Baseball cards, life, and COVID-19

empty coors field

Coors Field in Denver has been empty since opening day 2020 because of the COVID-19.

I heard on the radio this morning that Major League Baseball and the players union agreed to play 62-games in the season truncated by the COVID-19 play at home orders.

It’s all about money and I’m wondering why the owners didn’t hire Andrew Yang and figure out how to pay the players a uniform basic income of $1000/month, rather than go through all the brain damage of setting up a season that’s only between teams that are relatively close to one another. That sounds like a local rec center slow pitch softball league.

The on-field rules are probably for the better: No spitting; no high-fives or fist bumps; no more patting players on the butt.

Pitchers won’t be able to lick their fingers. Instead, they’re allowed a damp hanky in their pockets to wipe off the crud from their grubby hands.

That got me thinking that the COVID-19 pandemic is moving me into the seventh phase of my life, based on my baseball card collection.

Since I moved to Colorado in around 1993, I was a born-again fan because the Colorado Rockies expanded to Denver. I was a season ticket holder, but after the All-Star game was played in Coors Field, my passion waned along with the team’s lack of success.

Here it is 20 years later since I paid any attention, but I’d rather watch a Little League game over at the Y than hassle with buying tickets and $10 beers. Not only is access limited to people with disposable income, the game is so much more about the monetary worth of this player or that player.

Gone are the days of, “I’ll trade you this Don Drysdale card for a Willie Mays.”

There aren’t near as many kids playing baseball, compared to soccer, which is a low-cost-of-entry pass time, plus any kid can play the game and learn the basic rules. Baseball is an ambidextrous sport with lots of subtleties to the rules of the game.

My life transitions have pretty much mirrored my baseball card collecting. In baseball card milestones, I’m entering into the seventh phase of my life.

mazeroski

This is the 1961 Topps card with Bill Mazeroski rounding the bases after winning the 1960 World Series with a home run.

Phase 1, the 1960s, Growing up and JFK – I really didn’t get into baseball until the early 1960s. My family got a TV around that time and the first World Series I watched was in 1960 when the Pirates beat the Yankees. My maternal grandfather was a Yankees fan and my dad was a Yankees fan, which would make me a third generation Yankees fan.

Watching Bill Mazeroski hit that home run to win the series in 1960 is still etched in my mind and to this day, I’m not much of a Pirates fan. I have a 1960 Roberto Clemente that was abandoned to me by Pat Higgins since his dislike for the Pirates was even greater than mine!

Also in that trade, I got a 1957 Frank Robinson rookie and a JC Penney golf putter. I can’t remember what I traded.

As for baseball cards, I don’t think I bought a pack until 1962 when my ranging pattern expanded. My grandparents lived a few blocks from a Safeway and the Missile drugstore in Cheyenne. I remember buying packs of Topps cards. In 1961, as my 8th birthday favors. Around that time was when I signed up for Little League and ended up playing for the Red Sox, of all things. In November 1963, my mom’s church circle group held their annual rummage sale in the Presbyterian Church basement.

wally moon

In 1963, I bought a Rawlings Wally Moon baseball glove at my mom’s church rummage sale. This is a 1963 Topps card.

My dad was a pretty good ballplayer. He bought me my first glove, which was from the Ben Franklin store. I used it for a summer but it didn’t have a very good pocket and a ball bounced out, hit me in the eye and KO’d me.

After that, I¬† found a Wally Moon mitt at the rummage sale, and bought it for a quarter, which was my weekly allowance. It was the weekend after President Kennedy was murdered. Besides the glove, I remember many of the women talking about JFK, when one of the women – who was a staunch conservative – came out of the kitchen area and said “It serves him right.”

Being a kid, I was awestruck by the comment, mostly because I didn’t quite know what to think of it. I think the others were caught by surprise, too. By this time, the Beatles were big and Topps put out several years worth of Beatles cards which were sold at the Save More Drug Store. I bought a bunch of those but don’t know where the bulk of them went. I still covet my 45rpm copy of “She Loves You” and “I Want to Hold Your Hand.”

We were baseball-starved in the Rocky Mountain west. The Denver Bears were the AAA affiliate for the Yankees off and on back then. My dad and some guys at his work had tickets to see an exhibition game between the Bears and the Yankees in 1964. They invited me along. Yogi was the manager and Ralph Houk the general manager by then. Seeing Maris and Mantle playing in the outfield is a life highlight.

nixon elvis

I lost interest in sports card collecting in the 1970s when I was in high school and college. I ended up voting for Richard Nixon in 1972.

Phase 2, the 1970s, High school, college – When I learned how to drive and was in high school and college, I out grew baseball card collecting and stashed the cards in old Quaker Oats boxes where they remained in the crawl space in my parent’s home in Laramie. Back then, there weren’t plastic storage boxes like there are now.

Luckily, my mother didn’t touch my cards and I eventually retrieved them. The reason cards are worth so much money today is because of moms who tossed out their kids’ collections while they were away.

I became more interested in politics back then and was involved in student government. I’m sorry to say, my first presidential vote in 1972 was for Richard Nixon. I was a Republican for a long time, until I was drummed out of the party for supporting a Democrat, John Vinich for U.S. Senate, in 1988. Wyoming is one of those states where you can change party affiliation at the polls and switch back the same day. Turns out, I probably was a Democrat all along.

munson rookie

Buzz Thurber was one of the first big time card collectors I knew. He had a complete set of the 1971 Topps cards which were tough to find in good condition.

Phase 3 – 1980s, started working – I got my first job and coincidentally, there was a resurgence in sports card collecting. I don’t know what started it all then, but some tipping point caused mostly guys to dig out their collections – myself included.

There were sports card stores opening and sports card trade shows happening around the country – mostly in the larger towns.

I was in Lander by this time and one of my friends, Buzz Thurber, was a bigger collector than I was. I was impressed that he had a set of the 1971 Topps cards. They have a black border and tough to find with edges not chipped up.

Buzz and I organized a small card show in the meeting room at the Crossroads Restaurant – which it was known back then. I always tell kids to study and get a good job so they can spend money on stuff like baseball cards and not have to ask for permission. I remember one guy who showed off his collection had a binder of HOFers – lots of different, old cards I hadn’t seen before, of course, this is before old cards were found in grandmas’ attics and now priced out of sight.

Back then, I acquired Babe Ruths, Ty Cobb, for around $50.

In 1995 I took my dad to see the replacement Yankees play the replacement Rockies in the first game at Coors Field.

In 1995 I took my dad to see the replacement Yankees play the replacement Rockies in the first game at Coors Field.

Phase 4 – 1990s, Moved to Colorado – I ended up staying in Boulder when the Rockies came to Denver in 1993. I went to Colorado, for what was originally a temporary stay when I worked for the Northern Arapaho Tribe setting up a “cultural conduit” between the tribe and its former homelands along the front range. The idea was to develop markets for Arapaho artists works.

I remember the first time I drove up to Laramie to visit my parents. My dad asked, “What are those green license plates doing on your car?” I had season tickets to the Rockies from the opening of Coors Field in 1995 until the All Star Game in 1998.

I forgot to mention that I joined a rotisserie baseball league in Lander. I didn’t quite get how to keep the stats since it was before computers and all the data was compiled by hand. My team was called the Yangs. As opposed to yin – yang, there is a Star Trek episode about an alternate world where the Civil War was fought not by the Yanks and Confederates, but the Yangs and the Congs.

In Boulder, I joined a league colloquially known as the Baseball Buttheads with Paul Pearson, Scott Deitler, Glenn Locke, et al. When I joined, it with my Yangs team, the data were figured quasi-manually, but with the explosion of fantasy sports, migrated to an online version. I kept baseball cards of all my players. I was the only team owner with enough guts to draft Colorado Rockies pitchers.

pine riders

My sports card store in Riverton was called Pine Riders.

Prior to my move to Colorado, my friend, John, and I – we both worked at the Wyoming State Journal started up a sports card store called Pine Riders in Riverton. He was a big sports card collector, too. That was a lot of fun buying and selling cards.

At our grand opening, we had former Yankees pitcher Bud Daley who still lives in Fremont County. I ran into Bud at the Wind River Casino working the slots a few months ago.  We also had former Cleveland Indian utility player Woody Held who lived in Dubois. He passed away in 2009.

bud daley

Bud Daley  makes his home in Riverton, Wyoming. He pitched the winning game in the 1962 World Series. He was a special guest when Pine Riders opened in Riverton.

It was around this time that the bottom started falling out of the market. The hobby became very weird. Topps had a corner on the hobby which was now being transformed into business. Two other companies, Donruss and Fleer came out with sets. All of a sudden, the market was flooded with cards.

To top it all off, a Walmart opened up in Riverton and if I didn’t know better, Walmart targeted Pine Riders and the office supply store across the street with predatory pricing.

Kids were bringing in cards they bought there for less than our wholesale price. Pine Riders slowly lost that part of the business which was a blessing in disguise since there were Donruss, Score, Topps, Fleer, Bowman, Leaf, Fleer Ultra, Upper Deck, Topps Stadium Club and a bunch of others. The store continued to do okay in the secondary market. I left the business when I moved to Colorado.

The old cards maintained their values, but for new collectors, artificial scarcity was created with unique “chase” cards that were traded and sold like stock. Those cards weren’t for collecting, but rather for making money. I think sports cards mirrored the dot com model. Whoever ended up with a suitcase full of chase cards ended up holding card board.

maris topps

Roger Maris broke Babe Ruth’s single season home run record in 1961. All the boys in the neighborhood wanted to be Roger.

As for myself, I traded away my bulk cards which were sets spanning 1958 to 1990. I started collecting certain Yankees teams: 1996 the Seinfeld Yankees era with Jeter, Williams, O’Neill; 1977 – 78 with Reggie Jackson; 1961 – 62 with Mantle and Maris; 1953 my birth year, 1932 with Ruth at the end of his career; 1923 first year in Yankee Stadium and first World Series title, 1919 the year of the White Sox scandal NFL and Chicago Bears founder George Halas was on the team. Then lost interest.

ground zero

This is Ground Zero in October 2001. Every time I go to New York I go to the same corner and take a picture.

Phase 5 – the 2000s, Terrorism and baseball – September 11, 2001 was a strange day. I was working in Denver at the time. I didn’t have the radio or TV playing that morning. I rode the 204 bus to the RTD station in Downtown Boulder.

No chatter on the bus. There was not one mention of the World Trade Center terrorist attack until we pulled into the Table Mesa Park n Ride. When I got into Denver and on the 15 bus, the town was eerily quiet – no planes were in the sky.

Flash forward.

I’m a very experiential person and felt like I needed to get to New York City. Turned out the Yankees won the American League Pennant, but the World Series was delayed until late October because of the terrorist attacks. I flew from Denver to Boston and made my way to New York on Amtrak for games three and four. I bought game tickets on ebay.

    These are the two fans i befriended for game 3 of the 2001 World Series in Yankee Stadium. Jeter hits a walk off homer in the 10th.

These are the two fans i befriended for game 3 of the 2001 World Series in Yankee Stadium. Jeter hits a walk off homer in the 10th.

This trip, I stayed at the Hotel Pennsylvania which is across from Penn Station. It used to be well kept secret in New York City, but has since been “rediscovered” – at least they raised their rates.

The Yankees dropped the first two to the Arizona Diamondbacks in Phoenix. The security was tight getting into Yankee Stadium. The game was dramatic. President Bush threw out the first pitch.

A flag from the World Trade Center flew over the stadium. Lee Greenwood sang “I’m Proud to be an American”. Clemens pitched well, I think a three hitter and the Yankees win 2 – 1 on a hit by Scott Brosius.

Game four was quite the nail biter that went into the 10th inning. Paul O’Neil gets on base and Tino Martinez smacks one into the stands to tie the game in the bottom of the ninth off BH Kim.

jeter rookie

Derek Jeter retires this year. He was one of many Yankees who appeared on Seinfeld.

Kim stays in the game in the 10th and ends up facing Jeter who hits a walk off homer to take a three games to two lead. I sat with a couple New York guys.

Everyone was a Yankees fan that night.

Jeter was dubbed “Mr. November” for his heroics. He’ll likely be the only player to be known as that since I’d be surprised if any more World Series games are played in November.

babe ruth w517

I’ve been filling in my 1919, 1923 Yankees collection. eBay has taken the challenge out of collecting. All a hobbyist needs is money and can buy just about anything.

Phase 6 – 2013, Downsizing – I had some pretty serious health issues in 2013 and came to the realization that it’s time to start sort through my stuff. I’ve been threatening to do this for many years.

I was in the hospital and rehab place for six weeks; physical therapy for four weeks and have been on my own for six weeks.

The acid test will be when I take on the Bolder Boulder 10K foot race on Memorial Day. I joined a facebook baseball card group which compelled me to get out the boxes again. Now that I’m old, it’s time to let other people enjoy what i have and am selling and trading to lighten my load.

I’m moving many cards, autographs, comic books and other ephemera on ebay. I’m converting the stuff that I no longer want into the few odd ball items I need to fill out some of my Yankees collections.

It’s very liberating but very time consuming. I’m still challenged by collecting and enjoy thumbing through my collection – I feel like a kid again!

ohtani rookie

I’m stuck with a couple cards of Shohei Ohtani. So far he’s turned about to be a bust after being hyped up during his rookie season.

Phase 7 – Memorabilia Existentialism. I knew I was getting old, but I didn’t think it would happen this fast. Most years, I buy exactly one pack of baseball cards from the local Target.

I don’t know many of the players these days, since I don’t play fantasy baseball anymore either. But I do collect one or two cards of a hot Yankees player who emerges during the summer.

There was Japanese sensation Shohei Ohtani who debuted in 2018. He was the “next Babe Ruth” because he was as good a pitcher as he was a batter. It turned out that American baseball is a lot more strenuous than the sport in Japan and he was soon injured. Last season, he didn’t play much and used mostly as a pinch hitter.

I haven’t been tempted to chase the “rare cards” created by false scarcity. Before 1980, there was pretty much one card manufacturing company called Topps

After that the market has been flooded by cards by a bunch of card brands. There’s no inherent shortage of cards. Now, “special edition” cards are included, like autographs, or hyped up ones.

Now it’s less about the hobby, and more about investing. Whoever gets stuck holding last year’s fake-rare cards are the big losers.

During my self isolation, I’ve been purging like there’s no tomorrow, which could, in fact be the case. I’ve emptied seven file boxes filled with papers, taken countless books and T-shirts to the thrift stores.

Now I’m inventorying all my “good stuff” for future liquidation.

Since the bulk of my collection was acquired before baseball cards became investments, I don’t worry about resale value as much as I do about enjoyment from the hobby. Over the past few years, I’ve been able to scrounge a 1928 Yankees signed baseball with Babe on the sweet spot, a cut signature of Lou Gehrig, and obscure stuff for my 1960 to 1964 Yankees collection.

I see in some of my facebook collector groups posts by guys who say they are collecting to pay for their kid’s college educations. Fat chance that will happen. It’s an excuse for them to hold on to their pieces of cardboard with pictures of guys wearing funny hats for as long as possible.

My heirs won’t know what’s so interesting about a 1990 Fleer Ultra Frank Thomas, let alone where to sell it. I’ll be getting rid of all my stuff within the next five years, the next 20 years at the latest!

Father’s Day memories – 2016

alan dad

This is a picture of my dad and me in front of our first house on 10th Street in Cheyenne, Wyoming.

My father died in 2003 and my two grandfathers passed on many years before that. I haven’t mused about them, really.

All three were sports fans, but none followed professional basketball. The NBA championship series ends on Fathers’ Day Sunday with the Warriors hosting the Cavaliers in Oakland. It’s been a weird series with a lot of blow-outs and down to game seven. I was too short for the organized game but could hold my own in pick up games. I’ve played enough to know the rules.

My paternal Grandfather Ohashi was named Toichi but known as George. I don’t know exactly when he emigrated from Japan, but it was in the later part of the 19th century. He and apparently one or more of his siblings initially ended up in Alaska.

There’s a photograph of him hustling pool someplace in Alaska, which I will dig out. When I was on a trip with the Presbyterian Church to Sitka, Alaska we took a ferry boat ride up and down the panhandle.

While in Ketchikan, my pal Sam Allen from Cody and I came upon a sign that said OHASHI Candy and Tobacco. Turns out it was owned by my Great Uncle, my grandfather’s brother who’s name escapes me. I was later at a conference in Seattle a few years ago and ran into an Ohashi who was a niece and a distant cousin of mine.

alan grandpa ohashi

This picture of my Grandfather Ohashi and me must have been taken on Fathers’ Day in front of his house.

His game of choice was billiards. I’m pretty sure he was a nine ball hustler. He owned a billiard hall on 17th Street in downtown Cheyenne. I inherited one of the pool tables when the pool hall closed and had it set up for many years, but when I moved to Colorado, I donated it to the Ethete Senior Citizen Center. I kept an old 9 ball from the rack. He was going blind, but could still hit a few trick bank shots.

My cousin Matthew from Salt Lake and his dad got me started collecting and scrounging up old stuff. He had an old Phillip Morris poster in there that I wanted, but couldn’t get freed up. I’ve wondered what happened to that item.

My Grandfather Ohashi in his downtown Cheyenne pool hall.

He developed diabetes later in life and couldn’t see very well. His spectator sport of choise was boxing. Back in the 1960s, there were only black and white TV sets. My dad and I would visit him and watch the Friday night fights. Boxers wore white or black trunks and it was easy for him to follow. He got pretty sick and moved into our house on 10th Street for a period of time. I was young but had to give up my room to my grandfather. I can’t remember how long he stayed, but he let me give him his insulin injections in his thigh. That was back in the day of those huge needles

He and my grandmother owned the Highway Cafe on the south Greeley Highway. He originally was a truck farmer from Brush, Colorado. He drove around an old panel truck and picked up produce from the farmers and sold them from a fruit and vegetable stand next to the cafe. It was nestled against a bluff where Interstate 80 would eventually pass and they moved a few blocks north. The Building still stands today, but is now a tobacco store.

Every once in a while I got the job of writing the new $1.00 specials on the black board. It was stuff like hamburger steak, egg foo yong, liver and onions. There was a Filipino guy named Carl who came in every night and had a half order of the special. The famous Cheyenne fisher Hank Okamoto came in from time to time showing off his string of fish. He was a fishing buddy of my Uncle Rich.

My dad brought my sister and I one at a time and together to the cafe. He cooked there after he finished working and after dinner. I don’t know this for fact, but it seemed to me the state Public Health Department put them out of business. The last straw was when the state required a vestibule to be constructed between the public area and the restroom, of which there was only one and not two.

alan grandpa sakata

Likely the same Fathers’ Day visit around town. This is my Grandfather Sakata and me on the porch of their home on Capitol Avenue.

My maternal Grandfather Sakata’s name was Jusaburo, but he was called Joe. There’s a Cheyenne history book that has the details about his emigration to Wyoming, but off the top of my head he came from Japan, then returned for my grand mother who was 20 years younger. What I mostly remember is he worked for the Burlington Railroad.

Back then it was known as the Chicago, Burlington & Quincy Railroad and he was the section foreman at a place called Orpha, Wyoming. Orpha still is there and located across the road from the Fetterman Battlefield State Historic Site.

I went to visit a few years ago. Many years before when I was in junior high school, my sister and I spent the summer irrigating on the Shinmori beet farm near there. We took a tour of Orpha which included the one room school, and the house where my mom’s family lived. Only the foundation remained when I last went to look around.

He and my grandmother moved to Cheyenne. The Burlington Northern railroad used to run through Cheyenne so I’m thinking he retired there. My mom, who was the youngest of the three kids ended up in Cheyenne, too. In his retirement, he became a gardener and did yard work for some of the neighbors around their home on Capitol Avenue a couple blocks from the state capitol building. That was one of the resupply depots for soda pop that we sold along the Cheyenne Frontier Days parades.

plains dairy trip

This is a neighborhood field trip to tour the Plains Dairy in Cheyenne. Notice I’m wearing the Yankees cap given to me by my grandfather.

His game of choice was baseball. My aunt lived in Washington DC and he watched the Senators play. He went to New York and brought me back a cap and pennant from Yankee Stadium in 1960. That was the first year I followed baseball. I’ll never be a Pittsburgh Pirates fan having watched Bill Mazeroski homer in game seven to beat the Yankees.

When I graduated from high school, I remember getting his wise words in Japanese – but my grandmother reminded him that I only understood English and got the speech again in English.

Language was a barrier keeping me from knowing my grandparents better. Of course, after World War II, that was a big wake up call for the Japanese American community. Even in the middle of nowhere Wyoming, there wasn’t any Japanese spoken around the house nor were Sansei kids – third generation – expected to learn Japanese nor retain much if anything about the culture, although I still prefer rice with my eggs. The 20th Street Cafe run by a Japanese family serves eggs with rice upon request.

I learned to be self sufficient, but that may have been because I was boy. When I graduated from college, I lived at home for a couple years while in grad school at the University of Wyoming. I think my parents appreciated that.

My father, Frank, worked his entire career at the Coca Cola plant in Cheyenne eventually becoming the manager. When the business was sold to the Ludwig family in Laramie, my dad was a part of the deal. When I was a sophomore in college and away in Hastings at the time, they moved over the hill to Laramie. I remember going to that house on Downey Street for the first time. I didn’t know which drawer the forks were kept.

When I was in high school, I worked summers for him at the Coke plant. That was an eye opener for me seeing him in a capacity other than at home. He managed like it was a basketball team – he was a pretty good basketball player on the Cheyenne High School team. He didn’t ask anyone to do anything he didn’t do himself. That’s one thing that rubbed off on me. I remember him chewing out a guy, who came to work drunk and eventually was fired. It was the first time I’d heard him swear like a sailor.

One time I was caught shoplifting and the condition of my staying out of the system was fessing up to my dad and he calling the store manager. That was by far the hardest thing I’ve had to do in my 63 years. I don’t think he told my mom about it.

He was always supportive of my activities, even later in life. When I played in the Fremont County orchestra, there was a performance in Laramie. Very few people were in the audience, but my dad was there. He pushed me to get my Cub Scout activities completed. I made it up to getting my “Bear” patch before Pack 113 folded. He was asked to take over, but it wasn’t his thing.

fb dad coors

My dad at the first game at Coors Field in 1995

My dad was quite athletic. He was a sports fan and knew the rules to a lot of games. He had good hand eye coordination and was a pretty good bowler, golfer and basketball player with a wicked hook shot. We played softball together in church league and had a good change up which fooled hitters even in slow pitch. As a spectator, he and my mom were avid Wyoming Cowboy fans.

He also was a Yankees fan. One of his Coca Cola plant truck drivers was a guy named Tony Rizzuto, who was related to  former Yankees 2nd baseman Phil Rizzuto. A bunch of guys from work a a guy from the air base all loaded up in my dad’s car and drove down to Denver to watch the Denver Bears play an exhibition game against the Yankees. That was in 1964. It was great seeing Mantle and Maris play. 

Definitely a big life highlight.

Coors Field opened in 1995, the replacement Rockies played the replacement Yankees in the strike-shortened year. I took my dad to watch that game. The Rockies made the playoffs that year too.

What about the name O’Hashi?

Nobody knows for sure, but the O’H is attributed to a school administrator who changed his name when he found out his birthday was March 17th – St. Patrick’s Day. Only my dad and his youngest brother Jake used the anglicized spelling.

I haven’t figured out what I’m going to do on Sunday, probably not watch the basketball game since my team, the Celtics, aren’t playing. The only tie I have to the Dubs is back in 1980 when the Warriors traded Robert Parrish and top draft pick Kevin McHale to Boston. The Celtics won the championship in 1981.

How I ended up a Celtics fan is another story, but it dates back to when Wyoming center Leon Clark was drafted by Boston in 1966.

I doubt I’ll watch the game. I did pick up a ball at the Sports Authority liquidation sale and may shoot a few hoops someplace.

Whatever your Fathers’ Day memories are, I hope they are fond ones.

My sport of the day? I’m going fishing if the water isn’t too high.

 

What is the chief end of man?

jesus card

Jesus of Nazareth

I’m a baseball card collector. Any kind of trading cards, really. Especially if they’re interesting.

I’ve been at it since I was in Sunday school.

One of the main reasons I went to church was for the the swag – Bible verse rulers, cookies and … trading cards – Jesus cards. My Sunday school teacher had a lesson and then passed the cards around. I’m pretty sure the girls didn’t know what to do with them. Probably wrecked these paper treasures by gluing them in a scrap book.

Me, I had a Jesus collection.

jesus card back

If Jesus autographed this card, it would be worth a lot of money. I doubt anyone could authenticate it.

I’ll trade you two Mantles for this Jesus..

When I was a kid, my family went to the First Presbyterian Church in Cheyenne, Wyoming. It was on the “other side” of town and kids from the other junior high school feeder schools went there.

In a sense, it was integration.

We went to church most Sundays. My parents were involved in the activities – women’s circle, Mariners. I’m pretty sure my mom was the main instigator of all that and my dad just tagged along for the food.

My sister and I went to Sunday school, sang in the choir and went to the youth fellowship group in the evenings. It was fun with not much emphasis on Christianity-related stuff. The mission was to make it home before “Batman” came on the TV.

Not like some of my friends who were Mormons, Catholics and Lutherans, there was some high pressure sales when I went to my friends church events. When it came to summer church camp, the Presbyterians and Congregationalists all came together.

I almost became a Mormon at one point. There was a girl involved but I came to my senses.

Presbyterians didn’t emphasize the “Jesus Saves” message or much of that sins = hell and good =¬† heaven drills.

It was mostly about the liturgy of church life – baby christening (which I don’t remember), free Bible in the 3rd grade (which I still have and rebound it when I wore it out. Well, actually dropped it off the top bunk at camp one too many times), catechism – “What is the chief end of man?” (I still know the answer), another free Bible for high school graduation (which I have but still in the box).

hc alan debbie karen mary coors

My mates and I at Hastings College.

A group of my Presbyterian high school friends all ended up attending Hastings College in Nebraska. The student body was around 650 which was the size of my high school class.

More liturgy.

Chapel on Wednesday morning wasn’t required, but there would be the occasional good program like Barbara Jordan.

Dress up family style dinner on Wednesday night was a hassle. We were enticed to attend with pretty good food.

Then there was the social engineering.

Freshman women weren’t allowed to leave campus for the first semester.

All women had to be back in the dorms by 1:00 am. They looked forward to daylight savings time because of the added hour.

There were very few minorities – a latino who now happens to live in Boulder, a couple black guys on the football and track teams, a Chinese and me.

These days, there aren’t women’s hours, but the school is still very white bread, but it fits in with that middle-of-the-grain-belt-culture, which is okay.

There was a Jewish guy who was big into Jews for Jesus. Apparently the Bible says there will be 144,000 Jewish men selected to be “saved.”

He wanted to be one of them.

He was the most religious zealot on campus. There were some pre-seminary majors, but this guy was over the top – Campus Crusade for Christ, all that.

At the time, the conservative lifestyle suited me – I was Republican then. In fact, my first presidential vote was for Nixon, I’m sorry to admit. The school year was 3-1-3. During the January Interim in 1973, I took a political science class called Legislators and Lobbyists in Washington DC. One of the activities was attending Nixon’s inauguration. I was tear gassed during an anti-war demonstration.

I was going through the motions, but still didn’t get the religious part of campus life at Hastings College.

chariots_of_the_gods-720080While in college I became interested in the “Chariots of the Gods” craze.

Basically, it’s about aliens from other dimensions who Erich Von D√§niken believes are the angels who talked to various Biblical characters through burning bushes, pillars of fire, angels. The chariot that Jesus is supposed to ride when he returns at the end of the world is a UFO.

The Bible categorizes angels from archangels at the top to Satan at the bottom and several categories in between. There’s supposedly a constant unseen battle happening between good and evil.

Since I’m more into the tangible, the aliens / UFO model started to make some sense.

I’ll skip through time.

After graduating from Hastings with degrees in biology and political science, finding a job was not on my radar screen. My counselors forgot to tell me there aren’t many jobs counting smooth and wrinkled peas.

I sat out the post-Vietnam War recession in grad school at the University of Wyoming. After two years, I got a job in Gillette in 1977.

ufo mcguire

The water well on the McGuire farm with the Israeli flag flying.

In 1980, there was a story in the Casper Star Tribune about strange lights in the sky bouncing around a remote part of southeast Wyoming. I called the reporter about it and as a journalist he was awe struck.

At that time, there was a TV show called “That’s Incredible” hosted by Sarah Purcell and John Davidson.

The show was sending a crew to  Wyoming for a story about the UFOs visiting the Pat McGuire family at the Morton Pass Farm in the Sybille Canyon between Wheatland and Laramie on Highway 34.

“We have to go there,” I said to a group of my friends. I was obsessed by it.

The story is whacky and more involved than what I’ll write here, but hold on to your hats.

Sprinkle

Leo Sprinkle

A world renowned paranormal psychologist from the University of Wyoming named Leo Sprinkle specialized in alien abduction experiences and through hypnosis, regressed McGuire to the time he was taken aboard the UFO several years earlier.

He claimed to have been in touch with the Archangel Michael and given instructions to drill a big well on his property and begin farming.

The well was a gusher – over 8,000 gallons / minute supposedly delivered by the aliens.

He was approved for a low interest loan from the state of Wyoming for some irrigation equipment, even though hydrology studies that said the sage brush country would remain dry and unproductive dur to lack of water.

In homage to Michael and his other alien abductors, he flew the Israeli flag over the water well pump. He said the aliens wore Star of David belt buckles. He also wore one on the belt that held up his Wranglers.

ufo lights

Nocturnal Lights seen from the Morton Pass Farm in 1980.

My UFO entourage drove down and met the “That’s Incredible” crew. The nocturnal lights weren’t quite as active as they were earlier, but nonetheless, there were some to be seen, which I photographed.

On my way to Laramie from Gillette to visit my parents I generally stopped at the McGuire’s through the early 1980s. One day, the access road was closed.

After that, I lost touch with the McGuires.

Over time, I learned the McGuires had family and financial problems and were unable to make ends meet with their high altitude barley crop, even with the free water.

I heard the University of Wyoming ended up with the farm.

Pat died in 2009.

I read a couple books on the topic of angels as aliens. One was “Angels: God’s Secret Agents” by Billy Graham. It puts into context good angels and bad angels and mentions the UFO phenomenon and I can’t help but make the same comparisons with what I saw on those hills on Highway 34 that summer.

angels gods secret agentsGraham writes, “Some reputable scientists deny and others assert that UFOs do appear to people from time to time. Some scientists have reached the place where they think they can prove that these are possibly visitors from outer space.

“Some Christian writers have speculated that UFOs could very well be a part of God‚Äôs angelic host who preside over the physical affairs of universal creation.

“While we cannot assert such a view with certainty, many people are now seeking some type of supernatural explanation for these phenomena. Nothing can hide the fact, however, that these unexplained events are occurring with greater frequency.”

A few years later, after I moved to Lander, I was in Cheyenne for some reason.  I saw that Billy Graham was speaking at Frontier Park. It was free, so I went over to listen.

Alan and the PopeCopter in 1993

It was the biggest religious event I’d attended, at least until I went to see Pope John Paul II at Cherry Creek Reservoir in 1993. Now that was a crowd. I’d only taken Catholic communion once and it was at that papal mass.

Rev. Graham didn’t talk about angels or UFOs, but he’s one inspiring speaker.

I was compelled to give a few bucks when his minions passed the hat. I was attending the Evangelical Free Church which was a fairly conservative branch of the Presbyterians. The preacher and his wife were young and personable. I had forgotten that I wrote my home church on the offering envelope. Back in those days, to get a tax deduction, the church had to send you a receipt.

My minister was surprised I went to see Billy Graham and I told him my Angels and Aliens story.

He looked at me as if I was the son of the devil and the topic didn’t come up again.

I don’t wear my faith on my sleeve.

I do think there’s something to the historical Jesus as being a guy who walked his talk about the benefits of being nice to each other.

I bought a copy of the Jefferson Bible. Thomas Jefferson separated out all the scripture that was said by Jesus and compiled it, which is pretty much what I follow.

“What would Jesus do?”

The path I happened to take to get me there, was the UFO and alien route. I ended up where most others end who come through more conventional recruitment.

Based on the super natural stuff I’ve seen, the claims that Jesus was taken up to heaven don’t surprise me.

I don’t care if there’s a resurrection or not, nor do I care if I get raised from the dead. As far as I’m concerned, one lifetime here is enough!

jesus alou

Jesus of San Francisco

I’m still an avid card collector and plan to hold on to them, just in case.

I don’t want to be standing at the Pearly Gates and Peter says, “Welcome to heaven, but where’s all your stuff?”

To go along with my Jesus of Nazareth card, I have Jesus of San Francisco – Jesus Alou.

He and his two brothers Matty and Felipe all played for the Giants. The three played in a few games together in 1963.

Most of what I know about life is from trivia on the backs of trading cards.

jesus alou backAnother factoid and why I like this card is, Jesus Alou started his professional baseball career in 1959 playing for the Hastings Giants in the “D” Nebraska League.

Will my Presbyterian coincidences never cease?

By the way, man’s chief end is to glorify God and to enjoy him forever.