Friday, March 20, 2009

Fifth Blog Bat Around

Cardboard Junkie posted the Fifth Blog Bat Around and as I'm experiencing an existential (and financial) crisis in my own pursuit of baseball collectibles, I thought this would be a good post for today.

What is the best experience you have had acquiring cards or memorabilia?

I'll focus on the cards since that is what immediately comes to mind: My all-time favorite player, Dave Righetti. In 1983, I purchased my first ever baseball card at a show, which was held at Tri-State Mall in Delaware. My Mom had taken me down there for, I'm sure, clothes shopping, and lo and behold, there was a small card show taking place (small because Tri-State Mall was small). I had been collecting cards since 1978 but mostly just bought packs, traded a little with my friends. I lived in rural Pennsylvania and had never seen anything like this. I was leafing through a folder and saw this 1982 Topps rookie card of Dave Righetti. Righetti had recently thrown a no-hitter, was tall and left-handed (like myself), and also bore a bit of a resemblance to my uncle. Mostly he was this really good young pitcher who I enjoyed following. The card was available for $1.50 and I bought it. I then ran into the bookstore in the mall, found a price guide and saw that it listed for $2. A steal!!!

I don't know when, but I got it in my head that I wanted to collect one of every Dave Righetti card produced. For you whipper-snappers out there, this was a freaking challenge back in the day. No internet, no eBay. You hit shows and prayed that someone would have some obscure regional issuance that you could pick up. On the other hand, you didn't have Topps producing seventeen different sets with four different colored inserts and an "error" card so while availability was limited, the number of different cards to collect was reasonable.

When I did get a new card, I'd put it in one of those single card plastic holders and thumbtack the holder to my bedroom wall. As the collection grew, I'd rearrange them or sometimes move them to a different wall for a different look. When I left for college it drove my parents insane with the amount of spackling they had to do before they painted the walls in the bedroom.

Once I left for college, I took my Righetti collection with me and kept it in a binder. Over the years, others helped me out with acquisitions. Here are some of the most memorable.

1. My first love, Rebecca, was traveling with her parents. They stopped at an antique mart and the guy there had baseball cards. She found a blank back Righetti and bought it for me.

2. I've never dealt drugs or smuggled weapons. I've led a pretty shady-activity-free existence. Probably the shadiest guy I ever knew ran a baseball card store in Kennett Square. To this day I still think Ron used the store as a front. I know he ran a bookmaking operation out of there and who knows what else. He'd try all sort of shenanigans to pull fast ones on people, especially the kids (like me) who frequented his shop. We knew he did this but his was the only place around to go for cards. Plus, you always thought that you might get your legs broken if you crossed him. As an example of the shenanigans, he opened a 1986 Donruss rack pack and inserted Jose Canseco rookie cards on the fronts of two of the three sections and then resealed it. People went nuts offering him all sorts of money for it (this was in 1988 or 1989).

Anyway, I walk in to his store one day and he goes "Hey, I was at this show out west and I saw this card and picked it up for you". He proceeds to give me a 1984 Nestle card of the 1983 no-hitters (Rags, Forsch and someone else). Just gave it to me. It was such an out of nowhere gesture, I never forgot it.

3. Went to the University of Pittsburgh for college. My parents dropped me off and left. I read in the paper that there's a card show at some hotel in Pittsburgh. I've been in Pittsburgh less than an hour and know nothing about where things are. I have no money because I spent the summer with Rebecca instead of working. So I grab my Tony Gwynn and Wade Boggs rookie cards to see if I can sell them if I want to buy stuff and set out on foot. I walk for forever. I finally see a guy washing his car and ask him where the hotel is. It's still a long way away. We chit-chat and I tell him I'm new to Pittsburgh and heading to this show. He says to come by when I'm done and he'll drive me back to Pitt since he's going out that way later.

I get to the show and some guy has the 1979 West Haven Yankees team set which contains Righetti's first-ever card. I trade the Gwynn rookie for the set and head off. The guy I met drives me back to Pitt and all is well. One hour, all alone in a strange town where I know no one and no one knows I'm even there and I'm hitching rides with total strangers. Good times.

4. Transfer to Guilford College and make friends with Mike, an aspiring broadcaster and the second most-despised person on campus (his roommate Art is the most-despised. I also befriend him). Mike single-handedly brought sports broadcasting to Guilford's campus. One Saturday Mike is doing a football broadcast where our quarterback, Calvin Hunter, led the team to a remarkable comeback leading Mike to exclaim loudly on air "Calvin Hunter is GOD!". In the ensuing edition of the school newspaper, Butch, a devout religious fanatic and the editor of the sports section, took Mike to task over his comment. I, angered, wrote a heated letter to the editor and from that day on Butch and I didn't really get along.

Near the end of the school year, I get a surprise visit from Butch. He's organizing a Rotisserie baseball league and had heard I knew a thing or two about baseball and invited me to be a part of it. I said sure and through the healing power of Rotisserie, we became buddies. The following year we come back from winter break and Butch shows up at my room. "Got you this". It's Righetti's second card, a Columbus Clipper minor league card issued by the Columbus Police Department.

5. My second eBay purchase was for some Righetti cards I didn't have (this was back in 1998. My first eBay purchase was Red Flag's CD, Naive Dance, which I bought from a guy in Singapore).

I'm getting up there in the years by this point. Rags is retired and working as pitching coach for the San Francisco Giants. I think about it and decide that not many people would appreciate this collection. Selling it makes no sense. My sons won't be interested in it as they don't know who Righetti is. I decide that the best thing to do with this collection is to give it to Righetti himself. He has three children and I figure they might appreciate, in essence, a pictorial timeline of their Dad's career as a major league pitcher from when he was just out of high school with New Haven to his retirement as a Giants pitcher. So I packed it up, by this time over 120 different cards, and shipped it to him.

A while later I get a picture in the mail from Righetti. On it he has inscribed "To Jonathan, Thank you very much for your support over the years, and for kindness in sending something you obviously cared about! Good Luck Rags"

I keep that picture hung in the baseball room to this day and still enjoy the 25+ year experience of being a fan of Dave Righetti.


dayf said...

Cool stuff! I'm right there with you on the existential crisis, so hang tough...

--David said...

Man, what a great story!