For Luis “Louie” Morales, running a baseball card show will be a walk in the park compared to the challenges he has faced.
The retired New York Police Department detective was a first responder when the World Trade Center was attacked Sept. 11, 2001. Working as a volunteer for a Central Florida sheriff’s department this year, his DNA skills helped crack cold cases from 1984 and 1986.
In 2012, Morales founded a charitable organization that helps feed homeless and hungry children in the Orlando area.
That organization, the Oranole Foundation, will be the beneficiary when Morales assumes the duties of running the monthly Orlando Area Card Show in suburban Apopka.
Morales, 53, will take the reins from longtime Florida sports card and memorabilia dealer John Mitchell, who founded the show in 2016 at a hotel in Maitland. The event has since moved to the Bahia Shrine Center in Apopka, where it will have upcoming shows on June 29, Aug. 3 and Aug. 31. All shows will be held on Saturdays from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m.
Morales has been working in tandem with Mitchell the last few months, but Mitchell is ready to step away.
“He’ll officially take over after this weekend’s show,” Mitchell said.
Morales said he is anticipating 50 tables of dealers for the next few shows.
“We usually sell out,” he said. “We get guys from Miami all the way up to St. Augustine.”
The money from entry fees will go toward the Oranole Foundation, which provides food pantries at schools in Orange and Seminole counties, “So kids don’t have to worry,” according to the organization’s website.
“We’ll make between $300 and $400 in entry fees and it will go straight to the charity,” Morales said. “Whatever comes in — whether I lose money on the show or not.”
Morales, who moved to Central Florida after retiring from the NYPD in 2003, said he was surprised when officials from Seminole County, one of the state’s more affluent counties, had thousands of homeless people, with nearly 25% of them hungry children 18 and under.
“Seminole County was the richest county, per capita, in the state of Florida,” Morales said. “But yet, we had the highest population of children who are hungry.”
While the charity is his main concern, Morales does have a long history in card collecting. Born in the tough Bedford-Stuyvesant area of Brooklyn, New York, Morales became interested in cards when his family moved to the Woodhaven neighborhood of Queens when he was 10.
“There was a guy across the street who used to send me to the candy store with some money,” Morales said. “He’d say, ‘Buy four packs for me and one for you,’ at 25 cents per pack.
“It was a cool candy store, too. They made their own soda, you know, with the syrup and the seltzer.”
Growing up near Shea Stadium, Morales naturally gravitated toward the New York Mets as his favorite team. Because his father was a Brooklyn Dodgers fan, Morales also followed the Los Angeles Dodgers and also liked the Boston Red Sox — except when they played the Mets. The Boston Celtics and Larry Bird were also favorites.
His favorite player? Dodgers first baseman Steve Garvey.
“I’ve always liked first base,” said Morales, who played the position as a youth despite his lack of height. “I liked the way (Garvey) played the game and the way he was as a person.”
Morales’ other favorite was Celtics star Larry Bird.
Morales spent 17 years as a detective for the NYPD and was called to Ground Zero after terrorists attacked the World Trade Center in lower Manhattan on Sept. 11, 2001.
Morales arrived after the North Tower collapsed and before the South Tower came crashing down.
“I had no idea if we were fighting a war,” he said.
Morales helped with search and rescue and said he spent four days “without sleeping.”
“I did everything from response to search and rescue,” he said. “It was one of the worst things I ever had to do.”
The attacks affected Morales as he suffered from post-traumatic stress disorder and suffered physical setbacks, too.
“I got all the ‘gifts’ that 9/11 gave,” Morales said. “My lungs are at 40% capacity (due to smoke inhalation).
“My doctor said I have the lungs of a guy who smokes.”
After “three years of hell without speaking to anyone about” the terrorist attacks, Morales retired from the police force and followed his parents to Central Florida. He set up in Winter Park before moving to Apopka.
He met his wife, Marisol, in Central Florida, and they were married in 2008. Marisol Morales is a big hit at the Orlando card shows, not because of her collection, but because of her culinary skills. Her booth is a popular stopping place for collectors and dealers.
“His wife makes the best homemade food,” Mitchell said.
“Everyone loves her empanadas,” Louie said. “I’ve had police who worked in Miami-Dade who said they’ve had it all, all that good Cuban and Spanish food down there.
“They’d come up here and try my wife’s empanadas and say nothing beats hers.”
While no longer a full-time detective, Morales still volunteers for the Seminole County Sheriff’s Office. He helped solved a pair of cases in 2019 that had baffled investigators since the mid-1980s. DNA testing was the key to cracking the mysteries.
In March, authorities arrested Thomas Garner, 59, on first-degree murder charges. Garner is accused in the 1984 beating and strangling death of 25-year-old Pamela Cahanes, an Orlando-area Navy recruit. Investigators said DNA evidence found under Cahanes’ fingernails matched Garner’s.
In May, authorities in Knoxille, Tennessee, arrested Daniel Lynn Emitt, 50, in connection with the July 14, 1986 stabbing death of Eveline Aguilar in her Orlando-area apartment. Morales also worked on the case, in conjunction with the Seminole County Sheriff’s Office.
Emitt was arrested after evidence samples from the case were resubmitted to a national DNA database, according to WFTV in Orlando. The samples matched one Emitt voluntarily submitted in 2005 for a case in Melbourne, Florida.
“He was a subject in a sex abuse case (in 2005),” Morales said, “And he knew he hadn’t done it. So when (police) asked if they could take a DNA sample, he said, ‘Sure, go ahead.’”
The samples were run through the national database and matched those found on Aguilar’s body. Emitt was arrested and charged with first-degree murder.
“As long as the police are submitting to the national database system, there is a chance to crack the case,” Morales said. “Now, if anyone is arrested, they take DNA swabs.
“We like to say that most people who commit crimes are morons. We’re just smarter and we’re gonna catch them.”
Morales will have fewer worries on his mind when the card show opens Saturday in Orlando. The fun of collecting, along with the knowledge that proceeds are going to help stock food pantries for hungry children, makes him smile.
“I’m looking forward to it,” Morales said.
So is his predecessor.
“He’s going to take this show to a higher level,” Mitchell said.