For generations, children and adults alike have collected and traded cards. From the famous Ken Griffey Jr. rookie card to the Blue-Eyes White Dragon, trading cards have long been woven into the framework of American Culture.
As we transition into the digital age when music is streamed, books are read on screens and classes are taught via webcam, the trading card industry has carried on — thanks, in part, to the ingenuity and passion of one local collector.
Jason Masherah grew up in the Muskegon area enamored with trading cards, spending his hard-earned money on the chance to rip open a pack and uncover a hidden gem. As he grew into the hobby, he learned the ways of wheeling-and-dealing, building his collection with rare finds and eternal icons.
Quickly, Masherah set up shop at trade shows, interacting with a vibrant community of collectors, further enveloping himself in the world of sports memorabilia. It was quickly apparent the young collector was a natural.
"When I first started collecting, I was really excited by collecting my favorite famous athletes," he said. "Then, I discovered there was a business side to it, as well. I could speculate on different rookies and hope their card values would go up so I could make money on them, then use that to fund collecting my favorite athletes and the more expensive cards."
During his time at Mona Shores High School, Masherah took a job at Lakos Legends card shop, kicking off an unforeseen career in trading.
Following graduation, the young trader opened a store of his own, Centerfield Sports Cards and Comics in Fruitport, and enrolled at Muskegon Community College. A short time later, he was off to Michigan State University to pursue a career in the sports industry that he always adored, and reserved to leave his beloved hobby and the community he had adopted behind.
The pursuit was unsuccessful.
After a string of rejections for various positions with professional teams, Masherah went to work for Fitzpatrick Electric Supply, where a few years separated from the sports world convinced him to give it another shot.
Indiana University attracted the young student with their highly rated MBA programs and easy connection to big-time sports and entertainment.
Upon graduation, Masherah's passion, years of schooling and unique experience added up to one perfect resume for a position with a company he knew well.
"When I finished at Indiana in 2006, there just happened to be a brand manager position at Upper Deck. It was a perfect fit," he said. "I closed my store in 1995, and I had no idea if I would ever be back working in trading cards, let alone at a company I once collected cards from."
Masherah continued to impress in his time as a brand manager. So much so that in 2013, when the Upper Deck CEO and founder Richard McWilliam died, his widow named Masherah his successor as president of the company.
"For me, it was a huge responsibility and honor," he said of the promotion. "To be in charge of this high-quality, highly perceived brand, that we all grew up collecting, and to be taking the reins from the founder was an incredible responsibility, but I was excited to take it on."
Since taking over, Masherah has wrestled with updating a time-tested industry for the digital age, while trying to retain the magic of the community he spent so much time immersed in as a youth.
"The industry has changed a lot, not only from when I started collecting but over the past 10 years," he said. "When I started, it was just sports trading cards. Now, there is Magic, Pokemon, Yu-Gi-Oh, which are all huge brands in the trading card realm. We even have a deal with Marvel for superhero and movie cards.
"On top of that, things have changed dramatically, digitally. From the way, you buy and sell cards online on websites like eBay to new platforms like Upper Deck e-cards.
"For us, it is all about getting trading cards in front of as many people as possible. The industry is very strong. Since the economic turmoil in 2008, people have really gotten excited about trading cards again."
Upper Deck has always served as an innovator in the industry, from introducing the first randomly distributed autographed cards in 1990 to developing the first comprehensive verification process for autographed memorabilia. Now, their digital platform is taking the trading industry into the internet age, while preserving the spirit of shows and card-store interaction from Masherah's childhood.
"There is dramatically fewer brick-and-mortar hobby stores than there were. That is one reason we created the e-pack," he said. "There are a lot of people who want to collect but don't have access to the product.
"If you look at what our competitors are doing, they have purely digital cards. You are basically just trading jpegs. For us, it was important to still deliver physical cards that are paired with technology, instead of replacing trading cards."
Upper Deck e-packs allow consumers to purchase and open packs digitally, then have their physical cards shipped to their door. Additionally, traders can interact online with their digital collections, easily navigating each other's wares from across the country to organize long-distance trading of their physical cards.
"We live in an on-demand society. Having a platform where people can instantly open a pack or box just makes sense. When you are a kid, Christmas is exciting because you don't know what you are going to get. Opening a pack of trading cards has that same feeling. We want to make sure that feeling lives on.
"It brings back that feeling of the ‘90s when you could meet people and trade at stores and shows. Now, you can do that online with collectors from all over the world."
Upon reflecting on his rise to the top of his beloved industry, Masherah considers his roots on the Lakeshore.
"West Michigan holds a special place in my heart," he said. "Todd Lange, who still owns a card and comic book store in The Lakes Mall, was instrumental in helping me learn the business. I'm where I am today because of him and that community.
"It is such a great way to connect with people, even your kids. It is a much better thing for them to spend money on than other things and is wholly healthy."
That dedication to principle has ushered in a new era of trading and collecting, and hopefully will continue to drive innovation in an industry enjoyed by people of all ages, all over the world.