Don Drooker spent many happy childhood days in Fenway Park, going to baseball games with his grandfather, a Red Sox season ticket-holder.
Like many young fans, Drooker collected baseball cards, always hoping to find a pack that included his favorite player, Red Sox outfielder Ted Williams.
“I would go down to the drugstore and buy cards,” said Drooker, who maintained his Red Sox loyalties after moving to Southern California. “I’d wrap my cards in rubber bands and keep them in a shoebox.”
Drooker’s shoebox collection suffered the fate of many baseball cards when his mother threw them away during a cleaning spree in the family home.
“Yeah, I’m one of those guys who had his mom throw out his baseball cards,” he said. “I’ve heard that story from a lot of guys.”
As an adult, Drooker often teased his mom about discarding his collection, which included some rare vintages from the 1952 season.
Drooker remained an avid baseball fan, but never had the urge to resume collecting cards until 1984. That’s when he received a gift from his wife, a 1956 card of Ted Williams, still his all-time favorite player.
“As an 8-year-old, you get those cards and you don’t just put them in a box,” Drooker said. “You look at them, study them, and read the stats. Getting that Williams’ card brought back all those memories.”
The gift renewed his interest in collecting baseball cards.
“It’s a hobby and not a business,” said Drooker, who moved to Sun City Grand five years ago. “If I figured out how much time I put into it and how little money I make off of it, it would be disappointing.
“But I do it because it’s fun, not for money.”
Drooker no longer wraps his cards in rubber bands and keeps them in a shoebox.
He has prominent cards on display in his home and also keeps binders of cards from different seasons.
“I will pull the binders off the shelf and look at them on a fairly regular basis,” Drooker said. “Friends come over and we’ll look at them because there’s a lot of history contained in those cards.”
One of his favorite sets is the Topps’ 1956 season. That’s the year the company issued horizontal cards, complete with a photo portrait as well as an action shot of the player on the front, with stats on the back.
“That’s the most beautiful set,” Drooker said as he perused the cards from that season. “They did the horizontal cards in 1955, too, but I think they did a better job in 1956.”
Drooker’s interest and knowledge of baseball cards have turned him into a local expert. He buys and sells them on the Internet and often visits people interested in selling their memorabilia.
“I’ve been in homes all over the Valley talking to people trying to sell their baseball cards,” Drooker said. “Sometimes, it’s tough to tell someone that their cards are not as valuable as they think they are.”
Drooker will be a guest speaker next month at a meeting of the Sun City Grand Sports Interest Group. The session is scheduled at 11 a.m. Aug 11 in the Hopi Room in the Chaparral Center. All Sun Cities residents are welcome to attend.
“Everyone collected baseball cards at some point,” said Steve Rothschild, the founder of the Sun City Grand Sports Interest Group. “Don will talk about the history of card collecting, the hobby today and much more.”
One of Drooker’s topics will be the famous T206 Honus Wagner card, considered a Holy Grail among collectors.
Produced by the American Tobacco Co., the card featured Wagner, a former Pittsburgh Pirates star from the early 1900s. The manufacturer produced as few as 60 cards, which made it a hot commodity when it was uncovered several decades ago.
The card skyrocketed in value as it was bought and sold by various collectors, including a $451,000 purchase in 1991 by hockey star Wayne Gretzky and Bruce McNall, the one-time owner of the NHL’s LA Kings.
The card is on display at the Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, N.Y., on loan from Arizona Diamondbacks owner Ken Kendrick, who purchased the card for $2.8 million in 2007.
Drooker has never had his Holy Grail moment as a collector, although he did stumble across some buried treasure several years ago.
It occurred when he purchased a box of cards from a man at a garage sale.
“I was just buying it to take it off his hands, more than anything,” Drooker recalled. “I figured there might be a couple of cards of value.”
As Drooker surveyed the box’s contents, he came across a card of hockey goalie Jacques Plante, famous for being the first goaltender to wear a mask. The card turned out to be one of just five in the series and included a piece of Plante’s uniform as part of the card.
“I had no idea what I had, even the first time I looked at the card,” Drooker said. “Its scarcity made it valuable, and I think I sold it to someone in Canada for about $400.”
Those kinds of discoveries are the exceptions rather than the rule, said Drooker, who still has the 1956 Ted Williams card that renewed his interest in his baseball hobby.
The card is now part of a mini-shrine to his favorite player in the foyer of his Sun City Grand home. The tribute includes photos and jerseys of Williams, the last major-leaguer to hit .400 for an entire season.