Monday, March 7, 2016

A Special Piece in My Collection

Most collectors have an item that is a special piece in their collection- one they wouldn't part with no matter what was offered. Mine is something from a 'sport' I do not like and of an 'athlete' I know nothing about. But there's a reason why it holds a place in my collection...

It was fifteen years ago today that I was awakened by an early morning phone call with news that caused my heart to sink. My best friend had suffered a massive heart attack the evening before while coaching down at the youth boxing club and he was not expected to survive. Diane, his wife, asked me to come down to the hospital so that I could say goodbye before they took him off of life support. 

I first met Al in 1991, shortly after returning to the hobby that had been such an important part of my childhood. Though concrete paid his bills, he spent much of his time at the card shop he operated out of a building he shared with a tv/electronic repairman. I worked (still do, in fact) only a few blocks away, so I would often drop by during my lunch hour to rummage through his card boxes or to just shoot the breeze. A friendship quickly started and would last for the next ten years- until that fateful day.

Al and I had plenty of time to pursue our hobby interests during those early days of our friendship. He was divorced (but would later reconcile with his ex and remarry her) and I was single- so we would hang out by hitting the various shops around the valley and the different card shows: he, in search of Mike Piazza, Pudge Rodriguez and Juan Gonzalez cards, and I would pick up those Braves that were needed for my collection. Both of us were into prospecting at that point (we read Baseball America religiously) and he began picking up Piazza cards in early '92 through ads in the SCD (Sports Collector's Digest, for you younger folk), well before the catcher became a household name. Al was a Dodger fan to the core but I was able to somehow overlook that character flaw.

Though our friendship started out over a shared interest in sports and the hobby, it would grow even deeper in early 1995, when I came to faith in Jesus Christ. I had known that Al was a professing Christian but he broke the mold of the stereotype I held towards Christians. He was not the self-righteous type but was a man who struggled with things just as I did and was quite transparent about those struggles. Another thing I had appreciated prior to my conversion was that he wasn't constantly trying to proselytize me- he was genuinely interested in my friendship, no matter my beliefs. In fact, the subject rarely came up until I showed an interest during some of my own personal struggles I brought to him. Anyway, that strong bond in our friendship really cemented at this time- Al  'Paul' to my 'Timothy', if you will; someone who discipled a young believer in the faith.

So on to the piece in my collection... Had I not known Al, I highly doubt I would have ever met the woman I would eventually marry (we met at Al's church). But we in fact did meet, and would marry and Al serve as my best man- as you can see in the photo above (he's the older guy; me, the handsome young man).

As my wife and I honeymooned, we decided to go to an outlet mall. While there we visited a toy store and I saw IT- an action figure of Butch Bushwhacker of the Bushwhackers from the WWF. The only reason why I knew of this dude was because of this (Butch is the guy on the left):

It had been an advertisement I had seen in the SCD a year or two prior to that. It looked so much like Al, I had cut it out and had it signed by him. It became a tradition in our house that whenever Al came over he would turn his hat sideways and make a funny face, ala Butch, and my boys would bust out laughing.

Anyway, I bought the figure for a couple bucks, signed it, and gave it to him as a gift.

Years later, after Al's death, the figure found its way back to me. Once Diane was ready to part with his stuff, she gave me a call and asked me to come over and see if there was anything I was interested in. Most of his stuff went to his three kids, but there was that old Butch Bushwhacker figure.

Had I been given the choice of taking all of Al's great vintage baseball and boxing cards or this figure, it would have been a no-brainer. 


  1. Awesome tribute to a fabulous friend.

  2. A great tribute to a great friend. I am sure you miss him daily.

  3. Great post. It's these types of collectibles that are truly one of a kind... and very, very special.

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