What did I learn from baseball cards? 

The bike ride to Green Hills Drugstore made me hot, even though I was wearing jeans cutoffs and a T-shirt and Keds. Nashville in the summertime was a bowl of humidity. I stepped into the store and felt a chill.

I got a Three Musketeers and a Shasta root beer and spent everything else on baseball cards. At 15 cents a pack that meant I could get four packs. The lady at the counter put it all in a paper bag.

I walked outside, sat down on the curb, opened the Shasta, and pulled out the first pack. Slipping my index finger into the seam of the waxed paper wrapper, I pulled it off and opened the pack. Then I dumped the gum into into the bag to get it out of the way. (No one ever chewed it; you couldn’t.)

I looked deeply at each card, then slipped it off the front of the stack and to the back. Then I looked at the next one:

Jim Breazeale, first base, Atlanta Braves: Already got him. Man, does he have skin problems.

Ed Brinkman, shortstop, Detroit Tigers: His batting stats are like the Great Depression. How can a guy play 15 years and hit .224?

Joe Rudi, outfielder, Oakland A’s: Those Oakland A’s are the cool guys. They are the guys you would want your big sister to date.

Then I saw it. I didn’t have this. I’d been waiting for this. That’s Gaylord Perry.

What did I learn from baseball cards?

A love of art. Look at the jumble of colored dots in the background, the black shadow sharply outlining the man in perfect profile.

Myth. He did something to the ball, they said. Was it cheating? And that name. What kind of name is Gaylord?

Statistics. 24 wins! A 1.92 ERA. Best in the league.

I went through that pack and opened another, which was irritatingly desolate: Doubles, checklists, Padres.

Third pack, first card: A saint.

What did I learn from baseball cards?

Respect. He died doing something good, that was all I really understood. The card was heroic and sad, almost eerie, with him almost entirely in shadow. He died with exactly 3,000 hits.

Diversity. Roberto Clemente was from somewhere they spoke Spanish. I couldn’t say anything in Spanish, but I could say Roberto Clemente.

I have a shoebox of old baseball cards. I opened it today, Opening Day of the 2013 season. While rummaging around I saw a face looking up at me. It was me, in a picture from 1973, looking back at myself. Shuffled among all the old ballplayers, I had been waiting there safely surrounded for all these years. I peered into my face, the way I’d stared at the cards 40 years ago.

Someday you will be older than the oldest player in the major leagues. Someday you will go to Cleveland and Oakland and places where the people speak Spanish. I could tell you to work harder at math, to learn about computers, to stop dreaming of glory. But then you wouldn’t be who you are.

One clap, two clap, three clap, forty?

By clapping more or less, you can signal to us which stories really stand out.