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From Left Field...

by Charlie Vicent

I shouldn't make too much of it, but I am a collector. Have been a long time. I belong to a generation of men, no longer young, who still hold to blame mothers most now departed for a better place for spoiling our collections. For not realizing their value to our souls or to our net worth.
I had shoe boxes full, I am sure, of those valuables. There were hundreds of them, still bearing the faint smell of bubble gum. Pictures of Ted Williams and Mickey Mantle. Of Enos (Country) Slaughter and Sandy Koufax. They were in my bedroom, as I grew up in Victoria, Texas. They were in my closet. Then, I thought, they were in the attic, when I went off to school and then to marriage. And then, when I came back to claim them, once time had passed and some people my age were getting wealthy off the old baseball cards, they were gone.
"Don't know what happened to them," Mom said. "I thought you took them with you when you left home."
Oh, I knew I hadn't safe-guarded all of them. Some doubles mostly, or cards of undistinguished short-term major leaguers wound up as noise-makers between the spokes of my bicycle. It was cool. I was very cool as a teenager, but like the baseball cards, I lost my coolness somewhere along the way.
The baseball cards were never found. They had just disappeared. Lost to the ages. All except for three of those Ted Williams cards. He was my earliest sports hero and I had kept them with me, even when I left all the others at my boyhood home.
At some point I put the three Williams' cards between the pages of a book, for safekeeping. To insure they would not get bent or dirtied. I have looked for that book for years now, without success. But I know I still have it. In a box somewhere, perhaps. Or on a shelf in my office that I have not explored. Maybe stuck way back in a drawer.
That is my history as a collector. I am a failure. Treasures that brought smiles to my face will never to bring smiles to my sons or to my grandsons. Or to others like them, who would have paid ever escalating prices for those old baseball cards.
Growing up as I did, not all that far from the Mexican border, I was not ignorant of the treasures from south of the border. I have always had an appreciation of fine things Mexican; of a well-sung version of Sabor a Mi, of a well-stuffed chile relleno, of Carlos Hermosillo's artistry on a Mexican soccer field, and the tart pleasure of a frosty margarita.
Oh, art? Real art? Well, I know Frida Kahlo's name. And Diego Rivera's. I've seen his magnificent fresco panels on the walls of the Detroit Institute of Art. But when someone mentioned Luis Marquez, I tried to look him up on the internet and found there had been a major league baseball player from Puerto Rico by that name, who played a few seasons for Boston, Pittsburgh and the Chicago Cubs in the 50s.
So when El antiQuario's editor, Roberto Alvarado, asked me to contact Susan Toomey Frost for an interview, I began my e-mail to her by admitting: "I am no expert on art, Mexican or otherwise."
After visiting with her at her south Austin home, on a hillside overlooking downtown, I am still no expert. But I have a new respect for a wide range of Mexican arts, for their beauty, their scope and, most of all, for the knowledge, the hard work and the tenacity of the people who forage the flea markets, the internet, the secret and elusive places where works of the past now rest far away from the eyes of the world.
When Roberto asked me to visit Susan Toomey Frost, he told me she was "an important collector". I left her home knowing why that is so. And I left knowing I am going to enjoy this new look at things I have looked at for so long, but so often not seen.