Why would a grown man collect baseball cards? I've heard this question many times. Another one I get is, "You paid money for a piece of cardboard with a picture on it?" My answer to the latter is, "Yep." The answer to the former isn't quite as simple. Truth be told, at different times in my life, I've had different reasons for collecting.
When I was young, I collected because the guys on those pieces of cardboard were my heroes and because my friends collected. I can't claim that's still my reason for collecting. First of all, it would be a bit creepy if an adult man still looked at athletes as heroes. Gifted athletes and entertainers, yes. Heroes, no. Secondly, most of my collecting friends I've never met in person, but rather over the internet. Therefore, there isn't much social gain by collecting.
Most of my adult years, I collected (or dealt rather) because of the potential financial gain. There were times I made money. There were times I suffered setbacks that left me so jaded that I dropped out of the hobby for several years. Yet, I always seemed to find my way back. So if I don't idolize athletes or receive any measurable social gain from collecting and am completely disenchanted by the trading card business, then why do I keep coming back?
The only plausible answer that comes to mind is: I do it for the memories and the wisdom gained from these experiences. Some people see a picture in a photo album or hear a song and it recalls vivid memories of the past. That's what baseball cards are to me. I can't see a 1983 Topps baseball card without remembering when I was five and my brother (7 years my elder) conned me out of my Reggie Jackson for his Bruce Sutter and Fred Lynn All-Star cards claiming that he was giving me a great deal because I got two cards and he only got one. When I see a 1987 Sportlics card, I'm whisked away to the summer between my fourth and fifth grade years. My buddy, Tom, and I would raid our piggy banks and ride our bikes across Rt. 8 to Miracle Mart where we emptied our pockets and bought as many packs as we could -- the whole time looking over our shoulders hoping we wouldn't be caught. The highway was too dangerous for a couple of 10 year old kids to cross and strictly forbidden by both sets of parents.
As I've aged, I've narrowed my focus until I'm left only collecting Cardinals baseball cards. Now, when I look at my collection, I'm reminded of all the great memories surrounding my family and Cardinals baseball. I remember my first game at Busch Stadium. It was the Summer of 82. They played the Astros and Ozzie got tossed for arguing balls and strikes. I remember how exciting that was and after 33 years, I still talk about it. I remember the time in the 90s when we left early because it was raining, only to hear that the rain let up and Pedro Guerrero hit a walk-off homer. I can still feel the disappointment of not getting to see that and also still talk about it from time to time.
I'm also reminded of the not so great memories. Sitting at the kitchen table in my parents house after my dad was diagnosed with cancer, I passed the time by sorting through a box of cards that I had left behind. My dad walked over, all hopped up on Vicodin, sat down, and flipped through the stacks I had set aside. He asked, "Still trading baseball cards?"
"From time to time," I said.
"Brock for Broglio. Now there's a trade for you. Greatest trade ever. Or worst depending which side you're on."
I heard that story about Brock for Broglio at least a dozen times in my father's final months. We talked a lot about the Cardinals, choosing to avoid the topic of his declining health. He told stories of Gibby and Bill White. Red and Stan. When he talked about his memories of Cardinal baseball, he seemed full of life rather than ravaged by his disease.
Hey Marc, that's great, but where is the life altering wisdom that you've gleaned from all this?
Well, as far as the 83 Topps go, I have to laugh because (Jackson, Sutter, or Lynn), monetarily speaking, you'd get more from recycling the cardboard than selling them. It also taught me two valuable lessons. First of all, my Mom always used to say, "You can't trust anyone but your family." Thanks to those 83 Topps, I learned that sometimes you can't even trust family. I also learned that most of the time Mom's right, but sometimes she isn't.
With the 87 Sportflics, I learned that sometimes the reward is worth the consequences endured for breaking the rules.
In my father's final days, I learned that no matter how long they're here, there aren't enough hours in a lifetime to learn everything that your parents can teach you.
Thinking back now about how strong he seemed when he was recounting the memories of his childhood, I realize how much power and comfort there is in remembering what it was like to be a kid.
While working on the Wall of Cards, I have often asked myself why I was doing it. I never had an answer other than it was my idea of art and seemed like it needed to be done. I think now that maybe it's because if something happens to me before I can impart all my wisdom on my two boys, they'll remember the wall. I hope they'll remember it when they're older and realize that, even though life is busy and responsibilities are sometimes overwhelming, it's ok for a grown man to have a place where he can go and remember what it was like to be a kid.
That's why I collect.