Ken is still in disbelief that years back his “Ma” tossed his collection of baseball cards from their home in Mt Vernon, N.Y.
“I had a lot of cards,” he said, remembering a few stuffed shoeboxes worth. “I used to trade them with my friends.”
In my mother-in-law’s defense, she doesn’t remember this. She said, “They were probably all bent up and old. I would not throw away anything good.”
Surrounded by baseball cards – and other sports memorabilia at the four-day 31st National Sports Collectors Convention – reminded my husband of his favored hobby as a kid.
The convention used 350,000-plus square feet of floor space inside the Baltimore Convention Center and attracted upward of 35,000 people. Over 1,000 dealers and exhibitors sold everything from 10-cent baseball cards to a $15,000 Babe Ruth-signed baseball.
“I don’t know what cards cost now,” Ken said when he returned from his appearance, “but when I was young, we used to buy them for a nickel a pack. They came with bubble gum and five cards. It was really big if you got a Mickey Mantle or a Willie Mays … but I think purposefully those weren’t included in many packs.”
For the typical fan, Ken says collecting autographs isn’t always about the value of the signed item – that’s secondary. The thrill is about having the autograph -
especially for kids.
“It’s also about the 20 seconds a fan spends with an athlete,” Ken said. “They remember that. It’s their personal experience.”
City to city Ken has spotted some of the same die-hard baseball fans waiting in line outside of hotels and ballparks hoping to score a few pros’ autographs.
How many times has my husband signed his name in a span of two baseball careers? Like grains of sand on the beach – impossible to count. “I have no clue,” he answered, but yes, thousands upon thousands upon more thousands. (It would be an interesting stat to know!)
Does an athlete’s hand get tired signing autographs? You bet. Just think of that Catholic school nun forcing you to write: “I shall not throw spitballs.” Three hours is about tops for Ken’s left-handed autographing stamina. He was a switch-hitter, yes, but not with a pen.
When players make appearances, it’s common that they sign extra balls for whichever organization contracted them for the autograph session. For instance, at the abovementioned collectors’ show, Ken signed six-dozen baseballs in the back room before he even faced an autograph seeker on the Convention Center floor. That was 72 additional “Ken Singleton”‘s to sign in his slim, slanty handwriting on top of the throng of people he signed for standing in his line between 2:30 and 5:30 … swamped the entire session.
“I can imagine what it was like on Saturday,” Ken said, knowing some of the heavy hitters were in town like Frank “The Big Hurt” Thomas, Eddie Murray, Brooks Robinson, Wade Boggs, Mike Boddicker, the immortal Willie Mays and other Hall of Famers.
The show wasn’t only baseball-related. Autograph lines snaked around to end face-to-face with over 70 athletes and entertainment celebrities.
Our 18-year-old son tagged along with Dad that Thursday, then returned downtown two days later on his own to get more autographs and meet-and-greet professional wrestlers like Mick Foley, Kurt Angle and Rob Van Dam. Contrary to the world expecting him to follow in Daddy’s cleats as a baseball player, our son’s passion lies in WWE (World Wrestling Entertainment) – he wants to wrestle.
His bedroom walls boast a small but impressive collection of sports autographs; over the years he’s nabbed a few cool ones. He frequently drives to wrestler appearances laden with paraphernalia he’d like autographed, then returns home “pumped” that he owns a few more scribbles in his WWE coffee-table book, “WWE Encyclopedia: The Definitive Guide to World Wrestling Entertainment (written, ironically, by my editor at YESNetwork.com, Kevin Sullivan).
“Being face-to-face with wrestlers is very exciting,” said our teen. “I feel like a little kid – I get giddy. I imagine myself being on the other side of the pen, signing an autograph for a happy fan. Although, I feel very small compared to them … fame-wise and muscle-wise.”
He smiles and adds, “Not so much in height though.” (He’s almost as tall as dad’s 6-foot-4-inches.)
Now in a few weeks this third kid of ours will be off to college where his dorm room walls will exhibit a few of his prized autographs. And maybe one day, who knows, his collection might end up in a forgotten top-shelf shoebox like Ken’s once-treasured baseball cards.
But I promised him I would never throw them away.