A Shoe Box Filled With Baseball Cards
MICHELE NORRIS, host:
This is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News. I'm Michele Norris.
MELISSA BLOCK, host:
And I'm Melissa Block with a story now of serendipity. It started when two neighbors passed on a Brooklyn street. The upstairs neighbor's brother had just died, leaving behind a big collection of baseball cards. The downstairs neighbor is a baseball fan. No great fortune or undiscovered treasure hung in the balance, just a small but meaningful connection across time.
NPR's Mike Pesca shares this page from his reporter's notebook.
MIKE PESCA: Jason Fry's upstairs neighbor said: You're a baseball fan, right? It's like asking Herman Melville: Aren't you interested in whales? Frey runs a blog devoted to the New York Mets called Faith and Fear in Flushing. He's a baseball obsessive. So when his neighbor said, my brother passed away and left behind some memorabilia, Fry answered:
Mr. JASON FRY (Blogger, Faith and Fear in Flushing): Well, I can help you with that.
PESCA: So the neighbor gave Fry programs, yearbooks and, of course, that classic repository of three-and-a-half-by-two-and-a-half-inch heroes.
Mr. FRY: They were honest to goodness shoeboxes. They were, you know, this kind of ancient Thom McAn shoebox, and I noted idly, as I put them on my dining room table, that they were nine and a halfs, which meant they wouldve fit me.
PESCA: He immediately recognized the years of the baseball cards he unpacked, the near oil portraits from 1970 through the wild colors of the '75s.
Fry knew little about his neighbor's brother, but he knew that he died at age 49. That would make him nine when he first began collecting, and the oldest cards in the box were cards that a nine-year-old had handled often. With each subsequent year, the cards got sharper and treated less like toys. Fry understood.
Mr. FRY: The reason it kind of registered in my brain was that, you know, I collected cards when I was a kid for the exact same number of years, not the exact years because I was younger, but the same number. And my cards showed the exact same pattern. My '76s are almost round. They're in horrible shape. And the last year I collected was '81, and those cards are almost untouched.
PESCA: The hobby had been outgrown. Fry kept sorting the cards, and eventually, he came across a clump of cards that for some reason stood out.
Mr. FRY: Bob Aspromonte of the Braves, Larry Stahl of the Padres, Calvin Kuntz(ph) of the Mets, Ron Herbel of the Padres.
PESCA: Though seemingly random, Fry realized there was a theme: All of those players were one-time Mets, really obscure Mets.
Mr. FRY: It was just dumb luck that one really insane Mets fan had put that cluster together and forgotten about it for three and a half decades, and it was found by another really insane Mets fan. You know, it was almost being able to read a note from somebody across, you know, 30 years, 40 years that, you know, was in a language that very few people understood.
PESCA: Did you get the feeling, one of these, oh, I wish I had a chance to have a conversation with this guy?
Mr. FRY: Yeah, I did. I really wish I had. But, you know, in a way, we were kind of having a conversation.
PESCA: Fry catalogued and noted the prices the cards might sell for. This isn't an O'Keeffe painting at a garage sale story. Maybe the cards can fetch a few hundred dollars. But Fry's neighbor instructed to give the memorabilia away from the start. He'd hoped that Fry could place the pieces of fans of particular teams or players.
Mr. FRY: He was in a situation that I think a lot of us have been in, that he had a bunch of things that he knew weren't necessarily valuable but would be really loved by someone, but he didn't have any way of connecting with those people.
PESCA: There are price guides that tell you how much a baseball card might sell for, but price is a little different from value. No other physical object survives childhood like a baseball card. Old bicycles are tossed to make room in a garage, plush toys lose their stuffing. A baseball card is dually evocative of the player it depicts and the child who once held it.
Jason Fry touched his neighbor's brother's baseball cards for a little while and got to know, in a small way, a man he could never meet.
Mike Pesca, NPR News, New York.