Reese Kaplan -- El Paso's Mr. Baseball, Fernie Grado


For anyone who missed it, Monday morning I wrote a piece here about the wonderful baseball exhibit at the El Paso Museum of History.  Most of the articles in the exhibit came from the private collection of Fernando "Fernie" Grado, El Paso’s baseball savant and scholar, a private collector with whom I had the pleasure of sharing lunch yesterday afternoon.  I had reached out to the museum to see if they would share my contact info with him  They gave me his number and I sent him a copy of that article.  I was most pleasantly surprised to receive a call Thursday morning from Fernie thanking me for writing about his collection.

Fernie's love of baseball began in his youth, introduced to the game by his father.  Being in El Paso, he said that the majority of ballplayers people knew were from either the New York Yankees or the then Brooklyn Dodgers.  He became quite a Yankee fan and like most children, started off by collecting baseball cards.

One day while taking some of his cards to school he was approached by a shy classmate who wanted to know what he had.  Fernie showed him the Yankees of the 1950s who were the players of that era.  This fellow student said that he and his father were here from New York City where they'd both been Yankees fans and his father would love to see these new cards.  Unfortunately he was out of town quite a bit as he was in the military, but would it be OK for him to take the cards home to show him?

Nowadays people might be more cynical but Fernie said as long as he got them back he was fine with it, but for the next 4-5 days he did not get his cards returned to him.  The kid said his Dad hadn't been home, but he would bring them back.  

Well, he was not exactly a man of his word, but it turned out to be the beginning of Fernie's lifelong obsession with baseball memorabilia.  The young borrower said that his father really liked Fernie's cards and wanted to know if he would consider trading them for something.  He then pulls out of his bag a sheet of 12 uncut 1932 baseball cards featuring Babe Ruth.   

Yeah, Fernie made that trade!

As you can see from my photos of his collection pictures, his hobby grew exponentially over the years.  For example, I have at my home a modest collection of autographed baseballs that fit neatly into a home-plate shaped shadow box.  

Fernie has over 850 autographed baseballs!

We talked about a great many things during out lunch, including his acquisition of Shoeless Joe Jackson's bat, jerseys from a great many renowned ballplayers and the giant collection of baseball gloves he's accumulated over the years.  

Another story he told me came up when I mentioned I had an autographed baseball by Stan Musial.  It seems that the outgoing president of the University of Texas El Paso (UTEP), Diana Natalicio, grew up a huge St. Louis Cardinals fan.  He was able to provide her with a signed Musial baseball, autographed photo and even a signed jersey over the many years of their friendship.

Fernie also once served as President of the El Paso Baseball Hall of Fame.

Many years ago he toyed with the idea of creating a sort of mobile museum exhibit that could tour around the country but the logistics proved to be somewhat challenging.  He even had forms printed up for international venues to show parts of his collection.

Now as he turned 70 he's ready to slow down somewhat and turn the hobby into a lifelong legacy.  Towards that end he is seeking to create some kind of permanent exhibit for others to enjoy.  He's working with some of the movers and shakers of the El Paso community to see how to make his dream come to fruition.  

It was a great 90 minutes and we promised to stay in touch.  He even offered to introduce me to some folks who are influential in the El Paso baseball scene as well as fellow writers who have a great love for the sport.  Best of all, he  invited me to come to his home someday to see the rest of the collection that didn’t make it to the museum.  He may never get me out of there!  


Tom Brennan said...

Amazing obsession, Fernie. How cool. Great article.

Reese Kaplan said...

Fernie seemed happy to find someone else out here in this outpost in the extreme southwest corner of Texas who was obsessed with baseball as he is.

Mack Ade said...

Great post about the game.

More, more, more.

Reese Kaplan said...

You didn't want more DOMinant articles about the day-to-day outcomes? 😀

Mack's Mets © 2012