A purchase at the dollar store

About a year ago, my mom gave me a nice, scented candle inside of a glass jar, and it seemed a shame to waste the excess wax after the wick burned out the first time.  As a result, every month or two, I buy a cheap candle at the dollar store and put it inside the jar.  Then, I melt down the leftover wax from before on my stove and pour it inside the jar to seal in the new candle.  Yeah, I know, I’m probably the only sportswriter who recycles wax from scented candles.

Anyhow, with some time to kill today, I made a trip over to the dollar store that’s walking distance from my apartment.  Initially, I just planned to buy the candle, but when I was at the checkout stand, I saw amidst the display of sports trading cards, a brand that read “Historic Vintage Collection” with the subhead, “40 Years of Baseball Trading Cards.”  The front of each pack had a star, with text over it that read, “Historic Star Card in Every Pack.” This caught my interest.

As a child, I used to collect baseball cards voraciously, and I started collecting older ones after my aunt bought me cards for Bob Gibson and Tony Oliva when I was about eight.  In time, I had cards as far back as the 1940s and even had a dog-eared Willie Mays from 1969 that I got for $10.  I also had cards for Hank Aaron, Ernie Banks and Juan Marichal, among others.  At one point, I had as many as 5,000 sports cards.  Most have long since been gotten rid of, though I still have the old cards, in a binder at my parent’s house in Sacramento.

For whatever reason,  I’ve always had a passion for history and love any type of primary source material.  I also used to collect old Sports Illustrated issues as a kid.  In more recent years, I’ve branched into finding old books.  I have a decent library for both baseball and sports writing, and a lot of the stuff I like is no longer in print.  Thus, I find cool books every now and again, like a 1944 sports writing collection I located in a used bookstore in Sacramento a few years ago.  My copy includes a handwritten note, dated December 10, 1944:

To Eddie:

The Page 55 Contributor would have you (and all others who might glance here) that without your aid, early and late, I would never have come this far– might even have been left at the post, or have been thrown out at  first.

Anyhow, you’re one brother in a whole country.


I checked after reading this and determined the message was written by Warren Brown, a longtime Chicago sportswriter whose contribution in the book is a story about boxer Jack Dempsey from 1923.

Anyhow, while at the dollar store today, I wondered if the packs of old cards just contained reprints, which is lame, but for a dollar, I figured it couldn’t hurt to see what was inside.  I made the purchase, walked home and opened the pack.  Among the 15 cards were a 1984 Willie McGee and 1994 cards of Sammy Sosa and Juan Gonzalez.  They all appear to be originals, from the Eighties and Nineties.  I probably had the majority of them as a kid and for all I know, may have been holding the same cards from 15 to 20 years before.  Still, it was nice to get a little nostalgia.

Baseball cards

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.