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Rare Baseball Cards

Baseball Cards
Chris McGrath/Getty Images
It was a childhood ritual. Catechism on Saturday afternoon, then off to the Leota grocery store with a dime, maybe a quarter if I was really good (That didn’t seem to happen often). There, on a shelf in the sotre, was the prize, the gold mine, the pot of gold at the end of a rainbow.

Baseball cards. A penny a card, a nickel would get you a 5-pack. They came with a stick of gum, if you could call it gum. It would crack in your mouth, remember? If you were lucky, it would eventually soften up. But it wasn’t the gum we wanted. It was the card(s).

Ripping it open, hopes sky-high that there would be a Minnesota Twin in there! Maybe…maybe…maybe…

The first one was an Oriole. Ugh. Next up, a Giant. Geez, that was the worst of all, a National Leaguer! Third was a Washington Senator. No good, they were the worst team in baseball! And what’s this? A Yankee? A hated Yankee??

Well, maybe the last of the five. Let’s see…Phillie. Who cares about the Phillies? Ah well, maybe next week.

And that’s how it went, week after week after week. Baseball was King in those days, you see. Hard to believe now, what with the NFL, Super Bowl, March Madness, College football. All of those were second-rate back in the day. There was only one sport: Baseball. And only one kind of card to collect: Baseball.

Me and my friends, we had hundreds, all in shoeboxes, rubber bands around them to keep the teams separated. Never enough Twins. Those were golden! The Killebrew’s, Oliva’s, Pascual’s, Mincher’s, Versailles’, Kaat’s and Allison’s. Heck, even the Twin bench warmer’s were better than a Yankee!

Oh, if a player got traded, say from the Cubs to the Dodgers, we’d just take a pen, scratch out “Cubs”, write in “Dodgers” and we were good to go!

Some of the best memories, of course, were trading them. Twins were almost always ‘off limits’, unless you had 3 or 4 Earl Battey’s or Rich Rollins’. Then maybe let one go if you could get 4 or 5 cards in return.

And we’d stick them into the bicycle spokes. Clothes pin them in there, and off you’d go, sounding just like a Harley Davidson, or so at least we imagined. Oh, it beat the cards to a pulp, but hey, at a penny apiece the sound and imagination was worth the price!

Mantle? Mays? Aaron? Koufax? Drysdale? Musial? Berra? Yep, we had them all and hundreds more.

A penny apiece. That’s all they were. A penny apiece. Written on, scratched on, traded, beat up, worn down and ultimately…tossed away. We grew up and they lost their magic. Or maybe we lost our imagination.

Now, of course, many, many of those cards would be worth thousands of dollars. Some are worth millions I’m told, the really old ones. Almost all would be worth $100 apiece.

We paid a penny. If we hadn’t scribbled on them, traded them, stuck them in our bicycle spokes….if we’d have bought them, sealed them in plastic and put them away never to see them again until now, well, we’d be rich.

But we wouldn’t have the memories. We wouldn’t have the little kid excitement and expectation of opening that nickel pack of cards hoping for a Twin. We wouldn’t have the hours with our friends haggling over a trade. And we would have the hours of riding that old bike with the cards in the spokes, imagining we were out on the open road, traveling across America on our Harley.

We wouldn’t have had any of that. What we’d have is a sterile box of cardboard with a picture on it. And money.

Money, or memories. Hmmm….

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