Winner, The Antonym Creative Non-Fiction Contest ( Subject – Toy), Octover 2021
Six must be the age I learned about regret. My best friend Jonah’s older brother, Jake, taught me. He was ten, and the coolest person I knew. That may seem like a silly thing for a six-year-old to think, but there’s nobody else I would have traded that card to.
By the time I was six, I already had over a thousand baseball cards. I used to watch highlights of the games on ESPN and when they would show a big home run or strike out, I would search through my collection for that player’s card. Then, I would memorize their stats and quote them to anyone who would listen.
Did you know that in 1995 Tony Gwynn hit .368?
My weekly chores earned me $2.50. I kept the money in a blue porcelain pot on my dresser. When the bills poked out of the top, I convinced mom or dad to drive my brother and I to Collector’s Corner. I scoured the collectibles shop, looking for packets with the highest odds of finding a valuable card. Occasionally, a four or five dollar packet would yield a card worth ten or fifteen dollars but I never dreamed of selling them. Besides, that wasn’t where I got that card.
Uncle Eric was in his early thirties but even I could tell he was just a big kid. Maybe it was his game room, and the fact that he was the only person I ever saw inside it. My brother and I spent hours playing Duck Hunt and ogling his sports memorabilia collection. He would play too, using us as an excuse to goof off and forget he was now a father to the children he inherited after he married Uncle Steven’s widow. Fortunately, for him, the games and cards my cousins ignored captivated us. Our affection was for sale and he made an offer.
He had just come back from another card show and was telling us how he’d met Sandy Koufax — every Jew’s sporting hero.
Did you know that Sandy Koufax was the first pitcher ever to win multiple Cy Young awards?
Eric opened an envelope with a card each for me and my brother. I can’t remember my brother’s card. I was too preoccupied with mine. It was an Alex Rodriguez rookie card. A freaking 1994 ‘A-Rod’ Upper Deck SP#15 Foil Card.
Did you know that A-Rod was the third eighteen-year-old shortstop in the majors since 1900?
When we got home, I called Jonah. He grabbed his Beckett price guide and squealed. Forty dollars was the most valuable card I’d ever owned. It was the most valuable card any of us owned. I heard a voice in the background and then Jonah asked if I could come over the next day.
We sat in the back, Jonah, Jake, my brother and I, our best binders open, passing around the Beckett. The negotiations stagnated until my A-Rod was brought up. There was no way that I was going to trade it, but I’d brought it along to show off.
‘Sam, the A-Rod is worth $40, right?’ Jake said.
‘Well, these five cards are worth $44.50. You’re getting the better deal.’
‘But my uncle gave it to me,’ I said, looking first to my brother and then the card. A-Rod looked back at me with a calm, almost complicit expression. He couldn’t have known when he posed for the picture that it would one day represent the most difficult decision a six-year-old had ever made.
‘Come on, Sam, there’s really nothing left to think about.’
Jake removed the card from my hands and slid over the five cards he’d offered in return. He stood up, closed his binder and walked to his room.
Did you know that A-Rod got second in the MVP race in 1996? Or that he hit .358 that year? Did you know that he was just twenty years old when he did all of that in his first full season?
Uncle Eric never found out about the trade. Whenever he asked, I would tell him that it was in a protective plastic case, prominently displayed on the shelf, as any prized possession should be. That was the worst part: every time I went over to Jonah’s house, I saw it sitting on a shelf, just as I’d told Eric.