For Montclair Local

This is a story of baseball cards, sports fans and a letter that took more than three decades to arrive at its destination. 

In early February, Adam Schreiber and his family received a letter at their house on Parkway, across the street from Edgemont Park.

It was immediately evident that there was something very odd about this particular letter. 

For one thing, the letter was addressed to one of the house’s previous owners: Doug Abell, whose family had moved out in 2002. 

“The first thing I noticed were these extremely old stamps,” Schreiber recalled. 

There were two such stamps, honoring the American Automobile Association’s 50th anniversary in 1952. The other two stamps were more recent: a 23-cent Mary Cassatt stamp issued in 1988 and a red flower “F” stamp issued in 1991. 

The postmark indicated that the letter had found its way to Montclair from Phoenix. But there was no return address. Someone had written “insufficient postage” and a question mark on it. The envelope also had “Please do not fold” written on it. 

Aside from the writing, the envelope was in almost pristine condition. 

Inside were some baseball cards, the reason for the “Please do not fold” notice. The cards were of Jack Howell, who had been a third baseman for the California Angels (now the Los Angeles Angels) from 1985 to 1991. 

Schreiber, a longtime fan of baseball and baseball memorabilia, decided to try to find the envelope’s rightful recipient. 

“I was like, you know, I’m going to put out an appeal on one of the Montclair Moms and Dads Facebook groups,” he said, “because it’s a small world, someone else will recognize it.”

Within an hour, he said, an energetic conversation started about the letter. And then Abell’s daughter saw the conversation, and the letter, and let her parents know about it. 

“It was a very serendipitous thing,” Schreiber said, and the “gravy” was the conversation that the letter had started. 

Abell paid a visit to Schreiber at home so Schreiber could present him with the envelope and the cards. “He and I just hit it off, it was so cool to get to know the house’s previous owners,” Schreiber said.

Both men discovered that they were avid sports fans, and ended up talking for about 20 minutes about baseball, baseball cards, Yogi Berra (whose children were acquainted with the Abells) and fond memories of going to games.

Abell’s favorite teams include the Phillies, the Dallas Cowboys and the Devils. Schreiber (a Yankees fan) said that his grandmother used to host the Phillies at her Florida home during spring training. 

Schreiber and his family moved to Montclair from Jersey City just before the COVID-19 pandemic started. 

Abell, an almost lifelong Montclair resident who now lives in Little Falls, played sports in middle school. But a series of illnesses and injuries in high school forced him to become a sports fan rather than a player. As an adult he played in Montclair’s town softball league. 

Abell once took his son, then an eighth grader, to a memorabilia event, and Abell quickly became hooked. “They had to drag me out of there,” he recalled. “I absolutely had an absolute ball.”

Schreiber also had fond memories of going to baseball card and memorabilia shows. He lived in Pittsburgh for part of his childhood; his father worked for pharmaceutical buyers, including one that was a sponsor of memorabilia and baseball card shows. He liked to go to some of these shows when he could. 

Abell and his son, as a result of going to that memorabilia show, began sending baseball cards with self-addressed stamped envelopes off to different teams and clubhouses, requesting autographs. “We got hundreds of cards back,” he said. 

It was around 1989 that they sent out an envelope with a Howell card to be autographed, he said. But that card seemed to have disappeared into thin air, never to be seen again. 

Because the envelope was in pristine condition, Schreiber said he believed the card may have gotten lost in a mailroom and remained unnoticed for a long time. 

When the card did arrive back in Montclair, Abell said there was a second card included with it, but there was no note attached with it. 

He said that the baseball cards were unsigned, but with them was a three-by-five card with the address sticker of a woman whose surname was Howell. 

With the cards now safely back in Abell’s hands after three decades, Abell said that it was likely that he and Schreiber would arrange to get together again for a longer visit and talk more about baseball.

Schreiber said he’d love to meet with Abell again.

“I’d love to show him some of my memorabilia,” he said.