Tuesday, November 24, 2009
Little Treasures From A Shoebox
I went with my dad and my friend Vinnie and his dad to my first baseball card show. I was new to the convention. Vinnie and his dad had gone many times before and had a game plan. If you didn't know any better you would swear each table had an elaborate cloth of baseball cards spread out in all directions in a giant VFW Hall. There were cards, autographed baseballs and bats, glossy photos. You could buy brand new packs of cards. Some dealers showed their cards behind glass cases, the prices stamped on like supermarket canned goods. I wasn’t shocked at the high prices. I had been reading Beckett price guide for a few months before that first show so I was schooled in the number's department. I wasn’t going to spend a lot of money. I had ten dollars on me. That would only go so far. My dad had already forked over the thirty bucks to get both Don Mattingly and Bret Saberhagen’s autographs. The Royals had just come off their World Series win over their neighbors the Cardinals and I wanted to get the ace pitcher’s John Hancock. My dad wanted me to have Don Mattingly’s autograph too because he thought he had a swing as sweet as the Stan “The Man” Musial.
Getting the autographs was something like a cattle call, the monster of a line dragged out to the front door. All the way off on the stage, the players looked weird in their street clothes. Actually, it was really off-putting. And as I thought about it, standing on the line, it was nothing more than a business deal. I’d asked ballplayers for autographs at the Stadium. That was fun. There was nothing like flagging down a player and having him sign it right there when you caught him off guard his spotless uniform in front of you. And that brief moment before he shuffled off and you looked down at the scrawled initials on your ball or glove or whatever you happened to offer and the rush of adrenaline as if you had just stuck your head into the mouth of a lion that was what it was like to catch an autograph at the stadium.
I stood on slowpoke line with my dad with an awful puss and he called me “smellpot” which was the name he gave me when I was in a mood.
“What gives?” he said.
“I don’t want it,” I said.
“Mattingly is going to be batting champ. Trust me, now is the time to get it.”
“Not like this.”
“You don’t like him?”
“He’s no Dave Winfield.”
This was more or less the thrust of our verbal barb. I moped on line until I got both Mattingly and Saberhagen’s autographs on 8 x 10 glossies. Then I went off and searched the show to find any nifty collectibles that would fit my budget. I shied away from the glass cases. Those cards were well out of my ballpark, but I helped myself to the dollar shoe box. Yes, there was actually a table that had a shoebox filled with mainly old common cards and a few surprises. I nabbed a 1974 Rod Carrew, his bat dipped to his back shoulder in a classic pose waiting to get into the batting cage.
Then I picked up a Ted Williams. He wore the same painless grin as always but was merely a splendid splinter of the early images I'd seen of him from books and newsreels and though he donned a red cap it was with the Washington Senators insignia and not the Bosox. It was a 1971 Topps manager card for only a dollar. Who could pass up such a find? There was also a Willie Mays in an Amazing Mets uniform. Holy Cow. I never knew he even played with them. It was his last card. To round out the playing field I took a Johnny Bench, and a George Brett. My five cards for eight dollars, a frugal but spirited selection.
I walked around some more and saw some odd things like Pete Rose candy bars. Never heard of them. I knew there were Reggie Jacksons and Baby Ruths, but these things looked stale. Who would want to buy old candy? And I never was a big fan of Charlie Hustle.
When I met up with my dad and my friend Vinnie and his Dad I saw that they had 2 boxed sets already clutched under their respective pits. Vinnie also had a few loose cards in hard plastic-coated shields, mostly new stuff with flaming orange letters Hot Prospects. Vinnie’s dad looked down at my stuff.
My dad saw the Ted Williams in my hand and a nonplussed expression washed over his face as if I had pilfered the Missing Link.
“Where’d you get that?” he asked, reaching over to get a better glimpse.
“Over from the shoebox. It was only a buck. I got all these cards for eight dollars.”
I showed them off, the Williams, Carrew, Mays, Bench, and Brett.
“That’s all they’re worth,” Vinnie’s dad said with the vacant eyes of poker player.
What an asshole I thought. He was a stick-in-the-mud if ever there was one, a killjoy from the word go. I felt a little bit crummy because I knew that these cards weren’t worth much. Sure it would be great to have a heyday Williams or a “Say Hey” Mays when he was on the Giants, but where the hell would I get the dough to buy them. But, I liked my cards and I wasn’t ready just yet to fully let the long thread of fantasy that made my cards magical leave my head or hands.