My first move after installing the Topps BUNT digital trading card app on my iPhone was to create a profile and open a pack of "Bunt Base + Super Rare" cards to see which four players I got. My collection of thousands of cards would begin right here, and unlike the way I started my physical collection as a boy, putting cards in my bike spokes, I would appreciate these.
A digital rendition of a stick of old-fashioned chewing gum appeared and then disappeared, revealing my first digital collectible player to be … drum roll … Mark Buehrle. I swiped the iPhone to reveal the rest, and he was followed by Aaron Hicks of the Twins, Joe Kelly of the Cardinals and Nolan Arenado of the Rockies.
Buehrle is a really nice guy who loves rescue pit bulls, and he is a durable innings eater, but let's just say that my own historic opener did not fill me with immediate electricity. Not only was the Blue Jays' left-hander notoriously pounded at this time of year -- and right now is what matters when trading digital cards in this new way -- but it was a "common." That is the least valuable of five levels that escalate to uncommon, scarce, rare and the magical "super rare."
It was Wednesday morning, and I tried to quickly package Buehrle in a trade that ideally would land me a … I don't remember, that was dozens and dozens of trades ago. It's hard to remember who you tried to trade 10 minutes ago if you play Topps BUNT a lot. And inasmuch as Topps sells three digital packs per second -- you read that right, people play Topps BUNT a lot -- four out of five of them young'uns who are unfamiliar with physical card collecting, which is something to them that once existed like telephone landlines with curly cords.
All I know is that I tried to unload Buehrle fast, because he was scheduled to make his season debut that afternoon, and surely that meant his points on the card would plummet.
Thankfully someone declined my first trade offer, because Buehrle hit his spots and drove Tampa Bay batters crazy, striking out 11 at Tropicana Field. It was only the second time in his 14-year career he hit double-digits in strikeouts. He took a shutout into the ninth, and the bullpen finished it for him.
"It was a perfect storm," Buehrle said. "Everything worked out."
With that, Buehrle stayed in his position in my collection as I clicked the card sheet icon on the bottom right of the app. Tap his image, and as of this writing a day later, his data on the back included a big "+246" to indicate his current points total, which fluctuates in real-time. Beneath that, his "Heat Index" read: "HOT." In fact, he ranked 21st in the Heat Index on the app. If you collect digital cards in this app, you probably are looking for the super rare card of Mike Trout -- the first player spokesperson for the app -- or maybe Derek Jeter's "sig" (signature card).
So here I am now, offering my Buehrle along with a Trout Rare and an Eric Hosmer Opening Day insert for a Jeter sig (and not the one that's sold out). Maybe someone like "KID_K" will take my offer from "MARKMLB". Maybe not. I care mostly about collecting these cards for the same reason I did with the physical ones: love of the game and favorite players.
I am hopeful that there are many others out there like me as I try to work this particular trade. There are savvy collectors all over this app. In fact, the Topps BUNT app has bred a cotton industry of sorts, spawning social communities, Twitter accounts just for this, even the occasional eBay sellers offering a digital card for $80 or $100.
Yes, this is happening right now. This movement is driven by young collectors who have little knowledge of the cardboard slivers I put in my bike spokes. In fact, many are learning about a pitcher named Tom Seaver only after Topps inserts his #tbt 1968 rookie card, as it just did on Thursday with its weekly #tbt promotion.
"This shift in digital trading cards will become more of a phenomenon and part of our digital culture," said Topps head of app operations Chris Vaccaro, who grew up a Cal Ripken Jr. fan and has 10,000-plus physical cards. "We were all products of having thousands of cards, many of which we still have. Many of us were skeptical at first -- who's going to be into a digital object on their device? But the numbers are speaking for themselves. We are bringing Topps into this digital age and we're seeing the results.
"Eighty-one percent of our core demographic is 25 and younger, and most of those people didn't grow up with a physical baseball card in their hand. Now everybody grows up with an iPhone or some sort of a device when they're a toddler on up. So to have trading cards on them, to trade them and earn points with the fantasy mindset, it's interesting. That's the core we are thinking about every day."
You've already got the MLB.com suite of apps as every fan's staples: At Bat, At the Ballpark and Beat the Streak presented by Dunkin' Donuts. Install this Topps app alongside those icons, as it is licensed by Major League Baseball Advanced Media and the MLB Players Alumni Association's Player Choice group licensing program. It is available for free from the App Store on iPhone, iPad and iPod touch.
• Collection Score: Easily score your digital collection and compare with your friends and other users.
• Trader Rating: Try to build up a five-star rating by working trades that don't insult others, and rate 'em high to be popular.
• Enhanced Card Play: Drag and drop your way to better predictions and more points with improved card management.
Since I mentioned my first failed trade, here was my first successful trade: Joe Mauer (+2, 1363 Heat Index rank) for Dustin Pedroia (+24, 831). I gave the other trader five stars.
"We're seeing users whose first Topps baseball card is a digital one," said Michael Bramlage, vice president and general manager of digital at Topps. "It's no surprise that this digitally savvy generation is embracing the thrill of the chase with digital collecting."
Mark Newman is enterprise editor of MLB.com. Read and join other baseball fans on his MLB.com community blog.