'An adrenaline rush': Inside Strahm's love for baseball cards

July 5th, 2023
Matt Strahm (left) on set with Matthew Lee Rosen (right) in Chicago.

This story was excerpted from Todd Zolecki’s Phillies Beat newsletter. To read the full newsletter, click here. And subscribe to get it regularly in your inbox.

It is a Wednesday morning in Chicago and Phillies left-hander is six miles north of Wrigley Field, marveling at the large sticks of Topps chewing gum hanging from a wall in a pub.

Except these aren’t pieces of gum. This is art.

Strahm is shooting the latest episode of “The Card Life,” which airs beginning July 15 on 27 regional sports networks across the country, including NBC Sports Philadelphia. “The Card Life” is the first nationally aired TV show dedicated to the sports card hobby. Strahm is its host. Baseball cards are his passion.

Strahm estimates he has close to a million cards in an extra bedroom in his home. He famously collects signed rookie cards of players who have homered against him. But mostly, Strahm collects because it is fun, and he loves the stories behind cards.

He tells those stories on “The Card Life.”

“The hobby to me is collecting who you like, what you like and the cards that tell stories to you,” Strahm said. “I always get the question: ‘What’s your most valuable card?’ Well, I have a card somebody probably wouldn’t pay $200 for, but I wouldn’t sell it to you for $5,000. It’s worth way more to me than anybody. That’s the hobby to me.”

Brandon Verzal shoots, edits and produces “The Card Life.” He first watched Strahm opening boxes of cards (known in the hobby as “box breaks”) during the pandemic on his YouTube channel “Strahm’s Stadium Pulls.” Verzal is a baseball card fan, too. As the hobby’s popularity exploded during the pandemic, he thought about a card show. He asked Bally Sports Network if it might be interested. Bally immediately said yes.

Verzal messaged Strahm on Twitter:
"Hey, interested in hosting a TV show about cards?"

"Where do I sign up?!" the southpaw replied.

“Matt had the opportunity to do something that was his passion because that just doesn’t exist,” Verzal said. “Sports cards? There’s never been a show about it.”

Since its debut in June 2021, “The Card Life” has aired more than 6,400 times on networks available in more than 100 million homes in the United States. It airs an average of 14 times every day.

Strahm opens boxes of cards in every episode, but the show is much more than that. On that Wednesday in Chicago, he interviewed local artist Matthew Lee Rosen about his card art, which includes super-sized sticks of Topps chewing gum with images from iconic cards.

“It’s these unique stories in the hobby that aren’t about the money in the hobby,” Strahm said. “That’s what interests me the most. I mean, the artwork we saw in Chicago. It’s so creative to take a piece of canvas and make it look like the bubble gum and the wax packs that have the picture of the card. There are so many rabbit holes in the hobby to go down. If you find your one niche, you’re probably going to fall in love with it.”

Many teammates know about Strahm’s passion for cards because he always has boxes in his locker. But not everybody knows about the show.

“I’ll get home and, after 20 minutes, I’ll get a snap from a teammate like, ‘What is this? What are you doing? Why are you on my TV?'” Strahm said, laughing. “I’m like, ‘Yeah, that’s my moonlighting job.’”

Strahm’s TV gig has made him a go-to person for card questions. He has heard them all.

Let’s start with this one: Those cards you collected in the late 1980s and early 1990s? They’re not worth anything.

“My teammates will say, ‘I have a Ken Griffey Jr. rookie card. What’s it worth?’” Strahm said. “I’m like, ‘Well, dude, sit down and grab a chair. I can explain this to you.’ But again, I’m not into this for the value of the card as much as I am into it for, like, the sport of collecting. And the chase. There’s just something about getting a box and looking for that top rookie, and then hitting the autograph of that top rookie. It’s just an adrenaline rush.”

Asked if it could compare to getting a big strikeout to get out of a bases-loaded jam, Strahm smiled.

“It was my first season of [Strahm’s] Stadium Pulls,” he said. “I hit a Superfractor of Pete Alonso, on card auto. A Superfractor is a 1 of 1. It was the very first one I ever hit. If you watch the video, you can hear it in my voice, and you can see my hands shaking. I was so jacked. You say it’s not the same as pitching in a game, but it is an amazing adrenaline rush.”

And one heck of a story.