(This is Day 23 of our response to Tony L.’s 30-Day Baseball Card Challenge. See all our posts in this series here.)

Along about 1982 or 1983, something happened to my dad.

I’ve never been quite sure what that was exactly, but all of a sudden, we were spending our weekends running to antique shops, flea markets, and antique shows all across Indiana. Before that, it was nothing but weekend-long naps and dreadful bouts of home repair for our family.

Whatever happened, I wasn’t complaining. Not only were we having fun, but it seemed like there were baseball cards everywhere we went. I was just starting to follow baseball, but I had already accumulated a few hundred baseball cards thanks to my mom.

My curiosity was stirring and before long, baseball cards were “my thing” when we went out.

How Much Are They Worth?

About this time, we stopped into one of our normal haunts, a little rough-hewn antique mall in rural Indiana on US Highway 40 , aka the National Road. Appropriately enough, the shop was called Country Antiques.

The place consisted of a couple thousand square feet filled with primitive furniture, dainty glassware, and creepy porcelain dolls. There wasn’t a baseball card in sight, but there was a book rack full of volumes about various types of antiques and collectibles.

Among the tomes was — you guessed it — a baseball card price guide.

Now, this wasn’t a Beckett price guide –1959 Bazooka Hank Aaron– I’d have one of those soon enough, and the two books were definitely different.

It also wasn’t one of those “pocket” guides like the one with Pete Rose on the cover from the early 1980s.

In physical size, the book fell somewhere between the standard Beckett price guide and the pocket guides, and it contained prices for thousands of cards. I plunked down my $2.95 (or whatever) and devoured the information on the way home. I had that book for years but can’t find it now — I would love to have another copy if I could find one.

Anyway, the book had a few pictures on the cover and grainy black-and-white photos throughout the book.

I was mesmerized, particularly by cards from the 1950s and 1960s that I’d never seen before.

The price guide also gave a brief commentary on each set at the beginning of the listings.

Like any kid who thought he might be sitting on a goldmine of cardboard at home, the first thing I did was run through the book looking for big-value cards and trying to match them up to my own collection.

While I pretty much whiffed in that endeavor, I did get a whirlwind tour of the modern hobby’s most valuable cards, from the 1952 Topps Mickey Mantle rookie card to the exotic 1975 Topps Minis set.

Hammerin’ Hank

One listing stopped me cold, though: 1959 Bazooka.

The blurb for the set said it was issued in very limited quantities, and the prices in the accompanying listings seemed to back that up. That was great and made me hungry for a hunk of 24-year-old bubble gum.

What really revved my collecting engine, though, was the accompanying photo.

It was a shot of the 1959 Bazooka Hank Aaron card, and it was the most beautiful baseball card I’d ever seen.

By that point, I knew that Aaron was the all-time home run champion and that he was a Hall of Famer. I’d even checked out an Aaron biography from my grade school library a couple years earlier and read it cover-to-cover.

That Bazooka card seemed to embody everything the book taught me about the legend — the powerful swing, the intense gaze, the kind and unassuming face.

I could almost imagine Aaron wearing that same billowing flannel uniform the day he got off the bus in Wisconsin touting the cardboard suitcase his mother had packed with sandwiches for the first trip of his minor league career.

Even today, the mere glimpse of this card makes me at once nostalgic for baseball’s past and excited for the next game, and it’s easily one of my favorite oddball cards of all-time.

This card pulled me in and erased any doubt that I’d be a baseball card collector.

And it’s cards like this one that keep me enthused about the hobby year after year and ensure that I’ll never leave it behind.