Friday, March 20, 2015

Now do you understand?


I am sure that there are more than 100 reasons why I collect baseball cards, and I've probably documented at least three-quarters of them on this blog.

Yet, many people, those who I know personally and those I just come across in social media, still have no idea what it is that makes me collect. They ignore my enthusiasm or question my interests. Why would I want to waste money on picture cards?

Many of these people aren't sports fans. They don't understand and they don't want to understand. "It's just sports," they say. "He'll always be that way." It's kind of like being patted on the head.

But I think I have a reason to collect cards that might open the eyes of some of those people.

I received a cool card package in the mail yesterday. It was filled with lots of my collecting interests. Dodgers, set needs, vintage greatness, oddballs, even some non-baseball goodies. You'll see them all some other time. In that box of excitement, where every card was worth turning over and absorbing, I started leafing through some 1981 Donruss needs. The Steve Henderson card appeared during my shuffling.

And I stopped cold.

Instantly, without any prompting, I was flooded with a rush of memories about my grandfather.

I was transported to my grandparents house, and there I was, sitting on the carpeting, closer to the console TV than I was allowed at home, watching a Mets game.

It was 1976 or 1977, at least four years before this Steve Henderson card was even created. Heck, my grandfather died the offseason after the Midnight Massacre, when Tom Seaver was traded to the Reds and Henderson was one of the players who came over to the Mets. My grandpa saw Henderson play for New York for only a couple of months.

But there was something about that card -- the Mets uniform at the time, the sight of Henderson and the hoopla surrounding him in '77, the fact that I remember specifically the Mets playing in Wrigley while watching games at my grandpa's -- that caused that memory to surface.

I lived about a half hour from my grandfather, my father's dad. We'd visit their house quite a bit, almost every weekend. By the time I was 12, I was bored with the toys and books in the playroom in the back. I wanted to watch baseball, and my grandpa liked the Mets.

My brother and I would get some ice cream from the freezer, grab a can of root beer, grape or orange soda, and plop on the oriental carpet rug in the living room, fixing our eyes on the giant, wooden TV console as Lindsey Nelson, Bob Murphy and Ralph Kiner brought us the game.

It was the only way we had to connect to my grandfather. My grandma would chat with us, but my grandpa wouldn't say much more than "hi" as he sat in his leather chair. I remember trying desperately to come up with something to say to him, but I never could. I don't remember sitting on his lap or joking with him or anything. It was just "hi" and that was it. Maybe he'd join in some grown-up talk periodically, but I mostly just remember him watching from his leather chair, silently.

When it was time to leave, we would walk to the closet that was next to his leather chair and my dad got out our coats and handed them to us. I would wish my grandpa an uncomfortable goodbye and he'd smile from his leather chair.

I don't remember him walking around the room or going outside or driving in a car. When I look back on it I'm sure he was sick for the final few years of his life. But that never occurred to me. I just thought he liked his leather chair and blankets over his legs.

What got us through, both he and I, were the Mets games on the TV.

The Mets were lousy then and I was a Dodger fan, but baseball was baseball. We'd watch game after game, from "Meet the Mets" to "Kiner's Korner," and every once in awhile, my grandpa would say something about the game, and we'd pay attention -- really pay attention -- because he didn't say much.

That was the connection. We'd eat our ice cream, drink our soda, watch the game, and nod when my grandpa said a sentence.



The players back then, young players like John Stearns and Lee Mazzilli (and Mike Vail, don't forget about Mike Vail), I forever associate with my grandpa. I don't recall him having a favorite player but every once in awhile, somebody would do something good -- make a nice play in the field -- and my grandpa would say "how about that play?"

It was the best when that happened. Because we were thinking what he was thinking. Finally. We knew what he was thinking! Yes! That was a great play!

My grandfather died in November 1977. We'd still visit the same house for years and years after his death, and there'd still be games to watch. But it was mostly just my brothers and I watching them. None of the other grown-ups seemed interested. Not as much as my grandpa.

It would never be the same as "Meet the Mets".

So that's another reason I collect cards.

You know that box of letters with a ribbon tied around them that you keep under the bed?

That's baseball cards for me.

You know those framed pictures of people that sit on a table or a shelf or the mantel or the wall?

That's baseball cards for me.

You know those special songs on your iphone -- or for you older people -- on your mixed tape?

That's baseball cards for me.

Baseball cards bring back all those terrific memories that everyone has. It's a device. Just like a framed photograph or an old trinket.

That's one of the more than 100 reasons why I collect baseball cards.

Now do you understand?

17 comments:

  1. Your story is exactly why I have such a love for the early 1980s Milwaukee Brewers. My story is a little different, but the bond I had with my grandfather listening to Bob Uecker calling the games on the radio -- only about 15 or so games were televised back then in Milwaukee -- and especially on weekend afternoons in the summer with me throwing tennis balls against the house and him drinking lemonade under a shade tree...cheering on the team. Those are the memories that come back when I see a Sixto Lezcano card, or a Jim Slaton card, or a Jerry Augustine.

    Thanks for reminding me.

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  2. Great story. Pulled me right into the room. I can relate. My grandpa and I bonded over a sack of 1976 Topps he bought at a garage sale in, I think, 1980 and gave to me. That set has a very special place in my heart even though I wasn't buying packs in stores until 1978.

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  3. I couldn't agree more. It's about the memories they trigger. Great story!

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  4. As you made parallels to other people, I couldn't help thinking.... Do people actually write letters anymore? Do people still print out pictures anymore? Do people even get ring tones anymore?

    In this digital age, all that's left for memories will be trinkets and hard drives.

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  5. Excellent post. Brought back a lot of memories for me. I remember summers in my room listening to games on the radio, falling asleep with a transistor radio under my pillow when the Tigers were on the west coast, etc. My grandparents took me to my first game for my 9th birthday. My wife understands, but I'm not sure my kids do.

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  6. I never met either of my grandfathers, how lucky you are that you got these memories of him. All I have are second hand remembrances of people who knew of them when they were alive.

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  7. Great memories Greg! My grandma wasn't a baseball fan, but after my grandpa died I remember her watching Braves game son TBS just so she would have something to talk to me about. Also, I got a package from you today. Thanks!

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  8. Your grandfather had good taste, being a Mets fan. The picture you paint is not unlike my own childhood memories. My grandpa, who lived to be 100, God bless him, was more of a Yankees fan, I think, but he seemed to enjoy Mets games more. That would be the early sixties and, let's face it, the Mets were both creative and entertaining in their manner of losing games. Watch the Yankees, you knew pretty much how the game was going to go. But watch the Mets and you might see something you'd never seen before. Grandpa had played semi-pro in the early part of the century, and he was pretty good, from what his friends used to tell me. Had a chance to sign with a few of the pro organizations but passed it up to support the family when his father died. Of course, he never spoke about any of it. But you'd hear whispers when the grown-ups were together about the wild lifestyle. Hard drinking, tobacco chewing, cursing like a sailor--and all of it he left behind after his father died. Rarely saw him drink, never saw him with any tobacco product, and I never ever ever heard him swear. Not once. As you describe, my grandfather was pretty stoic watching the games. But he never quite the hang of instant replay. And that, too, made watching the Mets fun. Whenever they made an error (and they made lots of them), they'd show it on instant replay. And my grandfather would practically leap out of his chair, yelling, "He did it again!" My father, who wasn't a big baseball fan, would have to explain it to him (although sometimes he let it pass). Thanks for the essay. I can smell grandma's apple pie baking right now, thanks to you.

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  9. Nice post, Greg. You know, when I think about it I don't remember any one group of announcers I enjoyed more than Murphy, Nelson and Kiner. there are better individuals but as a trio those guys always seemed to be having fun

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  10. One of the reasons why I chose the 86 Topps Lenny Dykstra as my "wallet card" was the admiration my dad and I shared for "Nails" whenever he'd make a diving catch or dirty his jersey when sliding head first into third base back In the mid to late 80's .Vintage action figures have the same effect on me.In a way these artifacts are tools that help us piece together a suppressed memory.And It does stop you cold,almost stagnant,but It's always well worth the time out ;)

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  11. Excellent post. That's Baseball Cards for Me as well. Although I didn't watch much baseball when I was a kid cause the Senators had become the Rangers when I was like 7 and it started a long ironic era of Not a huge Baseball fan, but love Baseball cards for me.

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  12. Great post Greg, My grandfather wasn't a huge sports fan, But one memory I do have is every Sunday the family would always spend the day at my grandparents after church. My cousin and I would always buy a few packs of cards on the way. Ripped them every week in their living room.

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  13. Great post. I can totally relate. My grandfather used to let me watch Yankee games late, even on school nights. We didn't usually speak, but it was quality time I will always cherish. He passed away when I was only 10.Between my grandfather and my fathers cousin, who I considered an Uncle, my love for baseball was drilled into me very young. My Uncle took me to my first minor league game, got me my first autograph (Mike Pagliarulio), and even gave me my first job at 14 at his baseball card shop. My Uncle passed away last week. Thanks for this post. It brought back some great memories.

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  14. I recently started collecting baseball cards again after a layoff of about 30 years and this is one of the main reasons why - the memories! I particularly remember the time when I first obtained the 1973 Topps Willie Mays card. I was with my grandfather who drove a car he called “the Pot-Pot.” He also knew the guy who drove one of the snack trucks and I can remember him stopping the snack truck one time and buying me a Suzy-Q. Well, one day when we went to the store he told me to get something, so I got a pack of baseball cards. Then he told me something wonderful – don’t just get one, get some more! So I got five packs and was delighted to find Willie Mays in there. I remember it like it was yesterday.

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  15. Fantastic story and I swear I could smell the leather of the chair. My collecting reasons, like many of us, may not be exactly like yours but they are nostalgia and childhood driven. Thanks for sharing this - I'm going to be looking out for this Henderson card.

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  16. Great post and great blog. I got back into 70's cards last year after a 11 year hiatus, purely as a bucket list thing, but I was buying cards originally from 77-80 when I was 8-11 years old. Started with Star Wars, then Kiss, then found 1978 baseball cards and other older colds from friends and family, mostly all from the 70's era. My wife thinks I'm nuts as I flip through my binders of sets, noting where they were taken and all the crazy stuff in the backgrounds, like the Marlboro sign at Candelstick on several 1978 baseball cards, but they unleash all those memories from being 8-11 years old. Plus filling in all those gaps in cards is like being 10 years old again as I fill out my collection.

    If only 46y year old Rob could go back in time and tell 10 year old rob that he would one day be 60 cards away from completing the 1971 set and 8 cards away from the 73 set, I probably would have wet myself!

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  17. Totally understand. I'm not sure if I could come up with 100 reasons for my need to collect. But one of them would be the great memories they stir up.

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