Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Of Baseball Cards and a Pot of Gold

My dad was born in 1918 and, as a young boy, spent several summers in camp. Without that experience I would not be writing this, or at least this form of me would not.  It was there that he and my mother met and fell in love. Yet this is not a tale of budding romance, but something much more mundane: baseball cards.

Within a few minutes this morning, I received, from both my wife and a friend, a copy of an article in today's paper.A representative of an estate, in cleaning out a house, had recently made a great find. Like the discoveries of an archeological dig, while rummaging through an attic, there in pristine condition were century old images of Cobb, Hornsby and other baseball immortals. The pot of gold at the end of the rainbow.

Growing up, my dad collected newspaper clippings of the accomplishments of his favorite athletes. They were compiled in the pages of a brown -covered notebook.  Underneath the words and images were neatly written comments of my father, ranging from "The Great Bambino, Babe Ruth" to "Andy Cohn Best 2nd Base in Intl. League, Newark" or "George Pippgras and Charles Ruffing, now the mainstays of the Yankee Pitching Staff". As far as I can gather, the year was 1931. 

One of my dad's counselors at Camp Harley must have known of his passion for sports, and maybe of this notebook.  Beginning in the late 1800's 'cigarette cards' came into being. Their  principal purpose was to stiffen cigarette packaging.  Actresses, military heroes, boxers, and baseball players were the subjects involved.  And  one summer, by gift from counselor to camper, my dad came into possession of a collection of  post card sized pictures of heavyweight champions and heavyweight hitters.

The front cover of this assemblage of sports legends and of some lesser lights has long since vanished. The inside page, in what must be the script of the unknown counselor, reads "Sports Scrap Book 1923- 1924". As I scroll through, I view the cards of Babe Ruth, Ty Cobb and a myriad of others pasted into yellowing pages. Below the images, are status reports, circa 1926, like "St.Louis, NL" or "out of baseball". There is a photo of the great John L. Sullivan, now an old man, with big, bushy mustache, dressed in a tuxedo. "George H. "Babe"Ruth , outfielder AML" waits, hands on knees, ready to chase a fly ball. And  there is even a card for a ballplayer  known only as "Fletcher". 

My wife is a world class cleaner. When we sold our house and moved to a relatively small apartment, almost everything found its way into the trash. I think I barely made the cut when she was deciding what would survive. But among the possessions never in jeopardy  were these pieces of my father's childhood.

As it turns out, what was given to my dad that day might not really have much value. For these were not cards of the vintage discovered in that attic in Ohio. What is contained in these books that have traveled with me for my entire life is not gold, at least on one level. But for anyone who knows what it is like to search for memories of a parent, and to feel that person come alive in front of your eyes,  what exists on these pages  are treasures of  indescribable worth.

1 comment:

Jamie B said...

Beautifully written, as usual Robert, and obviously heartfelt.