Ripken in the Minors
Interview with Clark Groce: December 2006
When this site was being built, the main objective was to provide fans and collectors with information that would protect them when purchasing cards on the secondary market. However, I couldn't help but wonder if I would ever get connected with other fans and collectors through the site. A litle over a month after the site went live, we received an e-mail from Clark Groce in Atlanta, GA with the subject "wbtv card info". The e-mail had information about receiving a WBTV set on May 30, 1980, and finding the set years later. Being able to talk to someone who personally received the set in 1980 would be a great conversation. However, the following line especially stood out about the Ripken WBTV card:
I had forgotten all about that night and was obviously thrilled to find it, and signed no less. I had several of the cards signed by the players that night, including the Cal Ripken card.
Now that is fascinating.
Not long after that initial e-mail, Clark graciously agreed to share his story and scans of his signed WBTV cards.
ripkenintheminors.com: Where did you grow up?
Clark Groce: My Dad worked for what was know back then as Southern Bell (now Bellsouth) and we covered the mid to western section of NC fairly well in my youth. I was born in Charlotte, then moved to Asheville where we stayed until I was about 6 years old, then we moved back to Charlotte where we stayed until I was 14. We moved to Atlanta when I was 14 and I have lived in the area ever since.
ripkenintheminors.com: Did you attend many O's games growing up?
Clark Groce: We did not attend a lot of the O's games while in Charlotte. We probably went to 3-4 while we were there.
ripkenintheminors.com: Were you there at the park that night for the set giveaway or was it pure coincidence?
Clark Groce: Fortunately it was pure coincidence. I was there with my Little League team and I think that is what helped allow access to the field and players that night, which obviously helped me to get a lot of the autographs of the players and coaches.
ripkenintheminors.com: What do you remember about the set?
Clark Groce: I really don't remember much about how I received the set that night or how they were packaged. I think they handed them out at the gate, but I do specifically remember thinking it was very cool to have some cards of our hometown team. You see, I was a big card collector at the time. I loved baseball and football cards and I regularly bought out the Mathews Food Mart card section when I had some money to spend. Getting these cards of our Charlotte O's was very cool and I remember thinking that I needed to get as many signatures as possible.
ripkenintheminors.com: What was the reaction from the team when you asked them to sign their cards?
Clark Groce: The memory of getting these cards signed is one of the better memories I have of that night. I remember being in a small crowd of kids, probably my Little League teammates, and being right by the dugout. I remember looking at my stack of cards, then trying to find the match by number or face, and then trying to get their attention to come sign their card. I remember several of the players laughing about signing their "baseball card". Topps was about the only game in town back then, and you only had a Topps card if you were in the majors. I just remember some of these guys thinking it was pretty cool that they were signing their own card for the kids that night. I have a vague memory of seeing Cal to my left on the field and knowing that he was one of the players that I needed a signature from. I obviously got it, and I thanked him for signing it.
ripkenintheminors.com: How old were you when you received the set?
Clark Groce: I was 11 years old that night at Crockett Park.
ripkenintheminors.com: In a previous conversation, you told me that you found the set roughly 13 years ago. Were you looking for the cards or was it an accidental find?
Clark Groce: It was a totally accidental find. I had completely forgot about that night and the fact that I had these cards. Here is how I discovered it. When I was a Junior in college (around 1991) my friends and I had rediscovered the joys of card collecting and were big time sports fans and loved collecting all of the latest cards (Upper Deck, Fleer, Donruss, Topps Stadium Club, etc...). I was in Athens GA going to UGA, and there was only one local card shop located in Five Points. Whenever I was in this card shop I would marvel at the prices these older 1970's cards were fetching in the open market. I knew I probably had many of those cards from my card collecting days back in Charlotte. I remember looking forward to seeing exactly what I had whenever I had the opportunity to pull those cards out from my parent's basement. Sure enough, one weekend my buddies came home with me and one of them reminded me to get my cards to take back to Athens so that we could take inventory. In transit from Atlanta back to Athens is when the Cal card was discovered. I had a friend, from the Baltimore area ironically, who was going through the cards in the back seat. He would occasionally find a pretty cool card from the 70's like a Joe Morgan, or Pete Rose and we would pass it around to check out. I was driving this whole time, and I just remember Matt saying "Holy...". I turned around and he was looking at this card that he had just found like it was a ghost. I said "What is it Matt?" and then he showed it to me. I was floored and actually had to pull over so I could look at it. As I looked at the Cal card the whole night came rushing back and I couldn't believe I still had this card and that Cal had actually signed it. By 1991 Cal Ripken Jr. was well on his way to becoming one of the games greatest ever, and I knew that it was a very special piece of memorabilia. I knew that Cal had played in Charlotte and that I had seen him a few times, but to see this card and to realize that I had such a tangible object from his days in AA was just really special.
ripkenintheminors.com: Initially you mentioned the possibility of including the set in the spring Huggins and Scott auction. Was it that you were really interested in selling the set or were you just curious about the value?
Clark Groce: I contacted them because they were one of the first sources I found on the internet that had information about this set. I had tried a few times over the years to get information about this card but no one ever seemed to know about the WBTV cards. When I saw the Ripken Police card on the Huggins and Scott site I knew immediately that I needed to contact them to find out more about my card. It was shortly after this that I found your incredible site, which could not have been more helpful or informative. It was just what I had been looking for and I am so glad you decided to publish your knowledge of this set.
ripkenintheminors.com: What are your plans for the set?
Clark Groce: I am fairly certain that I will just hang on to the cards. I absolutely love the game of baseball and this is a pretty wonderful piece of memorabilia to hold as a personal keepsake from the game.
ripkenintheminors.com: What is it like to have such a special piece of Charlotte O's memorabilia?
Clark Groce: It feels very good to be perfectly honest. Cal is one of the all time greats and he is such a class individual. To have such an early piece of memorabilia from a true living legend from the game is quite special.
To see Clark's collection of signed 1980 WBTV Charlotte O's cards, visit the Clark Groce Collection at http://www.ripkenintheminors.com/clarkgrocecollection.htm