Upon honest reflection, I have self diagnosed myself to exhibit Obsessive Compulsive Behavior most of my life. I am of the “collector” persuasion. I don’t recall when I got my first comic book, but I was always aware of when the new books came out each week. Radio turned me on to collecting records. The “high rotation” placements – the “pick hits of the week” if you will – drove me crazy until I had the 45 in my hand. But my problems really started with little cards with pictures of my favorite baseball players on them…
Five cents for a little slice of heaven. A pack of baseball cards with FREE bubble gum inside. The aroma was very distinct. Nothing like the combination of waxed plastic and bubble gum. Nothing like that stick of gum either… a calming diversion to the mania of ripping open a fresh pack. You chewed and chewed while checking to see how many cards you NEEDED to complete the year’s run. Of course, there were often “doubles” and “triples” along the way, but NEW cards, they were worth the endless flavorless chewing.
I collected cards printed by Topps. I dabbled in Bowman briefly, but never cared that much for the cards, nor the gum. Topps released “runs” of cards in series. Amazingly, despite the fact we didn’t have the Internet, or social media, or 24 hour cable television… no news spread faster through the neighborhood as when a new series at one of our favorite places of purchase was discovered. Of course, much like a taster to ensure the king didn’t get poisoned, there was the sacrificial nickel to buy just one pack to verify the new series. Even back then, you couldn’t trust big business. Owners of small candy stores and groceries would sell out quickly and substitute leftover series boxes to dump them on trusting dimwits. Much to the chagrin of the store owners, the nickel thieving was stopped cold when Topps began printing the series number on the display box. This may have been the birth of my consumer awareness…
I’ll discuss specific cards, swapping with my friends and even storage in upcoming posts….
Visiting my grandparents house during the summer didn’t just mean getting to play baseball or wiffle ball with my friends. We played hard, usually many hours at a time. When we took a break, we were thirsty. My friend Russ often provided the refreshments. We cooled off with a long drink of water from the hose on the side his house. Why not pop you ask? Money was scarce, and if I had a dime in my pocket, I was always tempted to buy a couple packs of baseball cards.
But then, there were THOSE days. The 95 degree days when you couldn’t stop sweating no matter how much you drank. And the water from the hose seemed to get warmer and warmer. For THOSE days, we had a solution. It was just a short walk to the corner of Madison and 106th. There was a gas station there that eventually stopped selling gas and became just a place for car repairs. The two bay doors were ALWAYS open though, and the chest style pop machine had the COLDEST bottles anywhere.
The other unique thing about this machine was the pop they stocked it with. It didn’t have just Coke or Pepsi but a very nice variety of fruit flavors as well. My favorite was Suncrest Orange (followed closely by Suncrest Grape). In my own neighborhood, the local store didn’t even stock Suncrest, so it truly was a west side treat. You had to open the chest, deposit your dime, find the row you wanted and move the bottle through the metal maze to the end. You then popped the cap off on the built in opener/cap catcher on the front of the chest and you were ready. Tiny crystals of ice would fill your mouth with each refreshing gulp. To this day, I’ve never found a machine with a bottle so consistently frosty.
We didn’t play ball all the time. If the wind kicked up, we couldn’t play wiffle ball very well because it was hard enough to control them without a wind. With the wind blowing you could never get it near home plate. On those days and during brief periods of rain, we retired to the front porch. We could talk about baseball and the Indians for hours. Most guys would have cards on them just about any day and there was always the chance for a card trade. Strategically trading your doubles and triples was an art form. If you didn’t do it, your chances of completing a series was a lot tougher.
If the weather really got nasty, we’d go inside with Russ and he would play records. His taste in music didn’t always jive with mine, but we enjoyed listening to the 45’s and continuing our talk about the Tribe. So no matter the weather, we had a lot of fun. And if I had the dime, the pop was tremendous!