ATLANTIC CITY - Baltimore native Dan McKee reached into a display case at the National Sports Collectors Convention this week and pulled out one of the most valuable baseball cards among the thousands at the Atlantic City Convention Center.

It contained a photo of Guy Zinn, who played for the Baltimore Terrapins in the Federal League in 1914.

"It's worth $250,000," McKee said. "And the reason is that he was Jewish. A lot of people collect cards of just Jewish players. But no collection is complete without this card. This is the only one in existence, and I have it."

More treasures awaited during a stroll through the massive array of displays.

I immediately began to think back to my boyhood, when I used to collect baseball and football cards, stuff them into shoeboxes and keep them under my bed.

Every Friday after school at Cape May Elementary, I'd stop at Sokols Candy Store on Washington Street. Fifty cents would get me some Pixy Stix - nothing like sucking down powdered sugar in a straw - SweeTarts, wax lips, and a pack or two of Topps baseball and/or football cards that also contained a piece of petrified bubblegum.

I had all the best players of the era like Sandy Koufax, Willie Mays, Mickey Mantle and Carl Yastrzemski. My football card collection featured Herb Adderley, Dick Butkus, Mike Lucci and Tommy Nobis. Every few weeks during my preteen years, I'd rearrange them according to position or team, then slide them back under my bed.

If I only knew. ...

When I got to junior high, I became immersed in other interests. Girls began to compete with sports for my attention. The cards began to collect dust. One day, my mom asked if she could throw them away. Stupid me, I told her to go ahead, not knowing that card and memorabilia collecting would become a profitable hobby.

"It started to really take off in the early 1980s," collector Andy Madec, of Camarillo, California, said. "It was bad for a while, but began to rebound two years ago, and now it's white hot again."

The most valuable card in the world is reported to be the T206 Honus Wagner, which was issued by the American Tobacco Company from 1909 to 1911 before Wagner, a Hall of Fame shortstop with the Pittsburgh Pirates, ordered it to be discontinued.

Depending on who you believe, Wagner either disagreed with having his image associated with tobacco products or simply wanted more money from the company.

The most famous of the Wagner cards once belonged to former hockey legend Wayne Gretzky - whose rookie card sold at auction for $465,000 at Bally's Atlantic City on Thursday. Gretzky bought it in 1991 for $451,000. It changed hands and grew in value over the years until 2007, when Arizona Diamondbacks owner Ken Kendrick bought it for $2.8 million.

"There are rarer cards out there," Madec said. "But there's just something powerful and majestic about that card."

A few feet away sat a framed Mike Trout Angels jersey that was selling for $1,200. Below it was a Miami Dolphins No. 72 jersey signed by every player on the undefeated Dolphins team of 1972 and an old New York Jets helmet signed by Joe Namath.

Sam Angiulli's collection also included an old tile plate of New York Yankees legend Lou Gehrig worth $10,000 that reportedly was set inside the wall leading to the clubhouse at the old Yankee Stadium, along with similar tiles featuring Yankee greats like Babe Ruth, Joe DiMaggio and Mantle.

"I was at a card show here in Atlantic City in 1980 or 1981 and Joe DiMaggio was here," Angiulli said. "He was signing autographs and his only rule was that he would not sign anything that had him and Marilyn Monroe in the same photo. One person tried to sneak one past him, and he tore it shreds. He worshiped that woman."

At the back of the Atlantic City Convention Center on Friday, Brenda Nasce of Point Pleasant Beach clutched a baseball while scanning the list of celebrities scheduled to sign autographs on Saturday. She had registered to pay a combined $370 to get Hall of Famers Mariano Rivera and Cal Ripken Jr. to sign the ball.

It already had Bucky Dent's name on it, as well as the signatures of their sons. Cody Dent, Ryan Ripken and Mariano Rivera III all play for the Hagerstown Suns in the Washington Nationals' farm system. She got them to sign the ball when the Suns were playing at Lakewood a couple of weeks ago.

"This is a huge amount of money to me," Nasce said. "I lost my home and my printing business to Hurricane Sandy. We lived in a section of our garage for three years before finally getting back to our house a month ago. But today is my son Jonathan's 11th birthday and this is a present for him. For him to have this makes it worth it for me."

Some of the items in the Convention Center were worth close to a million dollars.

Brenda Nasce's baseball is priceless.

(David Weinberg's Extra Points column appears Wednesday and Sunday in The Press.)

Contact: 609-272-7201

Twitter @PressACWeinberg

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