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Penkava: Blindsided by cool old sports stuff

Published: Saturday, March 22, 2014 12:42 a.m. CST • Updated: Saturday, March 22, 2014 12:43 a.m. CST

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I don’t like the term “sports memorabilia.” Today it engenders the meaning of a monetary investment rather than the preservation of a piece of sports history.

Thus, I like to call my collection “Cool Old Sports Stuff.” My wife lovingly indulges me in my passion, but draws the line when she finds my original Chicago Stadium brick next to her Van Briggle vase in her curio cabinet. Evidently she’s not ready for the up and coming Sport/Art Nouveau Movement yet.

Anyway, I started my collection as a kid without really realizing it. It began as an ongoing process of boxing up the old sports stuff as I got new sports stuff. For example, when I got my new Ernie Banks mitt, I put the old Nellie Fox glove in the attic. Ernie was eventually replaced by Luis Aparicio. Unthinkingly, I was alternating between Cubs and White Sox stars. Unlike today, back then you could be a fan of both teams. Now I think if I put on a Paul Konerko glove my hand would shrivel up and slap me in the face.

As the mitts piled up in my collection, so did the baseball cards, at least the few fortunate ones that survived. What was I thinking when I clothes-pinned Roger Maris to the front wheel frame of my bike in order to make a cool motorcycle sound in the spokes? And why was it such a good idea to glue Ted Williams and Jackie Robinson to the inside of my Roy Rogers lunchbox?

But there has been some cool stuff that has survived. I still have my 1966 Chicago Blackhawks team photo with virtually all of the player’s autographs. Trust me, it really pays to sneak into their locker room. I only regret that I didn’t get a photo of Stan Mikita in his underwear, but Bobby Hull told me to put the camera down or he’d cross-check me into tomorrow. “Hey, kid,” said the Golden Jet, “wanna find out what a hockey stick tastes like?” Geesh, I love it when they talk that way.

The home run ball I caught in 1980 in the bleachers at Wrigley Field is a real treasure. I hereby publically apologize to the guy I accidentally knocked into the outfield wall basket as I kind of pushed him out of the way to catch the ball. As I told my children, “Daddy gets really excited at the ballpark and sometimes and doesn’t know what he is doing.” 

Although the mementos I have personally collected mean the most to me, the advent of flea markets and garage sales and the Internet have opened up all kinds of possibilities to acquire cool old sports stuff. Unfortunately, this involves money, and evidently Daddy also gets really excited and doesn’t know what he is doing when he finds something for sale that he really wants.

How was I supposed to know that I’d find an authenticated Mickey Mantle signed baseball at a neighborhood garage sale? Destiny. Discovering a hockey stick signed by Hall of Fame Chicago Blackhawks star Tony Esposito at a flea market? Blindsided. And spending decades collecting the vintage baseball cards of the entire roster of the 1908 Chicago Cubs World Series winning team? Blame it on Tinker to Evers to Happenchance.

And on it goes. From baseballs to hockey pucks to pieces of Wrigley Field, it’s game on. Oh, and just to set the record straight, contrary of what my grandchildren say, Grandpa doesn’t play with dolls … he collects sports action figures with bobbly heads that answer “yes” or “no” when you shake them and ask them questions.

• Michael Penkava is a retired teacher who taught for 35 years at West Elementary School in Crystal Lake. He actually did sneak into the Blackhawk’s locker room when he was a kid. When his mother asked him why he did it, he explained, “I just wanted to find out what a hockey stick tasted like.” He can be reached at

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