WESTMINSTER — Ten-year-old Justin Shay, wearing an orange Orioles baseball jersey,bounces into the store on the hunt for Jim Palmer baseball cards.
On his heels are brothers Mike and Isaac, also sporting Orioles garb, and equally determined to find cards -- any cards -- of the Hall ofFame pitcher.
They know where to look. Display cases containing countless cardsof famous and also lesser-known ballplayers line the walls of Tige'sBaseball Cards and Supplies in Westminster.
The boys, who live inUnion Mills, spot several Palmer cards.
"You don't need a real expensive one, just one you can get signed," offers their father, Mike Shay. "Hurry up and decide what you want." Palmer is going to be at acar dealership in Hanover, Pa., and Shay and his sons plan to make the trek there as soon they have cards in hand.
The boys are looking at cards in the $5 range. Palmer's autograph, though, will not makethe cards more valuable, according to area card collectors. Collectors don't want signatures on cards.
Justin, his father says, is thereal baseball card collector in the family. The Charles Carroll Elementary fifth-grader's interest began a couple of years ago after he attended a baseball card auction.
"They all play Little League, I think that's how their real interest started," Shay says.
It's clear, though, on this particular Saturday afternoon that the Shay boys -- Mike is a Westminster High School freshman, and Isaac is a East Middle School seventh-grader -- aren't the only collectors on the prowl.
Collecting baseball and other sports cards is a popular hobby among today's youth. So popular is card collecting and trading that clubs are forming at county middle schools.
Additionally, the county'smiddle school recreation council is considering forming a club as yet another activity for those looking-for-things-to- do sixth- througheighth-graders, says Leslie Hinebaugh, the panel's coordinator.
"There's always been an interest in collecting baseball cards," says Ray Beaumier, owner of Tige's Baseball Cards and Supplies. "Just aboutany kid around has collected baseball cards at one time or another."
Collecting, though, has become more popular in recent years because more adults have become interested. There's money to be made in collecting and selling cards, Beaumier says.
Cards sell upward from 50 cents a pack to more than $600 a card, Beaumier says. The highest-priced card in his store is a 1934 Jerome "Dizzy" Dean, which he has priced at $660.
"Cards appreciate at a solid rate," he says. "You're not going to make money overnight on a card.
"There are more adults involved than ever before," Beaumier said. "That's why you see so many stores. It used to be you could only get cards at 7-Eleven or High's. Nobody ever thought collecting would be popular enough that you could base your entire store on it and make a living."
And withmore disposable income available to many families these days, collectors have become more serious and long term. It used to be that boys would collect cards until their teen-age years, when girls and cars came along.
"It's not like that any more," he says. "You see a lot of fathers and sons, mothers and sons, mothers and daughters collecting. The whole family is involved."
Nineteen-year-old Chris Shipley, for instance, hasn't let girls or cars get in the way of his collecting. The Westminster High School graduate, though, only began collecting a few years ago.
"My friends got me interested," Shipley says, noting he collects baseball, football, hockey and basketball cards."I collect players that I like. Frank Thomas is real hot. I try to get any of his cards."
Beaumier says Shipley, a Westminster resident who hangs aluminum siding for a living, is atypical of the people who frequent his shop. Most begin collecting cards at about Little League age.
Thirteen-year-old Nick Parker, a New Windsor Middle School eighth-grader, is more typical. Nick has been collecting cards for more than two years.
The Taylorsville youth says his parents and friends sparked his interest in collecting. He now has about 1,500 cards.
Matt Gronaw, a North West Middle School sixth-grader, estimates his collection is about five or six times the size of Nick's.
"I've got about 7,000 cards," the Taneytown resident says. "I get cardsfor my birthday and Christmas."
Browsing in Seventh Inning Stretch, a sports card store in Taneytown, Matt doesn't seem to be too interested in cards, though. Instead, he is picking up storage boxes, a baseball card collector's magazine and other miscellaneous items.
"He spends about $12 to $25 a shot, depending on how much money he has," says his mother, Linda. "Usually his dad helps him out. His dad has gotten into baseball cards, too."
"We get all ages in here," says Mike Clapsaddle, a part-time worker at the store and avid collector. "They look for a little bit of everything."
The hot cards, he says, are Frank Thomas, Bo Jackson, Ken Griffey Jr. and anything with Cal Ripken. He says young collectors will spend whatever money they have in their pockets.
"Ripken is hot all over the country," says Clapsaddle, a Taneytown resident and supervisor at the county's Emergency Operations Center.
Mark Durgin, a Mount Airy Middle School eighth-grader, started picking up cards a couple of years ago and has amassed a collection of about 3,000 cards.
"Mostly, I have baseball cards," the Sykesville resident says. "I do have some football cards, too."
Mark does little buying, though. He says he prefers to tradecards.