Sunday, July 6, 2014

Preview: 35th National Sports Collectors Convention, July 30-August 3, I-X Center, Cleveland, Ohio

The Granddaddy of Them All is hitting the big 3-5 this year, and it's happening in my hometown.

The National isn't the first card show ever, but it certainly is the biggest.  Every year in a different city, collectors come from all over the country-- sometimes even all over the continent, perhaps even the world-- for a five-day card show that takes up almost the entire floor of some of the world's largest expo centers.  The show has been restricted to three different cities over the last eight years after having stops in eleven cities in the first 25.  Add in the next six, and it will be four cities in 14 years. This year's will be the sixth to take up the International Exposition Center in Cleveland. Previously, the show was held there in 1997, 2001, 2004, 2007, and 2009.

The I-X Center: formerly a World War II bomber and
Korean War tank plant
(Photo Credit: Ohio Gun Collectors Association)
I'm sure many of you have been to card shows of various sizes. Anything from a few tables in a VFW Hall or an Elks Lodge, to a corner of the Grange Hall at the county fair, and on up to a hotel ballroom. Before the 1997 National, the largest show I had been to was at the annual show at the Clarion Hotel in Eastlake, OH.  The National trumps any show you have ever been to.

Even though I've been to three previous Nationals (1997, 2001, and 2004), the sheer size of it still knocks me off my feet when I first walk in.  Let's put it this way: the I-X Center has 1 million square feet of exhibition and conference space.  The Show takes up less than half of that, but it still is ungodly huge. It has 23 aisles, a 12,000 square foot Case Break Pavilion, corporate sections with giant booths for major sponsors (including Panini, Upper Deck, Leaf, PSA, Beckett, Blowout Cards, Dave & Adam's Card World, COMC, and plenty more), a 39,000 square foot autograph pavilion, a food court, and a VIP Lounge. The dealers take up the rest.

A tiny piece of the 2009 National
(Photo Credit: Sports Collectors Daily)
All the companies and sponsors have various freebies, whether it be in the VIP gift bags (double the stuff for Super VIP's) or via wrapper redemption programs or box breaks. Topps has already announced theirs, with Panini, Upper Deck, Leaf, and Press Pass certain to follow soon.

Past shows have had various sports artifacts on display, including the famous PSA 8 Honus Wagner, balls from the 1998 Sosa vs. McGwire Home Run Chase, some Barry Bonds home run balls from 2001, one of Shoeless Joe Jackson's bats, and more.  Plenty of well-known dealers will be there as well: there's a full list here in PDF form.

And of course, there's the world's second tallest indoor Ferris Wheel, offering views of Cleveland Hopkins Airport and the city's skyline at the very top through a glass-enclosed cutout in the roof. It was the tallest until one in Turkmenistan passed it in 2012. It's definitely worth taking a few minutes out of your day to relax and enjoy a ride on it at some point during the show.

The Wheel
(Photo Credit: lareina1045 on Flickr)
Needless to say, the National is a must-visit for any serious collector at least once in their lifetime.  As a Cleveland native with vacation time built up at work, it's a good opportunity for me to get back to it again, visit friends, family, and my city, and add more to my collection.

Tristar runs all things autograph-related at the show.  Fortunately, with my SuperVIP pass, I will at least get all of their free VIP signers, so I should be able to add about 20 autographs to my collection.  The full rundown of freebies is as follows (with the item I plan to get signed in parentheses):

Carlos Baerga (11x14 photo), Dale Murphy (11x14 photo, maybe some cards for Chris as well if I can swing it), Kevin Mack (11x14 photo), Billy Sims (11x14 photo)

Andy Van Slyke (Topps ATFF card), Howard Johnson (Topps ATFF card), Rick Waits (not sure yet; hoping to trade it for an extra Van Slyke or HoJo), Joe Delamielleure (Topps ATFF card)

Sonny Siebert (8x10 photo), Jim Stillwagon (not sure yet; hoping to use as trade bait for Van Slyke or HoJo), Al "Bubba" Baker (8x10 photo; don't remember if I ordered 11x14 or 8x10), Joe Charbonneau (11x14 photo), Tom Browning (11x14 perfect game photo)

Milt Plum (8x10 photo), Hanford Dixon (11x14 photo with Frank Minnifield; hopefully I can get Minnie on it sometime in the future), Al Oliver (11x14 photo)

Jeff Burroughs (11x14 photo with Tom Grieve; major thanks to TGC reader Big Anthony for hooking me up with it; I'm sure I can get Grieve on it at the tunnel later in August), Gary Bell (8x10 photo), Mike Hargrove (11x14 photo), Len Barker (11x14 perfect game photo)

In addition, I might go for one of the Topps wrapper redemption deals-- open three packs, turn in the wrappers, and get a Allen & Ginter mini card of Jadaveon Clowney, Johnny Manziel, Jim Brown, Jordan Cameron, Derek Jeter, Mike Trout, Bob Feller or Albert Belle. Hopefully if I break a box of Heritage, I can get all of them, plus some stuff I can get signed in the final months of the season. At the very least, I want Manziel and Cameron.

I'll also be on the lookout for anything I can find to add to my sets.  I'll get at least three items signed for the Topps ATFF sets, maybe as many as five if I can swing a few trades.  I'm sure a few dealers will have some signed cards.  I'm also always on the lookout for any bargains (like getting a 1983 O-Pee-Chee Ryne Sandberg RC at the 2001 show for about 50 cents) and stuff of my wife's favorite players (Peter Forsberg, Matt Duchene, and Gabriel Landeskog).

Part of the fun of the show of course is networking.  SportsCardForum will have a booth there, and I've already alerted collectors at several other boards that I'll be coming in.  I even printed up business cards promoting TGC with a list of sets I'm doing.  If you're reading this and will be there, let me know; I'd love to meet any other collectors, especially regular readers here. And if you'd be willing to trade or sell your Van Slyke and/or Hojo tickets, DEFINITELY let me know ASAP.

Photoshop skills.
Outside the show, I already have a ton of other things I plan to do.  I need to make sure I have a dinner at Melt one night, and the B-Spot.  Maybe Hot Sauce Williams, or West Side Market. Malley's of course.  Granted, I may be so tired from walking all through the show that I just end up hitting Friendly's, Panera, and Burger King every night near the hotel.  I know one SCF member has talked about trying to get a group together one night, and who knows what my people from Panini may have in store.

I also plan to go to two Indians games as they take on the Reds the Monday and Tuesday after the show-- I will be graphing both games, both at the Indians; parking lot and inside for the Reds. I may also need to duck up to Eastlake to get a Lake County Captains team set at their team store.  Plus I'll be visiting my dad, and hopefully meeting up with a few friends from high school.

It's going to be a crazy week, but a good one. It's been two years since I was last in Cleveland, so it'll be good to get back. I haven't been to the I-X Center in ten years and I've heard they added some floor space and repainted since then (first ceiling repainting since 1984).  Plus, I plan to update here after every day of the show.

Hope to see you there, and if you can't make it to the North Coast, you can always follow along here.

For more information, visit for a full floorplan, list of dealers, sponsors, autograph signers, promotions, and photos from last year's show in Chicago.

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