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With pastries you get sports cards

The local grocery store has never been mistaken for a sports collectibles haven. But with a plethora of food products offering sports-related items for promotional purposes, trips to the supermarket have become routine among collectors.

One company that has resumed including baseball cards with its food products is Hostess. This spring, the company introduced a 32-card set featuring some of today's top stars. Three cards are included with two Hostess cakes known as Baseballs.

Among the players in the set are Frank Thomas, Kirby Puckett, Ken Griffey Jr., and Ryne Sandberg. In addition, Andres Galarraga and Benito Santiago are portrayed in their respective Rockies and Marlins jerseys.

Hostess issued baseball cards with food products from 1975 to 1979. Unlike this year's set, those cards were part of the box in which the food product was contained. The 1975 set had three cards each on the back of family-size packages of Hostess cakes. This process was the norm through 1979.

Since most of the cards were cut from boxes _ either as a panel or individually _ boxes that remain intact command a premium price. Furthermore, since cutting out cards with a pair of scissors is far more than an exact science, many cards were poorly cut or damaged. Therefore, a complete Hostess set in either panel or individual form is quite valuable.

Take the 1975 set. A complete set of 150 individual cards is valued at $240. A complete panel set can command more than $300.

In addition to issuing cards with family-sized packs, Hostess issued one card on the back of its 25-cent Twinkie packages in 1975 and '76. The 1975 version was issued primarily in the Far West and is more difficult to obtain. Hence, the 20-card set is valued at $120.

Hostess did its baseball homework when it came to including the top veterans and young stars in the card sets. In 1975, Robin Yount was a promising but weak-hitting teen-ager for a dreadful Milwaukee Brewers squad. But Hostess included him in both sets (card No. 80) that year and collectors pursuing the cards have to part with $80-$100 for the pair.

Former greats Mike Schmidt, Steve Carlton, Pete Rose, Tom Seaver, and Brooks Robinson are just a few of the many other faces that graced the back of Hostess products in the '70s.

For younger and experienced collectors, the 1993 version offers a chance to start a collection or suffer the thoughts of throwing away those older boxes.