The Lost Legends of Childhood

Today’s guest post is brought to us by frequent commenter Brad.

My first year of collecting baseball cards was 1991.  Nothing in my life at that time beat the thrill I got when opening a pack.  Ken Griffey, Jr?  Jose Canseco (don’t laugh), dare I say it…OZZIE!?!?  There was no telling what joy awaited me on my monthly trip to Triple Play Cards and Comics.  Granted, I usually walked away with Wally Joyner or Bob Welch, but the thrill of anticipation was enough to keep me coming back.  One day, amid the usual group of Rob Deers and Kent Hrbeks, I got a bright yellow card.

CHIPPER JONES  1ST ROUND DRAFT PICK

I was curious.  Who was this Chipper Jones?  Why did he get a yellow card?  I needed to know more, yet, in this pre-Internet era, I lacked the means to do so.  All I knew about Chipper was that he appeared to have been birthed by the sun.  For a nine year old, that was enough.  He settled in right under Ozzie and on top of Ken Griffey, Jr. in my pantheon.

As the years went on, I worried about Chipper.  What had happened to him?  I didn’t understand the concept of minor league baseball, so I figured that he and fellow yellow card honoree Todd Van Poppel were just an invention of the SCORE baseball card company, superheroes along the lines of the Flash or Superman designed to spruce up a set that was reduced to taking a picture of Bob Welch’s fingers.  We didn’t have cable or the Internet, so my sports knowledge was limited to the Commercial Appeal box scores.

In 1995, a CJones started appearing at 3rd for the Braves instead of the great Terry Pendleton.  Could it be?  I didn’t know for sure until I tuned into the 1995 World Series.  There he was!  He was a little bigger than the stringbean on the card, yet he was still a fresh-faced rookie phenom who was ready to lead the Braves dynasty, well…forever, in my mind.  What 14 year old thinks about endings?

I’ve kept a strange attachment to Chipper over the years.  I was confused when Andruw Jones supplanted him as the phenom in residence in ’96.  I rejoiced when he would disposed of the Mets in dramatic fashion in 99, sure that his MVP award was a sign of future greatness, just as the future held great promise for me.  His resurgence in 2008 meant that my physical peak was far from over, despite what my body was beginning to tell me.  His knee injury in 2010 had me panicked.  If it was time for Chipper Jones to retire, I was….old.

But he came back!  2011 wasn’t the greatest year for Chipper, but he was still a formidable player, an important part of a team that was in the hunt until the end.  My youth survived!

This spring, Chipper announced that this will be his last season.  He’s 40, and he just doesn’t have the energy to make it through much more baseball.  It is inescapable.  He is old.  And so am I.

Did you collect things when you were young? What are the things that remind you that you’re getting old?