All in the Family
If anyone needs proof that Jim Hammond loves his family, all they have to do is take a look at his baseball card collection.
For several years now, the Portland native has been amassing Chris Hammond and Jeffrey Hammonds cards because their names are almost identical to his grandson and his son.
It's a collecting mission that began after his grandson, Chris, was born in 1992.
"It was during Spring Training in 1993 that I first noticed the baseball player named Chris Hammond," he recounts. "At the time, I didn't know anything about cards, but I thought I'd get his rookie card for my grandson."
When he discovered that he could purchase cards of the southpaw reliever for a nickel, Hammond made it his goal to collect all of Chris Hammond's cards.
"I made a list of his cards . There were a ton of sports card shops in Portland at the time and I tried to track down all of his cards," he says.
The next logical step, he decided, was to have his grandson's namesake autograph some of his cards. So he wrote a letter to Hammond and enclosed some cards in the package.
"Sure enough, 10 days later, they all came back signed," Hammond remembers. "My grandson has these displayed in his bedroom."
As the years have passed, more cards of the lefthander have been produced and the proud grandfather has kept collecting. Through mail order, card shows, card shops and the Internet, Hammond has amassed a copy of all 208 Chris Hammond cards ever manufactured.
"It was funny because I became known as 'the Chris Hammond guy' at shows in my area," he says. "People would just give his cards to me."
But Hammond is not convinced that his collection is complete. He has heard that there is a 1995 Marlins team-issued post card of the veteran pitcher, but he has not managed to locate one.
"I've heard that it exists, but I've never seen one," he says.
Over the years, Hammond has expanded his collection to include other memorabilia such as autographed photos, balls, and game-used bats. His most cherished item is a picture of the major league hurler with his grandson.
"When Chris Hammond was with Boston in 1997, we drove 180 miles to Seattle to see him play," he says.
Hammond had prepared an envelope with the Red Sox southpaw's picture on it.
"Inside (the envelope) I wrote that I was here to see the game and would like to meet him," he recalls.
Prior to the game, the lefthander was playing catch when Hammond managed to grab his attention.
"I yelled to him and threw the envelope down on the field," says Hammond. "He picked it up and opened it and then he waved and threw me a ball. A few minutes later he threw another ball to my son, Jim. After the warm-up he motioned to us to come down by the Red Sox bullpen. We talked for a few minutes and had him sign the balls"
After the game, Hammond, his son and his grandson returned to the bullpen area. "He gave us another ball. We took a picture of him and my grandson . My grandson was just tickled to death. It was a heckuva good time."
In the mid-to-late '90s when the veteran pitcher started to struggle, card companies produced fewer cards of him. Hammond, who had caught the collecting bug, was left to fill a void.
A few years earlier, his brother had told him about Jeffrey Hammonds, a player with the U.S. Olympic team. The Orioles prospect's name was similar to his son's (Jeff Hammond). Hammond initially resisted collecting the former Olympian's cards because they were too expensive. But conveniently,
when Chris Hammond started to struggle, the price of the talented outfielder's cards dropped - with this, his Jeffrey Hammonds collection was born.
In his research, Hammond has determined that there are 436 cards of the Brewers' center fielder; he has all but seven of them.
"Two of the seven are one-of-a-kind items," he says. "Those are going to be tough to get."
His collection also includes four game-used bats and an autographed ball that a friend got for him.
"I've never met Jeffrey Hammonds, but I hope to," he says. "I sent him a letter thanking him for the autographed ball and asking him for a photo, but I didn't receive anything back."
Determined to find the elusive cards for his collection, Hammond scours the Internet almost daily. His regular on-line stops include eBay and the baseball card collectors newsgroup.
"Unless you're a collecting a superstar, people have a tendency to put a player's cards away in a box and don't remember they have them," says Hammond. "But someone out there has these cards."
When complete, Hammond plans to give his Chris Hammond and Jeffrey Hammonds collections to his grandson and son respectively. And while his son isn't particularly excited about inheriting a Jeffrey Hammonds collection, his grandson periodically shows some interest in his Chris Hammond collection.
"He's only 10, so he is more into the Pokemon thing, but I take him with me when I go to card shows and he helps me look," says Hammond. "Sometimes he comes over and asks to look through my binder (of Chris Hammond cards) and I go through them with him and point out the limited edition cards."
The game-used bats and autographed balls are also a source of wonderment for his grandson, who often takes them to school for show and tell.
Through it all, Hammond's number one goal has always been to have fun.
"It's a really fun hobby," says Hammond. "I'm certainly not in it to make any money."