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Panini America Baseball Fan Rick Hutnak Shares Some Contenders to Remember

July 26, 2012

The second we saw Rick Hutnak’s Tweet trumpeting his rather impressive collection of 2011 Contenders Baseball autographs, we knew we had to dig deeper into the collecting habits of the Massachusetts native now living in Clearwater, Fla.

So we reached out to him — via Twitter, of course — to see if he’d be interested in sharing the story behind it. You know: How he got started, how long it took and what interesting anecdotes he experienced along the way. What follows is Hutnak’s entertaining account in his own words.

“First off, I’ve been a fan of Panini since I was a kid collecting sticker albums every year. So it was an easy choice for me to continue to collect Panini America in my adult life. I’ve always been a prospect collector more than a collector of the big star cards. The one simple reason? They’re fun and affordable. It’s great to watch the players you pulled progress in their career into stardom or into relative obscurity. And as a lifelong Red Sox fan, born and raised in the Worcester, Mass., I have always tried to hunt down any Sox prospects that I could find. That’s where the journey for this set began.

“My favorite local card shop here in Florida had just gotten their new shipment of wax in and a part of it was the new 2011 Playoff Contenders Baseball. It looked nice enough and I really liked the way they were designed. So I cracked a pack.  The meat of the pack was my first Rookie Ticket Auto of Archie Bradley! Immediately I thought, ‘Box time.’ I ripped through the box and pulled another two Rookie Ticket Autos, Levi Michael and Kolten Wong. I was pretty happy, but I didn’t really think too much about them after that — at least for another week or so.

“Then, on my next visit to Mike’s Sports Connection, my favorite hot spot, I took a look at what new cards he had on display that day. Dylan Bundy? Really? Immediately I asked Mike what he wanted for it. For me  . . . $30 would be fine. Score! He gave me a great deal so I had to pick up some more. Another box, two more Rookie Ticket Autos.

“The next day, I stopped by Mike’s to see what was new. We decided to crack open another couple of packs while we were talking about the box I had bought the day before. That’s when I mentioned to him the possibility of attempting to complete the Rookie Ticket Auto set. We both came to the realization that while it would be a great accomplishment, it could never be done — not on my sandwich-maker salary. Back to those packs. I pulled nothing, Mike pulled the Gerrit Cole Rookie Ticket Autograph! Mike tells me for $10 it’s mine. Really? Done deal. Now its on!

“I take it ‘to the streets.’ I post all over Facebook that I’m going to do this set. Most people wished me luck and, after a while, I made a few key trades here and there and started putting a pretty good dent in the set. Inevitably, I did what I had to do — eBay. I snagged a bunch there and now I was down to needing just five cards: My two Red Sox (Matt Barnes and Jackie Bradley Jr.), Danny Hultzen, Javier Baez and Francisco Lindor.

“A Facebook friend recommended an online card forum and there I found Baez and Lindor. At this point, I had to go for it. No haggling, I just bought them on the spot. Three to go. After another area search I found a collector on Craigslist who had Bradley. Yup, I’ll take it! Two left. Everyone I talked to could easily predict that I still needed Hultzen. Barnes was just impossible to find for some reason.

“A few weeks later — some how, some way — my $90 offer on a Hultzen was accepted! Now I needed just one more card. And I knew where to find it. After pleading with my Facebook friend, Elliot, for the Barnes, it was a no-go. For Elliot is a diehard Orioles fan. It was his not-so-secret hope that I would never complete the set and that I would, in turn, give up and trade him the Dylan Bundy. It was all in good fun. But, no, he still planned on keeping that Barnes and told me I had to whatever it took to find one elsewhere.

“The storybook ending, of course, would be that I went back to Mike’s shop and bought that miracle pack that included Barnes. The truth, however, was that I found one on eBay a few days later. My set was complete. That feeling of accomplishment? I got it. The satisfaction of knowing that if a big star emerges from the 2011 class that I’ve got his on-card autograph? I’ve got that, too.

“The next step? Save up and get them all graded, I guess? Make a giant shrine to Panini America? Not sure. I just know that I love them and there’s no way they’re ever leaving my collection. The thrill of the hunt was the most fun. And ending with a Boston guy was priceless. All I know is that next year’s set will be just as fun.

“Thanks to the guys at Panini America! You’ve made collecting fun again.”

Thanks for sharing your story, Rick. Great stuff. Congratulations on your accomplishment.

8 Comments leave one →
  1. Matt Gilman permalink
    July 26, 2012 3:12 pm

    Very impressive collection! Panini Contenders no matter the sport always look great and now I see how great they really look as a set.

  2. Tony permalink
    July 26, 2012 4:00 pm

    Very nice set.. I also snagged at least 20-30 of the Rookie Ticket autos… As the SPs have been disclosed previously on the Lance – it would be nice if the searchable checklists on panini’s sight could be updated for future reference of the mentioned print runs. Future collectors might want to know more about the cards when these guys hit the show and the only place they will look to confirm the print runs is in the checklist link. I have been away from the set as the product dried up in my area but if I ever see some of the cards at a show it would be nice to have an easy reference to go back to see the print runs.. Congrats and good work…. always nice to come away with the reward of a great feeling of putting together a tough set… can’t wait for next year’s product.

  3. July 26, 2012 4:18 pm

    The set looks great.

    I am currently working on the 2009 Donruss Elite Extra Edition Status #/100 set. Since I was worried about cost, I went for the non-auto versions. 3 years later, and I still need 1 card out of the 150 card set. Card #150 Chapman still eludes me. I traded on various message boards, bought from Ebay and COMC, and even found some at the local card show.

    If anyone is will to part with the 2009 Donruss Elite Extra Edition Die Cut Status #/100, please let me know.

    Not all are scanned yet: http://s467.photobucket.com/albums/rr31/Calicokid18/2009%20Elite%20Extra%20Edition%20Status%20100/

  4. gregmalloy permalink
    July 26, 2012 4:41 pm

    Congrats nice set. You should have Beckett authenticate them it looks better in set form I Think. Anyways still really cool.

  5. daveylangs permalink
    July 26, 2012 7:59 pm

    Great now hes got me going!!! Maybe its time that i set a goal myself like Rick did!! Guess well have to wait and see what Product and autographed set i decide todo!!!

  6. July 27, 2012 4:26 am

    Wow great work!! Huge dedication!

  7. July 27, 2012 5:57 am

    Excellent story and set completion, if even one of these kids pans out the way Mike Trout did you have one really great investment on your hands. Thanks for bringing it to us Tracy!

  8. Rick Hutnak permalink
    July 27, 2012 10:14 pm

    Thanks for the great comments guys. Feel free to follow me on twitter! @RickHutnak

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