Bench. Rose. Morgan.
Thirty-three years ago, these were my heroes. It sounds silly now, as a grown man, but I know most collectors can relate in some way. The 1978 cards of these icons felt like gold, like Disney World, in my hands.
I wanted to be them. Oh, I already knew that playing pro ball was pie-in-the-sky. A couple of black eyes from neighborhood games with the older kids made me jittery in the batter's box from age 7 on.
Instead, I wanted to be cast as legends on cardboard like them. (I guess I hadn't quite put two and two together.)
These three cards were true cardboard heroes to me. They remain among the favorite of my collection, entirely because of the memories they stir up. As a kid, I carried these cards everywhere - and the wear on them proves it. I studied the stats, memorized them.
The history of their earlier years was hard to grasp. I only owned these cards. It was as if they had just arrived on the baseball scene right along with my interest in the sport. Never mind that they had won two World Series championships just a couple of years earlier. Never mind that arguably all had just passed their peak years.
That was a time I wish sometimes I could return to and that may explain a good bit of my preoccupation today with baseball cards. Life is much harder nowadays for me, of course. For all of us, I suppose.
Looking back, that age of innocence was oh-so-fleeting. But it's nice to be able to look back through the window that our old baseball cards open.
In 1978, I had a Mom, Dad and older sister - all together in the same house - the perfect family of four. We were happy - all flowers and sunshine.
To my parents credit, I was ignorant for a few more years about the trouble brewing. In 1983, I stopped collecting cards, coincidentally about the time my parents' divorced. Of course, other things were happening with me as well. Girls, for one.
My sister was already out of the house by this point. I was just hanging on - and soon got into my own fair share of trouble. Nothing too crazy or illegal. Mostly just losing focus. Sometimes I'm still stunned I got it together, went to college and graduated.
My cards were packed away by 1983 - maybe at Dad's house or maybe at home with me and Mom. I don't know. I probably didn't know then. They were relics of a childhood gone. They were kid's play.
I no longer feel that way.
At an age when this damn Charles Bukowski line has a hold on me: "The days run away like wild horses over a hill" - it's a comforting feeling to look at these old cards.
Pete Rose, Johnny Bench and Joe Morgan haven't been my heroes for some 30 years. But their 1978 baseball cards again make me smile.