Baseball cards re-imagined for modern day collectors

Sports Illustrated covers as Topps baseball cards

I left a shoebox full of baseball cards at my mom’s house when I went off to college in the early-1970s.

It was the last time I ever saw them.

My collection was nothing more than a mix-and-match assortment of Topps baseball cards I began buying with allowance money in the early to mid-1960s, along with cards I cut off the back of Post cereal boxes.

As a kid, I gave no thought to their future value — financial or sentimental.

Instead, I played with them all the time. I built my own all-star teams out of the cards and played a made-up game with them. I pinned them to the spokes of my bike with a clothes pin, giving it that awesome motorcycle sound for about 30 seconds until the cardboard wore out. I traded them with friends.

Anyway, for more than a decade I never gave them another thought.

Then I rediscovered card collecting in the mid-1980s and searched my mom’s house high and low for that shoebox of cards. I came up empty.

My folks had moved two or three times since I left them with her, so I assume she threw them out at some point.

But baseball cards lured me back in a small way in the ’80s. I went to baseball card shows and began buying unopened boxes of Upper Deck cards. I put them in a closet and hoped they would grow in value over the decades.

They haven’t.

Then a couple months ago, my friend Ed Godfrey rekindled my interest once again in baseball cards. He showed me some recent Topps cards he bought that were replicas of old Sports Illustrated covers. They are impressive.

“I’ve started buying some cards again online,” Ed said. “Stuff I like.”

What he likes are the SI replicas and another Topps series called Project 70 that takes historic Topps cards of the past and adds artistic flair.

Ozzie Smith Project 70 card from Topps

“They describe Project 70s as a re-imagination of cards,” he told me. “They’ll take a ’57 card of Mickey Mantle and have an artist add their own style to it. Some of their cards are looking like pieces of art and not baseball cards.”

So, Ed bought some of the Project 70 cards, as well as Sport Illustrated cover cards of his favorite St. Louis Cardinals players.

“It’s a way to get old guys like me to buy cards again,” he said. “I’ve got a cover with Stan Musial and Ted Williams, and a cover with just Musial. A Mark McGuire 60 home run cover. I got an Ozzie Smith cover, ‘The Wiz,’ that’s cool. I bought several of them.”

He’s displaying some of these cards on his fireplace mantel.

“I need a bigger house with a man cave just so I can display them,” he said with a laugh.

About a month ago, a small package arrived in the mail for me. I opened it to discover it was a Topps Sports Illustrated card of my favorite baseball player, Nolan Ryan.

Ed bought it for me. It’s on my fireplace mantel. And I’ve spent the past few days cruising the Topps website just to see what else is out there.

I’ve also discovered that baseball card collecting has made quite a comeback during the pandemic. So much so, that fights have broken out in some stores as collectors compete with one another to add the latest cards to their collections. Target suspended baseball card sales because of the melees. 

(An aside: Sad news. Topps is going to be displaced in a couple years as official baseball card producer by an outfit called Fanatics, which signed an exclusive deal with Major League Baseball and the Players Association.)

Not sure that I’m going to dive headfirst into card collecting, although I love the SI cover series. I’m content with the stash I have in my closet from the ’80s.

But I’m still mourning the loss of my baseball cards from the ’60s (thanks, Mom).

Then there are the lucky ones like my friend Ed.

“I have all my old cards I bought as a kid,” he said. “My mom kept them. Most of them are from the early ’70s.

“I’ll never sell my cards. My daughters will probably sell them when I die.”

Road trip! Noodlers & rain delay theater in Tulsa

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Fans of the Tulsa Noodlers were treated to a live noodling demonstration before last weekend’s game

The boys and I hit the road just after noon last Friday, Tulsa bound. We were on a mission.

About a month ago, the Tulsa Drillers announced that they would play this past weekend’s games as the “Tulsa Noodlers” in honor of Oklahoma’s reputation as a haven for catching catfish by hand. Under water. In dark and dingy water.

Some people call it “hillbilly handfishing,” and I can’t argue with that.

Anyway, my friend Ed Godfrey is the outdoors editor of The Oklahoman. The idea of a team putting on completely new uniforms and playing under an assumed name appealed to him.

Ed ordered a Tulsa Noodler’s cap the day that they went on sale. We decided that we would make the trip to Tulsa and take Ed’s 16-year-old son, Cade, with us to watch the city’s minor league, AA-level team.

So, off we went, but not before a stop at the Butcher Stand in Wellston to fuel up with some barbeque. It was awesome, although I’m not as all-in as Ed, who said it may be the best in Oklahoma.

Here’s how the rest of the weekend unfolded:

We arrived at our hotel just after 3 pm, checked in and immediately headed to the pool, as per Cade’s request. While Ed and Cade swam for most of an hour, I sat on the sidelines and started getting text alerts about nearby lightning strikes

I hadn’t noticed any clouds as we pulled into town, but this IS Oklahoma after all.

By 5 pm, a torrential rainstorm hit the downtown area. Our hotel was maybe half a block from the ballpark, so you know the turf was soaked.

The rain relented somewhat about 6, so we roamed a bit to explore a nearby bookstore. We decided to head to the ballpark just before 7.

The Noodlers were set to face off with Wichita at 7:05.

tarp
We knew game was on when tarp crew began removing it.

Naturally, the tarp was still on the field when we arrived. But the good news was that a mobile catfish tank had been pulled up right inside the rightfield gate.

So, we watched a noodling exhibition with a veteran noodler who brought a large catfish to the surface for photo opps.

I took plenty of pictures of the unusual ballpark sight.

The tarp was removed from the infield about 8 pm, so we knew there would be baseball. Bad news, the game wouldn’t start until 9:05.

But, we hung tough, hitting the team souvenir store for Noodlers merchandise, feasting on catfish po-boys — notice a theme? — and doing some people watching.

I owe a special thanks to my friend Mark Lauinger in Tulsa for providing the tickets in a prime location.

The Noodlers announced the game would start at 9:05, but it would be played as a 7-inning game to keep it from running into the early morning hours. Fireworks were scheduled at the conclusion.

I won’t give a play-by-play of the game except to say that neither team scored for the first seven innings. So it went into “extra innings” where a player was placed on second base to start each extra inning at bat.

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Tulsa Noodlers Ryan Noda greeted with Gatorade shower after hitting game winner.

“Free baseball!” Ed yelled, his theme whenever a game goes into extra innings. We won’t debate the merits of the free base runner in extras.

The Noodlers’ Ryan Noda won it in the bottom of the eighth when he crushed a 3-run home run over the center field fence with two outs. The home team celebrated with a Gatorade shower for its hero of the moment.

Our reward was the late-night fireworks show, although it was 11:50 pm before they actually lit the fuse. I’m sure the booming fireworks woke every sleeping person in downtown hotels and apartments.

On Saturday morning, we made a couple of stops on the way out of town. We stopped at the Woody Guthrie museum so Ed could pick up a T-shirt. He ended up with a “This Machine Kills Fascists” sticker instead.

Then we stopped at Tulsa’s Gathering Place and were impressed by the awesome park. I told Ed it reminded me of a zoo without the animals. He pointed out that there seemed to be a playground around every curve of the walking trail.

We topped off a spectacular Road Trip 2021 with a final stop at the Wellston Butcher Stand on the way back to OKC.  As you can tell, we walked a gastronomic tightrope on this trip without a bib or the cardiac unit standing by.

Let’s do it again next year.

Maybe the Drillers could change their names to the Harvesters for a weekend and we all hit the park in John Deere green.

I’m down with that.

A Vintage coffee shop idea for the 2020s

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Ed Godfrey enjoying his newspaper at a local coffee shop this past Spring

My friend Ed Godfrey may look like he hit his prime as a Stigler High School football star back in the 1970s, but he’s really a guy full of ideas for the 2020s

Ed and I like to meet in coffee shops across the OKC metro and solve the world’s problems over a cup of Joe.

Ed takes his coffee black, thank you very much.

Anyway, we were sitting in a local bagel place last week talking about a new family-owned coffee shop some friends of mine recently launched in Bethany. It’s called MentaliTEA and Coffee. The owners are Steve and Lisa Buck and their daughter Avery.

I had already sampled the Bucks’ new shop, and Ed wanted to know what it offered.

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MentaliTEA and Coffee

I responded that it offered a relaxing setting with great spots for conversation, along with the usual coffee shop menu of drip coffees, various espresso drinks, teas and pastries. It even offers hot biscuits.

Ed thought about that for a few seconds.

“I think we ought to open up our own coffee shop,” he finally said. “We’ll call it Vintage Coffee. No espresso machine. No fancy pastries. Donuts only.”

I laughed at the thought of a straight coffee-only coffee shop run by a couple of old school geezers.

“We’re going to offer only Folgers, Maxwell House and Sanka, which was my father’s favorite coffee,” Ed continued. “It’s like a step back in time.”

SankaHe was rolling now. It would be located not in the heart of the metro, but in a rural community where they might still appreciate coffee out of a can the way their fathers and grandfathers drank it

“We don’t need any baristas, either,” he said. “Pour it into a cup and stir it up.”

I was already seeing Formica countertops.

Ed also is the guy who had the excellent idea to connect community events across Oklahoma like the Rush Springs Watermelon Festival with the Oklahoma City Dodgers baseball team.

We haven’t seen any watermelon seed-spitting contests yet as between-inning entertainment, but it could happen.

Ed’s already working on outreach for his coffee shop concept.

He knows that I’ve worked for years with the Love’s Entrepreneur’s Cup collegiate business plan competition. It’s an event in which teams of students from college campuses across Oklahoma pitch innovative ideas to panels of judges with thousands of dollars of cash prizes on the line.

“Maybe one of those college teams could take this idea and win the Love’s Cup,” Ed said.

It could happen.

I’m officially on the Tulsa Noodlers bandwagon

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I’m loading up on cold, juicy watermelon at the Rush Springs Watermelon Festival back in 2016

Five years ago this summer, my daughter and I took a short road trip down to Southwest Oklahoma to experience the famous Rush Springs Watermelon Festival.

We had a blast. The crowd was huge, the watermelon cold and delicious. We saw humongous melons that were entered in a beauty contest. We wandered through dozens of flea-market style booths and witnessed a seed spitting contest that was open to all comers.

A few days later, I attended an Oklahoma City Dodgers baseball game with my friend, Ed Godfrey, and told him all about the wonders of the Watermelon Festival.

As we watched one of the fan contests the Dodgers roll out nightly for its between innings entertainment — as do most minor league teams — Ed suddenly had an idea.

Why don’t the Dodgers incorporate the Watermelon Festival into the team’s between innings entertainment, he asked.

Before long, Ed was envisioning a marketing tie-in that included a seed-spitting contest for Dodgers fans while promoting Rush Springs and the Festival.

Ed was right on the mark. The Dodgers are missing a huge opportunity by not teaming up with a Rush Springs Watermelon Festival or any of the dozens of festivals around the state that celebrate everything from peaches to cowchips to Woody Guthrie.

Turns out, Ed’s opining has turned into prophesy.

We learned this afternoon that the Tulsa Drillers are celebrating Oklahoma’s reputation as a “noodling” paradise for a weekend series August 12-15.

The Drillers are the Double A affiliate of the Los Angeles Dodgers and will actually take the field as the Tulsa Noodlers during their Noodling Weekend, complete with special-for-the occasion uniforms.

For those who are unfamiliar with the term, Noodling is the fine art of fishing for catfish with your hands. As the Outdoors Editor of The Oklahoman, Ed recently featured an Oklahoma family that makes its living as noodling guides.

Noodlers.Naturally, the Drillers are selling custom Noodlers caps and T-Shirts to mark the occasion.

Ed was among the first in line for the merchandise.

“My Tulsa Noodlers cap has been ordered,” he told me this afternoon.

We’re even planning a road trip to see the Tulsa Noodlers in action next month.

Calling all fans of hillbilly handfishing. There’s still plenty of room on the Noodlers bandwagon.

Fun at the ol’ ballyard — life returns to ‘normal’

Panoramic shot of Chickasaw Bricktown Ballpark on 2021 Opening Night

Life as we knew it returned on Thursday, May 13. The Oklahoma City Dodgers opened the home portion of their 2021 season at the Chickasaw Bricktown Ballpark.

My friend Casey Harness, a long-time season ticket holder, called me early in the afternoon and said he had an extra ticket with my name on it. I cleared it with the home office and agreed to join him at the park about 6:30 p.m.

Masks were optional, as it turned out.

Although the Dodgers lost the game (as they did all but one of their six season-opening road games), it was a special night. Seating was limited and spaced out, but the crowd of about 5,000 still brought enthusiasm and noise.

Here are the top 10 things that made it an awesome night for me:

FREEDOM: The Centers for Disease Control announced early Thursday that Americans like me who are fully vaccinated for the COVID-19 virus can shed their masks outdoors,  as well as in most indoor situations. I was conflicted upon first arriving at the ballpark. I wore my mask as I entered – as did about say, 30 percent of the people I saw – then took it off after entering the club level food area where I met Casey. I put the mask back on briefly as I waited in line for food, but then took it off and never wore it again the rest of the night.

FRIENDSHIP: On my left sat Casey Harness, my host who invited me to sit in his seats with him. Casey and I worked together at i2E, Inc., beginning in 2009 and have remained friends for over a decade.  On my right sat Ed Godfrey, a long time friend and colleague at The Oklahoman who was actually at the game to write an opening night fan experience story.

WEATHER: It was a spectacular night for baseball with clear skies and warm afternoon that cooled off after dark into a night that could still be enjoyed without any sort of jacket. The only thing missing was a giant full moon rise in the east.

CONVERSATION: One of the great things about watching a baseball game in person is that the pace is conversation friendly. Casey, Ed and I tackled all sorts of problems last night, including the OKC Thunder’s ongoing tanking dilemma. And the new largely unpopular baseball rules that put a man on second to start play in each extra inning. Oh, and the extreme defensive positioning that plagues all of baseball these days.

BALLPARK EATS: The tickets that Casey has come with unlimited food service, so our group sampled grilled burgers, chicken breast sandwiches, chicken strips, peanuts, M&Ms, beer, water and even a hot cup of coffee late in the game when there was a hint of a chill in the air.

FUN AT THE OL’ BALLYARD: The Dodgers have a fun bit between innings late in the game where fans dance (mostly) badly and cameras broadcast their (lack of) talent on the giant hi-def scoreboard screen. There were the usual kids dancing wildly, girls and then a couple of 20-something guys who suddenly ripped off their T-shirts like they were World Wide Wrestling contestants. Laughter erupted throughout the stands. Later, I spotted the shirtless guys sitting behind the first base dugout and giving the umpires the business. Must have been dollar beer night.

PREDICTIONS: The Sacramento River Cats – our foes for the night – had the bases full at one point with two outs. I offhandedly predicted a “weak ground ball to second” to end the inning. The batter ripped a hard ground shot just to the right of second, and the Dodgers’ second basemen made a great stop, got up and threw him out to end the inning. I took credit for calling it, of course.

HIGH-TECH: As far as I can tell, Dodgers tickets now are all digital and sent to your phone, which are then scanned when you enter the front gate. I put my ticket in my iPhone’s electronic wallet, then scanned the URL code at the entrance. It worked great. But have the folks still carrying flip phones been left behind?

FIREWORKS: The opening night game was followed by a spectacular opening night fireworks show that was incredibly loud. There are two hotels located just over the left field fence. The game ended about 10:30 p.m. Can you imagine the unexpected jolt that sleeping patrons received? Followed by angry calls to the front desk, I’m sure.

DO IT AGAIN: There’s not much time to wallow in self-pity after a baseball loss. Teams routinely play every night during a homestand, and this year teams are playing the same opponent six straight to cut down on travel during the pandemic. They do get Wednesdays off this season. Anyway, the Dodgers and River Cats are back at it again tonight. I’ll catch this one on the radio.