Growing Up Baseball: Introducing Ken Baumgardt

Growing Up Baseball: Introducing Ken Baumgardt
Jim Palmer 1972
1972 – JIM PALMER 1972 All-Star Pitcher Vintage Baseball Press Wire Photo Orioles

We would go see the Orioles games too, watching Boog Powell hit home runs, Jim Palmer pitching superbly, and old Earl Weaver chasing umpires around, kicking lime from the base paths into the cuffs of their pants.

It was fun, but the Phillies had my heart.

About the time I was 10, my parents started selling barbie doll clothing at a flea market to raise extra cash, and I found that I could take my rather meagre newspaper money, find a real treasure somewhere, sell it to a dealer for a profit, and then use my earnings to buy – what? – baseball cards!

Then, I only knew of buying them new, off the shelf, at the local 7-11, but now I learned about cards that were before my day. I can vividly remember finding someone with a shoebox full of cards from perhaps 1963-1968. They weren’t mint or anything, but they were the oldest cards I had ever seen to date.

I bought as many as I could every weekend, all summer long.

I also invested – or maybe it was a gift – in a transistor radio. This little battery powered invention allowed me to listen to baseball games from all over the country. I can still recall having to go to bed at 9:00, but sneaking the radio under my pillow, with the earpiece covered by my head, staying up until I passed out listening to games.

Somewhere along the way, my father told me to get into his car, “I have a surprise for you.”

We traveled about ten miles to the village of Hockessin and parked in front of an older house. When the door opened, I saw an elderly black man there. My father explained that this was Mr. Judy Johnson, a baseball player from the days of the Negro Leagues.

udy Johnson at the 1924 Colored World Series.
(Photo Credit: J.E. Miller, K.C.) Judy Johnson at the 1924 Colored World Series.

Mr. Johnson has since become inducted into the Hall of Fame. I knew enough about the Negro Leagues from the baseball cards I had collected to be able to ask him about his adventures, playing against guys like Satchel Paige, traveling from town to town in old broken-down school buses. It was neat!

I also remember the moment when I had figured out that Santa Claus wasn’t real, and when my parents were out grocery shopping, I hunted around the house until I found a stash of Christmas gifts hiding in the attic.

I opened one big box, and it was like discovering the Ark of the Covenant. Inside were hundreds and hundreds of old baseball cards. Only looking back at it now, I realize that they had to have been purchased from the same people at the flea market we attended. After I would have my fun spending my change to pick out the best cards I could find, my parents were sneaking behind my back to buy the rest of what the guy had for that year’s gift.

By the time Christmas rolled around, I had to play excited, but in reality, I had actually already catalogued every one of them as part of my collection.

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