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Mudville: July 19, 2024 7:40 am PDT

What’s in the Box


David Short has proven himself to be quite a woodworker and artist despite not having any formal training in either trade. The 53-year-old Arizona resident’s creations, whether they are baseball cards or the cases in which they are housed, have become enormously popular, making his work among the hottest and most marketable in the burgeoning card-art field.

Short made his first card case a few years back as a way to display some of his favorite cards. He was among the millions of collectors who had kept his cards in binders but realized that he wanted to be able to see them and appreciate them, particularly his favorites. So, he got to work.

“I always loved cards,” said Short, whose full-time job is in the residential development field. “I had always been into cards and sports art [when I was younger] but when I went to college, I kind of fell out of it. And, I thought I had lost my collection after my parents had moved.

“As I got older, I got more sentimental about the cards and began seeing them on social media. That’s when I found out that my cards were actually in a storage unit and not gone. I got them all back and it lit the fire again. So, I made a case and put my favorites in there; they were my favorite little works of art in a case.”

Short’s renewed interest in the hobby led him to social media, where he began interacting with collectors and the rest of the card community, including those who were interested in and creating card art. Once he posted the case he had made, interest in his work began to take off. Now, he has a steady flow of requests for his cases.

While he can make a case just about any size or shape, Short’s main two cases are a 20-card case and a 10-card case. That includes a background, logo, bunting and screens. He recently expanded and began including unique touches such as old signage.

“None of us have been to places like Ebbets Field, so, I’ll put in stadium backgrounds or old signage to make it more interesting and enjoyable,” he said.

It takes a few days to complete each display case. That varies, though, depending on how involved the case is and what size the customer wants.

“It’s not [a] quick [process],” said Short, who added that he mostly uses a chop saw and a blow torch to create the cases. “I try to use reclaimed wood, old bleachers and stuff from old barns. I cut them and rip them to get them to the size I need and then I customize them. I torch them to stress them. If I didn’t have to wait for the paint and glue to dry, I could get them out in two or three hours. But it takes a few days. It’s a bit tedious, but I like it.

“The wood I’ve had to buy when I’ve run short. It’s amazing, though, how much wood is wasted in construction, everything. If there is a demolition or someone is tearing down an old barn or something and I have a chance to get old wood, that’s cool. It’s fun to work with. It has a rustic look that you can’t recreate. Even though I am making them look vintage and distressing them on purpose, I have to move kind of slowly. If you have one screwup, you have to start the whole thing over.”

Short sold his first case five years ago and now figures he is putting out about 100 a year. He takes a picture of every creation and keeps it on his phone – he said he has to keep paying to upgrade the storage. While he mostly makes cases for baseball he has also done some for soccer, hockey and golf and has even gotten a request to do one for mixed martial arts [MMA].

“I like the challenge to do new stuff and when people have a vision that we can work together on for what they are looking for,” he said. “When things are dead, that’s when I get the chance to work on new creations and styles.”

Short’s card creations are as unique as the cases in which they are held. His work has an old-time feel reminiscent of the Goudey cards from the 1920s and 30s. A more recent comparison would be cards produced by The Helmar Brewing Co. He creates his work by hand and digitally. He draws, paints, cuts, shapes and puts together each card despite not being trained in any form of art.

“Half the time I don’t know how I come up with it,” he said.

The time it takes Short to make each card – whether it’s a Babe Ruth, Satchel Paige or his recently completed Old West Series – varies though he says some cards can take as long to complete as the cases. He also recently completed a series based on players who served in the military for the Fourth of July. He charges $30 for his custom cards but said that it would be cheaper if a customer wants to order more than one.

Short’s goal is to keep his cards affordable in what has become an expensive hobby. He does, however, occasionally have to raise the prices of his cases when the cost of materials gets too high. Short doesn’t have a website – he doesn’t have the time to sit and create one – and says he barely has time to main his Twitter [@CardsCigarbox] and Instagram [cigarboxcards]. However, that hasn’t prevented his reputation and popularity from growing.

“I’ve always had an artistic and creative side,” said Short, who has been married to his wife Shannon for 27 years. They have three children. “I’ve never heard you’re a great artist or woodworker, but I guess I have a style that people like or enjoy. I love vintage looking stuff or stuff of guys who never had cards, like guys who played in the Negro Leagues.

“I can make stuff look old and be kind of imperfect with it. If something gets too nice, it’s almost like a reprint. I like rounded corners and creases. It adds to the story and the look.”

Short doesn’t see himself stopping any time soon, either, though he’d love to find a way where he could make this his full-time job.

“Right now, it’s a good escape and it keeps me busy for sure,” he said. “I always say find your passion and do your passion. It took me until I was 48 but I love it.”

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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