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Longoria cards are hot at Largo memorabilia shop

Wednesday was pretty typical for Orve Johansson, owner of the Baseball Card Co. in Largo.

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There was the statue of Babe Ruth, the bats signed by Ted Williams and Mike Schmidt and the Josh Hamilton rookie card all in their usual place. Customers came in, drank the coffee and talked sports as they glanced at ESPN on TV.

But something else was in the air.

"It's Longoria. Longoria is hot,'' Johansson said.

It would be 32 hours before fans would hear who won the final spot on the American League All-Star Team, and the buzz inside the 26-year-old shop was from more than Orve's coffeepot. Evan Longoria was leading in votes.

"We don't have any Longoria cards in here right now,'' Johansson told someone on the telephone. "When Topps put out their last sets, Series I and II, they did not include Longoria. They didn't know he'd be this young phenom.''

It is precisely how unpredictable the game is that makes his work fun, Johansson said. "I fell in love with baseball cards in 1954. It was when I opened my Ernie Banks rookie card.''

In 1982, after suffering through 36 Chicago winters, Johansson, a former Internal Revenue Service employee, and his wife, Maria, moved to Florida. "I started this business with my own collection of 1,000 cards,'' he recalled.

"My wife and I made a budget. We calculated that we had to make $21 a day in order to succeed. To us, a $5 sale was huge, but it's worked.''

Orve credits a higher force and people's generosity for his success. There are little things like how he became a stats expert while riding on L trains to Wrigley Field. "I played baseball at Bogan High School, and the Cubs gave us all a free season pass. I studied numbers while taking the two buses and three L trains into Wrigley.''

There are the bigger, life-changing things, like the customers who wanted to give him their personal collections in 1999 after his store was robbed of $200,000 worth of sports memorabilia. "I remember a young boy, who had bought cards from me, came in with his collection and said, 'Orve, if you have to start over, I can start over,' It was life-changing.'' Luckily, the thieves were caught and his merchandise recovered.

As to what advice he would give a novice collector, he offered this: "Your dealing with human beings who are fickle. So, buy cards that you are more interested in keeping. A player who is hot today might get injured, and you'll be stuck with the card forever. You better like that player to begin with.''

At 5 p.m., Longoria was maintaining a slim lead over Jermaine Dye of the White Sox. The first Longoria card was brought into the store by Irv Pike, a regular customer. "It's a 2006, and I felt like it was the one to sell right now,'' Pike said.

And sell it did. Another customer, who refused to give his name because he didn't want his boss to know he was not at work, bought it immediately.

Piper Castillo can be reached at pcastillo@sptimes.com or at (727)445-4163.

The Baseball Card Co.

1901 West Bay Drive, Largo

Longoria cards are hot at Largo memorabilia shop 07/12/08 [Last modified: Sunday, July 13, 2008 7:47pm]
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