Bryan Smith, 35, didn’t know that a pack of baseball cards bought at the Wal-Mart on Pyramid Highway could change his life forever. For Smith, buying baseball cards is nothing out of the ordinary. He has collected cards since he was 6 years old.
But this particular pack held the “Be an MVP in NYC card,” earning him a grand prize trip for four to the Home Run Derby and All-Star game held at Yankee Stadium this week.
“I’ve never won anything,” Smith said.
Smith said that although he’d seen the advertisement on the packaging he didn’t anticipate anything more than new cards to add to his collection.
“I was not expecting this just from a pack of baseball cards,” he said.
Smith decided for this once-in-a-lifetime occasion to bring his sister, Kimberly Lynne Hansen, a huge baseball fan, and her children, Madisyn Carter and Tyler Wolff, all of whom live in the San Diego area. Tyler also collects baseball cards.
Smith began collecting cards with his father as a young boy, just as he started to play baseball. It was a hobby he and his father did together, carrying on a family tradition of father-son collecting.
“My dad was an avid stamp collector with his father,” Smith said. “I guess baseball cards were my stamps.”
Between the two of them, Smith and his father have about 650,000 cards.
Upon picking up the winning pack of cards, Smith didn’t just win a trip for four. He won a dream come true. Smith has been a die-hard Yankee fan for as long as he can remember and had never been to Yankee Stadium before this week.
Smith said he was in awe when he finally walked onto the field and took a tour of the stadium, part of the grand prize, before the Home Run Derby.
“I wouldn’t know how to put that into words,” Smith said. “I was in awe for the first three hours. I was a little kid in a candy store. People were talking to me and I was doing a 360. I was looking at everything. It took me a good three hours to start seeing other specific things.”
On the tour of the field, the same field Babe Ruth, Lou Gehrig and Mickey Mantle once walked, they got to meet the current All-Stars, mostly from the National League team, like Chase Utley and Hanley Ramirez. This was especially exciting for Smith’s nephew, who is a San Diego Padres fan.
Smith said he was amazed with how nice everyone was.
“Those people that are at that level were generous and soft-spoken, normal people,” he said. “They came over to take pictures with my nephew. I wasn’t expecting it to be that nice.”
Smith said that the Home Run Derby itself was incredible and getting to watch Josh Hamilton hit 28 home runs was spectacular.
“I’ve never in my life seen such power,” he said. “The show was great, the stadium was great, the people were great. It’s the best thing I’ve ever seen live.”
The most important thing to Smith, more important than the All-Star game itself, was getting to see it all with his family.
“I had something great happen to me and I was able to include them,” he said. “That’s the best part.”
While he owns a Cal Ripken, Jr. rookie card and cards of all the major brands, Smith admitted nothing compared to winning this trip, and getting to visit Yankee Stadium in its final season makes Smith’s victory just a little sweeter.
“If I was to compare my collection to this, this is just tremendous,” he said. “To find out I won this … there’s just so much history.”
While the echoes of the ghosts of Yankees past will soon be just history in the remnants of the house that Ruth built, Smith and his family will take away more than just ticket stubs and popcorn. The final Major League Baseball All-Star game at Yankee Stadium, and an MVP-style trip, will live on in the memory of these four people – and it all started with a baseball card.