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Fond Sports Memories: The Art of Collecting Baseball Cards

By Rob Kotaska

Stale gum?


Another Hensley Meulens card?

You bet.

So was the spring of 1989, the spring of Donruss.

I am not sure how it happened pre-internet (communication was so pedestrian back then) but my brother Jon and I caught wind that Topps cards, our preferred brand up until that summer, were passe.  If you wanted to be true collectors, and we most assuredly did, then you had to run with the big boys.  You had to run with Donruss.

Along with my love of baseball board and video games was the collecting of cards and filling sticker albums.  While we never had enough disposable income to fill an album like many of our more fortunate classmates, my brother and I we could at least swap doubles and in more amicable fashion…sometimes.  That spring we had a system for getting our Donruss fix that revolved around taking our Dalmatian Clifford for a walk. While one of us would stand guard at a park while Cliff handled his business, the other would take whatever cobbled together change we could muster and sprint to the local pharmacy for some cardboard baseball fun.

In your early teens there is a constant tug of war between holding onto youthful things or moving full-bore towards the turbulence of the mid to late teens.  I know I was in constant battle to hold onto the former, knowing in my heart it was the last kick at the can before such pursuits would further hinder my already bleak prospects with the ladies.

We had already abandoned our comics habit.  It was less socially acceptable in high school and we pushed it away with few outward regrets.  At least cards were related to sports. That is not to say that we went around boasting about our nightly treks to gain pictures and stats printed on cardboard, or the time spent negotiating for a player that happened to be in a pack the other twin picked from our temporarily collective stash.  But if we were pinched the social repercussions would have been far less harsh than the four-color soap operas for boys.

Spring 1989 was the last time that we collected cards in that manner.  A stray pack here or there may have been an impulse purchase, but it never was the same.  Clifford was sent to the farm we had purchased him from 4 years prior.  My brother and I too often neglected our walking duties when there were not cards to be bought.

The loss of both card collecting and Clifford stung for a while, but eventually the vapid, narcissistic pursuits of teenagers replaced those more pure pursuits.  Today as I heard Hensley Meulens name mentioned on an ESPN Radio broadcast I was taken back to the spring of 1989, a time when baseball was on par with football, when getting a “Rated Rookie” could make a tough day better, and when for less than pure reasons I fulfilled my responsibilities in relation to our dog without fail (unless there was no change to be found, that could be the downfall) .  It made me sad that such moments don’t exist as much anymore.

Baseball is not nearly the draw it was, the card industry is a shell of what it was in the Spring of Donruss, and I have no idea where any of those cards are, not even a single Hensley Meulens.  That is something of a miracle…I wish I still had one.  If only for old times sake.

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