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Retail Therapy: A story of my recent obsession with Mariners rookies baseball cards

MLB The Show and ROOT rebroadcasts of games that happened before I was born can only go so far.

Cincinnati Reds v Philadelphia Phillies Photo by Hunter Martin/Getty Images

Almost on a daily basis I will think to myself what the season would look like right now:

“Is the young talent developing nicely?”

“Has Dee Gordon staked down his spot as the team’s full time DH yet?”

“Is Tim Lopes about to secure his second straight AL Player of the Month award?”

Like I’m sure it is for you, this is sad for me. And while Tim Lopes will certainly have his fair share of MVP awards in the near future, it’s disappointing that I have had to wait this long to see his first.

So what do I do? Sit in sorrow? Simulate season upon season with the M’s in MLB The Show where I trade everyone but Tim until he becomes the lone All-Star on the roster? (with an albeit less than stellar .600 OPS)

At this point I’ve done the latter too many times, so I now have turned to baseball cards.

In the drawer next to me I have 14 Tim Lopes rookie cards which act as a very small piece of a collection of cardboard I have spent a bigger sum of money than I’d like to admit to.

(My parents are going to hate this article.)

I have been attempting to run circles around this for weeks now, but it has become more difficult as the quarantine has worn on. A few times a week, a nondescript package will arrive for me in the mail; maybe just an envelope, but sometimes a larger orange-yellow envelope with bubble wrap in tow.

“Another baseball card, Nat?” my Dad will remark like clockwork, as I scurry upstairs to see whatever piece of plastic-coated cardboard I have decided to indulge myself in.

Having completed my Gollum-like ritual of examining the precious and satisfied with my purchase, I will come down the stairs as my mom, the ultimate peacekeeper, will be trying to explain to my dad: “It’s his last one, Marty, it’s okay!” [Narrator: It would not, in fact, be his last one.]

This prompts my dad to launch into a long, yet incredibly accurate, spiel about how I am on the verge of moving out for college, and how the little money that I have should be saved for the copious amounts of ramen that I will soon need to be buying.

I hate to admit it, but my smug father could not be more correct. Depending on when this whole pandemic thing shakes out, in a matter of weeks or months I could find myself on the curb of an unfamiliar city with half of my total assets comprised of a piece of thick cardstock with a scrap of Kyle Lewis’ jersey spliced within it.

When I arrive in said new place, who knows when I will be able to find a job? With an army of unemployed service professionals across America, who will have room on their increasingly lean staff for a seventeen-year-old boy who won’t have a high school diploma for *checks watch* three more weeks?

Now that my self-imposed impending doom as been well documented, I’m sure at this point you’re wondering something along the lines of, “How could such a bright young man arrive here? Plagued by a rampant addiction to a few flimsy pieces of cardboard and continually choosing the thing that will only lead to a bigger pitfall, completely indulging in the hedonistic lifestyle that he has created for himself?”

I miss baseball, that’s why.

Every time I get sad about it, I can just open my desk drawer and all of my professional athlete best friends are there, smiling and waving back at me. Who wouldn’t want fourteen baseball cards adorned with Tim’s beautiful face and a fun anecdote on the back about his pinch walk off hit against the Orioles? (still waiting for the ROOT replay of this gem of a game)

If Tim Lopes isn’t your thing, maybe you’re a Shed Long enthusiast? Among 20 rookie cards, my drawer has its first-ever minor league card autograph courtesy of Shedric Bernard and a 2020 autograph card too (in the aforementioned ‘Tim Lopes’ game Shed would also go three-for-three, coming a triple short of the cycle).

The collection continues with autographs from the likes of Justus Sheffield, Isaiah Campbell, a piece of Yusei Kikuchi’s jersey, and the crown jewel of my collection, a pair of K-Lew autographs with the aforementioned shred of game-worn jersey.

Yet does any of this really help?

Not really.

Baseball is still gone and in the process of writing this short article I have watched fourteen different 2019 Mariners highlight videos.

This entire rabbit hole that I have gone down is all so silly, but that’s why I love baseball. I love a clutch hit from a team’s third utility infielder that catapults him to being my favorite player because I remember exactly where I was when I watched that game. The agony of seeing Austin Adams writhing on the ground in pain is all tied up with the elation of watching Shed trot around the bases after hitting a moonshot that rivaled Griffey’s. It’s why I love the M’s and why I believe DorkTown is being so well received right now, because it does such a fantastic job at capturing the agony and ecstasy of being a Mariners fan, and all the small victories we as fans have been forced to celebrate over the long losing years.

This will likely be one of the scariest and most stressful times that we will go through as a country. Compounding that for me: I am just moments away from entering one of the scariest parts of my life so far, packing up and leaving home to start my adult life.

Yet it all goes away when hear the crinkle of plastic as I rip the cover away from a fresh pack of cards, or win an auction on eBay for a Dee Gordon rookie card. I’m no longer a kid just waiting to be pushed into the world of adulthood amidst a global pandemic.

Instead, when I open the drawer in my desk I’m the four-year-old kid with still just a little bit of baby fat who would sit of the carpet of the living room, proudly showing my grandma my baseball card collection which I had organized by team in the binder that she had brought me earlier that day.

I would beam with happiness and excitement and and she would beam back, filled to the brim with pride, happy that she had made my week. I’d get up and give her the biggest hug I could muster, my short little arms not even making it halfway around her.

I’d return to my binder of cards all laid out neatly, just flipping through the pages, stomach down with my pasty white legs sprawled out across the itchy carpet, wearing my Nationals jersey (how cool that I got to share a name with a baseball team) that had dulled from white to a light brown from a lifetime of peanut butter sandwiches, apple juice and playing in big piles of dirt.

I need baseball—we all need baseball—and I need the Mariners right now, and I can’t have them. So I have to content myself with seeing them in still life, a promise that they’ll be there waiting for us when this is all over, ready to make more memories on a meaningless game against a bad team in late September. I hope I remember this feeling when I’m broke and far from home and craving a pizza, wondering why I spent all that money on baseball cards of players who were themselves just beginning their “adult” baseball careers. I hope I remember what it felt like to run upstairs with my latest purchase, open that drawer, and be greeted by the smiling faces of the Mariners rookies, and to be able to forget for a little while about how the world is right now, and only live in it as it should be.