Friday, November 5, 2010


I carry this with me in my wallet, sandwiched between my driver's license and my Social Security card: a 1970 Topps Pilots rookie card. It's been with me for decades now, as the creases and tears will attest.

1970 was the first year in which I bought baseball cards. I was a couple of steps out of toddlerhood in 1969, and found myself swept up in the amazing saga of the soon-to-be-champion Mets. This was not an uncommon affliction in my Long Island neighborhood, but I caught a particularly persistent strain.

So every summer Sunday after church in 1970 we went to the local stationery store to pick up a copy of the New York Times, and I was allowed to buy two packs of cards. Wax, usually, but I could sometimes barter a bit of good behavior into a cello here and a rack pack there.

Of course, pulling a Mets card was a visceral thrill, be it Al Weis, Tom Seaver, or Bobby Pfeil. But I began to take particular note of the Pilots cards. It seemed odd that cards were being produced for a team that no longer existed.

These Pilots cards soon developed a secondary, but still special, place in my heart. I was far too young at the time to know what it meant to be ephemeral, and yet I think in a way I did.

As I grew older, the Pilots rookie card became increasingly totemic to me. I learned that one of the featured players, Miguel Fuentes, had died at the age of 23 in early 1970. The eight September games he pitched for the 1969 Pilots were the sum total of a career cut short by tragedy. An ephemeral career. An ephemeral life.

So now I carry with me the cards of my identity. My driver's license will tell you my height, weight, eye color, and date of birth; my Social Security card holds the map of my history as a son and a husband and a father.

But I suspect that the 1970 Pilots rookie card says more about me than both of those documents combined...

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