Off The Beaten Path: Tales from baseball card collecting

In what is a yearly tradition for me, I bought my first pack of baseball cards last Wednesday night.
I found them at the Walmart in Fort Wright. I bought a pack for me and one Casey. 

Even though the pack was $4.98 (36 cards) and there isn't any gum, I still look forward to opening my first pack each year. There is just something about it. It means baseball season is approaching. It's that feeling of being a kid again. It's passing the experience on to Casey.

I'll even admit to letting out an "oh, yeaaaa!" when I found this Kris Bryant and Mike Trout card in my pack. Casey and I sat and shouted out other names of players and we thumbed through our packs.

When I was a kid, my grandma used to buy me a box of Topps cards every Easter. Man, did I love opening those 25 packs in the box, one by one. I'd cram the bubble gum into my mouth while sorting through my cards......"got him, got him, need him.....got him."  I still remember the smell of the gum.
I remember how the stale gum would crack into pieces when you tried to eat it!

Today's cards are slick, shiny and sharp looking. They now list WAR and OPS on the back of hitter's cards and WHIP on the back of pitcher's cards. The cards even list the Twitter handle for players.
But I'll admit it, I miss the baseball cards I grew up with in the 1970's and 80's. Those cards were plain and simple cardboard. I loved the cartoons on the back, with something like, "Willie Montanez loves to restore old cards in the offseason," with a cartoon picture of him and a car.

I never believed in buying a set of cards, I thought that was cheating. I bought pack after pack after pack, trying to complete the set on my own. I used to sort the cards by teams, put rubber bands around them and put them in a shoe box.

I certainly never believed in putting cards in my bike spokes and riding around the neighborhood. Those kids belonged in some baseball card offender jail.

I would sit on the front porch with my friends and make trades. I will never forget spending my summer of 1975, as a nine-year old, searching for the elusive Topps Johnny Bench, card. It was card number 260. I reached a point that summer where I had 659 of the 660 cards, with Bench being the only card I needed. I wound up trading my entire box of "doubles" to a friend for his Bench card.

Doubles were the cards you had duplicates of. I never thought about the value of having multiple Pete Rose's or Hank Aaron's. I never owned a Beckett's price guide, because I never worried about the dollar value of my cards. I didn't collect the cards to sell them, I collected them because I loved baseball. Heck, I'd take a pen and put a check next to the player's name on the team checklist card when I got that card.

I ruined a complete set of Topps 1976 cards when I was 10-years old. An adult neighbor told me I should preserve my cards in a photo alum. So, one by one, I put all the cards in an album. A few months later I pulled the clear sheet back and tried to take a card out, The front of the card pulled off, the back of the card remained, stuck to the adhesive on the album. Stupid. Stupid. Stupid. That was a heck of a set in 1976.

I do remember when the innocence of my card collecting was lost. I bought multiple Jose Canseco Donruss rookie cards in 1986, in hopes I could later sell them for big money. Well, that never happened.

I also sold a Mike Schmidt rookie card and used the money for a spring break trip to Panana City when I was in college.

I think my favorite card is the 1989 Ken Griffey Jr. Fleer rookie card.

I still have many of my boxes of cards in the basement. Others have been lost in moves over the years. Most of the cards are now in albums, protected by insert sheets. Sometimes I sit and flip through those cards. They take me back to my childhood and certain moments in my life. I can still remember exactly where I was when I got some of those cards.

I remember when Topps starting making the triple pack of cards that would hang on the rack. We'd sit at the Convenient in Anderson and pick through those cards before we bought them. You could see the three cards you were getting on the front and the three cards on the back. We thought that was cool.

Man, I miss those days. I think I'll stop and purchase another pack next week.

Did you collect baseball cards? Tell your story HERE.