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Mudville: February 23, 2024 8:35 am PDT

Secretary of Wax

BY KEVIN CZERWINSKI

It’s fitting that politics provided the pathway on which Jason Samuels began his card-art journey.

Samuels, 39, who lives in the Washington D.C. area, has worked in and around the political arena for nearly two decades, including spending six years working first as the Press Secretary and then as the Secretary of Communications for U.S. Senator Jeff Flake, who is now the U.S. Ambassador to Turkey. He also spent a year working as the Communications Director for Congressman Mike Johnson, who is now the Speaker of the House of Representatives.

The passion that Samuels has for politics was ignited when he was a student at Arizona State and it still burns today, though his career has now taken him to the private sector where he does government relations work for a tech company in the Washington D.C. area. It was that love of politics that sparked something when he saw a 2011 Topps Allen & Ginter George W. Bush card depicting the former President throwing out the first pitch in the 2001 World Series.

“I saw the card of George W. Bush throwing the strike in the World Series and that [2001] was when I was at my peak of loving cards and baseball,” Samuels said. “It was a memorable moment for me and stuck with me all these years. When I got back into cards I thought maybe I could get an autographed version of it but they were listed at $5,000 so I just started searching around.

“Then I came across the story on The Tan Man’s [Tanner Jones] page about cut autographed stuff. It gave me the idea that maybe I could figure out a way to put a cut autograph on that card. That was in the winter of 2021. It was during CoVid, it was the winter break and things were slow at work so I bought a Cricut and developed a system. It took me three or four months to figure out how to do it and, to be honest, I was ready to give up at several points. The cut around the autograph is pretty tight but I wanted to make a Bush card. In the end, I finally produced a card using a signed book by George W. Bush that I bought off the internet. I thought it was cool and shared it on social media and it blew up.”

That explosion caused by Samuels’ Bush card has resulted in CardArtConnect, which produces some of the highest quality and most sought-after pieces in the card-art genre. Samuels has produced some 75 high-end cut autograph cards and several hundred other custom baseball cards since the Bush card. He’s evolved from embedding cut autographs in existing cards to the fully customized pieces he puts out today. Samuels has done a few basketball and football cards but 95 percent of his work focuses on baseball and or politics, which are two of his biggest passions.

His cards are standard size though occasionally one of the cut autographs he finds or is sent by a client requires him to make the card just a bit bigger. He searches for autographs from signed books and harvests sticker autographs off what he calls under loved big-brand cards because “they fit perfectly”.

It usually takes Samuels about eight hours to make a card from start to finish, partly because his card work is done around his regular job and partly because he doesn’t want to just be pumping out products. Samuels charges about $60 per card and he has a 10-month waitlist of commissions on which he is working.

“I’m an uber perfectionist,” said Samuels, who has been married to his wife Courtney for seven years. The couple has two boys. “I want to make sure it’s perfect. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve finished one, taken a picture of it and sent the picture to the customer and then maybe I see a spot of glue or something else that isn’t right. So, I rip it up and start again. The emphasis is on quality over quantity.

“I still think it’s crazy that people pay me. So, I want to make it look great and bring them joy and make them happy when they look at it. Unless someone has made a card that calls to you, it doesn’t exist until you can make it. I wanted to create cards that didn’t exist or that I couldn’t afford. To be able to use the skills that I developed to give someone that is really cool. When I make a card for someone and for them to think that card was made by a manufacturer is a really great feeling to put that kind of quality out there.”

Samuels grew up in Texas and remains a big Astros fan, having spent time as a youngster going to games at the Astrodome. He was a scrappy middle infielder in high school so naturally he gravitated to Craig Biggio, who was his favorite player. That he got Biggio to autograph a card at a card show when he was child only added to the Hall-of-Famer’s allure.

He also spent time living outside Dallas and developed “a soft spot for the Rangers”, and now the Nationals. That soft spot for the Rangers was evident when Samuels created what he says is his favorite card – one depicting the legendary 1993 fight between Hall-of-Famer Nolan Ryan and White Sox third baseman Robin Ventura, who charged the mound to take on the then 46-year-old hurler.

“It is one of my favorite moments and it is revered in Texas baseball history,” said Samuels, who has had a variety of autographs sent to him including the likes of Thomas Jefferson and Franklin Delano Roosevelt. “I did a dual of that. I created a card using a patch from Ryan’s uniform and a piece of Ventura’s bat. I was able to harvest a sticker autograph of Ventura but I sent it to Ryan and he autographed it for me. I got a lot of offers for it, but I am keeping it for myself.”

Samuels said that he doesn’t work on as many cards for himself these days. However, he is working on a set from the 1989 movie Major League that includes a “really cool” Charlie Sheen Wild Thing card. He’s busy trying to get autographs for the likes of Sheen and Tom Berenger but figures to strike out on getting announcer Bob Uecker to sign.

“He [Uecker] doesn’t sign anything that isn’t licensed,” said Samuels, who is also working on creating some cards with some pieces of Astrodome seat pieces that he purchased.

That Uecker will prove to be elusive shouldn’t matter much to Samuels. He has proven to find ways to work around a difficult signature.

“The fun part of the hobby is the joy I get out of what I am making and the fact that I can reminisce with people,” he said. “It’s cool to make something out of nothing that people appreciate.”

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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