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FOR THE KIDS : It's in the Cards : Baseball, that is. Youngsters get together at trading shows to augment their collections.


Ryan Hessee, a freckle-faced 9-year-old, clutched a Nike shoe box full of baseball cards and worked the floor.

He desperately wanted a Nolan Ryan card.

For nearly an hour, he offered a variety of trades to other youthful collectors gathered at the Thousand Oaks Library for the card exchange.

Finally, he struck a deal. He traded a Darryl Strawberry and a Cal Ripken for a 1986 Nolan Ryan. The prized card was worth no more than a couple of dollars, but to young Ryan, it had sentimental value. His collection of Nolan Ryan cards would now number 95.

"He collects them like crazy," said his father, Art. Ryan and his brother, Nathan, 14, have collected about 5,000 baseball cards between them in the last four years. They keep their most valuable cards in protective fire boxes in their Thousand Oaks home.

Why is Ryan's favorite player Nolan Ryan?

"He's got seven no-hitters," Ryan replied. "He's one of the oldest players. His rookie card is worth $1,000 to $5,000."

Ryan has one Nolan Ryan card worth $48.

But his most valuable card was in a $2.69 pack he bought with birthday money.

It's inlaid with 24-carat gold and worth $200.

Ryan was among 25 collectors attending one of the regular card and comic book exchanges sponsored by the Friends of the Thousand Oaks Library.

This is strictly an affair for kids 8 to 16 years. No sales are allowed, only exchanges. And kids are urged not to bring extremely valuable and rare cards.

But all that didn't diminish the trading fervor. Kids such as Ryan brought along the latest issue of "Beckett Baseball Card Monthly," which sells for $2.95 and includes a 50-page price list giving every card's current value. It tells who's hot and who's not.

"They trade just like the stock market," Art Hessee said. Ryan is "a wheeler-dealer."

Actually, collecting baseball cards has become big business. The value of prized cards has soared beyond anyone's wildest dreams. Last year, a 1952 Mickey Mantle card sold for $45,000 and a 1910 Honus Wagner card was auctioned at $451,000 to Los Angeles Kings owner Bruce McNall and player Wayne Gretzky.

Baseball card shops have blossomed throughout Ventura County. Gary Wilmott, owner of the Baseball Card Connection, said his was only the second shop in Ventura when he opened in 1987. Now there are 14 or 15, he said, and probably 35 to 40 in the county.

There are at least half a dozen baseball card shows a month in the county that draw adult collectors as well as kids.

The exchange at the Thousand Oaks Library is held in a conference room and monitored by two library volunteers. Collectors spread their cards on folding tables. They field offers from browsers who tote their cards around in photo albums or boxes.

The trading is intense and serious. Chris Richeson, 12, sat at a table with his cards spread out. Each was encased in plastic, a precaution that collectors take.

Chris carefully examined a card offered to him.

To the untrained eye, it looked brand-new.

"Nope. It's got weak edges," he said.

He should know. He's collected 7,000 to 8,000 cards over six years. He frequents the shops and once a week he usually attends a show.

"I blow my allowance," Chris said as he rapidly fielded a flurry of offers from kids. He consulted his Beckett on each.

Chris' mother, Sandy Richeson, doesn't share her husband and two sons' enthusiasm for cards.

"When they tell me something is worth $60 and it's old, I can't believe paper can be worth that much," she said. "They use their allowance and birthday money to buy cards; they'll even take care of the neighbor's dog."

Some parents look at valuable collections and see a nest egg for a college education.

Others are fed up with the hobby.

One kid confided: "My parents say it's getting out of hand."


The Thousand Oaks Library has at least two more baseball, sports card and comic book exchanges for kids scheduled at the library, 1401 E. Janss Road--on April 23 and June 25. Hours are 4:30 to 6 p.m. For ages 8 to 16. Free.

Upcoming baseball and sports card shows in Ventura County:

* Saturday, Marriott, Ventura Freeway and Santa Rosa Avenue, Camarillo, 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.

* Saturday, Travelodge, 2550 Erringer Road, Simi Valley, 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.

* Saturday, Thousand Oaks High School, 2323 Moorpark Road, 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.

* March 22, Radisson Hotel, 999 Enchanted Way, Simi Valley, 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.

* March 22, Holiday Inn, 495 Ventu Park Road, Thousand Oaks, 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.

* March 22, Holiday Inn, 450 E. Harbor Blvd., Ventura, 6 a.m. to 6 p.m.

* March 28 and 29, Esplanade Shopping Center, Ventura Freeway and Vineyard Avenue, Oxnard, 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Saturday, 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. Sunday.

* March 28, Clarion Hotel, 1775 Madera Road, Simi Valley, 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.

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