BOZEMAN — With hundreds of boxes of sports cards, Matthew Christian is a certified collector. His bonus room on the top floor of his house boasted rows and rows of cards, some dating back as far as the 1950s.
Christian is the creator of The Sports Card Connection, a hub for buying and trading sports cards, on Facebook. He had collected cards all his life until one day they were stolen in college, but he has picked the hobby back up in the past few years.
His Facebook page has a handful of members who buy, trade, and break sports cards, and it was enough to garner the attention of Patrick Freel, who was looking for something.
“Patrick Freel, Ryan Freel’s biological father, reached out to me via message and said ‘Hey, I’m looking for my son Ryan’s cards,'” Christian said of their first interaction. Christian knew there was a possibility he could have it, but when he didn’t, he took it to the card community.
The motive behind Patrick Freel’s message was to inherit something for Ryan’s daughters. Ryan, a utility player most known for his time on the Cincinnati Reds, committed suicide in 2012. It was later discovered he had CTE at the time of his death. He was 36 and left behind his wife and three young daughters.
Loss at a young age was something Christian sympathized with.
“My dad died when I was 10, so it kind of pulled at my heartstrings that these little girls were going to have three binders of their dads cards,” he said. “If I could hold [something like] that in my hands now as a grown up, it would be pretty remarkable.”
” I immediately knew the sports card community would step up and send some cards in. What I didn’t realize was it was going to be to this magnitude,” Christian continued.
The magnitude he spoke of was the mountains of cards that covered his dining room table. After a quick conversation with his wife, he put his address out on social media, and the gesture went viral.
“My goal was 200-500 cards, but this is crazy. It baffles me,” Christian said, thumbing through envelopes.
Three weeks after the initial post, Christian now had more Ryan Freel cards than he could imagine.
“I think it’s really cool that the sports-card community, and even outside, people have bought cards on eBay to send to me as soon as they heard the story,” Christian said.
As the card search slows down in the next few weeks, Christian hopes that the conversation of suicide and CTE remains a topic among athletes and fans. He is honored to be able to memorialize an incredible athlete like Freel this way.
“Ryan Freel’s memory is alive again, and it needs to be,” Christian said.
But the ultimate goal was to show the kindness of strangers, and that was a grand slam.
“Humanity has stepped up for this cause, and that says a lot. I even got letters from people that said they didn’t even have a card but that they looked,” Christian said. “It’s a good story overall.”