Nationals’ fans at the National

I spent several hours this weekend at the 31st National Sports Collectors’ Convention at the Baltimore Convention Center. I’ve attended many of these in years past when I was a far more active collector, and inasmuch as itwas in my own backyard, I trekked down there a couple of times.

Lots of Nationals’ fans were in attendance, and I spoke with several of them. Collectors of all stripes were seen in Strasburg T-shirts and jersies; a lot of that is the bandwagon effect, I think, but that’s okay. He’s the flavor of the month at the moment, and having a National in that kind of spotlight can only be a plus. One dealer had #44 Milledge Nats’ jersies - the honest-to-goodness big league “Cool Base” shirts by Majestic - for $85, but they didn’t seem to be moving very well.

One dealer had a nice 1959 Senators’ road jersey of #5 Norm Zauchin. Zauchin once hit 27 home runs in a season for the Red Sox, but by the time he got to Washington didn’t have much left. He was released in early May of ‘59, and the shirt displayed a very small amount of wear.

Zauchin’s name is burned into my brain because of something that happened after he left the Senators. Playing for the Miami Marlins - then a Baltimore minor league outpost - he fell into the seats chasing a foul ball and ended up in the lap of a young lady, who he later married. You can’t make this stuff up.

I only bought one thing: a 1954 “Bucky Harris Day” program from Griffith Stadium. I’ve got Harris’ home jersey from that season, and he’s really one of the most cherished Washington old-timers. My daughter bought a game-used puck from a Capitals’ playoff game for $20 - it came on a nice inscribed case - and was happy to get it.

The collectibles business has really changed the marketing of the game since the 1960’s, when there were very few licensed products available. You couldn’t buy a genuine major league cap at the ballpark back then; the ones they sold were pretty cheesy, made of cotton twill with an elastic band in the back and a logo patch in the front. Heaven forbid they got dirty - trying to clean them was futile, you might as well buy a new one. There was, in fact, almost nothing in the way of team apparel available. It was pennants, pinback buttons, bobblehead dolls (that would crack if you looked at them sideways), and programs or yearbooks. In retrospect, major league baseball must’ve thought there was no market for that stuff.

How times have changed.