Digging for Diamonds


Words :

Conor Cusak

Illustrations: 

Bethany Rennard
The sun glints off my metal bat as I dig in and mimic Barry Bonds, waving the bat back and forth with shameless swagger. The clatter of rubber cleats rings in my ears as a crowd of ravenous boys gather around our coach, who has initiated the ceremonial round of morning trivia by reaching for the pack of cards in his back pocket. My mind wanders back to the photo in my hand of Mike Matheny standing tall in catcher’s gear, surrounded by a neon border ground in gold lettering.  Slowly, the blissful memories of summer youth baseball camp dissolve into another innocent, impassioned moment of childhood—one which I may not have rediscovered, had I not stumbled upon the baseball cards, patiently awaiting me from inside a shoebox in the attic.Initially, when I came across these relics of my childhood, my first question was, “How much money can I make off ‘em?” Surely, there’s a handful of somewhat valuable cards among the gallon Ziploc bags, filled half a lifetime ago.  

And what were they worth? “A few bucks per shoebox probably,” the manager of a baseball card shop in Beverly Hills told me.  

In the 1980s, the baseball card business was in good shape, and so cards were being printed at an accelerated rate. The market became saturated, consequently, the air of rarity was stripped from the trade—not even a needle left to find in the haystack. Now, any card, even of the best players, will top out at 99 cents—maybe a $1.50, if you’re lucky.  

In spite of this evolution, baseball cards, like other collectible items or relics of the past, hold a use-value that is independent of their exchange value. The latter derives from an object’s function as a commodity with an assigned monetary value, which is actualized in an exchange as a means to an end. The former envisions the object with regard to its own utility, more as an end in itself.  Even so, merely assigning them with a quality “use-value” doesn’t fully encompass their power and significance.  The identity-formation that comes from the tangible and sensory experience of baseball cards challenges modern concepts of worth, and thus, redefines the idea of value altogether.
Baseball cards assume their magic from their tangible nature, their ability to occupy space and to be held and touched. They fill shoeboxes in the attic or flaunt their status from within hard plastic sleeves. Each card, with its different size and age, fits into the crease of a palm slightly differently, making the possessor acutely aware of its sharp edges or worn corners.  

Although frayed corners and traces of creases push a card farther down the spectrum of value, away from mint condition, they give it signs of life.  A card without blemishes is a card that fails to beg the question of where it has been, what it has seen, or who it has inspired.  Whether with cards or plants, or even leftover food,

things that disclose their mortality are easier to relate to and ingest because they resonate with our own sense of time and space. So, maybe what my 8-year-old self was looking for in the $2 vintage packs at the local card shop wasn’t a rare gem, but a card with character that sparked my imagination and unearthed questions about the past and whose hands it stopped in along the way to mine.  

The moment the card lingered in my hand—whether its appeal was a player I looked up to, a bizarre design, or the enigmatic diamond fashion of the 1980s—it captured my emotions and my experiences, both past and present. I could throw joy, confusion, or sadness at it, and it would pocket it effortlessly. The cards’ tangibility allowed me to project my feelings and beliefs in that moment onto a surface that I could, and still can, twirl through my fingers or lay flat in the palm of my hand. What previously existed only in the abstract realm of mind space thereby materialized into a physical reality.