Paying to Anticipate: An adventure in baseball cards

I finally did it. I told myself I ought to. I explained all the ways why. I made sure that I actually could do it, and then I did it.

I sold a large chunk of my baseball card collection.

It wasn't doing anything, it was sitting in a box in my attic. When my neighbor set up a yard sale and offered me a chance to sell some things, I went to get them. Sure enough, old DVD players, printers, and stereo systems...passed...a couple hundred 1988 baseball cards...gone in a flash.

I don't need more baseball cards (no one does...really), but I still make an annual pack a special ritual for myself. A reward for a year worth of teaching, a method of keeping my place in a mountain of books. As I've done before, I thought it might be fun to write about the process of opening up my packs (both a regular and a heritage set)

First the flashy new deck, as my dog sits at my feet, hopefully looking at me like I've unwrapped a treat for us both to eat. No luck pup.

Paul Goldschmit leads off...I know him, power hitter prospect, okay...then Hiroki Kuroda who excites me as a fan of good pitching, and churns my stomach as a symbol of Yankee wealth. Michael Brantely and Jonathan Pablebon follow, so far a solid crew.

There we go: Yordano Ventura...do you know who Yordano Ventura plays for? Did you know there was a person in the world named Yordano Ventura? Apparently he was a September call up who has an active twiter account (#LetsThrowFire)--I wonder what the old cigarette companies who started this tradition would have written on the back in lieu of twitter: "When walking down the street, King Kelly shouts out: 'I ATE A PASTRAMI SANDWHICH, POUND SYMBOL YUM!' Oh that Kelly, always a fan favorite."
Back in the swing of things, an old school Buster Posey card...the same psuedo style as a lot of the cards I just sold...perhaps the universe is giving me a sign to track down the buyer and steal them back. No, wait, Francisco Liriano follows him up, that's a sign that you should just appreciate your memories, lest the regret eat you alive.

Ahh...and here they are, at the back of the pack...the also rans: Wily Peralta, Nick Hundley, Eric Sogard, Scooter Gennett and Jack Hannahan. The only who remotely stands out is Scooter...and it's far more for he fact that his name is Scooter than anything else.

What about the classic pack, fewer cards, classier stock than the ultra shiny newbies, a little more price. Perhaps here will be the bonafide stars, the exciting pack of a full blown team of all-stars I wouldn't trade for a Byron Buxton rookie...oh who am I kidding, they're just cards...

Opening it up, I swear I could smell that old cardboard gum, the stuff that made my jaws hurt as a kid, but that I stubbornly ate, piece after piece, because I felt bad turning down the gift of gum each company had so thoughtfully inserted for me. (I admit it, I've always been naive).

Andres Torres tops the deck, glum and dead-eyed, then Jayson Werth with a more manageable beard than usual...Aha, a bulky Prince Fielder in his new Rangers uniform...just what I was hoping for, and just what Rangers fans were hoping for...a positive image, regardless of the injuries and disaster that lay ahead.

John Neise is alright, but Darin Ruf makes me wonder if these cards are all that special...apparently he had a strong power swing for the Phillies at the end of the season...but I'm not sure I buy it. Just like I didn't buy in to  most "Impact Rookie" cards Topps chucked into my packs as a kid.

Darin Ruf? Really?
A throwback Jim Plamer card reflecting on his 1965 debut (the year the heritage pack is emulating), is solid and nice to imagine as a rookie card slipped among your mom/dad's old belongings. Travis Wood and Brett Lawrie won't have the same effect on my kids I'm sure. Finally a card of AL ERA leaders Annabelle Anibal Sanchez and Bartolo (Semi)Colon. 

That's it. I confess myself disappointed*. 21 cards and not a single Twin. I pick out a few I'd like to hold on to--both for the fun of bookmarking my pages and on the off chance they develop into something special (Gennett, Kuroda). But there were no Twins. No favorites. And I wonder if it wouldn't have been better to save my money and wrap a random selection of my old cards in paper for the same illusion.

It's silly to repeat this ritual, silly to spend money (any money) on an easily abandoned, quickly forgotten distraction. But I'm not really paying for a long term investment. I'm not even paying for short-term distraction. I'm paying for a certain feeling, a memory of childhood, and a reminder that potential is so much more fun than reality, like dreaming on what Prince Fielder can accomplish in Texas before he plays a game. (I mean, if I had gotten a Brian Dozier, I wouldn't give a fart about the deluge of relievers and middling talent). I love the moment of anticipation, the wait, the hope, the discovery. Like seeing runners in scoring position with less than two outs, I have all manner of hopes and wishes for how they score, or how the pitcher dances out of danger. It doesn't matter if it lives up to my expectations or not, it's the thrill of the not knowing that gets me every time. 

Maybe I'll find someone to give me two bucks for the cards at another garage sale, or maybe they'll get chucked by my wife in a burst of spring cleaning. I'm not concerned about what happens to the opportunity lost, I'm already dreaming about the opportunities to come. If that doesn't make me a baseball fan, I don't know what does.

*Though I do pause to fulfill another fun distraction--imagining the best line up I can make with the cards I was dealt--Pitcher Palmer, than Posey-2; Fielder-3, Gennett-4, Lawrie-5, Sogard (out of position)-6, Torres-7, Brantley-8, Werth-9...Underwhelming as they are, I'm pretty sure they could beat the Astros.

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