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by TheGodfather 

Posted: 19 July 2004
Word Count: 1452
Summary: This is a bit of nostalgia and grief. Your thoughts are welcome.

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I F you look hard enough, I think you can still find them, scattered around in strip malls and swap meets. The dealers have all but disappeared. Hype for the hobby fizzled after the player strikes and pay hikes. They even tried corking the ball to make for higher scores and more excitement, but that didn’t work. Baseball card dealers are almost extinct, and cards are more expensive than ever.
I saw a kid looking through a stack, all glossy and state-of-the-art. I’d bet he didn’t know that packs used to have gum in them, that the players used to be real, that things used to be done because they could.
I remember when they didn’t have any trouble getting fans, and there were dealers on every block. The cards were simple cardboard and smelled like sawdust.
My dad took me to my first baseball game when I was eight. He told me it was the Freeway Series, Dodgers vs. Angels. I ran up the ramps ahead of him waving my Dodgers pennant and waited for him at the top. He walked with hot dogs and sodas. He was a sturdy man with broad shoulders and grayish hair, but to me, he was just Dad.
I loved that game because Dad took me. I probably spilled half my drink while standing up to cheer when he stood and raised his arms after one of the players hit it real good. The Dodgers clobbered them, and Orel pitched a dandy, a shutout Dad called it. I figured out what that meant.
That night I dreamt about baseball and the Freeway Series and stealing home to win and having the whole team rush the field to carry me to the dugout.

T H E next day after work Dad came home with a box of wax packs, Topps brand. He watched as I tore those packs open, making stacks all around me. I must have had my tongue out because I bit it a little and could taste the blood. Wondering what to do next, I sat back when I finished and looked up at Dad. He helped me put them in order by the number on the back. 36 packs was a load of cards.
I got a lot of doubles and triples. We looked through the price guide he’d bought. There were 4 Mark McGuire rookie cards and 2 Jose Cansecos, the Bash Brothers, Dad called them. 6 Barry Bonds and a Bobby Bonilla, 4 Orel Hershisers, a Danny Tartabull, 3 Eric Davis, only one John Shelby, a Mike Scioscia, “The Wall,” who looked just like Dad, and hundreds of others.
My parents would invite me in to watch television, but I would say, No. I wanted to sort my cards. They were already sorted, but I did it again.
Dad brought home box after box – Donruss, Topps, Fleer, Score, Upper Deck, and even a box of Canadian brand wax packs, O-Pee-Chee. All the kids called them O-Chee-Pee’s though. Cards were like girls. Anyone who was anyone had them and collected and put them in screwdown protective cases.
The next year the Dodgers made playoffs, and Dad got tickets, two of them right down by third base where we could hear them spit. Dad, all grizzled and forty, pushed the scrum of dads scrounging for the foul ball that landed a few rows in front of us and came out with a John Shelby foul ball. Orel Hershiser pinch hit in the thirteenth inning. A pinch hitter wasn’t supposed to be a pitcher, but let me tell you something, he could hit. He came threw, a two-run threebagger to the right field corner.
The Diamondvision fan camera got me and Dad, me on his shoulders spilling the rest of my drink and shaking my oversized, number-one hand. Dad had his shirt over his head and a blue arrow pointing up at me. He knew we’d get up on the screen if we did that.
The Dodgers won.
Dad said the players always sign autographs after they win, so we tried. I wasn’t the youngest kid though, and they only signed the young kids’ stuff. Even John Shelby. They just ducked under the metal dugout roof and were gone, and all I had was a ball.
The Dodgers went all the way to the Big Show that year, and John Shelby got a World Series ring and Kirk Gibson hit the home run heard around the world and limped around the bags as the “miracle” Dodgers won.
And I had a ball.

I K E P T my cards for years. I saw the stores turn the “closed” sign and had to go to liquor stores to find cards. They were always more expensive and never had the good brands, but I had to find cards. I looked harder to find them as they got harder to find. I remember that. Dad was at work, and hadn’t brought cards home in months. He didn’t help me sort them out anymore.
This morning I almost fell apart, I tell you. I mean, I have my custom-plated Suburban in the three-car garage and the pool out back, but I almost lost it today. People tried to tell me that I should keep my cards, you know, to give them to my kids, but that wouldn’t work. There’s really no way to explain it to them. They weren’t just cards. They were a journey of sorts, a discovery of a world that someone introduced me to but I explored. Handing them down to my son wouldn’t be the same for him. I’d be cheating him.
I’ve been selling them off at garage sales, and I put an ad in the Pennysaver. I’ve sold close to forty boxes, more cards than I care to count.
A man called up this morning asking if I had any cards left, and I told him that “Yeah, I did.” I didn’t go check, but I had a ton of cards.
He asked, “Can you give me directions to your place, so I can come pick some up?”
I said, “Yeah,” and gave him directions.

W H E N he called from the gate on the intercom, I went out and walked him to the house. I asked him, “Can you wait here for a minute?” I closed the front door and jumped stairs on the way up to my room. I reached up and grabbed the last three boxes on the shelf.
I got to the stairs and gripped the rail to jump down. I stopped myself and sat on the top stair, setting two boxes next to me, turning the last box in my hands, an old beat-up white box with packing tape around the ends.
I held it by the ends and stared at it. That’s when I almost lost it. I ran my finger along the tape. I hurried through my pocket for my house key. I sawed through the tape, first the left side then the right. I pulled out a handful of cards and spread them out on the box across my knees.
Brown cardboard with the faces of athletes, like the gold letters Dad had put on his Bible and the hanging dice in my brother’s VW Bug. Jose Lind, Darryl Strawberry, Andy Van Slyke, Tom Lasorda, Jack Dempsey, Mickey Tettleton, Dwight Gooden, Orel Hershiser, and John Shelby, they all sat with me on that top stair as the intercom from the gate buzzed again.
I looked back in the box. There were hundreds more cards and a baseball. Dad had fought off the hoards of other men, most of whom weren’t the slightest bit interested in getting the ball for their kid. I touched the black Sharpie signature on the ball with my hand. I hadn’t remembered Dad signing it for me. I tossed it into the air a couple of times, and spun it in my hand to look at the autograph again.
There, with those cards spread across my lap, I realized what it must have been like for Dad to watch me open all those boxes of cards he’d bring home, the veneration my wide-open eyes must have shown.
The only way I’d answer the door is if it were Dad, bringing home a box of wax packs that we would sit on the floor and open and sort or maybe wanting to go catch a game and eat hot dogs and nachos and see how far we could spit sunflower seeds. We could even just sit here on the top stair and spit them. I’d clean them up later.
But the guy outside could wait. These were cards.

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Comments by other Members

Nell at 21:24 on 19 July 2004  Report this post
Hi Godfather,

I know little or nothing about baseball or cards, although I can remember seeing football cards when I was little - they used to come in cigarette packets I think. You can still find them in car boot sales. So bear with me.

This is a subtle story, and I read it twice before the significance of the cards for the narrator struck home. It seemed to be about his relationship with his Dad, and it was a moving moment when I realized that and saw beneath the outer layer of your narrator. I'd have liked to know approximately how many years had passed - your man speaks of his kids, but I wasn't sure whether he actually had any, or if he was looking into the future. That's a picky point I know, but the way he spoke of his pool and his car, but not of his family made me wonder what his situation was. Now perhaps that shouldn't have mattered, but somehow it did. At first I wondered why he was selling with apparent casualness what had meant so much to him, but I guessed that the sentences '...Dad was at work, and hadn’t brought cards home in months... He didn’t help me sort them out anymore...' answer that question. So much for my impressions, see what others think. For me, you're very nearly there with this, any adjustments should be careful - don't over explain - I just think a little more is needed to make this piece realize its potential.

Typo alert:
I've been them selling off at garage sales,

Best, Nell.

Becca at 06:11 on 20 July 2004  Report this post
Hi Godfather. This was a sad tale of nostalgia for me. I think my feelings about it were similar to Nell's, in that had there been a little more about the MC's present situation, it would ground it a bit. The first section about his childhood and love of the cards is very long, where the other character, the man who wants to buy them comes in, is much shorter, but that's the point where your MC's realisation of things long past seems to gell. I wonder what it would be like if you changed the shape of it slightly and put a bit more into the last part, maybe about your MC's present life?
It's a very wistful piece, I particularly liked: 'Cards were like girls. Anyone who was anyone had them and collected and put them in screwdown protective cases.'

MikeC at 16:00 on 20 July 2004  Report this post
I too had to read it twice to get an understanding of this. That may be because it is a culture I am not familiar with. It's not the cards themselves, it what they represent. They are a link back to good times that can never be retrieved but still mean a great deal to the narrator. They may have been his happiest times. His dad, the game, with his dad at the games were the happy times. At least that's what I think.

I think the style of narrative is deliberately lumpy and slightly illogical and is intended to be a 'conversational' style - the way people speak. It grows on you.


TheGodfather at 08:24 on 21 July 2004  Report this post
A responding question to you guys...if you are looking back at it, did you have to read it again because of the difficulty of the read or because the meaning was a bit under the surface? I'm curious about this aspect of my writing. I'm not sure if I want to be as forthcoming with the themes as many writers are, but I haven't decided yet.


Nell at 09:18 on 21 July 2004  Report this post
It wasn't the writing style - this is well-written - but the fact that after reading I had to ask myself What is the story about? Those who've commented so far seem to have come to the same conclusions, albeit after re-reading. I don't think you need to be too obvious - subtlety is one of the things that I've noticed in your work, and it gives the story a realistic feel, as real life is rarely as neat as most short stories - perhaps we just need a little more.


MikeC at 11:30 on 21 July 2004  Report this post

For me the meaning was bit under the surface. I think it is a strong point in that the meaning did not reveal itself on the first read but something was glimpsed, so I went back and had another look.


Jubbly at 20:40 on 21 July 2004  Report this post
Another great piece Godfather, I don't know anything about American Baseball cards but I've seen my son go through so many phases and collections and I know what it's like when something means so much to you. I admit I lost it to when I got to the line' Theonly way I'd open the door was if it was my father etc' wonderful, moving stuff. Keep them comming.


scottwil at 11:09 on 22 July 2004  Report this post
I loved this. I don't know the first thing about baseball but it didn't seem to matter. For me it's all about the writer's connection with his Dad which has a lot of resonance.
Very powerful.

By the way, as Nell has pointed out we used to have cigarette cards in the Uk and also we used to get them in boxes of tea (so British). I still have an old shoebox full in my mum's attic, if she hasn't thrown them out. There were flowers, military, sports, aircraft etc.


crowspark at 19:32 on 22 July 2004  Report this post
My son was mad about Pokemon cards which I took pleasure in buying him.
I particularly liked the distinctive voice and the energy - good piece.

TheGodfather at 08:23 on 23 July 2004  Report this post
I'm glad you all connected with it on some level. Thanks for the comments. Further ones are welcome.


Hamburger Yogi & PBW at 08:06 on 24 July 2004  Report this post
Padre Padrone,

Again, another writer on this site who has all the nuts and bolts - not to be faulted on form or flow as the eye conveys an 'unfolding, recursive set of impressions'.

Stories with subject-specific knowledge always have a pull especially for those who share the interest. The knowledge creates backing -- a fund of facts alluded to by implicature -- that feeds the showing distinction. Personally, I don't think it matters if the reader does not know exactly what you are talking about. It keeps us guessing and that is an attention grabber (fixer.)

On the down side, for me there was little rising action and denoument. Not a prerequisite but satisfying to many.

And I had a ball needs another line space. Ditto I said 'Yeah'.

Maybe I should use this advice myself.

Con Rispetto,

Hamburger Yogi


Addendum: I didn't feel nostalgia or grief. Am I being thick?

TheGodfather at 08:27 on 24 July 2004  Report this post
I appreciate that HY. Thanks for the format fixes - they're changed. Should the end have more action? Does this need action? Your thoughts please.


Dee at 09:13 on 24 July 2004  Report this post
Godfather, I’ve been meaning to read some of your work ever since you joined and now I’m glad I have.

I liked this. I have no idea what the baseball terms mean and I don’t recognise any of the names but I think every kid collects things at some point so this touches a chord in all of us. (for me it was the tea cards that Sion mentioned)


People tried to tell me that I should keep my cards, you know, to give them to my kids, but that wouldn’t work. There’s really no way to explain it to them. They weren’t just cards.
This says to me that the cards, and what they represent, are still important to him – which makes the following two sentences illogical.
If they no longer have any relevance for him (and, let’s face it, most of us discard childhood collections long before we get to the three-car garage stage) then the first part doesn’t make sense.

There’s a hint in the part about his dad not bringing home cards any more. Perhaps you could expand on that and the relevance it has to his life now and his mixed feelings about the cards.

Hope this helps.


TheGodfather at 18:46 on 30 July 2004  Report this post

Good comments. I appreciate the discussion. After you've collected baseball cards or anything for that matter, just handing them down to a kid won't work. They won't appreciate them, the appreciation is in the process, but he still feels like getting rid of them even though they still hold meaning. Maybe that sheds some light. More thoughts are welcome.


Dee at 19:53 on 30 July 2004  Report this post
Yes, I see what you mean, and I can understand that, but it still doesn’t come out in the writing. Maybe it’s just me but, even knowing you reasoning, it doesn’t seem logical…

It’s just a thought. If no-one else is bothered by it then it’s probably just me. I still think it's a damned good story.


TheGodfather at 01:43 on 31 July 2004  Report this post

I appreciate it. I will probably add some more internal dialogue, maybe external too, explaining that before i try to publish it. Thanks a million.


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