It's not every day that a player collector is able to land their White Whale - the card that would be the centerpiece of their collection. Whether that reason is the card is just financially out of the realm of reality or because the card is so incredibly scarce that it never surfaces. The latter is the category I found myself in for more than two decades. The 1997 Bowman's Best Atomic Refractor autograph Scott Rolen card #194 was my White Whale.
I routinely searched for this card every place that I could find that sold cards. From local card shops, card shows, auction sites, even Google. In all the years I've been collecting Scott Rolen cards, I had never even seen a copy of this card. I networked with other Scott Rolen collectors all across the country and none of them had ever seen it either. I was beginning to wonder if it even existed. I knew the odds were long to begin with; inserted at 1:6,107 packs with 10 Atomic refractor autographs in the set.
After all those years searching for this card, the search finally ended on Thursday, May 6th. Six minutes after the card was listed, fellow Rolen collector, Michael Moler, contacted me on Facebook and said, "It exists!!!!!" He sent me a link to the auction and I immediately went to look at the card. I was in complete awe! The picture the seller used wasn't the best picture in the world, but I could tell that the card was in amazing condition, especially for being 24 years old. Most of the atomic refractors from this set are in less than ideal condition these days with most of them appearing faded with varying degrees of greening or "hulking". This card though, it looked pack fresh!
I put my placeholder bid in on the card and tried to be patient. I looked at the auction every day for the next week, sometimes multiple times a day. I watched the bids increase little by little, hoping that it wouldn't get too high right out of the gate. On Thursday, May 13th, with an hour left in the auction I made sure I wasn't doing anything else but watching the card I had wanted for so long. Watching the bids increase with each passing minute, I could feel this card physically affecting me. My heart rate grew faster and faster as the auction wound down to the final minutes. My plan was to place my best bid in the final seconds so that the few bidders who were steadily increasing the bids couldn't bid me all the way up to my maximum bid before it ended. With only 15 seconds left in the auction, I placed my final bid and watched my screen. That was the longest 15 seconds in the history of recorded time.
I had to check the auction a few times after it ended. I got the notification that I won, but I had to refresh the page a few times to make sure it was real. The hunt had finally ended. My White Whale had been speared. One of the rarest non-1/1 Rolen cards was mine! All I had to do now was pay for the card and wait once again. I've waited this long for this card, what is another week, right?
I consider myself a fairly patient person. I mean, I've waited this long for the card to even surface, but now the card is not only in the hands of the consignor but also the United States Postal Service. The USPS has a history of not being very delicate with cards. Having experienced that savagery first hand, I sent the seller a message on eBay and requested that they take extra precautions when mailing my card out. Crickets. I never received a message back from the seller and the status of my auction remained "Paid but not shipped."
I checked eBay far more than I care to admit during the next few days. Each time I checked my purchases, I was met with the same message, "Paid but not shipped." The card didn't ship that Friday, not Saturday, and of course not on Sunday. But some hope emerged on Sunday - I was provided with a tracking number! The joy of getting the tracking number was short lived though. Each time I checked the status, all I was seeing was that the label was created. After seeing no progress for a couple of days, I decided that I would stop torturing myself and just leave it in the hands of the seller and the USPS.
Thursday, May 20th. My mail carrier has never been consistent. I checked the tracking for the card again today and it finally said, "Out for delivery." The excitement that brewed within me was better than the excitement experienced as a kid on Christmas Eve. I checked the mail a few times before noon and each time I checked it, the mail box was empty. I decided to run some errands to pass the time. While I was out and about, my package was delivered! As I was returning home I saw the mail carrier walking a few houses down from my house. I knew that my package would be waiting for me! My wife, knowing what this card means to me, and knowing that I've been waiting for it for a week at this point, sent me a text message with a picture of the package at the same time as I was pulling into the driveway.
I ran into the house and I saw it sitting there for me. I didn't take pictures because I was so excited to open it up, but the packaging was far better than any package I received from this particular seller. There it was, a box with the seller's return address on it. I quickly opened the box and found a bubble mailer inside. I opened that bubble mailer and there was another, smaller, bubble mailer inside. I knew I was getting close to laying my eyes on the rarest of rare Scott Rolen cards! I opened that mailer and there it was in all its glory! THE Scott Rolen 1997 Bowman's Best Atomic Refractor autograph!
I could not wait to share this amazing mail day with some fellow collectors, so I took a picture of the card in some natural light before I had a chance to scan it for this site. After snapping the picture, I uploaded it to the Facebook group: 1990's to 2004 Baseball Card Rare Insert Collector's Group. (If you're not in that group, go request to be added. There is a wealth of collective knowledge there and other collectors routinely share cards from their amazing collections.) After posting the picture in the group page, I also asked that if anyone knew the provenance of this card to please reach out to me. I wanted to know if it came from a larger Rolen collection or if it was just a random card in someone's collection that they were looking to cash in on. I was also curious to know if the card was recently pulled from a pack because the coloring is so vibrant and sharp and the autograph is bold like it had never seen the light of day.
It didn't take long before someone reached out to me and said they knew the story of this card. Another collector, Brian, said he knew where the card came from. I sent Brian a message asking him for the details. He explained to me that the card had not been pulled recently. He said a friend of his purchased a collection in Brooklyn and this card was in that collection. Brian said the collection was parted out; some of it going to the eBay consignor I purchased this card from, some going to a local card shop, and some of it was sent off to be graded.
I guess there is one good thing that has come from this Covid pandemic - baseball cards. I have been able to check more cards off of my "most wanted" list in the past year than I have in the past decade. I think the pandemic has something to do with that. Whether it is people being out of work and going through their old collections looking for cards to sell, or people just renewing their interest in the hobby since just about everything else has been closed. Whatever the case may be, I have noticed a surge of Scott Rolen cards being made available that I have never seen before.
Now that my White Whale has been landed, there are other cards to chase!