Where quality of life is concerned, there are two things I look for in a place to call home: A comic book shop and a sports card store.
Emporia no longer has the former (a selection of comic books, however, remains available at the Town Crier), but, in regard to the latter, the town contains a real treasure.
L&L Pets, 621 Commercial St., primarily caters to the wants and needs of the vast number of community members devoted to the domesticated animal. The secondary business concern at the shop for owner Lane Hollern and, by extension, his family are the wants and needs of the numerically smaller, but more excessively demanding trading card enthusiasts, a zealous band of botherers that includes this writer.
Over the years, even when residing in other parts of the state, I’ve often turned to Lane in search of a particular card — with the hope of having it autographed by the featured player — in advance of a trip to Kansas City to watch the Royals.
Be it a 1965 Topps Nelson Mathews or a 2012 Topps Travis Hafner, Lane comes through for me nearly every time, as I’m sure he does for everyone else.
“I always loved cards,” he said. “I still enjoy filling want lists for people.”
Recently, I was privileged to be invited into Lane’s inner, or, more accurately, lower sanctum, where rows of boxes, stacked one atop the other, crowd the shelves of the pet store basement.
He began selling cards from the shop in “1989 or 1990” after purchasing a sizeable number of mid-1980 cards from another dealer, and “it just grew from there.”
In regard to my own miserable history, my mother didn’t throw out my baseball cards (she knew better) — I’m solely responsible for their disposal.
About five minutes before the sports card market skyrocketed in the early 1980s, I sold my collection for a fraction of its value to someone passing through Coffeyville from New Mexico. This itinerant entrepreneur placed a classified ad in the local papers of the towns he visited notifying the public he was buying pre-1970 baseball cards.
I refused his first three-figure offer, but eventually succumbed to the pressure from my then girlfriend to sell the cards and use the money to upgrade my wardrobe. It was one of the worst decisions of my life. The clothes were out of style before the check cleared the bank. The girlfriend lasted only slightly longer (she celebrated our breakup by soaping my car and putting peanut butter under the door handles).
Trying to recoup my collection — it included cards such as a 1954 Jackie Robinson, many different Mickey Mantles and Willie Mayses, and a complete 1965 Topps baseball set — was a fiscal impossibility for me, and I still suffer from seller’s remorse, all these decades later.
Of course, these days, sports cards, once removed from the mystery of the package, aren’t worth the paper on which they’re printed.
The industry took a precipitous nose dive back in the early 1990s, when card companies crawled out of the woodwork and mass-produced at such a rate to render modern collections virtually valueless.
However, vintage cards, those printed before the first moon landing, maintain a marketability among collectors.
I own precious few of that variety, my oldest being a 1952 Clyde McCullough, whose claim to fame, aside from his .252 lifetime batting average, was picking up a trio of hitchhikers on their way to Indiana in the early 1950s and learning later one of that group was none other than actor James Dean returning with a pair of New York friends to his aunt and uncle’s farm in Fairmount.
Regular visits to L&L Pets remind me of the childhood thrill attached to collecting baseball cards.
Thanks for the memory, Lane.
Upon phoning my mother Sunday, I never expected a stunning testament to the wide-ranging impact of social media, but I received one nonetheless.
“Can I ask you a question?” she asked. “It’s personal.”
“I don’t care,” I replied. “Go ahead.”
“Do you have a girlfriend?”
A moment of comprehending silence thus ensued.
“Well, I was going to tell you. How did you find out?”
“It’s on Facebook, isn’t it?” said my computer-shy mother, who I thought didn’t know the Internet from Interpol. (I suspect a little sister birdie named Debbie.)
“Yeah, Mom, it’s the real thing,” I told her. “She understands the significance of pitch counts and can explain the infield-fly rule.”
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Idea for new reality series: “Leaf it to Bieber.”