New York Mets closer Billy Wagner has nudged the radar gun toward the 100 mph mark throughout his career, but fireballers didn't impress him nearly as much as speedsters while growing up as part of a multi-generational family of baseball-card collectors.
Question: What were your favorite cards growing up?
Wagner: Around the ages of 5 through 8, my grandparents always gave me cards. I liked Oakland A's and Atlanta Braves cards. I think I was really intrigued by the A's white cleats. My grandmother was collecting cards. She died last year, and she had a box of cards with Stan Musial and a bunch of old cards. She said when she died, I could have them. My mother has them. I liked Dale Murphy. Probably Vince Coleman. Rickey Henderson, of course. I liked the base stealers and the home-run hitters. I didn't even look for Nolan Ryan. It was never a big deal to get Nolan Ryan.
Question: Do your children now collect cards?
Wagner: My kids have albums of them. I would go out, bring cards home, and they looked forward to getting them. They look more for Jim Thome -- the guys I played with. They don't care too much about me. They don't get people to sign them, they just bring them to look at. They want me to sign my cards. They got the real thing.
Question: Are you really appreciative of baseball history?
Wagner: The cards are part of history. You sit back and you don't realize how big Babe Ruth was because he's not here today. When you look back and see the records, you see how big they were. My kids, when they read about Babe Ruth, they say, "Wow." Being a big old Yankees fan, I'd never consider selling the cards. I like the memorabilia more than the other stuff. I've got a Babe Ruth baseball, Mickey Mantle autographs and Joe DiMaggio photos.
Question: On which card did you first appear?
Wagner: It was in college in 1992. I was drafted in 1993. The cards came out that year. It was the "Top Prospects" series. It was an action shot. My first couple of pro ones, we were standing with our heads cocked to the side. Now that looks dorky. Nobody takes pictures like that. I still have that card. I still have that set -- uncut -- of all the guys who were drafted then.
George Castle is a writer for Redline Editorial, Inc.
This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.