Yesterday marked 17 years since the day my dad passed away.
I was only six years old at the time. Generations of boys have learned the game of baseball by playing catch in the backyard or taking in a game at the ballpark with their fathers, but I was never lucky enough to experience that myself. Or at least if I did, I can’t remember it. Fortunately, my grandfather, Jim Romie, filled that role for me. My fondest childhood memories involve him driving me down from Dayton to watch Barry Larkin and Aaron Boone and Sean Casey at Cinergy Field.
But my dad still helped cement my love of the game by leaving behind for me his collection of baseball cards.
I had a small collection of my own as a kid, but I didn’t go through my dad’s cards until I was probably 11 or 12 at the earliest. They were kept in dusty old boxes and binders, but the cards themselves remained well-preserved.
He had thousands of cards, some dating as far back as the mid-1950s. Most of his cards were from the 70s, but he also had a few complete sets from the late 80s in binders with plastic card sheets, with hand-scribbled checklists tucked inside.
His cards helped opened the doors to baseball’s past. I had heard of guys like Pete Rose, Johnny Bench, Hank Aaron and Willie Mays, but it wasn’t until I looked at the back of their cards that I appreciated just how great they actually were. They also introduced me to past legends that were at that time still unfamiliar to me. Guys like Harmon Killebrew or Billy Williams or Jim Palmer.
I learned about the history of the league and each of its franchises. The Braves used to play in Milwaukee? The Astros used to be called the Colt .45s? What were the Washington Senators and why is Ted Williams wearing their uniform? What is up with that guy’s mustache and is Rollie Fingers his real name?
But most of all, it helped me connect with my dad after he was gone. I could see who his favorite players were. He had scribbled on some of his oldest cards from when he played games with them as a child himself. For me, with only a few personal memories of him, I cherished having something I could use to relate to my dad and get to know him better.
I spent more than a few summers sorting through and organizing my dad’s collection, separating the All-Stars and Hall of Famers into their own separate box. My stepfather, and avid card collector himself, helped and gave me boxes and plastic sleeves to protect them.
A few items in my dad’s collection stick out as special cards for me. One is a near-perfect 1959 Joe Nuxhall card, which is pictured in this post. Two of the most valuable cards are a pair of near-mint condition Duke Snider cards from 1954, one by Topps and one by Bowman.
He also had almost a complete 1974 Topps set, my personal favorite. That set featured at least 40 Hall of Famers as players or managers by my count. That 1974 set is the only one in which I have the cards for each of the eight players on the Big Red Machine. Also within that set is Dave Winfield’s rookie card, and a Mike Schmidt card that I have since had him autograph.
This collection grows every year. I look forward to a time when I can share it with my own son, and teach him about the legends from my dad’s era, as well as the Hall of Famers I grew up with, like Larkin and Griffey. And hopefully one day, he’ll add cards of his own.