Saturday, July 17, 2010
Brush with greatness: Jim Pankovits
I'm not one of those collectors who is ashamed that he participates in this hobby. I'm a big boy and I can stand up to the stereotypes that non-collectors throw at us from time to time. I'm confident in knowing that we're right and they're wrong. For me, that's the end of the story.
But there was a time when I was less confident of my association with card collecting. It was when I was at an age when you're most aware of what is considered "childish" and what is considered "adult." As someone just starting out in my chosen "adult" profession, I was trying to prove on a daily basis that I had what it took to be taken seriously in the adult world -- working as a sportswriter for a daily newspaper.
During one of those days, I was assigned to cover a minor league baseball game -- the first minor league game I had covered. This was very cool as baseball was the one sport I had followed since the day I knew what sports were.
I watched the game and then headed to the locker room to interview the key players. One of those key players was Jim Pankovits, a five-year major league veteran with the Astros now trying to catch on with the Pirates. He had kicked off a ninth-inning rally by turning a wind-blown fly ball into a triple.
I immediately found Pankovits in the locker room. He was seated in a chair in the middle of the floor, waiting for my questions. I was instantly intimidated.
Because I was so obsessive in reviewing my baseball cards, I knew exactly who Pankovits was. I could see his cards in my head as I approached him. I wanted to ask him why his picture on his 1988 Topps card (at the top of the post) looked nothing like his picture on his 1989 Topps card.
Was it an error? Was either the '88 card or the '89 card not Pankovits? The price guides never mentioned an error, but that didn't necessarily mean anything. Nobodies like Pankovits could slip through the cracks.
For an instant, there in the locker room, I studied his face (he was wearing a mustache) to see if I could figure it out. Then, I instantly felt shame. "If he only knew," I thought, "that I collected his baseball cards. I am supposed to be a professional journalist, someone above idolizing players who should be analyzed objectively. And I am comparing his baseball cards in my head."
All of this went through my brain in a flash, because in no time I had stammered out a couple of questions that had to do with the game and nothing to do with baseball cards. Pankovits didn't catch on to the dweeb in front of him (or he didn't let on if he did) and answered my questions. I had my story.
It was the first time I had interviewed a player that I had seen previously on a baseball card. That threw me for a moment. Since then, I've been able to put that stuff aside. Well, most of the time anyway.
There is the card collecting side of me and the sports journalist side of me. They rarely talk to each other. But they're both proud of what they do.