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Baseball Cards in a Cereal Box

September 6, 2011

 

Several years ago 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.  Finding the surprise 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.

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 Tampa Nugget 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 mimicked the roar of a motor; at least it did 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 when he played a game at Duncan Park in Spartanburg. Then Jones was a first-year player in the minor leagues, playing shortstop for the Macon Braves.  One night when the Spartanburg Phillies were playing the team from Macon, Georgia, 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 inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, New York.  On Kris’ tenth birthday I gave him a Topps rookie card of the Cubs’ second baseman.

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.

The other day I enjoyed a bowl of shredded wheat with some good Spartanburg County peaches sliced on top.  I remembered the surprise of finding the cards and thought about the way our lives are enriched by small things like cardboard pictures of baseball players.  Though they have some monetary value, their greatest value is in the memories they create.

A parable in the Bible 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.

 

Kirk H. Neely
© September 2011

 

 

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