Saturday, December 25, 2010

Christmas Crapbook: 1990 edition

For me, 1990 was the year of baseball, bikes and big brotherhood. I’d give it a B. Ha ha, right?

Early in the year, I began collecting baseball cards. From then on, my interest in baseball blossomed well past the stat sheet to the field. When we weren’t riding our bikes all over the neighborhood (I got my first bike for my 10th birthday), Colin and I were out in the front yard playing Home Run Derby. That year, I made a commitment to become a professional baseball player. It wasn’t my first ambition in life, but it was the first one that I tried to seriously cultivate. And when your past goals in life were things like making license plates, there isn’t too much serious competition.

This was me in early 1991. I wore the same shirt on Christmas Eve that year,  so close enough.
Come Christmas time, my interest in baseball had led to such single-mindedness that Pop didn’t even bother to bring an element surprise to his gift. Instead, he drove me to Bell’s Sporting Goods, the mom-and-pop shop in my neighborhood, and let me pick out whatever I wanted. I chose a regulation-size Diamond hardball. Even now, I can channel the excitement I felt from my first-ever bona fide baseball. And in a one-time departure from Christmas tradition, Pop even let me cradle the ball for awhile, as we sat outside on Boo’s porch swing watching little Keely (my sister, who was born that February, by the way) waddle around the porch. He knew, as I did, that my excitement over my new ball would hardly diminish with a little sneak peek. Afterward, we wrapped the ball by sticking it in wrapping paper and twisting it closed at the top, to where it resembled a miniature pineapple.

And while our longstanding tradition was to open wrapped presents from each other at night and then get unwrapped presents from Santa in the morning, we breached this for my baseball. Without any direct prompting from myself (though it may have been because I was ogling it constantly and everyone knew I knew what it was), Mom let me open the baseball much earlier than usual. At the time, several of my older cousins were visiting. When I dramatically tore a ring around the ball, causing it to fall from the paper, one of the cousins said with sarcastic surprise, “It’s a baseball!”

At what turned out to be the final YMBC Christmas party, I received a pink, taco-shaped plaque with drawings of various sports balls and helmets with the adage, "Be the best that you can be." Good advice that I occasionally follow to this day.

Sports also ruled the day at my mom's office's kids party, where I got the Mel Appel All-Sports figurine stand. Like with many of my most memorable toys, I can't prove it exists. It resembled a stadium scoreboard with a blue base and slots for five cards. The idea was that you could display Starting Lineup figurines along with their respective cards. The makers weren't affiliated with Starting Lineup, though, so the figurines shown on the box were literally cutouts from the same cards displayed. Creative!

This year was most likely the first of what would become a brief yearly tradition, as well as a not-so-brief annual joke: “We’re getting your big gift at the Dollar Store.” At the time, the Acadiana Mall had a store called Everything’s $1. I think you get the idea. It was the only store I ever saw where the shelf price tags had the price printed and the item names written in, instead of vice versa. For a store of its type, it had a surprisingly high quality of items. I bought the Ghostbusters II soundtrack on CD there, as well as Warlords for Atari. And lots and lots of toys and books. I still have lots of these items.

In 1990, the four non-infants in our family headed to the mall for our Dollar Shopping Trip. All four of us had a budget of $5 to buy gifts for the other four. I remember buying my mom the Reader’s Digest Guide to Safety and my dad (a puzzle fanatic) an answer key to common crossword clues. I don’t remember what I got Colin and Keely, but it may have been Sliders. Sliders were foreign toys in a variety of colors that looked like miniature curling stones with ball-bearing wheels at the bottom. They didn’t come with rules, so we bought a bunch and made up our own game where we scored points based on where they slid on our wooden den table. It had a good run of about two years, and visitors often enjoyed playing as well. My dollar haul that year included a paperback dictionary and thesaurus. The first time I opened it, I saw “idiot” as a guide word. I remember being surprised that that was actually a real word, as opposed to a schoolyard insult. A nice lesson to learn, and an inexpensive one at that!

One night after we set up our tree, Keely and I were sitting in the den, watching TV. We kept the Nintendo on the carpet underneath the TV chest, and Keely, being the natural explorer and trouble-causer that she was/is, reached under the chest and turned on the NES. To my surprise, the title screen for some game called Vegas Dream popped on. knowing Christmastime was near (and that Dad liked to play games before he gave them to us), I immediately clicked it off. Sure, no parental units were around at the time and I could have satiated my curiousity with ease. But my fear of Jesus/Santa reprisal, combined with my ignorance of the fact that I was 10 and this would have been Dad’s fault anyway, kept me from so much as even glancing at the cartridge within.

On Christmas Eve, my grandparents and great aunt Boo congregated at our house for the gift exchange. Photos abound, somewhere. Here's one of the goofier ones:

Again with that shirt!
After about 12 minutes of sleep, Colin and I got up to see what Santa Claus had left us. We got up so early, in fact, that I don’t believe my parents even went to bed. When it came time to marvel at our latest haul, Dad was in the den playing Tecmo Bowl. I wonder if Santa, like me, had to duck in front of the TV repeatedly when crossing the room. I’ll bet that got annoying for both of them.

Our swag in 1990 was as close as we ever came to a themed Christmas. If there was ever such a thing as the sporting-goods store equivalent of Sports Illustrated for Kids, this is what it would have looked like.

Colin got a replica Saints football helmet made by Riddell. And by replica, I mean, it was actually a helmet with a real facemask, real dimensions and genuine decals. Only the superficial padding and a small decal warning of the helmet’s replica status tipped it off as anything other than game-worthy. It fit my head perfectly, and I would often wear it just because I could. For years, it sat on my sports shelf in my teenage bedroom, propping up a wall light that ripped off its foundation on Christmas Day 1993 (seriously). Today, it sits on the video shelf in the den of my parents’ current house.

My biggest gift was a blue pitchback net. I figured using this every single day with my new baseball would set me on the road to pitching stardom. And, as you can tell, it totally worked. It did last three or four years before being chucked for space, though the strike zone tape (which I rarely hit anyway) lasted probably a few seconds into 1991.

Along with that, I got my first-ever baseball glove, a Rickey Henderson Rawlings model. Or, more accurately, it was the first glove I had that was actually useful for me as a left-hander. When I played tee-ball in kindergarten and first grade, Mom had been unable to find a left-hander’s mitt, and I was ignorant anyway, so she got me a George Brett glove that covered my dominant hand. Made for some awkward throws. Anyway, the new Rickey glove was so big at the time that I can still wear it today. During a grad school softball game, I let a professor borrow it. After the inning was over, he asked me, “Is this made with any material known to humans?” Indeed. My grandfather wrote my name and then-phone number on it, which are still visible.

I also got a water bottle for my bike that probably cost $2, but I cherished because it made my $80 Huffy Bandit bike look more Tour de France-ready.

Other highlights included a VTech talking baseball video game (got it), a Robin Yount T-shirt (need it) and the Planes, Trains & Automobiles soundtrack on vinyl (got it). The latter isn’t as random as it sounds; the film was the movie I watched most in 1990. I had a partial video of the movie, beginning with the scene where Steve Martin gets dragged by the testicles. For Thanksgiving, CBS aired a censored version, so I taped the part I didn’t have. When I wanted to watch the movie, I’d pop in the CBS videotape and then put in the other, uncensored tape for the rest of it. I’d finally get an official VHS copy for Christmas 1994 (got it).

Every year since getting into “A Christmas Story,” Colin and I would ask each other, “What is your Holy Grail of Christmas presents this year?” For me in 1990, there was no contest, not by a mile.

The complete set of 1990 Topps baseball cards.

As I’ve mentioned before, I had begun collecting baseball cards in earnest earlier in the year. It became an all-consuming obsession. In a scant few months, I became an expert on every card line, and could recite them robotically. Topps. Donruss. Fleer. Score. Sportflics. Upper Deck. Bowman. Classic. Always in that order. And for whatever reason, the 1990 Topps series was my benchmark. I’ve been meaning to write a blog just about these cards for a while now. While they were ultimately forgettable design-wise, for me they’ll always be a snapshot of a time when I had a fleeting, albeit intense, obsession. To this day, I can recite lots of sports stats from 1990.

I sorted those cards by team every chance I got, because that’s mainly what I did with them. There was a coupon inside for a subscription to the then-new Topps magazine, which I begged my mom to let me fill out. Instead, she promised to let me buy the issues whenever they hit the Piggly Wiggly newsstand. To her credit, she did for the next three years. But at $3 an issue, a $9 annual subscription would have been a steal. In any case, I considered the coupon a sacred part of the set and always rested it in its spot above the cards before closing the box.

Eventually Keely would take a dart and punch numerous giant holes in the box. Still, the cards endure to this day and they’re sitting in my closet in Lafayette. I wish I had them right now.

Colin got the 1990 Topps football card set, which was smaller and just as intriguing. The set lists Steve Walsh, then the starting quarterback for the Saints in Bobby Hebert’s absence, as a Dallas Cowboy. Blasphemy!

Packed in our stockings along with our Life Savers storybooks were blister packs of 1990 Topps cards. Ridiculously redundant at that point, though they did each had one or two special cards, so that was worth it, I guess.

Oh, and don’t forget Vegas Dream, the Nintendo game. A full gambling experience for up to four players. A blast! I would later write a story based on it for my English class, resulting in a really bad grade and a talking-to from my teacher.

Keely got a secondhand toy kitchenette that was donated from one of Mom’s co-workers. But hey, infant. She enjoyed it.

A few days after Christmas, Dad, Colin and I went to see “Home Alone.” Then we went to my grandparents’ house and broke out our cards while watching TV. This was in between throwing my baseball to my net outside. I remember thinking to myself, “This is the life.” And it truly was.

Closing up the Crapbook: The hockey and Vanilla Ice-laden Christmas of 1991!

1 comment:

Jenni said...

I'm going to be sad when this blog theme ends. It's been great reading about your childhood memories. I could only wish mine were so vivid.