I decided many years ago to stop collecting baseball cards. Much as I loved them, they didn't do much--they certainly didn't increase in value, and my packs tended to come up with a whole lot of relievers and utility infielders and not a lot of stars.
But after our most recent move, I found a thick stack of my old cards and remembered how much I loved using them around the house. Sure enough, just about every card serves a purpose now, marking my place in one of the four or six books I'm reading at any given moment. I've even found fun in taking trading cards on vacation (using Michael Cuddyer to honor the Queen of Thailand, depositing Joe Girardi in a New Delhi intersection in a feeble attempt at winning back some playoff juju).
So, I decided to buy one pack of baseball cards each year, to relive my youth and restock my bookmark supply. This year, right after finishing my first week of work at Summer School, I decided to pick up a cheap pack, no antique designs or sets of six, instead I went with a simple set of Topps, and--to blend my old world with my new world I thought I'd blog about how it went.
As I hear the familiar crinkle and squeak of the plastic wrapper coming off, I'm filled with hope and excitement. Then I see the top card: Matt Downs of the Houston Astros...yup...looks like I'm back to the utility guy sets.
Todd Helton follows, which would be exciting if it was 2001...or if I was still in Montana, then Drew Stubbs, whose name I've heard for years as a prospect, but never actually thought about. I can see the appeal of a guy who can hit for power (15-20 Homers and 30-40 stolen bases) but still...it's a Red.
Aha! Derek Jeter! I feel special...a little bit like all those ladies who leave their soirees with the Yankees Captain with that special gift basket. Then Brad Brach of San Diego...hold your applause please.
Now a special card, shiny with zig-zaggy edges showing off Matt Kemp in mid-swing. Can't complain about him, or an old school, wood-panel Tim Lincecum. I can remember these old timey-Topps cards when they were new, and even if Lincecum has stunk this year, I've got fond memories.
I do not have memories of pitchers Brandon Dickson, Wei-Yin Chen or Henderson Alvarez. (other than seeing his face for the first time now). I suppose it's callous of me to be so critical of young men who are immortalized in a way that very few people ever are, but this is the internet...we seem to exist primarily for that purpose.
I will say this though, it's quite something to open a pack that contains so diverse a group of players. The old days of Sid Breams and Brad Ausmuses have been replaced by three pitchers from Montgomery, Alabama; Kaohsiung City, Taiwan; and Valencia, Venezuela.
Nearing the bottom of the pack, I'm hoping for one more big get: and there's Alejandro DeAza, not a big star by any means, but someone I'm increasingly sure will have me cursing his name over the next few years (surprisingly he's 28?) and finally a journeyman/up-and-comer with a really fun name: Ryan Vogelsong. Good to have at least one card that will always remind me how to spell a player's name.
And suddenly it's empty, I have a fleeting temptation to run out for another pack (like I used to in my smoking days; I suddenly realize that if there was a baseball-card break at work I'd be a collector again in a heartbeat). Sure I have a glut of questionable talents, but a Matt Kemp, a Derek Jeter and a Tim Lincecum are exciting enough to let me overlook that. I lay the cards out in front of me like I used to. Imagining the variations I could create to make the best possible team. (Unfortunately I don't have a catcher or 3rd baseman to complete the starting 9...all the more reason to get another pack!) But seeing them out there makes me feel like a kid again, jealous and daydreamy and full of excitement. Writing all of this in the middle of an ugly game with the A's doesn't hurt matters either.
I'm not the first person to observe that opening a pack of trading cards is an exercise in wild optimism crashing squarely into reality, but I can't help but savor the experience. Yes it's foolish, yes it's childish, but why be a fan if all you want to do is grouse and groan. If you approach the game with nothing but logic and rationality you miss the fun of feeling it. Life's full of disappointments--big and small--baseball's a world where something exciting could happen at any moment, even when you open a pack of trading cards. Those feelings, good and bad beget the little joys of fandom. That's why one of the reasons I've always loved baseball, and why I always will.