(Editor’s note: Bob Coldeen has been a long-distance collector pal of mine for a few years, and I have always appreciated his many stories about how he acquired his autographs as a kid, including but not limited to while serving as spring training bat boy in the 1960s. Enjoy these stories from Bob, one at a time in three installments!-Matt)
Ten-Year Treasure Trove

Growing up in Lakeland, Florida, I collected baseball cards from 1959 to 1968.  Although I cannot remember the first one I bought, I feel a special wave of nostalgia every time I see a 1959 Topps Woody Held.

I clearly recall where I bought my first baseball card. A pasty-skinned, sickly-looking man, his ample paunch covered by a worn undershirt, sold candy in his one-car garage past my backyard across the street. As an eight year old, I did not care about baseball. I wanted the gum inside a penny pack.

My first memory of watching baseball on television was with my grandfather at the end of the season when the World Series aired.  He was a White Sox fan, a former Chicago resident who still had his schoolboy notes on their early 1900 teams.

Thanks to my grandfather’s pennies, nickels and dimes, I bought more cards in 1960 and stored them in a shoe box.  When the Topps World Series cards came out that year featuring the Dodgers and White Sox in games that I had seen, I was hooked.

My collection grew the next three seasons but I was never able to buy enough cards to complete a set.  That changed when I turned twelve and mowed lawns for two and three dollars.  In that way I was able to complete the ‘64 and ‘65 sets, only to be frustrated the next two years due to the scarcity of the seventh series.

The Sporting News had an ad from Larry Fritsch for old baseball cards.  I’d send in a few dollars from lawn mowing to order mint cards from the ‘50s that I had never seen before.  When the ‘56 Mantle appeared thicker than the other cards, I nudged it and found two identical Mantles stuck together.  That cost twenty cents.   A dime each.

In 1964 my mom brought home a Tiger yearbook with thirty-nine signatures.  I believe she got every player who was in the clubhouse at the time to sign. Those were my first autographs.

Henley Field sold baseball cards at the concession stand during spring training games in 1965. That’s how I got my first autographed cards, taking cards of whoever was at the game there that day and getting them signed.  I considered an autographed baseball card to be about the coolest thing a boy could have.

The Tigers moved to Joker Marchant stadium in 1966. My mom arranged for me to the visitor’s batboy several games.  I was supposed to have been the batboy on opening day but the Mayor substituted his son instead.  However, I was there the next day with the Twins, grateful to hand bats to Harmon Killebrew and Tony Oliva.

Also that year, I started getting autographs of retired players through the mail.  One of my favorites was a personalized auto from Wahoo Sam Crawford who holds the all-time record for most triples in a major league career which likely will never be broken.

An advantage of being a batboy was access to the Tigers clubhouse, a congenial mix. Al Kaline was the undisputed star, regal.  Norm Cash was a joy to see in the batting cage, a happy-go-lucky hitting machine.  Bill Freehan was a man’s man, obviously a catcher  Gates Brown brought joy and humor with his garrulous manner while Willie Horton was a human boulder.  Denny McLain had a case of Pepsi delivered to his locker every day.  Certainly the easiest autographs I ever got.

When I gave Casey Stengel his card, he wrote his name and said, “Look how nice my handwriting is. I should write it again.”  And he did.  I once posted a pic of it on Facebook and someone replied that it was fake because the bottom writing of “Stengel” was off. However, I was using a nineteen cent Bic pen that didn’t always write smoothly.  After that, I switched to a higher quality pen, Parker.

One of my favorite memories and autographed cards is from Roger Maris Sitting next to him in the dugout, chatting leisurely, he signed my 1962 Topps with the 1961 season stats on the back using my Parker.

Another favorite is Roberto Clemente. I was so proud of that, I hung it up in a glass frame (poorly). One day I came home to see it on the floor, shattered, shards scratching the card. I kept it in a box after that.

When I went to the Oakland A’s game in 1968, I was surprised to see Joe DiMaggio there as a hitting coach.  Not having any of his cards, I bought a souvenir program for him to sign, along with some other players I did not know: Tony LaRussa, Joe Rudi, Jim Gosger and Reg Jackson.

The Yankees attracted the most autograph seekers.  Boys crowded the bus as the players boarded.  I brought three Mickey Mantle cards. When I handed him the ‘57 Topps, he signed it with the pen from another boy that was already in his hand, a black marker that I didn’t like.  I asked him to please use my pen while handing him a ‘64 Topps.  The Mick said with a grin, “That man is so handsome, I don’t want to ruin his picture.” He flipped the card over and signed the back.

The third autographed Mantle I gave to a dear friend who collected Mantle and Yankee cards growing up, but whose mother had tossed them out, like many other mothers did back then.

My mom, bless her heart, never threw out my cards, even when I moved overseas, for which I am eternally grateful, ensuring that my ten year treasure trove would last a lifetime, the stuff of warm memories.