Kelly Stinnett played the better part of fourteen seasons in the big leagues. The Lawton, Oklahoma native suited up behind the plate for eight different teams during his MLB career, having his best year in 1999 with the Arizona Diamondbacks.
Stinnett transitioned from player to the manager role shortly after his retirement in 2007. He became the skipper of a number of minor league teams over the years until finding his home as the head coach of Park University’s baseball program in Gilbert, Arizona.
I spoke to him about spending his downtime on the road as a player hunting down card shops in each city, his admiration for Mickey Mantle and seeing firsthand some of Dmitri Young’s amazing mail days.
TR– Did you collect baseball cards as a kid?
KS-I was born in 1970, so that 1980 to 1986 range, I have quite a few cards from all sports. That’s where I started.
TR–Did you collect certain players or teams or did you just collect in general?
KS-Back then it was basically Topps. That was it. I remember pulling Don Mattingly’s rookie card. I had Dan Marino’s rookie card. I had all of those. I still have them in a box here at my house. I turned 50 years old here in February. I haven’t done as much lately because of my crazy schedule. I used to do it a lot when I was playing, I would get up early in the morning and go try to find an old card shop back in the day.
One thing I tried to do, being from Oklahoma, was collect Mickey Mantle. He was the guy. I would try to find Mantle cards in any condition and I would stockpile them. 2008 hit and I had to liquidate a bit but I still have a few left. He was my go-to guy. I didn’t care what condition it was. I tried to find as many Mickey Mantles as I could.
TR–You were drafted first in 1989 by Cleveland and then again in the Rule 5 Draft by the Mets in 1993. Your rookie cards appeared in 1994. Do you remember the first time you saw yourself on a trading card?
KS-It was a Star card. I was in Watertown, New York in 1990. That was probably the coolest card I have seen of myself. It was the first one. It was kind of an action shot. I looked young. Well, I was young! That was the neatest thing. That was the first card I saw of myself. I don’t think there were too many made. I have a few myself. I am always scouring eBay every now and then to see what is out there. I try to collect myself occasionally. I have a one of one. I have a few printing plates. I was able to get those and I will save them for the kids.
TR–Do you have a man cave or room or office that you display your memorabilia in?
KS– Not yet. I am working on it. Being a college coach now, my new school is transitioning me into a new office just for me, so that will have a little bit of a man cave feel to it to try to impress recruits and let them know I actually did play baseball back in the day. I’ll show off some of my stuff. I have baseballs and bats and all that good stuff. Hopefully I will get that office up. I have two kids in college, so when they get out I can turn one of their rooms into a man cave. That is the plan.
TR–What is the crown jewel of your collection?
KS-My wife got my first Mets uniform, my first big league hit (ball) and my first big league home run (ball) framed in a nice, big acrylic setting. It’s in one of my kids’ rooms right now. That’s probably the neatest thing that I have that we can look at every day.
TR–You mentioned hitting up card shops in cities that you traveled to while in the big leagues. Did you have teammates who collected?
KS-The guy that I used to talk cards with a lot was Dmitri Young when we were together on the Reds. He had this crazy span at the old Reds Stadium where he would be getting cards in daily. I remember him getting the Gem Mint 10 1963 Topps Pete Rose rookie card. It was pretty neat. I wasn’t quite that extreme. He had it going for quite a while. He had a really good collection. It was great talking baseball cards with him. His collection was special.
TR–The jersey swap is a relatively new phenomenon is pro sports. Do you wish it was more of a thing during your playing days?
KS– I think that would have been awesome. There were quite a few bats and bat swaps. I have some bats. We were sending balls over to the other dugouts and locker rooms to get them signed by the stars of that era. That is my collection back then. I got quite a few baseballs. That collection consists of most every star from back in the day. I would go ask them personally so I knew I was getting the right signature. When we play each other I want to kick your butt but I am a fan of you when we are not playing each other. That was the way I approached it. I didn’t want to bother them too much but I wanted to get that autograph. I wanted to get a couple of them if I could. I didn’t know how many kids I would have at the time. I have boys so I can pass them down and there will be enough to go around.