This is a sports-centric time of year. As March Madness continues, hockey is still scoring, and the fervor for opening day of baseball season peaks. All sports can be fun and compelling, but baseball remains king. It's not called "America's pastime" for nothing.
Somehow baseball cuts through all the others. Similar to soccer in Europe, baseball is akin to religion in the U.S. The rivalries are intense, and some worship players as deities.
It used to be even more omnipresent. Almost every boy in the U.S. had a baseball card collection and saved his coins to buy the gum packs each weekend to add to it. Not anymore. Baseball cards are still printed, and a few kids buy them. But gone are the lazy Saturdays when finding a Mickey Mantle, Ernie Banks or Stan Musial card was tantamount to getting a winning lottery ticket. Gone, too, are the weekend pickup games. Video games have replaced both. But there are still collectors.
As the saying goes, "The only difference between men and boys is the price of their toys." And, with a much larger disposable income, men are far more able to spend their coins collecting some very desirable baseball items — especially a new one that's a coin itself.
The U.S. Mint has never been a major player insofar as creating baseball-related items. In 1997, it issued a limited-edition silver dollar honoring Jackie Robinson and another in 1992 commemorating baseball in the Olympics. Other than those, nothing — until now.
Last week, the Mint released not only three ideally designed coins commemorating baseball in America; it created them in a form making them arguably the most intriguing coins in years. The new coins are literally in the shape and curvature of a ball and glove, respectively — both in a single design.
Minted in copper/nickel clad, silver and gold, the curved coins have a concave obverse and convex reverse. The front of the coins features an open ball glove, the words "Liberty" and "In God We Trust," and the date, 2014. The back of the coin perfectly takes the shape of a rounded baseball replete with detailed stitching and the words "United States of America," "E Pluribus Unum" and the appropriate denomination.
The copper/nickel coin bears the half-dollar denomination. The largest of the three is a $1 coin struck from 0.9 silver. The smallest but most valuable is the 90 percent gold $5 piece. All three carry the same revolutionary curved design emulating a genuine ball and glove.
Prices for the clad half dollar and silver dollar are roughly $23 and $53, respectively. There is a little wiggle room, depending on whether the coin is struck in proof or uncirculated condition.
The $5 gold piece is a different story. With fluctuating precious metal prices (especially gold), the price can change. From past similar-sized coins, expect the price to be in the $450 range. But that may not be the issue. The problem may well be availability.
Only 50,000 gold coins have been struck. The silver dollar has a mintage of 400,000, and the clad half dollar, 750,000. That may sound like a lot but, because we're talking about baseball, it's not.
Fans get a little crazy about collectibles such as this. Case in point, postage stamps printed in 1982 and 1983 commemorating Jackie Robinson and Babe Ruth. The multiple other 20 cent stamps from those years now are worth far less than their face values — barely 14 cents apiece. But those two baseball-related stamps can fetch several dollars apiece, even $200 for a sheet of 50. The reason: Promoters bought up the Robinson and Ruth releases, as well as other baseball stamps, to put in frames. Sports fans bought them up en masse, making the stamps scarce and valuable.
I can see the same thing potentially happening with the baseball coins — especially the gold and silver varieties. The price of those "toys" is easily within reach of baseball fans (who would pay every bit of those prices just to attend one playoff game).
So if you want to try to get these coins, log on now to www.USMint.gov. My guess is, not unlike every World Series game, a sellout is imminent. And aftermarket prices are anyone's guess. I'll keep you posted as to how far out of the park prices may go.
Editor's Note: A JPEG visual of the front and back images of the $5 gold baseball coin has been sent with this column.
To find out more about Peter Rexford and features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate Web page at www.creators.com.