When I was a young boy, growing up in the suburbs of Atlanta in the early 80s, I visited the local sports card store with an obsessively. Often, I just stood and gawked at the expensive, rare cards gleaming from beneath glass showcases – 1953 Bowman Warren Spahn, 1966 Topps Hank Aaron, 1963 Topps Pete Rose.
However, sometimes, with a week or two's allowance in hand, I would purchase a pack of crisp, tightly packed baseball cards wrapped in smooth, taut plastic. Topps. Donruss. Fleer. The brand didn't matter. All that mattered was that they were new, mysterious, and mine.
After purchasing a pack, I would immediately rip into it as the clerk watched and sort through what the baseball gods had bestowed upon me, separating everyday players from the stars: Tony Gwynn, Cal Ripken, Ryne Sandberg, Don Mattingly, Pedro Guerrero, Robin Yount, Wade Boggs, Eddie Murray, Dale Murphy, Ricky Henderson, Mike Schmidt, Gary Carter, Ozzie Smith, Rod Carew...
These were my holy grails, my treasured scriptures with columns of precious statistics etched on the back of each card, a player's history wrapped in numbers, in decimals, in percentages.
Then, after sorting, I would return home, place my prized stars in plastic sheaths and file everyone else in a small village of shoeboxes organized by team.
It had been years since I last saw those villages, those plastic sheaths full of stars from the 80s, a childhood contained in cardboard. It had been years until my seven-year-old daughter, rumaging though my old closet yesterday in Atlanta, stumbled upon the shoeboxes and pulled them out.
"What are these?" she asked, opening a box and carrying it to me.
I smiled and rubbed my head. "Those are baseball cards," I said, reaching into the section marked Yankees, pulling out a handful of players from 1983. Dave Righetti. Rick Cerone. Lou Piniella.
"Woah," she wailed, my daughter who is no fan of baseball, at least not yet. "These are amazing."
"Yeah, they kind of are."
"Can I have some?"
I answered by telling her about my childhood of collecting, about the cards' value, about the shape of things past, my past, now resurfacing upon her fingertips.
"Tell you what," I said. "Let me sort through some of these and pick out ones I might want to keep, and you can have the rest."
She squealed and implored me to begin, right then and there. And so I did, sorting through the Pirates and Orioles, Blue Jays and Expos, White Sox and Cubs, making two stacks: mine and hers.
She marveled at the cards, reading names, numbers, not knowing who they were or what they meant, but understanding intuitively that each was unique, that each was a life, that each was now breathing after being unearthed.
Occasionally she would ask about a player. "Is Dale Berra good?" But mostly, she just read the cards, looked at the faces and smiled.
I couldn't help but do the same.