Christmas came early for Eric, a Florida-based building contractor. He was in Georgia for a wedding and decided to open a box of 2022 Bowman Draft 1st Edition baseball cards, his brother stopping by his Florida home on the drive up to wrangle the pricey package.
“It was steep, [like] $450,” he told ESPN. “But it was like, ‘You know what? We’re at [a] wedding and I need a Jud — it would be so cool.”
The Jud being Jud Fabian, an outfielder in the Baltimore Orioles farm system who was 52nd on MLB’s top 100 draft prospects of 2022. Eric was prospecting — a term in the collecting world for speculative early career card collecting in the hopes of a minor leaguer catapulting to stardom. Fabian, between Rookie, Single-A and High-A ball in 2022, his first professional season, slashed .333/.455/.615 over 22 games.
Eric tore into the packs like he was 12 again, when all he wanted was Dale Murphys and Jose Cansecos.
“It took me back, ripping packs,” Eric said. “I’m rifling through, hitting [autographs] and variants … and I open a pack, took a little pause.”
He saw a flash of chrome and JUD FABIAN running along the bottom border. He put the card in a protective sleeve and toploader, snapped a photo and uploaded it to Twitter.
“This may look like a normal chrome pull,” Eric wrote of the shiny, non-autographed rookie card, “but when I pulled this one, it was pretty special!!!!”
Someone took note of Eric’s Twitter handle — @23fabe23 — and asked: “Related I assume?”
This Jud Fabian card with a “Hi Dad!” inscription was just pulled…and now his dad is trying to track it down!!
RT to help him find it! ❤️ pic.twitter.com/HMAVWt0MTU
— The Collectibles Guru 🧠 (@ericwhiteback) January 7, 2023
“My son!” Eric Fabian replied, still coming down from pulling his son’s card for the first time.
“Here was my guy, looking at me in the face,” Eric said. “Man, it’s very cool to see your own kid … the weight of [that] moment’s pretty cool.”
The wedding he was at was Jud’s, the card pull — a 1st Bowman, a baseball player’s first MLB-licensed card — as positive a pre-wedding omen as any.
“Card Twitter has been awesome,” Eric said. “I think [that post] got over 104,000 views. Somebody [quote-]tweeted it and said, ‘Hey, let’s help this guy find his kid’s cards,’ and that got 108,000 views.”
Eric wanted to find more of his son — something a little more personal and definitely signed. Twitter isn’t exactly the Internet’s most welcoming town square, but the card community embraced Eric’s pride.
Eric knew that Jud had signed cards differently from other prospects — and he was all-in on chasing them down.
“There’s only been a few moments where I’ve been like, ‘All right, this is real, I’m actually playing professional baseball,” Jud Fabian, a star at the University of Florida and a 2021 and 2022 second-round MLB draft pick, says.
Eric had bought cards for Jud and his brother, Deric — a sophomore infielder for the Gators — growing up.
“We’d get so excited seeing Miguel Cabrera, Albert Pujols [or] Tom Brady,” Jud said, “but seeing my own card, it’s like: Well, now you’re a professional athlete.”
It didn’t fully compute even when he got that first phone call and was being asked to sign cards.
“I was like, ‘Without a doubt, I’m going to do it,'” said Jud. “You never know what little kid is growing up like [us], fans, wanting those cards.”
When the Fabian kids were growing up — Jud is 22, Deric will be 21 in August — signed cards weren’t nearly as prevalent as they are now. Now, athletes sign hundreds if not thousands of cards and stickers to be placed on cards and there are sometimes dozens of parallels within each card set.
Jud, cutting through the monotony, decided to have some fun. He started writing messages, including greetings to his parents, to name a few.
“The ‘Hi Dad’ one, he took a picture of when he sent it [in],” Eric said. “He said, ‘You’re going to have to find this one somewhere.” ‘Hi Mom,’ I haven’t seen surface. Deric plays at UF, so he did one with his number 23 on it; I heard rumors that’s been broken and someone’s got it, but I haven’t been able to find it. He did Philippians 4:13″ — I can do all things through Christ, who gives me strength roughly — “his [favorite] Bible verse. ‘Go Gators,’ ‘Go O’s.'”
One card Jud signed has a date on it: April 5th, 2022. During a night game in Gainesville against Florida A&M, Jud and Deric both launched solo shots in the bottom of the fourth inning.
“[That’s] the coolest one,” Eric said. “Pretty cool way to share [something] he did with Deric.”
Ryan Rubin, the owner of card breaker VIP Rips, pulled the “Hi Dad” autographed rookie card and immediately put Eric in touch with the card’s owner.
“[At] the Dallas card show, my guy who handles all the messages notified me about it, so I told him to reach out to [Eric],” Rubin says. “The buyer seemed like he was going to comply, would love to be involved, but we reached back out and didn’t hear much. But I don’t see why he wouldn’t [sell].”
Rubin sees unique signatures as a growing trend in the hobby, a hobby that’s demanding more and more ink from its cover stars.
“I saw [2021 Colorado Rockies first-round pick] Benny Montgomery and [2021 Arizona Diamondbacks first-round pick] Jordan Lawlar, they were collecting cards and it’s like a picture,” Rubin said. “If you put [the] cards together, it’s a photo.”
— Benny Montgomery (@benny_mont) March 24, 2022
(According to Montgomery: “Topps, I know they weren’t thrilled about it,” Montgomery told ESPN’s Tom VanHaaren in July of 2022. “I’m not banned from doing it, but I’m chilling out from that standpoint.”)
“They contacted the co-owner of the [“Hi Dad”] card, gave him all my contact info,” Eric said in mid-January. “So if he ever wants to move the card, he can reach out – but so far, I haven’t spoken to him, don’t have any movement.”
But then others with Jud Fabian-autographed cards started reaching out to Eric.
“We were in the scavenger hunt,” he said with a chuckle.
Collecting prospect cards can get expensive — unrealized potential is pricey — especially following the COVID-19 collecting boom.
Just before Christmas, an orange Bowman Chrome refractor autographed card of Jud’s, numbered out of 25, sold for $518 on eBay. In early January, a red refractor parallel — this one numbered to 5 — sold for $450. More than a dozen 2022 Bowman variants have sold for upward of $200 on eBay and a near-perfect SGC-graded gold refractor auto is currently soliciting $700.
Eric has certainly purchased his share from Twitter users, but the average buyer doesn’t share Jud’s last name.
“I’ve bought stuff on eBay and after, I’ll get a message when they see my name: Are you related?” Eric said. “Sometimes guys are like, ‘Hey, man, I’ll sell you this for 60% of what it’s going online if you really want it,’ and I actually worked a deal with a guy that just came in the mail today.”
The most expensive Jud purchase in recent memory on eBay (asking price $1,000) is the Fabian Bowman Draft autographed printing plate, literally the only of its kind in the world.
It belongs to Eric.
“[The user] had a one-of-one printing plate of Jud and I didn’t want to pay the price,” Eric said.
Eric’s bargaining chip? Another thing no one else had.
“I sent him some signed Jud gear and he sent me the card. Twitter can be a bad thing, but card Twitter is awesome.”
Jud’s daily phone calls home weren’t just about catching up anymore: They were also manic ledgers on his father’s Internet scavenger hunt.
“I call him every day and [ask], because I know the ‘Hi Dad’ card is out there already,” Jud said. “I’m like, ‘How you doing? Did he answer you back?'”
As of March 1, the Fabians still don’t have the “Hi Dad” card, but have accrued plenty of others.
“He’ll give me an update,” Jud says. “He sends me pictures of cards on eBay, asking if people are trying to rip people off. He’s like, ‘Is this one worth it?'”
Eric laughs at his spending spree, like combing through the yard for eggs on Easter, but it’s not every day your son becomes a top-60 MLB prospect. His projected MLB.com arrival date in the Bigs is 2025. (Annual prospect rankings for 2023 haven’t been released and rosters — with spring training just underway — are still in flux. Fabian finished 2022 with the Aberdeen IronBirds, the Orioles’ High-A outfit, hitting .386 with a godly .841 slugging percentage last August.)
“My wife knows about [the chase] because she sees the statements,” Eric said. “She was laughing when I said I was going to take a month or two hiatus, but she gets it. Deric isn’t as big into collecting or memorabilia collecting, but he still thinks it’s cool. Not every day you’ve got a card of your brother out there.”
The Fabians liken it to a sort of love letter from Jud, the culmination of a lifelong investment and endless miles traveled for a beloved sport.
It’s also been a catalyst in a welcomed sibling rivalry.
“Deric” — a 2021 high school All-American out of North Marion high school in Citra, Florida, who started 43 games a true freshman at UF — “is like, ‘Don’t worry, I’m going to send him on a spending spree at some point,'” Eric said, stifling a laugh. “Jud said, ‘Well, what would be really cool is if one of these card companies put out a card with both of us on it.'”
“‘Well, that’s up to you guys, isn’t it?'”