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1/6/08 Nick Johnson, Baseball Cards, And A Dusty Stick of Gum...

     I was standing in line at the local station stop/newsstand, which still exists today only because it's located directly across the street from a Manhattan-bound train line in one of the wealthier New York tri-state area suburbs, when the woman in front of me dropped her change purse as she was replacing it inside her pocketbook.

     The elderly woman took a step back, almost stepping on my toes, so that she could laboriously bend to retrieve her fallen bag, the clasp having held her change inside, and as she knelt, the sunlight which her form had previously kept from falling onto the counter lit upon the cellophane wrapping of a particular pack of baseball cards that sat atop a nearly full box with more of the same.

     As soon as the woman had completed her transaction, and I stepped forward to the counter to conduct my business, I glanced down at the cards, and as the woman clerk was making change I looked closer and saw a familiar face through the unadorned clear windows in the packaging, which, surrounded by name-branding and content information, only allowed me to read the name on the first card in the stack...

     ...JOHNSON...and in smaller print above the last name, Nick.

     Written in black felt pen over the visible portion of the card's face, where one could only see the Nationals-blue socks pulled high, was the signature of the Washington Nationals' own first baseman Nick Johnson.

     As the woman at the counter handed me change of a twenty for the three or four dollars I'd spent, I handed two back to her and picked up the pack of baseball cards, showing them to her so she could see the price sticker, and buying, for perhaps the first time in over twenty-five years, a pack of "topps" card on a whim.

     I began to open the cards as soon as I got into my car, and noticed, through the back of the packaging, another Nationals card on the bottom of the deck, whose name was obscured completely by the bar code, nutritional information for the stick of gum and the licensing agreements and likeness, trademark and copyright information that allowed for "topps" company to produce the line.

     It was all there just as I remembered it when as a seven year-old Expos fan I had torn into the pack, first for the powdery gum, and then looking through the cards, quickly taking stock of which, if any, Montreal players' cards I had purchased. Now, however, the gum itself is contained in it's own wrapper to preserve some semblance of freshness, but even this, when it was opened, produced a familiar cloud of gum smoke.

      Nick Johnson's card, in addition to its presentation of career stats notes that:

          "Nick has rarely been more excited in his career than on
          July, 1 2006, when he belted his first game-ending home
          run. With two outs in the 10th, he teed off on a fastball to
          dump the Devil Rays, 4-3."

     The other Nationals' card...was actually a 2006 Washington team card, with team and ballpark information, a full-team photo on the front and a list of "Team Stats" and "Team Leaders" from the '06 season, and below that a short paragraph on that year in Nationals' history:

          "Ryan Zimmerman and Alfonso Soriano gave the Nationals
          one of the best one-two punches in the Majors in 2006.
          Zimmerman placed second in the NL Rookie of the
          Year Award voting after playing a terrific third base and
          leading the team in RBI. Soriano became the charter
          member of the 40-HR, 40-steal, 40-double club. The
          Nationals placed 14 pitchers on the DL, losing nearly
          1,000 combined games."

     Who's this Soriano guy? Never heard of him...Now Zimmerman, THE KIDS CALL HIM ZIM!!. Also in the pack of cards, Bartolo Colon, a possible free agent pitching target for DC, Yadier Molina, one of the Famous Catching Molina Brothers, Pittsburgh outfieder Jason Bay, free agent outfielder Luis Gonzalez, and Milwaukee reliever "Dirty" Derrick Turnbow. The only disappointment was the absence of the one card you always used to get that was an unknown player who somehow worked his way into every pack. Like a Zane Smith for example...Or maybe I just know more players now than I did at seven.