I remember the first time I saw a baseball card. Well at least I think it’s the first time I saw a card. It’s possible that I stumbled across one at 5 or 6 but I don’t actually remember it. With this card, I remember where I was, what grade I was in and the actual card I saw. I even remember how I was able to get it from the owner and into my possession. I suppose it stands as the first baseball card I ever owned, though it was a year or so before I officially started collecting. It remains in my collection today and is one of a handful of older star cards that I was able to pick up when I was first starting to collect. I use the term “older” to describe cards from 70’s to early 80’s. I’m sure it means another era to some but I consider anything 5+ years before I started collecting, older.
I don’t really own a ton of cards that are pre-1980. I have somewhat angled my current collecting preferences to mid 80’s. I have a pretty fair amount of 1985 or newer cards and those are some of my favorite sets to this day. But other than a box here or there, I don’t have a ton of really early 80’s and I have even fewer 70’s cards. The ones I do have all usually carry a story with how they wound up in my collection. Many of them were picked up in my early collecting days because they really weren’t that old at the time. I don’t remember exactly what was traded in many instances but I do recall certain events that surround obtaining the cards. Here are some of the cards I have that fit what I’m describing. Some of the details have become fuzzy over time but the cards live on to tell their story.1980 Topps Ozzie Smith – This is that very first card that I remember. I was 10 years old at the time at Mitchell County Middle School. The reason I remember my age is because of where I was when I saw the card. I remember being in one of the “mobile units” of the 5th grade wing that was for our music class. We went to this class to play all of the old weird noise makers from that age. They weren’t instruments per se, although I think we may have been introduced to the recorder that year. Anyhow, my friends and I played marbles in the 5th grade. We had the perfect sandy playground area for this activity. There were some players that could clean my clock but there were some that I could hang with too. I remember one of my friends showing off some cards in the music room and one of them was this Ozzie Smith. Being 1987, I knew Ozzie as The Wizard in St Louis from watching the Braves and Cubs almost daily. I wanted this card, even though I didn’t collect. There was something cool about that baseball card. Well, we played marbles at recess and I won that card from my friend. It would be the first card of several that I won (or lost) playing stupid kids games. But I won this one and I was thrilled. I didn’t have toploader’s or binders or anything like that so I believe I just took it home and put it on my bookshelf. It’s in a toploader now.1981 Fleer Willie Stargell – This was a sweet trade in 7th grade but did not cost me a card in exchange. This was a food item, much like the Dave Winfield Twins/Indians trade from 94. In 7th grade, we had this small brick standalone building that was fenced and locked 6 1/2 of the 7 hours we were at school each day. But that small 30 minute window it was open was magical. It was a small snack stand that had drink machines, snack machines and a small ice cream/popsicle stand. Everything could be had for .35 cents or less. I remember it being a BIG deal to be able to drink a soft drink at school during the day. I always went with a grape soda for some reason. One of the major items available was the “superstar” popsicle. We’ve all seen some version of this and it’s most widely known as a “bomb pop” I believe. It was first come-first serve and was the the first item that ran out every day. I happened to procure one on this hot South Georgia afternoon and there was another student who missed out. I might as well have been holding a $100 bill in my hand instead of the popsicle. After some strong 12 year old negotiations, I was able to pry away this 1981 Fleer Willie Stargell. So I essentially traded a popsicle for a Pops. Ok, that was a lame play on words.1978 Topps André Dawson – I’ve mentioned my early infatuation with the Cubs and how much I was able to see them play on TV. One of the players I really loved on that team was André Dawson. The Hawk was a power hitting outfielder that could crush a baseball. It’s amazing when I look at his stat totals now that he didn’t reach 500 home runs. He had double digit home runs in 18 of his 21 seasons and the 3 that he didn’t were partial seasons that combine to only equal 145 games. He hit 10 homes in those 3 seasons so he still hit double digits in less than a full seasons worth of games. He even hit 49 one season. Just totally surprised to see his total at 438. In the early days of collecting, I tried to target Dawson in trades because of his stud status. I remember having most of the 1991 Score Superstar set and one of the neighborhood kid collectors like myself wanted some of them. I don’t even remember the cards he wanted but when I saw this 1978 André Dawson in his collection, I figured we could make something happen. Remember in 1991, this Dawson wasn’t all that old. It was like owning a card now from 2003, sort of. The eras don’t match up but that gives you an idea of card age at the time. We pulled off the deal and I still have this card. I’ll bet you a bomb pop that he doesn’t have those ’91 Superstars anymore.1979 Topps Johnny Bench – I’ve mentioned my Uncle Speedy here before. He had two kids that were my age, Corey and Jared. We did pretty much everything together. We played on the same little league teams, we played pick up games with buddies, we played marathon seasons of Tecmo And RBI and we collected baseball cards. They had access to more vintage cards than I did because Uncle Speedy had some in his collection. One specific thing I remember about baseball cards and Uncle Speedy was playing RBI 1 against him and he would tell us about the players that he really watched closely or even played with at one point or another. I remember him talking about the California Angels with Tony Armas, Doug DeCincs and Bob Boone, who I knew absolutely nothing about at the time. We would cross reference the backs of baseball cards to corroborate his stories about their stats and he was always dead on. He was a real wealth of knowledge as it related to 70’s and 80’s MLB. Well, one of the older cards that Corey and Jared had in their collection was this 1979 Johnny Bench All Star card. We pulled of a trade on one of our many late night sorting sessions and even though it’s an all-star card instead of his regular card, I still love it.1981 Topps Nolan Ryan – I’m going to be perfectly honest with you here. I don’t remember exactly how I got this card. But for some reason, I keep going back to a memory of the flea market with my granddaddy. We would go eat at Western Sizzlin in East Albany some Saturday’s or Sunday’s after church. That would be followed by a trip over to the flea market across from Cooper Tire, now known as Kitty’s Flea Market. It may have been called that then but I have no clue. It’s a relative ghost town now with just a few booths of knockoff items that are more cheap new items than cool nostalgic ones. But back in the day, Kitty’s was rocking and my granddaddy was a wheeler and dealer. I watched him work deals on CB Radios, fishing poles and truck parts like a modern day Pawn Star. Every now and then, we would run up on a booth that had some toys or Atari games and I would spend some time there. For some reason, I keep placing this Nolan at that flea market. I know I picked up some cards at the flea market from time to time and most of them were very early in my collecting days and I had no idea who the players were. They were just sports cards so I liked them. Maybe I got this card there and maybe I didn’t but it certainly makes me think of those days so I’m going to tie the two together unless a clearer memory comes to the forefront.
I still find it amazing that certain small objects can trigger such great memories. Sports cards and video games are the most nostalgic for me in that respect. I can tie so much of my youth to those inanimate objects. I was just a regular kid who liked sports and these cards will always be a reminder of those days. There aren’t many other interests from our youth that can be held with such high regard. Nintendos have eventually broken and there’s been no one to fix them. Our toys have gone by the wayside. We can’t go in the front yard and play football anymore because either me or one of my friends will break a hip. I don’t even have a VHS to play old movies on. I have to go out and buy the DVD if I want to watch an old classic on TV, but it’s not the same. Sports cards are the one thing I can still tangibly hold in my hand that places me back at those awesome moments in my life. And without memories, what are we really? We are who we are today because of the experiences of our youth, for better or worse. Mine just happened to be great and I hang on to these cards to constantly remind me of the good ole days.