One last baseball talk was the toughest, sweetest gift through cancer – York Daily Record/Sunday News
Jeff Jackson, a collector for over 30 years, gives tips for finding and taking care of your card collection.
Jason Plotkin, York Daily Record
We sat in the shade on his deck and talked about everything.
My father-in-law quietly surveyed his beloved backyard filled with honeysuckle, lantana and mighty sea grasses.
My wife and I visited recently like many weekends over the past 16 months. But as summer grew thick, the lung cancer and the radiation whittled away Mike’s strength to nearly nothing.
We came on that Saturday afternoon to help a bit but mostly to talk. My wife, maybe more than anyone, loved him to reminisce about growing up in Northern Kentucky, just outside Cincinnati.
She asked if he was up for another conversation.
“Sure, what do you want to know?”
And just like that he was drifting back some 60 years …
He learned how to make his mother’s heavenly apple and banana cream pies. He won more quarters than he could count playing pinball. He really did meet his wife, Sharon, in her yellow polka dot bikini at the community pool.
And as a kid, his father drove him and his two brothers across the river to Crosley Field, to watch the Cincinnati Redlegs.
I knew they were his team. But I didn’t remember anything else until we asked him about it again.
His favorite player, we learned, was Big Klu.
The Redlegs were more bad than good in the 1950s, but Ted Kluszewski consistently delivered on his expected mission: hit soaring home runs.
Mike thought for a few moments about it and smiled. He remembered Kluszewski’s huge arms and how he ripped the sleeves off his No. 18 jersey before games. I envisioned some well-timed bravado to fire up the crowd.
We all laughed.
And that stuck with me. I knew of Kluszewski’s name and his team, but that was about it. I wanted more.
I discovered he was a Big Ten football star at Indiana University in the 1940s. Legend claims he once hit a baseball nearly 600 feet in college.
The real story on those sleeves? The strongest man in the Majors actually cut them off his jersey so as not to encumber his swing, inspiring the entire team to do the same.
So I was determined to surprise Mike with a Kluszewski baseball card, a wink to the boy in him.
When we left that afternoon, he squeezed my wife tighter than usual. He thanked me for some gardening help, then paused, looked long at me, and thanked me a second time.
We drove home and talked about the next visit that never came.
Mike Boyd died a few days later. Everyone quickly began crawling through the fog of planning his service and all the things that needed to be done.
I still wanted to get that baseball card.
So I made a call to one dealer and looked through hundreds of cards at another.
I needed Kluszewski as a Red. Not at the end of his career in a Pirate or Angel uniform. I didn’t want a pristine, high-priced collector’s card, either. That wasn’t my father-in-law’s style.
The right one, it turns out, found me in a stack of countless others.
The Redlegs team card from 1958 is a bit tattered like a kid’s card should be, used and loved with abandon. Kluszewski is the second man in the second row. It’s his last look before being traded out of town.
I bought it for a buck.
Over the next few days we sorted through endless family photographs and found one of Mike in a baseball uniform as a kid. He seemed happy and free.
It made me think of when I played growing up, and how the game made me forget time and space. How the best days ended with drinking bottomless glasses of iced tea and collapsing on the green carpet in the living room to study my own cards.
That was our job as 10 year olds, and as good as it gets.
Everything in life was yet to come.
And yet a bit of that kind of baseball never leaves you, if you’re truly blessed.
So I carried that ’58 Redlegs team card in my pants pocket during Mike’s memorial service the other day.
I’ve looked it over several times since, wondering about its journey through all these years.
Feeling that it has some good left to do.