From wedding matchbooks to an Ernie Harwell autographed radio, Charlie Parent of Birch Run, Michigan has been collecting baseball memorabilia for 50 years, with a special fondness for his home state team.
From Paul Neumeyer in The Saginaw News:
There always are Detroit Tigers fans, during good times and bad times.
Some are loyal to a fault, hanging in there on every pitch, even when any hope of winning a pennant is lost.
Others are late bloomers, fans who sprout like dandelions in the spring when the Tigers start to win. We saw that last year, and another bounty harvest of new fans is peeking at games this year.
It’s that way in most sports.
There always are loyal fans and bandwagon-jumpers.
There also are Tigers fans, and then there are Tigers fanatics.
Birch Run’s Charlie Parent is a true Tiger fanatic.
The basement in this 56-year-old man’s house contains proof of his Tigers allegiance, and his wife Norma’s tolerance.
Walking into Parent’s basement is like entering a baseball shrine of hundreds — maybe thousands — of pieces of baseball memorabilia, mostly Tigers collectibles.
Items are meticulously arranged, displaying the thought and care Parent puts into his presentation each year. As a new baseball season approaches, Parent is down in his basement carefully arranging the year’s display of artifacts, mixing some new in with the old. Parent says it takes him 10 weeks to get a new display to meet his satisfaction. And like the National Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, N.Y., not all of his collection earns display status each year. Some has to remain in the archives.
"It’s like a museum," admits Parent, a maintenance worker for Clio’s SS. Charles and Helena Church. "Friends come down to my basement and say I should charge admission. I say, ‘OK, how about $20?’ And they always say, ‘Well, I didn’t mean right now.’ "
What’s in his basement? You name it.
He started collecting at age 6, and hasn’t stopped. You’ll find him at flea markets, antique and card shows, autograph sessions, always looking for that needle in a haystack or a special bargain.
He’s found plenty over the years. Some on his own, some from friends and church members, and some from strokes of luck.
Like the 1968 World Series championship season baseball, which 31 of the Tigers autographed. "A guy gave it to me," Parent recalls. "He said he didn’t know what it was and it didn’t mean anything to him, so he told me I could have it."
Or the ticket stub from a Tiger game at Briggs Stadium on April 26,1942. Parent discovered that collectible while cleaning out a family cedar chest after his mother, Virginia, died in 1998. The opponent for the game wasn’t on the ticket, but the price of a box seat was $1.40.
Or how about the Tigers’ 1957 season schedule emblazoned on a silver-dollar-size aluminum coin? Corporate sponsorship played a role back then too, since Speedway Gasoline was the collectible coin’s sponsor. Parent also has a collection of Coca Cola bottle caps from his childhood, in which pictures of Tigers players were inserted underneath the cap, guys like Al Kaline and Norm Cash — two of Charlie’s all-time favorites.
Then there’s an old picture of legendary Hall of Famer Ty Cobb, and the obituary of another Tiger great, Hank Greenberg. Which reminds Parent of a story about his father Louis, who he recalls sitting in a living room chair on Sunday afternoons, enjoying a beer while listening to Tiger games on the radio.
"My dad told me about a time when he went into the service in 1941 and sat on a train next to Hank Greenberg. My dad wrote a letter to his mother about how Hank bought him a candy bar and a pop. He was excited about that."
Only dad didn’t save Charlie the candy bar and pop for his museum, since Charlie wasn’t even born then. Parent also tells the story of acquiring a game program from the 1934 World Series, between the Tigers and the St. Louis Cardinals. Parent discovered the gem at a flea market, and the bidding began.
"The guy there wanted $45 for it, and I asked him if he would take $35. He said he had to have $45, and that he could get as much as $60. I bought the program. Three months later, I was at a Barnes and Noble bookstore looking at a baseball collectible book. I came across that same program, and it was valued between $400 and $600. So he didn’t know what he had either," Parent says.
Parent’s collection also includes more than 50 autographed pictures of Tigers past and present. He has "Michigan and Trumbull" road signs erected on a self-made steel pole, the fame corner where Tiger Stadium came alive on many summer nights. There are framed jerseys and photos of the current (Joel Zumaya, Brandon Inge, Justin Verlander and Kenny Rogers), and the old (Kaline and Kirk Gibson are two). A poster stumping, "Denny McLain for President," although it’s unlikely the former 31-game winner and convicted felon would get any votes today. Especially in Chesaning.
He has a team photo of the 1984 World Series champion Tigers. Life the photo up to find a television behind it with a video tape of Magglio Ordonez’s American League pennant-clinching homer ready for viewing.
There are more than 25 autographed baseballs, numerous cups, bats and hats, a collection of Wheaties cereal boxes, baseball cards galore, Detroit Tigers chewing gum, and every Tiger Yearbook from 1959-1993.
"They stopped making them for a while and came out with media guides instead. Then they started making the yearbooks again in 2005. I have the 2005 and 2006 yearbooks, but haven’t gotten this year’s yet," Parent says.
Some of Parent’s other favorites include a radio he used to listen to Tigers games during his childhood. Years later, Parent caught up with former Tigers broadcaster Ernie Harwell during a Blue Cross/Blue Shield walk in Frankenmuth.
"I showed Ernie the radio and told him I used to fall asleep listening to him at night. He said, ‘Was I that boring?’ We laughed, and then he signed the radio. He’s my favorite of all," Parent explains. The collection includes a couple other Harwell collectibles — a microphone-shaped radio Harwell autographed and a miniature figure of Harwell, with mike in hand.
Another interesting item Parent has on display is a matchbook from a double wedding of former Tigers Dave Rozema and Kirk Gibson. Gibby and Rozey married twin sisters JoAnn and Sandy Sklarski on Dec. 22, 1985, in Grosse Pointe Farms. Parent found the matchbook at a card show, and later was successful in getting Rozema to autograph it. He still hasn’t landed the Gibby signature.
Parent finds himself in constant update mode, now that the Tigers are back on the winning track. "I had to clear out a whole section for last year’s Tigers, and I hope I have to do it again this year."
There is other hallowed ground in the basement, however. Charlie also collects Harley Davidson and Philip’s 76 memorabilia, And then there is a corner that is reserved for Norma’s Elvis collection.
"My wife helps me find a lot of good things when we go to flea markets and shows," Parent says. "She is a Tigers fan, but she’s a big Elvis fan."
Don’t be cruel.
After all, whenever Parent heads out to flea markets or card shows, he’s nothing but a hound dog looking for that next treasure for the "museum."