World-renowned baseball card collector searches Bay Area for rare gems

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If you want a blank stare from a convenience store operator, ask if they have any baseball cards.

"Baseball cards? Not anymore," they say.

In fact, employees at Baseball Card Clubhouse on S. Dale Mabry Hwy. believes they are the only baseball card store in Tampa, saying there may be two others in Clearwater.

"They are all gone," said owner Skip Weintraub. "The hobby has changed completely in the last 30 years."

But if you want a story to go along with your baseball cards, ask Michael Osacky.

He has 30,000 cards but prides himself less on the number and more on remembering how he got them.

"In 30 or 40 years, when I sell some of these things for my retirement, I will know exactly who I bought this from," Osacky said.

He's in the Bay Area to meet with other collectors and, hopefully, find a rare gem. He met with six people Wednesday who were wondering if they had treasures or trash.

"This gentleman vividly remembers, almost like it was this morning, Ted Williams signing this baseball for him," Osacky said.

But he says baseball card collecting has slowly died. There are too many brands and too few sports heroes, plus the internet puts stats and cards at everyone's fingertips.

"90 percent of our business is done online," said Weintraub. "We have a huge eBay store."

Why hunt through packs of cardboard when you can just dial up Google?

And if you actually do want a card, just call up an auction site.

Osacky says even valuable cards are worth half of what they used to be. But he makes a living buying from those whose sentimentality has worn off, and selling to those who still have it.

"Kids have never opened up a baseball pack in their entire lifetime," said Osacky. "When they finally do have some extra income in ten years, I don't think that they are going to be buying things like this."

In Largo, he met with a 90-year-old who had the big one: A Babe Ruth baseball worth about $5,000.

"He showed it to me, and my eyes kind of popped out," Osacky said.

But in the end, sentimentality, won.

"He said, 'No.' I asked him, 'Is there any price?' and he said, 'No, I think I just want to keep it.'"