Richard Davis, 87, learns most of his baseball knowledge from reading the backs of trading cards.
The baseball fanatic, trading card collector and Army veteran can be found on Saturday mornings at the Federal Way Farmers Market. Sitting under a simple red canopy tent, Davis’s display table filled with trading cards reels in customers, who often return after a quick glance to purchase the trading card they couldn’t walk away without.
Davis was born and raised in San Francisco, which makes him a lifelong San Francisco 49ers fan, he said. He has been collecting for close to 50 years.
“I watched the good, the bad and the ugly with them,” he said, adding that his admiration for the 49ers started in 1947.
Decades ago, a friend gave Davis his first box of trading cards to start his collection. From then on, he sought cards from card shops, eBay and various trading shows.
All in all, his collection includes more than 100,000 cards. His sales range from 60 cents to $100 per card, depending on its rarity and notoriety.
His favorite card of his entire collection is a 1955 Leo Nomellini, an Italian-American Hall of Fame American football offensive and defensive tackle for the San Francisco 49ers and professional wrestler.
Regardless of the offering, Davis said, “No way, I’m not going to sell that.”
For Davis, the card is tied to memories of his childhood in the 1940s watching his favorite team play at Kezar Stadium, an outdoor athletics stadium near the Golden Gate Park that served as the first home of the 49ers.
Originally opened in 1925, the stadium was constructed for $300,000 (about $4.37 million in 2019 dollars) and held nearly 60,000 fans.
Davis and his friends used to stand on apple boxes to peer into the stadium and watch the game. The building’s location in the middle of a residential area also allowed for hundreds of fans to sit on rooftops and watch the game from outside the stadium, according to a local knowledge piece by the blog San Franpsycho.
Kezar Stadium was also home to the Oakland Raiders for a brief period, and the first “alley-oop” in football history. The play, the first-ever of which Davis witnessed, occurs when the quarterback throws the ball high into the air and another player jumps up and catches it. It was developed in 1957 by San Francisco 49ers players Y.A. Tittle and R.C. Owens, according to the NFL.
When Davis was in his early teens, he used to stand outside the local bar and watch Leo “The Lion” Nomellini’s wrestling matches on the television through the window, as his family didn’t have a TV in their home.
At age 17, Davis enlisted in the U.S. Army for seven years. After, he and a few friends spent a couple years “bumming around,” he said, traveling to Idaho, Oregon and down to Mexico following odd jobs and new adventures.
Davis met his wife, Gale, in Berkeley, Calif., in 1959 and moved to Washington, where her parents resided, in 1961. The couple went on to have two kids, a daughter and a son together.
He owned a Kent-based tire company, Davis Tires, until 2000. Throughout his life, he traveled for card shows and made sales across the nation.
“I like being around people,” he said. “People are interesting.”
Another reason Davis enjoys socializing at the market is because the COVID-19 pandemic forced him into isolation and stopped his weekly schedules of playing bingo, cribbage and Yahtzee with friends.
At the market, people ooh and aah over the cards, sometimes sharing their reasons for idolizing their favorites with Davis. For him, it’s always about people — not profit.
“I sell the cards and use the money to buy more,” Davis said. “It’s not about the money.”