Printed from WriteWords -


by  TheGodfather

Posted: Monday, July 19, 2004
Word Count: 1452
Summary: This is a bit of nostalgia and grief. Your thoughts are welcome.

I F you look hard enough, I think you can still find them, scattered around in strip malls and swap meets. The dealers have all but disappeared. Hype for the hobby fizzled after the player strikes and pay hikes. They even tried corking the ball to make for higher scores and more excitement, but that didn’t work. Baseball card dealers are almost extinct, and cards are more expensive than ever.
I saw a kid looking through a stack, all glossy and state-of-the-art. I’d bet he didn’t know that packs used to have gum in them, that the players used to be real, that things used to be done because they could.
I remember when they didn’t have any trouble getting fans, and there were dealers on every block. The cards were simple cardboard and smelled like sawdust.
My dad took me to my first baseball game when I was eight. He told me it was the Freeway Series, Dodgers vs. Angels. I ran up the ramps ahead of him waving my Dodgers pennant and waited for him at the top. He walked with hot dogs and sodas. He was a sturdy man with broad shoulders and grayish hair, but to me, he was just Dad.
I loved that game because Dad took me. I probably spilled half my drink while standing up to cheer when he stood and raised his arms after one of the players hit it real good. The Dodgers clobbered them, and Orel pitched a dandy, a shutout Dad called it. I figured out what that meant.
That night I dreamt about baseball and the Freeway Series and stealing home to win and having the whole team rush the field to carry me to the dugout.

T H E next day after work Dad came home with a box of wax packs, Topps brand. He watched as I tore those packs open, making stacks all around me. I must have had my tongue out because I bit it a little and could taste the blood. Wondering what to do next, I sat back when I finished and looked up at Dad. He helped me put them in order by the number on the back. 36 packs was a load of cards.
I got a lot of doubles and triples. We looked through the price guide he’d bought. There were 4 Mark McGuire rookie cards and 2 Jose Cansecos, the Bash Brothers, Dad called them. 6 Barry Bonds and a Bobby Bonilla, 4 Orel Hershisers, a Danny Tartabull, 3 Eric Davis, only one John Shelby, a Mike Scioscia, “The Wall,” who looked just like Dad, and hundreds of others.
My parents would invite me in to watch television, but I would say, No. I wanted to sort my cards. They were already sorted, but I did it again.
Dad brought home box after box – Donruss, Topps, Fleer, Score, Upper Deck, and even a box of Canadian brand wax packs, O-Pee-Chee. All the kids called them O-Chee-Pee’s though. Cards were like girls. Anyone who was anyone had them and collected and put them in screwdown protective cases.
The next year the Dodgers made playoffs, and Dad got tickets, two of them right down by third base where we could hear them spit. Dad, all grizzled and forty, pushed the scrum of dads scrounging for the foul ball that landed a few rows in front of us and came out with a John Shelby foul ball. Orel Hershiser pinch hit in the thirteenth inning. A pinch hitter wasn’t supposed to be a pitcher, but let me tell you something, he could hit. He came threw, a two-run threebagger to the right field corner.
The Diamondvision fan camera got me and Dad, me on his shoulders spilling the rest of my drink and shaking my oversized, number-one hand. Dad had his shirt over his head and a blue arrow pointing up at me. He knew we’d get up on the screen if we did that.
The Dodgers won.
Dad said the players always sign autographs after they win, so we tried. I wasn’t the youngest kid though, and they only signed the young kids’ stuff. Even John Shelby. They just ducked under the metal dugout roof and were gone, and all I had was a ball.
The Dodgers went all the way to the Big Show that year, and John Shelby got a World Series ring and Kirk Gibson hit the home run heard around the world and limped around the bags as the “miracle” Dodgers won.
And I had a ball.

I K E P T my cards for years. I saw the stores turn the “closed” sign and had to go to liquor stores to find cards. They were always more expensive and never had the good brands, but I had to find cards. I looked harder to find them as they got harder to find. I remember that. Dad was at work, and hadn’t brought cards home in months. He didn’t help me sort them out anymore.
This morning I almost fell apart, I tell you. I mean, I have my custom-plated Suburban in the three-car garage and the pool out back, but I almost lost it today. People tried to tell me that I should keep my cards, you know, to give them to my kids, but that wouldn’t work. There’s really no way to explain it to them. They weren’t just cards. They were a journey of sorts, a discovery of a world that someone introduced me to but I explored. Handing them down to my son wouldn’t be the same for him. I’d be cheating him.
I’ve been selling them off at garage sales, and I put an ad in the Pennysaver. I’ve sold close to forty boxes, more cards than I care to count.
A man called up this morning asking if I had any cards left, and I told him that “Yeah, I did.” I didn’t go check, but I had a ton of cards.
He asked, “Can you give me directions to your place, so I can come pick some up?”
I said, “Yeah,” and gave him directions.

W H E N he called from the gate on the intercom, I went out and walked him to the house. I asked him, “Can you wait here for a minute?” I closed the front door and jumped stairs on the way up to my room. I reached up and grabbed the last three boxes on the shelf.
I got to the stairs and gripped the rail to jump down. I stopped myself and sat on the top stair, setting two boxes next to me, turning the last box in my hands, an old beat-up white box with packing tape around the ends.
I held it by the ends and stared at it. That’s when I almost lost it. I ran my finger along the tape. I hurried through my pocket for my house key. I sawed through the tape, first the left side then the right. I pulled out a handful of cards and spread them out on the box across my knees.
Brown cardboard with the faces of athletes, like the gold letters Dad had put on his Bible and the hanging dice in my brother’s VW Bug. Jose Lind, Darryl Strawberry, Andy Van Slyke, Tom Lasorda, Jack Dempsey, Mickey Tettleton, Dwight Gooden, Orel Hershiser, and John Shelby, they all sat with me on that top stair as the intercom from the gate buzzed again.
I looked back in the box. There were hundreds more cards and a baseball. Dad had fought off the hoards of other men, most of whom weren’t the slightest bit interested in getting the ball for their kid. I touched the black Sharpie signature on the ball with my hand. I hadn’t remembered Dad signing it for me. I tossed it into the air a couple of times, and spun it in my hand to look at the autograph again.
There, with those cards spread across my lap, I realized what it must have been like for Dad to watch me open all those boxes of cards he’d bring home, the veneration my wide-open eyes must have shown.
The only way I’d answer the door is if it were Dad, bringing home a box of wax packs that we would sit on the floor and open and sort or maybe wanting to go catch a game and eat hot dogs and nachos and see how far we could spit sunflower seeds. We could even just sit here on the top stair and spit them. I’d clean them up later.
But the guy outside could wait. These were cards.