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Possessing a Nostalgia for the National Pastime



Childhood nostalgia. It can be a fleeting but fun trip down memory lane to revisit your fondest moments growing up. Perhaps this is discovered in returning to the town you grew up. Uncovering a movie you loved to watch time and time again but had forgotten about.


Smelling an old book you owned that had a big impact in your life. Listening to an old classic song that changed your view about an experience you had. Or partaking in a dish your Mom made for you on special occasions. It can come about in a number of ways throughout our adult years.


For most of us, it's something we held on to from our youth that returns us our past. A stuffed animal. Toys. Dolls. Nintendo video games. Or something we collected as a hobby such as coins, marbles, stamps, Lego sets, or comic books.


How I Began my Baseball Card Collection


In the early years of my life I owned many of these things. Yet my obsession growing up directly linked to my love of the national pastime and my hometown baseball team. It all began in the summer of 1994....


In June of 1994, I attended my first Cleveland Indians game at the sparkling new Jacobs Field (more on this specific event in a few weeks).


While passion for baseball was beginning to awaken, it hadn't quite taken off that summer. The seed was planted but nothing was sprouting above the surface.


Sometime later that year I received my first ever baseball cards. The one I was excited to find was a 1994 Upper Deck Kenny Lofton card which I still own today (see picture below).


My interest in collecting cards became to peak. However, soon after my attention was on other things being an impressionable ten year growing boy.


Then 1995 happened. The magical Cleveland Indians summer of dreams unfolded with amazing comeback wins captivating all of northeast Ohio, including me. Naturally I wanted to get invested in the game more. Collecting baseball cards was one way to go about this. My collection started to grow little by little in the months afterwards.


Fast forward to the following spring in early April. I was bursting with enthusiasm to watch the 1996 Indians season opener at home against the New York Yankees visiting my grandparents.


Bummed that the game was snowed out, my grandparents surprised me with a gift. It may have been a late birthday gift---I don't honestly remember---but what I do recall is how excited I was to receive it.


It was the entire 1996 Topps baseball card set. Literally hundreds upon hundreds of fresh, new cards! Suddenly I had a complied a big collection of cards and it felt amazing.


Photo Note: This was the first Indians baseball card I ever owned


Growing my Collection


From that point on, I devoted much time and money into buying baseball cards with my allowance money. Every week I looked forward to helping my Mom get groceries so that I could go buy a new pack (or two!) of baseball cards at Revco (a classic 90's drug store) next to Buehler’s (our local grocery story) in my hometown.


Some of my most treasured memories growing up were these afternoons with my Mom at the grocery store, holding in my hands a colorful, new pack of cards to add to my collection. Buying cards at Kmart was also a common occurrence (we had no Wal-Mart at this time).


Then there was summer days spent at the local recreation center to go swimming. My favorite part of the experience was afterwards stopping by a vending machine and purchasing some baseball cards. Back then baseball cards were everywhere and I loved it!



However, I rarely bought full sets because they were too expensive. Most single packs were only a few dollars in the 90's while others were a hefty price of $5 or more dollars for just 10 cards (that was a lot of money back then!)


The sheer excitement from opening up a pack and not knowing what treasures awaited inside a pack was something I never grew tired of in my early teenage years. When it came time to make a Christmas wish list---baseball cards always were at the top of things I asked for.


It didn't matter the brand of card--I just wanted more. Topps, Donruss, Upper Deck, Bowman, Fleer, Score, Bazooka, and Pinnacle were just a few of the sets I owned.


As my card collection expanded from hundreds to thousands, the necessity of purchasing plastic card sheets, containers, and binders came into the picture. By the time I was entering high school, I had over a dozen binders with a collection that took up ton of space in my bedroom.


Sharing my Collection


Sharing in my love of card collecting was my best friend. We took delight in spending hours looking through and trading each other cards focusing on individual players we at the time liked. He loved Ken Griffey Jr. along with his favorite players on the Indians which were Omar Vizquel and Travis Fryman.


As a result I owned very few cards of these players. It didn't bother me much though. What was important to us was taking delight in the cards we collected while just spending quality time with one another.


How we determined value was always subjective. In most cases it involved how many cards of a player we had and how much interest we had in them at the time that mattered most to us.


Obviously the cards of the current Cleveland Indians were the most sought after. Manny Ramirez and Jim Thome were my favorites along with Jaret Wright who at time time was seen as the "next big thing" after his 1997 epic playoff performance.


As time went along and I got older, a secret longing to make a living through buying and selling baseball cards became a dream of mine. I sadly knew would never come into fruition, though. I simply didn't have the money or resources to make it happen.


Going to the mall (back when that was a thing), I loved going to card shows and looking at massive displays by collectors wishing I had what they possessed. No matter how hard I tried---the expensive, rare cards were always hard to find while way out of my price range in attaining.


Along with buying and trading my baseball cards---I sorted them. Hours upon hours were spent during lazy days in the summer, or during a relaxing weekend, organizing my cards by team and by player. I had a very specific way in categorizing where a card needed to the plastic sheets within in binders I owned.


Every time I bought new cards I'd eventually have to reorganize a given team when adding them to my collection. The handling of these cards over and over again eventually caused them to lose significant value. Fingerprints with small wear or tear came started showing up all over my collection of cards.


It became apparent when I looked at baseball card pricing guides such as Beckett that the cards I did own weren't worth much and constantly touching them wasn't helping their value. But I couldn't help myself. I wanted to touch and hold the cards; keeping them organized so I could find any given card at a moment's notice.


Photo Note: A huge baseball card collection at the 2019 MLB All-Star Fan Fest in Cleveland


Pushing Past my Collection


Once college arrived and I began life as an adult, my view towards baseball cards was forced to shift. Suddenly there were bills to pay. Less time to devote to sorting and reorganizing my collection. No friends to trade cards with.


The industry itself was slowly dying off, too, as the twenty-first century saw an explosion of technical advances which turned our attention to video games, cell phones, and social media.


Meanwhile the Cleveland Indians 90's glory days were over. I wasn't as motivated to collect cards of the new, current players anymore. While my love of the game remained, the money I spent on baseball went towards books and magazines; not cards.


So my baseball card collection sat under my bed collecting dust. On rare occasion I'd go through a binder or two recalling memories of certain cards I attained or about a certain player I had forgotten from long ago. Not before too long the cards would get tucked away again out of sight where they'd stay months or years at a time.


Shortly after entering college, my best friend sold his card collection putting his once love of the hobby in the past. Our close friendship remained strong throughout our early twenties, then faded away like a distant dream.


The memory of looking at and trading baseball cards with him remains with me though, all these years later. And my entire collection that's in the thousands remain with me to this day as well.


Collecting Memories


What then is the purpose of holding on to them? The answer, as you probably could have guessed, is that for the sake of returning to my childhood nostalgia.


These baseball cards are the last meaningful possession I still own from childhood growing up. Everything else over the years has been thrown away, donated, or lost. Yet these treasures of my youth stand the test of time.


My hope and prayer is that one day (God willing) when my wife and I have a son, I'll be able to pass down my love of the game by entrusting him with my baseball card collection. Getting to relive the excitement, joy, and fascination of the hobby all over again.


Ultimately these baseball cards ignited my passion for baseball while cementing the love I had for the hometown Cleveland Indians.


Because to me baseball cards are more than just cheap pieces of cardboard with outdated cheap graphics or stat lines on the back—they’re pictures of memories of a friendship that's now sadly long lost, recollections of a happy, simple childhood now gone; in a time of which baseball captivated my imagination with larger than life legends from those beloved 90's Cleveland Indians teams.


For these cheap pieces of cardboard are how I still today possess one, small remaining piece of my childhood nostalgia.


Photo Note: This is just a small sample of Jim Thome cards I own today


Sources:

1st and 3rd pictures from top courtesy of Flickr.com, 2nd, 4th, and 5th photos from top are my own


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