By Stephen Heger aka stephenheger
The humble beginnings of my collecting cards is a series of remembrances that I look back at fondly and with a child’s wonder. My father, in the Air Force at the time, and the rest of our family was stationed in Kaiserslautern, Germany in 1978 when I opened my first pack of cards. I don’t remember what was in that pack of Topps baseball but I fondly remember the cursive writing below and the beginning of my love of cards. Tossing the sickly sweet gum in my mouth I eagerly perused the stack of cards and might have pulled a Carlton Fisk with a wad of chew in his mouth or a Reggie Jackson in a full swing that you knew had to be a home run. It was all wax stains, quarter packs and a new love for these cardboard gems from there on out.
As a kid there wasn’t as much money to be spent on cards as I have now so I had to learn the fine art of trading just like every other boy at that time did. Long before autographs and game-used this and that, it was about the love of the game and the collecting and not about the dollar sign. It was about our heroes. With quite a bit of certainty, I am sure I traded away several cards that would have been ridiculous trades had it not been for my favorite player or team. The friends I made, the hours of working on sets, and the meeting of new people that you never knew collected was a constant, daily routine. We even modified old shoe boxes with cardboard and glue to make our own two row boxes. To this day I can’t remember any of the peoples names I traded with but I can remember their faces and the players they used to collect. Gil Hodges, George Foster, Willie Stargell and of course, my favorite at the time, Carl Yastrzemski. Names you don’t hear about any more but idols we emulated when we played ball. Whether it was copying a batting stance from a card we had or wearing the now defunct plastic helmets that seemed the rage at the time; we showed our allegiance. As I grew, so did my collecting, which seemed a lot easier at the time. Full sets were an achievable goal and the hardest thing to get were oddball issues that might eventually surface but, ultimately, didn’t matter. Other than favorite players I also tried putting together both the 1981 Topps football and baseball set which I am not sure I completed. I do remember riding my bike to the closest BX (Base Exchange) and opening packs hoping to get that one last card that no one seemed to have. I wonder how many Joe Montana rookies I passed by looking for something akin to an Uwe Von Schamenn card that I needed? I had amassed a wonderful collection that any twelve year old would be proud of even by todays standards.
All that came to a crashing halt when we were transferred from Germany to Florida and all our shipped boxes showed up minus the one with my cards. I was broken hearted for weeks. But like any good collector I dried the tears and started over. Through the years baseball seemed to drop off for several reasons and my love for football grew and grew. I get caught up in todays cards regardless of how I try not to but I still look at that time in Germany as the watermark of my collecting. I have since put together every football set from 1970 on, the year of my birth, to 1987 when it seemed the cards lost that intangible luster. This includes the odd food and regional issues and Fleer sets that were smattered in between the big Topps releases. Recently I have started, again, gathering through the mail autos of all those seventies players I remember and delving into the stars of the sixties. At card shows I will be the guy that is going through the quarter boxes thinking I have hit the mother lode for finding beat up fifties and sixties commons and overjoyed when I get a Jan Stenerud auto for two dollars. So, when I am tired of reading online posts about five hundred dollar packs of cards and seeing the amounts of money paid for fake patches, PSA graded cards, and quad autos on eBay, I go sit on the floor of my second bedroom, which has essentially become storage for cards and comics, crack a binder from the seventies and reminisce through why I truly collect. I travel back to the days of wonder and idols and remember what it was like through the eyes of a younger me and I can’t think of a better collecting memory than that.
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