Miles Gwilym remembers lowering himself down to a knee at his former baseball card store and holding out a card for a tiny sports fan who didn’t expect to leave with anything. The kid asked, “Is that for me?” to which Gwilym responded, “Yes, and here’s some more.”
Gwilym, who goes by Mick in honor of Hall of Fame catcher “Mickey” Cochrane, is a baseball card Santa Claus, a 78 year old with the sport in his blood and a hobby that dives his soul.
Gwilym claims he’s given away 900,000 baseball cards over the last 10 years while working in guest services for the Mariners. He handed out another 5,000 from his collection during Mariners Fanfest on Saturday and 4,000 more on Sunday. He ran out of his personal giveaways two hours early on both days, though he says he come properly prepared for the roughly 20,000 attendees. His problem is knowing when to say when.
“I just love to see the kids say, ‘Oh, I get more than one?” said Gwilym, a collector since 1952. “I say, ‘If you go to the candy store and you get one M&M would you be satisfied? So if I give you one card would you be satisfied?’ I give them six or seven.”
The baseball card industry has seen tough times gaining traction with younger demographics since the trading card bubble of the 80s and 90s, when a proliferation of companies ultimately diluted the brand and slashed card values. The industry has since cut back on the various brands, with some rumblings of an upswing in the market.
Gwilym is a former teacher who owned Micks Dugout Collectibles in Bothell for 3.5 years more than a decade ago, but says rising rent forced him out. He closes his eyes when telling stories, reaching back for every detail and statistic. He’s the kind of guy you believe when he claims to have never been interested in making a profit from the venture, more set on making kids smile. Which is why it’s unfortunate he entered the trading-card industry too late, at a time when rectangular pieces of cardboard were anything but cheap.
“You ran kids out of the program because of the expense of the cards,” he said. “Kids could not afford cards. I mean, $25 a pack? A $1 pack is a lot for those kids. So I had usually grab bags where kids could get cards.”
When he sold the business and his collection, the new owner returned about 400,000 “common cards” that are difficult to sell. They’re typically marginal players from the past few decades – topping out at a Keith Hernandez or semi-skinny Cecil Fielder – from brands such as Fleer, Donruss, Upper Deck, Score, Sportflix, always sprinkled with “shiny cards” that are most kids’ favorites. They’re nothing like Gwilym’s private stash that includes autographs from approximately 100 Hall of Famers, such as Mickey Mantle, Baby Ruth, Lou Gehrig and Joe DiMaggio.
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Although, according to his calculations, he’s approaching the one millionth free card mark, he says he still has another 800,000 in his possession, thanks to donations from card collectors who know about his mission.
“You are making future fans of kids that appreciate baseball because they get treated a little bit nicer than the average fan,” he said. “And I just love it.”
The Mariners say they provide between 400,000 and 500,000 baseball cards every year to game day staff and support Gwilym’s practice of bringing his own cards and supply more to his team members.
“He’s one of our best game-day staffers and we appreciate all that he does to help our guests have a positive experience at Safeco Field,” says Rebecca Hale, the Mariners’ director of public information.
Gwilym says keeps track of his freebies in 5,000-count boxes, and says he hands out about 800 per game. Sometimes he gives better cards to kids who can answer his trivia questions.
“It is a way of communicating with fans in a way that is fun and they come back and talk baseball with me, so I just enjoy it,” he said.
He plans to keep working at Safeco, and handing out cards, for at least another 22 years, at the age of 100.
“Assuming the Mariners will still have me,” he says.
Until then, he’ll be the guy standing by the escalator behind home plate, with pockets full of history.