My mother hated them because they cluttered up my room—and often overflowed into the living room. My friends hated them because I always had more of them than they did. And, at times, I even hated them because I couldn’t force myself to put them down.
I’m referring to my baseball card collection, which at one time included as many as 15,000 of the thin pieces of cardboard. The players on them ranged from Harmon Killebrew to Mickey Klutz and Steve Garvey to Guido Grilli. The worth of the cards was substantial and the sentimental value enormous, but I had no idea when I began collecting them that one day they would lead to the most valuable experience of my life.
When I joined the Church I was 20 years old, but I had the same decision to make that all teen age Aaronic Priesthood holders face: Should I serve a mission?
When I told my bishop that I was seriously thinking and praying about serving a mission, he was delighted. However, when the discussion turned to financing the endeavor, my smiles evaporated. Almost all of my savings had been used on my education, and there was no hope of receiving help from my nonmember parents.
The bishop was careful not to let money concerns discourage me and said the ward would be able to help with part of the cost. But he told me the importance of paying for as much of my mission as I could and suggested the figure of $1,500. I agreed with his counsel but was concerned that my hair might turn gray before I could save the amount he suggested. But, the bishop had moved me from thinking about a mission to planning for one, which gave me the faith that I could save enough money.
My first plan of attack was to get a full-time job, which meant postponing my education. My parents didn’t like that idea but stood behind my decision when I assured them I would return to college when I completed my mission.
I knew jobs were scarce, but at the first place I applied, a stylish pizza parlor, the owner asked when I could start without so much as an interview. Though my paychecks turned out to be substantial, having to pay for my own food, rent, and utilities ate most of them up before I could save much. Thoughts of getting a second job crossed my mind, but they soon passed after the exhaustion of selling pizzas all week long set in. One night while trying to think of how many pizzas I would have to sell to save $1,500 (a thousand? a million?), I decided that I would have to sell my car to get more money. My Ford Maverick was in good shape, but I figured it would bring in only about half of what I needed. While contemplating the loss of my car, I began to thumb through some of my baseball cards to help me escape from it all. I proudly looked at the rest of the cards neatly stacked in two apple boxes and pulled a complete set from a few years back. For a moment I thought about now much the set was worth and then did the same with another and then another. My pulse raced as the total amounted to hundreds of dollars. But how could I sell them? They were like old friends. I remembered how I had spent countless hours one summer memorizing the middle names of over 700 major leaguers. The decision to sell my collection wasn’t an easy one to make, but I knew if I held on to the cards I would be collecting dust just as they were.
But just how does one go about selling 15,000 baseball cards? I decided to place an ad in a collector’s magazine. Cataloging what I had and putting the list together was tougher than expected, but with the help of friends it was done about the time responses to the ad came pouring in. And pour in they did, as over 100 people answered the ad.
I was amazed that the amounts people were willing to pay exceeded my own expectations. One bid on a set for which I had originally paid $40 topped $120. Bids on two other sets were over $100 apiece, more than double my initial investment.
When the dust finally settled, I had earned $780 from selling my collection, which was $10 more than I had received for my car. After tithing, the amount I had left was close enough to what the bishop had asked me to save to allow me to send in my missionary papers. Happily I informed him of my success, and before I could say “I’ll trade a Mickey Klutz for a Guido Grilli” I was on my way to the Washington Spokane Mission.
I managed to save two cards from the auction block: my most valuable card, a Harmon Killebrew from the 1950s, which I gave to the friends who helped get the price list together; and a 1977 Ted Sizemore, which I carried with me throughout my mission. As a player, Sizemore had limited talents but always sacrificed individual accomplishments for the good of the team. That kind of attitude I tried to take with me into the mission field.