Wednesday, June 7, 2017

Came for Bunt, left with Stadium Club

Nick and I had a pretty similar experience at Target in recent weeks. The famed author of Dime Boxes and I both had an urge to check the shelves for a recent Topps release, but neither of us found exactly what we were looking for. He was on the lookout for Archives, and I was for Bunt. Neither had been stocked yet, but we both managed to pick up discounted blasters of 2016 Stadium Club for just $13.

2016 Stadium Club Gold #25 Chris Archer
2016 Stadium Club isn't that big of a set at 300 cards, so we did pull a few of the same ones. This card of Rays pitcher Chris Archer has a spot in Nick's frankenset, but I did manage to find the gold parallel. Archer, clearly enjoying life in this photo, has a 4-4 record so far in 2017, and even helped take home the WBC trophy for Team USA prior to the regular season. He had a whopping 19 losses last year on just 9 wins (of course as a member of my Fantasy team), but he's turning things around.

2016 Stadium Club #156 Randal Grichuk
This is my second blaster of the product, and it's as great as ever. In fact, true to its name, there is a great supply of stadium-centric photos like this peppered throughout the set. Grichuk looks like he's rounding the bases after a home run against the Marlins, with the iconic Gateway Arch in the background. If you look closely, you can even spot an American flag on top of the green building, just in front of the Arch itself.

I had been seeing the Cardinals during their annual visit to Denver for most of the past six or seven years, but I missed them in late May. I had been going with a Cardinals fan friend, but he and his wife moved to Tennessee a few months ago, marking the end of a tradition. But even if I wanted to see Grichuk, it might be tough for a while, as the Cardinals sent him all the way down to Single-A following that series.

2016 Stadium Club #184 Byron Buxton
I can't say I really know that much about Byron Buxton, but our first of several horizontal cards gives us a great look at Target Field, home of the Twins. I can't quite tell who they're playing here, possibly the Royals. But the horizontal orientation is perfect for showing off a stadium. Just check the back of 1992 Topps. Of course, print quality has improved by leaps and bounds since then, not to mention that only a small handful of stadiums (stadia, I know... but no one says that) found in the 1992 set are still in use. The Metrodome is not one of them, allowing this majestic shot to exist.

2016 Stadium Club #272A Michael Conforto
The Mets have a new stadium too, as Shea Stadium is no more. They did carve out a spot in center field for the Home Run Apple in Citi Field, though it's almost twice the diameter of the original. And the stadium itself isn't quite as blue as Shea was.

Conforto is quite young. He's only 24, but is in his third Major League season already. He was born in March 1993, just about a month before the Rockies played their first-ever game in Shea Stadium. Yes, even in their inaugural season, they didn't have the luxury of beginning their season at home. Their memorable home opener at Mile High Stadium, and first-ever win, which people all over the Denver area will tell you they attended (about 80,000 of whom actually did), didn't occur until after a short two-game set in Shea Stadium.

2016 Stadium Club #249 Yasmany Tomas
Not much to see here, just a quick illustration that even the beauty of Stadium Club can't make the Diamondbacks' hideous dark gray uniforms look decent.

2016 Stadium Club #268 Jordan Zimmermann
Sometimes you're not trying to show off the stadium or capture as much of a play as possible with a horizontal card. Sometimes you need to do it just to fit the guy's name on it. Ex-national Jordan Zimmermann (not to be confused with his former teammate Ryan Zimmerman), has a great pitching motion, and an unusual Tigers uniform and cap that I'm not familiar with. I do spot a tiny bit of a Spring Training patch on his right sleeve, which makes sense, as Zimmermann didn't begin his career as a Tiger until 2016, so Topps didn't have much time to obtain a photograph before going to print.

2016 Stadium Club #107 Jake Arrieta
Jake Arrieta and the Cubs will forever be known for finally winning it all in 2016, but their 2015 season, which this photo is from, was pretty successful as well. While honoring the late Ernie Banks with that #14 patch, they beat the Pirates in an exciting wild card game, and their other NL Central rival, the Cardinals, in the NLDS. They were stopped in their tracks by the Mets, but not before Arrieta and his buddies got a chance to celebrate with lots of spilled liquids. The photographer did a nice job grabbing this shot without getting water droplets all over the lens.

2016 Stadium Club #259 Aroldis Chapman
Of course, Aroldis Chapman was an important part of the Cubs' championship in 2016, joining them in a late-July trade. That was clearly too late a transaction to make the print deadline, but fortunately for the accuracy of this card, Chapman re-signed with the Yankees for the 2017 season and beyond. He's been on the disabled list (and guess whose Fantasy team he's on), but should be rejoining the bullpen within a week or so.

He has that same spring training patch on his sleeve that Zimmermann does, offering us yet another look at some Grapefruit League uniforms.

2016 Stadium Club #32 Bob Feller
Trevor Bauer is having a rough go of it on the mound at Coors Field as I write this. The Rockies are up 2-0 in the bottom of the 4th, and Bauer very nearly walked four batters in the 3rd. They have two men on with no outs, partially thanks to another walk. If this keeps up, the Rockies are likely to sweep this two-game set (P.S. they did), the first of which I saw in person yesterday. Lots of home runs in that one, including two by Mark Reynolds.

I bet the Indians would love to have Bob Feller out there right now. He had arguably the best fastball of the prewar era, which was measured at over 98 mph, thanks to some fancy military equipment. The presence of retired stars in Stadium Club really makes it magical, though I'm sure Topps doesn't have an easy time finding fresh photographs. But I'd love to see a card showing him pitching through the measuring device as shown in this clip.

2016 Stadium Club #87 Lou Gehrig
Now that the Yankees retired Derek Jeter's uniform number 2, there are no single digits left in the Yankees' equipment room. Lou Gehrig forever has #4 to his name, thanks to six World Series titles and a hugely impressive streak of consecutive games, which set the record until Cal Ripken, Jr. came along. 2,130 games in a row, stopped only by the tragic onset of ALS. He removed himself from the lineup on May 2nd, 1939, ending his streak and also his playing career. How much longer that could have gone without his debilitating disease will forever remain an unknown.

Ripken's streak carried on for about 500 more games than Gehrig's, and there are a couple ways to look at that. It's impressive that Ripken managed to keep his streak alive despite the sport having changed so much. It would be a bit like a modern pitcher winning 35 games in a season. And let's not forget that the 1994 strike and the idea of replacement players nearly put an end to it just months early. But on the other hand, you have to wonder if Ripken's streak of 2,632 would have fallen short if Gehrig got the chance to play a few more seasons.

2016 Stadium Club #208 Edgar Martinez
Some retired stars in Stadium Club are recent enough to have existed in the color photography era. And also the overproduction era, come to think of it. Edgar, who is inching his way closer to being voted into the Hall of Fame, is a fan favorite in Seattle. He's their current hitting coach, lending his hitting expertise to a whole new crop of Mariners. And since they took three out of four games against the Rockies in late May, he must be doing something right.

The grip that he's demonstrating with his left pinky out feels really unnatural. But I am not a Hall-of-Fame candidate. Neither Edgar nor I are lefties, but I'm curious what tactic he's going for here.

2016 Stadium Club ISOmetrics #I-3 Kevin Kiermaier
I got a little unlucky in the inserts department, pulling just this one in the whole blaster. Nick has me beat there, pulling a die-cut of Tom Seaver. I've been hearing Kevin Kiermaier's name more and more lately. The front of this card shows solid and well-rounded stats, but what currently comes to mind is how he massively misjudged a fly ball in yesterday's game against the White Sox. Still, an insert is an insert, and this is definitely a Rays hot blaster.

2016 Stadium Club Black #36 Nomar Mazara
The black parallel I pulled in my first blaster was a gorgeous one of Babe Ruth. At the time, I wondered how a black parallel would look as a color card, and I got my answer from Nomar Mazara. I think it actually looks pretty good, but it does get lost a little bit against the dark background in the dugout. It's also an excellent State Farm ad, even better than the Coca-Cola ad on Grichuk's card. The only real issue is that the Stadium Club logo in the upper left is pretty illegible.

Without that, I might confuse this with 1997 Fleer.

</beating dead horse>

2016 Stadium Club #287 Blake Snell (RC)
I'll wrap this up with the same card that Nick led off with. Chris Archer gets a cameo on fellow pitcher Blake Snell's card, and we also get to see their handshake / high-five / seagull hand puppet. He started the year 0-4 but seems to be getting back on track in Triple-A Durham. He might be called back up soon where he can continue to practice handshakes with his fellow Rays, and ideally watch Kevin Kiermaier up his fielding percentage a little bit.

I have since found some Topps Bunt at Target, but I'm always happy to take the scenic route through a blaster of Stadium Club.

Saturday, May 27, 2017

Todd Helton: A Collecting Cutch Contest Entry

When you visit Coors Field, you'll find three retired numbers mounted above the visiting team's bullpen in right center.

The first, of course, is #42, once worn by the great Jackie Robinson, which is retired across the league. The second is a set of initials, KSM, to honor the memory of Keli McGregor. McGregor was the president of the Rockies baseball club until his untimely death from a rare viral infection in 2010. The Rockies wore a memorial patch on their uniforms for the remainder of the 2010 season. The third and final number is #17, belonging to Todd Helton, the career Rockie and fan favorite who spent, coincidentally, seventeen seasons in Denver.

2005 Leaf #69 Todd Helton
He was a fixture at first base from 1997 through 2013, as shown on this rainy Leaf card from 2005. Helton is ready for a throw from a fellow fielder, although his mitt is partially cropped out of the photo. Fans in the Coors Field seats are sheltered under plastic ponchos and umbrellas. It's not the most enjoyable way to watch a ballgame, but at least the sun isn't in their eyes.

Though I'm a bit late to the party, I thought the Rockies deserved an entry into Collecting Cutch's contest. I'd have liked to pick Arenado, but I don't really have that many cards of him, and he's only been playing since 2013. Todd Helton seemed like a better choice to get the top-10 treatment, not only because I have many more of his cards, but also because his career spanned a few eras of the post-strike baseball card industry.

Collecting Cutch promised "this is going to be an easy and fun one." Fun, yes, but narrowing this down to just 10 cards was pretty tough. That it was well after midnight when I made the final selections probably didn't help, but Helton had quite a few great cards throughout his career as a Rockie.

2005 was Leaf's final year of existence, a set that Panini hasn't brought back yet. There was a gap or two, but they had a solid run during the '90s, produced some beautiful sets, and gave us perhaps the rarest main set of the whole overproduction era in 1990.

2000 Stadium Club #193 Todd Helton
Most of these cards are from Helton's pre-goatee days, not that you can tell from this shot. Stadium Club can always be counted on for awesome photography, but they have an even more inconsistent history than Leaf. Helton was always better known for his abilities at the plate, but he took home three Gold Gloves to go along with a few Silver Sluggers.

Apparently I like horizontal cards more than some of my contemporaries, and I'll take a little asymmetry in my binder pages for a card like this any day. Watching Helton dig out a slightly errant throw to nail a runner (crossing the baseline in the process) against an all-dirt background earns it a spot in the top-10.

Arenado already has Helton beat when it comes to Gold Gloves, but this card reminds me of a rocketing one-hopper that Nolan speared in last night's game with a little extra flourish. The Gold Glover's version of a bat flip, if you will.

2004 Playoff Honors #73 Todd Helton
These aren't ranked in any particular order, they're just what seems to flow when I thumb through the stack. Most of my posts are like that to a degree. The cards tell me what to write, in a sense. And I did make an effort to not just pick my ten favorite sets. That's partly why 2004 Playoff Honors is on here, a single-year set you probably haven't seen in the Cardsphere in ages, if at all.

It's a shot from a recognizable AT&T Park (or rather Pacific Bell Park, as it was called when this photo was taken), but it shows Helton in a very familiar spot. Second base. Yes, he played first defensively, but he was a machine when it came to hitting doubles. Those doubles, coupled with his lifetime totals of homers, hits, and other stats, put him in the same company as Stan Musial.

2002 Upper Deck Vintage #262 Todd Helton
Helton followed the Stan Musial school of thought for getting yourself into scoring position, rather than Rickey Henderson's. He wasn't much of a base stealer, but sometimes he could be seen diving back to second base, trying to avoid the tag of the Expos' Orlando Cabrera like he is here. The out-of-town scoreboard is out of the frame, so I don't have enough information to date this card, but the horizontal layout against a black border earned it a spot in the top-10, even if it is a pretty blatant knockoff of 1971 Topps. The back calls him "One of the best players in the game today," and also calls out his stellar .999 fielding percentage the previous season. That translates to just two errors all year.

I doubt there's been a baseball card set with that kind of accuracy.

2000 Finest #71 Todd Helton
When I first started thinking about this post, 2000 Finest was one of a few that immediately came to mind. Other than the gigantic shiny silver baseball, the photo of his post-swing pose is pretty common on many of his cards. That's what makes things like the rainy day at Coors and the fielding a short hop stand out so much. It's a set that I've shown a couple times, and I'm sure I've purchased this card a couple times over in error. Helton is in a lot of discount boxes around here.

These cards are all pretty thick. You can always count on Finest for that. The thinnest one so far is the Leaf card at the top. But this is the shiniest one.

2001 Ultra #97 Todd Helton
Speaking of Helton's swing, this Fleer Ultra card is the best one I found in my whole collection. He's back in Pacific Bell Park, with a cameo of (I think) catcher Bobby Estalella, a future Rockie. The extension is textbook, and while I never liked pinstripes on their road uniforms, Helton's swing reminds me a bit of Mickey Mantle's. 2007 Topps illustrated that maybe a little better, and it was one of the last to miss the cut in favor of this gorgeous full-bleed card.

2008 Stadium Club #4 Todd Helton
There were other candidates from Stadium Club, and this post wasn't that far off from being a "top-10 Todd Helton cards from Stadium Club" post. And we're not done yet. This one is from the poorly-received 2008 set, which still hits the Coors Field mini-collection quite well. The luxury suites and Club Level rarely make it onto a card. Helton had grown his goatee by this point, and was still honing his craft daily at batting practice. You don't become a fan favorite and the face of the franchise by slacking.

In addition to his #17 retired number plaque, there's a "Burger Shack" named after him behind the left field bleachers, just under the giant scoreboard. It's not far from where a group of die-hard fans unfurled a white banner with Helton's name on it during all his at-bats. The Helton Burger is one of the best snacks in the ballpark, but it competes with the Oskar Blues-branded CHUBurger found in the Rooftop.

And yes, I realize I just called a burger a "snack". No further comment.

1993 Topps Traded #19T Todd Helton USA (RC)
This wouldn't be much of a list without Helton's Team USA Rookie Card from 1993 Topps Traded. It's the headliner in that 132-card set, one that featured many newly-minted Rockies and Marlins who didn't make it into Series 2. Little did Helton know he'd eventually take over at first for Andres Galarraga, card #31T in that set.

The aluminum Easton bat takes me back to my little league days, and in looking closely at this card, Helton can be seen wearing a Topps patch on his left sleeve. The card back gives us some of his baseball stats at the University of Tennessee, and mentions that he "also plays college football." Famously, he was briefly the starting quarterback for the Volunteers until he experienced an injury and a guy named Peyton Manning took the job. Both became legends in Denver sports history.

1999 Topps #52 Todd Helton
There's not much overlap between my top-10 Helton cards and my top-10 overall sets. 2000 Finest stands a chance, though, as does the final set. But if nothing else, this list list should give you a pretty good idea about what I like in a card. Thick card stock, full-bleed printing, a bit of foil but nothing crazy (2000 Finest obviously excepted), a horizontal layout, and if none of those boxes are checked, at least an interesting photograph.

This card from 1999 Topps is the second card that popped into my head before I even checked the binders. The overall design isn't going to win any awards, but Helton shielding himself from the rain with a white towel is somehow extremely memorable. The red wheelbarrow and tarp add a bit of uniqueness to the card, and I had forgotten that this one also included the Topps All-Star Rookie trophy.

The back of this early Helton card hit the nail right on the head, by wrapping up the paragraph with the following: "Statistically, Todd's season was also a success - but likely just an appetizer for a banquet of feats to come."

2014 Stadium Club Members Only #31 Todd Helton
That "banquet of feats" came to its end on September 25th, 2013, Helton's final home game. The Rockies got trounced by the Boston Red Sox that day, but Helton's 2nd inning home run and farewell lap (as pictured) are more likely to stand out in fans' memories. He did play a final weekend series on the road to conclude the 2013 season, but this one is what Rockies fans remember.

I found no card of Helton's triumphant pose to close out the 2007 NLCS, which surely would have made the cut, but this Members Only parallel from 2014 Stadium Club concludes the top-10 list, one that I knew had to be on it. Julie of A Cracked Bat sent me this rare specimen, and it shows that final lap around Coors Field. It's in foul territory down the third base line, as we can see by Todd reaching over the tarp to high-five (side-five?) a fan.

Upon the conclusion of his storied career, Helton found himself atop the Rockies career leaderboard for hits, home runs, games played, RBIs, walks, doubles (592, almost twice Larry Walker's total), runs scored, and, well, pretty much everything else that doesn't involve speed. 2000 was his best single season, where he led the National League in a slew of statistics, including, yes, doubles.

And don't forget the horse.

Whether he'll be the Rockies' first representative in Cooperstown remains to be seen, but he gave Denver fans a wealth of memories, years of solid performance, a trip to the World Series, and more than enough cards to make a top-10 list.

Thursday, May 25, 2017

Diez de Mayo

No one has thrown a no-hitter at Coors Field since Hideo Nomo did it in 1996. There's only been the one in the stadium's 23-season history. There have been a few close ones, though. Most recently was German Marquez taking one into the 7th inning against the Cubs earlier this month. The Rockies ended up with a shutout against the defending World Champions, but the Cubs did manage to scratch out three hits.

This occasion marked my first purchase of a 2017 Topps Now card, which I believe is my first one of Marquez. The pitcher was a more minor piece of the Corey Dickerson trade, where the Rockies and Rays swapped players, with the Rockies also getting Jake McGee for the outfielder. Dickerson has been a solid piece of Tampa Bay's outfield this year, and Marquez has a 3-2 record so far in the 2017 season.

2017 Topps Now #132 German Marquez /378
It's a Coors Field card, yes, it marks yet another series the first-place Rockies won, and it shows off the new extra-purple Rockies jerseys. But I wasn't at this game, and a near no-hitter isn't exactly Hall of Fame material.

So why did I order this Topps Now card?

Well, May 10th, 2017 happens to be the day that my nephew was born. Little baby Levi came into the world at 6 lbs, 3 oz on a rainy Wednesday, just about equaling the weight of nineteen baseballs. He's already the proud owner of an official Colorado Rockies pacifier, so I'm doing my part to instill fandom early.

The print run was only 378 cards, and it documents the excellent pitching feat as well as the Rockies hot start to the 2017 season, which is still going strong almost into June. As many other bloggers have observed, the reverse of the card has a rainbow finish, the only set I can remember that has a special finish on the back but not the front. The packaging has been upgraded quite a bit from the 2016 cards, as well.

May 10th has always been an important date in my family. The day would have been my grandfather's 97th birthday, as well as my parents' 37th wedding anniversary. It feels extra-special for that date to suddenly be cause for celebration again.

Even if the Rockies gave up three hits that day.

Saturday, May 13, 2017

The Trading Post #98: Bump and Run Football Card Blog

Before the season started, the illustrious Night Owl sent an insert card from 1996 Fleer Ultra's Rising Stars set. Despite having a few in my collection already, it had somehow escaped my attention that Coors Field was the featured stadium throughout the set.

Fortunately, Trevor from Bump and Run Football Card Blog was watching out for me, offering a few more cards and getting me about halfway to completing the 10-card set. I still need to get a return package out to Trevor, but I figured today would be a good day for a post, since I'm attending my first baseball game of 2017 tonight.

1996 Fleer Ultra Rising Stars #8 Hideo Nomo
The Dodgers are in town this weekend, so who better to kick off this post than Hideo Nomo, the then-Dodger who pitched the first, and so far only no-hitter in Coors Field history. That happened to occur in 1996, the exact year of this card. I was not present for that game, but this card is a coincidental memento of that event, sort of an accidental Topps Now card.

The photo of "The Tornado", so called because of his windup, even appears to be from 1996, according to the commemorative patch on his left sleeve. That patch is for the team's 35th Anniversary of playing in Dodger Stadium, where they started in 1962. Of course, the Dodgers famously moved to the West Coast for the 1959 season, forcing them to play in Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum for a few seasons until their shiny new park could be built, which is now the third-oldest stadium in the Majors.

Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum, while woefully inadequate as a properly-sized baseball park, is getting lots of renewed interest as L.A. bids for the 2024 Summer Olympics, a city that is sure to reuse the iconic stadium that was opened in 1923 if they are selected over Paris, the only remaining candidate. Several other cities have withdrawn their candidacy in response to financial pressures and voter objections, reminding us of the tremendous costs of hosting such an event.

And they're not just financial costs. As we saw in Rio, there are plenty of societal costs, especially for those living on the land where the facilities will be built. And concerns about the environmental impact are partly what led Denver to turn down the 1976 Winter Olympics, the only city ever to do so.

1996 Fleer Ultra Rising Stars Gold Medallion #4 Cliff Floyd
That fact is something that Montreal knows better than most. Olympic Stadium, where the Montreal Expos played between 1977 through their departure after the 2004 season, was plagued with cost overruns and structural problems throughout their tenure. The stadium was built for the 1976 Summer Olympics, but wasn't fully paid off until 2006. Now the city doesn't even have an MLB team to show for it, thanks to a variety of reasons.

Cliff Floyd never became the star he was expected to be, only getting one All-Star selection throughout his 17-year journeyman career. But he was a good candidate for this insert set, and Trevor not only sent the base card, but also the Gold Medallion Edition parallel, which you see here. This parallel just gets a tiny bit of extra silver foil around the logo, quite a bit different from Gold Medallion parallels found in the main set.

1996 Fleer Ultra Gold Medallion #459 Eric Davis
Maybe Fleer used so much gold foil printing those up that they had none left over for a little 10-card insert set. But I'm a little surprised they didn't even emboss Floyd's card, as they did with other insert sets in the 1996 Ultra set.

I'll give your eyes a minute to recover before we move on.

1996 Ultra Rising Stars #6 Chipper Jones
There are several players found in this set that could be part of the mythical "Hall of the Very Good", like Jim Edmonds, Ryan Klesko, Nomo, and maybe Manny Ramirez. But Chipper Jones is the only one of the ten that's a sure-fire bet to be voted in to the real Hall when he's eligible next year. As the card mentions, he was runner-up for 1995 NL Rookie of the Year, losing out to set-mate Hideo Nomo, the fourth of five straight Dodgers to win the award. But Chipper, whose stellar career ended with a frustrating loss in the first-ever NL Wild Card game, did indeed become a future MVP candidate as this card predicted, even winning it in 1999.

Jones' career mostly overlapped with the Braves' residence at Turner Field, one of the key venues built for the 1996 Summer Olympics in Atlanta. Of course, the Braves moved to the new SunTrust Park for 2017, making Turner Field one of the shortest-lived MLB ballparks in recent memory.

Like many Braves of the era, Jones (or C. Jones, when Andruw was his teammate) was a thorn in the Rockies' side, and many fans in the Rockpile, the center-field bleacher section where this Coors Field photo was taken, got a distant view of him at the plate. I only saw Chipper in person once, on April 28th, 2007. Jones went 1-4 with 2 RBIs and a walk that day, behind a strong pitching performance by John Smoltz.

I remember having awesome seats for that game, right behind the visitors' dugout, so close you could hear the Velcro rip when players removed their batting gloves. That game also happened less than 24 hours before Troy Tulowitzki turned an incredibly rare feat, an unassisted triple play, one that Chipper himself lined into while hitting from the left side.

2014 Topps Green #117 Anibal Sanchez / Bartolo Colon / Hisashi Iwakuma LL
That about does it for the Rising Stars cards, but Trevor wasn't done there. I mentioned that I like green cards, so he found a couple for that preference of mine. This league leader card from 2014 Topps is obviously one of the green-bordered parallels, a shade that clashes slightly with Bartolo Colon's Athletics jersey. Anibal Sanchez took the top spot that year with an ERA mark of 2.57, a player who threw a no-hitter in 2006 that couldn't have come at a worse time for my fantasy baseball championship run. Hishashi Iwakuma rounds out the top three, while ex-Rockie Ubaldo Jimenez squeaked his way into the top-10 as a Cleveland Indian.

Three photos is a lot to squeeze onto a card to begin with, but somehow the green border makes it feel more crowded. It makes me appreciate the single-photo League Leader cards that Topps is using this year.

1994 Stadium Club Team #116 Willie Blair
The green theme carries on with this one of pitcher Willie Blair, and it's from an infrequently-seen team set that Stadium Club put out in the early 1990s. As in 1993, only a handful of teams were represented in this set, and while I do run across the Rockies from time to time in the Denver area, finding other teams is surprisingly difficult. In case your chosen team appears in this set, keep an eye out for First Day Issue parallels. At the end of the day, this is still Stadium Club.

2006 Fleer Ultra #147 Matt Holliday
Fleer and their family of brands found themselves under the ownership of Upper Deck in 2006. They wouldn't have much longer to go, but they did put out this Fleer Ultra set, keeping the full-bleed design going for a little while longer. A simple band of silver foil with a little upside-down crown on it gives us the player, position, and team, along with a redundant but more stylish printing of the player's last name above that.

Holliday is hitting in Wrigley Field here, as we can see Cubs catcher Michael Barrett behind the plate and wearing a hockey-style mask. You can even barely make out the bear logo on the top of his helmet. I wasn't that up-to-date on my decade-ago Cubs catchers, so I had to break out the magnifying glass for this one. In that same area, we can see that Holliday, uniform #5, is using a bat labeled #19. This was way before Charlie Blackmon, so that bat belongs to Ryan Spilborghs, currently part of the Rockies' on-air TV broadcast crew.

2017 Topps Gypsy Queen Autographs #GQA-RT Raimel Tapia (AU)
The "hit" of this trade package is an on-card autograph of Raimel Tapia, one of the Rockies' top prospects. In fact, Tapia was just called back up to the Majors yesterday, so he might even play a bit tonight. Trevor put this one in an Ultra-Pro penny sleeve, easily the highest-quality sleeve I've ever seen. It's thick, almost like that sealed Mickey Mantle card that Topps put in their 1996 Factory Sets, if you ever ran across one of those. But more than that, it even has a little Ultra-Pro hologram on the back in the lower left corner. I might have to pick up a few of these for my higher-end cards.

I wasn't really aware that 2017 Gypsy Queen was even out yet, as it's not something I tend to seek out until it hits the discount boxes. But it's a nice card for the autograph collection, and I hope it will become a conversation piece if Tapia lives up to his potential.

I'm awarding extra bonus points to this card for its obvious location inside Coors Field, with a great, if a bit blurry, shot of the manually-operated out-of-town scoreboard in right field. It's blurry, but I think there's just enough information on the Giants/Cubs matchup we see under Tapia's right arm to date this card to September 4th, 2016. Those white numbers on the right side of the scoreboard signify the current pitcher's uniform number. 47 on the Giants facing 41 on the Cubs translates to Cueto facing Lackey, in Chicago.

Tapia got on base a few times that day, and advanced to third twice when DJ LeMahieu was at the plate, once in the first after being picked off but advancing to third on the pitcher's throwing error, and again in the 5th when DJ hit a long fly ball. Hard to say which of those two scenarios this is, but I'm leaning toward the 5th inning, since it seems like Tapia has slightly less a sense of urgency than if he had just escaped being thrown out.

2012 Absolute #44 Demaryius Thomas
With Trevor running primarily a football card blog, it should come as no surprise that a few Broncos made it into the envelope. Demaryius Thomas, one of the Broncos star wide receivers, looks like he just made a catch while playing against the Minnesota Vikings. Panini was resurrecting Donruss brands way back in 2012, using the Absolute set for this card, along with a little inspiration from Upper Deck thanks to the copper foil.

I never played football as a kid, but I've watched enough to know that the way DT is holding the ball out in midair like that is just asking for a fumble, especially since it looks like he's about to block an incoming Viking on his right.

Football cards are significantly easier to date than baseball cards. You know the year the card was printed, you can usually make a good guess as to whether it's a home or away game based on the jersey, and as long as there's some indication of who the opponent is, that's pretty much all you need.

This photo was taken on December 4th, 2011, as the Broncos were visiting the Vikings. Thomas had 4 catches for 144 yards, on the way to a 35-32 win. The Broncos won it with a field goal as time expired, which was pretty typical of the way the Broncos won games in the Tim Tebow days.

2016 Prestige Xtra Points Green #63 Von Miller
This is a road game, as the Broncos typically wear the all-white uniforms away from Denver. I can't determine the opponent, but that's okay, as the shiny green foil more than makes up for a bit of ambiguity. The front of the card also has a rainbow finish, and the rest of the background behind Miller fades into the darkness a little bit.

Miller, the Broncos' star outside linebacker, has been racking up sacks for several seasons, amassing 73.5 since beginning his career in 2011. No Bronco has ever been on the cover of a Madden video game, but Miller was briefly the "cover athlete" for the iOS/Android mobile version of the game. Whether he was on the splash screen or the icon, I don't know. But that alone sets him apart as a Bronco. He's sure to become a Ring of Famer when all is said and done, and his MVP award earned during Super Bowl 50 is only a small part of that.

So that catches me up on trade packages, but I still have plenty of birthday gifts and card show purchases still waiting their turn. Thanks again to Trevor, and here's hoping the Rockies keep up the great season so we're not waiting for the Broncos by the time August rolls around.

Saturday, April 29, 2017

The Trading Post #97: Nachos Grande

I've been pretty out of the Cardsphere loop lately. I entirely skipped the 30-day Card Challenge, for example, although I suppose I could do it all in one go, like Night Owl and Dime Boxes did this weekend. In fact, this is only my third post in April, my lowest monthly total since...well, February. Between watching half my fantasy team go on the DL in the first month (Bumgarner, Sanchez, Beltre, others, and now Cespedes), and keeping an eye on the Rockies' textbook April hot streak, I haven't had a lot of time for blogging. The weather's been getting nicer too, and I took a pretty strenuous hike last weekend with some friends, but since this weekend has brought us our annual spring snowstorm, what better time to pick my virtual pen back up?

Fortunately, I've had plenty of potential blog post topics, such as a trade sent by Nachos Grande long before the season started.

2013 Topps Heritage #164 Dexter Fowler
Dexter Fowler was a fan favorite around here, spending time with Houston, Chicago (of course winning the World Series last year), and now St. Louis. I was about to say that he's really made the rounds in the National League, but then I realized Houston moved to the AL. I remember, really, I do.

But back when 1964 took its turn in the Topps Heritage set, Fowler was spending his final season as a Rockie. This retro-themed shot of a hatless Fowler in the dugout offers a pretty intimate look at the day-to-day job of a ballplayer. The action shots are always a crowd-pleaser, but hanging out in the dugout while the other part of the batting order is taking its turn is roughly as common as playing the field. Many of them find interesting ways to pass the time, such as (Buster Posey's good friend) Hunter Pence coming up with personalized handshakes for each of his teammates.

2012 Elite Extra Edition #91 Tom Murphy
The injury bug has bitten the Rockies, too. Their shiny new free agent, Ian Desmond, has yet to play in a game this year. David Dahl and Jon Gray are on the DL, and CarGo narrowly missed a broken hand during an unfortunate foul ball last week. Catcher Tom Murphy is down as well, the subject of this red foil card from Donruss Elite. He's been called up to the big leagues twice, but his potential is still yet to be fully realized. For now, that means most of his cards are in the Donruss Elite and Bowman sorts of brands. But if he becomes the star catcher he's expected to be, we should be seeing a lot more cards of him.

I'm sure that's just a batting glove in his back pocket, but it looks slightly like he has a duck tail.

Anyway, Mark Reynolds and Tony Wolters have been filling in nicely in the Rockies' lineup, good enough to keep them in first place. Because they just won this weekend's series in Arizona, they've held on to first place into the month of May, barely, despite the absolute destruction that the Washington Nationals visited upon them this past week. But they've bounced back nicely with an exciting come-from-behind win and will go for the sweep tomorrow.

1994 Bowman's Best #R72 Ellis Burks
Bowman's Best did shiny red cards better than just about anyone. Ellis Burks, who had just joined the Rockies when this card was printed, was already an established power hitter. He even had eight grand slams to his name before becoming a founding member of the Blake Street Bombers, tacking on even more before his retirement in 2004.

Topps knew they had a hit on their hands with the production of shiny cards like this, a set that appeared after the seminal 1993 Finest set. I would like to know what the design in the upper left is supposed to be. It looks a bit like the NFL shield. But maybe it's just some sort of home plate thing.

Standard practice for close to two decades over at Bowman was to use red colors for veteran players, and blue colors for rookies.

1994 Bowman's Best #B11 John Burke
Fortunately for our exploration of this design, Chris was kind enough to include both. They look really good side-by-side, especially since the design elements are a mirror image. Burke's card is noted as a "Blue Chip", though Burke only went 4-6 in two seasons with the Rockies, his only time spent in the Majors. Burke was more of a speculative small-cap than a blue chip, but others in this set went on to do great things, such as Shawn Green, Jorge Posada, Derek Jeter, and Chipper Jones, to name a few.

I can only imagine what a green card from this set would have looked like. Throw in a yellow with that and you can make the Microsoft logo.

1994 Topps #780 Jason Bates / John Burke
Burke showed up again along with Jason Bates on the Rockies' Coming Attractions card in 1994 Topps. This movie theater-themed subset caught my eye, as I can still recognize the first factory set I ever bought in a split second. Jason Bates, who found a bit more success with the Rockies than Burke, is called out as a "switch-hitting shortstop with power." Burke, on the other hand, was at that time the career leader in strikeouts as a Florida Gator. Besides those one-sentence tidbits, this card gives us a rarely-glimpsed bit of info: the scout who signed the player. Randy Johnson (no relation to the Big Unit) signed Bates, and Bob Gebhard, the first General Manager of the Rockies, signed Burke.

I'm surprised that doesn't make it onto Bowman cards. It would be perfect for a prospect-heavy set like that, and might give hope to fans and collectors who want to be part of baseball but aren't good enough to play.

2014 Topps #237 Michael Cuddyer / Chris Johnson / Freddie Freeman LL
When it comes to League Leader cards, the players are much more likely to have found success than a pair of prospects. Michael Cuddyer won the NL batting title in 2013, one of many times that trophy has been brought to Denver. Rounding out the top three are two Braves. Chris Johnson hit .321 in 2013, but hasn't had a stellar career since. He broke a bone in Triple-A a few weeks ago, and was released by the Indians in 2015. The likelihood of him making a comeback is looking slimmer by the day.

Freddie Freeman, on the other hand, the second runner up to the 2013 batting title, is still performing well as a Brave. He went deep on Friday with a go-ahead two-run shot, and is finding a nice home at SunTrust Park, the Braves' shiny new stadium.

2014 Topps #20 Charlie Blackmon
I often remark on how different Todd Helton looks without his goatee. But that's nothing compared to Charlie Blackmon without his lumberjack beard. He has a little bit of scruff on this 2014 Topps card, but he looks like a completely different person. He's just as capable in center field as Fowler was, beard or no. And it's a Coors Field card, worthy of a spot in my Frankenset. This 2014 set does make me miss the previously ubiquitous silver foil and white borders that were once so familiar.

But what's still familiar is great trading partners, a Rockies team that is hot in April (though winning all these one-run games is a little weird), and shiny Topps cards from all eras of the Colorado Rockies.

Saturday, April 15, 2017

The Trading Post #96: All Trade Bait, All The Time

Dante Bichette always wore #10.

1997 Upper Deck #60 Dante Bichette
Except during the occasional Spring Training game, as pictured on this copper-heavy 1997 Upper Deck card.

I know a lot of people talk about 1993 Upper Deck as one of the best sets of the entire overproduction era, but all the little details, dates, and tidbits found on the 1997 set really appeal to me. Thanks to that little white line of text, we know the exact date that Dante Bichette suited up with #8. It's an appropriate card for today, which happens to be Jackie Robinson Day. Every Major League player wore #42 today, in honor of the player who famously broke the color barrier seventy years ago.

It can be a bit confusing to the casual baseball fan to watch when everyone is wearing the same number. But it's probably even more confusing to rabid fans when regular players are not wearing their normal number. On rare occasions, the uniform even has a mind of its own, as a number fell off a jersey mid-pitch during a recent Minor League game.

2017 Topps #152 Nolan Arenado LL
You can't quite make out Arenado's number on his League Leader card for 2016 NL Home Runs, but he wears #28, something I'm reminded of every day when I open my closet door and see his jersey. Just like in 2015, Arenado finished the season tied for the lead in home runs. In 2015, his 42 shots were on par with Bryce Harper, and he almost equaled that total in 2016, tying Chris Carter with 41. Since then, Topps decided to feature single-player league leader cards for the 2017 set, rather different from the three-player cards they had been using for quite a while.

Of course, that brings up the question of what to do about ties. Arenado played second fiddle to Harper on the 2016 card, but pretty much took over the entire 2017 card, getting the featured photo, team color coding on the back, and the first listing at the head of the top-ten list.

Maybe one of these seasons he will have the lead all to himself.

2017 Topps #17 Daniel Descalso
Daniel Descalso didn't lead any categories in 2016, nor is he even a Rockie in 2017. He migrated southwest in the offseason to sign with the Arizona Diamondbacks, so as a member of the NL West, he's sure to remain a familiar face to Rockies fans. He's no stranger to the division, either. Judging by those yellow seats, this shot came from Dodger Stadium, and offers one of the final images on cardboard of the Rockies' old shade of purple.

This Descalso card came from a recent PWE from All Trade Bait, All The Time, one of the many Dodgers fans in the Cardsphere. My Rockies and his Dodgers square off frequently, and the Dodgers were even the visiting team for the Rockies' home opener last weekend. The Rockies are on the road for now, playing in San Francisco. Tyler Chatwood turned in a marvelous pitching performance today, a complete game shutout, and he was perfect through 5.2 innings.

2017 Topps #311 Tyler Chatwood
Speaking of Chatwood, I didn't have this card originally selected when I started this post. But after that shutout against the Giants on the road, I gave it a second thought and decided to include it. I'm probably nearing completion of the Rockies team set in 2017 Topps by now, and while it may not go down in history as one of the great all-time designs, it is starting to grow on me. Especially that beautiful purple on the back.

2013 Topps #461 Drew Pomeranz
Like Descalso, Drew Pomeranz has moved on, even venturing to an entirely different league. An All-Star last year with the Padres, he now pitches for Boston. He built up a dismal 4-14 record in three seasons with the Rockies, but has turned things around since leaving Denver, good enough for about a .500 record in recent seasons.

And that's not a bad Coors Field card in the 2013 set, statistically likely to have been taken during one of his nine losses in 2012.

2016 Topps Chrome Youth Impact #Y-I5 Jon Gray
Jon Gray took the hill three times so far this season for the Rockies, but was pulled early from Friday's game after aggravating a foot injury. Turns out he has a broken bone in his foot and is likely to miss more than a month. The Rockies are still in second place, not that unusual for the month of April, but the injuries are piling up at an alarming rate. Trevor Story is off to a slow start, many of the names that sportswriters picked as key players for the 2017 Rockies are injured, and if not for strong starting and relief pitching, a surprising performance by Mark Reynolds, and Tyler Chatwood's complete game shutout, things would be looking pretty bad.

At least Jon Gray can spend the next month admiring this awesome insert card from 2016 Topps Chrome. It could easily pass for a Topps Finest card, shows off his uniform number 55 perfectly, and evokes images of stained-glass windows. The color scheme is muted a bit on the back, but this will be an eye-catching specimen no matter which direction I display it in the binder.

I always like writing with a ballgame on, but especially so when I can write about a trade during a Rockies win. April is a fun month for Rockies fans, no matter what the uniform numbers say.

Sunday, April 2, 2017

The Trading Post #95: 2x3 Heroes

It's finally Opening Day!

Baseball has come out of its long winter hibernation. Well, not counting the weeks of spring training and the World Baseball Classic. But you know what I mean.

Writing with a ballgame on in the background is one of my favorite pastimes, especially when someone from my fantasy team is playing. I happen to have Madison Bumgarner on my team, who was on the hill for the Giants this Opening Day. He took a perfect game into the 6th, and became the first pitcher to hit two home runs in a single Opening Day game.

That makes today the perfect day to write about a stack of cards that Jeff from 2x3 Heroes sent as part of his annual 'Tis the Season giveaway.

2016 Topps Opening Day #OD-133 Greg Holland
Greg Holland didn't actually appear as a Royal in 2016, as he was recovering from Tommy John surgery, which he underwent shortly before the Royals' World Series championship in 2015. But he still got a card in 2016 Topps Opening Day, a perfect set to highlight on a day like today. Holland, of course, signed with the Rockies in the offseason, and while it's not certain he'll spend all season as the closer, he'll be a solid late-inning reliever to support the Rockies' rotation.

Or maybe he'll end up in more of a high-leverage sort of role, similar to what the Indians have been doing with Andrew Miller. ESPN ran a pretty interesting article the other day, about how the whole idea of the Save statistic has effectively shaped the modern closer role, and perhaps not always for the best. The argument is that it makes more sense to put your best reliever in during the diciest late inning, not simply the 9th where a Save can be earned. Leaving your best reliever in the bullpen in case a save situation materializes isn't necessarily the best strategy. For example, the Orioles famously didn't use their star closer Zach Britton in last year's AL Wild Card game against the Blue Jays, and that ended up costing them dearly in the 11th inning with Edwin EncarnaciĆ³n at the plate.

2016 Topps Opening Day #OD-152A Carlos Gonzalez
Slugging outfielders are a lot more consistent with Rockies history than elite closers. Carlos Gonzalez has been holding down various outfield positions at Coors Field for the better part of a decade, and he's no slouch on the basepaths either. He's sliding into third at AT&T Park against the Giants, a common location for Rockies cards and other NL West teams. CarGo's season doesn't kick off until Monday, as only six teams played their first game today. As usual, the Rockies begin their season on the road, a four-game set in Milwaukee.

2016 Topps Bunt #59 Trevor Story (RC)
Trevor Story is also expected to be in the Opening Day lineup, and while he didn't get a card in 2016 Topps Opening Day, he did get a card in Bunt. Of course, the gray back of this card mentions his "unprecedented" start to his rookie season, in which he hit ten memorable home runs in his first 21 games. Not bad for a rookie in a 200-card set that also includes retired legends.

2016 Topps Opening Day #OD-148 Robinson Cano
I watched part of a Rockies/Mariners spring training game on Friday, one that ended in a 5-5 tie. Robinson Cano is one of the key players for Seattle, but from what I saw he wasn't doing anything special at second. Maybe he was just getting the last minute kinks out, but he's definitely been supplanted by Jose Altuve as the best second baseman in the league.

By the way, I did it! I finally remembered the Astros are in the AL without having to think twice about it!

The Mariners' colors do look good on this card, and especially on Cano's batting gloves. And seeing all those aqua-colored knuckle pads on his batting gloves line up appeals to me. I liked when the Seahawks had similar colors, before they moved to airport-gate-worker electric green.

2016 Topps Opening Day #OD-139 Dustin Pedroia
Dustin Pedroia was once toward the top of the 2B rankings, and he also won the Rookie of the Year award in 2007. He's got quite the career under his belt, but he's no longer the elite second baseman he once was. Still, I did pick him for my fantasy team as the final hitter, with DJ LeMahieu as the primary second baseman. It's nice to have a Rockie this year; it will make watching Rockies games that much more interesting.

Also, with the trend toward beard and facial hair throughout the Major Leagues, it's a bit odd to see Pedroia clean-shaven now. It's even more odd to see Hunter Pence with a much shorter beard than before.

2016 Topps Opening Day #OD-138 David Ortiz
David Ortiz has etched himself into Red Sox lore even more than Dustin Pedroia. Ortiz retired at the end of 2016, so it will be strange not to see him on the highlight reels this year. Ortiz does have a card in 2017 Topps, but with the shift to five years of stats, this is as close to a sunset card as we're likely to see for him. This photograph is much more appropriate for a sunset card than his 2017 issue anyway, but it does skip his still-strong 2016 statistics.

2016 Topps Bunt #133 Stephen Piscotty (RC)
2016 Topps Opening Day and 2016 Topps Bunt were the two sets that Jeff sent as part of this giveaway. Nothing super high-end but I do enjoy these lower-end sets. The no-frills design may not be as eye-catching as others, but the price point really can't be beat. And Stephen Piscotty, whom I saw play when the Cardinals came to town last year, is also on my Fantasy team. I'm not sure if I'll see the Cardinals this season, as my Cardinals-fan friend who I tried to catch a game with every season moved to Chattanooga this weekend. I'm sure we'll catch a Double-A Lookouts game if I have a chance to visit him, but it will be unusual not to catch the Redbirds in Denver with him this year.

2016 Topps Bunt #45 Steven Matz
Stephen Matz of the Mets went just a couple picks later than Piscotty in my league's draft. Unfortunately, Matz is dealing with an elbow injury and will miss the first few weeks of the season. The Mets have some insanely good young pitching talent, but elbow problems and Tommy John surgeries have affected most of them over the years, including Matt Harvey, Zach Wheeler, Jacob deGrom, and Matz. Mets fans will certainly recognize those names as pretty much the entire rotation, other than Noah Syndergaard. Robert Gsellman will round out the Mets' rotation to start the season, a player I spent a late-round pick on.

2016 Topps Opening Day #OD-73 George Springer
George Springer, along with his teammates Jose Altuve, Carlos Correa, and Dallas Keuchel, are making the Astros look like a very strong young team, despite the Cardinals' computer-hacking efforts. Moving to the AL West could end up being a great move for the Astros, as it effectively takes them out of competition with the Cardinals, Cubs, and even Pirates, all of whom are at least a Wild Card threat. Even if it takes half a decade for their new division to become second-nature to this baseball fan.

On this shot of Springer sliding into home, you can spot an Astros' 50th Anniversary patch on his right sleeve. Not the 50th Anniversary patch, a 50th Anniversary patch. Apparently the Astros also celebrated their 50th Anniversary in 2012, but for 2015 they ignored the three years they spent as the Houston Colt .45s and celebrated it again. It's a bit strange, celebrating anniversaries that both include and disregard the team's first name. But it does let you sell twice as many t-shirts.

2016 Topps Bunt #114 Brooks Robinson
Brooks Robinson, the career Oriole, finished a little bit shy of 3,000 hits, at 2,848. But in that time he won an MVP award, became one of the most well-known Orioles in history, and earned himself two World Series rings. He's also considered to be the best defensive third baseman of all-time, winning sixteen consecutive Gold Glove awards. Now, everyone knows I'm a huge Nolan Arenado fan, but as talented as he is on the diamond, he has a long, long way to go before he challenges Robinson for a record like that. 3,000 hits is somewhat likely, but to win another 12 Gold Gloves, let alone consecutively, remains a tall order. Especially so, as much as the defensive game of baseball has been elevated in the past forty or so years.

2016 Topps Bunt Light Force #LF-23 Willie Stargell
There were even a couple inserts that made it in here. Willie Stargell, the career Pirate, got a card in the Light Force set, the same as Luis Gonzalez in the pack of Topps Bunt I purchased. Stargell won two World Series as a Pirate, his second coming in 1979, the same year as his only NL MVP award. That came surprisingly late in his career, at the age of 39. The inclusion of Hall of Famers like Robinson and Stargell help distinguish this Bunt set from Topps Opening Day, and although some have suggested otherwise, I'd be happy to continue seeing these two sets stay on the market.