Batting averages, epilogue

Since Part 4 of this series, I embarked on a mission: Find a pack of baseball cards with gum in it. I've seen such packs in the past few years, and I wanted to taste the nondescript flavor of this gum again.

My summer of baseball that was 1980 came to an end, and I began fifth grade. I followed George Brett as he chased .400, but hampered by hemorrhoids, he fell short at .390. The Phillies defeated the Royals in the World Series. The Cubs were worse than ever (at least in my baseball lifetime), and they would trade Bruce Sutter and Dave Kingman during the offseason. I transitioned into football season, collecting football cards, rooting for the Bears and getting Earl Campbell's autograph that fall.

I thought for sure I would find a pack with gum at Shopko, which usually has a decent selection of cards. However, the store didn't have such packs. I see the Topps retro pack, which puts today's players in the 1963 style of baseball cards. Maybe past years of these cards were the ones I saw with gum. If so, Topps stopped adding gum again. But maybe I'm thinking of another pack and I just need to go to another store.

I was so excited for baseball in 1981. I bought the new season of Strat-o-Matic cards, with stats from the 1980 season -- this is still my favorite season three decades later -- and played through the whole summer, particularly when the baseball strike erased weeks from the season. I played on a team that won the league championship, and I hit well for most of the season.

But I stopped collecting cards as much as I did the summer before. By 1982, I stopped collecting them altogether. By 1983, I stopped playing Little League. The Brewers made the World Series in 1982, the White Sox won their division in 1983, and the Cubs came agonizingly close to the World Series until 1984. But once the Cubs began faltering again in '85, I had moved on to other sports as my favorites, particularly after the Bears won the Super Bowl and the Bulls drafted Michael Jordan.

Walmart's card selection wasn't as good as I had hoped it would be. Target was better, maybe even better than Shopko, but no packs with gum. I bought the boys a pack of 2012 cards instead. My last hope is a card shop or eBay., perhaps even Toys 'r' Us, but I'm not going to bother. Do I really want stale gum to be even staler if it's a few years old? I sometimes see unopened old packs for sale on eBay, and buying one would be torture, because I would want to rip it open and see who is within. And you know I would try the gum. Perhaps the memory of the gum should remain a memory. After all, I did get to taste Fruit Stripes again ...

As the years passed, I came back to baseball. The Cubs kept teasing me with playoff appearances, only to disappoint. I rediscovered Strat-o-Matic. I played fantasy baseball. I became a sports journalist and was paid to publish baseball. I played softball. I found the cards of my youth on eBay. I came to appreciate the simple joy of listening to a game on the radio (or online or on my phone) or watching a game on TV, passively if not actively. I help coach my sons' team. The start of baseball season coincides with the arrival of spring, which I covet even more as an adult than as a kid. Nevertheless, I'm still more of a football and basketball fan than baseball, which is a close third. My affection for the game has evolved since my baseball-crazy 1980. It's a more grown-up affection, and it's definitely more practical, but some of that youthful exuberance to the game exists and, hopefully, will never be lost again.

Michael and I were driving home from his baseball game Saturday and stopped at a yard sale. The seller had rubberbanded baseball cards -- 1991 Donruss -- for 50 cents an improvised pack. Michael's eyes lit up. He likes cards, even old ones. So does Ben. I love yard sales for old baseball stuff, with my dream of finding old Strat-o-Matic cards someday at one.Once, I found two sport card lockers you would see advertised in comic books or baseball magazines; the boys usurped those from me even though the containers, reminiscent of Matchbox car carriers, were easily 40 years old. At Saturday's yard sale, I talked the seller to giving me all the cards -- about 400 -- for $6. They probably are worth just that (I saw a George Brett that might be worth a buck), but they weren't for me. They were for my sons, more cards to put in their card lockers along their new cards. Their baseball-crazy summers are still in progress.


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