to head between Jordan and Byron, the store owner won this:

[Image: FriendsMissReimer.jpg]

...so he really cleaned up. But I was left feeling like the real winner after having spent a few hours with a new friend in Jordan and a genuinely nice LCS owner who was down for anything and treated me the same way before and after he knew I was a paying customer.

There's probably a lot more to the stark differences between LCS' in these two countries than what I've accounted for, especially when my life experience encompasses fewer than 20 total card stores, but there's no question that shops in California can learn a lot from those in Alberta, lest fewer and fewer in the Golden State have recent visits to the LCS to reflect upon.
Great story Alan!!! That Roenick auto is super SWEET!!! I remember busting pack after pack of Ultra trying to pull one of those elusive autos. Never to see one pop out. Congrats!!!!
So, what's this 'pack wars' you speak of?
Such great insight and writing. It is very nice to know that you had a great time here in Canada, and landed some decent cards and acquaintances as well! I really enjoyed reading the post, and hope that your opinion of us Canucks never changes. Congrats on it all!

Randi
Enjoyed the read. Nice tundra dual patch and roenick ultra signature.
Hey, thanks for reading through all that guys, or at least pretending to. ; )

(12-23-2011, 06:35 PM)Optimus_Prime Wrote: [ -> ]So, what's this 'pack wars' you speak of?
After 1 person chooses the criterion for winning a round, we each open one pack and surrender the entire contents to whomever pulls the winning card. For example, I lost the dual patch when my friend said "lowest numbered base card wins" and the store owner pulled like an 8...I had to give the entire pack away to the winner as did my friend because our lowest base cards were in the 90s.

It's great, get a couple of friends or strangers together and do it soon!
Great read thanks for sharing, pack wars are great fun, glad you had an enjoyable trip here to Canada.
Oh man, Pack wars. So super sweet to do. Its nice to know card shops like that exist. Maybe someday i'll visit one Smile
Great story Alan. Nice pick up in the Roenick auto and pack wars seem like a lot of fun.
I never knew what a "pack war" was until now, sounds like a blast!
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