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By FRANK BARNING
Sometime in the middle of 1951, I became a baseball fan and a card collector. I had just turned 10-years of age. It wasn't long before I started to fantasize about being on a Topps or Bowman card.
By 1956, Bowman was no longer producing baseball cards but the dream lived on. Someday, I would be on a Topps card. By my junior year in high school, the fantasy came to a crashing halt. After a solid season on the junior varsity baseball team as a sophomore, reality hit the next year when I spent the season between the JV team and the varsity.
My varsity baseball "career" at Division Avenue High School in Levittown, New York consisted of two at bats and relegation to right field in blow-out games. I had no complaints with our coach, Mr. DiMaggio, because the two guys who played my real position, first base, were way ahead of me as far as talent was concerned. So, I retired prior to my senior year.
As a result, my baseball-card dream (aka illusion) was tucked away in the attic in my fertile mind, replaced by other fantasies, one of which included the actress Natalie Wood.
In 1974, once again I began to collect baseball cards, recovering the early Topps and Bowmans of my youth, as a starting point. In 1979, Vivian and I produced the first issue of "Baseball Hobby News", the beginning of a nearly 15-year run. We conversed on a regular basis with the people at Topps and became friends with the company's Sy Berger, widely acknowledged as the "father of the modern baseball card."
In the spring of 1992, the public relations man at Topps, Norman Liss, called to invite me to appear on a card using the format of that year's issue. Other people who had some influence in the hobby, Jim Beckett of price-guide fame among them, were also to be included. Bob Costas would also have a card. Photos would be taken at the National Sports Collectors Convention in Atlanta that summer and each of us would be given something like 100 copies of the card.
So, I was finally going to have the Topps fantasy conjured up some 40 or so years before. How great was that. Sure, the card would not be part of the 1992 set, but who could complain?
In Atlanta, we were ushered into a room which was set up for a professional photo shoot, bright lights and all. There was a table with uniform shirts and caps of various sizes, all Atlanta Braves. There was no team choice, it was explained, because we were in Atlanta. Okay, so I couldn't be a Brooklyn Dodger, but who was complaining? I would finally be on a Topps baseball card.
Participants were asked to provide information for the back of the cards. There were seven questions, including your favorite Topps card. Mine is the 1954 Gil Hodges. About a month later, the cards arrived at Baseball Hobby News. They were nicely done, great color and on Topps stock. Here was my fantasy realized, finally.
In that fantasy, I would look like a power-hitting stud, in the image of a Hodges, Eddie Mathews, Ted Kluszewski, or even my friend Tom Henningsen's favorite player, Hank Sauer. But that was not the reality of the card.
I was 50-years old at the time, not a studly age. Attired in a sparkling white Braves home jersey, with the classic tomahawk across the front, I looked more like Atlanta manager Bobby Cox than Willie, Mickey or the Duke. Cox is 13 months older than I am. That image was not in my fantasy.