In his younger days, Chris Perez perhaps single-handedly kept sales of Frank Thomas' baseball cards strong.

The Cardinals reliever followed baseball up close in Spring Training, having grown up in Bradenton, Fla., spring base of the Pirates. But Perez became a fan of the White Sox, who for years trained down the road in Sarasota. Perez's love of baseball led him to accumulate baseball cards all year round. The end result was a collection of 40,000 cards.

Perez recalled his collecting days and affinity for Thomas, "The Big Hurt," in this interview.

MLBPLAYERS.com: How did you assemble such a large card collection?

Perez: My dad got me into it when I was 4 or 5. He bought me my first pack. I'd get the cards. It would happen every time he filled up at the gas station. He bought me a pack. I grew up in Florida with baseball all over the place in Spring Training. He loved baseball and passed it on to me.

Collecting cards as a kid -- that was kind of the way to stay with the game. It just kept growing. In middle school and high school, I'd go to Spring Training games and try to get autographs. I'd try to get the cards signed.

MLBPLAYERS.com: Who were some of the players you followed at those Spring Training games?

Perez: We had Spring Training season tickets for the Pirates, but my favorite team was the White Sox. Frank Thomas was my favorite player. They also had Harold Baines and Ron Karkovice, a bunch of older guys. I still have every card that I collected.

Frank, during the mid-1990s, was one of the best players. I wasn't a pitcher then. I was a hitter. I was big, and he was The Big Hurt. I remember they came to play the Pirates in Bradenton. I was about 12. I didn't watch the game. I was lined up on the rail all game, and he came over. I got three of them [signed]. I have over 400 Thomas cards.

MLBPLAYERS.com: Did you collect any older cards?

Perez: I only have a few vintage cards. I have a second-year [1955] Hank Aaron card. It's in good condition. I got it on eBay.

MLBPLAYERS.com: What condition are your cards in?

Perez: They're all organized in alphabetical order. They're in penny sleeves. I have a whole room in my house for them. I'd keep 'em for the memories. I had even more -- I lost a whole lot when I went to college [at the University of Miami].

With my schedule, I couldn't keep up with it. I used to have them displayed by team because I would get autographs. One offseason I organized them alphabetically. I have them all online, too. There's a Web site where you can catalog them.

MLBPLAYERS.com: When did you first appear on a card?

Perez: While I was in college, I was on Team USA. I was in an Upper Deck set.

MLBPLAYERS.com: What's your favorite big league card on which you appear?

Perez: I don't have any real favorites. There's one where I'm talking to a catcher. Other ones I'm posing. I really don't have an action shot.

-- Red Line Editorial