We humans thrive on our shared experiences.
They’re one of the prime drivers for the friendships we form, the social tribes — in the vernacular of today’s whippersnappers — we build.
I mean, have you ever had friends you met at work? Unless your name is “Albert Belle,” chances are pretty good. And somewhere among that group, I’ll bet there are at least a few folks who would have never come into your circle were it not for things you did together in the job place.
And if you’ve ever lost a job or a loved one or a pair of glasses, you know it’s the people around you going through the same emotions, or who have gone through the same emotions, who help you survive the grieving process.
But it’s not just negative or tough situations that help bring people together … nope, good stuff can do it, too.
Like baseball cards.
I mean, here we are, two people who don’t know each other (probably) sharing some digital space for a few minutes and having the same sorts of nostalgic thoughts — about baseball, about collecting, about fathers and sons or other relationships, about the good times we’ve had in the hobby, and the good times we hope lie ahead.
We have a shared past, shared hopes and dreams, whether or not we ever meet each other.
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And I’ll bet that most of us who partake of the cardboard arts have other shared experiences, too, from similar memories of our school days to anticipation of the new baseball season.
I mean, if you’re reading this, chances are you grew up at least partially in the 1970s or 1980s … or at least the 1960s or 1990s. And in any of those cases, you likely know a thing or two about Saturday morning cartoons, Sunday funnies, maybe even comic books.
It’s one of the reasons, I think, why those little cartoons on the backs of some old baseball cards appealed to us so much as kids, and why they continue to pull at us today.
It’s also why I knew I had to include a card based specifically on the merits of its cartoon quality here on Day 44 of my 2019 Spring Training Baseball Card Challenge. Toons are one of the basic building blocks of a classic card collection, after all.
But which card, among the hundreds or thousands of possibilities, would make the cut here?
It was a tough call, let me tell you. But in the end, I came back to our true north for the day — shared experiences.
Page through (or thumb through if you’re going the stacks route) just about any Topps issue from 1954 through 1982, and you’ll see the dilemma — but not if you linger in 1973. Because there, on card #551, Topps presents us with a cartoon that stops the whole search train on the spot.
The front of the card features Mike Kilkenny, then of the Cleveland Indians and formerly of the Detroit Tigers, Oakland A’s, and San Diego Padres. Kilkenny is gazing into (or at a spot near) the camera, not looking too amused from his set-position pose, but looking very 70s chic with his brake-shoe sideburns. A sparsely populated Indians dugout peeps in behind him, and a few fans mill around in the blue stadium seats looming into the darkness above that.
It’s a fine card of a journeyman pitcher (23-18, 4.43 RA, 4 saves over five Major League season).
But flip the thing over and, holy cow!
Right at the very top of the vertical card back is a drawing of a young player in a baseball uniform, a large sack slung over one shoulder, and a trio of baseball-card-shaped golden *things* in his other hand. The caption confirms what you suspected at first glance:
Mike carries his baseball cards in his duffle bag.
Forget holy cow … holy crap!
This guy was one of us … a collector who couldn’t stand to be away from his precious cardboard for even as long as it took to do his business at the stadium. Nope, they went along with him. How could you not love him for that?
How could you not love this card for telling us about it?
You couldn’t not love either one, that’s how.
We have shared experiences, Mike and me, and you, too. And here’s one more for you …
Mike Kilkenny passed away on June 28, 2018, at the age of 73. I somehow missed the news, and I’m sure I’m not alone in that. And it’s all the sadder to learn about now, because Mike Kilkenny wasn’t “just” a baseball player … he was part of the vast cardboard brotherhood that ties us all together.
Check out the entire series of 2019 Spring Training Challenge posts here.