It's October...The World Series is around the corner...The White Sox are in...the last time they were involved, the heros of the day were Mantle, Mays, Ted Williams,Stan Musial, Warren Spahn, Whitey Ford, Duke Snider....excuse me while I drift......................
In 1960, this country was embroiled in a Cold War with an unrelenting Russia. It was still mending itself from two brutal back to back wars (W.W.II & The Korean War), and in suberbs everywhere, frightened homeowners were building bomb shelters!
Despite the political controversy, the biggest debate of the day was "who is better, Mantle or Mays?"
Perhaps, the only real consolation of that time was the purchasing power of a nickel. Milkyway bars, A scoop of ice cream,a small bag of chips, all a nickel!
For a ten year old boy, nothing could compare to the 5 cent pack of baseball cards with a slab of gum! Just the actual purchase, became part of ritual!
I can recall those days after school, when my friends and I would converge on a luncheonette where the cards were sold. We would eyeball the the open box, and one at a time one of us would reach in, our fingers touching each pack and waiting for a divine signal to stop and select that magical pack of cards. We would each remove our only nickel from our pockets and hand them to the overweight cashier who would say "Hey! You messed up the box!"...
We exited the luncheonette where the "ritual" continued. Bobby had a "lucky spot" that he would go to, which was up against the mailbox. David would place the pack on top of his head, close his eyes and silently meditate the names of players he wished would be in the pack. Me? I would hold the pack,oozing with the sweet odor the bubblegum, to my lips, "please...Mantle....Musial....Mays" I would pray. Then we bagan opening our packs. The silence broken with a shriek "Oh My God! I got Hank Aaron"..and another screeh from the mailbox, "Clemente! I got Clemente!"..."Oh man Berra and Ernie Banks!" There never was a dissapointment when opening up those packs!
That was, til Ken joined our "buying ritual". Ken came from a wealthier backround, and alaways had a pocketful of quarters and dimes. While we were carefully selecting our packs, as if trying to sort out the finest diamond from a lot, Ken would just grab a fistful of packs and reach in his pocket to pay.Ken did not have a ritual, he simply tore the packs open, "got it, got it, need it, got it in triples" is all he said as he flashed through the cards. Bobby, David and I would watch in awe, "he got 3 kluzuskis, 2 Mantles, and his 4th Warren Spahn!" Once in a while we could strike a trade with Kenny, but he was never magnaminous despite having quintuplets of a certain player.
I can still recall, coming home and adding my new cards to the ones I already had, and crossing their names off the checklist of the ones that I still needed.
Each night, before going to bed, I would reveiw my rubberbanded deck. I would make a clearing on my bed, and create my own all-star team. "catching tonight will be Yogi Berra, Gil Hodges at First base, Bobby Richardson at second.." As I laid out my "team" I realized that I did not really need 2 or 3 Mantles, the one I had looked real good with Mays in left and Hank Aaron in rightfield.
The years quickly passed, adolesence ushered in new interests. Closets and drawers were emptied. The things that once meant all the world to me, lost their place on that list, and the cards were discarded.
Some 30 years later, I found myself escorting my 10 year old son into a card store and had the priviledge of watching him dig his small hand into the bottom of a display of cards and walk outside to certain spot, and hold the pack to his lips.."Clemmens, McQuire, Ripkin" he would chant. I confess to fighting
fighting back the tears as joy would overcome his face, "Look Dad, Clemmens, Bonds and Nolan Ryan in the same pack!"
Then at night, to walk into his room, he fast asleep, with a deck still tucked in his fist...I truely understood, its not how many Mantles you can have in your hand,but how much appreciation,imagination and love you can hold in your heart!
....We all surrender or lose the most precious elements we could ever imagine having.....while we can't bring back what is lost or surrendered, can be healed with imagination, hope and love! May your dreams take you there...one day at a time, one step at a time..... Marc :)