Bringing The Hobby Together Since 1952
It was 9:30 a.m. in the middle of a work week, and Barry and Ryan Alick were waiting anxiously outside.
The father and son stood at the door of their favorite local hobby shop, RbiCru7 Sports Cards & Collectibles, in St. Peters, Missouri. The Alicks made sure they were the first in line when store owner Ryan Bannister opened the shop at 10 a.m.
“I text Ryan saying, ‘Hey, Ryan. We’re here just to let you know. No rush,'” joked Barry.
It was release day for 2023 Topps Series 1 Baseball. It would be an understatement to say the father-son duo gets excited to get their hands on Flagship— their favorite rip every year.
“We absolutely love when Series 1 comes out and the start of the baseball season,” said Barry, who can’t wait until this year’s Series 1 drops on February 14. “We get all fired up.”
Topps has been uniting generations of baseball fans since the first Topps Baseball product was released in 1952; the Alicks are a prime example.
The pair routinely drops $5,000 on release day to buy a number of jumbo cases and hobby boxes.
“We have a tradition where we start with what we call an appetizer, which is a box of the hobby before we crack open the jumbos,” Barry said. “We spend two days just going through everything. We love every second of it.”
“The thrill of the pull,” added Ryan.
Barry and Ryan have been ripping Series 1 together for the last five years. They have their system down pat. Tearing open the silver packs is always first.
“We’re very superstitious about how we rip,” said Ryan.
Bannister, who opened RbiCru7 Sports Cards and Collectibles 12 years ago, loves to see the passion from collectors like the Alicks.
“Every Flagship product they buy at least five cases, if not more,” Bannister said. “One of them goes to the other’s house, and they just rip all day.”
Barry Alick’s love for the flagship product dates back six decades, when he was a youngster.
“For me, it’s the tradition,” said the 65-year-old. “I started collecting probably back in 1967 when you used to have to ride your bicycle to the nearest dime store with a quarter to buy five packs of cards. I started Ryan on collecting back in the early ’90s with Flagship. That’s always been my number one call, regardless of all the other editions. It just brings back a ton of memories from when I was a kid.”
Ryan (L) and Barry (R) smiling during another successful Flagship run.
Series 1 Excitement in the Pacific Northwest
Flagship release day is special. Just ask hobby shop owners who watch longtime collectors flock to their stores to pick up everything from a few cases to single packs of Topps Series 1.
“It’s the most excited people get for a product,” said Rick Kane, the office manager at Northwest Sportscards in Tacoma, Washington. “The Hobby is still geared towards the latest and greatest. That’s the first thing on the roster if you’re climbing the ladder for the new year.”
In stock at Northwest Sportscards
With the shop roughly 30 miles outside of Seattle, most collectors are ripping Series 1 in search of Mariners players. Last year, Julio Rodriguez was all the craze as the cover star for the boxes of Flagship.
On release day, there is usually a line of customers outside Northwest Sportscards. Once the collectors have Series 1 boxes in hand, Kane figures about half stick around to rip open their packs on the shop’s counter.
“I like being part of the fun, seeing new stuff, and living vicariously through others,” Kane said. “It’s definitely a day of fun and excitement for sure.”
One tradition some collectors have adopted lets them share the Topps experience with their kids.
“I think there’s a strong contingent of people like myself that still get Flagship Topps for a birthday or Christmas every year,” Kane said. “My daughter was born in 2006 and has a set for every year.”
Kane noted that there are a lot of customers who collect Topps Series 1 sets. The shop’s staff is quick to recommend that product if someone comes in looking to purchase cards as a present but isn’t sure what to buy.
“I always suggest a Series 1 set. Start with the year they were born, and you give them one yearly,'” Kane said.
In Search of Elly
Gem City Collects Sports Cards & Memorabilia in Fairborn, Ohio, is situated about 45 minutes away from Cincinnati. There is a lot of buzz around this year’s Series 1 release since it contains De La Cruz’s Flagship rookie card.
Gem City Collects represents for 2024 Topps Series 1
“For Series 1, that’s what everybody around here will be chasing after,” Gem City Collects owner Robert Hensley said.
In a short time, De La Cruz has become a fan favorite and a collectors’ favorite.
“When he first came in, I would buy Elly, and they would be gone within the day,” Hensley said. “It was hard to keep stock in.”
Hensley ordered two cases of Series 1 last year and sold out in two days. This year, he made sure to stock up with four hobby cases and four jumbo cases.
Hensley has a large contingent of collectors who come in on Series 1 release day to buy packs to build their Flagship set.
“That’s their biggest thing. They come in with handwritten lists,” Hensley said. “They’re not even on a computer printing the worksheet off. They’ll come in with their handwritten stuff and check them off once they get them.”
Hensley has become accustomed to seeing fathers bring in their sons and grandfathers take their grandkids in to purchase cards at his shop. Every year on Series 1 release day, Hensley has two brothers who stop in and stock up on their favorite product.
Flagship always brings a lot of excitement inside Hensley’s shop.
“I think it’s because Topps has been around for so long, and the go-to is Topps,” Hensley said. “Back in the day, it was Topps, Fleer, and Donruss, but Topps was the top dog. And it’s always Series 1. Collectors love Series 2 and Update, but everybody’s always ready for Series 1.”
High Volume at RbiCru7
Topps Series 1 Baseball is the highest volume of product RbiCru7 Sports Cards & Collectibles moves per year.
Bannister stocks up prior to the release day. While looking at pallets and pallets of product, he always wonders if he ordered too much. That’s never the case.
“To put it in perspective on how much we move, between direct, distributors, rebuys, everything, we brought in 135 jumbos and like 65 hobby cases last year. We went through those,” Bannister said. “It’s a big week. Release day’s big. We’ll get many people who do pre-orders on our website, and they do pick-up orders. We’ll have a table full in the back for all the people coming in on release day to get it. The weekend hits, and that’s a different breed. A lot of people will be here on Saturday and Sunday. They’ll get them, and they’ll rip them here, more than likely.”
Being just 30 miles outside of St. Louis, RbiCru7 is embedded in the heart of Cardinals country. Surprisingly, it wasn’t so much the local players’ cards that drove the later Topps products last year at Bannister’s store; it was De La Cruz.
“He was so limited in what you could get him in that now I think this is going to be a game-changer,” Bannister said. “I think a lot of kids just saw how electric he was and how it resonated. I think seeing that new spark in the league at a young age is good for the younger generation. They want to find their Ken Griffey Jr. Even though he’s a Red and we’re Cardinals’ fans, the kids just like what he does.”
Along with the Alicks heading into the hobby shop to purchase Series 1, Bannister has other families with generational collecting ties.
“It just shows that The Hobby is still alive,” Bannister said. “It’s still growing. It’s never leaving.”
In a state where baseball is king, Series 1 is the pinnacle for collectors in Missouri. Bannister has witnessed that firsthand over the years. There is always a different feel in the store when Flagship drops. “I think that it kicks off the new year. It’s embedded in people’s minds like, ‘Here’s the beginning,'” Bannister said. “It starts with this one. No other product — Series 2, Update — they don’t hold a candle to the hype and interest of Series 1. Do we still sell a ton of Series 2 and Update? Of course. But nothing like we do with Series 1. It’s tradition. You want to get to your hobby shop and rip Series 1, no matter what.”