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Minnesota priest auctions off baseball card collection for charity


Father John Ubel has been collecting baseball cards for 50 years. Now, he is stepping up to the plate and auctioning off his most valuable cards to raise money for grade school scholarships in St. Paul, Minnesota.

Ubel, a lifelong Minnesota Twins fan and the rector at St. Paul’s Cathedral, began collecting baseball cards in 1970, when he was in first grade. Since then, he has saved around 2,000 cards, and he plans to auction 50 of the most valuable to raise money for the Aim Higher Foundation, an organization that offers tuition assistance to local students enrolled at Catholic schools.

“I was in a conversation with somebody about the pandemic and schools,” said Ubel. “And someone used the phrase that the Catholic schools are ‘hitting it out of the park.’ Henry Aaron, one of Ubel’s favorite players growing up, had just passed away and Ubel said he “started connecting the dots.”

Ubel’s collection includes two valuable baseball cards: A 1948 Leaf rookie card for Jackie Robinson and a 1954 Topps rookie card for Aaron. The collection also includes rookie cards for Minnesota Twins stars Tony Oliva, Rod Carew, and Harmon Killebrew.

But the auction almost didn’t happen because Ubel came close to throwing the collection away in 2003. Nostalgia, however, wouldn’t let him.

“I literally had these cards in a Girl Scout cookie box, at the Dumpster, (and) at the last minute I said, ‘Oh, just put them in the car, don’t get rid of them, it’s a part of your childhood,'” he said.

Although it will be difficult to part with such a sentimental collection, Ubel says he felt the need to give back.

“Lent is coming up. And you talk about almsgiving, you get up and give homilies about almsgiving — you know, put your money where your mouth is, do something more difficult.”

Ubel expects to raise around $25,000 for the Aim Higher Foundation, where he serves on the board. The online auction begins Friday, March 12, and runs through Sunday, Marth 14. “I purposely picked what we call in the Church Laetare Sunday … it’s kind of a little respite from your Lenten penances,” said Ubel.

However, Ubel is holding out hope that he can raise even more money, with a little help. “I keep dreaming that someone’s going to say, ‘You know, this is a great idea — here’s a 1952 Mickey Mantle,'” he said. “That’s like the holy grail of baseball cards, the first year of the Topps series, and he was such an American icon.”

“I’m going to keep dreaming and hoping that someone else may throw in a card or two of higher value.”

Ricky Austin, the vice president of advancement and operations at Aim Higher, told CNN that 100% of the proceeds will go into its scholarship fund. To date, the foundation is supporting just under 2,000 students through $1,000 partial tuition scholarships.

“One of the beautiful things about our program is that once a student receives a scholarship, it will continue to follow them each year through eighth grade,” Austin said. “So if they get the scholarship in kindergarten, the total value of the scholarship could be worth up to $9,000.”

To stay updated ahead of the auction, visit the Aim Higher Foundation’s website.

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