My Favorite Baseball Card
I had been an avid baseball card collector as a youth, often collecting and selling drink bottles to pay for my packs. I remember sitting on the floor and arranging the cards for hours, putting the players in position on an imaginary field, stacking them in numerical order or by teams. As with many joys of youth, I set the hobby aside when it came time for college and jobs.
In 1990, I started reading about how the hobby was hot again, almost to the point of becoming a national fever. I was at a gas station in town when I noticed a box of baseball cards by the cash register. I remembered how hard I had to work to buy my cards twenty years before. Now all I had to do was reach into my pocket and pull out some spare change. I bought a couple of packs and took them home.
The cards I bought, Topps, still included a piece of gum, unlike many of the newer brands. The smell of the gum, the cardboard, the ink, and the wax paper brought the baseball memories of my youth rushing back as surely as did that first whiff of mown grass in the spring. I flipped through the cards, recognized a few of the players' names, and then put them away.
The next time I was at the store, I bought a few more packs. I gave some of the cards to my eight-year-old son, who was also a baseball fan. We often played out in the yard, hitting a Nerf ball with an oversized plastic bat. Now we had an indoor "sport" that we could share as well.
I kept buying packs, and soon I was trying to put together a complete set of 792 cards. I gradually escalated to buying a box of cards at a time. My son and I would sit on the floor and separate the cards, going over the checklists to see which players we needed to finish the set. My son began his own collection with the doubles, the cards I already had.
Since the cards were randomly seeded within the packs, it was easy to get duplicates of certain players while others remained elusive. I must have had a half-dozen Ozzie Smiths, and probably ten Steve Bedrosians. But I was unsuccessful in getting a Ken Griffey, Jr., card. Griffey was far and away the most popular card among collectors that year.
I could have gone to the local card shop and bought one for the set by spending a couple of dollars, but I was determined to pull one out of a pack. Making my bad luck even worse was the fact that a replica of Griffey's card was on the box, advertising the Topps brand and the card design. It's almost as if that Griffey on the box was taunting me, daring me to buy another hundred packs.
The next time my son and I opened packs, I explained to him how badly I wanted a Ken Griffey, Jr. His face set with determination, my son carefully opened pack after pack, almost apologetic when he failed to find one. Now my complete set was only lacking a few cards, Griffey being the most notable of them.
We opened the last of the packs I'd purchased that day, with no Griffey showing up. I sorted the cards, gave my son a stack of duplicates, and put the rest of my cards in a box. I'd forgotten about them, and became wrapped up in my other pursuits.
Later that evening my son came up to me, his hand behind his back. "I have something for you, Daddy," he said.
He handed me a Griffey, Jr. card. He'd taken a pair of scissors and cut one of the Griffey replicas off of the box. "Now you don't have to look anymore," he said
The hug I gave him was the best price I ever paid for a card.
I continued collecting, and eventually ended up with some old and valuable cards. But there's one card I would never trade, not even for a Mickey Mantle rookie card. I still have that Ken Griffey, Jr., the one with the uneven borders and the ragged corners, the one that has only plain gray pasteboard on the back instead of statistics.
That card, to me, is what baseball is all about. It's also what love is all about.