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Trip to sports convention could be a comedy

Posted: August 7, 2012 - 11:07pm  |  Updated: August 15, 2012 - 2:27pm

Recently I decided to plan a trip to Baltimore for the National Sports Collectors Convention. This was the 33rd annual gathering of the nation’s sports card and memorabilia dealers. It included a somewhat new phenomenon: sports auction houses, dozens of which have popped up in recent years.

Heritage Auctions of Dallas is one of the big boys, and they were displaying the “Black Swamp Find”: A group of 700 baseball cards from 1910 that were found in pristine condition in an Ohio attic. The collection fetched more than $566,000 at auction. Also, Leland Auctions displayed a Babe Ruth 1920 road Yankees jersey, which recently sold for a market record $4.4 million. Attendees were able to get autographs (for a hefty fee, of course) from more than 100 past and current sports stars, including Barry Sanders, Emmitt Smith, Mike Tyson, and 10 members of the Cincinnati Reds’ “Big Red Machine.”

This sounds like great event for any sports fan or collector. Now, while I am no world traveler, I frequently travel and enjoy doing so. This trip, however, would have made a great movie. Unfortunately it would have been a comedy, and the laughs would have been at my expense. Think Planes, Trains, and Automobiles II. I never actually made it on a train, but came close.

First, I decided to plan my own trip. This was my first and biggest mistake. There are people who do this professionally for a reason. I figured I could save money by taking the direct flight from Augusta to Washington, D.C., rent a car, and make the 45 minute drive to Baltimore. Sounds easy enough. I would also get a hotel just outside of Baltimore to save a little money and to avoid all the downtown traffic.

I ignored all the warnings about delayed flights out of Augusta and the incredible parking difficulties in Baltimore. I mean, how tough could it be to find a parking spot? My flight out of Augusta was – you guessed it – delayed. I thought this was not that big of a deal. I was not on a set schedule and the convention did not start until the following day.

So after arriving in D.C., off I went to the car rental counter. This was a quick shuttle ride and I should have the car within 10 minutes and be on my way. Well, three shuttles and 45 minutes later, I got to the counter only to find out they did not have me in the system. Luckily I had printed out my confirmation information. I got a great rate on the car, but after hidden fees and taxes the cost went up significantly. Even so, I had my car and was on my way.

Remember that 45-minute drive to Baltimore? Even with printed directions, I managed to take three wrong turns. One led me to a gate flanked by armed guards. I finally stopped to ask for directions. It was easy, because of all the Pentagon police officers who came by to see why a rental car was stopped on the side of the road in the middle of the night. After some terrific directions from the kind officers, I finally arrived in Baltimore. That 45-minute drive took this ace world traveler two hours and 25 minutes.

En route, I had to pass a toll road to get to the hotel. That meant I would have to pay the $3 toll at least twice per day.

I finally arrived at my hotel. Inexpensive, but wonderfully described online. Let’s just say there are walk-in closets with more elbow room. You have heard the expression “rolled out of bed, into the shower”? Heck, if I rolled out of bed I would be in the shower.

And, like the rental car, the hotel had its fair share of hidden fees and taxes. But I was in Baltimore safely. The room was clean and the air conditioner worked, so I would be fine. I put all the troubles behind me and looked forward to the convention.

One problem: I still had to park in downtown Baltimore. After riding around for 45 minutes trying to find a spot I wouldn’t have to take out a loan to pay for, I settled on a spot about four blocks from the convention center and made my way to the event.

It was great. I saw plenty of rare treasures and met some great people. I decided to call it a day a little after 7 p.m. I headed to the parking garage only to find the gates pulled down and locked. At first I thought this was a security measure, but I was wrong; apparently the garage closed at 7:30, and it was 7:35. That would have been a nice nugget to hear about when I parked the car.

I panicked, thinking it would cost $75 for a cab ride to the room, then another $75 to get back to my car the next day. Also, I would be stuck without a car for the evening. Luckily a person cleaning the sidewalk saw me in distress and came to the rescue. He knew the garage manager and called him. The manager was only about 10 minutes away and agreed to come help this poor tourist.

I realize that these are minor problems and there are plenty of people dealing with more serious issues. As a matter of fact, the rest of the trip was great. I learned a route directly to parking at Camden Yards (where the Baltimore Orioles play), which is next to the convention center. I ate some great food and learned all about Old Bay (a seasoning that is highly recommended), and got to see the beautiful Inner Harbor.

That means look out, Chicago, the site of next year’s convention. You will have me to deal with next summer.

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