Mike Oz Connects Fans Through Baseball Cards and Tacos

If you are a fan of baseball cards and/or tacos, there’s a good chance that you’ve heard of Mike Oz.

By day, he’s a content producer and editor at Yahoo! Sports’s baseball vertical; and by night, he’s a do-it-all guy for the local Fresno community.

At Yahoo, Oz is most famous for hosting “Old Baseball Cards,” an online show in which Oz and players both past and present rip open a pack of baseball cards and discuss the players and stories that have helped shape one another. The show recently celebrated its 100th episode.

His card-opening exploits recently landed him his own card in this year’s Allen & Ginter set of Topps baseball cards.

Outside of that, Oz helps plan for and hosts various taco truck showcases. These endeavors help bring the local Fresno community together multiple times throughout the year and annually involve the Class AAA Fresno Grizzlies.

Last year, Oz provided me with my first start in baseball media as an intern for Yahoo! Sports. He entrusted me with the brand’s social accounts, later moved me into editorial and provided me with the opportunity to cover the 2018 World Series.

At the World Series, Oz’s entrepreneurial spirit was on full display. In a single weekend, Oz chatted with celebrities in the clubhouse hallway, ripped open packs of cards with the Houston Astros’ Alex Bregman, appeared on multiple Yahoo! Sports videos and filed several columns.

The Yahoo! Sports extraordinaire sat down for a Q&A with La Vida Baseball to discuss his career in baseball and tacos.

Johnny Flores Jr.: Where does the name come from?

Mike Oz: Oz is short for Osegueda — and I guess it’s a pretty typical baseball kinda thing. Nobody can say my last name correctly, so when I was younger playing baseball the other kids would call me “Ozzie.” Because we all know the secret to a baseball nickname is to put “-ie” at the end of a shortened last name. Eventually, that just became “Oz.” Fast forward years later and that’s just always been what people call me.

JFJ: Growing up, did you always know you wanted a career in baseball?

MO: I knew I wanted to be involved in journalism before baseball, but yes, that was one of my early dreams. I was attracted to journalism and newspapers as early as fifth grade and was writing for my local newspaper, covering high-school football and baseball games, by my junior year in high school. I’ve been into baseball since I was 6, so it was naturally one of the things I enjoyed writing about. Even though I wanted to be a sports writer, my first job out of college was actually covering entertainment and pop culture for The Fresno Bee. I loved that too, but I eventually jumped back to sports in 2013 when I joined Yahoo! Sports.

JFJ: At Yahoo!, you host “Old Baseball Cards.” How did that come to be?

MO: One of the things that hooked me about baseball as a kid was baseball cards. I’ve always been interested in writing about baseball pop culture — stuff like baseball cards, video games, movies, etc. — because that’s part of what accelerated my fandom. Before spring training in 2016, we were brainstorming video ideas and I wanted to do something beyond the typical interview. I didn’t quite have the mechanism nailed down, but I wanted it to be a conversation wrapped in some other activity. I left that brainstorming meeting without a good idea, but the next day I was cleaning my garage, came across some unopened cards from 1991 and the idea hit me. I figured everybody knew what to do with a pack of baseball cards and it would lead to some great reactions and stories. I was right. We’ve done over 100 episodes now, had guests I never would have believed and made my 10-year-old self pretty proud. Kudos to the Yahoo! Sports video team for seeing the vision on this and giving me a chance to do it.

JFJ: On the subject of cards, when did you first start collecting baseball cards?

MO: I collected cards with my grandma starting in 1986. We were chasing Jose Canseco Donruss Rated Rookie cards. She was a hardcore collector — dolls, Beanie Babies, etc. But with me, she would open boxes of cards. Back in the junk-wax era, she would just buy boxes of cards and stash ‘em away, thinking they’d be worth money in the future. They weren’t. If she were alive, I imagine she’d be surprised how all this turned out. Good thing is, I think about her every time we put out a new episode.

JFJ: Is there a particular player you have been wanting to do the show with?

MO: There are two huge names that shouldn’t be too much of a surprise: Ken Griffey Jr. and Barry Bonds. We’ve tried and failed in getting both of them as guests, but we’ll keep trying. I have two packs of the famous 1989 Upper Deck waiting for Griffey if he ever says yes.

JFJ: What is the coolest moment that has happened on the show?

MO: One of my faves was when Pedro Martinez got his brother Ramon. Bernie Williams is the only person to ever get his own card, which is cool, but I felt like Pedro getting Ramon was even better. The joy on his face when he pulled his brother out of a pack of cards was pretty damn cool.

We also got a great Lee Smith story out of Pedro when he agreed to trade me his brother. In general, I just love the unexpected places the cards can take you. In the Felipe Alou episode, he pulled an Andy Pafko card. Andy Pafko is probably not a guy you would normally ask Felipe about, but when he saw Andy Pafko, it reminded him of his brothers playing baseball back in the Dominican Republic and pretending to be Andy Pafko.

Those kinds of gems are why I love the show.

JFJ: This year, you’re one of the special insert cards in the Topps Allen and Ginter pack. How did that happen?

MO: Topps sent me an email late last year asking if I wanted to have a card in Allen & Ginter this year. I didn’t have to think too long about that one. It’s been quite an experience. Another one I never would have imagined. It led to me opening a lot of packs of cards with my two sons looking for my card. Family traditions, I guess.

JFJ: What I find interesting about you is that you’re part of the new-age sports reporters. You host videos, write columns, highlight trending topics and work social media. How important is it to be versatile, especially when it comes to covering a sport like baseball?

MO: I think it’s important regardless of what you’re covering. I’ve never wanted to fall behind the trends and technology used in our profession. I also enjoy being able to figure out ways to make stories work across different platforms. For a long time, I was the youngest guy in the newsroom. I’m not anymore, but I still want to stay on top of these things as best I can. In baseball specifically, I think it’s important to get new audiences (and new generations) into the sport and you have to bring the content to them where and how they’re consuming it.

JFJ: You have your day job at Yahoo!, but you’re also heavily involved in the Fresno taco community. What is it that you do?

MO: I co-founded and am one of the organizers behind the Taco Truck Throwdown. It actually dates back to my previous job at The Fresno Bee. When I was there, in the early blog era, we were trying to reach out to our audience in new ways. We would hold events and tweetups and eventually the Taco Truck Throwdown. I had written quite a bit about the taco scene here when I was at The Bee, so the event was a natural extension of what I was doing at the time. Now, Taco Truck Throwdown is nine years old. This summer it drew 10,000 people and had 30 taco trucks from around California’s Central Valley. I also host a smaller monthly event called Tacos, Brews & Jams at local brewery Tioga-Sequoia in conjunction with my radio show on New Rock 104.1.

JFJ: We have to ask does Fresno indeed have the best tacos?

MO: Yes.

JFJ: Is there another spot outside of Fresno that you recommend?

MO: The best tacos I’ve found on the road during baseball travels are from Tacos Tierra Caliente in Houston, a taco truck that’s not near Minute Maid Park but worth the Uber ride, during the 2017 World Series.

JFJ: What has been the biggest moment of your career?

MO: It’s tough to pick just one. The baseball card, obviously, was a great culmination of everything. We put out the 100th episode of “Old Baseball Cards” this year with Pete Rose and that was special. But I think I still go back to my first World Series. It was at Fenway Park back in 2013. The whole moment felt larger than life — just that I was there, covering the World Series.

JFJ: What is it like to connect with the community of baseball in two very unique ways, baseball and tacos?

MO: Creating community is really what I crave the most. Strip everything away and that’s what most things are about these days. It’s about gathering people and getting them to pay attention to whatever it is you’re doing. That’s tough to do in 2019 when there are so many things competing for our attention, so if you can make authentic connections to people — either in person or online — you’re doing something right.

JFJ: What advice would you give to young people pursuing a career in baseball media?

Learn as many different skills as you can, from writing to design to video to coding. Then get out there and start creating stuff, whether it’s stories, video series, podcasts. The Internet has made it so anybody can have a platform if they have an interesting point of view and good content. Find your voice, start creating and don’t stop.

Thank you to Mike for sharing his story with us! Follow him on Twitter and check out Old Baseball Cards on YouTube