Saturday, February 1, 2020

Zen and the Art of Opening Wax Packs

A lot of things have surprised me about parenthood, but among the happiest surprises is that my daughters love baseball cards. Nothing tickles my nostalgia quite like baseball cards, in large part because I am in that late Gen X cohort that was the perfect age to experience the baseball card boom of the late 1980s.

A lot of people back then thought the market would just keep growing, and bought all kinds of cards to hoard. That practice, of course, made those cards worthless because of a lack of scarcity. All us Gen Xers heard our Boomer dads talk wistfully about how their moms threw out their Mickey Mantle and Willie Mays cards, and vowed the same would never happen to us. Oops.

So I never made a pile of money off of my cardboard fetishes, but I gained something better. Nowadays you can buy whole boxes of wax packs from the boom era of baseball cards for ten bucks. My daughters and I can now sit down and rip through the packs together, feeling that sense of anticipation and possibility that comes in each wax pack.

The cards also bring a kind of mindless labor that's good for clearing my thoughts. After we open the packs we sort the cards by putting them in piles by 100, 200s, 300s, etc, then break down each of those piles in tens. There is comfort in the repition and routine, and each time we find a double my daughters yell with delight, since they get to add one to their personal collection.

Right now we are working through a box of 1991 Score, which I did not collect in my youth. In 1991 I switched to blowing my summer job money on CDs and tapes instead of baseball cards and comic books. The design of the cards is a reminder that the early 90s had its own, particularly ugly aesthetic. The font is too sharp, like something out of corporate earnings report, and the colors heavy on teal and purple tones. Breaking out these wax packs and seeing those colors and the tragic mullets on some of the players is the kind of time warp I usually only get from watching those videos compiling old commercials on YouTube.

For my kids, the names and hair styles mean nothing. They just sort of looked quizically when I shouted happily over getting a Bo Jackson card and laughed over the likes of Juan Berengeur and Mickey Morandini. That made me wonder if I was in actuality just dragging my children reluctantly through my nostalgia, something I swore I would never do.

My fears left me two weeks ago, however, when I let them buy some packs from 2019. The first card in those packs? A Pete Alonso rookie card. They both screamed with delight when they saw it behind the freshly torn foil, and not just the daughter who is a Mets super fan. It was the ultimate baseball card pack experience, one of the small pleasures capable of sustaining us in these rotten times.

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