Baseball Cards and My Dad

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.

Photo courtesy Topps, toppscards.com

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.

Topics: Baseball Cards

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  • Steven Engbloom

    Fantastic post, Matt! I’m sure there will be card collectors that will enjoy this as well.

  • jsuer1971

    I have a complete 1971 set, the year of my birth.  
     
    I also have a PSA 6 Pete Rose, RC.  
     
    Great piece, Matt. 

  • Kelby59

    Wonderful piece. Very happy that you have those cards and a genuine love of the game. I”m sorry you lost your father so young.  You honor his  memory.
     
    In the summer of 1982 my then husband and his brother discovered their old shoe boxes full of baseball cards in the eaves of parents home in their old bedroom.  This sparked what I termed the Summer of Family Fun.  Many many days and hours spent sorting cards. They had a lot of cards in excellent condition and lots of trading stock.  Eventually they put together complete sets for 1956,1957 and maybe1962 without sacrificing any cards without doubles. 
     
    My own childhood experience with buying baseball cards had  been limited to attaching them to bike spokes with clothespins (sounded like a motorcycle to me) and chewing the gum.

  • jdrentz

    Nicely written, Matt. Always enjoy stories from the heart, and yours touches it.  My love for baseball didn’t come from my own father (who really doesn’t follow the game all that much, although he loved Crosley Field back in the day) but from my father’s mother, my grandma Rentz, who got me listening to games at an early age.  It wasn’t until my maternal grandparents passed away in the late 1980′s and early 1990′s that I discovered all of the old Reds memorabilia they had as well, especially from the era of a local legend (and distant relative, apparently) in Wally Post.
     
    You will always have a bond with the past through what your dad left behind.  That is a great lasting legacy you won’t forget.  My dad lost his own dad (my namesake) when he was only 3, so I can never fathom how hard that is.  I never cease to be amazed how much you can learn about somebody close even after they’ve gone.

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