Wednesday, April 20, 2011

My Baseball Card Story

In the April 1, 2011 issue of Booklist, Bill Ott (whom I almost called Mel Ott) tells how reading the new memoir Cardboard Gods, in which Josh Wilker's tells how collecting baseball cards helped him through a difficult childhood, sparked Bill's memory of collecting sports cards. Bill and his friend Rob once traded some expendable comic books for several boxes of highly-prized baseball and football cards. The friends took the football cards and played games with them on his friend's dining room floor. Boys being boys, they got into a "brawl," many of the best of the best were damaged, and Bill and Rob learned they were not natural-born documents conservators. Glue and Scotch tape did not mend their cardboard heroes.

Though not as dramatically violent, my baseball card story also involves games played on a floor. I spent a year living on a ranch nine miles south of Big Lake, a small town in West Texas, often with no companions for play. On Saturdays, or evenings, or through the long summer between fourth and fifth grade, I reorganized my baseball cards. I might put them into order according to the card numbers, starting with my 1964 Topps cards, then the 1963s, and then then 1962s. Then I might sort them into team sets. Sometimes I alphabetized them, put all the players together by positions, left-handed and right-handed, and once even sorted them by birth dates. I like to think that I learned then the attention to details that I needed later to become a reference librarian.

At some point I devised a game that involved removing all the rubber bands and pouring all the cards onto my bedroom floor. I stirred and tossed the cards to mix them and then put them into big piles. Then, dealing from the top, I ran team races from one end of the room to the other. Each team advanced one spot with each player card added to its stack. First team to get twenty cards won. Often a team I disliked, such as the Yankees or the Reds crossed the finish line first, so I'd run the race again, hoping to get a better result. More stirring and tossing, dinging edges and bending corners of the thin cardboard rectangles.

While Bill seems slightly penitent, I do not regret the rough demands that I made on the cards. They were meant for play. Those were good days before adults made baseball cards into collectibles. Looking for mint-condition old cards and trying to get rich speculating on future Hall-of-Famers is not nearly so much fun as having your team beat the Yankees in a race across the floor.

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