By SGT Jason Green aka Greenevansj

I have been collecting cards for 25 years now. I remember buying packs at drug stores when I was little, they couldn’t have been more than $1.00 back then. Even though I was really young, I guess I would have been categorized as a casual collector. I had cards strewn everywhere in my room. I had no organization whatsoever. Although I really enjoyed looking at cards and reading the stats on the back, they just weren’t really that important to me. I enjoyed baseball, don’t get me wrong, but the cards were secondary at the time. Then a moment came that changed not only my entire life but, my whole card collecting experience.

My Aunt and Uncle lived in New York when I was a kid. Even though they lived in White Plains, when you’re a young kid from North Carolina, everyone in New York lives in Manhattan. In my mind my uncle Jim actually lived right next door to the stadium. We finally visited them when I was about 12 years old. It wasn’t a vacation that brought us to New York. My cousin Jimmy had died. We were all hurting extremely bad. The drive to New York was not very pleasant and the whole funeral/visitation situation was not ideal for a 12-year-old’s first visit to New York. I was hurting. I didn’t know how to deal with the loss of my favorite cousin, I had never lost anyone. I can only imagine how it must have been for my aunt and uncle.

After a few days, the funeral was over. We all sat around, lost. I reckon that it was pretty hard for my uncle Jim to even talk to another little boy after he had just lost his. That didn’t stop him, though. We began to talk about the Yankees while watching TV one day. That led to a discussion about Don Mattingly, my favorite player in the world. Before I knew it, there was a little bit of light back in Uncle Jim’s eyes. For the first time during the entire trip I was distracted from my thoughts of Jimmy, and that was a good thing.

Uncle Jim went into his den and came out with a book. He asked me if I had ever collected baseball cards. I told him that I liked buying them but, that I didn’t have any books or anything. He seemed almost appalled when explained my organization system of throwing them all in a drawer. I told him that I did have all of my Mattingly cards on my bookshelf, because they were my favorites. He asked if I knew any other Yankees, mainly Yankees from the past. At my answer of no, it became his mission to teach me everything I would need to make it; not only in the baseball world but, in the card collecting world.

He started out by showing me his shelf of favorite things. It was a little more elaborate than my shelf. His contained several Mickey Mantle and Joe Dimaggio cards, in hard plastic cases. He also had baseballs autographed by many different Yankees. Needless to say, I was enthralled. Not only did he explain to me what each of the things was but, why the person was so important. When he explained the importance of the players, he explained their importance to the game of baseball itself, not just the Yankees. I began to realize that baseball had an amazing history. The cards I was collecting were my little link to that history. They weren’t just cool looking pieces of cardboard; they were historical documents of the most wonderful game that our great country had to offer.

Uncle Jim explained to me where his cards came from. He told me about all of the cards that he had owned since he was my age. He explained how he was able to keep them in such amazing condition; it wasn’t by throwing them all in a drawer together. He showed me his autographed baseballs. He explained to me where he got each of them. He showed me the finger prints the players had accidently left in the ink. He showed me the Mickey Mantle autographed ball that he got at the Mick’s restaurant while he was eating. He told me about meeting each of his idols and what they were like as people. Uncle Jim’s face lit up when he told me about all of them. We got so caught up in enjoying his collection together that we lost track of where we were or what time it was. Someone walked in and said that the priest was here to visit. We were both snapped back into reality.

My dad took me to a lot of ball games when I was young but, I can honestly say that my love of baseball came from my uncle Jim. My obsession with collecting baseball cards and memorabilia began during that trip to New York as well. Like I said, I was already collecting but, I needed that guiding hand to explain to me why I was collecting. Before we left for the drive back to North Carolina, uncle Jim took me back into his den. I thought it was just so that we could say goodbye but, he wanted to give me something. It was a baseball in a cube. Mickey Mantle had signed it but, what uncle Jim really wanted to point out was the barbecue sauce on the ball. Even more than the autograph, that barbecue sauce was his connection to his hero. Not many people get to meet their hero in their lives and Uncle Jim had. After my trip to New York, I knew that I too had met my hero.