Fleer Ultra began appearing in Baltimore-area hobby shops about the same time the baseball season started. Baseball is ubiquitous -- on television, in the newspapers and at the ballpark. However, Ultra is hard to find.
Dealers who got it first generally have sold out. Other dealers are still waiting for their shipments. It seems to be on the top of everybody's want list.
It's not last season's Ultra by a long shot. The premium cards have a glossy UV coating, border-less action shots and two-photo backs that have a 3D look.
"I just got two cases today [Tuesday]," said Harry Sponseller at Straightaway Center in Glen Burnie. "Now I'm down to one." He is also seeing strong demand for Upper Deck, especially the Home Run Heroes subset.
Diane Hubata at The Dugout in Ellicott City said: "We sold out in a day and a half. Packs, no boxes."
"We had it," said Don Bevans of All Star Cards in Baltimore. "Now we're out and don't know when we're going to get more." Still available and popular are Stadium Club, Fleer and Score II.
While he waits for his Ultra shipment, Carroll Williams of Bud's Starting Line-up in Baltimore is putting together Easter baskets filled with trading cards. It's the second year he's done it, and the custom creations are popular: He has 30 orders. Also popular with his customers are Fleer Rookie Sensations, Phil Plantier, Frank Thomas and Mike Mussina.
Linda Hassell at All-American Baseball Cards in Essex was expecting Ultra this weekend and has found Stadium Club, Upper Deck, Donruss Diamond Kings and, "of course, Cal Ripken" selling well.
All dealers reported continued high interest in Ripken cards.
Chuck Hoffman at Doubleplay Sportscards in Pasadena also is seeing demand for Nolan Ryan since it is likely his last season. He is selling fewer cards to set collectors than in the past. "There's so much out there that a lot of my customers have gone to the fancy subsets," he said. "I've had people just open the cello packs, and if they don't get the Rookie Sensations, they'll give me the cards back."
In Dundalk, at Baseball Card Outlet, Mike Tanner is seeing the same thing, and so is Bill Mayhew at Collector's Corner in Rosedale.
Robbie Davis, at Robbie's First Base in Timonium, also has been selling Ultra only by the pack. Another popular item has been a package of programs from last year's Opening Day and last game at Memorial Stadium and the first program at Camden Yards. Davis says autographed Ripken Donruss Elite cards are bringing $850, and "I've never had one for more than two days."
Fill it up: Collectors who also buy gasoline can get special Fleer The Performer" cards with qualifying fill-ups at 7-Eleven. There are 24 cards in the set, including Ripken, and they come five to a pack, one pack per fill-up of mid-grade or premium gasoline in April and May. The cards resemble Fleer '92s, but have "The Performer" logo front and back as well, as logos of 7-Eleven and Citgo.
Cards and Coca-Cola: Coke and Donruss are teaming to bring collectors four-packs of cards with 12-packs of soft drinks. Each pack contains three Donruss Series I cards and one card from an exclusive 26-card Nolan Ryan set produced for Coke by Donruss, with each card depicting one season of Ryan's career. Collectors can get the Ryan set for $8.95 plus qualifying UPCs. Details are on packs and 2-liter bottles.
May 2, baseball card show to benefit Arcadia Volunteer Fire Department, Arcadia Fire Department (Route 30, 3 miles south of Hampstead), 10 a.m. to 4 p.m., (410) 876-0577 or (410) 374-4111.
May 2, baseball card show, Security Holiday Inn (I-695, Exit 17), 10 a.m. to 4 p.m., (410) 922-8366.
May 3, baseball card show, Freedom District Fire Hall (Route 32 between I-70 and Route 26, Sykesville), 10 a.m. to 4 p.m., (410) 922-8366.