KISSIMMEE, Fla. — Mark Grof has been a Tampa Bay Lightning fan from the beginning.
“I became a Lightning fan when my family moved us from New Jersey right before the Lightning’s inception in the early ’90s,” Grof said. “My father ended up getting us tickets for that first game in the Thunder Dome.”
His favorite player: Steven Stamkos.
“I started watching some of his videos,” he said. “The way we skated on the ice, his hand and puck work. Growing up watching Mark Messier, Wayne Gretzky, Mario Lemieux, you know when you see something special. Instantly watching a few games, I said this is the guy for me.”
Before the Bolts drafted Stamkos first overall in 2008, Grof began collecting every Stamkos card he could find.
“With the Lightning being horrible you know they’re going to get the first pick and with everyone speaking of (Stamkos), you know what I’m going to invest in him,” Grof said.
When he says “invest,” he means it.
“I sold two cars, two used cars, I sold just to invest in Steven Stamkos cards because I was that sure.”
His collection has grown to 15,000 individual cards, valued at nearly $600,000.
“You could do a lot (with that money),” Grof said. “Buy a house, buy a car. I always tell everyone I’ve always wanted a Bentley.”
As a collector, Grof also focuses on cards with serial numbers. He goes after cards that are No. 91 in the set.
“I try to get the number No. 91 of 99 because 91 is his jersey number,” Grof said. “On top of it being limited, I have the only one that matches his jersey.”
Grof has a lot of attachment to his Stamkos collection. Memories of opening packs of cards include time spent with his grandfather and family members.
“To me, they are priceless,” he said. “I would never sell a single one. I’ve had people offer to purchase my collection outright and I have turned them down multiple times, multiple people.”
One of the rarest cards in the collection is Stamkos’ peewee card, way back when he wore number 19 and weighed only 100 pounds.
“This is the card the family will get with the pictures,” he said. “I was able to get in contact with a family member that was able to let it go for me. I cherish that as well.”
Grof calls it an obsession that all started with hunting down this 91-92 Michael Jordan Upper Deck card.
“I opened that first box, I finally got the Jordan card. and as they say, the rest is history.”