By Kelly Kopa

My father yells to the back of the van: “Today’s the day, I can feel it!”

It was the summer of 1994. Denny’s had issued a new series of limited edition holographic major league baseball cards.

As the van pulled into the Denny’s driveway, a faint sound of moaning and the occasional “dear god, not this place again” were whispered underneath our breath by my two siblings and I. It was the seventh Denny’s we had stopped at within 48 hours during our road trip down to our annual Family Reunion in Myrtle Beach, NC.

My father had devised a strategic route to stop at as many Denny’s restaurants as possible in hopes of finding his prized Mike Piazza holographic baseball card. Sure, Mike Piazza may have had an overall Batting Average of .319 and had hit more than 80 RBIs that year, but why my father felt the urge to own that man’s face on a piece of cardboard was beyond me (I was, however, only seven years old at the time).

When the waitress sat us to our table we didn’t even bother to look at the menu. Why, you ask?

As part of their promotion, with each order of any “Classic Hits” entree, the customer received one hologram card… just one.

However, if each one of us ordered a “Classic Hits” entree, it would increase my father’s chances of owning a Mike Piazza card by five times. It was the perfect plan… or so my father thought.

The waitress didn’t even get within four feet of our table before my father began to raise his left hand, wiggling his five fingers with sheer glee (what a charmer). The waitress chuckled and headed straight back to the kitchen – she knew the deal.

Five steaming hot plates of scrambled eggs, hash browns and bacon galore approached the table along with a HUGE stack of baseball card packets. The pure excitement in my father’s face was almost indescribable.

Remember watching that scene in the film The Goonies when the kids finally find One-Eyed Willie’s treasure ship? My father was One-Eyed Willie and the cards were his treasure – no one else could have that Mike Piazza card but him!

Rolling ourselves back to the van, I watched my father as he felt each baseball card packet.  He was like the Baseball Card Whisperer, with the incredible ability to guess which card was inside the packet.

As he helped buckle me into the seat, I gazed up at my father with my big blue eyes and said, “Could I help you open two of the packets?”

You could tell that my father was conflicted about this.

That whole summer he had searched to find the one Mike Piazza card; to lose that chance, even to his seven-year-old daughter was unfathomable.  It took him almost 45 minutes to finally let me pick out just two packets out of the massive pile in the van.

“JUST TWO KELLY!” he said in a stern voice.

No one else in my family could believe it. Did the One-Eyed Willie of baseball cards just allow his daughter to pick out of his treasure?  HECK YES HE DID!

Reaching as far down into the pile as I could, my little hand grasped two packets.  I gazed at them with such awe.

“After eating 10 Classic Hit’s, you better be a Mike Piazza card!” I thought to  myself.  I pulled back the plastic. Everyone in the van held their breath.

I felt like Charlie Bucket in Willy Wonka.  Those beautiful lyrics from the film swayed back in forth in my head:

I never dreamed that I would climb over the moon in ecstasy,
But nevertheless it’s there that I’m shortly about to be
Cause I’ve got a golden ticket.

My brother started screaming: “Kelly! You found it! You got the Mike Piazza card!”

I realized I actually found the card my father had been chasing down all summer. Pure adrenalin rushed through my body and I quickly opened the second packet. Low and behold, there was the second Mike Piazza Hologram card in my hand.

I looked up at my father. Pure defeat had clouded his face.

I had cheated One-Eyed Willie out of his treasure.

It was a long three hours of silence before we got to our vacation home in Myrtle Beach.

Piling out of the van we headed our way to the house with our luggage. I noticed that my father left his box of treasures untouched. I knew that the only card he wanted was the two I found that afternoon.

What could I do?

As a very cunning seven year old, I rushed over to my art & crafts kit and began to tape back up the prized packets holding the infamous Mike Piazza card. Rushing over to my father with a huge smile on my face, I handed my dad the packets.  I went on to apologize for finding the thing he wanted the most that summer.

I’ll never forget what he said to me that day, after I offered the apology and the cards to him.

“Kelly,” he said, “you are the most important thing to me. I would never be upset about that. You, your brother and sister are my greatest treasure and I hope you all find something that you are all passionate about as much as I love collecting cards and being a dad.”

Wouldn’t you know, 20 years later, I’m an avid collector of vintage jewelry, working at the World’s Largest Collectible’s Auction House, with my father.

I guess the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree…

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