I didn’t make Anna out for a baseball fan. Not in a million years. But, the more we talked about life and our lives, the more interesting she became. Then she said she loved baseball. Uh, what, as I did a double-take.
Turns out, she grew up near up not too far from Shea Stadium, and of course was a Mets fan. She had been to tons of games early in her life and fondly recalled getting home from school one afternoon in October and her mother running out to tell her that the Mets had just beat the Baltimore Orioles to claim the 1969 World Series title. It was the best moment of her baseball life, she said with a gleam in her eye.
She was never so beautiful as she was at that moment, telling me this story. From then on, all we talked was baseball. She was several years older than me, and married. As a young and single guy, I was amused. Still, we could talk about the Mets, and her favorite players, and growing up in the Queens neighborhood of Jamaica.
Despite all the interesting players filling the Mets rosters over the years, that included Seaver Koosman, Kranepool and Grote, Anna threw me a curveball when she said with emphasis that her all-time favorite player was Carl Yastrzemski. Yeah, Yaz. The Hall of Fame MVP, Triple Crown winner, 18-time All-Star, 7-time Gold Glove left fielder for the Boston Red Sox! When I asked why him, she said that he was Polish (her ethnic background), and with a gush, she continued, “he was so handsome!” Alright then, Yaz was her guy. Cool!
I pondered our conversation that evening, and the day after, thinking about Yaz and the 1969 Mets, and the 1973 Mets, and the 1986 Mets. I wanted to give Anna something special, something unique, something that I know she didn’t have. Maybe a baseball card from my collection. But, nothing would be as special as a 1961 Yaz card, the one with the rookie star, which I did not have. As it so happened, there was a trading card shop several blocks from my house. Armed with a binder of good stuff and the best of intentions, I ventured out into the night after work to do a little horse trading.
This was summer 1995, and the card guy wanted something like 30 bucks for that 1961 Topps #287 card. It might have been $25. Regardless, I didn’t have cash, and was prepared to haggle. He looked through the pages of my binders with some mild interest, knowing that he had me over a barrel after I foolishly indicated the card was for a girl. He would leaf through a couple of pages and stop, and continue turning pages, stopping again, and turning some more. I had been in his shop on a number of occasions to peer with envy at the cards on the glass shelves, or sift through the commons in the boxes in neatly arranged stacks. The glass shelf cards were always out of my price range, but it was harmless to covet.
I had an idea of what he might find interesting, and tried to steer him towards a few of my cards from the early to mid-1970s, hoping to entice him with my 1971 Steve Garvey rookie card (#341) or my 1973 Rod Carew (#330). Heck, I thought my 1974 Reggie Jackson (#130) looked pretty good, too. Unfortunately, he had those, and wasn’t interested. He flipped through the pages one more time before settling on my 1974 Tom Seaver (#80), 1975 Dave Winfield (#61) AND my 1976 Johnny Bench (#300). Really? All three? He went to his cabinet and pulled out that ’61 Yaz, and seemed to wave it in my face. Taunting me. Or least that’s what it felt like. I looked at Tom and Dave and Johnny, wondering if they knew what I was about to do.
The 1974 Tom Seaver card was one of several Topps cards that year featuring the player in a landscape position. The photo featured a great action shot of Tom Terrific pitching off the mound at Shea. The ’75 Winfield card featured the third-year player at home in San Diego taking a few cuts, perhaps before the start of the game. I always liked the Bench card from the 1976 collection. He’s featured as a “NL ALL STAR” lettered within a star shape that also indicated his position. The photo shows him standing in what appears to be moments after a close play at the plate because there’s still a cloud of dust enveloping him, as he stands with there in his catcher’s gear sans the mask. I always liked those catchers’ cards. Topps always seemed to do a good job at capturing the catcher working his tail off behind the plate. Bench, in this card, seems to be ready to fight, ready to defend his plate.
I looked down again at those three cards and closed my eyes and made the deal. The guy took my cards away and presented me with the ’61 Yaz tucked inside a hard plastic sleeve. It wasn’t the best of deals, but it was the best that I could do. I had hoped that someday I might get them back. Right now, they were gone, and that was that. But, now I had something special for someone special. That thought lightened the short walk back to my apartment.
At lunch the next day, I surprised Anna with the card. She was overjoyed. She laughed and smiled, and held the card to her heart. Suddenly, the trade didn’t seem so bad. It was a great trade, in fact. We talked about Yaz and the 1967 World Series, and the fortunes of the Boston Red Sox, and the fortunes of the Seattle Mariners, who were catching fire that summer. I was pleased that Anna liked the card so much.
The next day, she presented me with a curious thing: a Cleveland Indians button with an attached talisman from the 1940s. It was her grandfather’s, she said. She wanted me to have it. I never knew if she had any other baseball things, but I got the impression this object meant a great deal to her. I took it from her with great care and appreciation, and promised to take good care of it. For nearly 25 years, I’ve kept that Cleveland Indians button with attached talisman in a box in a little plastic bag. Every so often I come across that thing and think of Anna and the 1961 Carl Yastrzemski card.