Spring Training is all about beginnings and big hopes.
For most teams, and for the fans of most teams, Spring Training is the beginning of “next year,” when everything will be different. The standings are wiped clean, and everyone can see a clear path to October — each club controls its own destiny.
For the defending World Series champions, well, it’s the beginning of their title defense. Can you do it again? How can we not?!?!
For grizzled veterans, ST is the beginning of another grueling haul through the summer that they hope will leave them with the fruits they so desire — a title, another few rungs on one all-time list or another, a performance good enough to get to do it all over again next year.
And for rookies or pre-rookies, Spring Training is the place to make all those hopes and dreams they’ve held dear since Little League start to come true. Will this be the year they make the Big Club? Crack the starting lineup? Win Rookie of the Year?
Get their first baseball card?
Ah, that’s the big one, isn’t it? No matter how jaded a player gets when it comes to hype and attention, there has to be a special sort of head swell that comes with pulling your own likeness from a wax pack for the first time.
And how much more special would it be if your first card also christened a new set, a new concept, no less?
(OK, so I’m asking a lot of rhetoricals here. I’ll try to tone down the question marks the rest of the way. Deal? lol)
That would be pretty special, but it doesn’t happen very often. In fact, until I started considering which “first card in a set” I wanted to profile for this Day 22 of my 2019 Spring Training Baseball Card Challenge, I would have said the list began and ended with 1989 Upper Deck card #1, Ken Griffey Jr.
But then, when looking at sets that had changed the landscape of the hobby, I remembered something — the old Topps Traded sets were alphabetized, so that lower numbers corresponded to a higher alphabetical ranking. You can bet, then, that if Hank Aaron had been traded during the 1981 off-season (I know, hang with me here), he would have been card number 1T in the 1982 Topps Traded set.
That “T” numbering actually only started in 1982, though.
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For their inaugural, season-ending boxed set of “Traded” cards in 1981, Topps just continued the numbering from their base set. All of that combined — the alphabet thing, the number-extension thing, the groundbreaking set thing — led me to the 1981 Topps Traded card of Danny Ainge at number 727. (In case you forgot, the base 1981 Topps set left off at #726, Rick Monday.)
I wasn’t actually collecting cards back in 1981, even though my mom bought me some here and there when she did the grocery shopping. But I do remember the 1981 Topps Traded set being a lukewarm item for several years, even as the hobby heated up through the middle of the decade. At first, I think, collectors just weren’t sure it was a concept that would catch on.
Then, when we did want Traded sets every year (at least sorta), the player selection from the 1981 issue kept it from jumping in popularity.
Still, you could always count on this Ainge card for a little bit of a thrill. And why not? (sorry)
Ainge was a high school star in football, basketball, and baseball, but he chose the diamond over all of them and made it to the Major Leagues with the (near) expansion Toronto Blue Jays in 1979. He was just 20 years old and looked to have a bright future, but things sort of stalled up north. In three seasons with Toronto, Ainge hit .220 with two home runs (both in his rookie season) and 37 RBI.
In the summer of 1981, Ainge entered the NBA Draft, and the Boston Celtics picked him in the second round with the 31st overall selection.
Ainge hung up his spikes for good at that point and, despite some early struggles on the hardwood, became a deadly three-point shooter who helped the Celts win NBA titles in 1984 and 1986. He was sort of like a hoops version of Bo Jackson, without the baseball success.
Still and all, Ainge and his 1981 Topps Traded baseball card changed the hobby, and they’re each an indelible part of cardboard history.
Check out the entire series of 2019 Spring Training Challenge posts here.