For baseball players, one of the enduring symbols of reaching the professional level is to see their image on a baseball card. Since the 19th century, generations of young baseball fans would eagerly tear open a package of cards to see which new cards could be added to their collection, while starting to chew on the hard, thin slab of bubble gum included in each pack.
Over the years, cards based on other professional sports – including football, soccer, and basketball – were added to what are officially known as collectible trading cards. Over the past 60 years or so, dozens of former UConn student-athletes who have advanced to professional leagues have added their images to trading cards in several major league sports. A new five-panel exhibition in the J. Robert Donnelly Husky Heritage Sports Museum, “Collecting Trading Cards Is Collecting Huskies,” now provides a history of Husky trading cards over the years.
The exhibition is the first phase of several updates and enhancements in the Husky Heritage Sports Museum, located in the lower level of the Alumni Center, that will allow more flexibility to update specific sport histories, artifacts, and new kiosk presentations, says Tim Tolokan, special assistant to the director of athletics, who is curator of the museum.
A trading card exhibition has been part of discussions between Tolokan and Harrison “Whitey” Jenkins for several years, since Jenkins used a series of trading cards in his design to renovate the True Blue Tavern at the Nathan Hale Inn, the hotel on the Storrs campus, with an all-Huskies theme. Jenkins has worked with the Department of Athletics for more than 20 years — creating their signature displays and signage in various athletic facilities, including Harry A. Gampel Pavilion and Joseph J. Morrone Stadium – as part of his corporate and museum design firm, based in Bloomfield, Conn.
The True Blue Tavern includes enlargements of trading cards for several former Huskies, including Rebecca Lobo ’95 (CLAS) and Svetlana Abrosimova ’01 (BUS) of the WNBA, Walt Dropo ’48 (CLAS), Charles Nagy ’88 (CLAS), and Roland Sheldon ’65 (ED) of Major League Baseball, and Alfred Fincher ’05 (CLAS) and Brian Kozlowski ’93 (CLAS) of the NFL. The restaurant also has championship trophies won by the Huskies, various sports equipment, and poster-size photos of UConn student-athletes in action, as well as ceiling tiles listing All-Americans in various sports.
“Because we had done the trading cards over there, Tim and I have been talking for years how much fun it would be to showcase the cards,” Jenkins says. “But we did not realize how many trading cards it would entail. Ray Allen has almost 1,000 different trading cards; he could have an exhibit on his own. It’s a fun phenomenon of what’s happened in the world of trading cards. It’s a really nice way to trace where these people have started as far as their entry into professional sports.”
The first Husky to ever appear on a trading was Dropo, the 1950 Rookie of the Year in the American League playing for the Boston Red Sox, who played 13 seasons in Major League Baseball after being a three-sport star at UConn in football, basketball, and baseball. A separate display features the only Husky to appear on trading cards in two sports – Scott Burrell, who played two summer seasons of minor league baseball for the Toronto Blue Jays while at UConn, before spending eight seasons in the NBA.
There is also a panel tracing the history of trading cards, from the original cards issued with tobacco and candy products to the explosion of popularity in the cards and expansion to several card manufacturers including Topps, Fleer, and Upper Deck.
Among the 160 trading cards of former Husky stars included in exhibit are: Ray Allen (1993-1996) of the Milwaukee Bucks, Donald Brown (2005-2008) of the Indianapolis Colts, Sue Bird ’02 (CLAS) of the Seattle Storm, Diana Taurasi ’05 (CLAS) of the Phoenix Mercury, and O’Brian White (2005-2008) of the Seattle Sounders.
The J. Robert Donnelly Husky Heritage Sports Museum is open free of charge to the general public during regular business hours (8 a.m. to 5 p.m., Monday-Friday) at the UConn Alumni Center. The Museum is also open two hours prior to select men’s and women’s basketball games at the Harry A. Gampel Pavilion.