I’m not certain of the first time I ever got a pack of baseball cards, but it may have been Christmas of 1986. I would have been three. I received an assortment of cards, which I know were dated that year, as a holiday gift from a family member (I want to say my dad, who played third base in high school.) I got players like Jose Canseco, George Brett and Von Hayes, and the cards quickly became dog-eared, ridiculously bent up. If they had any value, it depleted almost instantaneously. Goes without saying, I was hard on toys as a kid.
The summer before kindergarten, I became friends with Devin, a kid my age who lived around the corner. Devin was raised by a single mom, Nancy who loved the San Francisco Giants and passed this love down to her son. As a result, Devin had cards, lots of them. I visited often in those early elementary school years and looking at cards was pretty much what we did. We got in trouble once, and Nancy took away the large cardboard box full of cards, so we hid a few under his bedroom carpet. Nancy found those too.
I was forever pushing Devin to let me sort his cards. As Devin remembered it years later, I would come over, dump out his cards all over his floor and then promptly fall asleep. I don’t have much recollection of doing this, but I remember being enthralled that Devin had players like Jesse Orosco and way more 1990 Topps than I did, maybe three times as many. I became someone who collected cards, almost obsessively, and in time I had something like 5,000.
At first, my friends and I had no concept of value. It was all about obtaining specific players: Will Clark, Kevin Mitchell, and Canseco, among others. Guys like Omar Vizquel were righteously shunned, even before the episode of The Simpsons, where Bart tells Milhouse, distracted with a schoolyard crush, “I’ll trade your Carl Yastrzemski for my Omar Vizquel.” It seems funny now that Vizquel is probably bound for the Hall of Fame, unlike Clark, Mitchell or Canseco. That being said, I’d still take Clark’s card before Vizquel’s, if offered. My values haven’t changed all that much.
In time, Devin moved away, I learned of a magazine where I could look up the value of cards, and I stopped having as much fun with them. The minute I started calculating value, a part of my childhood ended. I also began to collect football and basketball cards, and my grandfather used to tell me I could make good money in the stock market if I studied it as hard as I studied cards. I would tell my friends that my large collection was how I intended to pay for college, though that never happened.
I quit collecting around the time I started high school, after realizing one day that I’d grown out of the hobby. Cards simply no longer held their spell over me. I’ve bought a couple packs in the past few years for the sake of nostalgia, though it feels a little strange since I’m in my twenties.
All of my heroes are mortal now.