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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.

Originally posted to Writing by David Harris Gershon on Thu Dec 27, 2012 at 06:02 PM PST.

Also republished by Personal Storytellers.

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Comment Preferences

  •  So much better than video games! (8+ / 0-)

    Remember Majik Market?

  •  I collected in the 70s and a little in the 80s (7+ / 0-)

    Around 1992 I started buying complete sets for my child (assuming I would have one).   It took a long time, but I now have a 2 year old son and I can't wait to start sharing them with him.  Still have my cards from the 70s (and earlier) too.

  •  that sure rings a bell. (5+ / 0-)

    I wanted the 1984 Topps Mattingly (rookie card? I vaguely remember that Fleer had an 83 rookie card for him or something) more than anything in the universe.

  •  a couple of stories.... (8+ / 0-)

    I started collecting cards when I was very, very young, in New York in the 1950s. I remember getting Mickey Mantle's card (this was 1957) and my older sister just took it from me. To this day she insists I traded it to her.

    Flash forward to the 80s. I was living in San Francisco and some of the young neighbor boys wanted to look through my old cards. They asked if they could have some and I said "If I have any doubles, sure". To my chagrin they interpreted that as meaning if I had two or more of a player they could take all of them. So goodbye Mike Schmidt rookie card, goodbye Nolan Ryan rookie card and so on. Oh well! It became a moot point when, 15 years later, the basement flooded and all of that collection got destroyed.

    •  I had a 68 mantle card. (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:

      My sis swore it was hers.  

      She died in 97, and I have them all now.  Would trade them all to her back.  Everytime I look at them I think of her, so I treasure them now.

      "The next time I tell you someone from Texas should not be president of the United States, please, pay attention." Molly Ivins

      by janmtairy on Thu Dec 27, 2012 at 08:43:38 PM PST

      [ Parent ]

    •  ACK! (2+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      Shahryar, janmtairy

      I didn't value or take care of mine as collectors items as I should have when young. Never realized they would end up as valuable as they were during the baseball card craze. Considered selling the entire collection at that time but didn't want to let go of my childhood memories like that. I did lose some to a pipe burst many years later but luckily not that many as I kept most of them on a shelf off the floor. Many of mine just show the wearing of age but many are in fine condition. One of these days I'll probably pull them out and maybe get them appraised. Probably ought to add them to my will as they do represent a significant amount of money.

      "Do what you can with what you have where you are." - Teddy Roosevelt

      by Andrew C White on Fri Dec 28, 2012 at 09:15:26 AM PST

      [ Parent ]

  •  "Topps. Donruss. Fleer. The brand didn't matter." (7+ / 0-)

    There was only Topps when I bought em.   And they came with the most unique gum the world has ever known.   Bought some for my kid in the late 80's and felt ripped off not to get gum....

  •  T206 Honus Wagner. (3+ / 0-)

    Ah, memories.

    (No, I didn't collect them, but my brother did)

    The thing about quotes on the internet is you cannot confirm their validity. ~Abraham Lincoln

    by raboof on Thu Dec 27, 2012 at 07:07:59 PM PST

  •  Some of my husband's and son's (7+ / 0-)

    Best times are when they discuss baseball and check through Hubby's old cards and Son's more recent cards. My son is 19. I remember that, even at age 3, my son understood that the cards were special and to be treated with care.

    Hubby had a difficult growing up. Baseball and baseball cards helped keep him intact when home life was was not intact.

    Baseball is and was and will be.

    Thanks for sharing this!

    Peace, Hope, Faith, Love

    by mapamp on Thu Dec 27, 2012 at 07:08:13 PM PST

  •  Brings back memories. (6+ / 0-)

    I didn't grow up a baseball fan. Then I attended college at Mississippi State.

    Oh, that 1985 team! Will Clark AND Rafael Palmeiro. Jeff Brantley and Bobby Thigpen, too. I'm not a serious collector, but I did make a point to get those 4 rookie cards.

    Just because you're not a drummer doesn't mean that you don't have to keep time. -- T. Monk

    by susanala on Thu Dec 27, 2012 at 07:10:55 PM PST

  •  Oh yes. (10+ / 0-)

    I have before me at this moment the Sanford Koufax rookie card. Given to me as a gift about 20 years ago by a friend. It's in a lucite frame. Topps 123 from 1955.  They say it's worth around $400.  Know what? It's worth more than that to me.
    It's not for sale. It's just a small treasure from long, long ago. From a different civilization. From a world that for me is still Kodachrome bright.

  •  Tons of Baseball Cards in Basement (5+ / 0-)

    I started collecting baseball cards when I was 7 or 8 years old (1977/1978). The early ones are not in great condition - i decided to write on the back of them! But, I loved going through the cards, reading the statistics, seeing where they were born, and so on. I would sort them by team and the whole collection process helped me get into the game of baseball.

    I collected for years and years. I must have 15-20,000 baseball cards.

    I always imagined that I would sell them. But, who has the time to sort through them and sell them online? Open to any suggestions!

  •  Great story? nice that a young kid can get (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Zack from the SFV, NotGeorgeWill

    excited about BBcards today.

    I just had an even more amazing experience finding a young boy--age10-- interested in collecting STAMPS.  Yes, postage stamps.

    Holy FDR, Batman!!

    In today's day & age, I couldn't believe it....and, am so happy to pass on to him what can...

  •  Man do I love Gary Carter (4+ / 0-)

    Not enough diaries here about baseball, which holds the side of my heart that's not held captive by progressive causes.

    "I believe that, as long as there is plenty, poverty is evil." ~Bobby Kennedy

    by Grizzard on Thu Dec 27, 2012 at 09:00:55 PM PST

  •  Brings back good memories (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:

    I started collecting in 1980.  Baseball cards at first, but then hockey cards.  1980 was the first year I really started watching baseball, and I was a big fan of the Montreal Expos.  I can still close my eyes and remember the poses of many of the players.  I remember how some of the packs of cards had quadrauple-sized posters of Montreal and Toronto players (I am in Canada).  I can still picture my favorite player--Gary Carter--in his batting stance in that poster in my mind's eye.

    Recently I started playing a video game--Out of the Park Baseball.  I chose to replay the 1980 MLB baseball season and manage the Montreal Expos.  Seeing all those old names again brought a small tear to my eye: Woody Fryman, Steve Rogers, Bill Gullickson, Andre Dawson, Warren Cromartie, and even rookies Tim Raines and Tim Wallach, and of course Gary Carter.  Such memories.

    When I was 21 I went back home after the year at university and found the old baseball cards I had not looked at for about 7 years.  I took them out of the box they were in and immediately the smell hit me: they still smelled like the bubble gum that came with the packs of cards.  I have not been back to my childhood home in 18 years now.  I bet my baseball cards are still there in the closet.  I wonder if they still smell like bubble gum.

  •  Great diary -- brings back a lot of memories . . . (0+ / 0-)

    It's kind of funny that you would mention this too -- I guess there may be some nostalgia that's just starting to hit for the generation with kids around the age when they started collecting.

    My brother and I were talking about this topic over Christmas -- he suggested that there should be a documentary about the Great Baseball Card Bubble of the mid-to late 1980s.

    With respect to my own collection, I remember having two distinct phases -- the first in the early to mid 1980s was done for love of the sport.  Then, after a hiatus from 1985-86, I became a pre-teen baseball card speculator and learned some hard lessons about markets, price bubbles, and the like.

    I remember "investment" strategies that I had like stockpiling Ellis Burks rookie cards at about $1 per pop -- I accumulated around 20, or there were about 40-50 speculative purchases of Kevin Romine rookie card for about 5-10 cents a pop that I made thinking that it might be like a kind of like penny stocks or junk bonds, which cost nothing to own, but which had a potential upside -- no matter how remote.  Even the speculative collecting was fun for a time.

    At the peak I probably had about 4,000 cards including some full sets.  I sold most of the cards about 10 years ago, but I held on to a handful of cards that I liked for sentimental reasons and/or ones that I thought might have some commercial value someday.

    Favorite series was the Upper Deck 1991 set.   I really liked the quality of the card stock, the hologram, the photography.  It was a card designed for collectors.   Thought it was kind of cool to own a Michael Jordan baseball card from the 1991 series too, even though MJ's baseball career was more of a novelty than anything else.

    Also remember the fun of trading cards with friends and family in an attempt to complete sets or to accumulate cards for a particular player.  It's a great way to learn about the players and statistics.

  •  I love baseball cards, too (0+ / 0-)

    I would suggest checking out the work of Josh Wilker online. His website is

    I have boxes of these things in my basement as well. If you ever want to trade or hear stories about them, let me know. Cards have value, but only in a sentimental way. They never have, and never will, hold any monetary value for me.

    All the best to you.

  •  Those of you too young missed out (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Andrew C White

    on the experience of opening a wax pack and pulling out the stick of bubblegum inside. I can still smell the aroma of cards and gum to this day.

    Of course, in my very younger years (early 60's), we didn't realize the potential market. They were just cards, bought for a nickel and traded. Most horrifying is that we actually used them in our bicycle spokes!

    Isn’t it ironic to think that man might determine his own future by something so seemingly trivial as the choice of an insect spray. ~ Rachel Carson, Silent Spring ~

    by MA Liberal on Fri Dec 28, 2012 at 07:10:19 AM PST

  •  Yup... I've got several boxes full (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:

    in my closet too. Mine start mostly in 1969 and end by the 80's. Unfortunately my son never took to baseball but he briefly enjoyed collecting basketball cards... but it's not the same. Baseball cards are their own phenomenon.

    I took them out of the closet for awhile in the 80's and sold off a few of them. Nolan Ryan paid my bills, kept a roof over my head and kept the heat on during winter on more than a few occasions.

    Nice guy that Nolan Ryan was.

    "Do what you can with what you have where you are." - Teddy Roosevelt

    by Andrew C White on Fri Dec 28, 2012 at 09:10:43 AM PST

    •  Same time period (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      Andrew C White

      Folks had a real thing against sugar, had to toss the gum. Also remember cutting cards from the rear panel of of cereal boxes

      •  Hard cardboard gum (0+ / 0-)

        went straight into my mouth. Got strong jaw muscles to show for it! LOL

        And then I went straight into looking at who I got. Billy Crystal had a great routine years ago... "need'm, need'm, got'm, got'm"

        "Do what you can with what you have where you are." - Teddy Roosevelt

        by Andrew C White on Fri Dec 28, 2012 at 09:32:23 AM PST

        [ Parent ]

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