Newport, Rhode Island’s Pat Combs was a standout on the diamond during his formative years.
Tony Reid- When was the first time you were asked for your autograph?
Pat Combs-It was in college. We had some trading cards that were produced by a local hospital who had sponsored the Baylor baseball team. They came up with the idea of putting the cards out with a nice little comment about us on the backs of the cards as players and then also about the hospital. It was more of a marketing campaign for them.
We showed up to the hospital as a team and they had given the cards out to some of the kids that were in the hospital. We were able to go through and the kids were asking us for autographs. It was a neat thing for us as a team and cool to be connected to kids in that environment and be able to put a smile on their faces that day.
TR-How special was it to see yourself on a trading card for the first time, even in college?
PC-It really is special. I was a big card collector as a kid. My uncle got me into it when I was seven or eight years old. He was in his twenties at the time. He remembers this story. We were going through all of his cards and I would ask questions about the players and we would flip the cards over and read stats. I ‘remember telling him ‘Uncle Chet, my face is going to be on one of those cards someday.’ He’s like ‘OK. That’s great.’ Then years later it happened. My uncle sent me a card asking for my autograph.
TR–Your official (extended) Rookie Card appeared in the 1988 Topps Traded set as a part of the Olympic Team. We know you were the last cut from the roster but how great was that experience and process like for you with cards being a small part of that ?
PC-It really started when we were training in Millington, Tennessee. That was where the home training base was for USA Baseball for many years. The cool part was when the Topps guys show up and take pictures that day, we all looked around, as young college players, thinking this was real! We were going to have our faces on real Topps cards. It was neat. When you talk about those extended sets, as a card collector, I knew how valuable those extended sets were to the normal Topps set you would acquire every year.
The 1988 team, having gone through that summer and wear USA across your chest and feeling that pride to represent your country was special. We got to Millington and the word was the 1984 team was really good. They were supposed to win gold and only got silver. We knew how good they were and the expectation was lower for us. It was like, if you guys could just medal that would be great. It was a great experience with that team of Jim Abbott, Tino Martinez, Andy Benes, Charlie Nagy, Ed Sprague, Scott Servias and others, a lot of guys played a lot of years in the big leagues.
At that time the folks with USA Baseball thought the 1984 team was good. Our chemistry was great with those guys. Our sights were always on winning the gold medal. Of course, our team goes on to Seoul to win the gold. I will never forget celebrating with the team when we got back to the States. We all got together and had this huge celebration.
It was interesting to hear the feedback about how this team exceeded all expectations. We were like ‘we knew what we were doing. We are a good team.’
It was a great experience to be the first team to win gold in baseball in the modern era and setting expectations for future teams. Wearing the red, white and blue for the USA was the highlight of my career.
TR-You spoke into reality the idea of appearing on a trading cards some day but what players cards were you collecting as you had the visions of playing in the majors as a youngster?
PC-I was always a Houston fan, just growing up in the area. I collected all of the Astros teams and cards. One of my favorite players to this day is Nolan Ryan. I also followed Steve Carlton. That was the time frame when Nolan and Lefty were both battling for the career strikeout leader record. They would have a column in the Houston Chronicle where Nolan would pitch and he would have ten strikeouts and they would boost his total. Then a few days later Lefty would pitch and have 12 strikeouts and they would boost his total. It was really fun to watch that battle. I fell in love with Lefty just watching him pitch.
My uncle was a big Red Sox fan, so between the Astros and Red Sox those were to two teams we focused on. I just loved collecting cards. I thought, even as kid, that I could see where card collecting was going. You figured if you could collect the sets and maintain them and keep them in good condition that this might pay for my future kids’ education. Part of it was an investment and part of it was just the love of collecting cards. I liked to memorize stats on the backs of cards of my favorite players. That, to me, was the fun of it.
TR–Do you have a room where you have your collection displayed?
PC– I do but it’s nothing fancy or formal. I’ve got my card collection and some of the more valuable cards I keep separate. Some of my collection has been passed down to my sons. I have three sons and they have collected as well. I have some jerseys of guys I played with. I have some signed bats that have sentimental value to me. My sons have all taken dibs on it. I told them I’m not dead yet! This is all my stuff yet! (Laughs) I fell in love with collectibles and so it’s really neat to share that experience with my sons and they have a love for it and want to have a piece of my collection. Those things will never be sold. I have given things to charity and tried to help different foundations as far as offering up game used stuff over the years but I have kept a lot of it. I wanted my sons to be able to celebrate that as well.