Cooperstown, New York
By TED MEBUST
Standing next to his uncle amongst the roaring Jack Murphy Stadium crowd, a young Neal Moore watched the Cincinnati Reds’ Johnny Bench step into the batter’s box for one of his final career at-bats. Pausing to capture the moment, he felt forceful echoes of “We want Johnny! We Want Johnny!” rumble throughout the grounds. It was a moment, he said, that made him understand the significance of baseball.
“There were three pitches and there were three strikes. And it didn’t matter. In the nosebleeds [seats] with my uncle, I thought to myself, this isn’t about the Padres, and it’s not about the Reds. This is about baseball, America’s pastime. Right here and right now is something beautiful. There are moments that are magic,” he explained.
The man who traversed America along 22 of its connecting rivers from February 2020 to December 2021 told this story while reflecting on his journey. Surviving obstacles of all sizes, from flat tire portages with his canoe to curious bull sharks in the [Gulf of Mexico], he had hoped to intimately understand how America and its people are connected. Though baseball only represented part of Moore’s passage, having casually hiked to Cooperstown’s Baseball Hall of Fame from Little Falls while passing along the Erie Canal, he’s had a long-time fascination with the game. Now, he’s been recognized with one of its most distinctive badges—a Topps Allen & Ginter baseball card.
“About 30 minutes following the release of the “New York Times” article, [chronicling his canoe adventure] a Topps representative reached out to me,” said Moore.
Allen & Ginter cards have historically highlighted the country’s most interesting, successful and peculiar—for more than 100 years. Beginning in 1887 as cigarette trading cards, these collectables depicted oddities, spectacles and celebrities of all types. Resurrected in 2006 by Topps, annual collections have since continued the original tradition.
“There’s all these rarities,” said Moore of the sets. “You have the weird and the wild and everything in between. It’s just fun.”
Their latest issue features multiple Neal Moore cards, a small number of which bear his signature.
“About 300 of them are in blue ink, then there are red signatures, and there are 10 of those. The rarest of them are the [gold] ink, and I believe there are five of those,” said Moore.
Following his river adventures, Moore has returned to Taipei, Taiwan for the first time since the pandemic, having worked there and in Cape Town, South Africa as a teacher for years prior. He is also crafting a narrative account of his travels throughout the United States and giving speeches about his journey. He plans to visit Harvard’s Travelers Club next month, joining a historical list of speakers including Theodore Roosevelt and Edmund Hillary.
Though Moore will need time to plan, his next venture, he says, might involve another trans-continental trek—this time in the heart of South Asia. The Grand Trunk Road, or “the river of life” according to Rudyard Kipling, spans four capital cities of the region and has facilitated cultural diffusion for centuries. While such sights are reason enough to visit, Moore believes the greatest memories from his adventures have been with the people he encountered.
“The people and their way of life and what they have to tell us is valuable. To step into something great during your lifetime, be it the Grand Trunk Road or the Baseball Hall of Fame, it attaches you to a piece of history. It’s exciting to learn from people.”