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Born and raised in North Little Rock, John Rogers' passion from a young age was collecting baseball cards and memorabilia.
"I was obsessed with trading cards as a kid," he said. "Some kids were into 'Star Wars' or going to movies. My sole obsession was baseball cards."
As Rogers' baseball card collection grew, so did he, eventually reaching a formidable six-foot-six-inches tall and leading him to the football gridiron, where he played for North Little Rock High. Though Rogers was big, he said, he wasn't particularly fast on his feet, which limited his prospects. He was offered a few scholarships, eventually choosing Louisiana Tech in Ruston, La.
"My mother made about $300 bucks a week baby sitting kids in our home," he said. "My dad was selling insurance. We didn't have any extra money... Me going to college was not an option had I not gotten that scholarship."
In Louisiana, Rogers soon found himself constrained by an NCAA rule that said players can't work during the school year. As a way of making money "under the NCAA's radar," he started selling off his boyhood trove of vintage baseball cards and memorabilia, traveling to Dallas, St. Louis and Memphis during the off season to sell at trade shows and running "buying ads" in local newspapers, saying he would pay cash for trading cards and memorabilia. Eventually, he said, he was bringing in around $40,000 a year. While selling cards was good for his wallet, it didn't do much for his concentration.
"I would be at football practice as a starter, trying to learn some new offense scheme against Alabama or Tennessee, and I'd be looking at the clock, thinking: 'Man, I told this guy I was going to meet him because he's got this Mickey Mantle rookie card.' That's all I cared about. My mind was elsewhere."
Rogers graduated and got married in the winter of 1996 and moved back to North Little Rock. He soon had a job interview with Stephens Investments. Just before the interview, Rogers said, he decided that he wanted to make a go of a sports card shop. "My dad bought me a suit for graduation," Rogers said. "When I canceled that interview, it broke his heart. I just decided that I didn't want to go to work for somebody yet. I wanted to keep trying what I was doing."
Rogers started his Sports Cards Plus on Rodney Parham in 1996, moving to JFK in North Little Rock when his lease expired two years later. As the owner of a brick-and-mortar business, Rogers had kept up his practice of running "buying ads" in newspapers, eventually running ads in major cities all over the country. While answering calls from these ads, he began to notice a pattern. "I started coming across team photographers," he said. "Team photographers, who shot for the Cardinals, or the Braves or the Yankees... They'd call and say, 'I've got a World Series ring.' I'd ask how they got it, and they'd say: 'I was the team photographer. I've also got these game-used bats,' or 'Ted Williams gave me his hat.' "
Rogers began buying from team photographers, in many cases working with a son or daughter trying to sell off an estate. In most cases, in addition to what he called "the cool stuff" like bats and signed baseballs, photographers often had large stockpiles of photos and negatives they'd shot over the years.
"I didn't care about any of that," Rogers said. "I knew nothing about it. It was a burden. The first several deals where I would buy [the entire estate], they'd say: 'How about these negatives?' and I'd tell them to keep 'em."
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