By Peter Schwartz
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There are several different ways to signal the start of a baseball season.  There are free agency, pitchers and catchers reporting to spring training, the start of exhibition games and, of course, opening day.  But for many kids (of all ages), the new baseball season also starts with the opening of something else: ripping open that first pack of baseball cards!

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To the delight of many collectors, the baseball season is now officially underway after Topps unveiled Series 1 of its 2016 set.

“That’s exactly how we feel about it,” said Susan Lulgjuraj, marketing communications manager for The Topps Company. “Series 1 always comes about a week or two before pitchers and catchers report, so we look at it as the start of the baseball season.”

This is a historic season for Topps as the company celebrates the 65th anniversary of making baseball cards. As part of this year’s set, Topps is including a collection called “Berger’s Best,” a tribute to Sy Berger, who is considered to be the father of modern-day baseball cards.

Berger was one of the designers of Topps’ inaugural 1952 set.

“What we have is 65 cards with every design from 1952 until 2016,” said Lulgjuraj. “It’s really a fun way for people to look through cards.”

New York baseball fans will certainly enjoy the 2016 set, especially the faithful in Flushing after the Mets’ run to the World Series last season.  Among the Mets featured in Series 1 are Matt Harvey, Noah Syndergaard, Jacob deGrom, as well as the rookie card for Michael Conforto.

2016 Topps rookie baseball card for the Mets' Michael Conforto

2016 Topps rookie baseball card for the Mets’ Michael Conforto

Topps hit a home run with its Mets selections.

“We didn’t have to do a lot because the Mets are so popular right now,” said Lulgjuraj. “As long as we had the right guy on the right card and there were no mistakes on the back, then people are going to love the card.”

Yankees fans won’t be disappointed with Series 1, either. The set includes rookie cards for Greg Bird, Rob Refsnyder and Luis Severino. Rookie cards are always exciting for a fan to collect, and the Yankees have some good young players on the way up.

So despite the loss in the American League wild-card game last season, Yankees fans have some hope for the future, and Topps has captured that.

“You’re waiting for something new and fresh, and actually I think Series 1 provides that, which is really exciting for Yankees fans,” said Lulgjuraj.

There is a key Yankee who is noticeably absent from Series 1 — at least in terms of a primary card inclusion — and that is Alex Rodriguez.  A-Rod’s card will be in Series 2, but he does appear in Series 1 on a Yankees combo card with Mark Teixeira.

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The card is called “Comeback Kids,” as both players delivered strong performances in 2015. A-Rod and Teixeira hit 33 and 31 home runs, respectively, last season, but it was Rodriguez who really opened eyes in his return after being suspended for all of 2014.

The card is a must-have for Yankees fans for a couple of reasons: It’s a cool-looking card, and A-Rod became a fan favorite again after his return.

“A-Rod is going to have attention no matter what he does or how the card looks,” said Lulgjuraj. “We wanted a fun card for him. He’s smiling, and that’s kind of how some Yankees fans want to think of him.”

The 2016 Topps set will once again include the popular “First Pitch” insert cards, a series of cards featuring celebrities who threw out ceremonial first pitches during the 2015 season. Among the cards are four that chronicle first pitches that took place before Mets games.

United States soccer star Abby Wambach, Triple Crown-winning jockey Victor Espinoza, Knicks first-round pick Kristaps Porzingis and politician Gabrielle Giffords all threw out first pitches at Citi Field last year and have cards in the set.

2016 Topps "First Pitch" baseball card featuring Knicks star Kristaps Porzingis

2016 Topps “First Pitch” baseball card featuring Knicks star Kristaps Porzingis

“First pitches are historical moments in baseball with newsworthy moments, so we try to pick some of the top newsworthy moments from 2015,” said Lulgjuraj.

Aside from the local cards, there are a couple of other highlights of Series 1 that will be of interest to collectors. As far as the prestigious No. 1 card in the Topps set, that honor goes to Angels outfielder and New Jersey native Mike Trout. Also, the card for Blue Jays outfielder Jose Bautista is his now-famous bat flip from the ALCS.

The card sent Canada into a frenzy when it was released.

“In Canada, the Jose Bautista card was absurdly popular,” said Lulgjuraj. “We like to take images from special moments that sort of evoke these feelings of ‘man, I remember that moment’ or “I remember when I was at that game.'”

There are so many things to like about baseball cards.

From the excitement or mystery of opening up the packs to collecting cards from your favorite players and teams to trading with your friends, baseball cards have been a timeless tradition that has been passed down from generation to generation.

That tradition continues with the 2016 Topps set that has a little something for everyone, especially for Mets and Yankees fans. For me, it’s always been the perfect way to start the baseball season.

For more information on the 2016 baseball set, visit www.topps.com.

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Follow Peter on Twitter at @pschwartzcbsfan. You can also follow Topps  at @toppscards.