Cherished mementos part of the game
Every baseball fan has a favorite collectible keepsake
Brian Michael is a Phillies fan in Washington whose prized possessions include a few personalized Mike Schmidt-signed baseballs, a rare Steve Carlton ball signed "Lefty," and one autographed by Willie Mays. But Michael's keeper of all keepers is a Phillies Phanatic growth chart signed by the inimitable mascot itself.
"Fortunately, since the green guy is so tall," he said, "I've been able to measure up against it for my entire life and thus still cherish it even in my late 20s."
Ask any baseball fan to tell you about an all-time favorite collectible, and the answer will come to him or her faster than the emphatic nod of a bobblehead on your desk. It may have been a trinket from a first professional game you ever attended, it may have been a ticket stub from a game that meant everything, or it may have been any of a thousand reasons that made a certain collectible so valuable to you.
The MLB.com Shop has just launched a big Collectibles Sale, with a chance to save big on an endless array of items ranging from a McFarlane action figure of Hank Aaron portraying the swing that broke Babe Ruth's record to a Ruth 1927 lithograph to a two-pack of Royals Pocket Plates. To help celebrate the occasion of finding some really one-of-a-kind items, MLB.com asked fans for their best collectibles ever.
"As the youngest of three boys, I've spent my entire life looking up to and tagging along with my two older brothers," said Samuel Carbajal of San Diego. "My oldest brother's response was usually avoidance. So on the day I found myself in his car on the way to the stadium, I truly considered myself to be the luckiest kid alive. The seats were high, the seats were far, but sitting in the upper tank unsheltered by the weather was fine by me as long as I was with my older brother. We cheered and we clapped, we chanted and laughed, he even bought me one of those expensive frozen lemonades.
"On our way out of the park that night, I saw it: a San Diego Padres Palmahawk, not much unlike its Atlanta counterpart. I assume he must have seen my excitement even while I was trying to play it cool, and after another undisclosed amount of money -- I had my first souvenir. I don't remember who the Padres played that night, I don't remember who won, I don't even know what year it was.
"One thing is for sure: As long as there is baseball, I will have a way to spend time with my oldest brother, and the proof is in the Palmahawk."
Caryn Rose of New York said the "holy grail" for her was a Mets Home Run Apple Clock.
"I had never actually seen it, only heard it existed from my boyfriend, and the day I saw one sitting at Omar Minaya's elbow during a TV interview, I didn't hear a word he said. I just fixated on the clock," Rose wrote in an e-mail to MLB.com. "Apparently, they were a season-ticket holder giveaway years ago. I finally found it on eBay and paid more for it than I should have -- but still less than it usually sells for.
"I love it because it is completely unique to the Mets. This isn't some generic baseball thing they put a Mets logo on, because it is completely dorky (it's 'the home run apple,' which is dorky the way the bullpen car was dorky), and because it is like having a little piece of Shea Stadium at home."
It doesn't go up and down like the real apple, but Rose said she doesn't mind.
"That," she said, "would almost be too much."
White Sox fan Joel Kweskin sent MLB.com this e-mail from his home in Charlotte:
"Probably my favorite MLB 'collectibles' are the figurines of players from my 'yute,' as Joe Pesci, referred to it in 'My Cousin Vinny.' The name of the manufacturer escapes me, but these were the action figures of such icons of the '50s and '60s as Warren Spahn, Ted Williams, Nellie Fox, Luis Aparicio and Stan Musial. Which, as it so happens, are the ones I own. These figurines were, in my estimation, superior in their lifelike qualities and resemblance to anything that has succeeded them through the years. They were in action poses, simulating typical movement of these players specifically: Willie Mays making his basket catch, Yogi Berra awaiting a popup behind home plate, Musial in his coiled batting stance, Fox about to make a throw from second to first. I love these pieces as they harken back to a 'sweeter' time during my love for the game."
John Callahan, a Braves fan now attending college, was unable to pick just one favorite collectible. It's a two-way tie, and he might have ordered the first one from the MLB.com Shop, if only this site had existed when the Braves won their last world championship.
"I was really excited that the Braves won the World Series in 1995, and I bought a commemorative pennant," Callahan said. "It probably drained most of my 8-year-old funds, but it was worth it. It hung prominently in my room for years.
"Another important one to me is a commemorative Chipper Jones ball from a Wheaties box. Even though I didn't understand baseball very well, I knew Chipper should have won the Rookie of the Year over Hideo Nomo. I guess I got the ball in solidarity for my favorite player."
Barbara Bradfield is another Braves fan who now lives in Sacramento and just turned 60 on Saturday. She said her favorite thing is a baseball that is stamped with the names of the full Atlanta roster during those Tomahawk Chopping glory days.
"I got the ball in 1996," she said. "I was living in South Carolina at the time and bowled a lot. Anyway, there was a baseball league and we all went to see the Braves. It turned out that it was my youngest daughter Tammy's 16th birthday, and she is a big Chipper Jones fan.
"When we got there, we went to the game and it was the first time either of us had been to one. The next day, we went to the field early and she went to the auto zone and she got a hug from Javier Lopez and Andruw Jones. To our dismay, Chipper wouldn't come sign autographs, but that is a day that she and I will never forget.
"We are still huge Braves fans even though we don't agree with all the trading that they do and the not re-signing of certain players. Tammy still reminds me of that time and how much fun we had."
Stephanie Hancock of McLean, Va., said she holds on dearly to "Nationals catcher Jesus Flores' fourth home-run ball. It was his final home run of his rookie season and also the last he would hit at RFK stadium. He was nice enough to sign it for me. It will always be one of my favorite memories."
Hey, Cleveland fans: This might be a good omen for you. Kristen Hudak of Johnstown, Pa., said her favorite collectible might just be a stack of old photographs of the 1948 Indians -- the last World Series champs in franchise history.
"My grandmother was about my age, and she loved baseball as much as I do," Hudak said. "She used to get to games early to try to get autographs and pictures. She just gave them to me recently and lit up recalling her baseball experiences that summer. Ironically, there's an up-close photo in there of Ray Boone, one of her favorite players. That was great for me, as a Nats fan, because Bob Boone is in our front office and [his son] Aaron is now on our team. It's like the game really does bind generations together."
Shawna Barr of Tulsa is a regular on the MLB.com Fan Forum boards and is still waiting to get to her first Major League game. But she has had no problem coming up with baseball collectibles over the years and had a hard time settling on just one.
"If I had to choose, it would be a tie between a miniature replica of a Yankee batting helmet that my Dad got me for Christmas or a Yankee Christmas ornament that I got in 2005 from my ex-boyfriend," Barr said. "When we broke up, I gave him everything that he ever bought me except that ornament. I told him that I lost it.
"The ornament is of Hideki Matsui, Derek Jeter and Alex Rodriguez all standing together with their gloves on. I really liked that one. They are my three favorite players. Matsui is my ultimate player though. I love him! The fact that my ex searched all over for that ornament really meant a lot to me. It doesn't get any better than that -- unless they were actually under my tree!"
Actual players generally won't make it into this Collectibles Sale at the MLB.com Shop. But you never know when you'll find a life-size Phillies Phanatic.
Mark Newman is enterprise editor for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.