Thursday, March 25, 2010

In Between Naps - March 2010

One of Rob Dewolf's passions is collecting cards of Cleveland Hall of Famer Napoleon Lajoie. A former minor league baseball player who advanced to Triple-A in the Padres organization, Rob's current job in the newspaper field requires him to get up at 4 a.m., six days a week. Hence the name of his column, which happens to be when he finds time to write about various aspects of the hobby. Rob lives in central Ohio with his wife and daughter and their miniature dachshund, Abby.

Thanks for the Memory

By Rob Dewolf

If ever a scene from a movie hit home with me, it's one from City Slickers, the 1991 comedy that stars Billy Crystal and tells the story of three men in their late 30s, each of whom have reached various crossroads in their lives.

The character Bonnie Raybern (played by Helen Slater) comments about the details men can remember when it comes to baseball.

"I've been to games," she says, "but I don't memorize who played ... third base for ... Pittsburgh in ... 1960!"

Almost simultaneously Mitch Robbins (Crystal), Ed Furillo (Bruno Kirby) and Phil Berquist (Daniel Stern) blurt the answer: Don Hoak.

Bonnie was spot-on: Most longtime baseball fans I know possess an ability to recall facts and figures that leaves non-fans scratching their heads -- and in the case of the females in my house, rolling their eyes. I think collectors are like that, too. The memories of treasures landed and lost remain vivid for years after the fact.

Being both a baseball fan and collector, I feel lucky to have this total recall.

There's just no possible way that it was more than 30 years ago when I bought my first prewar baseball card. Mid July. Hartville Flea Market in northeast Ohio. The dealer was set up in the smaller lot off the side of the building that is home to the Amish restaurant and high-end gift shop that sells Hummels, Royal Doultons and other figurines that are utterly useless to a 14-year-old boy.

His tables were crowded with a mish-mash of inventory. Piles of Life Magazines. Boxes of postcards. A conglomeration of salt-and-pepper shakers, cereal bowls and other kitchen utensils. A baby bathtub nearly full of used golf balls, a few of which looked like they'd been struck by Old Tom Morris himself. Behind the horseshoe configuration of this display, propped up against a van whose open side door provided access to a dozen unpacked boxes, were two rusted bicycles, one without its seat.

And amongst all this mess were a few three-ring binders.

Having learned at a young age that a table with such a hodgepodge of offerings is worth a second look, I flipped open the cover of the top notebook and momentarily froze. Staring back at me were nine baseball players, their faces having rested on colorful backgrounds and framed by gold borders for six decades.


The next page offered more of the same. As did the next. And the next. There were about 20 plastic sheets, all of which held baseball cards. T cards in the front, Goudeys and Play Balls in the middle, some 1950s Topps in the back.

I never even made it to the back for a close look (no doubt missing out on an Aaron rookie for $3). Instead, I regrouped from the momentary shock of having stumbled upon this oasis in the midst of the early afternoon, 90-degree heat and 80 percent humidity and redirected my attention to the T205s.

As I began to search for Cobbs, Speakers and Mathewsons, I was filled with a sudden dread: Having been at the flea market since just after daybreak, I had made quite a few purchases that had left my wallet nearly empty. Worse yet, none of these bargain buys were of the baseball card variety. Instead, I had added new additions to my other collecting passion at the time: beer cans. Yep, I was part of that generation. (Six large boxes in my parents' attic today serve as proof. E-mail me if you're interested in a deal.)

Some quick mental math told me I had enough money to buy one, maybe two, cards. So it was just as well that all of the T205s in the book were of common players. Had there been a Cobb for $10 when I had only $3, well, that would have been too much to bear.

Surprisingly, it didn't take long to make a decision. I pointed to a card of Jimmy Dygert, glanced up at the man behind the table and asked, "How much?"

"$3," came the reply.

"Will you take $2?"

"I suppose."

Why Jimmy Dygert? Simple. Dygert's team, The Philadelphia A's, were represented in the upper-left corner of the card by an elephant. Pretty cool. Plus, the A's no longer were in Philly. Those two facts were reason enough. Remember, I was 14.

Negotiating the reduced price gave me another dollar to spend. Seeking a little variety, I ventured to the middle of the book and picked out a 1940 Play Ball of Dutch Leonard, for no other reason than I thought the nickname "Dutch" on the front of the card was -- you guessed it -- cool.

Not wanting to push my luck, I paid the $1 asking price and slid the two cards into an envelope I brought just in case I got lucky that day.

That Dygert card was my pride and joy for many years. Eventually I either lost it or traded it, I don't remember which (of course, the beer cans I still have). Not long ago I came across a graded example, one that is much nicer than my original. I bought it, thinking that it would help me reconnect to that magical day. And though I'm glad that a T205 Dygert once again is part of my collection, I discovered that I didn't need a a replacement to rekindle those memories.

More than three decades later, my luck is holding.

No comments:

Post a Comment