When Mike Dingwell was just 5 years old, he was nearly hit by a car – because of some baseball cards.
It was 1967, and he was just starting to collect the cards at his home in Lakewood, California. While standing in line for an ice cream truck near his house, the young boy saw the driver dump a bagful of baseball cards into a trash can.
He got out of line, ran over, grabbed the cards, and darted across the street – right into the path of an oncoming car.
“I remember almost being hit and the driver of the car slamming his brakes on,” Dingwell recalled. “The screech was really loud and echoed throughout the whole neighborhood.”
Both he and his treasure were unharmed.
But that was the beginning of a lifelong love affair that Dingwell eventually translated into BoxSeat Collectibles in Ahwatukee, now in its 20th year of supplying the Valley with sports memorabilia from across the country.
Lining the walls of the store are glass cases filled with treasures new and old. From cards to posters to displays, the store is a sports junkie’s dream. ESPN plays on a television set atop a display case in the middle of the store, accentuating the motif.
Famous faces such as Mickey Mantle, Ted Williams and two-time NBA MVP Stephen Curry are plastered throughout the store, beckoning fans old and young to come in and buy a piece of history.
The walls are covered and cases filled to the brim with more than cards, including game tickets, paintings, bobbleheads, commemorative bottles and soda cans, and other memorabilia spanning more than 60 years.
Virtually anything a sports fan could hope for can be found inside the four walls of BoxSeat Collectibles.
Dingwell ticked off some of his favorite treasures as he scanned the store.
"1985 Super Bowl helmet signed by all the Bears…. There's Walter Payton’s jersey.... There's a Babe Ruth bat card – there's only five of those and this is two of five, so that's pretty cool.... There's a Ted Williams 1945 Leaf card.... and Pete Rose’s rookie card."
The items range from the inexpensive to the extravagant. The high end may be the Muhammad Ali fight night set, framed and hanging prominently on the wall above the glass casing.
But the heart of his collection remains those long-collected cards, including players from all four major professional sports.
But he almost lost them for good.
Then, in 1989, when he came home from a golfing trip to Australia, his mother told him to check the dining room table. There sat 16 shoeboxes full of cards that he left in the attic of their old house. It had been discovered by the tenants and returned for him.
Dingwell’s collection got another shot in the arm at a card show in Los Angeles in 1993, when a dealer gave him some memorabilia to sell. Dingwell made $4,000 that one weekend. The collection grew.
Within a few years, BoxSeats Collectibles opened at its current location.
Customers include collectors of all ages. Some are beginners while others have been collecting sports treasures for decades.
“I have 80- and 90-year-olds coming in here who are still serious card collectors,” Dingwell said. “They’ll pull out their albums with pages loaded and you’ll see cards from ‘51 and ‘52.”
Dingwell pointed to a woman and two young children who were gazing into a display by the register.
“On the other hand, look at him,” Dingwell said, gesturing at the boy. “He’s got to be 3 or 4, probably my age when I started doing it. This is a hobby for all ages.”
Dingwell also enjoys giving back to the community through his business.
He pulled a lanyard from his pocket emblazoned with the words “MPCC EASTER 2000.” It came from Mountain Park Community Church in Ahwatukee, where he donated some of his memorabilia to be sold at a charity auction.
Since then, he estimates his contributions have helped raise nearly $1 million for causes around the Valley.
He even credits his business’ survival to his involvement with charities.
“When the economy really took a dip in 2009, ‘10, and ‘11, the charity auction thing pretty much kept me going, even when the cards and such really slowed down,” he said.
For Dingwell, the best part of his job is watching kids experience the same kind of joy that put him in the path of a car five decades ago.
“It’s the excitement in a kid’s face,” Dingwell explained. “You can see it, man. He’s looking for a certain player, and then he opens up a pack and you can tell right away when he finds that player’s card in there. That’s cool to see.”