Scenes from the Ball Park – A Field Day Surprise in North Kingstown Revealed

“Who the heck is Granny Hamner?  Was he even a real baseball player?” asked TJ who sneakily looked at the bottom of the open compartment.  “That’s your big reveal?  Granny Hamner?  Is he some kind of relative?  Your grandfather perhaps?”  Noel started to giggle and then composed himself.  “Granny Hamner was a professional baseball player, young man.  His baseball card proves it.  They don’t just make these for birthday parties.”  Tyler looked sternly over to his son.  “TJ, have some respect, let him tell the story please.”  Noel nodded at his fellow peer Dad and began.  “Granny Hamner was a shortstop who played for the Philadelphia Phillies, Cleveland Indians, and was a manager in the minor leagues. He had a very productive major league career.”  Tyler and TJ nodded, a bit confused as the significance of this Granny card but nonetheless, remained quiet and respectful.  “I guess getting to the Major Leagues is pretty special and an accomplishment that should be recognized,” said Tyler as he nodded to his son to continue the positivity, “right TJ?”  TJ nodded and said “Yeah, it must have been a special time in that player’s life to play big league baseball.  Someday, I would love to be on a Mets baseball card, as an actual player.”  Tyler and Noel laughed.  “Well, if you think Granny’s career was special, what are your thoughts on this player?” as Noel flipped the Granny Hamner card over and revealed the biggest surprise yet.

“Hank Aaron, Milwaukee Braves Outfield?”  TJ looked at his Dad, then looked at Noel who was nodding up and down like a bobblehead doll.  “You have a Hank Aaron baseball card?” asked TJ.  “Yep, my grandfather handed down to me a shoebox of baseball cards and memorabilia when I was like 10 years old.  I was a huge baseball card collector and he wanted to encourage my love of reading, so he gave me all these baseball cards from the 1950’s.  I got Hamner, Larry Doby, Elston Howard, a player from Rhode Island named Max Surkont.  It was such an education on baseball in the 1950’s. I already knew about Mays, Williams, DiMaggio, Mantle, and others from baseball books.  But these cards were a real treat.  The stories on the backs of the cards told about the player’s upbringing, their hometown, maybe a catchy story.  Nothing flashy, just pure baseball joy for a young fan like myself.”  Tyler interjected for a moment.  “So your grandfather just gave you all these cards, including Hank Aaron.  Did he not care about the value of the cards?”  Noel smiled.  “Oh I think he cared a great deal about the value of the cards.  Seeing my enjoyment and eyes light up when I read the names and places and stats was worth more than what he could have gotten monetarily for them at a card show.”  Tyler felt kind of shallow by his question and humbly nodded.

“Granny Hamner” started Noel again “was my decoy for Hank Aaron.  I strategically placed him behind Hamner, kind of like how the spies used to hide valuable things behind clocks or wall paintings.  I always wanted to trick my brother or my friends with that gag.  Funny, I never got the chance when I was younger, and now here I am pranking two complete strangers.”  Tyler and TJ laughed.  “We are so honored to be pranked by you, Noel” chuckled Tyler.  “May I see the Hank Aaron card, please?” asked TJ.  Noel handed the card to TJ who in turn handed Noel the JFK half dollar back.  “I thought Hank Aaron was a right handed batter.” said Tyler as he looked at the baseball card over his son’s shoulder.  “He was,” said Noel, “but this card shows him batting left handed.  I also batted left handed, so it had a very special meaning. I’m not sure what happened with the photographer or the photo shoot?  May have just been an error of some sort.  Needless to say, I’m not sure what monetary value it has.  It was from his 1957 season.”  Noel saw a familiar shine and overwhelming baseball enthusiasm in TJ’s face as he looked at the card, flipped it over, then over again, then over again.  It was a familiar shine and baseball enthusiasm, one he had the first day he opened his grandfather’s shoe box of baseball cards, some 40 years ago.

Noel began to place the once lost, now recovered items one by one back inside the hidden compartment, starting with the Granny Hamner card.  Then the coin, the four leaf clover from the cute girl, the ticket stub from the Sandy Koufax no-hitter, the Wilma Briggs baseball card, the Billy Almon baseball card, then the Pawtucket Red Sox ticket stub.  Pausing and viewing the items with a smile and a deep exhale, Noel relived the wonderful memories that each represented.  “Can I have the screw and the tool please?” Noel pointed to Tyler’s sweatshirt pouch.  Tyler reached in and handed Noel the tiny screw and the tiny screwdriver, at which time Noel placed the wooden cover over the base’s bottom and began to secure it with the screw.  Turning the screw gently not to cause any damage, Noel rotated his fingers slowly until the screw was snug enough to do its job.  He then turned the case upright and placed it into the cardboard box.  At that moment, TJ, who was reading the back of the Hank Aaron card, realized that Noel had forgotten one item.  The item in his hand, the 1957 Hank Aaron card which he had just been told was very, very special to Noel. The item he had so cleverly hid behind the Granny Hamner card.  The big reveal.  “You forgot this one, Noel” TJ held out the Hank Aaron card.  

“TJ,” started Noel, “I will never forget that card or this day or the unselfish act that you have done by bringing me these.  You and your Dad are really cool people and I am so grateful for you doing the right thing here.”  Noel paused and looked at the trophies and then continued “years and years ago, my son Griffin found a cell phone in the playground.  He, like you, wanted to do the right thing and return it to its rightful owner.  When we eventually found the cell phone’s owner, she was so appreciative and thanked us over and over again.  My son got a KitKat bar for his kind act.  It was a great lesson for my son, who was only 7 at the time, on doing the right thing and being righteous with a potentially valuable item that didn’t belong to him.  Today, you and your Dad have done the righteous thing and I want to reward you by sharing this card with you.”  Tyler looked at TJ as Noel continued “I accept the trophies with all my heart and gratitude.”

As Noel closed the flaps on the cardboard box, Tyler walked over to face Noel. “Noel, seriously, the trophies and everything that was inside that one there, it’s all yours.  We don’t need a reward or a finders fee.  This card is too much, too valuable to just give it away.”  Noel smiled and looked up at Tyler.  “I see its value.  Look at your son’s face.  He is holding a piece of history.  One of the greatest baseball players to ever play the game. He is enjoying that card as I did when my grandfather gave it to me.  I see he is a true fan.  Only a true fan can see the real value in that card.”  TJ was looking at the card and then looked at this Dad, who was perplexed on what he should do.  It was a surprise that Tyler was not ready for.  Noel took the box and walked over to his bike, placed the box inside his backpack, and placed the backpack straps over his right arm, then his left.  He then walked his bike over to Tyler and TJ, who were still standing in the parking lot staring at Noel and then the card.  

“TJ,” started Noel, “you are a great kid, a great baseball fan, and it was a pleasure meeting you.  I still write a lot of baseball stuff about North Kingstown, so we may cross paths again next Spring.  Until then, good luck in school and whatever you do sports wise indoors.”  TJ, still speechless from the gift of the Hank Aaron card, merely smiled and nodded his head.  He extended his right hand, TJ switched the card from his right to this left, then shook Noel’s hand.  “Tyler,”  Noel focused now on Tyler “you are a great friend and I barely know you.  Let’s let today marinate for a bit and then get together for an adult beverage.  I’ll let you pick the spot and I’ll buy the first round.  And thank you for doing this.  You have successfully turned a very sour moment in my life to a joyous one.”  He then extended his hand to Tyler and the two Dads shook hands. “Ok, I’ll let this go for now but I’m not going to let you get off so easily.”  Noel swung his leg over the frame of his bike, clicked his left shoe into the left cleat of his bike, placed both hands on his handlebars, and laughed out loud to himself, “man I can’t wait to write about this experience.”

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