I am a collector.

What that basically means is that I have a lot of stuff that doesn't mean much to anyone except me and other collectors.

It also means it takes up a lot of space, and every few years when that stuff has to be moved and I open the boxes, I'm surprised.

I'm surprised because it's been a long time since I looked at this stuff.

I am both amused at what I remember I have and a little forlorn, thinking "Why did I buy this?" And, "I wish I had the money I spent on this stuff." And "Wonder if this stuff is worth what I paid for it?"

My collection is mostly sports-related.

I have autographed baseballs, photos and baseball cards.

My youth was spent running to drug stores and grocery stores when the new baseball cards came out.

At that time, my friends and I enjoyed the pure joy of opening a wax pack and seeing who we got. We even chewed the gum.

At the risk of aging myself, that was a simpler time. Collecting was nothing more than fun.

I had no idea these pieces of cardboard had any value other than the value I placed on them and that I wasn't happy until I opened a pack and saw Reggie Jackson's card.

As I got older, collecting changed. More companies made cards, and I had to collect them.

I learned about shows, where nerds like myself could gather and buy and trade cards. It was an amazing place.

Even after marriage, I collected and my wife indulged my obsession. She went along with me to some of these shows, putting up with me walking around these cavernous buildings, mouth wide open and eyes glazed over, I'm sure, as I took it all in.

I remember the card show my brother took me to where I picked up autographed pictures of hall-of-fame pitchers Bob Feller and Warren Spahn for $1 each.

A few years later at another show, Green Bay Packers hall of fame quarterback Bart Starr shook my hand, autographed a pennant and showed me one of his Super Bowl rings.

Those days are long gone, and so is the simplicity of collecting cards and attending shows.

Over the years, the number of these shows dwindled, as did the number of collectors.

But the number of cards you can buy has grown exponentially, as has the cost and value of collecting your cardboard heroes.

It's a business run by businessmen, not the mom and pop local store owners who stocked cards along with gum and candy.

It is for the rich, and I have been left far behind.

I still buy a few packs of cards each year. I still like opening them and seeing whose face is staring back at me.

Reggie is long gone, along with my youth, but there is still a little itch I get every winter when the new baseball cards arrive.

Over the years, it was no longer good enough to just have a player's image on the card. Autographs, patches of game-work jerseys, dirt from the field, a piece of a hat or a sliver of a bat were added to cards.

Although I have a few cards that are valuable, I was never blessed with the luck to open a pack and see part of Babe Ruth's jersey attached to a card.

Still, the memories I have collected and the fun I had with my friends trading these pieces of colored cardboard are worth plenty.

Patrick Murphy, of Columbus, Neb., is a former assistant managing editor of The Telegram.