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Kittanning Twp. man collects baseball's past

| Thursday, April 5, 2012

There may not be any future Hall of Famers in the 2012 Pittsburgh Pirates lineup whose rookie card could end up valuable someday, but that doesn't make the season opener today any less exciting for a die-hard baseball card collector and fan — Chuck Smail.

No Pirates-great Roberto Clemente or Yankees' Mickey Mantle in the lineup• -- That's OK for Smail, 61, of Kittanning Township who has hundreds of thousands of cards in his collection.

Smail still will be watching a baseball game on opening day.

"You can't beat that," said Smail.

Buy him some peanuts and Cracker Jacks -- the card collecting can come another day, he said.

"I've always loved the Pirates and the Cleveland Indians," said Smail. "The fun is just getting back into the baseball season."

Smail is more than a baseball card collector. He has a large collection of other sports cards; comic books; 78, 45, 33 1/2 and rare Edison cylinder records; stamps; books; Matchbox and Hot Wheels cars; Armstrong County memorabilia and "Star Trek," "Star Wars" and "Superman" collectibles.

He has a collection of cards for all eight Major League Baseball players from Armstrong County. They are of Ron Shoop of Rural Valley; Ed Hobaugh of Ford City; Rudy Minarcin of Parks; Steve Souchock of Yatesboro; Dick Starr of Kittanning; Mike Goliat of Yatesboro, Denny Harringer of Ford City and Mickey Morandini of Leechburg.

His favorite baseball card is one of Clemente.

The most valuable baseball card in Smail's collection is a Mantle rookie card from 1952. He had three of them and sold one. The cards are each worth thousands of dollars.

Smail got the Mantle cards for next to nothing at a yard sale.

While on vacation at his camp with his family, Smail was out all day visiting roadside sales.

He said he stopped for gas, a bottle of pop and a bag of chips at a little mom and pop place at the tip of a mountain.

"I looked across the road while I was filling up and there was an elderly man and his wife with a table set up having a yard sale," said Smail. 'There was a box of baseball cards. They were all from 1948 to 1967. She was asking a quarter a piece for the cards and I asked what would they take for the whole box. They said to give them 10 bucks."

"My wife said I almost ripped my pants pocket out trying to get the $10 out," he said.

They asked Smail if he was interested in any more and showed him 115 more boxes filled with baseball cards.

"I bought them all," Smail said. "There were three Mickey Mantle rookie cards in the bunch all in fine shape."

Smail started collecting baseball cards as a boy.

"In the neighborhood, all we did was buy baseball cards with whatever money we had," said Smail. "There was a corner grocery store and they were a nickel a pack and came with a piece of gum."

And like many of us, Smail's love for baseball started on a neighborhood sandlot.

"We would get together at one of our houses in the summer when school was out," said Smail. "The Kittanning guys would play the Troy Hill guys. We didn't finish many games because they would always end with a fight."

Smail said baseball card collecting can be a pretty cheap hobby.

"You can collect a set of Pittsburgh Pirates cards and spend less than $100 to go back to at least 1992," said Smail. "That's when all the different companies came out and almost killed the baseball card collections."

Smail's wish is to see an unassisted triple play on opening day.

Morandini turned an unassisted triple play. He did it on Sept. 20, 1992, against the Pirates in the sixth inning on a soft line drive by third baseman Jeff King.

"Love to," said Smail. "It's so rare."

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