The pinging had ceased for the day, dirt was beginning to settle, and the little ballplayers who donned shirts with "Bob Evans," "Areawide Services," or "Tollhouse Tavern" ran to buy their postgame treats at the concession stand. It was the eighties in Englewood, Ohio, and Little League was thriving in a time when kids could just play ball and weren't pushed by parents with big league dollar signs in their eyes. We were all alloted 50 cents to spend after each game, and some bought Swedish Fish, others wanted Big League Chew. Dusty hands grabbed Sour Patch Kids, Lemonheads, Atomic Fireballs, Pixie Sticks, Fun Dips, Sugar Daddies, Blow Pops, and other stuff that makes my teeth rot just thinking about it. No candy for me, though. I was a ten year old girl who wanted 1987 Topps Baseball Cards. Nice wooden looking border. Hideous uniforms on the pictures. The smell of that gum and the wax. The thrill of getting the occasional Red. Lots of Kal Daniels, Ron Oester, Nick Esasky, though the Eric Davis cards were more difficult to find. I can picture them all - Soto, Browning, even Eddie Milner. The 87 Topps cards, my first baseball cards, were also my first exposure to the American League. Sure, I could name all the teams and I knew who was in the World Series, but I never really knew the players until I got my hands on those cards, players like Robin Yount and Paul Molitor, Graig Nettles, Dwight Evans, Eddie Murray, players who had spent their best years in the AL.
The next year, I collected the entire 1988 Topps set and then some, more than 1000 cards of a set that only had 792 in it. They were plain cards, kind of boring, and I always wondered why the Reds team name was in yellow at the top of the cards instead of red. My mother took my sisters and I to a lot of card shows, especially those who had players signing. I have more Paul O'Neill, Chris Sabo, Joe Oliver, Herm Winningham, and Dave Collins autographs than I can count. In those days, you could get the autographs for free. All you had to do was bring something to sign.
When I was in eighth grade I had a friend who would come over on occasion to trade cards, but you know, it’s difficult for a 13 year old girl to be rational when a 13 year old boy is paying her attention. Sure, I’ll take that 1988 Topps Ryne Sandberg for my 1989 Topps Traded Griffey, Jr. It will give me three of them and will look nice in my plastic page. And yes, I’ll take your two Paul O’Neill cards for my Bonds rookie card. I like Bonilla better anyway. [cringe]
One player I never gave up, though, was Jose Canseco. (Why, God, why?) I suppose at the time he was a “future Hall of Famer,” but why didn’t I like McGwire more! I’ll tell you why – it was because Jose was much better looking! I still have the mesh A’s hat I wore around during the Bash Brother days until about 1990, when the Reds went to their first and only World Series in my lifetime. (I was born when the Big Red Machine were still considered World Champs, but they would never be again.)
I still collected in high school, though towards the end I thought I was too old for the cards. I gave away a shoebox full of “commons” to a cousin at a time when it looked like Sammy Sosa would not amount to anything and Joey Belle was going to be the greatest player in Indian’s history, so you could say that my definition of “common” wasn’t entirely accurate. But hey, you know what they say about hindsight, right? It can make foresight see like Ray Charles.
I had already decided to collect only Topps because my best friend’s dad did that and it seemed to make sense in a time when they were starting to make “inserts” made of leather, plastic, and real wood. He was a diehard Reds fan and a baseball coach who knew a bunch of former Reds players. I can remember once spending the weekend at their house when Doug Flynn was staying there, and I tell you what, it was the coolest thing to sit around listening to his tales about The Show.
By my senior year of high school, I had only a handful of 94 Topps cards and can’t even remember what the 95 Topps looked like, but in the late 90s I suffered a renewed interest in the hobby. I went to all sorts of card shows and bought a few cards I had always wanted but never had the money for, but soon I had to choose between the cards and beer, and well, it was college. Since then, I’ve bought a few Reds team sets and a Nats set from the inaugural season, along with a few packs of Topps here and there, but that’s it. The card companies ruined the hobby for me with their greed, and they ruined their industry, too. You know what I want to do with my cards someday, what I’ve wanted to do with them since high school? I want to open a sports bar in Cincinnati, more like a baseball museum, and I want to put them under glass on the tables and on the bar. I knew it would look cool, but I didn’t realize how cool until I went to Red Foley’s Pub in NYC, where he had done the same thing. Only I won’t use staples in my cards.