Cards and Heroes
by Tom Waltz
The other day, my ten-year-old daughter Jessica approached me with a large box of baseball cards she had been given by her aunt. Apparently one of her aunt's co-workers was doing a bit of house cleaning and found the box amongst items that were stored away in a corner of the basement—leftover belongings, I suppose, of a son or daughter who had taken residence there at one time or another. Instead of throwing them away, this co-worker decided to bring the cards into work and find out if anyone was interested in taking them off her hands. Jessica's aunt, knowing of Jessy's recent interest in athletics, grabbed them up and brought them home as a gift for my daughter.
Well, truth be told, the cards could have just as easily been a gift for me. When Jessica showed them to me, I instantly felt a strong burst of nostalgic excitement—an irresistible tug in the direction of my youth, back to a time when my life revolved around the magical world of baseball cards and, more importantly, baseball heroes.
I remember spending day upon day sorting my huge card collection, changing the routine and order to satisfy whatever whim possessed me at the moment. Some days it was alphabetically by team or by player's name. Other days it was by whomever happened to be my favorite and least favorite players just then. The next day might find me filing them by something as trivial as team uniform color—coolest to goofiest or vice versa (I wonder, now, at my style sense back then. Somehow I always found the Houston Astros uniforms to be the best. Yes, those bizarre rainbow-striped atrocities of the seventies and eighties. What was I thinking?!). But no matter what sorting method I chose to use, one constant remained true: I loved those cards and I loved those players.
In my little hands I held everything I dreamed of being. Pete Rose, sliding headfirst into home, the card dog-eared and worn, as rough and scrappy as I imagined Pete himself to be. Mark "The Bird" Fidrych, holding a strange one-on-one conversation with the baseball he was about to launch across the plate for a strike. Willie Stargell, stocky and powerful. Johnny Bench, ready to spring up from his catcher's position and fire a shot down to second—another would-be base stealer stopped cold. And, of course, Reggie Jackson. I remember "Mr. October's" three shots against the Dodgers in the 1977 World Series like it was yesterday. The awesome swings. The mighty drives. Boom! Boom! Boom! And, always, the knowing smile as he watched each ball sail over the fence. I get goose bumps just thinking about it.
Man, I'll tell you, those cards put me on the ball field, in the middle of the action, and side by side with my heroes.
As with most people, however, my priorities changed as I grew older. Eventually, baseball cards were replaced by girls and jobs and family and so on. But the special moments in time captured by those mysterious pieces of cardboard have always stayed with me—long after I lost my own collection to some forgotten corner of a basement or attic somewhere in the past.
The cards may be gone, but the memories remain.
And now my daughter has begun her own collection. As she sorts through the piles of cards she has placed on the floor in front of us, I can't help but notice the same gleam in her eyes that I know I must have had at her age as I rummaged through those colorful snapshots of my heroes. Or, perhaps the gleam I see now in her eyes is really a reflection of my own—never lost and never dimmed.
I don't know.
All I know is that the excitement we both share at this moment is undeniable. Special.
Sure, the names have changed—Griffey instead of Jackson, Rodriguez instead of Bench, and so on—but the feelings of wonder and awe are no different...for her or for me. And for that, I am eternally grateful.
Now, if she and I could only agree on which team has the coolest uniform....