Baseball cards, family and fun

by Rebecca Patton

1953, 1954, and 1955 Topps baseball cards from Tom’s dad’s original collection.

This 1968 Mike Andrews card was the last one needed to complete all Topps sets from 1968 to 1994—from the year Tom’s brother was born until the year his dad passed away.

hat is your favorite baseball memory? Playing Little League and hearing your parents cheer for you in the stands? Going with your dad to hometown games just to be with him? Or, maybe it’s watching your child play T-ball.

Baseball has a way of bringing families together, and for Tom Arruda, director-IT Business Accounts, family is a central theme when it comes to collecting baseball and other sports.

A New Hampshire native, Tom is a New England sports fan. “Red Sox, Patriots, Celtics, Bruins,” he checks off. “You can move me to the South but you can’t take that out of me.”

His face lights up as he recalls taking his family to Boston’s Fenway Park, his wife’s reaction to him bringing his extensive memorabilia collection home, and his son throwing out a pitch at a Richmond Flying Squirrels game. Even collecting cards has been a family affair.

Growing up, Tom’s dad, Joe, collected cards but lost the collection in a series of moves. Then, one day while out shopping, Joe Arruda was approached by an elderly woman. While cleaning out her attic, she had found three or four big boxes of cards that Joe had given her grandson. “Do you want them back?” she asked.

“That was how we got started,” Tom remembers. “My first memory of baseball cards is sitting on the living room floor and taking them out in piles and looking at them.”

Collecting cards became a hobby that Tom, his dad and brother, Bill, could do together. The family would go to shows to sell and trade cards—reinvesting any money they made to get more cards. They called themselves ”The Portuguese Trio,” after their family heritage, and even had business cards made.

They would spend hours opening and sorting baseball cards. “We would have the TV on and it would be a race to see who could get through their pack first. It was like Christmas every spring when a new set came out,” Tom says. “We looked forward to opening the cards and finally seeing what they looked like.”

The trio set a goal to collect every Topps’ baseball series from 1968 on. They settled on 1968 since it was the year Bill was born, and cards before that time were more expensive and harder to come by. Still, finding Red Sox cards in New England proved to be a challenge; most fans tended to hang on to their collection.

They were working on finishing the 1968 set when Tom’s father passed away in 1994. Soon after, Bill located three copies of the last card they needed—Red Sox second baseman Mike Andrews—in upstate New York. That card now hangs in Tom’s “man cave,” where the knee walls are lined with cards representing various New England teams.

For the most part though, Tom’s collection is not on display. “The ones that are out are the ones that are interesting but not worth as much,” he explains.

Tom estimates he has hundreds of thousands of cards stored in old U.S. government cheese boxes and milk cartons. “The boxes have nice lids and the cards fit portrait style. We could fit nine cheese boxes in an old fashion milk crate. It was easy for shows since everything stacked.” The collection takes up two rooms and includes not only cards but memorabilia, such as stadium cups.

Even though the trio talked about how the cards would send their kids to college, Tom is quick to point out that selling and trading cards was always a hobby, not a business. When pressed for what he would advise anyone looking to start a card collection, he cautions, “Be careful. Collecting has to be about the fun of doing it, not about making money. If you go into it just for the money, you’ll probably be taken.

“Dad was never in it for the money. He did it because he enjoyed it. He would trade with the kids in the neighborhood and never get a fair trade in return,” Tom recalls fondly. His father would give a child his favorite player’s card in exchange for a handful of cards of little value.

His father’s generosity clearly rubbed off on Tom. When talking to a co-worker, a St. Louis Cardinals fan, about their favorite players, the man mentioned that while growing up, he was  a Lou Brock fan. Later, when Tom ran across a Brock autograph in his collection, he brought it in and gave it to his friend.

“This means more to you than it means to me,” he said. “Put it somewhere and think about how you felt watching him play.”