Baseball Cards, Nostalgia, and My Refusal to Sell Memories

Twenty years ago this weekend (Easter Weekend – not the date) I was celebrating Easter with my family.  One memory I have from growing up is getting Easter Baskets with candy and chocolate, etc.  The one twist my parents liked to do was give my brother and I a few packs of baseball cards along with it.  That was the real excitement for me.  On Easter Morning in 1997 I opened a regular retail pack of Topps Baseball cards and it changed my perception of everything in my favorite hobby.

The interesting thing about collecting baseball cards in the 1980’s and 1990’s was that it was strangely profit driven.  Even in the young mind of adolescent kids, it somehow became more about what a card was ‘worth’ rather than the excitement of pulling a specific player or insert strictly for the joy and surprise in the eyes of a collector.  My dad always told me that cards (and anything else, really) were/are only worth what someone would/will actually give you for them.

One of the card types I had never pulled from any Topps pack was a Finest or even more rare, Finest Refractor.  It was a super glossy rendition of a card that actually had a protective plastic cover to keep it from getting scratched in the package, a refractor was a card that had the glossy finish but also gave a rainbow color refraction.  The big cards in that set were Willie Mays autographs and Mickey Mantle reprints, etc.  I collected Ken Griffey Jr. and Frank Thomas cards when I was a kid.  A refractor of any sort was generally a tough card to pull – let alone insert cards from special sets.

My dad always told me about the great ballplayers from his childhood – Mantle being one of his favorites, although he was relatively young when the Mick was entering the end of his career.  To me, he was the Griffey of his generation on the field and at bat.  They both ended up having career numbers cut short because of injuries.

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As I opened my pack of cards I was already excited about baseball season coming around.  I hoped I would pull a Griffey card to add to my collection. After flipping through the first few cards I noticed nothing special.  Generally, my luck was zilch… my brother had the nickname ‘Lucky Boy’ ever since I can remember.  No matter what packs of cards or contests he would enter with me or whatever it was – he would win.  I figured he would get some card in his pack that simply didn’t exist.  I don’t remember what cards he pulled on that day simply because this was my lucky day – and I haven’t forgotten (obviously) all these years later.

Sitting in the living room with the lights off and the sun coming up; I made it halfway through my first pack and knew there was nothing special, maybe a Barry Larkin or something.  Then I opened the second pack and it was the same story, a couple decent guys (I think I pulled a Barry Bonds insert).  Then, in the third (last) pack from my Easter basket I looked through them with my typical cynicism and about halfway through the pack I stopped.  I was looking at two players on the same card that blew me away.  Mickey Mantle and Hank Aaron standing side by side… I couldn’t believe it!  Then I saw that it had the typical protective plastic cover that meant it was a Topps Finest.  As I let out a yell and did a fist pump I went over to show my dad and my brother what I had pulled.  My few steps across the room and into a bit more light made me stop in my tracks.

I had pulled a Topps Finest Refractor Mickey Mantle card.  Not only that, but it was a card with Hank Aaron next to him.  It felt like I was floating.  This stuff didn’t happen for me… this had to be my brother’s pack of cards.  No, it was mine and this was real.  To this day I remember my dad telling me how cool it was and my brother was his typical awesome self, not an ounce of jealousy as he was simply excited for me.  To this day I always think about opening that pack of cards and the joy that it brought me. 

I looked up the ‘value’ as soon as I could get my hands on a price guide that had the card listed.  It was listed at between $50 and $80.  I was 13, so holding a card ‘worth’ that much money felt like a surreal moment of presumed wealth.  The only thing was that eBay wasn’t a thing.  Hell, the internet was barely a thing at that point – especially in rural Ohio.  I had no real means of selling the card and even then – I didn’t want to.  It was more than just a rare card, it was my rare card.  It was my lucky day and it was a day that I didn’t want to forget… not even for $80.

Now, twenty years later, I am 33 years old and I have had to store a lot of my things as my wife and I have moved around the country for a few years.  My entire childhood baseball card collection is among the things my parents are keeping safe for me whenever I come back home and have a place of my own for those things.

Somewhere in my box of top loader and screw down cases of baseball cards there is a 1997 Topps Mickey Mantle Finest Refractor that is worth more to me than it would be to most people.

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It is the reason why every year around this time I will go to the store and buy baseball cards.  There aren’t a lot of ways to feel like a kid again, but for me this is one of those things that brings me back to that Easter morning with my family and a few packs of baseball cards.

It’s also the type of feeling that comes with cherished memories… and that is something for me that’s never for sale.

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Have You Seen My Baseball? – Five Reasons To Look Forward to MLB 13

When I was younger I was a baseball fanatic.  Ken Griffey Jr. posters adorned my bedroom walls and every summer consisted of a run down the driveway to see the sports page and look for the latest home run count.  I am either extremely lucky or unlucky to have grown up during the height of the steroid era of baseball.  Thankfully, my favorite player was never implicated in any of the investigations.  Unfortunately, the second half of his career was marred by injuries and he never set the all-time record for home runs.

The moral of this story is that since his retirement I have had little reason to pay attention to baseball.  I chose not to purchase MLB 12: The Show because there were enough changes going on next season that I figured I would save my $60 for that.  Now that we are one day from the World Series and two teams I don’t follow are playing for the title; it’s time to start looking at next year.

Extra Wild-Card Game For Playoffs – This year we saw an addition to baseball that was a long time coming.  The addition of an extra playoff series (even if it was only one game) that allowed for another reason to hope for the unlikely to happen with a second wild-card slot.  162 games in a season can often prove to be a marathon that most people stop paying attention to in the months of June and July.  This year we saw the likes of the Indians and the Pirates have hopes of the playoffs dashed in the middle/late-middle of the season.  The fact that they still had some hope was largely due to the extra playoff spot.  In MLB 13 we should hold this as a sign that playing a full season of 162 games might not be a complete waste if you can squeak into the playoffs with an underdog team.  Look out for my Tribe next season as we will be making a push with a new manager and hopefully a few new players.

Houston Moves To American League – One reason it was easy to pass up on MLB 12 was due to the fact that the move of Houston to the American League was announced.  It takes away from a Franchise Mode when you know that after the first season you will not be able to realistically move a team to another league.  This is minor from most perspectives, but it does take away from the immersion if you are in a sports game for the long-term.  Even if it is one of the worst teams in all of professional sports.

Harper, Cespedes and Trout – These three players are bringing me back to baseball.  It has been a long time since baseball has had a face to bring people to the sports page every day.  Bryce Harper is arrogant, sure… but he is one hell of a ball player and his talent is finally more than just some sort of YouTube homerun derby video.  Yoenis Cespedes almost saved my fantasy baseball team this year and let’s face it – he plays on Billy Beane’s Oakland A’s.  I love the opportunity to watch teams like Oakland play moneyball and develop talent however they can.  Mike Trout almost gave me faith that a rookie could win the MVP award and deserve it just because he is a solid player all-around… rather than some sort of brutish homerun king that can’t play defense.  Next year could be the year that Trout really jumps to the fore-front as a true MVP contender.

Spring Time – Face it, baseball starts during the springtime.  It is one of the few signs that the weather is about to get better after a long winter.  I am already dreading the arduous drive to work every day during January and February.  Opening day in baseball is unlike that of any other sport.  When we see MLB 13 on the shelves it should give us hope that the snow is about to melt and we can get back to enjoying the weather outside… not to mention some of America’s past time.

Faith In Sports Gaming Renewed – Every August we are blessed/cursed with EA Football games.  America’s favorite sport is largely football.  However, when it comes to sports games – MLB: The Show and NBA 2K are the best ones out there.  After the NFL season has come to an end we are often left with that pit in our stomach that there is no more football to watch.  However, when we get that first smell of baseball it is hard to let it go.  The smell of the leather with a baseball glove over your face, the sound of a hanging curve getting smashed into the bleachers and the feel of freshly mowed grass under your cleats should be enough to make you forget about football… at least until the draft.