This past weekend, as furniture and boxes were being packed up and moved from the old place to the new, an item of sentimental value turned up, one that I didn't even know was missing. As we pulled a bookcase away from the wall, behind it we found my framed Chet Laabs baseball card. Why would someone frame the trading card of a mediocre outfielder who played in the first half of the 20th century, you ask? Well, it's a long story, but one I'm more than willing to tell.
When I was a kid, growing up in a small town about an hour and a half north of New York City, my next-door neighbor and best friend, Brian, found his father's old baseball glove in their garage. The signature on the relic was that of the aforementioned Laabs. When Brian asked his father about the player whose name was on his childhood baseball mitt, it turns out his dad knew nothing about him.
So, they asked my dad. "Chet Laabs...oh yeah, pretty good power-hitting outfielder. Played for the St. Louis Browns during the war years," was his assessment. Of course, our next-door neighbors were dumbfounded. Brian's father and his brother had actually shared this glove as kids, and the obscurity of the player they had never heard of had become a life-long running joke. From that day forward, Brian developed an unusual fascination with a player whose career was over almost two decades prior to this birth.
In today's internet age, this may never have happened. The kid in the story would have simply Googled Chet Laabs, and that probably would have been the end of a story that became legendary due to all of these factors coming together. Our era of connectivity would later contribute to this continuing saga, however.
Years later, when Brian was out of college and on his own, his parents moved to Texas. Unfortunately, the glove did not make it with them, nor did it remain behind with Brian. Somehow, it was lost in the process and gone forever as far as we were concerned.
Five or so years ago, I was struck by the urge to search for Chet Laabs memorabilia on eBay. When I found a bat inscribed with his name, I immediately contacted Brian, and we ended up purchasing the item for $50 as a surprise Christmas gift for his uncle.
Joe Sewell and the art of not striking out
15 hours ago