Tuesday, April 23, 2013

A Town Without Baseball Cards

Well hello there. Long time no read, etc. Hopefully the title of this post will explain myself a little.

But we'll start with baseball cards themselves first. Is baseball card fever dragging me all the way back to the 2010 Fish-Eye Lens set I never liked? No, no, I can easily way overspend on packs of 2013 cards without going back to that terribly framed set, even though William @ Foul Bunt suggests I would like the photography in that one too. I do like the use of orange on the Tigers cards - which led me to recently acquire an Austin Jackson rookie card for a buck. Buying single baseball cards for real money now....what is happening to me? I'm pondering collecting all of his "In Action" type cards as they come out, and I think there will be a lot of them as he may develop a better long-term classic center fielder career than the almost-Say-Hey player Detroit traded to get him, Curtis Granderson. An 'Action Jackson' set. Another post for another day.

And I think I might track down that Andy Oliver card though (and in multiple copies), it has A Lot Going On after all. We've got a spring training shot it appears; chain-link fence is always a give-away for that. Oh dear, I think I just launched another mental Frankenset. It's starting to get a little crowded up there in the noggin, I think I better run out and buy some more blank binder pages. This one would end up in a lot of nooks and crannies of my head collection as we not only have Great Sox here, but on 3 separate people. Lurkers. One of them is wearing Shades too. Looks to be a bullpen session perhaps. 'cept that one serious looking dude (a Tigers minor-league coach methinks) has a baseball bat. In the bullpen. Don't mess with that guy.... he'll show you whether that stuff you can throw is good junk or bad junk. And there's a chain-link fence, you won't escape easily. Are we sure this isn't some sort of Ultimate Fighting nonsense card?

Andy Oliver never really panned out for the Tigers, and he was traded to the Pirates last December for a minor league catcher. I was more interested in the trade as an indication that the Tigers are nervous about their starting catcher's long-term longevity, and a possible need for multiple back-ups, as they added several in the last year or so, at all levels of their Farm. A sticky situation there a little. I'm sure Tiger's GM Dave Dombrowski doesn't look forward to the day when he will someday have to end their current catching set-up.

Oliver is still at AAA Indianapolis, where he is on a tear so far this spring. I'm not that up to speed on the 2013 Pirates Opening Day rotation, but I expect to be, especially when Series 2 comes out and the all-too known "small market" teams get their baseball card due. I'm returning to my youth a fair bit this year, perhaps inevitable when you pick up the baseball card habit again. A good thing, I think. Where I am taking this paragraph? Ahh, we'll see....in my youth I was a Pirates fan. Rooting for the Yank errr, the Tigers, is becoming less appealing to me, and I'm starting to set the Pirates as favorite team on my iPhone app a little more often. There are some other Tiger<>Pirate connections, and I'll be showing you some great recent Pirates baseball cards in the months to come. I live near an actual scanner now....

I was a Pirates fan because of AAA baseball. There was no major league team in West Virginia, but the state capitol had a AAA team, the Charleston Charlies, who could easily enough feed players right up the freeway to Pittsburgh. So the players in the headlines in the best major newspaper my family could acquire on Sundays would then sometimes appear in the discussions of Kubek & Garagiola every Saturday afternoon, albeit a year or three later. So knowing those players a little, I pulled for the Pirates. Oh how glorious it all became when We Were Family, especially when a player's card listed a stop in Charleston on the back. A certain logo on a baseball card can still tee off a certain audio chord structure in my mind. Nowadays, the owner of the sports memorabilia store in Charleston can't even recall what Major League team the Charleston minor league baseball team (no longer the Charlies) is affiliated with. A sad post for some other day.

In that long ago fondly remembered youth, I lived in a very small town there in West Virginia. Was it smaller than John Cougar Mellencamp's? No, probably about the same size - they both had a Tasty-Freez. Perhaps it was just a stroke of luck that I discovered baseball cards at all. There I was one day down at the gas station, probably checking the air in my bicycle tires. This station otherwise only sold motor oil and little bags of Lance peanuts. The Coke machine was out front, hot food came from the diner across the street, and groceries came from the grocery store. Where did baseball cards come from? I didn't know. Until I saw this:

You know the rest, or you wouldn't be wasting your time reading yet another overly long blog post.

I will never know why that one gas station owner decided to sell baseball cards. There was nowhere else in town to get them. Occasionally, he ran out. Then I was stuck waiting with my allowance money burning my pockets till a big family shopping trip to a town so big, it had a 7-11 store. They had baseball cards, mixed right in with the boxes of candy bars in the candy aisle, if you looked closely, and I knew just exactly where to look close.

I just finished a week of work in a great little town — New Lexington, Ohio. Population 4 thousand, 7 hundred something. Zero baseball cards for sale. These places always sadden me a little. No, nor for me, I know all too well how to sniff out baseball cards wherever I go, and it is only getting easier in the 21st century. I just think about the kids growing up in these towns. I knew there was probably only one possible store that had baseball cards - the CVS Pharmacy. But they don't seem to be one of the ℞ chains that carry baseball cards. I did buy some this winter at a Rite-Aid I believe, in New Ellenton, South Carolina, not quite a place as small as they come, and a place with all the big boxes just a half-dozen miles away.

Before New Lexington I worked in Lewisburg, KY for a week. Population one thousand. On the dot. I didn't even bother looking for  baseball cards there. Retail in micro towns focus on life's essentials, and baseball cards aren't one of them.

The rest of the economic activity in New Lexington centered around Kroger, and Kroger grocery stores have never had baseball cards that I can recall. All pretty cashiers in that one though....I think the manager of the place is up to something. There were the usual 2 dollar store suspects - Family, and the General (as in Lewisburg). No Dollar Tree with their unique packs. I used to haunt Family Dollar stores quite a bit as they were the very last bastion of buying regular Topps cards complete with bubblegum. No, not the last year of Heritage + gum. About 2009 or so Topps put their regular cards in Family Dollar packs with gum. I always liked the gum, and I have the dental records to prove it.

Andy Oliver is from a small town in Ohio (Vermilion), one that probably doesn't have baseball cards for sale either, though the nearest WalMart is a mere 9 miles away. Today's blog posting research saga has me possibly wanting my first minor league card ever - the MiLB Heritage issue for his stint with the Toledo Mud Hens, just up the lakeshore from his hometown. I like the thought of a small-town baseball start playing for his nearest local minor league team, and a high level team at that, closely tied to The Show. I just can't stand those wood-paneled cards like the one he is on though. And all this is moving a Bucket List item closer to the top of the list - attending a Mud Hens game in person. I watched a lot of M*A*S*H when I was younger. I'll spare you any more tangential digressions on that one and how it relates to baseball, though not really to cards. For today at least.

Now until you cross the Mississippi, there is almost always a Wally World store within 23 miles (the distance from New Lexington to Zanesville) or so of every point in the eastern United States. So unless some small business owner in New Lexington wants to return to his baseball card youth and ring up Topps for some micro-level wholesale activity, the kids of New Lexington will have to wait til Mom makes the run to Zanesville to get some things at Wally World that just can't be had there in wonderful New Lexington.

And then they can discover baseball cards. But to get some more baseball cards, how can kids ride their bikes 23 miles?

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