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“Baseball Cards in a Cereal Box”

September 2, 2005

I had quite a surprise at breakfast not long ago when I opened a brand new box of Shredded Wheat.  As I poured the nutritious squares into a bowl, a small pack of baseball cards fell out of the box.  The cards were made by the Topps Company.  Among them was a Chipper Jones card.  It was an early morning experience that would have gladdened the heart of any Atlanta Braves fan.  Chipper Jones has been a perennial all-star as a third baseman.  A couple of years ago, Bobby Cox moved Chipper to left field, where he continued his heroic exploits on the diamond.  Now, he is back at third base.

I can remember the first baseball cards I collected.  They, too, were made by Topps.  Each pack included a flat piece of stale, pink bubble gum.  The adventure inherent in opening a pack of baseball cards was discovering the pictures of the best players.  Those little pieces of cardboard were treasures.  Mickey Mantle, Willie Mays, and Duke Snider were among the cards I valued most.  I kept them in an old cigar box on the closet shelf.  Sometimes my friends and I would choose a less desirable baseball card, fold it in half, and attach it to our bicycles with a clothespin.  The sound made by the rubbing of the card against the spokes of the wheel imitated the roar of a motor at least in our imagination.

After I left home to go to college, my mother, in a flurry of closet cleaning, got rid of my cigar box full of baseball cards.  In today’s market, that small collection would have been worth a king’s ransom.  I am amazed at how the value of cardboard can appreciate.

Our son, Kris, was our baseball card collector as a youngster.  Among his favorites was the rookie card of Cal Ripken, Jr.  He even has a Chipper Jones rookie card.  It was autographed by the future Major League star at Duncan Park. Then he was a first-year player in the minor leagues, playing shortstop for the Macon Braves.  One night when the Spartanburg Phillies were playing the Braves from Macon, Kris took his prized rookie card and an indelible marker to the game.  While the Phillies were at bat, Kris handed the card and marker over the fence behind the visitor’s dugout.  A very young Chipper emerged, signed the card, and handed it back to Kris.

Kris and I have spent many hours together talking about baseball, cataloguing cards, and enjoying the national pastime on television.  At the time, Ryne Sandberg was his favorite player.  Sandberg started his career with the Spartanburg Phillies.  He was traded to Chicago and played his major league career for the Cubs at Wrigley Field.  Sandberg was recently inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, New York.  I gave Kris a Topps rookie card of the Cubs’ second baseman for his tenth birthday. 

The following year, I got a surprise for my birthday.  I opened a small package from Kris.  Inside was a Topps baseball card picturing Rocky Colavito, my favorite baseball player when I was a kid.  Rocky was the center fielder for the Cleveland Indians, a power hitter who hit four home runs in one game as a major leaguer.  When Rocky Colavito was in the minor leagues, he played for the Spartanburg Peaches at Duncan Park.  Rocky lived in a spare bedroom at my grandmother’s house on South Converse Street while he played in Spartanburg.

I enjoyed my bowl of Shredded Wheat with some good Spartanburg County peaches sliced on top.  I thought about the way our lives are enriched by small things, little things like cardboard pictures of baseball players.  Though they have some monetary value, their greatest value is in the memories they create.

A parable says that the kingdom of heaven is like a man who finds a treasure hidden in a field and goes and buys the field.  Maybe the kingdom of heaven is like a grown man who finds a baseball card in his breakfast cereal and, for a moment, feels like a kid again.  Maybe something will surprise you, and that brief childlike joy will grace your life.  When it happens, savor it.  You will not be far from the kingdom.

-Kirk H. Neely 

© H-J Weekly, July 2007

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