ORLANDO, Fla. (WFLA) – His collection started with one card, a Michael Jordan card, before he reached his first double digit birthday.
“That was the first card I really remember wanting and telling my grandpa to buy me packs of this card,” said Mark Grof Jr., “or bring them home from the shop if someone gets one.”
His grandfather owned a toy shop in New Jersey in the 1980s and he is responsible for introducing his grandson to the world of sports cards and sports memorabilia. The collective interest in the National Hockey League had always been there though.
“When I lived in New Jersey, my grandfather and my father were huge New York Rangers fans. I went to a few games at Madison Square Garden for special occasions,” said Grof Jr., “but, for the most part, we just did the whole family barbecue and Friday night thing and watched the Rangers games at home.”
When his father decided to move his family to Florida in 1990, they had to readjust to a reality without an NHL team.
“Nobody knew what hockey was down here,” said Grof Jr., “so, until the Lightning became a team, I really had nothing to do except read the newspaper because, back then, there was no internet where you can stream the games. I just followed the Rangers for a few years until the Lightning started.”
Thankfully, the Lightning arrived in Florida in 1992.
“My dad knew how much we loved hockey,” recalled Grof Jr. “He got us tickets to the first ever game.”
Grof Jr. quickly became obsessed with the Lightning and he shared his passion with his family and his friends. He still has that habit frequently driving his wife, his children, and their friends from their home in Orlando to Amalie Arena in Tampa for a game.
Unfortunately, his favorite team only qualified for the playoffs once in its first ten seasons.
“The person, who got these people in Florida to be hockey fans, ended up getting the finger pointed at him and made fun of,” said Grof Jr., “because my team was so horrible and everybody said, ‘That is why hockey is not for Florida.’”
Steven Stamkos, according to Grof Jr., flipped the script for the franchise.
He actually watched Stamkos as a member of the Sarnia Sting before the Lightning selected him as the first overall pick in the 2008 NHL Draft.
“I saw how he glided around the ice and how fast he was and his hands and everything about him,” said Grof Jr. “I got goosebumps thinking about it right now because I remember I had that moment that this is the guy who is going to help us win a Stanley Cup. This is the guy who will do everything for my franchise and who will put us on the map.”
As soon as Stamkos joined the organization, Grof Jr. skated full speed ahead combining his love for his team and his love for his cards.
“I sold two cars that I had,” he said. “I sunk every penny into investing into his sports cards and memorabilia from his rookie year, from charities, to eBay, to whatever I could, I have snatched it up and I have kept it.”
He has amassed a collection of 10,000 to 15,000 Stamkos cards worth between $600,000 and $700,000.
“I receive anywhere from five to seven eBay packages a day with Steve Stamkos stuff and, in this community, they are very generous,” he said. “They know I collect them.”
He stores his cards in multiple locations and, regardless of the circumstances, he says he will never sell them. However, his wife, Brittany, frequently asks him if he has changed his mind.
“’We can go to the Fiji Islands. We can go to Bora Bora if you sell a few cards,’ she says to me,” explained Grof Jr. “‘No. No. I would rather sit here and stare at them.’”
His collection, while it is extremely impressive, is missing one important card, a Mark Grof Jr. card.
He can add it if he wins this Upper Deck contest. The trading card company is searching for a “passionate and dedicated” fan to carry the title of the “2021 Ultimate MVP.” Grof Jr. is one of the eight finalists. The likes each finalist receives on Twitter translates into votes for that finalist.
“If I end up getting the most likes,” he said, “I am going to end up getting a customized Upper Deck trading card that is going to be in next year’s product so anybody around the country can go buy a box of hockey cards and open it and see me in my Lightning jersey and my hat.”
The exact photo that would be printed on that card is printed on Grof Jr.’s shirt. He said he has been wearing it for the past three weeks and his wife and his three children have been wearing identical shirts too.
“People think we don’t shower,” he joked.
If you would like to help Grof Jr. win the “2021 Ultimate MVP” award, you can give him your vote by liking this post on Twitter between now and Monday, May 24.
“For a sports card collector, having your own card, it doesn’t get much better than that,” stated Grof Jr. before he added, “other than meeting Steve Stamkos in person.”