Trawling Through Trash
Des Moines local, Bruce Scapecchi would often spend his weekends hunting for treasure in local yard sales. Most days, he often sorted through piles of junk, only to leave empty handed, but when he saw a bat for sale for $1 at a recent sale, he had a hunch it was something special.
A Little Know-How
Scapecchi had good reason to spend so much time at yard sales, given that he made his living from dealing in antiques. In order to find the best pieces, Scapecchi needed to have the patience to attend many such homegrown events, in addition to more traditional auctions. Scapecchi enjoyed his work, given that it often took him to places he might not otherwise have reason to visit. However, this notable yard sale was taking place in his neck of the woods.
This particular yard sale had been organized by Sue McEntee, who worked as an executive for a nonprofit. Like most homeowners, Sue understood that while she could just as easily throw their unwanted or unused things in the trash, many of them were well kept, and could be put to use by someone else. As her children had grown older, their old toys had been sitting unused for years, and Sue knew it was time to part with them.
Giving Her All
Sue has been employed in the sector of non profit giving for the better part of her adult life. Though she has worked with a wide variety of charities throughout her career, she has been the Foundation Director at Lifespace Communities for the past several years. Sue has learned through trial and error how to convince the public to share precious funds with the organizations that needed it the most, but now it was time for her to give back to her community herself.
Trading More Than Space
As part of Lifespace Communities, McEntee is the point person when it comes to donating to the retirement community, which has a variety of locations all across the country. The donations that McEntee takes in go towards aiding the elderly residents who live within the communities’ perimeters, especially as the cost of their health care continues to rise with the amount of the care they inevitably find themselves needing. Sue is an expert in her field, but antiques are beyond her scope.
Calling Her Wares
In the lead up to her yard sale, Sue, like many other homeowners in need of clearing some space advertised the old fashioned way, with pen and paper. Though some scrupulous sellers will make an announcement in a newspaper in order to gain more attention, oftentimes, it’s found that one of the best methods for advertising a yard sale is by posting signs around the neighborhood leading to your home. With that in mind, Sue was expecting a moderate turnout for her home grown sale.
A Community Staple
The native midwesterner had long been a staple of the community in Grimes, Iowa. She was living with her husband Scott, to whom she’d been married for nearly 30 years in the same house that they’d raised their three sons in. As the boys one by one began studying at university, she found though the house felt emptier in many ways, the family was being crowded out by their possessions. With that in mind, she knew she needed to sell some of it.
Out On The Prowl
Scapecchi would later tell the local Des Moines news outlet, KCCI, “I go in the summer, anywhere between 2,000 to 5,000 garage sales.” The 69 year old knew his business well, and therefore could often pick out pieces of value. As he stumbled upon the McEntee’s spread that clear summer morning, Scapecchi figured his day would follow a similar structure. He’d look through several garage sales, and then return home empty handed. He didn’t realize just how different that day would be.
In Plain Sight
Sue was happy with the way she’d arranged the family’s possessions around the property, each section clearly labeled with the price. She’d kept most of her children’s outdoor equipment in one area, figuring that with the amount of it she was selling, no one would pay more than $1 for any one item. She grouped the equipment on the ground under and around a folding table piled with other possessions, despite the unknown value one of those items held.
Making An Impact
Yard sales may seem like they’re just a blimp on the radar when it comes to the amount of money they generate in sales. Given that most people are only selling off small items that have come to clog up their houses, they may not seem worth a substantial amount of money. When you consider how many can take place at once, however, the sales begin to add up. The average weekly revenue from the US alone adds up to over $4 million per week!
Success In Store
There are some yard sale experts who host often enough to give tips in order to help make your sale more successful, whether you’re looking to make some extra cash, or you simply need to open up some more space. The main things of course are having clear marked signs brining people to your sale, but if you’re just looking to get rid of your stuff, they also recommend not getting too caught up in haggling, which is exactly what Sue planned to do.
His Discerning Eye
Bruce Scapecchi meandered over to the table under which a collection of unassuming baseball bats was sitting. Scapecci had noticed something out of the ordinary with the collection of bats, and was determined to investigate further. To the untrained eye, they were just a variety of sports implements, made out of different materials. Most of them were metak, but Scapecchi was focused on the singular wooden bat among them. He couldn’t be sure from afar, but he had an inkling that there was more to it.
For some locals who think that selling their belongings at a yard sale is the best way to go, they may discover that their local municipality requires them to apply for a permit in order to proceed with the sale. This makes the casual yard sale that you can find strew across the suburbs of America in the warmer months a little more difficult to organize, given that they will also have to ensure that they aren’t using it as a guise to run a business.
Mining Its Past
Though Scapecchi marked the bat as special from afar, he felt more comfortable owning up to its history, rather than profiting off of it, considering that their may have been family sentiment behind it, if it had been lingering around for so long. Scapecchi picked up the bat and sought out Sue McEntee. “Do you know what this is?” he asked her. McEntee was confused. As far as she was concerned, the visitor was just holding one of the many bats she was selling.
A Cultural Institution
Yard sales are so important to the fabric of the American middle class that several documentaries have made detailing the phenomenon. One of the first to be released was Robert Emmon’s Yardsale!, which covered the history of the practice, as well as what makes us cherish objects, and why do we then decide to buy or sell them. Several years later, another documentary called Garage Sale Documentary: The Last Free American Marketplace was released, which showed the ways yard sales bring communities together.
Nothing So Ordinary
McEntee thought Scapecchi was just being sarcastic, and responded with a bewildered, “Well yeah, it’s a bat!” Bruce Scapecchi could see that McEntee had no clue that there was anything special about the wooden bat, even though he had spotted it from a mile away. He didn’t want to arouse other customers’ suspicions, so he pulled the proprietor aside and said, “I think you might have something here,” before launching into the explanation of why he thought there was more to this wooden bat.
Handle With Care
Scapecchi began his explanation by pointing out the grip to McEntee. It looked well worn, to the point of almost falling apart, but as McEntee continued to study the wooden bat that Scapecchi was holding out for her to examine, she couldn’t discern anything else that would have made the bat particularly special. Being both an antiques dealer and a baseball fan, Scapecchi definitely had the advantage, given that Sue only thought the bat was worn from her careless children.
Honing An Instinct
There are several key things seasoned antique enthusiasts know to look for in order to determine whether or not an object might carry a higher value. The first thing to look for as a signifying mark. Pottery and porcelain pieces tend to have the most noticeable markers, which you can easily study online. It would also be good to study up on the differences between antique styles, especially with regards to furniture. Scarapecchi’s expertise helped him recognize the bat right away.
History In Their Hands
McEntee may have thought the bat’s ragged appearance had to do with the way her children had handle the bat in their backyard games over the years, but Scapecchi explained that there was more to how the shape of the grip. In fact, he recognized that a very famous baseball player had used bats that were wrapped exactly the same way. “That was Jackie Robinson’s style,” he explained to McEntee. She stood there in surprise, as Scapecchi explained there was only one way to know.
Not Just Any Player
As incredible as it would be to possibly find the personal artifact of any major sports star, Jackie Robinson was a ground breaking baseball player. At the time of his birth in 1919, baseball leagues were still segregated. Robison made history when he became the first black player on a major league team, as he joined the Brooklyn Dodgers in 1947. Despite having the deck stacked against him, mostly by other players, Robinson was able to demonstrate his athletic prowess on the field.
Star On The Rise
Though he is one of the most famous baseball players in history, Robinson did not begin to play until he was in high school, at the urging of his older brother who was also an athlete. Robinson complied, and soon found that he was multi-talented in track, football, basketball, but most notably in baseball. Robinson moved from the high school field to the college field, as he continued playing for Pasadena Junior College, never knowing just how long lasting his legacy would be.
Making His Mark
Long before Jackie would find paraphernalia from his days with the Dodgers being sold at auctions or even possibly garage sales, he was making history at UCLA as an athlete, becoming one of the first ever to earn a varsity letter in four sports. Surprisingly, he almost didn’t consider baseball as a career, given that it was the sport in which he performed in worst during college. It was a twist of fate that he eventually was drafted by the Kansas City Monarchs.
Taking A Step Down
When Robinson made the switch to the Monarchs after his time playing at UCLA, he was dismayed to see that the league almost seemed to be a step down from his college team. College sports had a rigorous structure to both their play and their practice, and while Jackie played well for the Monarchs, he felt the league was disorganized, and catered far too much to gambling. It didn’t help his outlook that he was also separated from his wife for extended periods of time.
Reveling In The Past
When Bruce Scapecchi was growing up, Jackie Robinson was in the middle of his history making run as a member of the Dodgers. As he considered the bat in his hands, it was hard for him to believe that it could really have belonged to an American hero. For all of the historical artifacts he’d come across throughout his career, he didn’t often suspect he encountered such an intimate piece of a hero’s life. But Scapecchi had to do one more thing to be sure…
Robinson played with the Dodgers for 10 years before retiring, with a slew of honors having been awarded to his name, especially after he helped the Dodgers win the 1955 World Series. The honors continued to roll in, even after his death, when the Major Leagues retired his number, 42, from every single team. He was not only the first player to break the color barrier in Major League Baseball, he was also the first black player inducted into the Hall of Fame.
Passing The Test
Scapecchi considered the full weight of Robinson’s legacy while holding on to that bat. He urged Sue to bring him a regular pencil, in order to confirm his suspicions that the bat had indeed belonged to Robinson. “I went in the house and got a pencil and came back out,” Sue explained to KCCI. “There’s an area on the bat where he rubbed a pencil against, and if you’re out in the sun you can see the name ‘Jackie Robinson.’ And I was like, ‘Holy cow!’”
Something Of Value
McEntee was stunned by the revelation, suddenly feeling far more reverent about the object she was holding in her hand. Not 10 minutes prior, she’d been more than happy to sell the heirloom for only $1. Instead, she discovered that her children had had the opportunity to play with a bat that had belonged to one of the most influential athletes in history. “So [the bat] went from being on the ground, under a table, ready to be sold for $1, to in the house very quickly!”she said.
Falling Into Their Hands
Even though Scapecchi may have confirmed that the bat had indeed belonged to Robinson himself, he still wasn’t sure how it ended up in the hands of the McEntee family, all the way in Iowa. When pressed, Sue McEntee had a bit of family lore to share with the antiques collector, which blew him out of the water. Though there are stories of fans receiving a bat directly from Robinson, this wasn’t the case with the McEntee’s bat.
Passing The Torch
As it turned out, athletics run in the McEntee family, as Sue’s uncle happened to be Joe Hatten. She continued to explain to the news station, “My uncle, Joe Hatten, played for the Brooklyn Dodgers,” she informed KCCI. “He was a left-handed pitcher – they called him ‘Lefty Joe’ – and he and Jackie played baseball together in the ’40s.” Scapecchi was stunned. He’d watched Hatten play as well, but there was something else about the camaraderie that struck him.
Ahead Of His Time
One of the reasons Jackie Robinson was chosen to join the Major Leagues was because he agreed to turn the other cheek to the aggression he was sure to experience from others. Even his fellow players often weren’t as open hearted as they should have been to Robinson. “[Hatten] was one of the few players who would room with Jackie Robinson,” Scapecchi exclaimed to KCCI, admiring the ideals of the McEntee family. “And I just thought that was incredible.”
When Robinson was chosen to become the first black player admitted to the Major Leagues, there were some who were critical of the decision, given that his stats weren’t as good as several other players in the Negro League. Robinson, however, had been actively courting a position on a Major League team in his frustration with the quality he saw in his own league. While he attended some tryouts that were held just for show, Brooklyn was already seriously interested in drafting a black player.
In The Nick Of Time
Scapecchi made his amazing discovery during the same period of time that the World College Series was taking place. That year, the organizers had also put together an exhibition on the history of professional African American baseball players. The exhibit was produced in conjunction with the Great Plains Black History Museum. When the exhibits curator, Jim Beatty caught wind of Scpecchi’s discovery, he knew he had to get in touch with the McEntee family in Des Moines.
Beatty almost missed the opportunity to get ahold of Robinson’s bat, but luckily two fans happened to have seen the news report before visiting the exhibit, and told Beatty all about it. Beatty still needed the bat to be officially confirmed as a true artifact, but the moment it was, he got in touch with the McEntee family in order to see if the museum could borrow the bat for their display. To his relief, Sue was happy to oblige.
It was Beatty’s good fortune that he not only was able to display Jackie Robinson’s own bat at his exhibit, but the whole event was occurring at the same time that the most recent movie to depict Jackie Robinson’s life, 42, was running in theaters. The 2013 film starred Chadwick Boseman, who has most recently been seen as the title character in Black Panther, as Jackie. The film helped to drive interest to the Jackie Robinson exhibits at the Great Plains Black History Museum.
Beatty couldn’t have been more delighted by this turn of events. He explained to Minor League Ball, “Everyone coming in, especially the kids, the first thing they ask about is Jackie Robinson,” he said. “So we point them to the display. The movie has been a huge plus in terms of increasing awareness of not only Jackie Robinson, but also the courage of many – not the least of whom was Branch Rickey – in order to make that happen.”
Holding On Tight
While McEntee was more than happy to lend the special bat to the exhibit, after discovering its true history, she couldn’t wait for it to return home, happy to share the incredible story of a family heirloom. “We’re going to keep it,” she announced on KCCI during her June 2013 interview. “I mean, the stories with my uncle and [Robinson]. Yeah, it’s not going anywhere.” We can’t blame her, considering the legacy Robinson left, both as a player and as the first African-American man to play in the Major Leagues.