RECESS: How I Got On A Baseball Card Edition

Baseball Me

I didn’t forget the Shirt and Tie…they forgot it was a baseball card!

Look.  Last night was a rough game.  I had every intention of actually writing a post about how, in a vacuum, that was a hell of a game to watch.  Great pitching, tough jams.  Hitting here and there.  It was the perfect “scrape one out” kind of game, and if you ignored all the games that came before it, how deep of a hole the Nats were in and all the expectations put on the Nationals…well you might have noticed it was a good game.

Of course you can’t ignore the team’s record, or the Braves record.  It is what it is.  So Strasburg’s great start boils down to another “lack of run support” game.  Scott Hairston’s 2 for 2 with a walk and two doubles is defined by his last pop up.  Instead of a gutsy call to try and get a run in using Werth in a pinch hit spot, the focus shifts to why pull Strasburg at all (he was well over 100 pitches) and just let him Sac Bunt?

It was going to be a post about how desire is the root of all suffering, even in baseball, and the abandonment of that desire…well whatever.  The Dharma of Dan Haren indeed.

Instead, I woke up to the above picture in my tweet feed and so I’m in an insanely good mood. I figured rather than write a post I am no longer in the mood to write, I would just share the story of how I came to be on a baseball card.  Completely self-serving and bragadocious…but whatever, just roll with it.

When I was a kid I used to collect football cards, hardcore.  Pro Set (for those initiated) was very cheap, and very easy to collect.  Which is why they aren’t worth anything at all (like everything else from the early 90’s.

Then I grew out of it (and into things like comic books, girls…all very cliché).

Flash forward to adult me living in DC who now has access to things like Ebay and more disposable income than when I was 12.  Plus, much less supervision.  With the advent of a local baseball team that I decided I liked I thought “Hmmm…how hard would it be to collect just Washington Nationals cards?”  Pretty easy it turns out.  Team sets on eBay would go for just a few dollars  (saving me having to search packs and collect them), making it very easy to have a historical record of the team’s progression as I followed along. No deeper need for investment than that.

Well, until I saw the Allen & Ginter set and their all consuming hidden code contests.

Flash forward to 2010.  Scouring eBay for cards I come across the Allen & Ginter ones.  Originally produced in the 1880’s, Allen & Ginter made tobacco and put mini baseball cards in the packaging to entice buyers.  Topps had bought out the rights to the name and started printing new players cards in that old style.  Just like the 1880’s sets they weren’t limited to ball players but famous figures and themes as well.  You’re just as likely to get a card featuring brilliant inventors (like Tesla) as you are a Bryce Harper or a Jordan Schafer.


Captain Jack Glasscock (left) in 1887. Stephen Strasburg (right) in 2010

Intrigued by more than just what I found on eBay, I went to Target and bought a few cards and found the advertisement for what folks were calling “the Ginter Code” inside the packages I opened.  The Topps company had hidden a cipher, if you will, in their cards.  Certain key cards carried hidden clues and, if you were smart enough, you could slap it all together and win yourself a one of a kind autographed set of baseball cards (that no one else in the world would have) and -holy of holies- you’d get a genuine picture baseball card of you printed in next year’s set.

A Google search showed that I had already missed out on the 2010 code, but I was intrigued for the following year. 2011 rolled around and I bought some cards and found the advertisement for the next year puzzle therein, waiting for me to get going.

As you might have surmised from the above picture, I was successful and had help with the teammates you also see pictured.  I could bore you with details about how the code was solved, but I’ve already done that on this other blog where we keep track of our Ginter Code exploits.  The personal details was that it took 8 months (yes, I spent 8 months on this) to get it all done.  Susan put up with me sorting cards in piles every night, walking around with crib notes in my phone or on a piece of paper in my pocket.  Every napkin turned into a worksheet.

She came home once to 350 index cards taped together on the living room floor in an effort to arrange the card into a particular pattern. This is probably when I knew I ought to marry her, cuz she didn’t kick me out.

Anyway, the three of us eventually got together (via Twitter) and put the final pieces together (I was in the shower, by the way, when it happened) and we became mini celebrities for a time in the world of card collecting. Given how long it took us to get 2011 solved they didn’t have time to put us in 2012, so they said 2013.  It was also originally supposed to just be Guillaume (he sent in our official entry to Topps, so he was the only guy recognized as the winner) but thankfully he’s French and has a real 3 Musketeers attitude about the whole thing 🙂 All for one, one for all, etc.

Interesting side note…I’ve never met Ryan or Guillaume in person (and they’ve never met each other either).  Amazing thing, this Internet.

Guillaume and I also solved the 2012 code as well.  We plan on having another go at it in 2013 as well. I figure 3-time champs is a good goal to shoot for.  If you’re going to be an uber-geek-nerd about something, you might as well own it as fully as possible.


An example of some of our spoils. Autographed Bryce Harper Rookie card: The Only one to appear with the yellow border and the phrase “codebreaker” along the bottom.

Anyway, after just over two years since I started in on this stuff, it finally all came together.  The cards were released this week, and while I don’t have one in hand yet, the above photo surfaced on Ebay which means I better start practicing my autograph 😉

I apparently didn’t get the “shirt and tie” memo, but in full disclosure that picture was taken at BWI airport because we went from “when do we send in our photo?” to “Uh we need a photo now!” and I was in mid travel. I was expecting them to block out the Expos/Nationals gear, but I’m glad I didn’t (does that make me part of the team set now?) and as I’ve been told-I’m the only one there dressed for a baseball card like a fan.

Anyway, this doesn’t make up for a crappy ball game, or a what was likely the death knell for the Nats w/r/t the NL East.  It doesn’t make the team any more likely to get the Wild Card.  It doesn’t teach anything about baseball, and has very little to do with anything we do on this blog-but I didn’t really have anywhere else to put it, and frankly the people I talk baseball with are the wider community I’ve grown to appreciate.  Many of you are friends to me (either in person or online or in spirit) because of baseball.  It’s why, despite last night’s result, I had a good time at the game.  I have a good time at almost every game. Not just cuz I was hanging out with people I knew, but I was sharing something with all of you-a game on a beautiful night in DC.

And so I wanted to share this other bit of good news with you as well. See you at the park soon, and let’s go Nats!


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About nationals101

Frank and Susan bring you an introductory level podcast to baseball and the Washington Nationals. DC is new to baseball, and baseball is new to DC. Whether you're a life long resident who just never got into it, or a transplant that came from a football and hockey town, we want to answer the questions baseball novices were a little too afraid to ask, and help everyone appreciate the National Passtime just a little bit more.

1 thought on “RECESS: How I Got On A Baseball Card Edition

  1. Congrats! I’m so proud that a Nats fan won this contest. Its funny — I too tried to solve this in 2012, but wasn’t online when the last clue dropped (not that I really had a chance). I had read all about how you all solved this in 2011, but never imagined I was reading your blog too. I hope I get one of your cards!

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