The Baseball Shop
Opening Day for the 2013 Minor League Baseball season is about two months away, and with each day that passes I think more and more about baseball. Just a few days ago I received my 2013 Baseball America Prospect Handbook in the mail, and within that tightly-stuffed manila envelope was a shrink-wrapped pack of prospect baseball cards.
Baseball cards. I don’t think I’d opened a pack of those since I was a teenager. My days of baseball card collecting have long since passed, but this simple stack of thinly-sliced cardboard embossed with the images and stats of baseball somebodies brought me back to a hobby that used to take up hours of my time.
The best, and I mean the best, place for a baseball-obsessed kid like me was a little store in Orleans, Massachusetts. My family vacationed every summer on Cape Cod in the town of Brewster, which sits right on salt-swept shores of Cape Cod Bay. As a part of that two-week stay on the Cape each summer, my mother would always set aside one day for us to ride our bikes the six or seven miles it took to get from Brewster to Orleans. (Keep in mind, this was a big sacrifice for her because it meant we were taking away from time that couldn’t be spent at the beach. Only years later did I realize that I should’ve been more grateful for this.)
At the end of the journey to Orleans was a little store named The Baseball Shop. This was everything that I ever could have dreamed of as a kid. It had jerseys, hats, pennants, stickers, door hangers and the holy grail of a young baseball fan’s life — baseball cards. Hundreds upon hundreds of them in packs, on shelves and even in glass display cases.
“Fifteen dollars?!?”, I thought to myself while rattling the rusted coins and crumpled singles in my pocket. “I’ll have to save up my allowance for the entire year to be able to afford that one.”
I’d tread lightly around the store, making sure not to upset any of the displays in the baseball basilica, stopping to stare at a framed Cal Ripken display on the wall, or flip through the poster display showing off New England baseball heroes of the day like Mo Vaughn, Nomar Garciaparra and Jason Varitek.
I held the Men Behind the Counter at the store in such high regard. They were the classic bifocal-wearing, middle-aged men who wore polo shirts tucked into khaki shorts, with canvas belts and Sperry Top-Siders. If I had a question, I was sure they knew the answer. If I had a question for which they didn’t have an answer, I felt like my hours of scouring the box scores while eating my cereal had finally paid off.
The Baseball Shop was a place where I could add to my collection that already included binders, shoeboxes and cigar boxes full of baseball cards at home. This would be where the highlights of my collection would come from. The shop probably wasn’t much bigger than the inside of a food truck, and so generations of baseball fans would have to shimmy past one another as grandparents and grandkids made their way around the inventory of a Best Buy packed into the size of a beehive.
I’d never come away from the store with much–a San Francisco Giants doorhanger one year, a framed Cal Ripken card another. The doorhanger said something to the effect of, “Don’t bother me. Don’t touch anything. I like my room this way!” I may have been a big baseball fan, but make no mistake that I was still a kid.
It wasn’t so much what I bought from the store that mattered, as much as it was the sentimental value that came along with making that purchase. I’d survived the eternal (four-hour) drive from home in New York to Cape Cod. I’d somehow pedaled myself from Brewster to Orleans and made it to The Baseball Shop for my once-a-year trip to paradise; I’d be damned if I wasn’t going to get something by which to remember my journey. Clinging on to that paper bag that held my fortune as I rode my bike back to Brewster and swerved with excitement, I felt no doubt that I was the luckiest kid on the face of the Earth.
Along with those big-ticket items, I’d get the 99-cent packs of cards that featured the everyday players like Bernard Gilkey or Cliff Floyd. And it was those cards, that held the unknown players within them, that brought me whirling back in time the other night when sitting at my dining room table and, in a way, being a kid again. I was taken back to the enthusiasm, mystery and excitement of baseball and what it holds for us when we’re so young.
I haven’t been back to The Baseball Shop in years, but I got the same feeling as being there when I opened the pack of baseball cards at home. I don’t need a bike to get there anymore, but just thinking about making that trip gets my mind’s wheels spinning.
Stay warm and enjoy the Sup–oh, I can’t say that, right? Enjoy the “big game” this weekend, no matter which team you’re rooting for.
If you’d like to get in touch, you can reach me via email (Couzens@TinCaps.com) or on Twitter @MikeCouzens.
Thanks for reading,