As President Bush gears up to send more armored divisions to the Persian Gulf, Dugout Baseball Cards owner Perry Dodd is planning to send a few big guns of his own--former slugger Reggie Jackson, all-star pitcher Dennis (Oil Can) Boyd and superstar shortstop Ozzie Smith.
The players, of course, won't be boarding jets for the Middle East. But thousands of baseball cards bearing their pictures and those of other sports heroes will.
Moved by newspaper accounts of the boredom of the men and women in uniform in Saudi Arabia, Dodd figured he was staring at thousands of examples of the perfect antidote. So last month, the 29-year-old baseball enthusiast started setting aside cards and soliciting donations from the regulars who frequent his shop in a mini-mall on Prairie Avenue in Lawndale.
"Just hearing about how bored they are over there, I thought it would be an interesting thing (the troops) could do," Dodd said. "Baseball is the all-American pastime. I thought they would enjoy trading them, or just using them to break the ice."
Draped with American flags and sports banners, Dodd's shop is also stocked with bubble gum and beef jerky shaped to resemble chewing tobacco. Visitors speak in low voices so as not to disturb customers who are absorbed in the sports trivia on the backs of cards.
A handwritten sign over a table stacked with baseball cards at the back of the store declares: "Bring a 'peace' of America to the Middle East. We are sending sports cards. Goal--10,000. Any donations are appreciated."
When Dodd penned the sign, he expected that it would take a while to meet his goal. But customers greeted the idea with so much enthusiasm that he now expects to be able to send twice that many--more than $2,000 worth--by the end of the month.
"I wish we could send more," Dodd said. "There's so many guys over there, and I'm not going to be able to get cards to one-tenth" of them.
Dodd isn't the only one in the sports card business hoping to send a piece of America to the troops in Saudi Arabia.
A card shop in Illinois recently donated 800 cases of baseball cards to the Middle East, and Upper Deck, a major manufacturer of cards, expects to be sending baseball and other sports cards for the holidays.
But Navy Lt. Phillip Ishikawa of the Defense Logistics Agency said hobby items such as sports cards are one thing Operation Desert Shield's soldiers just can't get enough of. Such gifts do not go unnoticed, he added.
"The Defense Department appreciates all the help people are sending," Ishikawa said last week. "It's very important psychologically (for the troops) because it lets them know the American people are behind them. The psychological edge of knowing that people haven't forgotten about you is important to your morale."
Indeed, in the three months since the agency began manning a phone bank to take calls from people who want to make donations, more than 3,000 companies and individuals have given the troops a vast array of goods, including books, videocassettes, lip balm, hair products, boomerangs, dumbbells, puzzles, stationery, sardines and bottles of steak sauce.
One man donated 2,000 footballs, a woman gave away five tons of groceries and a company recently offered to send 300,000 headset radios to the troops.
"Books are no longer on the list because some publishing companies have been sending a lot of them," Ishikawa said. "One of the things we are emphasizing is that people want hobby items, games and card games."
With at least 5 million avid sports card collectors in the United States, Dodd is convinced the cards offer just the kind of fun and morale boost the troops will need to keep their minds occupied during the holidays. Collectors could spend hours memorizing statistics, or looking for cards bearing players from their hometowns or schools, he said.
Shoe wholesaler Jerry Gelbrich, 38, who donated 150 cards to Dodd's cause, said he decided to participate in the giveaway out of concern for the soldier who "doesn't get to come home for Christmas, doesn't get to come home for Thanksgiving and doesn't get to watch the Lakers play basketball."
"The kid that gets a card--maybe it's his favorite player or his home team," Gelbrich said. "It may not be worth more than 10 cents, but it still might mean a lot to him."
In addition, some of the card packs could contain a few surprises, Dodd said. In some instances, a $1 pack of 10 cards may contain a collector's card worth 25 times as much as the entire pack, he noted.
"The majority of (the cards he plans to give away) are new cards of people that aren't yet really successful, rookies that are really nobodies now but in a couple years could be real special," Dodd said. "But the ones who get the cards, if they hold onto them a couple years, they could be very valuable."
Card shop devotee Edwin Rodriguez, 14, one of Dodd's biggest contributors, said he decided to part with 800 sports cards in the interest of serving his country.
"It's not like I'm really going to miss those cards, but it's not like they're really cheap or anything," Rodriquez said of his donation, which he said is worth more than $80. "It's a little sacrifice. I feel if I can help my country in any little way, well, I'll do it."