The Universal Notebook: Baseball is in the cards

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Last month, Carolyn and I took our grandson Jackson to his first Red Sox game.

You might not think a 22-month-old would be a great baseball fan, but Jackson is. He paid pretty close attention to what was going on down on the field for almost two hours before he lost interest. The fact that the Sox hit five home runs, prompting spontaneous outbursts of cheers, music, dancing, and clapping, helped. The fact that his favorite players, Dustin Pedroia and Jarrod Saltalamacchia, were among the homer hit parade made it even better.

I hadn’t been to a game at Fenway Park for quite a few years and it took a while to get over the initial sticker shock. Fortunately, we were given the four $55 tickets, but it cost $50 to park, $8.50 per beer, another $40 to $50 for Fenway Franks, ice cream, popcorn, and pizza, and $30 for a youth-size Red Sox jersey, not to mention gas and tolls. The jersey is a little big for him, so I’m assuming he’ll get a couple of seasons out of it before he outgrows it.

Jackson looks a lot like Pedroia, but catcher Saltalamacchia is his all-time favorite, to the extent that someone who’s not yet 2 can have an all-time anything. Teammates call Saltalamacchia “Salty,” but Jackson calls him “Machy.” Daughter Hannah tells me Jackson carries his Jarrod Saltalamacchia baseball card with him everywhere and thinks every man he sees in a Sox cap is “Machy.”

The $8.95 I spent at Don’s Sports Card Center in Portland for a set of 15 2012 Boston Red Sox cards is probably the best investment I’ve made this year. Jackson loves them, I get the credit, and Hannah gets to tell him who they are over and over and over again.

Browsing through the cards at Don’s card shop sure brought back memories. Like just about every kid I knew, I collected Topps baseball cards, four or five cards and a stick of bubble gum for five cents. Between about 1957 and 1961, I managed to amass several shoe boxes full of baseball cards. I’d sort them by team, sometimes by position, create personal All-Star teams, and trade the duplicates with my buddies. There’s something about a baseball card that makes you feel you have a personal investment in the play, more so even than wearing the team cap or the player’s jersey. Those wonderful little cards disappeared with my youth.

I believe I only attended one Red Sox game when I was a kid and the players I liked best growing up were the ones I saw play that summer day in 1957 – Ted Williams, Jackie Jensen, Jimmy Piersall, Frank Malzone, Ike Delock, Tommy Brewer, and Sammy White. The Sox always seem to come up with long, lanky catchers and White was my Saltalamacchia. In the long, tall backstop brigade there was also Haywood Sullivan, who went on to become the Red Sox general manager, and eventually Carlton Fisk, whose 12th-inning home run in Game 6 of the 1975 World Series is still my most joyous Red Sox memory, despite the fact that the Sox lost the series.

Back when I was collecting cards, you essentially had to buy a pig in a poke. You put down you nickel and you took your chances. You might a get a few bums and duplicates or you might get that Don Buddin card you’d been after. It took forever to collect an entire team. These days, you can purchase entire Major League Baseball card sets. That’s a lot of cards. There were only 16 teams in the major leagues when I was a kid, 400 players in all. Now there are 30 teams with 750 players. I’m thinking about getting Jackson a set of 2012 cards for his birthday in July, but, truth be told, it’s a 1957 set I wish I still had.

Full set of 2012 baseball cards, $54.99. Still having your own ’57 set, priceless.

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Freelance journalist Edgar Allen Beem lives in Yarmouth. The Universal Notebook is his personal, weekly look at the world around him.