This section will take us back to those times when a piece of cardboard with a picture of a baseball player had a different meaning than it does today.
Let’s imagine that present day Peter Johnson, age 12, has been captured by aliens and after 15 minutes of questioning, the benevolent aliens return him to Earth. However, they mistakenly transplant him to the North Side of the City of Chicago in 1960. Pete finds himself walking down a typical Chicago street in mid-summer. Bungalows with neatly mowed lawns line the street. An old Hudson Hornet ogles the tailfins of a new DeSoto, whose chrome grill gleams proudly in the midday sun. Pete has no idea where he is when a voice shouts out from a nearby house.
“Hey kid, what you doin’ here?” questioned Tim Lasko from his watch post
on his front porch. “Are you new in the neighborhood?”
Tim read the words on the front of Pete’s T-shirt to himself. I am hot.
“You’re hot because of the shirt? Tim laughed heartily. “It’s summer. Of
course it’s hot. And look at those shoes. They’re
The two of them ran up the six concrete steps and sat in the shade of the red brick house on two old springy, metal chairs. A small transistor radio blared, “She wore an Itsy Bitsy Teeny Weenie Yellow Polka Dot Bikini…” Tim rotated a knob on the side of the radio and turned it off.
“You keep them in a box?” Pete asked in utter astonishment.
Pete peered into the shoebox and saw 16 groups of cards held together
with rubber bands taking up about three quarters of the space
in the box. The box smelled like bubble gum.
Each bundle of cards had a team card on the front. Tim pushed the bundles
from side to side and pulled out one that had about 30 cards in
Pete shuffled through the cards in amazement. Roy MacMillan, Cal MacLish,
Frank Herrara rookie card, and then his eyes popped as he
fingered the Frank Robinson card from 1958 and then the Ted
Kluszewski card from 1957.
Tim banded the Reds team and watched as Pete shuffled through the Yankees
Tim walked to the table, looked at the phone for a few seconds and picked
up the heavy, black receiver.
Pete pulled his cell phone from his pocket and flipped it open. The
display indicated that there was no signal. He flipped it
closed and put it back in his pocket.
Pete picked up the big black receiver again. He remembered seeing a
phone like this in a museum once. He recognized the
pattern and began to clumsily dial a number. A busy signal
beeped in his ear before he could finish dialing home.
Tim led Pete down a dark set of stairs to an unfinished basement.
The cool air was damp, but very refreshing. The
temperature dropped with each downward step. They walked
past an old furnace and water heater, toward a large wooden
table. On the table was a makeshift baseball stadium made
of cardboard. The playing field was hand-colored with a
dull green crayon and the outfield walls were streaks of green
also. By the indentations in the left and right field walls even
Pete could recognize that it was Wrigley Field.
Tim explained the rules of his game and Pete listened carefully. He wanted to tell Tim about his video games, but he knew he wouldn’t believe him. The game began, after placing cards around the field and listening to the Star Spangled Banner played on a small player with a scratchy record that sounded as if it had been played a million times before. At first Pete was skeptical as to whether he would enjoy this experience, but after a while he was yelling and screaming with Tim as they battled away. Pete led the game until the final couple of innings when Tim’s experience took over and he came from behind to beat his new friend. Pete then knew he was being manipulated, just like he had manipulated his friends when they played video games that he had mastered, but he did have fun. He really had fun. It didn’t make him want to give up his Xbox, but it was a different experience. For awhile, he had forgotten that he was in a strange place and time.
Pete started to become afraid. He didn’t know where he could go in this strange, but comfortable, old place, so he convinced Mrs. Lasko that he had spoken to his mother and that it was not only alright for him to stay for dinner, but that he could stay overnight, since Tim had invited him, with his mother’s permission, of course.
Mr. Lasko had arrived home and dinner was served at the kitchen table. Mr. Lasko talked about work and politics and Mrs. Lasko talked about her day around the house and their plans for the weekend. Pete was happy that he didn’t have to say much. After dinner Pete and Tim played again with the baseball cards and talked more about baseball. Mrs. Lasko threatened to throw away Pete’s cards if he didn’t listen to her better. Pete indicated he would never talk to her again if she actually threw them away.
After playing, the boys joined Mr. and Mrs. Lasko in the living room in front of their black and white 23” Zenith console, which they seemed very proud of. They watched the Democratic National Convention. They watched intently as Kennedy spoke of the plight of unemployed American people, of those without medical care, of children without decent schools, of a world that was close to nuclear war and of whether our country, organized and governed as such, could endure. But Kennedy said these things, not by putting fear into the hearts of the American people, but by uniting them to face the New Frontier. Tears welled in the eyes of Mr. and Mrs. Lasko as Kennedy gave his speech. A tear fell from Pete’s eye listening to Kennedy, wishing he had the chance to live though these exciting times, but knowing that Kennedy would be killed. The convention ran late into the night and the boys went to bed, Tim on the floor and Pete in his bed.
Now, so we don’t leave poor Pete hanging around in 1960, let’s presume that the aliens realized their mistake, find him and transport him back to the present. Mr. and Mrs. Lasko worry for months that Pete disappeared from Tim’s bed in the middle of the night and that he was never heard from again. When Pete gets back he realizes he still has the Robinson and Kluszewski cards in his pants pocket. Pete, through diligent effort, tracks down the current address of Tim Lasko and mails the cards back to him.
The true value of baseball cards has a different meaning to Pete.
"The strongest thing baseball has going for it today is
"It is the sport that a foreigner is least likely to take
to. You have to grow up playing it, you have to accept the lore
of the bubblegum card, and believe that if the answer to the
Mays-Mantle-Snider question is found, then the universe will be
a simpler and more ordered place."
"When I was a small boy in Kansas, a friend of mine and I
went fishing... I told him I wanted to be a real major league
baseball player... My friend told me that he'd like to be
President of the United States. Neither of us got our wish."
"Whoever wants to know the heart and mind
of America had better learn baseball"