Let's try something a little different today.
This evening, I thought I'd share a story I wrote last night for my summer creative writing class. It's told from the perspective of my "washer-used" 1975 Topps George Brett rookie.
I've developed a bit of an obsession with thinking about the route this card took before it wound up in my hands a few years ago. What you'll read is what I imagine happened to Mr. Brett over the last forty years or so.
The story is a bit lengthy, but I think it turned out well. I'll be presenting it to the class tomorrow, but I thought it'd be interesting to put it up on my very own blog first.
So, without further ado, it gives me great pleasure to present "Diary of a Baseball Card".
Diary of a Baseball Card
I remember sitting on the counter of Doug's corner store, wishing for the best home a quarter could buy.
That was almost forty years ago now. I can't believe it's been that long. Being a baseball card was hard in those days. We'd sit near the front shelf for months on end, the smell of stale Oh! Henry bars and Pop Rocks constantly hanging over our heads. Adults with deep voices always used to condescendingly walk up and ask “Kids still collect these things, huh?” before buying their daily pack of cigarettes. If we didn't sell within about eight months, we'd be unceremoniously tossed in the trash and whisked away, making room for next year's stock of baseball cards. At least that's what the guy at the counter said.
Things didn't look good for me at first. I was in the pack at the very bottom of the box. Most kids grabbed the ones at the top. I remember hearing their hopeful voices as they opened their packs.
“Awh, man. Already my third Ed Kranepool. What'd you get?”
“Wow! Nolan Ryan! Johnny's gonna be jealous of this one when I see him at school tomorrow!”
They'd run out the door, childish excitement in their steps as they hopped on their bikes and rode around the corner. I remember the sound of their spokes churning like it was yesterday. Each day sitting in that box was like a dagger in my cardboard heart. I was destined for the trash until Tommy came along. Even almost forty years later, I can hear his impatient voice ringing in my head.
“Hey, ma, can I have a quarter? I wanna buy a pack of cards.”
“Now, Tommy, don't you have enough of those things already?,” the mother asked, probably not for the first time.
“I never have enough baseball cards.”
“Okay. Here. One pack. You're lucky your father got a raise last week.”
That familiar ping of a quarter hitting the counter echoed across the store for a few seconds before I felt his sticky, ice cream-covered hand reach in the box. A strange yanking feeling hit me before I even realized what was happening. I was getting picked!
Tommy hung onto us with his life as he flew to the car. I heard the key fumble in the ignition as he slowly peeled the wax wrapper apart. He started muttering to himself as the car pulled out of the parking lot, going over the pack's contents.
“Chris Speier. Need it. Cy Acosta. Who? Bob Boone. Got it. Mike Anderson. Got it.” I was next. I thought I heard a squeak of excitement as our eyes met for the first time. He stared at me with a huge grin for a moment before pounding his fist on the side door in jubilation.
“For goodness sake, Tommy, keep your voice down!,” the mother scolded. “You scared me half to death. I almost drove off the side of the road.”
Tommy ran up the stairs when they pulled into the driveway, ignoring his mother's pleas for him to set the table for dinner. He beamed at me for a good five minutes before gently laying me on the soft carpeted floor. “You're going with my best cards,” I heard him say. He pulled out a rubber banded stack of cards from his dresser, setting me atop the pile. I was his new favorite. Number one.
The next year was filled with rides to the park in Tommy's back pocket. The day's events always seemed to culminate in a trading session. I was a blue chip stock among the kids in the neighborhood.
“Hey, Tommy! I'll trade you my Hank Aaron and Carl Yastrzemski for your Brett!”
“No! I'm keeping my Brett.”
“C'mon! Brett's just some rookie who had a good year. Aaron and Yaz are gonna be in the Hall of Fame!”
“I don't care. Brett's my favorite.”
Tommy would stay up long past his bedtime on school nights, reciting statistics he'd memorized from the back his cards hours after his parents had wished him sweet dreams. Brett hit .282 with two homers and 47 RBIs for the Royals in 1974. He fell asleep with dreams of baseball cards.
One afternoon, Tommy spilled ice cream on his jeans at the park. I was nestled in my usual spot in his back pocket. He rode home, throwing his pants into the hamper. I wasn't worried. This wasn't the first time he'd forgotten about me. He'd usually come running back, carefully retrieving me and apologizing. Only this time he didn't come back. I wanted to scream to Tommy in his room. Hey! I'm still in your pocket! Help! Being a baseball card and all, though, I couldn't. I still remember that fateful rainy evening when Tommy's mother threw me in the wash. The soap and bubbles left me mangled beyond all repair. I peeled at all edges. I was cold and damp, a shadow of my former self. His mom's long fingernails fished me out of the dryer, her eyes staring blankly as she called Tommy downstairs.
“Tommy, you forgot this card in your pocket.”
“Nooooooooooo!” He snatched the card out of his mother's hands, crying. Actual tears. His mom wanted to throw me out, but Tommy wouldn't have any of it. He still put me on the top of his all-star deck of cards, but I could tell things wouldn't be the same for us.
After a while, he stopped bringing me to the park. I found myself tossed into the box of no-namers and doubles under his bed a short time later. Eventually, all of us wound up in the attic. We started to hear loud arguments between Tommy and his parents downstairs. Strange music blared from the speakers every weekend. We'd hear Tommy stomp upstairs every once in a while, but it was usually to add to the secret stash of Playboy magazines he'd been hiding in the box next to us.
One day, a door slammed shut downstairs, a different kind of slam than we'd ever heard before. Days, weeks, months went by without any noise. Tommy was gone. His parents were gone. Yet we were still here. Families moved in and out, never once coming to our corner of the attic.
We stayed there for thirty-five years before anyone recognized us.
“Hey, Joe. Come here. Look at this.”
“What? What is it?”
Sunlight poured into the attic as Tommy's old tin box creaked open. I'd forgotten what the sun looked like. I flashed back to the days I spent with Tommy in the park. Green grass and suntans.
“Someone left all these baseball cards up here. Must've been one of the last owners. These things look old.”
The man reached in and grabbed a card to my left, carefully reading the copyright date on the back. “Nineteen-seventy-five. That's thirty-five years ago.” I guess I was living in 2010. The years fly by so fast. “Hmm, maybe they're worth something. Maybe not that one” – he pointed at me – “but I bet we could get a couple bucks for the others.”
The next few weeks were a blur. We kept getting moved from the attic to the bedroom to the living room and back to the attic. One day, a middle-aged guy in glasses came upstairs flanked by the couple, spending a good half-hour looking through all of us.
“I'll give you twenty bucks for the box.”
The couple accepted. We were whisked away to the new guy's house. Somewhere in the suburbs, I think. He carefully set us down in his garage, next to boxes and boxes of cards that looked just like us. I never thought adults collected baseball cards. I guess something happened in those thirty-five years we were up in the attic. A few days later, I saw the guy walk into the garage, talking on some strange kind of phone that didn't have a wire attached to it.
“Yeah, I just bought this huge box from a couple up in Plainfield. Said it'd probably been sitting there since the seventies.” A pause. “Probably just some kid's collection. Cards are in great shape. Found three Frank Robinsons in there. Even a Yount rookie.” Another pause. “Yeah. One Brett, but it looked like it'd been to hell and back. Through the wash or something. Could've gotten seventy-five bucks if it was in good shape. I'll throw it in the dollar box when we get to Rosemont next week.”
We all jangled in Tommy's old box as the guy carried us into a huge convention hall. The lights all around the place blinded me. I looked at a sign near the end of the hall as he set us down on a table. Welcome to the 24th Annual Sun-Times Sports Card Show. I was trying to wrap my head around the idea of a card show when the guy carefully started tossing us into different piles. We'd been together ever since Tommy left. Len Randle, who'd been sitting under me for the last thirty-five years, was placed into one pile. I got flung into a big plastic bin filled with names I didn't recognize. Henderson? Ripken? Kershaw? I looked at the sign that hung above my head. $1 each OR 20/$10! I guess I was only worth a dollar now. Fifty cents if they bought twenty of us. Tommy wouldn't have let me go for the world.
After a few hours, people started filing into the convention hall in droves. Almost all of them were middle-aged guys in glasses, identical to the guy who bought us. It was then that a funny thought hit me. Any one of these people could be Tommy. The thought got pushed out of my head as grubby hands started to push me further and further down the bin. Eventually, I was surrounded by darkness. I lost all hope of getting picked. It was like Doug's all over again. As the footsteps started fading, another hand reached deep into the bowels of the bin, taking me and a pile of other bottom feeders above the surface. This kid couldn't have been more than twenty years old, but when he saw me, his eyes gleamed the same way Tommy's did so many years ago.
“Hey, dad! Check this out!”
“Geez, what the hell happened to that one? Looks like something you'd find in a gutter.”
“I know. I've always wanted a Brett rookie, but I could never afford one. This is perfect.”
“Hey, for fifty cents, why not? I'm sure you'll give it a good home, Nick. You got your twenty cards picked out yet?”
The kid handed over a ten-dollar bill and tossed me into his bag. Piles of other cards stared up at me. A lot of them were in the same shape as I was. It was like a shelter for forgotten baseball cards. I didn't know where the kid was taking me, but I knew his dad was right.
I was going to a good home.