- Sunset at the military base in Kuwait
In many ways, BJ Bernier is your average collector. He collected as a kid in the junk-wax era of the late 80s / early 90s and came back to the hobby after cracking open his old binders. Now, he actively collects modern Baseball (mostly Topps) and is working on completing some base sets from 2013. He spends a lot of time on eBay looking for deals, trades with other collectors via mail and has a relationship with his local LCS.
One thing however is totally different: BJ cracks wax while serving in Kuwait. B.J. is a warrant officer in the U.S. Army and works 12 hour days, 6 days a week. He only gets a few hours to himself in the evening and besides sitting down to talk to his family, he spends that time opening some wax. “It’s just nice to sit down, take a deep breath, and do something familiar like opening a new pack. Something about it is just calming” says BJ. By only opening two packs a day, he can stretch out the enjoyment from each purchase. “I have to pace myself, partly because I don’t need to blow entire paychecks on cards and partly because of the logistics of getting more cards over here!” Talk about military discipline, I don’t think that many of us could keep unopened packs lying around.
As you may have guessed, there isn’t much in the way of entertainment on the base. MNF is usually on when BJ is eating breakfast on Tuesday morning. Watching the World Series means waking up at 4am Kuwait time. Since busting some packs can be done anytime, it provides a small escape.
On his 1 day off per week, BJ spends time on bigger projects like being a set expert on Zistle. “The 2013 Topps set is killing me. And 2014 is just around the corner!”. Needless to say, we are completely honored to count BJ among our many amazing contributors.
Here are some of BJ’s answers from our Q&A where he talks about life on the base, collecting and trading from Kuwait.
What is it like to collect while serving in Kuwait?
- Despite small living quarters, BJ finds room for the hobby. Topps Update Series is on the floor in the right, some binders on the bed and wait, is that Zistle on the screen?
Being deployed hasn’t killed my desire to collect, but it has definitely made it harder! Most of my collection is at home, but that’s fine since I keep all of my potential trades in a separate binder that I have brought with me. I have two other binders with me for sets I’m collecting right now. I abuse Amazon to get basic equipment like top loaders, sleeves, pages, binders, etc., and I have to wait an extra week or two for trades on Zistle and purchases on eBay and from my LCS, but other than that collecting here is almost normal.
It’s actually nice to have something consistent in my life and something I feel I have control over when almost everything else is out of my control. I keep a couple of boxes of whatever I’m collecting in my living area and I open a few packs every day. Collecting cards, pondering trades, scouring eBay, cleaning up sets on Zistle and debating on the Forum is therapeutic. It certainly helps to fill the downtime.
How about trading? How does that work?
As far as trades, this is the first time I brought my Trade binder with me overseas. I spent most of my last tour using my downtime to take online college courses; now that I have my degree, I can spend more time focusing on a hobby I enjoy instead of writing term papers. I didn’t know how well trading would work out from over here, but so far people have been great to work with. I let them know up front that shipping may take a little longer and there’s a small customs form that needs to be filled out when mailing, but no one has complained so far. In fact, most people have thanked me for my service and been awesome to work with. Overall it has been a really positive experience and a nice link between here and home. It means a lot to me that people don’t seem to mind having to make the trip to the post office. It has also been fun dealing with Olerud363
since he’s up in Canada and we’re sending cards back and forth through the Canadian, U.S., and military postal systems. It’s amazing they ever arrive!
Outside of an escape, is there any other type of benefit to collecting for you?
Oddly enough, collecting actually helps me at work in a way. I’m an Intelligence Warrant Officer (warrant officers fall between the enlisted ranks and traditional officers. We act as subject matter experts in our particular fields), and in my position, organization is HUGE. I find that many of the same concepts I use for tracking my card collection translate over into my job. I’m constantly putting together binders at work for projects, probably because using binders is just kind of second nature to me! And don’t get me started on Excel spreadsheets (yes, I’m aware that I’m a dork!). On top of all of this I am interested in sabermetrics, and many of the concepts from baseball analysis can translate to the Army.
How long have you been collecting?
I am probably the stereotype of a mid-30s baseball card collector. I collected when I was a kid back in the junk wax era; of course, we didn’t call it junk wax back then. I collected a ton of cards and kept every one of them in pristine condition. I had Griffey Jrs, Cansecos, McGwires. Eventually I put them all in boxes while I went to college, joined the Army, and started a family. I moved to the Baltimore area in 1996, and the cards came with me. The last time I checked a Beckett in 1991 my Cansecos alone were worth $100, so I just knew they had to be worth a small fortune 20 years later, right?!
Anyway, I came across the cards in my attic one day on accident. I pulled them out and within about 10 seconds I was transported back to 1989. I remembered hearing my Dad calling Kirk Gibson’s home run seconds before Gibson launched a shot over the wall off of Dennis Eckersley to end Game One of the World Series. I remembered going to County Stadium in Milwaukee on Opening Day and sitting on aluminum bleacher seats in the outfield for the cost of a $4 ticket. I remembered the heartbreak of rooting for the Cubs all season long, just to see them go out in the first round of the playoffs against the Giants. And I remembered sitting on my buddy’s back porch opening new packs of cards and trading our extras between the two of us to complete our sets.
Even if these cards were worth something to collectors nowadays, I probably wouldn’t part with many of them outside of the doubles. A trip to get a lawn chair out of the attic turned into a 2-hour stroll down memory lane simply by opening a binder and seeing those cards. After that experience I started buying cards again.
- One of Bernier’s favorite pics with daughter, Katie, and Orioles center fielder, Adam Jones.
I have two kids now, and I like the idea of getting to do something together with them that might create memories far into the future. Plus, it’s just fun for me to buy a pack and open it up in hopes of getting that auto, relic, or random card I need to add to a set. My collection is not huge, but it carries a pretty significant personal weight to me. And now that I’m stationed in Kuwait for the next year, collecting gives me an outlet to forget about being away from family and home. It’s pretty cool to get on Zistle and set up trades like I would if I were home. Plus, concentrating on adding cards to subsets and cleaning up checklists on Zistle takes my mind off of the daily grind here.
It’s like a form of therapy.
What do you collect right now?
I pretty much stay exclusively with baseball, but I’ve also thought about collecting MMA just to mix it up. Right at this moment I’m focusing on completing the 2013 Topps sets. I’m trying to get the complete main set for Series 1, 2, and Update, plus all of the non-relic or auto subsets. In addition, I’m trying to get the entire rainbow of parallels for the Baltimore Orioles All-Star players in Update (Machado (US216), Hardy (US125), Jones (US72), and Davis (US52 and 163)). I’ve made a decent dent, but the low-serial number cards like Pink and Sapphire are tricky; Platinums are nearly impossible to find!
Besides that I’m going to go after 2013 Topps Heritage and Topps Chrome. By that time the 2014 sets should be rolling out in force, so I’ll have to check out what looks cool next year and dive in.
If you could change one thing about the hobby, what would it be?
I might be alone in saying this, but I actually like the current state of collecting. IMO the junk wax bubble of the early 1990s probably took a lot of people who were never fans in any way, shape, or form out of collecting. That’s fine; if people just want investments, well that’s what the stock market is for. The current state of collecting has plenty of options for fans at all price and interest levels, and card companies are making their sets and subsets challenging to collect without being impossible. The only thing I’m slightly concerned about at the moment is the Topps-MLB monopoly, but only time will tell how that will work out. Hopefully Topps doesn’t get complacent…
Any tips for other collectors?
The only tip I can offer is to embrace technology, but don’t forget about your LCS. It is so much easier now than ever to organize cards, track down trades, and find rare cards, but part of the fun IMO is talking to other collectors. Even from Kuwait I still stay in contact with my LCS back in Baltimore, and I know if there’s a card I’m really looking for Mel Schafer at D&J Baseball Cards will keep an eye out for me. It’s always good to have someone with plenty of experience helping you out and steering you in the right direction!
How do you organize your cards?
My organization is pretty straightforward. I keep a binder per set, and inside of that I have the cards broken down numerically by subsets. I find that’s the easiest way to track what I still need to collect. I would really like to eventually have a sports memorabilia room/man cave in my house to show off the collection.
- Autographed Brett Favre Jersey given to BJ during his first tour in Iraq
What is your greatest collecting moment?
Baltimore sports teams have played a big part in my life: I met my wife in Ravens Stadium! She and her Dad have had season tickets together since before we met, and last season she got to watch Ray Lewis do his last dance at the Raven’s post-season home game win over the Colts. For our anniversary, I bought her a framed photo of the dance signed by Ray; big husband points, score!
If I had to choose a single moment directly related to just collecting I would say that the 2011 Military Appreciation Day at Ravens Training Camp has to be it. Military members were allowed special access to the players after practice and they went down the line shaking hands, taking photos, and signing memorabilia. My wife and I had six different jerseys we wanted to get signed, and we managed to get every one: Ray Lewis, Ray Rice, Todd Heap, Derrick Mason, Ed Reed and Haloti Ngata! It was pretty awesome to get to meet each of those players and also get their autographs for what will eventually be an epic Baltimore man cave!
If you haven’t had a chance to look at BJ’s wantlist on Zistle, be sure to check it out. It is the same cost to ship to military bases via USPS but it will take longer to complete the trade and you have to fill out a short customs form at the Post Office but it is definitely worth the effort.