The sports card industry is thriving again.

“Everything is selling right now,” said Jeff Hoekstra, store manager of Teammates Sports Cards & Collectibles at 2900 Standiford Ave. in Modesto. “We’ve never seen anything like this. Business has never been better. Sales are at least triple from what they were a year ago. It’s hard to know exactly why that is.”

Teammates has experienced an increase in overall sales since March while other businesses have been hit hard due to the coronavirus.

“You don’t expect people to spend a lot of money on collectibles when you go into a pandemic,” Hoekstra said. “After COVID, we were seeing so many new customers, including doctors and lawyers. People are taking money out of their retirement and from the stock market and investing it into the hobby because the stuff is so hot right now.”

Basketball, baseball and football hobby boxes, which include guaranteed hits such as autographs and memorabilia cards, have been flying off the Modesto shop’s shelves for the past five months.

Curbside pickup is available, from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m., Monday through Saturday.

“Everybody is shocked when they see the price of cards now,” Hoekstra said. “Your average box of cards isn’t $50 or $100. It’s hundreds of dollars. The bottom line is people want what’s rare and sells for a lot of money.”

The price of a 2019-20 Panini Prizm Basketball hobby box quadrupled from $400 to $2,000 thanks in large part to rookie phenoms Zion Williamson and Ja Morant, and future Hall of Famer LeBron James.

“Basketball is the king right now,” Hoekstra said. “Panini Prizm has taken over the hobby.”
Panini Donruss Optic Baseball hobby boxes have been a popular sell since being released several weeks ago.

Justin Torlucci, 47, of Lodi, opened several boxes recently and pulled a Jasson Dominguez Rated Prospect Purple Prizm autographed card and Mike Trout Stars and Stripes super short print insert card.

Collectors, investors and sellers have also spent a lot of money on 2020 Bowman Baseball hobby boxes chasing Dominguez cards. Dominguez, 17, is the New York Yankees’ top prospect.

“Bowman has been huge,” Hoekstra said. “The only downfall is it’s more expensive because of the strong rookie class.”

DALE BUTLER/209 Business Journal
Justin Torlucci, 47, of Lodi, is a regular customer at Teammates Sports Cards & Collectables. He opened several hobby boxes of 2020 Donruss Optic Baseball during a recent visit.

Joe Burrow and Tua Tagovailoa autographs and parallels are the most sought-after cards in all football hobby products, including Panini Chronicles and Contenders Draft Picks. The rookie quarterbacks were selected by the Cincinnati Bengals and Miami Dolphins in the 2020 NFL Draft.

A customer at Teammates pulled a 2019-20 Ja Morant Panini Donruss Optic Basketball one-of-one autographed rookie card on June 26.

“It should sell for a minimum of $20,000,” Hoekstra said.

History was made in the sports cards world on July 19 when a 2003-04 LeBron James Upper Deck Exquisite rookie patch autographed parallel rookie card sold at auction for $1.845 million.

The previous record for any modern sports card sold was set in May when a gem mint 2009 Mike Trout Bowman Chrome Draft Prospects red refractor autographed rookie card fetched $922,500.

Blowout Cards has offered a $500,000 bounty to the person who pulls Zion Williamson’s 2019-20 National Treasures NBA Logoman one-of-one autographed rookie card.

“You can open a pack of cards now and pull a card that’s worth $100,000 or a lot more,” Hoekstra said. “That wasn’t the case a few years ago.”

The sports card industry has gone through its ups and downs over the years.

The number of shops has shrunk drastically since the mid-1990s due to the Internet, video games and other trading card games like Magic: The Gathering, Pokémon and Yugioh.
“There wasn’t any money to be made,” Hoekstra said. “I stuck with it because I love the hobby.”

Hoekstra has been in the sports card business for 27 years.

He worked, from 1993-2015, at Krier’s Cards & Comics in Modesto. The Pelendale Avenue shop has since closed its doors.

“I gave up tennis at Modesto Junior College so I could work and go to card shows,” said Hoekstra, who earned a business management degree from Stanislaus State. “I started selling at local card shows in 1989.”

Hoekstra opened his first pack of cards, Donruss Baseball, in 1981.

“My parents would buy us a Topps Baseball card set every year starting in 1983,” he said. “That’s why I got into it more. I started really building my collection in 1986.”

Hoekstra turned his passion into a profession.

“It’s an ideal occupation,” said Hoekstra, who also sells sports cards and collectibles on EBay. “It’s given me the flexibility to do what I want. I love sports. I enjoy what I’m doing.”