Once I got into Cleveland from Chicago in about 5 hrs and change, Rob met me at the IX Center and we began setting up the booth. As we are setting up, it kind of hits me that we are not going to be spending a lot of time at the booth. The schedule for the week was jam-packed. Things kicked off right after the VIP party and we were amped up.
Show founder Mike Berkus kicked off the festivities with a short speech and handed the microphone over to Dave & Adams CEO Adam Martin and Upper Deck Sports Marketing Manager Chris Carlin. Both proceeded to give away a lot of Upper Deck products while announcing the companies 25th Anniversary celebration. I have seen Adam for the past 15 years at event after event, he NEVER remembers my name. It's like a running joke with me and Russ and he didn't know it this year either. Oh well, I guess I didn't make much of an impression.
I had to leave the VIP Party a little early so that I could get set to make our debut on the Amazon.com Sports Collectibles main stage. The event was kicking off with a break of Topps Allen & Ginter. Topps Marketing Manager Marc Stephens joined us to break the case. Ginter isn't an easy break, nor is it thrill-centric in the hit department, but the people in the crowd hung in there. At the end of the day, a sweet booklet bat knob/auto of Steve Carlton and a rip card were the highlights of the case. Several collectors went home with a variety of cards.
It was followed by one of the most amazing breaks I've ever seen of any product -- Super Break Box Breakers Edition with my new friend Scott Bateson of NastyBreaks.com. He was joined by Super Break's Scott Allen and we saw some absolutely NASTY items come out of the box, including an authenticated Beatles photo signed by John Lennon, George Harrison and Pete Best. The evening closed with a break of Panini's Elite Football that was specifically for kids. When we were on the stage, the place was hopping.
After the events on the stage were completed, I sat down and just soaked it in. I had caught up with some friends and here we were just doing our thing in front of a bunch of collectors. Everything was right in the world. In one room, under one roof Upper Deck, Leaf, Panini America, Topps, Heroes of Sport, Super Box, Beckett, Cardboard Connection Radio, PSA, JSA, etc, etc all co-existed. Did some people get snippy? Yep. Did things ever spiral out of control? Nope.
I really loved the set up of the floor plan this year. The Leaf booth was enormous. Possibly too big. But they had a display case full of future product and Leaf Originals Wrestling II is going to be unreal. Everyone from Sting to Goldberg, to Maria Kanellis is included. The art is much better, and wait until you see what the PURE autos of Hulk Hogan and Ric Flair look like.
The Upper Deck booth was also just amazing. They had a spot where you could get your own card made. You could play vintage video games in their faux man-cave, and you could celebrate their 25th anniversary with cake and balloons. It was a blast, but I think the UD crew never got a chance to relax the entire time they were there.
Panini had an amazing looking booth too. Filled with fun events and games and some live case-breaking, it was non-stop action. They were looking to make a statement at this show and let's just say that they went home -- mission accomplished. I am a big fan of their triple-threat marketing team and was pleased to meet the newest member of the franchise -- Sheri. I was thankful for the opportunities to have some great conversations with Jason Howarth, Tracy Hackler and Scott Prusha. Jason is a frickin' dynamo. He is one guy that continues to amaze me with his ability to raise the bar, an asset indeed. Tracy is always the consummate gentleman. After 15 years, he is the same guy I met in Washington DC all those years ago. Scott, well I can't say enough about him too, again after all this time, and a multitude of interviews, I think our best one took place this weekend at the National. In talking about the rich history between Panini and the NFLPA we got to chatting about his role at Panini. It goes back to the year 2000, when the company was still known as Donruss/Playoff. Tracy Hackler was instrumental in bringing him into the fold. That conversation got a little serious and some eyes may have been reddened and teary. You can decide for yourself here.
It was also great seeing another team supreme in action. Another guy I just can't say enough good things about is GTS Founder Lloyd Kee. What a crew he has amassed! Joe Fallon, Karvin Cheung, and now David Reel? Are you kidding me? All well schooled hobby guys that should create new ways for the the business to improve and thrive.
Another one of my favorite people in this business is Jim Grant at Peach State. I don't know him nearly as well as I do a lot of other people, but he makes a very solid impression. He's a guy that will shoot straight with you. It was great seeing him again.
I know some of you are thinking I am name dropping. I am, but it is only because I get to see some of these people once or twice a year, and I know they aren't nearly as excited to see me and I am to see them. It is a thrill for me when you can look out to a certain vanishing point in the IX Center, and you can walk in any direction and run into a friend.
I didn't even get started on my fellow collectors. Seeing listeners of the show and friends like Eric, the dual Chris', Kirk, Kenny and kids that I watched grow up into adults over the years is one of the true highlights for me. You can't touch that. I was also pleased to see my longtime friend Stephen Laroche in his Beckett jersey. He's a good guy, even though he left us out of his National recap! I am happy he found a slot after leaving ITG, It is simply a natural high to enjoy this week among peers and friends.
Before we left for the evening, I took a short walk around looking for some deals. I didn't have to walk far to find them. I picked up some ridiculous wax boxes including Fleer Star Stickers, Bill & Ted, the Rocketeer and more. My total spent and out the door was like $13. (The Benchwarmer box was a purchase from another day, more about that later).
Before I left I also found some WWE Heritage blasters for $5 and picked up 4. So now all I had to do was check in to the hotel, open some packs and have dinner. We ate at this Italian restaurant inside our hotel. It looked OK so we ordered and sat around catching up, seeing as some of us hadn't seen each other in well over a year. I ordered Veal Parmigiana and the other guys ordered some kind of mixed dish that included meat and pasta. Well after about 40 minutes they came out and said they were out of Veal. I then ordered a sausage dish, and about 30 minutes later our food came out. The others got their plates without pasta and mine was pretty good going down, however about 3am, it all came back up. I was sick as a dog, but you know what? As soon as I got it all out, I felt fine. I went back to sleep and luckily was fine for Thursday's events.
I'll recap that day for you soon.