By Rick Ritter

BALTIMORE (WJZ) — Whether you were a little boy or a little girl, you remember someone from your childhood who collected sports cards. Yup, those same old cards maybe your mom threw away or are still stuffed away in your attic. Well, what you thought was long gone is back, an interest that has resurfaced 20 to 30 years later. Cards that are worth hundreds, tens of thousands and some — even millions of dollars.

As a kid, it was a feeling like no other, on the hunt searching for your favorite ballplayer and never really knowing what could turn up inside a little pack of cards.

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For Eric Arditti, he’s reliving his childhood all over again.

“It’s like a treasure chest, that’s what’s going to keep people coming back,” said Eric Arditti, popular Barstool Sports and Orioles Blogger from Glen Burnie, Maryland.

We’re talking about the nationwide surge in sports trading cards.

“There’s a ton of people so invested in the cards, opening them, trading them, selling them. It exploded again with quarantine and it’s been amazing to watch and be a part of,” said Arditti.

Maybe you’re reading this and you don’t believe us. We’ll give you a quick rundown.

Your local Target and Walmart have most likely been packed at times, including before hours with long lines outside, with fanatics desperate to get their hands on boxes of cards that are being restocked. At some stores, there have been fights, as many race to the shelves to grab what they can. Boxes, packs, all gone within seconds. It plays out like something from a Black Friday movie.

“People go in with a shopping cart, take everything put it in, and now they’re literally selling people in the parking lot at double, triple the amount,” said Arditti.

“So this is just a glimpse of how high the demand is right now…?” Rick Ritter asked.

“Absolutely,” Arditti responded.

Premier auction houses like Goldin, based in South Jersey, are fetching record prices for some of these cards.

“The amount of record-breaking prices on cards are insane. We saw a Patrick Mahomes card sell for $4.3 million,”  said Arditti.

In just the past month, Goldin had an Alex Ovechkin signed rookie card that sold for over $100,000.

A Kobe Bryant card with a piece of his jersey sold for over $900,000 in an auction.

A 1952 Mickey Mantle rookie card, considered the “holy grail” of baseball cards, sold for over $2 million.

A LeBron James signed rookie card with his jersey patch sold for nearly $2.5 million.

“Some of the values of these cards, the names on them, the autographs, the prices are insane,” said Arditti.

From old stars to new stars, the more rare the card in terms of how many were made in production, the more valuable.

Robbie Davis Jr. at Robbie’s First Base in Timonium knows all about it.

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“I saw it happening and definitely saw it happening online, but I didn’t see it happening locally,” said Davis.

It’s certainly been “happening” at his family business, a Baltimore County staple for 30-plus years.

“We literally started collecting out of a tin box, literally a tin box we started in a corner and we literally evolved into what we are now,” said Davis.

With the interest in sports cards as high as it’s been since the early ’90s, has Davis ever seen a boom like we’re seeing now?

“No, it’s never been this big because of the internet. That’s the reason why it’s never been this big. The only difference between now and then is they have YouTube, Instagram, Facebook and all these social media outlets that have been blowing the cards up & making people want to chase them down,” he said.

Not just the internet but the pandemic has played a role, as well.

“COVID was the biggest thing because everyone was captive and people were at home. Fathers and sons were looking for something to do and tons of people were watching videos of guys ripping open packs of cards. They saw them spending $5 on a pack to get a card that’s worth $500. People want to do that. They want to gamble,” said Davis.

That mixed in with a new generation of stars and it’s the perfect recipe.

“Right now, you got some guys who are generational guys. We had our Ken Griffey Jr., Frank Thomas, guys like that. Now, they have those guys like that, now they have Shohei Ohtani, Zion Williamson. These aren’t just good players right now, these are guys your kids will be talking about forever,” said Davis.

Of course everyone wants to hit the lottery, but this is almost a better chance than hitting the lottery.

“It’s very similar. The hunt is the best part I think because you never know what that next card is going to be and what you’ll flip to next,” said Arditti.

So, if you haven’t already, perhaps it’s time to get into those attics or pick the hobby back up.

You could be sitting on a card worth tens of thousands and might not even know it.

“Absolutely. Absolutely,” said Davis. “People are sitting on things all the time that are worth money and they have no idea. That’s where places like us come in and handle it for them.”

Both of these guys feel what we’re seeing now with the craze and madness of the hobby is only a glimpse of what’s to come.

“I say it’s only going to go up from here, the biggest reason is going to be the internet,” said Davis.

“It’s just been a ton of fun to get back into it. If you told me five years ago you’ll be opening a box of cards again, I’d say there’s no chance,” said Arditti.

One crucial part of collecting cards and fetching these record prices: the condition of the card. There are companies who grade the condition of each card for a cost, and due to high demand, some are backed up for months.

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The better condition your card is in, the more valuable it is. If the condition is poor, the edges are bent and the centering is off, it won’t get a good grade and will be more difficult to fetch those record prices, if it’s a sought-after card.

Rick Ritter