If you went out in search of a dedicated Japanese baseball card enthusiast, you might not think to look in Maryland.
The “Old Line State,” however, is where you’d find Dave McNeely, a 54-year-old computer programmer who, by his estimate, has collected over 60,000 baseball cards.
McNeely has followed Japanese baseball for some time and is a fan of the Seibu Lions and Chunichi Dragons, though he watches more Lions games these days. He’s also a big fan of baseball cards, with the majority of his collection being from the Japanese game.
Collecting cards is just something McNeely enjoys to do. He shares this passion with others on his blog, Japanese Baseball Cards, which he began in 2007 and has since become a great resource for card collectors and regular fans alike.
He’d thought about creating the site for about a year before he did, having become frustrated by the lack of English-language information about the industry and upcoming releases. In his earlier days of collecting, McNeely used machine translations to search for information on Japanese card manufacturers’ websites.
“It wasn’t always great, and I got some ideas of what it was,” he said. “But I was like, it’d be great if there was an English-language place to go and get this information. And since there isn’t one, why don’t I go ahead and do this.”
On his blog, McNeely posts photos and gives roundups of various sets and cards as well as other pieces of information he’s gleaned from following the industry. When an NPB player reaches a milestone or does something notable, he’ll sometimes post some of the player’s cards. He also picks a “Card of the Week” displaying both the card and sometimes a bit of corresponding information.
A recent post, for example, features various Japanese cards from throughout the career of popular pitcher Koji Uehara, who retired earlier this season. Another details a recent trip to a card shop, Mint Ikebukuro, during a visit to Japan.
McNeely has been a baseball fan since around the age of 10 and collected MLB cards like many American kids did.
He was still at it in the mid-90s, having moved on to minor league players. When eBay came along, it gave him another outlet from which to add to his collection. It was there he increasingly began to come across Japanese cards.
“It’s like a parallel universe to the majors,” he said. “You know, it’s just kind of interesting and you don’t hear a lot about it. When I started coming across the baseball cards, they just were so exotic and interesting.
“I ended up starting to collect them instead of the minor league cards and by probably 2001, 2002 I’d switched completely to just collecting Japanese cards.”
By the time Ichiro Suzuki arrived to take the U.S. by storm with the Seattle Mariners (2001), McNeely was hooked
“I think I really got into it right before Ichiro came to the U.S.,” he said. “Once Ichiro was here, I got interested in who else might come over.
“Although that’s not as big of an attraction to me anymore. I find it actually kind of a frustrating thing. You know, the attitude of you should only be interested in Japanese baseball, because of who the next guy is (who is) going to come over. I’m like, well, no. Japanese baseball is interesting for its own sake.”
McNeeley gets his cards in various ways. Some he buys directly, others he has friends pick up for him. While he once bought singles and packs, he’s mostly stuck to buying complete sets for the last 12, 13 years.
“Just because it was so frustrating to attempt to build sets from packs when I can’t walk into my local card shop and find a bunch of singles,” he said. “Nobody in Maryland has them.”
In addition to being something he enjoys, collecting baseball cards has been a great way for him to learn about the game in Japan through the years.
“Especially because for the longest time BBM (one of the biggest Japanese card companies) was putting out a set of cards in the middle of the season for the All-Stars, and then a set a set of cards at the end of the year for the Nippon Series.
“They started doing that in ’91, when they started doing cards. So coming along 10 years later, I can get the card set for the Nippon Series. So I’m learning that these were the good teams, you know, Swallows, the Lions, the Giants. And then by getting the All-Star cards I’m seeing these are the top players all the time.”