Skip to content


April 10, 2021

Each week in this space, I will ask you to consider helping one charity. This week, please volunteer or donate, as you are able, to SPACE – Spartanburg Area Conservancy, 100 East Main Street, Suite 7B, Spartanburg, South Carolina 29306, 864-948-0000,

As the Major League Baseball season begins, I recall the day 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 Topps Company had made the cards.  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 was 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 previously owned by my grandfather. Pappy kept cigars in the container before he passed it on to me. It came as no surprise that my baseball cards had the pleasant aroma of his cigars. I kept the box high 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 bicycle wheel with a clothespin.  The sound made by the card’s rubbing against the spokes 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 aromatic 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 had a Chipper Jones rookie card.  It was autographed by the future Major League star and Hall of Famer 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, cataloging 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 playing in Spartanburg.

In the 1950s, the Spartanburg Peaches was a minor league franchise of the Cleveland Indians. In those days, Duncan Park was considered one of the best minor league ballparks in the country. Even the seats in Duncan Park were legendary. They had once been used in Connie Mack Stadium in Philadelphia. 

Rocco Domenico Colavito, Jr., was born in 1933. Rocky, as he was known, came from the Bronx as the right fielder for the Spartanburg Peaches.  He was a devoted fan of the New York Yankees, and Joe DiMaggio was his boyhood hero.

The death of my grandfather Joe Hudson, a Spartanburg businessman, left his wife, Belle, a single mother with seven children. My mother was their youngest child.

My grandmother’s house at 288 South Converse was a large two-story gray Victorian home with a wraparound porch. Just off the screened back porch was a private room that served as the maid’s quarters in more prosperous times. Granny rented that room to Rocky Colavito in the spring of 1952.

I rarely saw Rocky when he was not in uniform at Duncan Park. I was only seven years old at the time. I remember seeing him walk whenever he left Granny’s house. Later in his career, he would be famous for his powder blue Cadillac and his pretty, blond wife. As far as I know, he did not have an automobile while living in Spartanburg. If he had girlfriends, I could assure you that he did not entertain them in his room at Granny’s house.

By the time he played for the Spartanburg Peaches in 1952, Rocky had developed his own style at the plate. He was a power hitter, and he had a strong arm in the outfield.

Rocky became an immediate fan favorite. Every time he stepped into the batter’s box, the air was electric with anticipation. Every time he uncorked a throw from right field, a murmur of appreciation ran through the crowd.  

In 1952, many suspected that the tall, lanky kid from the Bronx might become one of the better players in Major League Baseball. Few could have predicted that Rocky Colavito would become one of the greatest. Rocky had eleven consecutive 20-home run seasons, exceeding 40 home runs three times and 100 runs batted in six times. He was voted to the All-Star Team nine times.

For Christmas, the year before Rocky came to town, I received a crystal radio kit, which my dad and I assembled. If I propped it in the windowsill of my second-story open bedroom window, I could faintly pick up one station – WSPA 950 AM, the station that broadcast the Peaches’ games. Though I actually attended only a few games in person, I listened to almost every game on my homemade radio.

From my bedroom window, I could see the lights at Duncan Park. When the Peaches made a spectacular play, I would take off the crystal set earphones and listen to the roar of the crowd echoing across Duncan Park Lake. 

At the lumberyard one day, my great-uncle was reading the box scores in the newspaper. Rocky had hit two home runs the previous night. Clicking his false teeth, Uncle Will said, “If you want to see Colavito play, you’d better go soon. He’ll be in Cleveland playing for the big team before long.”

He spoke what I feared. Rocky is such a good player; he won’t play for the Peaches ever again.    

Then, one August afternoon, I went to Granny’s house. I climbed the stairs to the screened porch and noticed that Rocky’s room’s door was closed. When I stepped inside the kitchen, Rocky was seated at the table eating a sandwich and drinking a Pepsi. Granny always had Pepsi-Colas in the refrigerator and ice cream in the freezer.

Granny said, “Both of you boys have August birthdays. Rocky has just turned nineteen; Kirk has just turned eight. So, I bought something special for you.”

From the freezer, Granny took a new container of ice cream, Rocky Road.  When he saw the flavor, Rocky quipped, “This ice cream is named for me! Baby Ruth candy bars are named for Babe Ruth. This ice cream is named for me.”

I was eight-years-old, and I believed!

One day when I went to Granny’s house, Rocky was gone, playing baseball far beyond the reach of my crystal radio set. I was heartbroken!

I now own only one baseball card, a vintage Rocky Colavito Topps card. With its tiny tear near the top and a dark stain in the bottom left corner, the card has been well-loved. I cherish that old card of my favorite baseball player.

I am sure that the dark stain at the bottom of the card is Rocky Road ice cream.

The other day I enjoyed a bowl of Cheerios with some fresh strawberries sliced on top.  I remembered the surprise of finding the cards and thought about how our lives are enriched by small things like cardboard pictures of baseball players.  Though they have some monetary value, their most significant 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. 

On second thought, 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 is a freelance writer, a teacher, a pastoral counselor, and a retired pastor. He can be reached at

Comments are closed.

%d bloggers like this: