Driven to A Life of Crime by Baseball Cards

The year was 1991 and I was a year into my obsession with baseball cards. By this point, Jose Canseco was my favorite player and I spent every day trying to acquire more cards of his on a shoe string budget. During this time, affectionately labeled the “Junk Wax” era, every single kid in my neighborhood collected or at least had a small baseball card collection. Most of my trades consisted of getting the kids with zero knowledge or interest in cards to trade me their good stuff (IE: Upper Deck, Leaf), for my junk, which was mostly Fleer and Donruss boxed sets worth pennies on the dollar. I then turned those expensive cards over to the knowledgeable and much richer kids in the neighborhood for Canseco cards. Unfortunately, after a year of swindling my neighborhood, the jig was up. I no longer had anyone left to trade with.

That summer, my mother, a single parent with very little knowledge of the English language, used probably a month’s salary to buy me a 1992 GT Performer. Suddenly, my days went from sitting at home playing video games and looking at baseball cards, to exploring my city of Bonaventure, Florida. One afternoon, I rode my bike into the nearest shopping center, which had a small 7/11, to grab some gum. Once I entered the convenience store the first thing that caught my eye was a box of 1991 Upper Deck, sitting right next to the register and within eye view of the owner. The packs were $1.50 each and considering I was hungry and only had around $3.00, I went over to the candy section, wishing I had money to afford Upper Deck just once. To my surprise, at the bottom of the candy section sat 4 or 5 boxes of baseball cards, including 1991 Topps and 1991 Donruss, as well as some leftover product from 1990. These cards were well out of view of the owner and we were probably a good decade away from surveillance cameras being just about everywhere.

I’d love to tell you that I legally purchased a pack of 1991 Donruss but that my friends, that would be a lie. I grabbed 3 or 4 packs and shoved them down my pants and then grabbed some Bazooka Joe gum to make an actual purchase and not look so suspicious. Once out of the store, I ran behind the 7/11 and pulled the cards out of my pants. The first thing that I noticed was an advertisement for an insert called ‘Elite’, with cards serial numbered to 10,000, which at the time sounded extremely rare. I grew up on Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory and at that moment, I felt just like Charlie Bucket. Only, Charlie worked for his money to buy Wonka bars and I stole packs of 1991 Donruss for a chance to pull the needle in a haystack, a Jose Canseco Donruss Elite.

That Summer, I rode my GT Performer to that shop every day or so, or whenever I had a dollar or two to buy more gum and every time, I’d take bigger and more dangerous risks. I remember one time stuffing 9 or 10 packs in my pants and buying a Crunch bar to make me seem, legit. When I left the store and jumped on my bike, several packs fell out of my pants legs and I panicked so badly that I left them behind. I always wondered if one of those cards held the elusive Elite, ready to be found by some much luckier kid.

There is no happy ending to this story, unfortunately. After stealing more than an entire box worth of 1991 Donruss, I was no closer to finding the Elite and in actuality, didn’t purchase the card until 2007 once the internet made it much easier to find. Eventually I gave up on Elite and stealing baseball cards in general, as well. One night, there was a loud explosion heard from my neighborhood in the middle of the night. It was so loud that it woke me from my slumber and a couple of days later I read in my local newspaper, the Sun Sentinel, that there was a gas leak that took the entire 7/11 and the shopping center attached to it.

I left Bonaventure, Florida in 1996 but from what I hear, the property sat vacant for many years until it finally became a Walgreens. We all have memories, good and bad, that will stick with us for the rest of our lives and this is one I will always cherish. A coming of age story filled with excitement and a little, mostly innocent crime, but I was eleven and had a one track mind. In the Summer of 1991, I would not rest until I found the greatest baseball card ever produced, at least for a year or two.

2 thoughts on “Driven to A Life of Crime by Baseball Cards

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  1. Ah man, good story. Crazy to look back on the things we did for cards as kids.

  2. Sweet GT! I got one of those after my Schwinn Predator got stolen. Totally forgot about those lay back seat posts. I wonder if kids still use them today.

    As for the crime thing… back in 1986 there was a neighborhood girl who would steal packs of 1986 Topps for me at Long’s. On the 2nd or 3rd time, she tried to steal a whole box and we got caught. Both of us were banned from the store… and although I saw her from time to time, we never talked again.

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