It was a rainy Sunday, not good for much besides organizing the basement and sorting out what to trash and what to donate, while the kids played in the living room, building a Lego carnival with rides and games that would inevitably be destroyed by some marauding T-Rexes.
Soon I came across the plastic bin containing my baseball card collection. I’d read enough on the internet to know that my collection — even the cards once worth two or three or twenty dollars years ago — was pretty much worthless today. Still, I imagined someday I’d hand the bin over to my son, who might enjoy looking at these relics with their mostly unknown names and outdated hairstyles. And if he kept the bin in his basement for a few more decades, maybe someday he could sell them for a few bucks.
What better time than now, I thought. Without a word to the kids, I brought the bin upstairs and emptied its contents onto the kitchen table. In those cards I could smell and feel my youth, in the familiar company names — Topps and Donruss — along with others I’d forgotten like Fleer and Leaf and the beautiful Upper Deck.
My children started asking questions. Yes, these are old cards; they are older than you, I replied. No, the players didn’t make these cards themselves. No, none of them are playing in the majors anymore. I have them because it was fun to collect them. And some of them were worth money. Well, not that much.
Here was a Wade Boggs that I’d apparently bought for three bucks. A quick look at my phone, and — it now sold for a dollar. And here, a 1991 Upper Deck Ellis Burks Silver Slugger, again purchased for $3 (perhaps the high end of my spending limit back then), now definitely worth less.
Judging by the smattering of 1986 cards, I was around 8 years old when the collecting bug first hit me.
The peak of my obsession came in 1989, as evidenced by the massive three-ring binder with those protective sheets full of cards.
I recall the hours spent on my bedroom floor with that binder, organizing my cards by team, then re-organizing them by number, then thinking better of it and, despite the hours I’d already invested, organizing them by team again. I flipped to the Red Sox and there they were, the names imprinted on my 11-year-old mind under a fine layer of dust — Marty Barrett, Jody Reed, Mike Greenwell, Rich Gedman.
I remember the joy of buying a few packs and ripping them open, eager to see which cards I’d gotten. The allure faded a couple years later, when I apparently had enough lawn mowing proceeds to simply buy an entire set; there on the kitchen table were Topps sets from 1991 and 1992, and a still-in-the-plastic 1992 Upper Deck set.
Wasn’t that better when you had them all, my daughter asked. I tried to explain why it wasn’t, but she remained unconvinced. Before long, both kids returned to their Legos. Neither was eager to take possession of my collection.
I returned the bin to the basement; it might not hold any monetary value, but it granted me an enjoyable trip back to my youth on an otherwise ordinary Sunday afternoon.