In 1985, when Dick Ensweiler’s son was 12, he became interested in baseball cards and started asking his father to drive him to card shows.
It was the beginning of a lifelong hobby. For the father.
These days Ensweiler, the president/CEO of the Texas Credit Union League, has a collection of baseball memorabilia that includes balls, uniforms and stadium seats signed by legends of the game, including Babe Ruth, Joe DiMaggio and Sandy Koufax.
He has met many of these ballplayers and even stepped out of a funeral to take a phone call from Koufax to arrange a meeting so the pitching great could sign several items.
Koufax, who is known for his pitching prowess and for his unwillingness to play in a World Series game on the Jewish holy day of Yom Kippur, is famously elusive.
That didn’t deter the 70-year-old Ensweiler, who tracked him down with the persistence of a hunter stalking his prey.
Ensweiler, who has run the Texas league for 14 years, got to Koufax through Phil Regan, a relief pitcher on the Los Angeles Dodgers during Koufax’s heyday in the 1960s. Ensweiler and Regan met through mutual friends.
Ensweiler and Regan became friends and Regan used to regale him with Koufax stories, including one about how Koufax devised a nickname for the reliever. During a 1966 pitching duel against future senator Jim Bunning, Koufax pitched 12 innings without giving up a run. Unfortunately for Koufax, the Dodgers didn’t score either. So Regan came in to relieve Koufax and pitched two innings. The Dodgers scored and Regan got the win. This prompted Koufax to greet Regan in the dugout with "Congratulations, you are a vulture."
Ensweiler became a baseball fan while growing up in suburban Milwaukee. He and his father bonded at baseball games and while he played little league. The Milwaukee Braves won the World Series in 1957, and Ensweiler has autographs of several members of that team and has seats from the team’s stadium in his collection.
He lived in several big baseball cities during his career, including Chicago, Detroit and Minneapolis, and developed friendships with several players from those teams.
"For me it’s not just about buying items. It’s about meeting the guys and hearing their stories and buying things that relate to my experiences," he said.
But the man who has spent his career in credit unions was evasive when asked whether when buying baseball items, he practices the financial responsibility that credit unions often preach.
"If my wife is reading this, I always spend responsibly and never go over budget," he quipped. "But seriously, I read a lot of publications on the subject, and I know what the value of items is so it prevents me from overpaying."
One team whose players have an especially large presence in his collection is the New York Yankees. Although he’s not a fan of the team, its impact on the game is such that he said he can’t help but include items signed by some of team’s legendary players. The team has won 27 World Championships–the most in any sport. He has a baseball signed by Ruth, an autograph of Gehrig and a jersey signed by Derek Jeter and Alex Rodriguez.
The Yankees also gave Ensweiler the chance to taste a world famous delicacy. When the Yankees played the Texas Rangers in the second round of last season’s playoffs, he made a bet with this writer. If the Yankees won, Ensweiler would send Texas barbecue and peach cobbler. And if the Rangers won, Ensweiler would receive a Junior’s Cheesecake.
The Rangers won, although they went on to lose the World Series, and Texas remained one of the few states whose teams have never won a World Series.
Speaking of the Rangers, it is the team’s current co-owner Nolan Ryan, whose rookie card Ensweiler and his son purchased for $90, that started the hobby. The card increased in value and eventually was selling for $1,200. Prices have declined and recently one of those cards was available for $225.
But while the money is certainly a factor, this is a hobby that Ensweiler pursues because of his profound love of the game.