Tuesday, September 16, 2008


Small-town rural America, with its throwback Main Streets, complete with diner, barbershop, newsstand, hardware store and antique-shop, provides a glimpse into the past. When times were slower, more simple. A time and place where you knew your neighbors, sipped lemonade on hot summer nights, swinging on an old porch swing and listened on the radio to ‘the boys of summer’. The events of a mid-summer baseball game, back in the golden age of baseball, was an “on the edge of your seat thriller” complete with heroes and villains. Willie, Mickey, the Duke and so many more of the game’s greatest players.

Recently on a road-trip to western Illinois, an area that boldly defines the heart of the Midwest, I frequented several small towns, exploring every antique store and garage sale I came across. Always on the lookout for baseball cards and memorabilia of yester year, the process becomes more like an extended treasure hunt. As in most rural communities, antique shops abound. Most are quaintly decorated boutique like stores filled to the ceiling with everything from furniture, china and glassware, vintage clothes and signage, books, tobacco paraphernalia, and occasionally, albeit rarely, sports memorabilia.

It was in a small town whose population sign, proudly displayed, 175, established 1845, that I came across the kind of find that one only dreams about or hears on the news or reads in the paper. An assortment of vintage cards that could hardly qualify as a collection in its entirety, but instead proved to be a sampling of memorabilia from the golden ages’ greatest hero.

An aged and yellow sign, affixed to the top of a dusty cigar box simply said, “Assorted baseball cards”. Blowing the dust of the top of the box and coughing as I created a cloud, and waiting for the dust to settle so as not to disturb the unknown contents inside, my pulse raced and my hands begin to perspire with anticipation as this box had clearly not been looked thru let alone opened in years. Raising the lid ever so carefully, my eye immediately was drawn to the striking white borders of some of the cards in comparison to the darker tones of the dusty box. And there it was, a pile of cards, at first glance maybe 5 or 6, Topps 1952 Mickey Mantle Rookie cards. As fresh as the day they came out of the pack they were wrapped in ordinary kitchen cellophane wrap. The corners were, sharp and unblemished. The edges displayed white as paper without a sign of any yellowing. The surfaces of the cards protected for years from contact with each other with a piece of tissue paper between each card, revealed, un-creased, unscratched surfaces that looked, quite frankly . . .new.

Holding in my hand the most valuable post-war baseball card ever produced I could hardly contain my excitement. I asked the elderly woman how much she wanted for the box of cards and she naively replied to me, “$100”, her voice filled with boredom.

Now this was a dilemma. What to do? Almost choking, I replied, “M’am, do you have any idea what the cards are worth?” she not so naively responded, “Sure I do. I just want them to go to someone who will appreciate them. You know that Mickey Mantle was a heck of a ball-player.” she said with a wink somewhat understated. Feeling guilty at the thought of doing something that would closely resemble robbing this woman, I said “ but these cards are worth thousands of dollars.” “I know what there worth. They weren’t the only ones my husband had. He always told me to save them for a rainy day. But, Hon, I am very well off for my age and have no reason to keep ‘em anymore. I know what you’re thinking,” she continued, “and it’s ok. Young man with a wife like you is probably going to have a family of your own someday. Why not enjoy the opportunity?”

I sat there speechless, still unsure what to do. In my daze I had failed to notice another customer browsing casually when his eye caught the opened cigar box sitting right where I had found it. “How much for the baseball cards?” he asked excitedly. Just as she was about to reply, “$100.” I snapped out of my daze and said, “They’re already sold.” The woman looked at me knowingly and smiled, turning to the gentleman and said, “Oh, I am sorry sir but those cards are already sold.”

Small town America, only in small town America can you find hidden treasures valued not for what they are worth, but for what they are worth to someone. I’ll never forget that trip and the sweet woman who made me feel like a kid again for $100.


Motherscratcher said...

No freakin' way. Are you serious?

Anonymous said...

You got "5 or 6" 1952 Mantle cards for $100? You've got to be pulling our legs...

Rob- AKA "VOTC" said...

Check the tags/labels ;)

Motherscratcher said...


Still, a really nice post. I enjoyed it a lot.

Rob- AKA "VOTC" said...

I always wanted to write a short story about the recurring fantasy than many of us collectors have had.


James B. Anama said...

I only caught it now (when you said check the tags/labels). My God, that was one incredible story.


JayBee Anama

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