One can never know precisely what hides behind the doors of one’s home. People everywhere have their own hobbies and idiosyncrasies. Some people knit. Others do puzzles. Others keep one of the largest collections of Ken Griffey Jr. sports memorabilia.
Maybe many don’t do that last hobby, but Jason Vass does. The collection is teased on his Ford Fusion’s vanity plate that reads “GRIFFEY.” To find his collection, you have to go in through the front and take the front stairs down a floor, to the basement. There, you’ll be greeted by what could be an exhibit at a sports museum. Wall-to-wall jerseys, cardboard cutouts, posters—and that only just scratches the surface.
Ken Griffey Jr. is a former outfielder whose career spanned three teams and 22 years from the late 80s to the 2010s. While many would see the collection as a strange, borderline obsessive hobby, it’s more than that to Jason Vass. His basement is his happy place. Ken Griffey Jr. and the collection helped save his life.
Jason Vass. Credit: Jeremy M. Lange
“This stuff just makes me happy,” he says. “It does. I don’t know how else to say it.”
He never quite felt he belonged. Like so much of the United States, Vass is a child of divorce who regularly moved and whose childhood and adolescence was primarily marked by the word “tumultuous.” He didn’t fit in with the jocks, the geeks, or the drama kids. After a great deal of spent roaming between clubs and friend-groups, Vass found two kids that made his heart sing: Brad and Aaron, card collectors.
Card collecting had steadily grown in popularity throughout the ‘80s—especially sports cards. His first valuable collectable was a 1989 Mark McGwuire, which fueled his fire. There was something therapeutic that came from card collecting—the clean, methodical organization.
Griffey stood out among the athletes of this time to a young Vass. He was a prodigal talent, enthusiastic, and carried an admirable air of rebellion about him.
“Collecting Griffey was a game-changer for me,” Vass says. “It’s still a game-changer.”
Even as the card collecting industry ballooned and popped, Vass stuck with it. He made lifelong friends, got a good job, married, and all the while kept his collection boxed up, a comfort during hard times.
One angle of Jason Vass’s collection. Credit: Jeremy M. Lange.
Credit: Jeremy M. Lange
Rock bottom came in the form of divorce—something Vass swore he’d never do, not like his parents. He’d left his job to follow his wife to Washington, D.C. when a good career for her presented itself. The divorce, the loss of his own career, and his childhood PTSD came to a head, and he downed a bottle of Xanax and aspirin.
Recovery took a few weeks—one in the hospital, and several in his father’s guest bedroom after moving out of his wife’s home. He needed a full reset on his life, and decided he would go on an extended camping trip to clear his mind. Though friends and family were rightfully nervous, he packed up his essentials: a tent, pots and pants, a hammock, food and water, and a 1989 Upper Deck Griffey Jr.
“I wanted that by my side as I tried to get my life back on track,” he says.
When Jason Vass prayed, cried, punched a few trees, the card was always with him. He came back to his dad’s house, and the card was there. He reapplied at his previous employer and was rehired. He moved out of his father’s home, Griffey boxes in tow, and eventually met someone.
This “someone,” Michelle, became his wife. He lives with her and her two kids, and she isn’t ashamed of his collection. His wife understands that his Griffey collection is more than an expensive hobby that takes up space. It’s a way for him to find calm. The Griffey collectables provided Vass stability and comfort when nothing else could.
If you or someone you know struggling with mental health issues, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at (800) 273-TALK (8255) or visit suicidepreventionlifeline.org.
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