It all started when I was a kid.
I was born in Brooklyn, NY and raised in New Jersey. My favorite sports teams are the Mets, NY Giants, Red Sox, and Capitals. I figure that if your favorite team is a NL team then you should have an AL team to root for and vice verse. After spending the Jimmy Carter years in Miami my family settled in the Washington, DC suburbs in Virginia. Since 2008 I have been calling Washington, DC home and I am nine stops on Metro’s Green Line from National’s Park and five from the home of the Washington Capitals and Wizards. The Mid Atlantic is actually a pretty good place to be a baseball fan as it is home to 2 MLB teams and quite a few minor league and college teams.
As a kid growing up in New Jersey I was always attracted to bubble gum cards. I never really liked the bubble gum but the cards were small pieces of pop art wrapped in wax paper. I think the first cards I may have bought were 1971 baseball cards. I have a vague recollection of paying a dime to get a pack of 10 cards. Even though I did not care much for the gum I remember just how great it smelled.
It was the 1975 season that my brother Joe and I decided to pool our meager resources to attempt to collect the entire 660 card set. I can remember that baseball card collecting was at its pinnacle that year on our cul de sac in the Garden State. There was fierce competition from the other kids in the neighborhood as to who will be first to complete the set. If memory serves me right we never did collect all of the cards that year and those that we did were sold several years later at a baseball card auction. After the 1975 season my brother’s interest in bubble gum cards came to a conclusion and while I still collected sports and non sports cards I was never able to match that magical summer of ’75 when we nearly had all the cards. I remember we would “flip” the cards which was more of a game of matching the colors in the card’s lettering as opposed to physically flipping them. Variations of the rules were made possible if you “called it”. As Jerry Seinfeld once said nearly anything is possible as long as you “called it”.
My interest in sports dwindled a good deal during my teen years in Miami as I discovered the Sex Pistols, KISS, Rush, Cheap Trick, and the Ramones. I bought a guitar and took guitar classes as an elective in high school and before too long I was doing my best to mimic Ace Frehley and Johnny Ramone. During these years I would buy a few packs of sports and non sports cards just to see what they looked like and then stash them away in a shoe box. I can remember the soft drink cups at our local convenience store Top Banana containing stamps of NHL players which I thought was odd in Miami.
After the family moved to Virginia during my high school senior year I took a job at a snack bar located in the local bowling alley which again is strange because I do not like bowling. It was October of 1981 when Jerry who owned the barber shop a few doors down invited a bunch of people to watch the World Series in his shop. I was sold on the idea when I was told there would be beer there. I can remember being caught up in the drama of watching a young Mexican by the name of Fernando Valenzuela pitch. After that game I found myself going to 7-11s to buy baseball cards and the latest issue of the Sporting News. The local Montgomery Ward store sublet retail space to a coin and stamp dealer who had a box full of 1981 Topps baseball cards on the counter which I would dig through to get the last remaining cards I needed and sold plastic sheets to hold the cards in. At this time to my shock, surprise, (and delight) I learned that there were a few shops nearby that sold nothing but sports trading cards. I would hop on the bus and spending half the day going to and returning the card shop to spend my self imposed limit of $10. In a few short months I went from having almost no interest in the game to traveling to NYC to see the Mets home opener.
During one of my visits to a card shop I saw a flier for a card show in Silver Spring, MD. It was there that I auctioned off the 1975 Topps baseball cards that my brother and I collected in our childhood home in Piscataway, NJ. I think I got $7 and change for the lot. After all the flipping and wrapping rubber bands around them I am sure they were pretty beat up. Thirty five years later I still have fond and vivid memories which I reflect on often of my Dad dropping me off at the Pentagon Metro station and taking the Red Line through a lesser affluent section of North East Washington, DC past the warehouses covered in “Cool Disco Dan” graffiti.
Towards the end of my senior year I started working for the Washington Post overnight stuffing newspapers. Initially it was just on weekends but after graduation it was 3-5 nights a week. I assumed a vampire’s lifestyle and would stay up late even on my nights off and work on my ever growing baseball card collection and listen to the Washington, DC rock station DC101. I started calling in to tell them that their radio station stunk and that they should play Minor Threat and the Ramones. Sean Donahue AKA Rusty Brainpan was the overnight jock and he agreed that the station sucked but the on air staff were told what to play. After calling a few times he told me that he was the DJ voice on the Ramones Do Your Remember Rock and Roll Radio. I suddenly had the hugest respect for the man. Sean’s dad was a pioneer in top 40 radio and knew Phil Spector who produced the record. After a few more months of calling in I asked if I would visit the station and that began many regular visits to DC101 in the wee hours of the AM.
One of Sean’s best buddies at the station and a huge baseball fan was Ernie Kyger AKA Ernie The Kay which Sean jokingly referred to as “Ernie DK” being as I was a Dead Kennedys fan. One day Ernie told me that the last time the Ramones were in town Johnny asked me to bring him to a baseball card shop. Initially I thought I was being played with. After checking my Casio calendar watch to see if it was April first or not Ernie convinced me that this was not another boss jock gag. Sometime after this Sean and Ernie agreed to MC a Ramones show at a club called the Wax Museum in Washington, DC and promised to get me a backstage pass. After the opening act played Sean and Ernie took the stage to introduce the Ramones but because DC101 never played them the audience made it abruptly clear what they thought of them. After the band played Sean and Ernie had no trouble getting me backstage and I got a once in a lifetime opportunity to meet my idols and talk baseball cards with Johnny. It was 1984 and the national card collector’s convention was in New Jersey. Johnny told me what day he would be there but it was such a large crowd that I was not able to find him. Imagine, talking baseball cards with Johnny Ramone. Still seems surreal after all these years.
Maybe six months or a year later the Ramones were back in town.