BY KEVIN CZERWINSKI
Tanner Jones is part artist, part author, part creator, part innovator. To simply say he does it all, though, would do a disservice to what the Texas resident has been able to accomplish over the last decade while bringing his love of baseball to life in a most unique and intriguing way.
Jones, 42, who lives in the suburbs of Houston, traces his love of the game back to his youth when he was growing up in Northern California. He grew up a fan of the late 80s Oakland A’s, particularly Jose Canseco. His passion for the tainted slugger is still obvious as Canseco remains the focal point of many Jones creations, including the intricate and surprising Mystery Cabinet [more on that later].
The cards Jones creates, mainly through Photoshop, are one of a kind and offer a distinctive perspective on the players he depicts. They are handcrafted, bright and eye-catching, offering an appealing spin on the popular hobby. He has gained a sizable following in the card collecting world with his creations selling for between $100 and $200 apiece retail and more on the secondary market. He has also been able to get many of the cards he has created autographed by the players depicted.
Jones can’t put an exact time duration on how long it takes him to create each card because each one is specialized.
“It’s important for me to do something they [his customers] are going to fall in love with,” Jones said. “I was doing one card and I couldn’t get one detail right so I had to print it over and over again. I almost want to get into a mindset of cranking them out but that’s counter to what I do.
“I want to do something real nice rather than just check off the boxes and go on to the next one. People say why don’t you make 100 different [Derek] Jeters and [Mike] Trouts. That’s not what I want to do. I’m more comfortable with the players I collect. If you’re someone who loves Jim Abbott and have a huge, big-time collecting trip with him and you want something special for your collection that no one has, that’s kind of what I go after.”
One of the reasons Jones is so meticulous is because he is a collector himself. Many of the cards in his own collections are handcrafted pieces that he created. His love of all things Canseco highlights his collection. At one point he was a Canseco super collector, acquiring cards nearly every day. Jones sold his Canseco collection in 2018 but has since begun putting together another one that features just under 200 cards.
“I super collected Canseco, but eventually got rid of them,” Jones said. “One other thing I like is Transformers. They’re therapeutic. I know I sound like I’m 10. [But] guess what? They are bigger than cards. Ten of them versus 10 cards takes up a lot of room; so my wife [Holly] at one point said why not go back to collecting Canseco. She likes seeing what I have come up with.
“I grew up cheering for Canseco; I was captivated by him and it stuck. I get that question a lot, about why him. When I was growing up, he was the best player on the planet. Everyone knew him and he transcended the sport. No one swung the bat like him and when he came up everyone took notice. He was so violent when he swung a bat, whether he struck out or hit a homerun he was entertaining.”
While Canseco has been open about his steroid use Jones doesn’t have a problem with it. He takes more of an issue with the fact that Canseco wrote a tell-all book, detailing what he and those around him did.
“I don’t think it was fair or good that he took steroids but everybody else was so by that token he can’t be singled out,” Jones said. “So, you should have a problem with nobody or everybody. I understand why he wrote the book; I just don’t like the fact that the book is out there.”
Canseco’s book didn’t stop Jones from making him the subject of his Mystery Cabinet, though. This large and unique creation is a giant box-like card that features trapdoors and secret compartments, all of which contain Canseco cards. It is about an inch-and-a-half thick and is the size of vintage cabinet cards. It contains a variety of different creations, including a card made out of snakeskin.
“It took me an unbelievable number of hours to create,” said Jones, who also authored the book Confessions of a Baseball Card Addict in 2018. “It will give you a pretty good idea about my passion for the hobby.”
Jones’ passion for the hobby has also helped him cope with the unimaginable grief of losing a child. The couple’s son, Phoenix, was stillborn at 35 weeks in September. They have two other sons, Atticus, 20, and Beckett, 3.
“It’s the hardest thing that I have ever had to go through,” Jones said. “We still cry about losing him every day. It’s very, very hard. This [making the cards] is a good distraction from the other stuff, if that makes sense. It’s one of the reasons why I love doing cards; it takes my mind off it.
“I had been designing websites before Phoenix passed away but that became very stressful [afterwards]. In this season of my life, it was crushing me and it wasn’t good for me to continue doing it. I wasn’t emotionally equipped to go into that realm yet. I’ve been into doing card art and buying and selling cards as my main thing since, because it isn’t stressful. I don’t have clients yelling at me all the time to fix their website.”
Holly Jones created Phoenix Bears following the death of their son. She creates teddy bears that are customized to the baby’s weight. Each bear comes with a certificate of life.
“She started creating these bears to give to bereaved parents,” Tanner Jones said. “It’s very sad stuff. Nothing will make losing a child worth it but she wanted to make these bears for the people who also have to walk this horrible path.”
Jones is actually more than just an artist, author, creator, and innovator. He’s also a dad – and the care and thoughtfulness that he shows with regard to his children also shows through in what he creates.