Brad Solomon has been to Iraq and back fighting for his country, but now the Colorado native is locked in the biggest struggle of his life.
Cancer will do that. It’s random, striking even health nuts in tiptop shape. Not only does it sap a man’s strength, it also takes a heavy toll on his finances.
But Solomon is not fighting alone.
With the help of loved ones, strangers and a card shop owner near his home in Arvada, Colorado, the 29-year-old former Army E-4 specialist has a definite battle plan to pay his non-medical bills while getting treatment for lymphoma, a form of blood cancer.
To make ends meet, Solomon has been selling his baseball card collection. With the blessing of card shop
owner Mike Fruitman, Solomon has been selling cards on the weekends under a tent outside Mike’s Stadium Sportscards in nearby Aurora.
“I realized I had no money to pay the (other) bills. So I went to Mike and said let’s sell these things, and he said OK,” said Solomon, whose medical bills are covered by the Veterans Administration. “I was expecting to make maybe a couple hundred bucks.
“Everyone has been cool and happy to help out. They like the fact that I’m trying to work and not ask for a handout.”
“He would come into the shop. That was his way to forget about his cancer,” Fruitman said. “It was very encouraging to see how many people stepped up to help.”
With his cancer now at stage four, Solomon has had four blood transfusions and several operations. His condition forced him to drop out of school and he is unable to work. His longtime girlfriend, Elyse Orton, is trying to work but spends most of her time taking care of him. Baseball cards have been a pleasant diversion.
“He’s always been a card nut,” Orton said. “The baseball cards have been one of the few things that have kept him going.”
Solomon got sick during mid-February. At first, Orton thought it was the 24-hour flu, and that she had carried the germs home from her job as a certified nursing assistant and rehab tech at a retirement village, where many of the residents had been ill.
It was worse than that, and during the first week of March, Solomon was diagnosed with the cancer.
“He went from totally healthy to ‘oh my God am I gonna be OK’ in 10 to 14 days,” Orton said. “Now, it’s a day-to-day thing. One day he is feeling great and then the next day he sleeps 18 hours.”
“It was a huge shock,” Solomon said. “I don’t know if it’s hit me yet.”
Determined to stay busy and find ways to make money, Solomon began pricing his cards.
“I have to be moving all the time. I needed something to keep me going,” he said. “I can’t stand sitting around.”
Solomon huddled with Fruitman to price cards. He had a 2014 Mike Trout Bowman mini auto card numbered to 10 that was certain to fetch a good price.
“We sat down and figured out a sale price of $300, but some guy came by and paid $500,” Fruitman said. “People were just stopping by and giving him money. One customer wants to donate his collection from the ’70s, including a Schmidt rookie, for Brad to sell.”
One card company (Fruitman declined to say which one) was going to donate some items for the purpose of a silent auction to raise funds.
Some cards won’t be sold, Solomon said. He cherishes a pair of 1953 Topps cards of Yogi Berra and Eddie Mathews. “I just can’t get rid of those”, he told us. He’s also particularly fond of a 2014 Topps Triple Threads triple jersey autograph card of former Braves pitchers Tom Glavine, John Smoltz and Greg Maddux. He’s also waiting for a Kris Bryant gold ink autograph redemption from 2015 Topps Tier One.
Solomon is a die-hard Colorado Rockies fan who still has a VHS copy of the team’s inaugural game on April 5, 1993. He was a month shy of his seventh birthday when the Rockies debuted with a 3-0 loss to the New York Mets and Dwight Gooden, who spun a four-hit shutout.
The Rockies got wind of Solomon’s recent efforts and presented him with four outfield box seat tickets to a game of his choice, with the chance to attend batting practice. That will give him an opportunity to meet his favorite player, Rockies third baseman Nolan Arenado. KDVR, Denver’s Fox television affiliate, also presented Solomon with $500 in gift cards after its initial report on him.
“I was speechless,” he said.
Solomon’s GoFundMe account, set up to pay his bills, quadrupled last weekend, with $5,460 now pledged toward his goal of $50,000.
“It really restores your faith in humanity,” Orton said. “It’s really a big deal that people can do good things for other people.”
Solomon was always athletic and played shortstop for an adult baseball team before he was diagnosed with the cancer. “My goal was to try out for a pro team,” he said.
He stayed in shape and ate well, avoiding sodas and unhealthy foods. “I was a health nut,” he said. “The worst thing I’ve ever done was chew tobacco.”
At age 18 he joined the Army, going to boot camp at Fort Benning, Georgia, before spending a year in Baghdad (December 2005 to December 2006). “It was definitely a new experience,” Solomon said. “I learned a lot and saw a lot, and some things I didn’t want to see.”
The recent trauma of treatments and constant fatigue has been draining, but Solomon has remained upbeat and is buoyed by the support he has received. He said he wants to start an organization “to help people in a similar situation.”
“This has definitely turned my perspective around,” he said. “It’s just crazy. It’s been so overwhelming for me.”
Fruitman, who has owned his card shop in four different locations in the Aurora area since December 11, 1992, joked that he was “probably responsible for breaking up more marriages than for helping people.”
“The husband wants to collect and the wife hates it,” he said. “But you know, I always thought my greatest contribution to society was to help someone enjoy a player or a team — not to change someone’s life. It’s very encouraging.”
Collectors will have another chance Saturday to help Solomon, as he will be back in front of Fruitman’s shop from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. local time.
Orton, who met Solomon eight years ago before he shipped overseas, pauses when she talks about the community’s support. The couple had tried reaching out to different organizations for months, but the efforts were in vain. And yet, a group of collectors has made a big difference.
“Do you realize that all of this is because of baseball cards?” she said.