It’s a lament that many older American men will lug with them to their graves:
Their mothers threw out their baseball cards.
That same loss, usually incurred decades ago, has resurfaced with a twist for the Town of Lancaster family of Susan Souter.
Souter, attempting to clean out her son Jason’s closet for his visit home for Mother’s Day, left about five bags filled with what she thought were just old bedding, clothing and blankets for the local AMVETS Thrift Store truck to take on May 3.
But five days later, she learned that wrapped in a drawstring garbage bag was a treasure-trove that Jason had started collecting almost 35 years ago, when he was about 12. Those possessions included coins, family war medals, comic books and a prize collection of baseball cards. Just like the old days, those cards were stored lovingly in two shoeboxes, a three-ring binder and a corrugated cardboard sleeve.
The prized items included the rookie cards of Roger Maris, Cal Ripken Jr., Rickey Henderson, Don Mattingly and Darryl Strawberry. There were also old cards of Pete Rose, Mike Schmidt, Tom Seaver and Jim Palmer. The collection also included the complete sets of 1983 and 1984 cards.
“My childhood memories are all wrapped into that collection,” said Jason Souter, a 46-year-old producer of TV commercials who lives in Manhattan. “It involves so many months and years of memories of hanging out with friends, opening up new packs of cards and trading them. My youth was wrapped up in that collection.”
The Souters believe the collection was worth somewhere between $5,000 and $10,000.
But that isn’t the point. To the family, the cards, medals and other items are priceless.
“My son is devastated,” Susan Souter said. “All these years, he saved that collection. It was pristine. He didn’t ever play with them.”
Figuring out the value of old baseball cards is tricky business, depending on several variables, including the year, the team, the card’s condition, the card company and whether the card is signed. Six similar-looking unsigned Roger Maris rookie cards from 1958, when he played for the Cleveland Indians, are being offered on eBay, with asking prices ranging from $549.99 to $3,750.
Jason Souter doesn’t care about that, as he had no plans to sell the cards. Instead, he thought of them as family treasures.
“It’s not about the money,” he said. “If I had a son, I would pass them down to him.”
After the Souters discovered the loss on Mother’s Day, the family began calling and visiting the local AMVETS Thrift Store on Ridge Road in West Seneca where the items were taken.
Family members feel they have been stonewalled in finding out what happened to the items. They initially found the store manager hard to reach, and they said they’ve been given contradictory stories about whether the prized items were found and what happened to them.
Jason Souter said he could understand if store employees, without knowing the sentimental value of the items, sold them for hundreds of dollars, with the proceeds going to the AMVETS.
But he doesn’t want to think about the alternative.
“I think it’s pretty shameful if someone took the money for themselves,” he said.
Michael Mariani, the manager of the AMVETS store in West Seneca, said his staff handled these items the same way they deal with all donated goods. They were sorted, priced and then put out for sale. He also pointed out that larger collections of baseball cards, and even war medals, routinely are donated to his store.
“I know for a fact that the items were processed, they went out on the floor and were sold,” he said. “Nobody stole these cards. There’s not even a question.”
Meanwhile, although Jason Souter said he would consider paying a reward for some of the lost items, he’s getting used to the thought of losing them, probably forever.
He grew up on Richmond Avenue in Buffalo, where he and his best friends became avid baseball-card collectors starting around age 12. Spurred partly by a School 45 seventh-grade teacher and collector whom he remembered as Jim Macie, the kids went to card shows and flea markets to build up their collections. Besides collecting, Souter also loved playing baseball, including his time at Canisius High School.
“That was sort of my thing growing up – baseball and baseball cards,” he said. “Those were my big hobbies.”
That didn’t mean other sports didn’t seep into that collection.
Oddly enough, on Mother’s Day last year, Susan Souter admitted to her son that she had thrown out an old mirror. On the back of that mirror was his Wayne Gretzky rookie card from the Edmonton Oilers.
Jason Souter laughed about the coincidence of learning about both losses on Mother’s Day. Everyone in the family agrees that the recent loss was an honest mistake.
“I couldn’t breathe,” Susan Souter said of her reaction this Mother’s Day. “I was in shock. He was in shock. … I didn’t realize it. I just saw an old blanket and said, ‘That goes, too.’ ”
Two weeks later, she remains extremely apologetic.
“I just don’t know if he’ll ever forgive me,” she said of her son. “I just have to keep trying. I have to keep trying.”
Jason Souter didn’t hesitate for a second when asked if he could forgive her.
“Of course,” he said. “She’s already forgiven.”
That may be the greatest Mother’s Day gift.