homer

[hoh-mer]
noun
: sports fan who is (irrationally) loyal to his home team, often to the point of not realizing he’s being played by said home team.

(This is Day 21 of our response to Tony L.’s 30-Day Baseball Card Challenge. See all our posts in this series here.)

I’m nothing if not a homer for the Cincinnati Reds, and that was especially true before I had adult responsibilities.
1986 Topps Traded Kurt StillwellThe Reds could do no wrong in my eyes in the 1980s, and that sentiment followed from the top of the franchise to the lowest rungs of the minor leagues.
In my estimation …
  • Pete Rose was a perfect competitor who was going to restore the Riverfront to its 1970s glory days.
  • Eric Davis sas the next Willie Mays — but better.
  • Mario Soto was the most underrated pitcher in baseball (this may have actually been true).
  • The local Indianapolis Indians were barely worthy of having their box scores printed in the Indianapolis Star once they parted ways with the Reds (they did come back to the fold for awhile, though).
  • Even Marge Schott must have had some redeeming qualities, right? Um … she brought Pete Rose back. She loved dogs.
If it was tied to the Cincinnati Reds back in those days, it had a place in my heart. And that’s sort of a dangerous place to be for a baseball card “investor.”

Red(s) in the Poker Face

I had to stifle my impulses when I traded with buddies at school. I mean, left unchecked, my loyalties might have prompted me into foolish acts like swapping all my Dwight Gooden rookie cards for a Davis and a Kal Daniels.
For the most part, I was able to stay in control when it came to my cardboard business dealings. But I did secret away all the new Reds cards I came across and stashed them in dark corners of my collection, lest they become trade bait in a moment of weakness.
So, if archaeologists ever dig up my stacks, they’ll find pockets of Davis, Daniels, Tracy Jones, Jeff Treadway, and Paul O’Neill (before he was really Paul O’Neill) cards.
They and, later, Reggie Jefferson, Reggie Sanders, and Chris Sabo were going to help the Reds turn around and stay turned around.
And it sort of panned out that way, because Cincinnati did win the 1990 World Series. That felt like something of a fluke, though, coming a few years after the mid-1980s peak that had me so excited.

No Shortage of Shortstops

In those hallowed years, there was no position on the diamond that got me more excited than shortstop for the Cincinnati Reds. As the 1986 seas1986 Topps Traded Kurt Stillwell (back)on dawned, the Reds had two SSs with unbridled potential waiting in the wings as team captain Dave Concepcion wound down his legendary career.
Both Kurt Stillwell and Barry Larkin drew rave reviews from different corners of the baseball universe, and sometimes from the same corners. But by the end of the 1986 season, Rose had seen fit to fit Stillwell into 60 more games than Larkin.
That was enough for me, even though Larkin finished seventh in NL Rookie of the Year voting and Stillwell, well, didn’t.
It was enough for Topps, too, who included Stillwell in their 1986 Traded set but eschewed Larkin.
Of course, Stillwell kind of got lost in the hype surrounding Jose Canseco and Wally Joyner that season, but I knew Kurt was going to be a star.
So I made sure to get my 1986 Topps Traded set as soon as I could, which was at a card show around Thanksgiving.
But I took it one step further.
This was about the time that dealers began offering 100-card lots of cards that let you “invest” in certain players or certain issues. At the final card show before Christmas that year, I found a guy who was selling several of these big lots.
Among them was the 1986 Topps Traded Kurt Stillwell. Instant perfect Christmas present!
 
It wasn’t a surprise when I found the hard-plastic case under the tree that year. Twenty-five bucks wasn’t a ton for my parents to pay for a gift, and they were happy to indulge my hobby.
1986 Topps Traded Kurt Stillwell lot
That Gift that Keeps … collecting dust.
The stack of Stillwells wasn’t much fun to play with that Christmas morning, though, so I squirreled them away, confident I could pull them out in a few years and buy a car or maybe even a house (clueless).
And I did pull them out occasionally.
Like when Larkin took over the starting shortstop job for Cincinnati.
And when the Reds traded Stillwell to the Kansas City Royals after the 1987 season.
And when Stillwell retired in 1996 after a mostly unremarkable career.
And, finally, just the other day when I was reorganizing a closet.
Yeah, I still have my Kurt Stillwell “investment lot” and probably always will.
It was the one and only time I jumped into the speculation game, and my stack of Stillwells reminds me that being a homer isn’t always the greatest thing in the world.
But, man, did you see what Scooter Gennett did the other day? These Reds are really going to be something.
Someday.