1953 Bowman Musial
IN classic Mike fashion, on Sunday I declared I would post something every day, then Tuesday had a big, ambitious idea for a post, started working on it…went to the dentist and got a massive filling…worked on it some more…pain meds wore off and tooth started aching…worked some more…and it didn’t get done. And it’s not Tuesday anymore. Sigh. And sorry. This isn’t entirely surprising for the guy who has nine main characters in the novel he’s working on. I know none of you were surviving today’s self-quarantine by waiting by your computer or phone for my next post, but I still feel bad.
So it’s late now, but I’m still going to write something. It’s going to be short and sweet and sincere.
I’m in a baseball card group, OBC, which stands either for Old Baseball Cards or Old Baseball Collectors. It’s an online group, though many of the guys and one woman have known one another for over twenty years and become close friends who visit one another. We have this silly hobby in common: we collect pieces of rectangular cardboard (mostly) with pictures of men playing a game. It’s more than that, at least to me, but I always try to remember that the point is much more the people with whom it connects me than the items we collect.
If you are a hobbyist of any kind, I don’t need to explain to you what it is to love one’s hobby, and if you aren’t, my explanation likely won’t make sense to you. But OBC is special. We share. We collect vintage, often beaten up cards, some worth very little, others worth way too much. One of the main things we do is help one another make progress with our collections by sending cards that others need. Most of the time we’re not trading, we’re just sharing. We all have wantlists posted online. We check someone’s wantlist, figure out if we have extras (called “dupes”) of anything they need, and send them. We call those RAOK’s, Random Acts of Kindness. Cards go out and cards come in.
We strongly believe in the view that what comes around, goes around. The group has existed since 1991 (pre-internet) and I’ve been a member since 2008. When I describe OBC, many people respond, “You just give each other cards? Don’t people take advantage?” We’re not naive or Pollyanna-ish–okay, maybe a little–and we have an application process and prospective members need three current members to support their application. But sincerely, I wish the rest of the world functioned the way our group does. We look out for one another. We encourage one another. We share.
I know for some of you this probably sounds exceedingly nerdy, like, “Okay, he’s open and vulnerable about a lot of stuff but I can’t believe he’s admitting this!” Love of baseball comes from my childhood and connects with my Dad. Baseball was one of the best things we had together. He bought me my first cards. I have an intense nostalgia factor and some of my favorite players are guys I never saw play–Stan Musial, Jackie Robinson, Bob Feller, Lou Boudreau–but heard stories about them from him.
Beyond that, it’s a connecting point for me. In my experience, God wastes nothing in relationships. I’ve had some great opportunities to do what I do–listen, encourage, empathize–with many in the group. My dear friend Aaron, a member who happens to be a youth pastor, has dubbed me the “bartender” of our group, i.e. the one with whom members feel safe to share their problems. Our group has walked with one another through all the tragedies and crises life throws at us. We’ve done auction fundraisers to help with medical bills. In that bigger sense, card collecting, like ultimate, is simply a medium, a connecting point, through which we build friendships. But of course, as with any sub-culture, you must possess the currency of that realm. You have to know the lingo and speak that dialect of nerd to talk with nerds.
But though I say that self-deprecatingly, I am fascinated with cards as both telling our history and historical artifacts in themselves. “Old baseball,” vintage, for us means 1980 and before. My favorites are Bowman sets from the 1950’s. (Bowman and Topps were the big baseball card companies and then Topps pushed Bowman out and ran nearly solo for about 25 years). When the back of a player’s card tells you that he makes a living as a bricklayer or a carpenter in the off-season, you know you’re looking at different era. Baseball cards tell the story of integration, of racial tension and reconciliation, of changing culture. They collectively provide the account, as primary sources, of an aspect of our shared story. There’s also something magical for me about having a 1953 Bowman Stan Musial and wondering who owned it–Dad would been twenty-three in ’53–and how it got to my friend Geordie, who gave it to me. Sometimes the kids have left clear evidence and you don’t even have to guess!
I’m not trying to persuade you to take interest in baseball cards–by the way, we collect other sports and yes, non-sports as well, so the nerd rabbit hole just keeps going–but I hope you can perhaps understand my fascination. “Understand” may be too strong. Appreciate? Humor? Collecting cards is not growing plants in a garden nor playing songs on a guitar. It doesn’t create a garment as knitting does, or a meal as cooking does. But there is something peaceful and even meditative about ordering and organizing cards. One of our members donates less valuable cards (read “junk era,” mid-80’s to late-90’s) to a veterans’ hospital, where convalescing veterans sort and order cards as a therapy exercise. Similarly, Children’s hospitals have programs to receive card donations for kids.
This might be a good time to reconnect with your hobby, particularly if your hobby is one you can do at home or mostly by yourself. I just read an article pointing out it’s a spectacular time for birdwatchers to get out and do their thing.
I’m going to do a few more posts at some point on card collecting, which may be of interest only to other card collectors. But I’d be curious what your hobby is, if you will admit to it, and if it is one that you find therapeutic. Since I rarely see other members of OBC in person, our connection is just as strong or stronger in our current circumstances. And every access to supportive community counts double right now.