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Mudville: June 13, 2024 4:22 am PDT

Cards by KEMO


It’s difficult being a fan of the Oakland Athletics these days. Kevin Engberg knows that as well as anyone.

Engberg, 38, grew up in the Bay area and has played baseball at one level or another for most of his life. Rickey [Henderson] being Rickey, Dave Stewart, The Bash Brothers, Moneyball, it’s all part of his DNA. So, as the Athletics crumble and appear headed to the franchise’s fourth city in the last 75 years, it’s not easy for Engberg and the rest of the club’s fan base. But he understands the situation.

“I’ve been a diehard A’s fan from the beginning, and it’s been a tough road of late with the all the news,” he said. “I was a big Mark McGwire fan growing up. I always tried to get number 25 when I was getting a jersey for a team [I was on]. That was my dude. And Ken Griffey Jr. is my all-time favorite player. Those were the guys for me.

“So, I do have a different perspective on it [Oakland’s expected move to Las Vegas]. I try to understand all the angles and find the positives in it.”

Finding positives in Oakland’s situation isn’t always easy but for Engberg, his love of baseball supersedes all and helps make the situation more palatable. And it’s that passion for the game that can be seen in his work as one of the West Coast’s up and coming baseball card artists. The field is quickly becoming crowded, but Engberg’s knowledge of the game and different approach to creating a card set him apart from many of the other newcomers in the field.

Kevin Engberg

Whether Engberg is cutting or drawing, recycling old cards from the wax-pack era or looking for a new way to highlight a player’s autograph, he’s doing so with the background of a collector, a player and a fan, all of which makes his work a bit unique. His work can be found on his Instagram page, madebykemo, or on his website, madebykemo.com.

The company name/website, by the way, in part is a way for Engberg to honor his younger brother Derek, who was born with cancer. Derek Engberg won his nearly five-year bout with cancer. Kevin Engberg was called Kevmo by friends and family while growing up and that morphed into Kemo as his brother took treatment for his illness and when he started working on hip-hop related material.

So, when purchasing Engbgerg’s works, which range in price from $25 to $80, there is a story behind what he has done. And that is why he never tries to pigeonhole himself into one genre.

“I try not to limit myself to one style,” he said. “I might be making a Rickey card and taking elements from 15 other Rickey cards and putting them together in different layers and encasing them. There might be 10 or 20 guys who exclusively collect Rickey stuff. They have batting gloves, helmets and uniforms and could pretty much dress themselves up in a complete Henderson uniform if they wanted to. These guys have been doing it [collecting] for decades so you have to do a one-of-one that will set them apart from other collectors.

“Everything comes from my head. I grew up watching so much baseball. If I have six Jay Buhner cards and I want to honor him, there are Seattle Mariners fans who would want that piece. Some don’t always turn out as I hope they would, but I also try not to work myself into a grind about how I have to have something turn out. I have some grail pieces and I have some duds. I just have to stay creative and keep my mind working.”

Engberg, who played baseball in high school and afterwards in adult and scout leagues until injuries curtailed his ability to take the field consistently, has had more time this year to work on his art. He had been working in the cannabis industry for the better part of the last six years helping startup companies and brands through the incubation process in order to become legalized in California.

One of the brands with which he worked was sold to a larger brand earlier this year and once it began to get traded on the stock market, Engberg found himself out of full-time work. So, he turned to his art. He has always had a creative streak whether it was through art or cooking. There was a time when he thought he might want to become a chef but the pay scale for that isn’t much different than for an unknown artist. Now, however, he has to time to devote to his work and the results have been impressive.

“I’ve always been an artist and have always loved and collected art and supported the arts in any way,” he said. “When the whole card art thing took off during the pandemic, all of the collectors had a chance to dig through all their crates and all the old cards they had accumulated through the years. A few guys started to see cards differently and create card art and collage pieces.

“I thought it was something I could do. So, I used a lot of cards sitting in boxes from the junk wax era that are worth fractions of pennies. But if I can turn that into a $10 piece, then I have recycled them and made some money. Everyone has their own unique fingerprint and look to their cards. Topps has collaborated with some of these guys and put their art cards as chase pieces in their own product. Luke the Card Artist now has a licensed Topps product. So, it gained legitimacy in a short period of time.”

Enberg has made close to 150 cards and the amount of time it takes to make one depends on the complexity of the card, ranging from two or three hours to four or five days. His baseball work is exceptional, but he says that his favorite piece is a collaboration that he has done with a hip-hop artist that he cannot yet name because the work has yet to be released.

“I took the look of a Lebron James rookie card and made a card for him and implanted a piece of one of his vinyl records instead of a jersey,” Engberg said. “It’s one of my favorite projects I have done so far. I also did a Roberta Flack card with a cut autograph in it so picking a favorite is tough.”

“I really didn’t expect to make a single dollar doing this so when someone pays me $40 or $50 for a single card, it’s an unreal feeling. Even getting a like or a comment on Instagram means a ton. To make these cards and be able to turn it into a few thousand dollars is beyond imaginable.”

The chances of Engberg doing that seem to be much greater than the chances of the A’s staying in Oakland.

Covered a Mets-Astros doubleheader in 1987 and never looked back. Spent eight years at MLB.com, more than half of that as the Mets beat writer. Had one beat writer from another newspaper threaten to kill him in an elevator at the winter meetings. The other half was as MiLB.com’s staff historian. Worked three years in Philly at Comcast covering the Phillies’ minor leagues and doing weekly TV spots. Author of the popular blog The Bobblist, which covers everything A to Z in the world of bobbleheads. Really.

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