By Scott Robertson
The worst baseball card trade I ever made, I made at the Johnson City Boys & Girls Club on West Market Street. My new buddy Lee Pike had moved down from Michigan and we both collected ball cards. He had a slew of 1977s and I was flush with 78s. Lee let me know there was one Detroit Tiger he was looking for: Al Kaline. This was a problem, as Kaline’s first card was produced in 1954, and his last card had been printed in 1974. Yet one Saturday morning in 1979, I met an older kid at the club who had a copy of that 1974 Kaline card. I still remember the picture vividly. Kaline was crouched in a fielding position at first base, shot from the side. I had no idea that there was anything remarkable about that, having never seen Kaline play, but I later learned that at the end of his career, the once-fleet-footed outfielder had moved to first base because his aging body couldn’t take the rigors of chasing down long fly balls anymore.
Anyway, for some reason, I became fixed on the mission of obtaining that card. All my negotiating skills went out the window. When the kid who owned the Kaline card asked what I would give for it, I made an offer, to which he replied, “What else?” I kept adding another card to my offer and he kept repeating, “What else?” I was holding back all my best cards, of course, but this guy ended up with a stack of about 12 of my lesser cards, chuckling about the rube he’d just taken to the cleaners. Of course Lee wouldn’t give me anywhere near what I’d traded away for the Kaline card, so I learned a valuable lesson that day.
To which you may well reply, “Gosh Scott…so what?”
Well, I told you all that to tell you this. That same Boys and Girls Club has been active in Johnson City since 1944, and a lot of once-young people have created memories far more interesting than my baseball card reminiscence in that time.
Now, you’re going to have the opportunity to hear their stories. The club is holding the first reunion in its 72-year history April 8 and 9.
I’ve been talking with Robin Crumley, who runs the club these days, and I’m pretty pumped up about it. It’ll run Friday evening from 6 to 9, and Saturday from 9 to 4.
Crumley says she’s expecting a turnout of anywhere from 200 to 400+ (she’s asking folks who have Facebook to RSVP on the club’s page) with representation from all ages. There’ll be current and former coaches, staff and alumni, all taking the chance to reconnect, some for the first time in years. Among the early RSVPs, Crumley says, are alums who’ll be returning to Johnson City from eight states.
Even if you don’t have a personal history with the club, I can’t imagine anyone with an interest in Johnson City’s past who wouldn’t find the mix of personalities that weekend fascinating.
Just think of what we who spent time at the club went through as we grew up in Johnson City. The oldest of us remember the end of World War II. Many remember playing in a city (and a country) that was still segregated. And many more remember first experiences playing with kids of other races at the club as desegregation swept over America.
Kids went from the club almost straight to Korea, to Vietnam, to Iraq and to Afghanistan. We went from doing projects at the club to taking mission trips all over the world, growing the sense of community we started learning on Market Street. Some of us left Johnson City and raised families of our own in far-flung places, instilling values reinforced at the club. And some of us stayed and raised our families here, watching our own kids enjoy making their own memories at the very same facility.
So when we get together in April, I’m anticipating an atmosphere of a true homecoming. Crumley told me there’ll be a few people, like Congressman Phil Roe, who will be invited to give short (no more than five minute) speeches, but that she’s going to leave the mic open, so any of us who have stories to tell can stand up and share. I’m looking forward to hearing some of those stories.
Of course there’ll be all sorts of activities for all ages.
Crumley says she’ll have the bus warmed up to take anyone who remembers the club at one of its two past locations on a quick tour back to the sites.
There’ll be donuts in the morning and hot dogs in the afternoon. Those of us who can still remember the proper form and technique the coaches taught us will be welcome to join in a free throw shooting contest. The list of activities goes on and on.
For many of us who’ll be there, the best part may be watching the two teeball games scheduled as part of the festivities. The current crop of kids who will be playing that weekend are still young and fleet of foot, of course.
And as we watch those kids of today hit and run and field and throw, I have to wonder how many of us will be lost in our own memories of how sweet life was when we played at the club, before we all had to grow up and join Al Kaline in the long, slow move to first base.
I’m grateful someone had the idea of giving us all that opportunity. As I told Lee Pike so often, I’ll see you at the club.