By Danny Gallagher
Canadian Baseball Network
His Louisiana licence plate for his truck says Hawk 8.
The handle on his email address is h8a8w8k8. Instead of the customary first and last name most people insert on their email, Dustin Puckett uses The Hawk.
Puckett first started collecting memorabilia items seriously in 1987 when he noticed cards on the back of Kraft macaroni and cheese boxes and Post cereal boxes. Since then, his devotion to Expos legend Andre Dawson, who wore No. 8 while playing with the Chicago Cubs and Florida Marlins and No. 10 while with the Montreal Expos and Boston Red Sox, has reached mammoth proportions.
His devotion to Dawson is staggering. It's an obsession. Dawson shrines and displays abound at Puckett's home in Pineville, La.
Just think, Puckett has accumulated almost 1,100 autographs by Dawson, a Canadian Baseball Hall of Fame member and National Baseball Hall of Fame inductee. That's right, close to 1,100. Read on.
"I probably have over 200,000 Andre Dawson cards, but I have only counted and logged a little over 159,000 of them so far,'' Puckett said in an interview. "One of these days, I will get everything counted and logged and updated. As of now, I have 3,604 different Andre Dawson cards, 1,093 autographs, 1,282 memorabilia cards and 170 rookie cards.
"The number of Dawson Expos' cards I wouldn't know but it would be in the tens of thousands. I don't have my cards separated by team,'' Puckett said.
Puckett, 37, figures his collection of Dawson memorabilia is the not only the largest of Dawson but likely of any sports athlete, period, in terms of size. He knows of someone who has a large Jose Canseco collection but it's tame in comparison to his expanse of items, which include Dawson's days with the Marlins and Red Sox. He's especially proud of a pair of Dawson game-worn Red Sox cleats.
"Some of my online friends think I'm weird and crazy because of this collection but at the same time, they think it's fabulous,'' Duckett said.
Puckett has 2,655 serial-numbered Dawson cards and 372 graded cards. He even collects checklist cards with Dawson's name on them. How many checklist cards does he have? 338.
"I collect cards that don't have his picture on them but have his name on them and I call those cards mention cards. I have 209 mention cards,'' Puckett said. "I also collect cards of other players that Dawson happens to show up in the picture. I call these cards cameo cards and I have 28 cameo cards.''
The Dawson memorabilia includes 8x10 photos, magazines, postcards, bats, balls, caps, cleats, jerseys, cups, mugs, plates, buttons, coins, pins, plaques, statues, and tickets. Balls alone autographed? 41. Puckett takes great pride in a 1978 Expos match book with Dawson's photo on the cover and the 1978 team schedule is on the inside along with a mention of the old Expos' office phone number of 514-253-3434.
When he's asked about a favourite Dawson autograph, Puckett perks up easily.
"I have his 1988 Topps contract when he signed an extension with the company,'' Puckett said. "It's pretty neat in my opinion. I bought that from the Topps company through eBay. I also have an oversized card called Touched by Greatness where he signs his name and it has a big hand-print of his on it. I've heard there aren't many of those around.''
If you're wondering what Puckett does for a living, he delivers bread. He started his own business six months ago. Prior to that, he had been employed in the retail business, including a seven-year stint with Walmart, several years with grocery-store giant Winn-Dixie and an eight-year stint with Academy Sports and Outdoors.
Puckett loved baseball when he was a kid and played T-ball and Little League. When he came home from school every day, he would turn the television on and wait for the He-Man cartoon to come on. While waiting for the cartoon to come on, he would watch Cubs' games on WGN.
The first year that he really began to pay attention to the games was in 1987 when Dawson won the National League MVP Award.
"I was only seven then and I don't remember exactly why I gravitated toward Dawson,'' Puckett said. "It might have been his tremendous play during his MVP season, it might have been his unique batting stance which I attempted to mimic when I was playing ball.
"My dad used to take me to all the Cubs/Astros games at the Astrodome and I can remember wearing an Awesome Dawson T-shirt and hanging over the left field wall and Cubs pitcher Rick Sutcliffe was walking down, shaking fans' hands and he stopped at me and looked at my shirt and said 'Awesome shirt.' I still have that shirt somewhere.''
Puckett couldn't begin to think of the amount of money he has invested in Dawson memorabilia.
"Oh man, I don't know to be honest. I don't want to try to think of that number. That's probably a house I could have bought,'' he said, chuckling. "I don't really have a plan on getting rid of my collection. I plan on keeping it for the rest of my life, unless there is an emergency. The collection, to me, it's priceless. There are a lot of cards that I have where it's the only one in existence. You can't put a value on those types of cards.''
Puckett has met up with Dawson twice at autograph sessions, one in Alexandria, La., the other in Chicago. Each time, he was so dumbstruck that he couldn't gather the courage to talk with his hero.
"In 1990, Dawson, Mark Grace and Jose Canseco came to Alexandria for a baseball card show,'' Puckett related. "I got Dawson's autograph and I was so nervous when I went up on the stage to get his autograph that I couldn't even speak to him and I smudged one of the autographs because I didn't let it dry.
"I drove to Chicago in 2002 for the National Baseball Card Show and I got Dawson to autograph a 1978 RC Cola can with his picture on it. Twelve years later, I was still too nervous to talk to him.''
With intervention from me, Dawson plans to call Puckett soon to talk to him about his collection.
"It would mean the world to me, if I got talking to Andre,'' Puckett said.
In the meantime, there are many memories to go with the memorabilia.
"I remember going to a game in 1992 where Dawson hit a home run in the ninth inning to tie the game and send the game into extra innings just to have the Cubs lose the game on walks and an error,'' Puckett said. "I still have the ticket and scorecard to that game. I can remember in 1987 when Eric Show hit Dawson in the face with the baseball and just being in disbelief and thinking that Rick Sutcliffe was the man charging the field.
"I can remember in 1991 when Dawson was ejected from the game for arguing balls and strikes and he threw all the bats on the field. I thought it was the funniest thing I had ever saw. As I grew older and began to learn of his life and the man that he is, he didn't let me down. I don't think there are many honours greater than now Hall of Famer Tim Raines naming his son after Dawson because Andre was able to help turn Tim's life around.''
Puckett is an independent distributor for Flowers Foods which owns or distributes bread products made by Bunny, Cobblestone, Dave's Killer Bread, MiCasa, Nature's Own, Roman Meal, Sunbeam, TastyKake, and Wonder.
Puckett has two routes with Flowers Foods and is planning to purchase another one but while driving around, he's thinking of the next Dawson memorabilia item he's going to purchase.
"I just had a wood burning completed of the Hawk and it should arrive soon,'' he said. "I still have hope that the Hawk might call one day. I would love to have his agent get a hold of me and I can try to set up a private signing with Andre.''