Collecting Memories

Beckett Sports Collectibles magazine published their last issue in June. The magazine was dedicated to sports memorabilia, particularly old cards and autographs. The irony of course is that someday copies of Beckett's last magazine will become a collector's item itself, examined for dog-eared pages and overall condition, and given a value… by someone else.

When I was a kid, Beckett was my portable inventory, checklist, wish list and price list all rolled into one. Every year when it came out I'd buy the new Beckett Price Guide and painstakingly transcribe my bourgeoning sports card collection into it with pencil checkmarks.

Beckett was the treasure map of a 12-year old in search of the missing artifacts in his collection. It was as much a personal quest as it was a shared adventure with my best friend and those little pictures on cardboard transported us into a world we could only dream of.

Profit never entered our minds. The excitement of getting a great deal on the card of a great player or finally uncovering the last missing piece to a set was all we needed. We were lucky it was a simpler and more innocent time, we were able to experience all this before card collecting and autograph seeking became a big, smarmy business.

Football, baseball and basketball cards gave us an appreciation of the legends that played long before we were born and it opened up to us a part of history that runs deep in American culture.

Together, we would go to games and wait outside the stadium afterwards for the players to come out. There the heroes of our youth would sign our cards and sometimes chat with us a little. Every young boy dreams of being a professional ball player but those interactions, however brief, also allowed us to see these idols as real people too.

Naturally, the biggest stars always had the biggest crowds of fans and reporters around them. They could be hard to reach but we did our best. As proud as I am of some of the Hall of Fame players I have autographs of, looking back, some of the most memorable moments were with the second-string players who still seemed genuinely surprised that anyone would want their autograph.

The one superstar that never lost his innocence to success was many-time all-star, Dave Winfield. He had all the time in the world to sign autographs for kids and was one of the most generous and friendly people I've ever met. He had the biggest smile I've ever seen and I don't think it ever left his face off the field.

Sometimes they'd claim they weren't players to get to dinner or the team bus, other times their surprise and humility was completely genuine and we'd wind up with the signatures of the trainers.

We were just kids, what did we know?

One time my buddy and I were hanging out in the lobby of the team hotel where the Denver Broncos were staying. I was born in Denver and before the Seahawks they were my favorite team. I had a Broncos poster with me that I was having the players sign. A well-dressed, black man stepped off the elevator and I immediately thrust my pen at him, asking him to autograph my poster. He smiled and politely said he wasn't with the team. Being the experienced autograph hound that I was, I'd heard that one before and I begged him, "please, mister!"

"Really, son, I'm not a ball player."

Not taking "no" for an answer, I insisted.

Finally, he relented, and gave me his most dramatic signature right between those of Tom Jackson and Lyle Alzado. I'm sure that well-dressed businessman went home with a story he bored his friends and family with for many years.

Every now and then I dust off the boxes in the back of the closet and the memories come back of players whose names I've long since forgotten, and I remember the boys who put those young men on such a high pedestal.

Now, I'm older than all but a few of the guys who wear those uniforms today and I wonder about the men that came before them. What are they doing now and when was the last time most of them signed anything for anyone besides a check at the grocery store?

I imagine they have dusty boxes full of memories in the back of their closets too. Maybe even some with old sports cards in them with the heroes of their youth. And I wonder about one particular businessman and if he still tells his story.

Simpler times.

We've all had them.


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