Saturday, January 14, 2017

Post-holiday Roundup

Now that we're a few weeks removed from the annual commotion that is Christmas, it seems like a good time to look back at a couple cards I got as a present. I used to put the Topps complete set on my list every year, but lately I've just been buying it at Target when it gets released, roughly around the All-Star Break. But my mom still makes sure to check my Eight Men Out list for the latest parts of my collection that are conspicuous by their absence.

Hanukkah started late this year, with the first night beginning on Christmas Eve. I can never remember it starting that late, but it occasionally overlaps Christmas. My mom marked the annual Festival of Lights with a couple toploaders inside a Hanukkah card.

2008 Upper Deck Documentary #2798 Willy Taveras
We've wrapped up our first year of Topps Now, and there are some pretty strong opinions out there about it. The concept seems to be generally well-liked, but there are some pretty big objections around the delivery time, and more importantly about the $10 price for a single card. Despite those downsides, I still bought two, and others bought way more.

Less than a decade ago, printing on demand like that just wasn't feasible. But Upper Deck still wanted a way to highlight important moments of the 2008 season. So they took a brute-force approach with 2008 Documentary, a set that would just about fill a 5,000-count box. Both the home and away team got a card for each MLB game that year. I have a few cards from the set, but none from any of the three games I attended that season. I put this one on the list, from July 18th, 2008. My dad was a Wells Fargo customer at that time, and they ran a 2-for-1 special on Club Level seats for a while. He got us a pair of tickets, and we got to see a Rockies win from the luxurious 2nd deck.

Willy Taveras is pictured here, I'm guessing from when he stole second in the 2nd inning. He led off the first with a triple, but his pace looks a bit too leisurely here to be legging out a three-bagger. However, a more memorable moment from this game was Seth Smith hitting an inside-the-park home run in the 7th. UD did make mention of that home run on the back of the card, along with Matt Holliday's and Brad Hawpe's, but didn't point out the unusual nature of Smith's.

It's a great reminder of the team the Rockies fielded when they were a playoff contender, and of course of going to the ballpark with my dad.

2015 Topps Allen & Ginter Mini Birds of Prey #BP-3 Great Horned Owl
The other card my mom ordered for me is this Allen & Ginter mini. A&G is well-known for including all sorts of offbeat topics, from space probes to fighter jets. Which are actually pretty similar things, I suppose. But I enjoy nature and wildlife in addition to space exploration and aviation. I usually schlep a heavy DSLR with me when I go hiking in case I spot something like this, but the one time I saw an owl, it was perched on the ridge of the roof of the building across from me. It was well after midnight, and was too dark to snap a picture. But it was a majestic-looking animal.

I happen to be writing this during the Falcons/Seahawks NFL Division Playoff game, and I got to wondering: what is a seahawk, anyway? Is it actually a bird? As a matter of fact, it is. Apparently, it's a more mascot-friendly way to refer to an osprey. The Seattle Ospreys doesn't sound like any team I'd root for. Of course, I don't root for the Seahawks anyway, but still.

Some of the other birds in this set, like the California condor and even the barn owl won't be winning any beauty contests. But these modern-day dinosaurs are as good a subject as any for an A&G insert set.

Thanks, mom!

Monday, January 2, 2017

How fast is fast?

A week or so before the Cubs won the World Series (still can't believe I'm writing that), I went to the local card show for the first time in about a year and a half. I saw my usual dealer (whose father just passed away, sadly), and the haul from his table will be coming in a future post.

But there was a new vendor there I hadn't met before, an older gentleman who had a ton of vintage. He had the usual classic specimens that were way out of my price range, but also a clear plastic bin full of toploaders that contained more...weathered cards. I don't recall seeing him at a show before, but he seemed like he'd been at this a while, and talked about how he could almost always figure out which side of his table a collector would gravitate to after just a few questions.

A lot like our blog community.

There are a few high rollers out there, but a lot of us don't really mind a Hall-of-Famer or something from a legendary set even if it has some banged-up corners or a bit of paper loss.

1953 Topps #135 Al Rosen
I picked out three cards for a pretty fair $10, starting with my second card from 1953 Topps. Al Rosen, who manned the hot corner for the Indians, had his best-ever season in 1953. Collectors wouldn't get stats for that until the following year, but he led the league in home runs, runs scored, RBIs, slugging percentage, and a few other categories. He won the AL MVP award and his second of four All-Star appearances for that performance.

As is somewhat obvious from his surname, Rosen had Jewish heritage, and like Sandy Koufax a decade or so later, refused to play on Jewish holidays. He caught some occasional flak for his religion around the league, but had no trouble standing up for himself. He was an amateur boxer before he was a ballplayer, and served for four years in the Navy during WWII before he began his pro career. Not the guy I'd want to mess with.

1954 Topps #3 Monte Irvin
Continuing chronologically through these cards, here's Monte Irvin's card from 1954. I collected the reprints, but this is my first original card from that set. It's such a simple design, but it's become timeless. Both these cards are a little bit larger than standard cards, but still fit in a toploader if you skip the penny sleeve. 2.5" x 3.5" is what we all know today, but I wonder if things would be any different today if this original size (2.625" x 3.75") was kept.

It's not in perfect shape. All four corners are soft and there is residue from adhesive tape on both the top and bottom of the card. But it's over 60 years old, and it's my first copy of any kind. I don't even have the reprint!

In 1949, at the age of 30, Irvin became the first African-American player to take the field for the New York Giants, along with Hank Thompson, who had played the prior season for the St. Louis Browns. Thus, Irvin was only the fourth black player in the Majors. Along with Thompson, once Willie Mays came up in 1951, they made up the first all-black outfield.

Irvin led the league in RBIs in 1951, and won his only World Series ring in 1954. Even though he was voted onto the All-Star team in 1952 (facing Al Rosen), he had to miss it due to an ankle injury. That injury, which sidelined him for most of 1952, is the subject of the three cartoons on the back. But that injury wouldn't keep him down, he went on to put up a couple more strong seasons until his retirement as a Cub in 1956, and subsequent election to the Hall of Fame in 1973.

Irvin, Mays, Doby, and lots more prove how groundbreaking Jackie Robinson really was. Once Robinson was in the league, every other team was at a competitive disadvantage if they didn't follow suit and field the best players period, not just the best white players.

But if guys like Satchel Paige and Josh Gibson didn't get to test their skills in the Majors (yes, Paige did, but after the age of 40), it also calls into question the performances of players pre-integration. Chris Rock had some interesting things to say about integration in Ken Burns' follow up to his Baseball documentary, The Tenth Inning. Not only did Babe Ruth not have guys like Torii Hunter patrolling the outfield, but he also points out that "baseball didn't truly get integrated until you had black players who sucked...When we got the black Ed Kranepools, that's when baseball was truly integrated."

1975 Topps #500 Nolan Ryan
Much more recent but no less special is this 1975 beauty of Nolan Ryan. Ryan pitched for the Mets in the late 1960s, but didn't really kick the strikeout machine into afterburner mode until he was traded to the Angels in 1971. He'd go on to have perhaps the best pitching career in modern baseball, striking out a whopping 5,714 batters, winning 324 games, and pitching 222 complete games. Sort of like Rickey Henderson being the career leader in times caught stealing, Nolan Ryan is also the career leader in walks. His early lack of control is what led the Mets to give up on him, but he got his rocketing fastball under control and the rest is history. He finally had to call it quits in 1993 when his elbow gave up at the age of 46.

I have a few cards from 1975, and Night Owl has turned me on to the set quite a bit after years of reading his posts. We can see the Angels' black armband from their 1974 uniforms, worn in memory of Bobbie McMullen, wife of former Angel Ken McMullen. She passed away from breast cancer near the start of the 1974 season.

Nolan Ryan was a major subject in Fastball, a baseball documentary I watched on Netflix last night. Being that it's the dead of winter, I needed something to get my baseball fix, and that movie fit the bill. Obviously, it focuses on the fastball and some of the most famous pitchers who threw them, including Goose Gossage, Walter Johnson, Bob Feller, Bob Gibson, and of course Nolan Ryan. Gossage, Gibson, and Ryan were masters of intimidation, just as important a tool for a pitcher as anything they throw. Active pitchers were included as well, like Aroldis Chapman, Justin Verlander, David Price, and Craig Kimbrel.

It also looked at some of the ways that a fastball's speed was measured over the years, as it was something of a mystery until the mid-1970s. There were efforts to scientifically measure pitches from Johnson and Feller, and less scientific publicity stunts like pitching versus a speeding motorcycle. Feller was clocked at 98.6 mph in the late 1930s, and Nolan Ryan at 100.8 mph in the early 1970s with the first-ever radar gun. Walter Johnson's career predated the wide use of automobiles, so his readings were publicized in feet per second rather than mph, an unfamiliar metric a century ago. But those all measured the ball as it crossed the plate, whereas current measurements occur at 50 feet from home plate, just a split second after the ball leaves the pitcher's hand. So those early pitches were likely even faster by today's standards.

Even casual baseball fans have heard of Nolan Ryan, but the film also profiled an early 1960s pitcher named Steve Dalkowski. Like the active pitchers they interviewed, I'd never heard of him. And though Topps featured him on a 4-man card as a "1963 Rookie Star", he never made the majors. He just couldn't get his fastball under control. He was making some progress in the mid 1960s, but suffered an elbow injury and never recovered. He was rumored to throw in excess of 110 mph.

I'm quite surprised that the film didn't have anything to say about Tommy John surgery, as that's become just as much a part of the game as the pitch itself. But if you need a January baseball fix and cards like this aren't readily available for a mere $10, go check out that movie!

Thursday, December 29, 2016

The Trading Post #85: The Collector

Two days before Christmas was a big incoming mailday for me. Fuji, Daniel, and Peter all sent cards that arrived that day, and a fourth—the post you're about to see. This one is from Chris of the new blog, The Collector, apparently a pun on both his career and his hobby. Three cards arrived safely packaged inside a holiday greeting card, which Chris offered on a mid-December post.

2013 Topps 1972 Topps Minis #TM19 Carlos Gonzalez
1972 Topps. That one I know at a glance.

I also know the distinctive smooth-but-not-glossy feel of Topps Archives by heart, and this mini of Carlos Gonzalez fits that description perfectly. It's still a little bit strange to see a sharp, nighttime action shot at Coors Field on such a retro design, and the disco font at the top makes the team name look a lot like "Rookies". But we still get a good write-up about CarGo's well-rounded baseball skills, as he's a threat on the basepaths, at the plate, and in the cavernous outfield at 20th and Blake.

1972 Topps had cartoons on the back, and this retro set is faithful to that. This one is sort of a trivia question, but I've sure never heard it. The card asks "what pitch is sometimes referred to as a "Bugs Bunny?"

Apparently that's slang for a change-up, but I must admit that I've not once heard that in all my years of baseball fandom. I guess it has something to do with this cartoon. I'm sure I've seen it before, but the slowball didn't stand out in particular relative to the rest of his cartoony antics.

2013 Topps Chasing History #CH-97 Troy Tulowitzki
This is a card you've seen before in various forms on this blog. I'm still chasing the mini to complete the rainbow, but I like this card so much that it's a candidate to become my next wallet card, once that Girardi disintegrates enough.

Tulowitzki fell just one short of hitting the 25-homer milestone for the first time since this card was printed. He got 24 in a Blue Jays uniform last year, but if you count the ALDS, he got his 25th. He also had a handful in 2015 after The Trade, some of which you can see in this awesome supercut of Blue Jays homers, set to Johnny Cash's "God's Gonna Cut You Down".

2003 Finest Bat Relics #FRB-TH Todd Helton B (MEM)
The last card from Chris is a Todd Helton bat relic. It's from 2003 Finest, and by coincidence, I happened to have purchased a couple other relics from this set at a recent card show. I'm usually pretty behind on card show posts. There's just so much to include.

But anyway, as awesome as Topps Finest consistently is, 2003 still rises to the top of my favorites list. This relic design lacks the hexagons that I like so much from the base set, but I love the simple design and color scheme here.

A bonus on this card is a look at the Rockies 10 Season Anniversary patch on Helton's right sleeve. They began play in 1993, which meant their tenth full season occurred n 2002.

Not counting the strike, of course.

A few weeks ago, I finally bought some 75- and 100-pt thick toploaders to properly organize and protect my relic cards. Now that this is scanned, I know just where to put it, and it will fit in nicely in front of my two relics from the card show, Lance Berkman and Mark Mulder.

Thanks to Chris for adding a Rockie to that small stack.

Tuesday, December 27, 2016

2016 Card of the Year

This has been a rough year.

With all the celebrities passing away before their time, including Carrie Fisher earlier today, as well as an election that most of us would rather forget, it seems like the ball can't drop soon enough. Personally, it's been up and down for me. My dad moved to another state in the spring, and even though he's happy, I do miss him. There have been some other challenges and disappointments, too. But the new car is fun, at least. And I will be an uncle by the time May rolls around!

Still, baseball and its related card industry have carried on regardless. The Cubs, of course, finally snapped their century-long Championship drought. Ichiro hit a pretty cool milestone. David Ortiz did his farewell tour. And another season is in the books, one in which my Rockies did better than usual. They finished just six games under .500, and the youth of the team looks better than ever.

To wrap up this year on the baseball card front, Tom at Eamus Catuli!, formerly known as Waiting 'Til Next Year, is running a "Best of 2016" contest. Topps released another Stadium Club set in 2016, and it's been a bright spot in the hobby ever since the brand was resurrected for 2014. Naturally, my favorite card from 2016 is from none other than Stadium Club.

2016 Stadium Club #251 Jon Gray
I'm not trying to curry favor over here, but this Jon Gray card was sent by none other than Tom himself. Mike Trout's card from 2016 Topps is a strong contender, and Jose Bautista's bat flip card is a close second, but Jon Gray is the winner at Infield Fly Rule.

We didn't get snow for Christmas Day, but the wind was cold and biting. It's a bit sunny out right now, and not terribly wintry. But it's still far from a comfortable Colorado evening, one that's clearly pictured on this card. And that's what I'm longing for right about now.

It's usually a good day for the Rockies when Jon Gray is on the hill, assuming he's gotten his first inning jitters out of the way. And all those fans help set the tone of this card. There are a handful of empty seats about 20 rows up, but there is lots of purple out there, a lemonade vendor climbing the stairs, and some ghostly-looking fans silhouetted against the setting sun.

That little glimmer of sunlight is what truly puts this card on top. Gray in sharp focus with that background would be good enough, but tilting the camera up just a little bit gives it a lot more atmosphere. It's a bit of an allegory for the Rockies themselves, a statement that young players like Gray, Trevor Story, David Dahl, Raimel Tapia, Brendan Rodgers, and possibly Jeff Hoffman could be a light at the end of a dark tunnel the Rockies have been in for a while. I've never known the Rockies' farm system as well as I do right now, and hopefully that means there are good things to come.

But maybe I'm getting too philosophical about it.

Maybe it's just because I can picture myself so well in this scene. I'd be sitting in that general area (maybe a deck or two higher, depending on how much I felt like spending on a ticket), wearing my Nolan Arenado jersey. I'm guessing this is the second or third inning, meaning I'd probably have finished a bratwurst already, and be about halfway through a beer. Maybe I'd be thinking about another snack, perhaps some popcorn, a Tornadough pretzel available below the left field scoreboard, or even some Rocky Mountain oysters, which are only sold near where those fans are standing.

I'd have already checked in on social media, perhaps snapped a photo or two. For a night game, the temperature would have dropped a bit, but it would still be nice sitting in the shade. It's likely that a run or two would have scored by then. And this side of the stadium is perfect when a righty is on the hill. After the game, I'd head into Downtown just beyond, perhaps grabbing a late happy hour snack at one of the bars, ideally having just witnessed a Rockies win.

It's almost like one of those chalk drawings in Mary Poppins. I feel like I can just jump right in.

Not only is this card my favorite of 2016. This card is my happy place.

Sunday, December 25, 2016

The Trading Post #84: Jaybarkerfan's Junk

Anytime you see a package on its way to you from Hazel Green, Ala., you know that some goodies are on their way from Jaybarkerfan's Junk. The creator of the #Supertraders group made sure that all his readers were able to get in on some holiday trading action. He ran what he called a Trade-a-Thon in November, offering each reader the chance to claim up to five cards throughout the two-week process. I claimed four, and even with the bonus pack he threw in, this will be a rare post without any Rockies.

2008 UD Masterpieces #5 Max Scherzer (RC)
Upper Deck Masterpieces is an absolutely beautiful set. 2008 was the second of only two years that UD printed this product. Even with short prints, it's only a 120-card checklist, but they did an absolutely terrific job selecting players for the set. Max Scherzer, who had no Major League experience when this card was printed, has gone on to win two Cy Young Awards, and he threw two no-hitters in 2015. The first of those was only a pitch away from being a perfect game, but one pitch got a little bit away from him, Jose Tabata leaned into it, and Scherzer had to settle for a no-hitter.

It's a heck of a card to get your Rookie Card logo on. Upper Deck couldn't know how dominant he would become, and we've all seen our share of busted prospects, but things worked out really well for this card, and more importantly, for Max Scherzer.

2010 Bowman Prospects Black #BP1 Stephen Strasburg
Scherzer spent the majority of his career so far in Detroit, but now shares the rotation with Stephen Strasburg on the Washington Nationals. Strasburg was the most hyped pitching prospect in recent memory, drawing comparisons to Mark Fidrych. Watching his debut back in 2010 was quite impressive, as he struck out fourteen Pirates in his first-ever start. Unfortunately, he needed Tommy John surgery shortly after that, but he's settled into a groove in the Nats' pitching staff. The Nationals have had a pretty terrifying rotation ever since his debut, fielding guys like Gio Gonzalez, Doug Fister, Jordan Zimmerman, etc....

Of course, this card itself has quite the story behind it. Strasburg mania was in full force in late spring 2010, and there was finally a Bowman gold mine out there. They print cards of virtually every young prospect out there, many of whom never make it to the Majors. But Strasburg's First Bowman Card was the rare item that briefly brought baseball cards back into the national spotlight. His /1 Superfractor parallel of this Bowman card was found in 2010, and promptly spiraled to a five-figure sale price on eBay. Just months later, it changed hands again for $25k. The national media didn't miss that story, and I'm sure that millions of Americans that hadn't paid attention to the hobby for years or even decades got a crash course in the existence of parallels, printing plates, and /1 products.

The above is a parallel itself, the black-bordered variety. Bowman's base Prospect set that year actually used a white border, saving the black borders for a parallel set.

So while I don't have the Superfractor that's worth as much as a new car, I am able to add a parallel to my collection that reminds me of the Strasburg Fever that gripped the nation in 2010.

2004 Fleer InScribed #80 Tom Seaver RET /1000
Fleer made a lot of sets in their final few years of existence. I thought I had seen most of them, but this Inscribed set is new to my eyes. 2004 was the only year of this set, but it's pretty striking. The thick black border has a matte finish with some silver foil (including that serial number). The background of the photo is also matte, but the player's image itself is glossy. It's a minimalist design, and all the right elements catch the light, while others fade into the background. The "Inscribed" logo at the top isn't my favorite, but I'd be interested in finding more of these.

Only the ten retired players in this set got the /1000 serial number, and all ten of those are Hall of Famers. There were also fifteen rookies rounding out the main set at a print run of /750, containing a few recognizable names like Matt Holliday, Yadier Molina, and Kevin Youkilis.

Seaver had a long, Hall-of-Fame worthy career, but this card only had room for five seasons. Fleer featured his early time on the Mets for this card, giving us stats from 1969 through 1973. During that time, he led the league in strikeouts and ERA three times, somehow managing to miss out on the Cy Young Award for two of those seasons. During that same span, he appeared in two World Series, winning one, was an All-Star in each of those five seasons, and might have gotten into the Hall on those five seasons alone, not even counting the other fifteen seasons he pitched.

Not sure if Strasburg will join Seaver in the Hall of Fame, but I like Scherzer's chances.

1992 Triple Play Gallery #GS-11 Cal Ripken, Jr.
It wasn't all pitchers in this package. I have a soft spot for these early-1990s Donruss insert cards after they finally decided to evolve their design a bit. Cal Ripken, Jr. was definitely one of my favorite players when he was still active. I didn't get to see much of him at all, since it was pretty tough to see American League games back then, especially before Interleague Play. The All Star Game was usually the only time he'd make a TV appearance in my household. Cable, not to mention MLB.TV, has really changed things.

Of course, this card mentions his streak of consecutive games played, a record he'd break about three seasons later, toward the end of 1995. I remember being in sixth grade when that happened, and that many of my classmates chose the occasion to feature in their "Current Events" presentations to the class.

Ripken wasn't just known for his longevity, like Omar Vizquel or Jamie Moyer. He was darn talented out there, winning two MVP awards in his career, and making the All-Star team every year from 1983 until his retirement in 2001. He even hit a first-pitch homer in that 2001 All-Star Game in Seattle.

Not a bad way for one of my favorite all-time players to wrap up a legendary career.

1986 Sportflics #8 Cal Ripken, Jr.
My fellow Supertrader didn't stop there though. He even threw in an unopened pack of cards for his Trade-a-Thon participants, and I ended up with a pack of 1986 Sportflics. I bought some of the 1994 product, but I didn't really know this brand went back further than that. I might have a card or two from the 1990 set, but definitely none this old.

Of course, these never scan well, but the lenticular printing process on this card allows for one of three images to be visible, depending on how the card is tilted. A much younger Ripken, only several hundred games into his streak, gets one headshot and two action shots at the plate. I'm sure he sat a few late innings later in the streak, but at the time of printing, he hadn't sat a single inning in 603 games. That's nearly 5,500 straight innings!

There were a couple of miniature trivia cards in here, a little smaller than those World Series History lenticular insert cards from 1991 Score. On these, we learn that Ernie Banks holds the NL Record for most Grand Slams in a single season, with 5. Albert Pujols has since tied that NL mark, and a couple AL'ers even surpassed it with 6. Travis Hafner did it about a decade ago, as did Don Mattingly just a year after this was printed. The other Trivia card is about Mike Schmidt, then the active player with the most Gold Glove awards.

1986 Sportflics #179 1985 Gold Glove
I found this final card to be quite interesting, and I assumed that these Sportflics cards just displayed two images like they did in 1994, until I looked more closely. This is something like a League Leader card, but riffing off of the second trivia card, they picked six 1985 Gold Glovers to feature. The three photos on the top (Don Mattingly, George Brett, and Keith Hernandez) are posed shots, while the three on the bottom (Willie McGee, Ron Guidry, and Dale Murphy) are action photos. My scanner preferred to show Brett and Guidry, plus a ghostly inclusion of McGee's bat.

By the way, the presence of Dale Murphy makes this ever-so-slightly a Rockies post, as the two-time MVP signed as a free agent with the Rockies in 1993 and played 26 games for them before retiring.

Anyway, these six players all led a statistic in 1985, as well as an award for defensive excellence. Every position has a Gold Glove winner (sometimes co-winners), so there's no mention of thirteen other players, unlike what we might see on a more traditional League Leaders card.

Keith Hernandez led the NL in Game-Winning RBIs in 1985, a statistic that isn't tracked anymore. There was quite a bit of debate about whom to actually credit with a GW-RBI (the back of 1987 Topps went wild over this stat). A walkoff hit is easy enough to figure out, but when your team takes the lead by three in the 7th, for example, but ends up only winning by one, the GW-RBI went to the player that took the lead, not the player that padded the cushion enough.

To my mind, that sounds pretty much the same as how a winning pitcher is determined. All a team has to do is keep a lead to ensure a pitcher gets the win. It can be a cat-and-mouse game all night, but as long as the lower-scoring team doesn't at least tie it, the pitcher of record remains the same. I'm sure better statisticians than I can explain the nuances of why tracking Wins that way is fine, but GW-RBIs isn't. But I digress.

When the statistic existed, no one had more than Keith Hernandez, thanks in large part to his 1985 performance. And we definitely just went down a statistical rabbit hole there, but they're an integral part of baseball, now more than ever.

Just like trading is an integral part of card collecting.

Friday, December 23, 2016

The Trading Post #83: All Trade Bait, All The Time

Even after 82 posts under The Trading Post theme, I am still making connections with new bloggers. All Trade Bait, All The Time is the latest to be added to the list. I claimed a card from a stack he offered up, thus earning a spot in his "Operation PWE". The card arrived a few weeks ago, along with a handful of other Rockies.

1997 Upper Deck #182 Larry Walker GI
I've actually opened some packs of 1997 Upper Deck, a product I found on sale at Dave & Adam's a couple years ago. I always liked the copper-heavy set, and the frequent use of actual dates on the card front. This subset, however, always confused me a bit. They definitely have the look of inserts, but are just part of the main checklist. They seem to be quite plentiful, making me wonder if some of them were double-printed. And the write-up on the back, in this case talking about Canada and its contribution to Major League Baseball, is only a partial paragraph, continued on card 183. I do have card 183 already, so I was able to see the final word of Walker's write-up, which is "season", before leading into the next player's write up.

It's a little bit like those articles where you have to click to a second page to see the final eight words. But it's nice and shiny, and I can't stay mad at a shiny card for long.

1997 Pacific #291 Larry Walker
Keeping the international theme going, Walker appears on another shiny card from Pacific, which means that this card is primarily written in Spanish, with English as a secondary language. Two-run homer translates into "cuadrangular de 2 carreras".

I grew up with Pacific cards much more than the Canadian O-Pee-Chee brand, whose cards contained both French and English. Especially living in Colorado, I've had way more exposure to Spanish as a foreign language. I even took four years of it in middle and high school. I can't speak it worth a darn, but I can usually get the general gist of a written paragraph.

I guess this card really isn't all that shiny other than the gold foil. Pacific loved their gold foil, and the vertical name on the left seems to have influenced 1999 Fleer Tradition.

1995 Score Hall of Gold #HG63 Ellis Burks
To go along with the Dante Bichette Hall of Gold card that Brian sent me a while ago, I now have Ellis Burks' card from the same set. This insert set was large enough that numerous Rockies made it in, and while there's a bit of fragility around the edges, the gold stripe through the middle of the card breaks up this action shot well. He's sporting some great flip-down shades on the back, which also mentions that he was the NL Player of the Month in 1994.

This didn't happen until later, but Burks became the first Rockie to enter the 30-30 club. In fact, three Rockies hit that milestone in two seasons, but it hasn't happened at Coors Field since.

2003 Upper Deck #545 Dontrelle Willis
A Marlin or two made their way into this envelope, with Dontrelle Willis showing off his high leg kick. He was an exciting pitcher to watch, and he was decent at the plate, too. This Upper Deck card is from his first season, in which he won the NL Rookie of the Year. He followed that up with an even better 2005 season, finishing with a 22-10 record. But the wheels started to come off after that, as his next two seasons in Florida were rather mediocre. He was traded to Detroit after that (along with Miguel Cabrera for a slew of prospects), but never regained his former glory.

He wasn't a complete bust by any stretch, but he did peak rather early. He'd probably still be on the hill now if his career took a different trajectory.

2016 Topps Allen & Ginter #32 Falcon 9 Rocket
And now we come to the main event, the card I originally requested. It's a great inanimate object from the always-entertaining Allen & Ginter set. The Falcon 9 rocket, SpaceX's crown jewel, has had numerous successful launches (and a few failures), but it was just about a year ago that they finally managed to safely land the first stage after a launch. This card does not make mention of that historic feat, but it will go well with some of my other space cards.

Elon Musk knows that reusability is the key to bringing down the astronomical (pun intended) cost of space travel. The Space Shuttle certainly had that concept down, and the solid rocket boosters (the side ones) were reused as well as the shuttle itself, but it ended up being a rather dangerous vehicle, and was never launched with anywhere near the frequency originally intended. It took several tries, but SpaceX is now consistently able to actively guide the first stage back home safely, saving millions of dollars. They've even landed them out at sea.

One fun fact that Musk likes to point out is that the average airline ticket would be about $1.5 million if they had to build a new plane for every flight. Again, I wish the card mentioned something about this, but I'm glad to have it in my collection.

And I got to add a few Rockies along with it.

Wednesday, December 21, 2016

From now on, our troubles will be out of sight.

Even though I only bought two cards out of about a thousand available from Topps Now in 2016, Topps still made sure to send me a small token of appreciation for the Holidays. In addition to a more traditional holiday greeting card, they threw in a Topps Now baseball card with four images from the 2016 season!

Lots of other bloggers have received the same card, so I have no idea of the print run, but I'd assume it's in the tens of thousands.

2016 Topps Now #NNO Highlights Bryant / Sanchez / Ichiro / Ortiz
First and foremost is Kris Bryant, the player who made the final out of 2016, at last putting an end to the longest championship drought in North American major sports. 108 years is a long time, but there has to be some soccer team somewhere that's gone longer, so I hesitate to say "in sports history".

But Kris Bryant, later named the NL MVP, clearly wasn't thinking about any of that when he fielded that grounder. He knew there was a drought, but I think he was just thrilled to win the World Series, no matter the team.

Also gracing the front of this card is Gary Sanchez, the slugging Yankees catcher who finished just a little short of winning the AL Rookie of the Year award. He still managed to crush twenty homers in just over fifty games. The Yankees have been in a bit of a decline recently, missing the playoffs entirely in 2016. But with young players like this, things are looking brighter for them. Still, it's a tough division even when they're not the ones making it tough.

2016 Topps Now #NNO Highlights Bryant / Sanchez / Ichiro / Ortiz (Reverse)
No Rockies made it onto this card, but Coors Field did! Ichiro doffing his helmet after reaching the 3,000 hit milestone in Denver is the first photo on the back. The actual card commemorating that achievement had a huge print run, and that's one of the two I bought. It was one of the most memorable baseball events I've seen in person, and I'm glad that Topps thought it important enough to share with every other Topps Now customer.

Recently retired David Ortiz gets the final spot on this card, and even though his baseball career is (probably) over, he still led the AL in doubles and RBIs last year. And he left behind quite a legacy in Boston, helping the Red Sox come away with three championships. He'll always be a fan favorite there, and while Gary Sanchez and Kris Bryant still have a lot of work to do, we could potentially be holding a card of four Hall-of-Famers.

I haven't decided yet if I'll keep this one with the back facing out in my binders. Ichiro's photo on his 3,000 card is about the same, and it would be nice to have a reminder of the Cubs' World Series win.

Either way, this was an unexpected gift from Topps, and the relatively high price of a Topps Now card stings a little less when they take the time to say "thank you".

Happy Holidays to all my readers, and thanks for stopping by!