Wednesday, June 25, 2008

The Card

You hold it and you stare, searching for something that you’ve never noticed about it. You flip it around in your hands and you read both sentences on the back over and over again. Eventually, the school bus comes and you stuff it back into the little pouch on the front of your back pack to show your friends “the one that you’ll never get rid of.”

Before you know it, you stick it in a box somewhere for safe keeping. You stop putting it in your backpack because you have to make room for Guns ‘N Roses cassette tapes and muscle car mags. One day, you open up a shoe box and place it neatly inside. You check on it every other day but soon every other day becomes every other month. And then one day you quit checking on it at all. You forget what the sentences say.

Years later, it comes back to you by accident and you hold it and stare. You begin to remember the things that you’d forgotten about it, the things that you felt about it. You read the first two words of those sentences, close your eyes, and quote the rest. You run your finger over the imperfections and the stains and a portal to another world, a fantastical world from your childhood, is opened. You step inside.

You go back in your mind to when you first found it. You remember the euphoria of holding it for the very first time and you notice that it feels different now. You realize that you have callouses that weren’t there the last time you held it. The delight of finding this lost treasure turns into a sort of sadness when you begin to understand that you can never go back to that place.

For most, life beckons you back to work, to feed the baby, or to mow the grass and so it goes back into the dusty, dark box for the last time. It will be found by the grandchildren you’ve yet to meet that will come across it after you’re gone. They won’t know that the corners were bent because some bullies tried to take your backpack one day. They won’t know that the slight discoloration was from a bag of BBQ potato chips and a 10 year old’s dirty hands. Their first question will be, “I wonder what it’s worth!?”

For me that card was the 1991 Score Cooperstown of Will Clark

And yet, there is another type of card more precious than this, more valuable to you than gold. You might not even know you have it yet, but, I assure you, it’s there. It’s waiting to be found and held and loved again for the first time. It’s only fear is not that it will be sold because even it knows that it’s worthless to other collector’s. It’s biggest fear is that you won’t ever come back to it.

It’s probably more worn than any of the other cards packed around it in your commons box. It may even have duplicates in better condition. But, it knows that if you’ll just take the time find it that it can make you love the hobby of sports card collecting more than you ever have in your life.

It doesn’t have to struggle for your affection. It doesn’t have to sparkle or shine or do anything other than be what it’s always been. It has only one story to tell, but, it knows that the story is enough.

Growing up, my father never showed much interest in the things that I held dear. Not to belittle my dad by any means, he simply didn’t have the time. Since I was 2 years old, my Father, Kenneth, has driven a diesel for living. When he wasn’t gone he was too exhausted from the thousands of miles that he had driven that week to do anything other than rest. As a child, I never understood this and often resented him for not being there. I look back now and realize that everything I had was because of my father’s sacrifice.

My dad was always more interested in teaching me things that would make me successful one day. He rarely showed interest when I started rattling off baseball stats or expounding to him the significance of 1989 Upper Deck. It simply didn’t excite him. But as a child, it made me feel like he didn’t care and that he didn’t listen when I talked. I would find out that I was wrong.

The measure of a great father is not in mirroring the good things that your father was. It’s in understanding and learning from the things he wasn’t so great at. Interested or not, I listen when my son talks and I let him know how important his words are to me. It’s not always easy because I am constantly tired from work. Now that I’m grown, I see that my dad wasn’t ignoring me, he was simply trying to hear me over the sounds of his job and the multitude of responsibilities that played over in his head.

I don’t remember how old I was, the time of year, or anything other than waiting for my dad to come home safely from the road again. I don’t remember where he had been or for how long, all I remember was the excitement when I heard the rumble of a diesel engine getting closer and closer. On most of his trips, my dad would bring me something. On this particular trip, he brought me the most important thing he possibly could have.

If you like Treasure Never Buried, please take a moment to say, “thanks”, to my father. Without him, I would have sold all of my cards last summer. I would have never found Sports Collecting Radio, I would have never heard Mario Alejandro’s interview, and I wouldn’t be here now. I have been allowed to do something that I’ve always wanted to do and it is only possible because my father listened when I talked.

While walking out of some random truck stop in some lonely, little forgotten town, my father happened to look down in the parking lot. There lying in the dark was the card. It had been ran over by countless cars, trampled on by countless people, and was seemingly gone forever. My father could have kept walking. It was only a Baseball Card and it held no value to him.

He brought it home and I will never forget what he said. I met my dad in our gravel driveway, breathing heavily from having bolted out the front door to meet him. I gave him a hug and he said he had something for me.

“It’s pretty messed up so I didn’t know if it is worth anything or if this player’s any good, but I saw it and I thought of you.” said my father.

Please, dear God, let my dad have a 1989 Upper Deck Griffey in his hands. Or a 1990 Topps Frank Thomas. Or better yet, a Will Clark I don’t have. When I saw the card, I was severely disappointed but I didn’t let my father know it.

“This might be a good card, Daddy, I’ve never seen it before.” I lied. Later, when my dad forgot about it, the card went into a box where it lay dormant, untouched for years. The card meant nothing to me. It was almost completely destroyed before it was ever found. It was Tom Niedenfur and I already had multiple copies of it.

Years went by and finally in the Spring of 2007 I opened those old boxes one last time. I sorted through the cards and relived the memories of my childhood. Not one single card beckoned for me to stay. I thought about how much money I had spent and regretted that I hadn’t invested my money more wisely as a child. But, then again, how many kids really do that.

Near the end of the box, I found my Tom Niedenfur card and I sat and stared, searching for something that I had never noticed about it. I flipped it around in my hands and read both sentences on the back over and over again. Eventually, my wife came in and I tried to stuff the feelings back into the forgotten place that they had come from. It wasn’t possible. I had opened a door to a part of me that I don’t think I’ll ever be able to close again.

I will one day pass this card on to my son and tell him this story. I will make sure that he knows where the perfect imperfections came from. I will make sure that he knows that I’m always listening, whether it’s always obvious or not. To my own father I say, “Daddy, thank you for listening when I talked.”

That night in 2007, before I knew it, I had stuck it in a top loader for safe keeping. This time I wouldn’t let other things get in the way of its significance in my life. This time it won’t go into a shoe box and be forgotten. This time, I won’t forget what the sentences say.


Cliff said...

June 25, 2008 at 5:35 pm e

Nice post. I didn’t start collecting cards until I was an adult (almost 30 years old). I was 20 before I was even really a baseball fan. My Dad was an indifferent sports fan (which is probably why I was too until about 1971). On the other generational side, my kids (all in their early 20s) are indifferent sports fans (my daughter doesn’t care for sports at all). I tried to get them interested in baseball but it never really took. That’s ok, I connect with my kids on other interests. Its great if you can find something for you and your son to connect on. Whatever it is.

Someday I’ll have to tell my Pete Rose story over on my blog.

Dave said...

June 25, 2008 at 8:15 pm e

JV, I could say that this was an amazing post, but that wouldn’t be nearly enough praise. Your skill in describing the truly important things in life is unmatched by anything else that I’ve read in any other blog. You could seriously make a living with your writing if you wanted to. I’ll be a reader as long as you keep writing. Simply outstanding!

david (Tribecards) said...

June 26, 2008 at 6:20 am e

Excellent piece of your history. For ‘true’ collectors, especially long-time collectors, this should touch places in hearts and minds very deeply. Well, it did for me anyway.

ejahnke said...

June 26, 2008 at 9:34 pm e

The delight of finding this lost treasure turns into a sort of sadness when you begin to understand that you can never go back to that place.

I could have worked for days and days trying to find those words.

You should print out this post and stick it in that toploader. Better yet, get it slabbed up with this url on the label, our grandkids will probably look at paper the way we look at covered wagons.

Thanks, Kenneth, for bringing up someone who “gets it.”

James B. Anama said...

June 27, 2008 at 12:05 am e

And that is the most important thing that many of us forget as we get older about the Hobby we write about. Not only do the cards bring back memories of the players pictured within them, and the seasons they played. It brings back memories of our childhoods and the fun we had back then, before we knew about the responsibilities that we were to be given.

Every card tells a story. Yours is a good one. I can now say that I will look at my 1989 Topps Tom Niedenfeur card and think of this story. Well done.


JayBee Anama

Shawn said...

June 27, 2008 at 7:48 am e

Excellent post and story. I think most former or current collectors can relate to this. Keep up the good work, I look forward to reading more.

Joe said...

June 27, 2008 at 11:18 am e

I stumbled onto this post by accident. This is really, really, really good stuff. You just gained another reader. Maybe two– I showed it to my wife (who more or less tolerates my card habit) and she cried reading it.


SportsLocker said...

June 27, 2008 at 5:03 pm e

This was a great read and brings everyone down memory lane a bit. Excellent Excellent Excellent.

Harner said...

June 27, 2008 at 8:08 pm e

What an amazing read. I am only 20 and truly appreciate this post because I just uncovered my original first cards (1991 Topps) and went through the same cycle you did.

Now it will look I am stealing your idea, but if I didn’t have to work today I would’ve made a similiar post to this. It will have to wait for another day though. So don’t think I’m some cheapskate copycat if you see something like this pop up on my page.

Thanks again for this fine post.

chemgod said...

June 28, 2008 at 8:24 am e

Another great post. I started collecting in 1978 because my dad was into collecting cards as well. It became what we did together and allowed us to bond. I never understood how he bought all those cards and then just game them to me or my brother. Of course now that I’m older, I completely understand and some day when I have children I can just give all my cards to them. Just like my dad did for me.

ejahnke said...

June 28, 2008 at 2:33 pm e

that was really good…i am really proud of you….you are a wonderful writer…you have a way with words that’s for sure. Very touching story—–LKJ

ejahnke said...

June 29, 2008 at 3:31 pm e

P.S. –The last comment, that was my wife…:)

jv said...

June 29, 2008 at 4:48 pm e

I was wondering what LJK was….lol….

Everyone, thanks so much for the positive feedback. I don’t know if I can top this one but I’ll try…

Thanks for reading, guys and gals!!

Oljoe73 said...

June 30, 2008 at 11:42 am e

As a collector and a diesel driver it is not an easy life in either. You loose time with family and friends but it allows me to have something to goof off with Godsons, nieces and nephews with now that they are a little older.
I always had my first card - 1981 No. 600 Johnny Bench All-Star in a special place.

ejahnke said...

June 30, 2008 at 11:54 pm e


81 Topps Johnny Bench!! I have my original of that one, too…the beautiful green border with a blue or red All-star bar at the top (I think red?) with white lettering. The shot was up close, head and neck…

1981…good days!!

ejahnke said...

June 30, 2008 at 11:55 pm e

Darn, wrong.

Green All-star bar at the top…

Thanks Google–:)

Johngy said...

Wow. That is simply beautiful.