Mon, 19 Oct 2009 20:53:00 +0000

I was the new kid. He was the cool kid. And he invited me over to his house.


I had gained access to a cool kid’s room. It had taken several years — until the summer before second grade, to be exact — but, finally, I was in. I expected a rickety bunk bed, chests filled with action figures and a life-size Power Ranger doll that said three Mighty Morphin’ catch phrases.

And that’s exactly how it was.

We climbed on the top bunk, we played with the action figures and we punched the Power Ranger in the only place second graders would punch a life-size doll. Then my friend Jonathan crawled under his bed and brought out a plastic tub. He opened the lid and, inside, I saw something I’d never seen before.

Baseball cards.

“What are they?” I asked.

“What?” he screamed. “You don’t like sports?”

I lied. I said I liked sports. Actually, I told him I loved sports — loved sport so much, in fact, that I wanted to borrow some of his baseball cards. He reached into the bottom of his tub for the cards that were ripped, bent or of Yankees, and he said, “Here, you can keep these.”

I took those 20 cards home. I studied them.

Rickey Henderson, 5-foot-10, 195 lbs, 6 HRs, 20 RBIs last season

David Cone, 6-foot-1, 190 lbs, 16 W, 5 L and a 2.94 ERA last season

I didn’t know what RBI or W stood for. I just memorized the names and numbers. They were my keys to coolness. And soon, I knew more about sports than Jonathan.

By the first day of school, I was a baseball genius. I brought some baseball cards and I talked about sports. The kids thought I was cool because I knew so much about every player.

“Hey Alvin, how many home runs did Sammy Sosa have last season?” they’d ask.

“That’s easy: 36,” I’d say.

I needed more cool points, so I started reading the newspaper and studying the box scores, which meant I was spending less time on homework. My dad told me this was useless information — that I should be learning about history and science. I listened to him. I learned about baseball history and how to throw a curveball. The kids at school were even more impressed.

I gained confidence and, soon enough, this knowledge turned into social status. I was a cool kid.

When we played four square, I set the rules: No cherry bombs, but Black Jacks were allowed.

When we played basketball, I was always a captain.

And when we traded baseball cards, we always did it in my house and I always got the better deal.

I used baseball stats to convince my friends that they were getting the better deal. I manipulated the numbers to take some cards off their hands.

But I only remember one trade.

It was February and it was raining cats, dog and dinosaurs. Jonathan and I were stuck at my house. I told him I wanted to trade cards, but he didn’t want to. So I told him, “As long as you’re at my house, you have to play.” (Apparently, I knew about leverage far before I learned about it.)

I had just bought a new deck of cards — the expensive sort, with glittery foil on the outside. But I didn’t get players I knew, so I told Jonathan he could pick any of them if he gave me his prized possession: an Albert Belle card from a Cheerios box.

Jonathan said no. I got desperate. So I grabbed the top card — it was of some crappy Yankees rookie who had no homeruns — and I told him it was going to be worth millions some day. He believed me. So we made the deal and shook on it, like we always did.

It’s been 15 years since that trade. I still remember that no-name Yankees’ rookie: Derek Jeter.