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!!— The Collectibles Guru 🧠 (@ericwhiteback) January 7, 2023
RT to help him find it! ❤️ pic.twitter.com/HMAVWt0MTU
(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.
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"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?'"
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