VENICE, Fla. (NBC News Channel) – Card collectors throughout the country dug deep in their own collections so that 11-year-old Elyjah Blankenberg didn’t lose his love for the hobby.
Blankenberg lost a binder full of cards at Ed Smith Stadium when his favorite team, the New York Yankees, played the Baltimore Orioles last month.
The shy 11-year-old asked his all-time favorite athlete DJ LeMahieu, for an autograph, but then lost the binder in his excitement.
Dozens of packages, each with its own story started coming in. One letter read, “I know how bad I would have felt if I lost my own baseball cards at your age.”
Elyjah’s story about losing his binder of baseball cards resonated with collectors across the country.
“The stories are so personal just as his story was very personal. It meant a lot. DJ is Elyjah’s nickname on his little league team. So getting the courage up to get DJ’s autograph, that’s something else,” said Elyjah’s dad, John Blankenberg.
His mom put out a call on social media asking for it to be returned. The binder never turned out, but more than a hundred packages started trickling in.
“A Greg Maddux and a Tom Glavine card is crazy, I mean they’re hall of famers and some of the best pitchers in history. That’s just a piece of history he gets to cherish,” Blankenberg said.
“A lot of numbered cards through here so extremely valuable stuff. Really priceless because you know another collector sent it to a young collector so that’s something he’s always going to cherish and take with him,” said Josh Kerker, the owner of Venice Sports Cards & Collectibles.
Some cards came from the Midwest and the Northeast, but one of the most astounding deliveries came from the west coast of Florida.
Steve ‘Shark bait’ Samples wrote that he was bitten by a bull shark when he was 11 years old. While he was recovering in the hospital, someone sent him a baseball signed by star Yankees players from 1968. Samples sent the ball to Elyjah after seeing his story.
Samples even included the letter from when he got the autographed ball and the New York Yankees yearbook from the year 1968.
“The Mickey Mantle ball with the ’68 Yankees sign and the story that goes with it. I mean that probably meant more to him for the past however many years than anything he’s ever owned and to pass that onto my son is special,” John Blankenberg said.
A sad day at the ballpark turned into an experience Elyjah will never forget.
“Baseball is a magical sport,” said John Blankenberg.
The generosity from total strangers is already helping him come out of his shell.
“His baseball game has grown also since this happened. You can tell there’s something more,” said John Blankenberg.
The Orioles and Yankees also helped out with the Orioles giving Elyjah a base from the field, signed by the entire team while DJ LeMahieu is sending Elyjah an autographed baseball.