In the spring of ’87, as my Topeka Drive elementary career was winding down, I took stock of my days. There were small changes. Evan, the curly red-headed boy, wanted a girlfriend. A couple of my friends were pairing off with cute girls, talking to them instead of playing after school handball with me. We were prepping for our graduation dance.
And all I wanted was to complete my ’87 Topps baseball card collection. The cards were beautiful with wood-grained borders and two Pete Roses.
The whole set screamed ‘investment potential’ and I put all of my weekly allowance, my school lunch money, and my Easter money toward the set. The stars got a place in my album which I took to school each day so I could trade my duplicates. By late April, I completed the base 792 card set.
Each 40 cent pack also included a bright red insert with a special offer. If you collected six inserts and filled out the backs of each one, you could send them in with a check for $1 and get one of six special all-star glossy sets. I waited until I had 36 insert cards and I painstakingly filled out each one with my name, address, and age. I saved my allowance for three weeks and gave dad six dollars for a check and put my order in the mailbox.
I numbered the calendar 42-1 for the obligatory six weeks’ delivery time. I started checking the mail the next day. As soon as I got home, I bolted from the car, said a prayer, and tore open the mailbox. Dejected, I went inside and drew an ‘X’ through the date, 41 days to go.
I spent most of each school day looking forward to checking the mail, telling myself that the cards probably weren’t there, but hoping and praying nonetheless. Sometimes, when the mail was late, I checked it each time I heard a car squeaky enough to be the mail truck drive by. On Saturdays, I sat on the curb and waited or played catch in the front yard or walked to the corner to see how many houses down the mail truck was, certain that if the mailman saw me waiting, he would be sure to give me the package.
And each day, I put an X on the calendar. Each X meant two things: the odds were even better that I’d get the cards the next day and the next day would pass even slower.
And one day in late June I woke up to four days left on the calendar, and it was time to graduate from sixth grade. I wore a tie for the first time, put on shiny gray pants, and danced with Jenny, Lisa, and my Mom. We went to Sizzler steakhouse for lunch and I ate four pieces of cheesebread.
I got home and ran inside to tear off my fancy clothes. I came back out to the living room and there it was, sitting on top of a pile of mail. I jumped for the box and tore it open. Six glossy, ten-card sets. I cheered and showed them to everyone. Jake started whining and I ran to my room to put them with the other set.
Dad came back a few minutes later and suggested I give Jake a few of my new cards. It was my turn to whine. I did the work. I filled out the insert cards and sent them off and I waited for six weeks. But dad didn’t relent. I gave a set to Jake and he gave me a dollar – in quarters and nickels and five pennies. He also gave me the insert card from the one pack of cards he had bought that year.
Two weeks ago, Zach and I started watching He-Man on Netflix.
He loved Battle Cat and clearly wanted some of the toys, so I ordered them for him. And the wait began.
Each day for four excruciating days, I came home and asked my wife if a package came and each day she said no, I knew that the odds were even better that they would come the next day. And then, as I was getting ready to come home from work, I received a text, “There’s more than me and Zach waiting for you at home!” I rushed home:
The complete 1987 Topps set is now worth $6. I still have the set. And one extra card.