Grand Cards: A Sob Story or, A Turning Point

Friday, January 30, 2009

A Sob Story or, A Turning Point

Yesterday, Sooz over at A Cardboard Problem posed an interesting question, which was rooted in an analysis of how a player’s cards appreciate dramatically once he joins the New York Yankees. She concluded her post with,
When it comes to favorite players do you want to see your player end up in a Yankees uniform?
I thought it best to include a short answer and a long answer/explanation.

No.

That was easy. But for that definitive “no” to really make sense, I’ll need to give you some background, and that is where the Sob Story comes in.

In the summer of 2005 I was a college student managing my own house painting business. Although I worked all over the state, a buddy of mine and I spent a good piece of the summer in the suburbs just east of Detroit painting a few different homes. It so happens that Detroit hosted the All Star game and its accompanying festivities in 2005, and as luck would have it, I had tickets.

On the evening of the Home Run Derby, we packed up a little early and my friend dropped me off at the ballpark just after the gates opened. My tickets were about 10 rows behind the first base dugout, but, seeing as how I was there so early, I thought that I’d go into right field and catch some batting practice. Batting Practice was fantastic. There were some solid lefties smashing balls our way, Ichiro dazzled the crowd with an incredible show of power and two people immediately in front of me and one guy behind me caught BP Home Runs. At the end of batting practice many people left to go to their seats, including the guy in front of me who caught one of the BP Balls. As I stood there with an hour to go before the start of the derby I thought to myself, I’m just going to stay here and try to catch a ball until somebody kicks me out. Well...
(Go ahead. Click on Mark Teixeira's highlights--I couldn't figure out how to embed the video directly.)

Yep, that’s me, catching Mark Teixeira’s first Home Run (nice grab, huh?).
I had tickets to the All Star Game the next day as well. I spent the entire BP and pre-game session trying to get Teixeira to sign the ball. Cal Ripken signed for 10 minutes in front of me, but I wouldn’t let him sign it. Joe Morgan did the same. Ichiro spent 30 minutes down the left field line and received a standing ovation from the fans, but I didn’t want to leave my post behind the AL Dugout. Alas, the time came for us to take our seats and I was left with an unsigned derby ball.

Flash forward 1 year:
The Rangers head to Detroit for a four-game stint and I’ve got tickets to game one, but am leaving town for the rest of the weekend. My future-wife, future sister-in-law and I get to the game about 90 minutes early and I immediately rush to the visiting dugout. For the next hour or so, I embarrassingly yell “Mark Teixeira, Mark Teixeira!” occasionally followed by a “Icaughtyourhomerunderbyballlastyearwillyousignit”? As quickly as I could. Of course, the time came to return to our seats. I was left autograph-less again. But I didn’t give up. I snuck back up behind the dugout during the national anthem and immediately after, I gave it one last shot. “Mark Teixeira!”

Success! I tossed him my ball and pen and he signed it for me, and another for a young fan that wisely followed me up there. That ball was the crowning achievement of my entire life as a sports fan. It was the only ball I’ve ever caught at a game, and it’s the only item that I’ve ever had signed at a game by someone who wasn’t named Felipe Lira or Sterling Hitchcock. Not having a digital camera at the time, I took a picture of my newly hancock-ed ball with my phone and sent it on to my vacationing family.


Flash forward 3-4 months or so:
My college house, with 6 other housemates had a habit of throwing parties for our birthdays. They were large parties. One (mine) on the weekend of the Michigan-Ohio State “game of the century” in 2006 ended in minor legal ramifications for us “contributing to a loud party.” They were big. My room was in the attic. The door looked like a door to a closet. Up there, on my desk, proudly stood my signed ball. This particular mid-september party went until the early hours of the morning. I actually packed it in around 1am because I had a 15k race that I was running in the next morning.
I woke up bright and early to make the drive to the 15k. Foggy-eyed, nauseas and with headache in full force I walked over to my dresser. There is was, the broken plastic case that formerly held my Mark Teixeria signed ball. Still in place? Computer, Laptop Computer, Cell Phone, Wallet, Keys, iPod. What?!?!

I woke up my future-wife.
“Somebody stole my Mark Teixeria ball.”
“What?”
“Somebody stole my ball. I have to go. Its gone."

As I made the 30 minute drive north, I carefully crafted scenarios in which I would commit murther most foul, using a baseball bat in a fit of poetic justice. I was certain that I would find and kill whoever did this. Suffice to say, I proceeded to run my race at a sub-7:45 pace, which was very fast for me at the time.

30 minute drive home, now crafting my defense of temporary insanity. Of course that would never fly, given that it was all pre-meditated, but nobody would ever know. A police report was filed. The plastic case was dusted for fingerprints. I scoured eBay every single day for 4 months. I put 250 brightly colored flyers all over campus offering a $100 reward, no questions asked.

Nothing.

I felt that there was a void in my soul that could never be filled. I bought an autographed football helmet. It helped a little bit. I got kick-started back into collecting. A little more help. I couldn’t handle buying a regular Teixeira ball, it just wasn’t the same. I needed that uniqueness, or for it to be signed in person again. I my story needed a happy ending, not a cop-out. Finally, I found an unsigned 2005 Home Run Derby ball on eBay. I gave a sigh of relief when I opened the box. It now resides in a plastic case on my desk.

This incident single handedly re-ignited my collecting career and prompted my to start a small collection of autographed baseballs as well. Yet that ball still sits on my desk, unmarked.

I had crossed my fingers during this offseason that Teixeira would sign with the Orioles. He would be back in Baltimore. There would be chances to get him to sign at games. At the very least, there would be signings. But no, he signed with the Yankees. I can’t imagine what his signing fees will be now. I can’t fathom how difficult it will be to get him to sign at games, where Yankees fans appear as if from thin air. I have resigned myself to the fact that this ball will remain empty until the end of days. The void, a mere fraction of its former size, remains.

And this, to answer Sooz’s question, is why I never wish for my favorite players to don the pinstripes. Sure, their cards and signatures become more valuable but you lose so much more. You lose the feeling that only you and a handful of people truly appreciate the player’s greatness. More importantly, you lose access. The Yankees are too big and you, the fan, too small. Once the player is a Yankee he exists only on Sportscenter and baseball cards. Cards and memorabilia are harder to get, printed shorter, more expensive. Autographs are a pipe dream, eye contact fleeting, appearances either packed or non-existent. Voids become impossible to fill.

5 comments:

  1. That's quite the story. I have similar thoughts on the problem with being a Yankee collector. I can't stand the Yankees, but I sympathize with their fans. Collecting that team has to be a major pain in the butkus based on everything I've seen and heard.

    I also have a sob story. Not as dramatic as yours. But I'll tell it one day.

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  2. That is the best baseball collector sob story I've ever heard. The image of empty, broken plastic, a void where the signed ball once was...*sniff*. Do you trust that somehow, someday there will be justice? Epic.

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  3. Very sorry to hear about your baseball.Hopefully it will turn up. I have a son your age and another at 21. We have been collecting cards together for years. On a trip to Detroit ( back when we couldn't get tickets in Cleveland ! ) we managed to catch Mike Hargrove as he arrived at old Tiger stadium.He signed a program for each of the boys. Like you say , they are more accessible.

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  4. I don't truly believe that there will be justice, at least in terms of the ball finding its way back to me and the perpetrator discovered. However, I do believe that there will be some sort of "cosmic justice" in which somehow everything will come back around. I'm holding out hope that I will someday have the opportunity to get my replacement derby ball signed.

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  5. What an heart-breaking story. The moral is perfect though. As a Twins fan, you feel like you have a special connection with the players.

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