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Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Series of Firsts: First Hobby

I caught baseball card fever in 1975. The year before that, my parents got divorced and my mom, my sister, and I moved to a different neighborhood—to the neighborhood my mom grew up in. It was a nice, middle class neighborhood with lots of other kids to play with. And it had Biga’s (Bee-ga’s)—the local five and dime store. I wrote about it here. And Biga’s had baseball cards. Collecting them became my first hobby.

In the post I wrote about Biga’s a couple of years ago, I re-counted my weekly routine as a kid: Every Friday, after my mom got paid, she'd give me two dollars and I'd walk to Biga's—just three blocks away from our house, and I'd buy six packs of baseball cards. At fifteen cents a pack, I still had more than a dollar left for candy or anything else that caught my fancy. Or if I really wanted to go all out, I'd buy twelve packs of baseball cards and use the left over change for “penny candy.”

More times than not, I bought 12 packs of baseball cards. I couldn’t wait to open them. I’d peel the pack open and begin to rifle through the cards before I even got out of the store.

“Got it.”

“Got it.”

“Got it.”

“Whoa. I don’t have this one! Cooooooool.”

Each pack of Topps baseball cards had a stick of gum inside. It was brittle and chalky and it didn’t taste very good, but the bubblegum smell always promised otherwise, so I’d usually stick it in my mouth. Then I’d move on to the next pack. Sometimes I’d end up with three or four pieces of gum in my mouth and I probably looked a lot like one of the pitchers on the cards who had a wad of chew in his cheek.

I sauntered toward home, opening each pack and then placing the cards back in the small brown paper bag Mrs. Biga put my cards in at the point of sale. When I got home, I’d put the cards in a shoebox. I had the players broken down by the team they played for. If a guy had been traded since the card came out, I moved him to the section with his new team. Not knowing any better, I put a rubber band around each team to keep them separate. I’d put the pitchers in front of each team, followed by catchers, first basemen, second basemen, shortstops, third basemen, outfielders, designated hitters, pinch runners, managers, and then team photo cards.

After my collection outgrew the shoebox, my mom ordered several baseball card “lockers” from Topps for me. Each locker has slots that held about 40 cards—which pretty much held a full team for each season.

I had a friend named Willie and we’d get together on the weekends and trade baseball cards. We didn’t trade them based on their market value. We didn’t even know such a thing existed and I’m glad we didn’t. Instead, we traded based on how we valued the player and the coolness of the picture on the card. You have no idea how hard it was and how many cards I had to give up to get him to trade me George Brett’s 1975 rookie card. By then it was probably 1979 or 1980 and Brett was beginning to establish himself as a premier player. I’d never been able to get my own copy of his rookie card, so I was willing to give up almost anything for it. I finally got it from him and it became my prized possession. Little did I know that it would worth more than $100.00 one day. It still sells for $80.00 or $90.00 in good condition. Here’s one example.

When I was 14 or 15, I started going to baseball card shows. By then, I’d learned that cards had a real monetary value and that I needed to take care of them. I kept checklists of cards I needed to complete my sets. I even sold a few cards at a show or two. Then, one day, girls entered the picture, and baseball cards lost their appeal. I sold my entire collection to a friend when I was in my mid-20s. I wish I hadn’t done that. But the funny thing is, whenever I see an old baseball card I used to own, all of the old memories of a more innocent time come rushing back and I feel like I’m nine years old again, standing in Biga’s anxiously waiting to tear into the next pack of baseball cards.


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