Kyle Schroeder remembers the exact moment the light bulb came on.
It was late August 2012, and he and his older brother Eddie were wending their way to Yakima on a fishing outing and listening to the Seahawks on the radio as they traveled.
“Russell Wilson was a rookie playing in his third preseason game against the Chiefs,” Schroeder remembered. “And something about the way (Steve) Raible and (Warren) Moon were describing him, I just kind of got the feeling I should prospect this kid.”
Call it an epiphany.
Whatever it was, Schroeder followed his instincts and began to “prospect” the Seahawks’ young quarterback. In other words, he began to buy up football cards and other sports memorabilia bearing Wilson’s image at a relatively sane cost.
“His first five games were kind of rough,” Schroeder recalled. “And I was buying up the big cards before they got more popular.
“At first I had to chase them around the country on different forums. On eBay and traveling to sports-card shows on the west side of the state. And I got connected with a ton of local collectors in the Washington area, and, through the Internet, a forum of collectors from around the world.
“They knew I was a Russell Wilson collector and they would come to me, and it was pretty easy acquiring them. People sought me out to sell me their Wilsons, and I bought them all up.”
Three years later, Wilson’s name is a household word after leading the Seahawks to a Super Bowl championship following the 2013 season and a near-miss in February of this year. And Schroeder estimates his investment in the 26-year-old signal-caller has increased sixfold.
He’s not saying how much his Wilson collection is valued at, but it’s valuable enough that he keeps it safely locked away in a deposit box at a downtown bank.
Collecting sports cards came as second nature to the 39-year-old Schroeder, who grew up in Federal Way. He bought his first pack of sports cards — a 1982 Fleer pack of baseball cards — when he was 7 years old.
“I was a big Mariners collector back then, and Spike Owen was my favorite player,” Schroeder recalled. “And also Mark Langston.
“I can remember getting addresses of a lot of the local players out of the almanac at the library. I would send them my cards so they could sign them and send them back. Spike Owen was the only one I ever got back.”
One of Schroeder’s early finds was a 1984 Don Mattingly card he bought at a local grocery store. The card was soon worth $20, although he didn’t know it at the time.
“I remember trading that Mattingly card for a 10-cent Spike Owen card,” Schroeder said. “I found out later that I had been fleeced, and I have since become a little smarter about collecting.”
Collecting baseball cards was a logical beginning for Schroeder, who grew up playing baseball. He pitched and played shortstop, and when he was a senior in 1994 his South Kitsap High School team finished second in the state.
“Willie Bloomquist was a sophomore on that team,” Schroeder said of the former Mariners utility player.
Schroeder phased out of card collecting during his high school years, he said.
“I grew out of it,” he said. “I started chasing girls, as opposed to chasing cards. And I played baseball. And I had to have the best glove and the best bat. So I basically sold everything off back then.”
Schroeder’s second collecting phase began around 2001, he remembered. He had learned the art of prospecting by then, and St. Louis Cardinals slugger Albert Pujols was his primary target.
“I never had the finances to buy them outright,” Schroeder said. “But I would buy packs and boxes hoping to catch one of the big-dollar cards. And I caught a couple of them.”
“Northwest Sports Cards in Tacoma was my hangout back then, and I still stay in touch with those guys,” he added.
Schroeder also met his wife-to-be, Walla Wallan Serena Delgadillo, during that period of time. Serena was attending Green River Community College in Edmonds.
When the couple decided to relocate to Walla Walla in 2007, Schroeder’s second collection phase lost some of its steam, he said.
“By then my wife had graduated, and we wanted to buy a house,” Schroeder said. “Our priorities had changed.
“I have kept my core collection of Pujols cards,” he added. “But I have sold off cards here and there to buy certain things or take certain trips.”
Some of those certain things have no doubt wound up in the basement of the Schroeders’ Bryant Street home where they hunker down with friends on Sunday afternoons in the fall, cheering for Russell Wilson and the Seahawks.
“It was unfinished when we bought the house, and it is still a work in progress,” Schroeder said. “But I have tried to make it as cozy and fun as possible. I ended up putting carpet in there and squeezed in as much furniture as possible.”
Those furnishings include Schroeder’s lucky beanbag chair, a modular couch that can turn into 15 different pieces and a 55-inch Sony 3-D television.
And even though the basement is Schroeder’s self-described man cave and adorned with all manner of sports memorabilia, Serena spends as much time there as he does.
“My wife is more emotional about the Seahawks than I am,” Schroeder said. “She is always geared up.”
The Schroeders can host six to 12 friends comfortably in their basement, and when the gathering grows they do “double-deck parties upstairs and downstairs,” Schroeder said.
Schroeder is also famous, he said, for the link sausages he grills on game days.
“I use those Johnsonville hot-and-spicy brats,” he said. “I simmer them in butter, onions, peppers and a beer bath, then grill them and serve them with cream-cheese buns. They’re delicious, and it’s kind of like tailgating before the game.”
When Schroeder’s father, David Schroeder, died in 2012, it proved to be the impetus for his third foray into card collecting.
“He was a Vietnam vet who painted at Boeing for 36 years, and he was a big Seahawks fan,” Schroeder said of his father. “Our parents split when I was 8, but he would take us to Seattle Center sports-card shows and always made sure to get in there and pick out a couple of packs of cards.
“When he passed away, it was therapeutic for me (to collect cards). Something told me I should. And that’s when I went all in on Russell Wilson.”
Schroeder has no plans to sell off his Wilson collection.
“I made a vow to myself to keep them and pass them on to my daughter,” Schroeder said. “Besides, we are now in a better situation financially, and I don’t have the need to sell them, even though they are wanted by collectors from around the world.”
Ava Schroeder will turn 3 years old on her next birthday, in January.
“She bleeds Seahawks blue, just like her dad,” Schroeder said of Ava. “She is now chanting ‘Go Hawks!’ and does the bam-bam fist pump.”
And waiting, perhaps, for the day when she can do some prospecting of her own.