Steve Eighinger

This love affair has lasted a lifetime

By Herald-Whig
Posted: Aug. 9, 2018 1:55 pm

At this point in time, some of the details are a bit sketchy, but I'm pretty sure I still have the basic facts right.

I was 7 years old, and it was a warm sunny day about this time in the summer of 1961. I had walked up the street from where I lived to a nearby neighborhood store where I discovered the first real love of my life -- baseball cards.

I walked into that store, with a nickel in my pocket, and had every intention of buying a Milky Way or some other 5-cent candy bar. But lo and behold, situated right next to that candy counter was a box of something called Topps baseball cards. A pack of baseball cards was 5 cents, too.

What was a kid to do? Buy that Milky Way or opt for the unknown -- a pack of baseball cards.

I was at the time of my young life when sports, baseball in particular, were taking up most of my spare time and interest.

I bought the baseball cards, and 57 years later I still don't regret that decision.

As soon as I opened that pack of cards I was in love. Those magnificent pieces of cardboard, with the crisp, colored pictures on the front and a treasure trove of statistics on the back, were incredible. I'm not certain, but I think I heard angels singing that day.

The very first card I saw in that pack was Billy Bruton, an outfielder for the Detroit Tigers who had played for the Milwaukee Braves earlier in his career. He was not a star, and never would be, but he was my first baseball card, and I will never forget him. When my eyes met his card, it was love at first sight.

My love for baseball cards grew with the years. I was an active collector until just a few years ago when grandkids and other chapters of my life began to demand more time.

That doesn't mean I ever abandoned my love for baseball cards and the memories they can kindle. My son, Geoff, who is now in his late 30s, was my collecting partner for more than 20 years. Going to baseball card shows together was "our time," when we could talk not only about the hobby, but life in general.

My son and I became best friends on some of those baseball card journeys. They helped forge a bond that will never be broken. His memory is now a little better and can recall details about our collecting days that always make me smile.

I saw earlier this week that Friday is National Baseball Card Day, and Billy Bruton's name came to mind. His 1961 baseball card has always remained a part of my subconscious since that summer day so long ago, and when he died in 1995 of a heart attack, I think a little piece of me went with him.

To this day, whenever I stumble across Bruton's name in some old baseball account I always think back to those simpler times growing up when the most important things in life cost a nickel. I remember that summer day from so long ago and how one particular baseball card helped kick-start a lifelong love affair.

Every so often, my wife, Kathy, will see me looking through one of my notebooks of baseball cards, and she will smile and ask, "Are you playing cards again?"

She has never quite understood my deep-rooted interest in those baseball cards, but that's OK. It's times like those when I whisper to myself, "Thank you, Billy Bruton."