As I mentioned briefly in a previous post, Mark Grace was my first true player collection. Growing up in the middle of Texas, I didn't really have a hometown team. The Angels were my favorite team because during summer vacation my family would drive out to California and my grandfather would always take me to an Angel game. Nowadays, not having a hometown team means nothing because you have MLB Extra Innings and a billion different sports networks showing games.
In 1988, if you wanted to see baseball on a regular basis you were watching WGN or TBS and no offense to the Braves fans out there, but I absolutely hated the Braves and their announcers. But more than that, even at the age of 10 I was a man of principles and I couldn't stand the fact that TBS started all their shows at 5 after the hour. Start your friggin' show at 1:00, not 1:05.
Although I had been collecting some before 1988, this was definitely the year that I became more and more invested. I found a local card shop to go to, I'd do more than simply buy random packs, and I had a number of friends who were collecting and trading. The summer hadn't gotten too far along before I had a favorite player to watch everyday. Mark Eugene Grace. Dawson, Sandberg, Dunston all of them were cool, but there was something about a young Mark Grace that just drew me in. It didn't hurt that Harry Caray could actually pronounce his name without stumbling over it and turning it into the name that sounded like a small European country.
From the bginning, I was a completist. I started to fill my binder up with multiple cards from 1988. I had 4 Rated Rookies, about a dozen Fleer Major League Prospects cards with Darin Jackson stealing some spotlight. I'm not sure when I got the next couple of cards or even how I obtained them, but they quickly moved to the top of page 1 in the binder.
That's right, not one but two Mark Grace Iowa Cubs cards. These cards were fascinating to me. I had a very vague understanding of minor league baseball and even less of an understanding of legitimate card companies and what a minor league issued card would be. To me these were priceless. No one else had them when we would flip through each other's binders and boxes looking for cards to trade.
After coming in second in the Rookie of the Year voting, (Screw you Chris Sabo!) Grace quickly became a hobby darling and my friends were always on the look out for Grace cards and my collection was soon rivaled by many of my friends, but not a single one could lay claim to a Mark Grace Iowa Cubs card.
So why does this card define me?
1. Mark Grace was my first true player collections and one of the reasons I fell in love with collecting baseball cards. There was something about the way he played that excited me and following the Cubs NL East championship in 1989, I was forever a fan of this guy.
2. These cards were special and unique in a time when, well...cards weren't very special and unique. I'd rather not deal with all of the artificial scarcity and numerous parallels that are so popular today, but I do enjoy having a rare card from time to time. In 1988, these cards absolutely qualified as special, unique, and rare. I was the envy of my friends, even if I wasn't able to spend as much money or have a father buying me any of the cards I wanted at the local card shop.
I'm proud to say I still have that first player collection binder and my Grace cards are still stuck to the inside of the binder pages, but I wouldn't have it any other way. The Grace player collection still lives, even if I haven't added a card in a dozen years.
My Jim Kaat Statue
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