Blog Bat Around: What Centers My Yankee Universe?
Answer: A 13-year-old newspaper and an Atlanta Brave.
Those of you who have read my About Me page know the story of how I fell in love with the game thanks to my father, a lifelong Yankee fan. What you didn’t know was that he was also responsible for kickstarting my collection with cards that I wouldn’t trade for a Martin Brodeur autographed 1/1.
My collection started in 1993 with various packs obtained from the local grocery store. I didn’t have anything great, but as long as I had my Yankee cards, I was happy. My father eventually took notice of my interest in cards and decided to give my collection a little star power. He was a former collector himself, having had many cards of Babe Ruth, Joe DiMaggio, Mickey Mantle, and so on. Unfortunately, my grandmother (like many other mothers out there) ruefully threw her son’s cards out long ago. Ah, what could’ve been…
My father didn’t want my collection to suffer the same fate so he took me to meet up with a friend from work one rainy day in 1994. The man I met that day had a rather large selection of cards, which ranged from mid-1970’s to 1993 stuff. I looked through stacks and stacks of cards, picking out Yankees and star players such as Gwynn, Ripken, Thomas, etc. All of a sudden, I uncovered a gem. Surrounded by a bunch of craptastic, overproduced ’91 Fleer and Donruss cards was this baby:
In all its brown and orange goodness, a 1975 Topps Hank Aaron Highlight card #1! Yes, somehow this card was mixed in with cards from those subpar sets. My eyes lit up the second I saw this card and it took me precisely 0.8 seconds to remove the card from the stack and into my “wanted” pile. Later on, when my dad’s friend looked through that very pile, he just smiled and told me I had good taste when he saw the Aaron. My father nodded in agreement. After I had finished looking through all the stacks, the man pulled out a few more vintage cards and also sold them to my father. They were 1977 Topps cards of Mike Schmidt, Robin Yount, and Pete Rose. A (badly miscut, but who cares?) 1979 Topps card of Nolan Ryan accompanied the three. I remember going home that day as the happiest kid in town. All the cards were great, especially the vintage, but there was something about that Aaron card that wouldn’t let me take my eyes off of it. When I look at this card right now, I still think as highly of it as I did when I first held it as a 9-year-old kid.
Roughly a year after that wonderful afternoon, my father was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer, which led to the removal of his gall bladder and part of his pancreas. Obviously, I was crushed by these events. In order to help cope with the illness, my father and I joined a support group for kids/adults that were going through the same scenario that we were. We met up once a week for a couple hours, talking and doing various activities in order to relieve some stress. One such activity required us to bring in an item that symbolized our relationship and discuss why it did so.
I brought in the Hank Aaron card.
The other children in the group, some of whom were into sports, were amazed by it. Heck, even one of the counselors was amazed by it. This card symbolized what brought us close together: our love of baseball and our love of collecting.
That brings me to the second “centerpiece” of my collection, the 13-year-old newspaper. By mid-1995, my father was feeling the best he had since before the operation, a very encouraging sign. We decided to celebrate by going to our first MLB game together on the last day of August. The Yankees were hosting the then-California Angels. At the time, the Angels were in the middle of a collapse that only the 2007-08 Mets could pull off and the Yanks were battling for a playoff spot. What happened that night was something I’ll never forget as long as I live.
Like I’ve stated before, Paul O’Neill had been my favorite player ever since I first became a baseball fan. He was also my father’s favorite player and was actually traded to the Yankees on my father’s 46th birthday! Anyway, Paul did something that night that he had never done before, nor would he ever do again. He smacked not one, not two, but THREE home runs and drove in EIGHT in an 11-6 Yankees victory. The next day, the NY Daily News backpage said “3 Cheers!” and featured Paul swatting one out of the park. It was brought to my attention by a friend, Ravi (who also collects O’Neill) that a man on eBay was actually selling old newspapers and one of them happened to be this issue of the Daily News! Yes, I bought a freakin’ newspaper on eBay! Laugh if you want, but this was exactly the piece that was missing from my O’Neill collection. Because I don’t have a working camera right now, I somehow threw the paper up on my scanner. Here’s what it looks like:
An online archive of this story can be found here. When you think about it, you just can’t make this kind of stuff up. My father introduces me to baseball. I become enamored with the game. For some odd reason(s), we don’t go to a live game until two years after I first became a fan, and we see our favorite player (of all people!) do something he’s only done once in his career. It’s scary. You’d think it was like he knew we were there and wanted to do something huge in front of us. I wonder what Mr. O’Neill would say if he heard this story. He’d probably ask why I didn’t go to more games! So, there you have it folks: one card, one newspaper, countless memories. These are things that center my “Yankee Universe.”