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Friday, March 05, 2010

#95 Hobbies

Continuing with the 100 life-enriching little nuances series… 

P1000028 When I was young, Fridays were the grandest of days: Mom’s payday. I waited anxiously to get my $2 allowance so I could run down to the local drugstore and buy more baseball cards – always looking for that all elusive Bombo Rivera or some other obscure player’s card.

My obsession with baseball cards grew as I got older and my mom carted me around town to baseball cards shows. I thought they were the greatest thing ever invented. Thousands upon thousands of cards – all organized in long rows – just waiting to be sorted through by a kid hoping to strike gold.

I was never big on trying to obtain the high dollar cards. I didn’t have the money for that anyway. Instead, I wanted the cards that would complete that particular season’s set, or I wanted the cards depicting my favorite players, or I wanted to cards with the cool actions shots.

Baseball cards were never an investment for me. They were to be handled, flipped over to absorb the stats and facts about the players, and traded with friends.

One day, my mom told me Royals’ pitcher Paul Splittorff was coming to a nearby JC Penney store to sign autographs. I grabbed one of my Splittorff cards and stood patiently in line for him to sign it. If you look closely at the photo above, you can see his autograph on the actual card he signed that day.

P1000029He also signed a photo and a baseball for me. Here’s the photo, on which he wrote, “To Lee, Best of Luck. Paul Splittorff.”

Many, many years later I met Splittorff in the press box at Kauffman Stadium. He is a television broadcaster now for the Royals. I didn’t remind him of the day at JC Penney. It would have been too corny.

After I accumulated a couple thousand cards, my mom let me send away for baseball card lockers – a holding case for the cards with multiple slots that would hold maybe 40 cards each. Each locker probably held 1,200 or so cards.

The lockers came with stickers of the team names and I think they came with alphabetical stickers too. Early on I favored separating the cards by team. As players would get traded or sign with another team, I would move his cards to his new team.

My best friend and I spent countless hours on the weekends going through each other’s collections to pull out cards we desperately wanted to add to our own collection. Then the haggling began.

“How about I trade you two Ron Cey’s and a Johnny Oates for this George Brett?” I said.

“The Johnny Oates card is pretty cool and I really want this Ron Cey, but this is George Brett’s rookie card,” he said. “I don’t know. How about if you throw in Robin Yount’s rookie card and take back one of the Ron Cey’s?”

“If I throw in a Robin Yount rookie card, there’s no way I’m including Johnny Oates in the deal,” I said.

I think I had to sweeten the deal quite a bit and I don’t remember how many cards I traded for that George Brett card, but eventually I got it.

We never traded on book value. We didn’t even know that cards had a book value. We traded on personal bias, personal desire, and coolness of the card.

Eventually we picked up the price guides and learned the actual monetary value of the cards, but it was never quite the same after that. After I lost interest, I sold the entire collection to another friend. Of course, now I wish I hadn’t done that, but foresight doesn’t come naturally to young people and I was no exception. At least I had the sense to hang on to the autographed Paul Splittorff card.

The thing about hobbies is, they keep your mind sharp and you’re never bored. You’re always dreaming about the next break in your schedule when you’ll be able to dig back into your passion.

My experience with the young today is limited, but when I hear them say they are bored, I often wonder if they lack hobbies. I don’t mean entertainment. They have plenty of that. Instead I’m talking about immersing themselves into something so deeply that hours pass and they have no idea where the time went. And afterward, they feel fulfilled.

I think even adults confuse entertainment with hobbies. While it’s not always the case, often times, entertain only works one way. We take it in. We enjoy it. We forget it. Hobbies allow for both give and take. We invest time in something we are passionate about, we learn about the nuances of the subject, we interact with the tangible, we tell like-minded people what we’ve learned, they tell us what they’ve learned, and the hobby becomes part of who we are.

I haven’t collected baseball cards in 25 or 30 years, but I can still see the cards I used to flip through on a regular basis. The stories are still in me. And every once in a while, when I glance over at the Paul Splittorff autographed card, I’m transported back to my childhood.


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