I've mentioned here in the past that I don't have much interest in baseball these days. I might as well get a post out of telling the story of how I became a baseball card blogger who doesn't really follow baseball. Just a warning that this is long and rambling. Rambling about my childhood and how baseball cards fit in. It also gets a little depressing, since I talk about what it's like to be a Padres fan (Let me remind you I didn't name this blog Baseball Card Breakdown for nothing!). If that interests you, read on. Otherwise, see you back here next time!
|Possibly the happiest moment of my entire life.
Song to listen to while you read? Here's the official "end of summer" anthem.
I was born in the city of San Diego in the late '70s and grew up in El Cajon, essentially a suburb in East County San Diego. In elementary school, I was more into playing with G.I. Joe action figures and NES than I ever was with sports. I never played Little League or any organized pee-wee sports. One Christmas, a family friend gave me a football as a gift, and I was legitimately upset about it. Like, "What the hell am I supposed to do with this?!" An only-child raised by a single mom, I didn't really have a father-figure or older brother pushing me toward athletic pursuits, or sitting me down explaining rules while we watched a game on TV and thereby instilling a love of the sport in me.
The Padres barely registered with me, even during their great 1984 season when they won the pennant. I was a fan in a loose sense of the word, and I recognized the names Tony Gwynn and Steve Garvey, but that's about the extent of my baseball knowledge until 1990 when baseball cards were the "in" thing for a while at my middle school. Suddenly, everybody seemed to bring a binder or small stack of cards to school to show off and trade, usually 1990 Topps ("the 'radical' ones") or Donruss ("the red ones").
|Me in a Padres shirt, 3rd or 4th grade. "Lifelong Padres fan" proof! Don't remember who the girl is or why we're getting our photo taken together at school.
|William, the card defacer
|Here's what I still have from my original childhood collection, before I really started collecting.
|If you know this son of a bitch, tell him he owes me money.
|Awkward stage. Note the Padres shirt.
|My best friend Doug, circa 1991.
Is the Don Henley song over yet? Here's another great sad summery song.
I gave it one last shot in community college, signing up for the baseball team. But the crotchety old coach sent me home the first day without even giving me a chance to step out on the diamond. Man, that's a painful moment in my life.. easily one of my lowest low points. The crushing death of a dream in an instant. But in hindsight, I never would have made it as a baseball player, even had I gotten a fair shot. Topping out at 5'8", 145 lbs., I'm pretty much too small to be considered a viable pro athlete. As far as the 5 Tools, all I had was speed. At least I did have some personal success with sports on the track. I set a couple short-distance records at my middle school, and was the top sprinter at my high school for a couple years, helping lead the track team to a conference championship.
|Forgive me, but while I'm reliving my glory days here, let me scan a newspaper clipping from the time we won the championship on the final event of the season, my greatest sports moment.
As for Vince Coleman and Garry Templeton, well, I later realized that they simply weren't that good apart from a couple nice seasons early in their careers, plus they were not the best "team players" from a personality standpoint. And like most San Diego fans, it's hard to not hold a grudge against Garry Templeton for being who the Padres got by trading away a young Ozzie Smith. Still hurts.
So where was I? Oh yeah, my collecting continued in full force into 1991 and 1992, with most of my allowance going towards cards. I think I was a typical collector, with a wide range of players I collected and sets I'd try to complete. I don't think I ever successfully completed a set, sadly. I bought factory sets of 1990 Score and 1989 Topps, but that was it as far as full sets I had, plus some smaller sets like 1991 Topps Traded. I was also really into minor league cards, trying to find the next sleeper breakout star, as well as old cards of guys before they made it. My best pull was a Frank Thomas AA card, sadly very off-center. My friend Chris stole it from me once, but I got it back when I noticed it in his collection.. it was easy to recognize because it was so off-center. He also stole my 1990 Leaf Steve Avery card, but I suspect he sold it to PB's before I got it back (Yeah, I guess Chris wasn't a great friend at the time, but we eventually became tight and he's one of my closest friends to this day.) I overpaid for some '80s minor league team sets from a card shop in the mall.. one set where the top guy was Kelly Gruber, another Danny Jackson, and another was Kal Daniels. Sadly, all these guys' careers dwindled the moment I bought their expensive minor league team sets. I remember almost buying a Barry Bonds minor league team set, but it was just a bit out of my price range. I was kicking myself in the following years when he was the perennial NL MVP.. but the sting subsided when he fell from grace and his cards lost their value.
|My best hit.
|Music was my life in high school. But we still liked baseball. Note Doug's Gwynn plaque behind me.
Still, though, I was a diehard fan, and continued to follow the team and watch most televised games, through both the good years and the bad. The Padres made the playoffs back-to-back in 2005 and 2006. St. Louis bested them both times, and I got used to the Cardinals breaking my heart.
Here's something else to listen to. One of my favorite sad songs.
But if I had to pinpoint the moment when baseball broke my heart to the point where I stopped caring, it was September 29, 2007. I can't bare to write it myself, so I'll quote Wikipedia:
Late in the 2007 season, the San Diego Padres were in Milwaukee attempting to clinch a playoff berth. Closer Trevor Hoffman was one out away from sending the Padres to the playoffs, but the tying run was on second base. Gwynn Jr. pinch-hit for Bill Hall against his dad's former team, and dramatically tied the game with a triple. The Padres would go on to lose the game as well as the season finale on the next day, opening the door for the Colorado Rockies to force a one-game playoff with San Diego. The Rockies defeated the Padres in a wild contest, keeping them out of the postseason.
|How could you?!
This also happened to be around the time I started dating a girl I really liked. And like I said before, girls pretty much trump everything else. It was easy spending less time on sports when I had an awesome girl I was getting to know and sharing my life with. She's currently my fiancée, happy to say.
I moved from San Diego to Portland just before the 2009 season. I haven't had cable since I've been here, and don't have the interest or energy to try to find games streaming online, so I haven't watched a full baseball game since 2008, probably. The few pitches I've seen the past few years have been at bars and restaurants that had a muted game on TV, and a few innings of an Angels game at a motel once a few months ago.
But the funny thing is I've watched a lot of baseball this year!-- just not live games. I'm currently about halfway through Ken Burns: Baseball (This is great but I don't like the narrator much, and how many times can "Take Me Out to the Ball Game" be used in the score?! Jeez! Never want to hear that song again!) I've also watched The Natural (yeah, had never seen it before, or any of these), 42, Eight Men Out, and documentaries on Roberto Clemente, Mickey Mantle, Fernando Valenzuela, Jackie Robinson, Joe DiMaggio, Steve Bartman, and a hilariously dated baseball card collecting doc from the early 90s. Oh, and does Eastbound & Down count as baseball-related entertainment? But yeah, I've watched all of these in just the past 12 months, yet not a single real, live baseball game.
As for the Padres, I kept tabs on them online during 2010 when they were surprisingly decent and were in the race most of the year. But then when they faded down the stretch and Adrian Gonzalez was traded to Boston after the season, my emotional ties with the team (which were already hanging on by a thread) were effectively cut entirely. Gun to my head, I might be able to name one or two guys currently on the team. I'll still occasionally read a game recap article online if a headline catches my eye, and I read a lot of baseball card blogs that sort of keep me up on current happenings. The Padres-focused All The Way To The Backstop blog, in particular, has been indirectly educating me on the current state of the team.
But still, I don't feel like I'm missing out by not following baseball much anymore. When I read about exciting things, like last year with Mike Trout having an amazing rookie season, and Miguel Cabrera winning the triple crown, and this year with Yasiel Puig igniting the Dodgers from being written off early in the season into the playoff race.. it's cool (and the card collector in me wants their rookies and certified autos), but I still feel pretty detached from it all.
Now, let's say next year the Padres call up a Puig-like rookie who spurs the team to some wins, and get career years from couple veterans, and they actually are in the hunt. Of course I'd be rooting for them and probably try to catch some playoff games on TV somewhere (at the risk of being labeled a fair-weather fan). But the thing is, even if they defied the odds and won the World Series, it would not be like it would have been had they won it all in '96 or '98 or '05 or '06 or '07. They're just not "my team" anymore. San Diego is no longer my home. My hometown team never won a championship and never will. I know some "long distance fans" make it work, but not me.
I was a diehard Padres fan from 1990 through 2007.. and yeah, "diehard".. it was hard, but my fandom died. Now? Well, they're always gonna be the team I want to win over everyone else. But it doesn't feel right to say I'm a "big fan" of the team today when I could only name one or two guys on the roster. They feel more like an ex-girlfriend to me now.. "still friends" but not at all the same.
|Me making a funny face in a Chargers shirt, mid '80s. "Lifelong Chargers fan" proof!
Let's look at other cities/teams in a championship drought.
Cubs fans? Hey, the White Sox won it all a few years back, and the Bears won the Super Bowl in the mid '80s, right? At least your city got that. Oh, and don't forget about Jordan and all the NBA titles for the Bulls. So I'm not shedding any tears for Chicago fans.
Texas? Yeah, the Rangers and Astros franchises outdate the Padres, and they haven't won a WS either. But hey, at least the Cowboys have won 5 Super Bowls. Plus the Mavericks won the NBA Finals in 2011, the Rockets won a couple times in the '90s, and the Spurs win a lot, too. So yeah, no sympathy for Lone Star State sports fans.
Milwaukee? Yeah, the Brewers suck, but at least you got the nearby Packers and their Super Bowl wins. The Milwaukee Braves won it all by beating the Yanks in 1957, and the Bucks won an NBA championship in '71.
Cleveland? Well, granted you'd have to go all the way back to 1948 for the last time the Indians won the Series, but at least it happened!
San Diego? NOTHING. NEVER. Pretty beaches and nice weather, sure, but as far as proud moments in major professional sports, the trophy case is empty. Just cobwebs and dust. And now that I've moved away and lost most of my interest in current sports, I'm destined to be a lifelong hapless loser fan.
Sadly ironic for me, among the very few major North American cities that can rival San Diego's futility with pro sports championships are Portland (one NBA title back in 1977; never had a MLB or NFL team) and Seattle (NBA championship from the SuperSonics back in 1979). Fittingly, living in Portland now, the closest MLB team in my vicinity is the Mariners, the closest NFL team the Seahawks (and the SuperSonics have long since left town and changed their name). So even if I were to stretch the definition of "local sports team" and adopt Seattle teams as my own (as a few Portlanders do), it wouldn't get me anywhere. Zero World Series appearances and zero Super Bowl wins for Seattle, with none appearing to be anywhere close on the horizon.
Here in Portland, there aren't many major sports teams, and even if they won, it'd be neat, but wouldn't mean much to me personally. Trail Blazers? Couldn't name a single player now that Greg Oden is gone. Oregon Ducks? I've never given a shit about college sports and don't think I'm gonna start now (though it was cool when they got to the championship game a year or two ago.. but of course, I must've jinxed them and they lost it.) The Timbers are pretty popular here, but there's no way I could ever care about soccer. Maybe if the Timbers got to the World Cup-- I'm sure that's theoretically impossible, as its not the same league or anything-- but still, that impossible situation is what it would take for me to even consider watching a soccer game. There are the Winterhawks, a sub-NHL hockey team, but I was never much into hockey, either. There used to be a minor league baseball team in Portland (Beavers, a Padres affiliate), but I never saw them and they've since moved to Tucson a couple years ago. Now there's another one in the suburb of Hillsboro (Hops, a Diamondbacks affiliate), but I haven't been to a game.. Maybe one of these days. The Padrographs blog was talking about getting a bunch of autographs at a game the other day (of the visiting Padres affiliate) and that sounded pretty fun. But yeah, I could never become a hardcore fan of the team. My sports fanatic days are behind me. I know it's a "never say never" kind of world and who knows, a decade or two from now may find me in a different situation. But I'm not going to have that one victorious moment as a fan to remember forever. Just lots of heartbreak.
Ok, sorry for going to a dark place there. Let's shift this back to baseball cards. Before I moved to Portland, I finally gave in and sold over 90% of my collection on Craigslist for a fraction of the allowance I put into it from 1990-1993. They weren't doing me much good and it's not like I could realistically move that huge box up with me. I filled a men's shoebox-sized box with a few favorites, but the vast majority went to some guy who wasn't even a true collector, but somebody who just wanted to turn around and make a profit on eBay or whatever. Oh well.
Once I finally got a steady job, I made the occasional minor splurge on a neat baseball card on eBay. I got a 1973 Topps Roberto Clemente for a few bucks (classic final card of a legendary hero). Then a 1974 Topps Willie McCovey (greats who suited up for the Padres always appealed to me). In Fall 2012, I dove in back into card collecting full-on by buying a blaster of 2012 Topps Archives (I like this product as it mixes old timers I know with current guys), and I also got into "trading" cards on Listia. Soon I started spending real money on eBay adding cards to my collection, including a couple vintage Mickey Mantle cards, a 200-card lot of 1969 Topps (including the Mantle), and getting obsessed with the 2004 Topps Retired Signature Edition set, which appealed to me with the old timers I was familiar with, featuring full stats on the back, and certified autographs (I hadn't really cared much about autos until this point).
I've always been the sentimental/nostalgic type, as you've probably gathered from all the old photos I've posted above. I'm Facebook friends with a few guys I've known since elementary school (still good friends with Doug). I still play NES games from time to time, my favorites being Bionic Commando and Maniac Mansion. I have lots of music on my iPod that a man my age should be embarrassed by, including children's songs I loved as a kid (Sesame Street, Raffi) and cheesy pop I listened to back before getting into "cool" music (Forever Your Girl by Paula Abdul is still one of my all-time favorite albums, for example). I still have a few toys I've owned since the '80s, including some G.I. Joe guys and a tub of Legos. My all-time favorite movies are the same today as they were 25 years ago (Star Wars trilogy, Pee-Wee's Big Adventure, The Goonies). So it makes sense that baseball card collecting still interests me even though I'm not much of a sports fan anymore. I guess it's sort of a Peter Pan complex where I'm just holding onto my childhood as long as I can. Whatever the reason, the fact is I still get a lot of enjoyment out of baseball cards.
Ready for another song? Here's one of my favorites.
So anyways, I discovered the baseball card blogosphere last year and eventually started this here blog a few months ago in June of 2013. And here I am now. I still focus on vintage guys, late 60s through early 90s, but occasionally add modern cards into my collection, too. I love the feeling of ripping into a pack of cards, but I rarely buy packs these days. Since getting back into collecting, I've had terrible luck pulling any "hits", as I've documented on this blog in the past few months, so that's kind of soured me on spending much more money on packs. And as far as current products coming out, most new sets don't appeal to me, and not being familiar with a majority of today's players usually makes new stuff rather uninteresting to me. So instead I'll just occasionally pick up cards on eBay, COMC, or Listia. I miss the thrill of opening a new pack, but like with the Padres, my heart can only break so many times until it gets to the point where I just can't care anymore.
And there you have the long explanation of how I became a baseball card blogger who doesn't really follow a team or rip new packs when they come out. This seems to be a rarity, but I doubt I'm the only one who's in it for the nostalgia and doesn't concern himself much with the current state of the game/hobby.
|April 2013, outside the Goonies house in Astoria, OR. I still often wear a Padres hat (vintage, not throwback), but don't try talking to me about the current team.
Hey, I could tie this post together and end on a happy note. I finally got another Rickey Henderson rookie card a few months ago. I found a great deal on Listia. It was a "Get it Now" for 2000 credits, coincidentally not too far off from the equivalent of the $1.37 I foolishly sold my first copy for. Must've been some karma I was due. The card is one of my favorites and means a lot to me. This one might not be in perfect condition, but at least there's nobody's name scribbled on the back.
2018 Update: Wow, a lot has changed in the few years since I wrote this post. My Padres fandom was gradually awoken, and now I'm at least somewhat familiar with the current 40-man roster. Sure, they still break my heart, but I guess I'm used to it. I watch a few baseball games per year (mostly Padres) thanks to mlb.tv. Whereas I used to focus on retired/HOF players, these days I also collect a bunch of active guys.