With the approach of spring, the thoughts of many young baseball enthusiasts turn to card-collecting. This annual rite, however, has been soured for some by the proliferation of serious adult collectors and a hobby-as-business climate.
Where do you turn for good old-fashioned collecting fun? With a little ingenuity, one can obtain some very interesting collectibles for very little money. An annual budget of as little as $30 is not unrealistic for the resourceful.
One book that can help came out just last year. Your library may carry "Collecting Baseball Memorabilia," by Thomas S. Owens (The Millbrook Press). Mr. Owens outlines a number of alternatives to card collecting, including team schedules, postcards, and various "food finds" (cereal boxes and other items that use player photos and team designs).
Ticket stubs have long been popular collectibles (that's part of my personal collection at the top of the page). The catch, of course, is that tickets, even to bleacher seats, are expensive. That's why collecting schedules is such an attractive no-cost alternative.
Schedules are giveaway items that are widely distributed. You can also write teams and ask for them. As Owens points out, most such schedules become tattered and are thrown away. But keep your schedule in good condition, and it may become "more rare than any baseball card made that year."
Ticket-ordering brochures are another giveaway loaded with information. Take this year's Boston Red Sox ticket guide: It was an advertising insert in the Boston Sunday Globe. Many things make it potentially special to bargain-basement collectors. For one, it is the Sox's first schedule with interleague games.
And when Fenway Park is gone (which seems more possible all the time), the stadium diagram, with its ticket prices and detailed ballpark policies, will offer fans a wonderful window on a bygone chapter.
Old-time ballpark postcards can do that today, only they have become quite expensive. Affordable alternative are modern postcards. These can be found in a city's hotels, airports, and gift shops, as well as its ballpark. By buying one at the park, fans can chronicle a trip to a game with a short description of the event sent to themselves.
'The 1997 Official Major League Baseball Fact Book' (The Sporting News, $19.95) has team addresses and information.