In times of mourning, Ben Aguirre turned to baseball cards.
“It is times like these that remind me of the purpose this hobby serves in my life,” he wrote on his card-collecting blog, Cardboard Icons, after the deaths of two friends in 2022.
“Collecting has been [a] huge part of my journey — it’s been there through good and bad. It serves as a means of celebration, as well as a distraction during times of pain. We have to give ourselves permission in these times of grief and sorrow to enjoy the things that we like. Abandoning such activities would be a protest of our own personal joy.”
Ben’s family and friends are looking for their own distraction from pain after the 43-year-old father of two teenagers died suddenly of an unknown cause on Oct. 28. Ben had built a massive community in the baseball-card world as one of the pioneering bloggers in The Hobby, as he and other collectors refer to the trading-card industry.
I worked with Ben before he started writing about baseball cards, when he was a reporter for The Argus and I served as news editor for the then-daily newspaper in Fremont, Calif. We stayed connected after he left journalism to serve as a community service officer for the city of Fremont, which is when he delved further into blogging and writing about collecting cards to keep scratching his writing itch.
We talked more in recent years, as my son began collecting baseball cards during the COVID-19 pandemic, when a spike in interest amid the arrival of hot rookies across all the major sports made it hard to purchase packs of new cards. Ben was an amazing guide, instructing me to sign up for Target’s
After he died, I realized I was far from alone in counting on Ben to help me understand the baseball-card-collecting landscape. Dozens of people posted remembrances of Ben last week on social media, recounting how he helped guide them on their collecting journey and remembering him as one of the nicest people to gain prominence in The Hobby.
“He’s always been a very kind, very gentle type of soul who cared for other people even to his own detriment sometimes,” said Mike Osegueda, a college classmate and longtime close friend of Ben’s who is well-known in baseball-card circles as “Mike Oz.” “If you needed him for something, he would spring to action and help in the kindest way and give you every bit of himself that he could in that moment.”
I am saddened to know that Ben will not be around to continue shaping the journeys of others through the baseball-card world, but he leaves behind 15 years of blogs and tweets that can serve as a guide to those not fortunate enough to have received his personal counseling. With permission of his family and some guidance from Osegueda, I have attempted to boil down Ben’s ethos on collecting cards into three simple rules for those in The Hobby, and others seeking to enter it, based on his blogs and his own collecting experience.
Collect for love or fun, not (just) money
“The value of our cards — while often tied to money — is often a personal experience,” Ben once wrote, and Osegueda said that enjoying the experience of finding and buying cards was the most important part of Ben’s ethos.
“He enjoyed the thrill of the hunt,” Osegueda told MarketWatch. “Yeah, if he found something he could sell it and make money, but that wasn’t all that it was about.”
For Ben, the true purpose of The Hobby was not in flipping cards for a profit, but the fun that can be had scouring card shops and thrift stores — his “Thrift Treasures” blog posts became one of his most widely known types of posts — for the pieces of cardboard or other memorabilia that could spark emotion.
“This hobby isn’t just about money,” he wrote in a “Thrift Treasures” post in 2016. “It’s about the memories and feelings that come with tracking down a White Whale for your collection. It’s about the stories you have that are tied to specific cards. It’s about reliving our childhood in an instant with a glance of a player’s face on a piece of cardboard.”
As collecting cards became popular again in recent years, Ben’s blogging seemed to morph from “Hey, check out this cool card” to focusing on this nostalgia and other lessons he wanted to pass along. Much of the change seemed to come from his son becoming interested in The Hobby and growing into a collector of his own, which made Ben reflect even more on why he collected.
When his son pulled an autographed card from a pack at age 9 in 2019, he wrote that “The joy on his face and in his voice when he announced it and showed it off to his sister is what The Hobby is all about.”
“We are all chasing that joy,” he wrote. “We are all trying to recreate those fabulous feelings we all had whenever we pulled something that made us smile.”
People who buy cards to flip them for a profit, he said, aren’t actually collectors.
“Is it wrong if someone wants to buy the hot prospect today with the idea of selling in the future? No, not really, as long as we’re calling it what it is. Because that’s not collecting. That’s a different form of participation in The Hobby, or industry,” he wrote.
Collecting was what Ben did, and what he cherished.
“I enjoy collecting — it’s fun,” he wrote in a 2018 post. “I enjoy chasing cards that I never dreamed of owning. I enjoy obtaining a card that my grandfathers or great-grandfathers would have owned if they loved baseball. I enjoy sharing hobby experiences with my children. And so I shall do only the things in this hobby that make me happy and that are fun.”
Your collection should be about you
While the first rule deals with the act of collecting and the reasons behind it, this one is more about the collection itself.
Baseball-card collectors seem to have a million unwritten rules about how to collect, but Ben wasn’t really interested in them. For instance, many collectors eschew pitchers for hitters in their “personal collections,” or PCs. But Ben’s biggest PC as a kid was Roger Clemens, a pitcher, and for the past decade he became one of the most prominent collectors of cards featuring Los Angeles Dodgers pitcher Clayton Kershaw, ranking No. 1 for such collectors on a Trading Card Database list with more than 2,800 unique Kershaw cards.
To Ben, a baseball-card collection should reflect the human who puts it together, and become a living, breathing organism that changes along with its owner. Nothing else truly matters.
“Bottom line: If cards talk to you, find the ones (new or old) that make YOU happy and give them a new home,” he wrote.
Ben’s collection exemplified this idea. He started off as a kid collecting Clemens and other players of the Boston Red Sox, his favorite baseball team. In his 20s, he got rid of his basketball and football cards and concentrated on collecting rookie cards of baseball players, eventually refocusing in his 30s and amassing a collection of rookie cards of every baseball player in the Hall of Fame. Recently, he was selling off some of those rookie cards and getting back to his personal collections of specific players for him and his son.
“Someone asked me recently: WHY do you collect baseball cards? This is why. It’s not really about the money. It’s not really an investment because cards rarely appreciate with time under normal circumstances. It’s about the memories. It’s about how in an instant [a] single worthless card can transport you back a quarter of a century to the moment when you asked a parent for money and trekked clear across town to buy a card of your childhood sports hero,” he wrote. “I have other reasons for collecting what I do. And sometimes I can’t fully explain it. But THIS is probably the strongest reason why.”
And it wasn’t just cards. Ben also collected game-used baseballs that hit batters in the course of a game. These balls were put into a large display that he called his “Wall of Pain” — a collection that was unlikely to grow in value, but gave Ben pleasure in owning and reflected the person he was.
“People often call music the soundtrack to their lives,” he wrote. “For me, baseball cards are essentially my timeline.”
Be kind, especially to kids and new collectors
Ben’s final blog post provided “10 tips for veteran collectors to stay positive with new hobbyists,” which he wrote because he said “it’s important to share good vibes for our hobby.”
Right there at No. 3 is this: “Be kind — we were all new once.”
Ben embodied this rule, and not just toward new collectors or kids. He was kind to everyone with whom he came into contact on social media and in the wild, patiently explaining aspects of The Hobby that many other collectors would consider basic knowledge. Other experienced collectors might frown on those who asked these relatively basic questions, but not Ben.
For Osegueda and myself, that will be Ben’s true legacy in The Hobby.
“If you look at all the things that people said [after he passed], they always talk about how insightful he was, how nice he was, how much he tried to bring people in and lift them up, and that’s who he was from the beginning,” Osegueda said.
Ben was that way until the end, as well. And hopefully that legacy lives on in all of those whom he touched in the baseball-card collecting world.
The baseball-card community organized a GoFundMe campaign to raise funds for Ben’s children, and it has already surpassed its $10,000 goal.