Friday, April 2, 2010

In Between Naps - April 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.

For Openers, Ticket Stubs Can Be Fun To Pursue

by Rob Dewolf

Plenty of writers over the years have waxed philosophically about the magic of the start of another baseball season. So there's really no need to pile on.

That being said, the allure of opening day has been a driving force within my collection of Cleveland Indians memorabilia. One of my best memories from growing up an Indians fan came in 1975, when Frank Robinson became the first black manager in the major leagues. On April 8, against the Yankees, Robinson not only made his debut as the Tribe's manager, he also homered in his first at-bat. Even more stunning, the Indians won the game.

I remember coming home from school and playing Strat-O-Matic baseball on a card table in my bedroom while listening to the game on the radio. Years later at a small baseball card show in Canton, Ohio, I picked up a program from the game. After returning home I looked through the program more closely and found a bonus tucked inside: a ticket stub from the game.

That discovery sparked a passion that has produced a collection of more than 50 Indians opening-day tickets and ticket stubs that date from 1921 to the present. Actually, to be more accurate, all but a few are Indians home-opener tickets, because for me the excitement of another season doesn't truly hit until the Indians play at home.

Collecting opening-day tickets is an interesting proposition. They're usually not very expensive, which can be nice. But they can be tough to find, because they're not high-profile items. Back in the days when you might find a card show within driving distance every weekend, it was rare to find a dealer who had opening-day ticket stubs on his table. If he had any regular-season ticket stubs at all, they likely were lying loose in his quarter or dollar box. Then, in the years that followed during eBay's heyday, sellers quite often would sell opening-day stubs without noting in their listings what they had, simply because they didn't know. Or care.

The history of major league baseball in Cleveland doesn't ooze success – two world championships since 1920. Five trips to the World Series during that span. Ouch.

But there have been memorable moments on opening day, which have produced some very desirable (and pricey) ticket stubs. Topping the list is the Indians-White Sox season-opener in 1940 in Chicago, where Bob Feller threw the only opening-day no-hitter in major league history. According to, only 14,000 were in attendance that day, which might explain why ticket stubs from the game are incredibly rare. Even though I favor opening-day tickets and stubs from games in Cleveland, the stub from Feller's opening-day no-hitter easily is my favorite. I was fortunate to pick up mine on eBay about 6-7 years ago, and it's one of only three or four I've seen.

Indians home-opener ticket stubs from the 1940s and early '50s are among the best-looking ones you'll find. They're typically oversized and colorful and have great graphics. My guess is much of the credit goes to promoter extraordinaire/team owner Bill Veeck. Not surprisingly, the fact that the Indians were "World Champions" in 1948 was heralded on Cleveland's home-opener tickets in '49. The image of Chief Wahoo wearing a crown almost is surreal.

Kind of surprising, though, is a ticket stub from St. Louis' home opener that same season. The opponent that day in Sportsman's Park happened to be the Indians, or the "World Champion Cleveland Indians" as the printing on the ticket stub reads. Then again, given that the history of the Browns is even more depressing than the Indians, maybe it makes sense that St. Louis management would promote the Indians coming to town.

On April 16, 1957, the Indians opened the season at home with a 3-2 loss to the White Sox. Batting fifth and playing left field for Cleveland that day was rookie Roger Maris, who was making his big league debut. This ticket stub finds its way on the want lists of Yankees collectors, and I've seen it sell in the $300 range.

These days, the popularity of TicketMaster tickets and ability of customers to print tickets on their own printers (for a fee, which still dumbfounds me) has put a bit of a crimp on collecting modern tickets and stubs. If a collector prefers the "old style" tickets that are on heavier stock, it's often necessary to find an example that was issued to a season-ticket holder in order to avoid the bland TicketMaster versions.

So, challenges remain in my quest to keep adding to this collection. In today's hobby, in which so often the emphasis is placed on high-value, professionally graded cards and big-money pieces of memorabilia, I've found this diversion to be just the ticket.

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