I’m a weirdo. I’m a nerd. I fought it for more than 40 years but that’s me.
I’ve let a lot of things define me over the years. I’ve had many roles and titles. Some of them gave me great pride but very few of them gave me great JOY. Ironically, the things that give me the most joy now, are the things that I kept tucked away for a long time.
I’m an artist.
I’ve always been artistically inclined but up until this point, have lived a life of more “manly pursuits” that would safely keep my nerdery well-concealed. As a kid, I gave up on things like Boy Scouts, Drama, and Choir because I was afraid of the negative labels they might give me.
I loved those things.
Fortunately for me, I found salvation in sports. With baseball in particular, I could safely assume the manly identity of “Jock” while covertly geeking-out in the tremendous amounts of data and the cerebral, nuanced detail of every little aspect of the game. I had no idea at the time but I was a 9-year-old Data Nerd, decades before the “Big Data” revolution.
A few years before then – maybe around 1976 – a box of trading cards came into my life. I’m pretty sure they started out as my brother’s but I can recall a bunch of different cards – not just baseball, but football, Elvis and others that have escaped my memory. We even had some Bay City Rollers cards!
There’s some convincing circumstantial evidence suggesting that it was 1978 when that box of cards got divvied up between my brother and I. By that time the collection had grown in both size and variety.
- In May of 1977, Star Wars was released, my 6-year-old mind was blown, and we soon added Star Wars trading cards to the collection
- In August of 1977, Elvis died, leaving much of the US in mourning, including my brother
- I played t-ball for the first time in 1978 and my love of baseball was born
- Most of the baseball cards in the collection were from the 1978 Topps set – which is still my favorite set, and hell yeah, I had a Ruppert Jones rookie card! (Pure GOLD to kids in Seattle, with a brand new big league team.)
So I was likely 7 or 8, when my brother took his beloved Elvis cards and I took the sports cards and Star Wars cards. They were kept the old fashioned way: rubber-banded together and stored in a shoebox under the bed.
As my love for the game of baseball grew, so too did my baseball card collection, which competed for my attention with an expanding array of Star Wars toys.
Like every kid I suppose, I couldn’t wait for weekends. Playing sports in the street, building forts in the woods, riding bikes, or playing Atari, there was a lot to keep me busy. But for a stretch of several years beginning in 1978, most of my weekend mornings were spent alternating between my Star Wars toys and my Baseball Cards.
I’d either bunch-up the blankets on my bed and shape them into the ice caves of Hoth, or spread them out Army-tight, so I could sort and re-sort my baseball cards.
As I got older, I gave up the Star Wars toys – I actually sold them and the football cards for beer money in college (ouch!) – but those baseball cards continued to scratch some kind of OCD itch of which I was blissfully unaware as a kid. I’d sort them every way I could imagine and using the stats on the back of the cards, create imaginary all-star teams and pit them against each other. I’d crunch the numbers and create unique sets of data and scorecards, losing myself for hours at a time.
As I got older, two more things happened. We got cable TV and I was given a big box of old baseball books by a family friend.
As a teenager in the 80’s, most kids watched MTV when they got home from school. I watched Atlanta Braves baseball games on WTBS.
I’d never really spent much time watching the game before then, but I can say for certain that I learned more about how to play baseball by watching and listening to those games than any coach ever taught me. It also taught me a lot about the history of the game and introduced me to my hero, Hank Aaron.
In that gifted box of old books, I became engrossed in that rich and colorful history of baseball. The first book I read was Nice Guys Finish Last by Leo Durocher and the last was Ball Four by Jim Bouten. In between, there was a constant stream of stories about the greats like Ted Williams, Willie Mays and Mickey Mantle.
When ESPN would play old reruns of the 1960’s show Home Run Derby, those stories and those old baseball heroes came to life for me. I was in heaven.
My Mom bought me my first baseball card price guide at a long-gone little shop in the Seattle Center when I was around 12 or 13 and that was pretty much it for me. I was hooked.
I became a baseball card junkie.
I had to have cards.
More of them.
All of them.
I went to baseball card shows – a lot of them – every chance I got. The best part of it was going to see the old big-leaguers, there to sign autographs. I’d stand in line for hours to see them.
My Dad once drove me to Salem, OR on the back of his motorcycle to get Hank Aaron’s autograph. (I had him sign two things, since we came all that way.)
I was heart-broken to find out that I wouldn’t be able to attend a show where the great Joe DiMaggio’s was signing, because I had a game of my own. That may have been the only game of mine my Mom ever missed. She dropped me off and drove to Seattle to get me the Yankee Clipper’s autograph.
As a kid, I didn’t recognize my obsession with the game of baseball as geekdom, but as I’ve grown older, I just don’t know how else to describe it.
I played it into my adult years, worked for the Seattle Mariners for two, and coached Little League for 10. It’s always been my passion.
I love baseball and now, it’s my artistic muse.