Sunday, October 14, 2018

NOW We Finally Have Some Pitching

The season was almost over when I finally pulled the trigger, but I finally ordered some 2018 Topps Now cards. Sadly, their season was over by the time they arrived, even though I ordered them when the Rockies were on fire and looking great for another Postseason run. It just goes to show you how quickly your fortunes can change in this sport.

2018 Topps Now #791 German Marquez /194
Rockies starter German Marquez pitched a few high-profile games toward the end of the 2018 season on their way to their second straight Wild Card spot. More on that later, but the Rockies beat up on the Phillies in a 14-0 win on September 26th, 2018, the third game of a four-game set that the Rockies swept. I attended the first one of that series, the final contest I was able to visit during the regular season. It was a win, but I chose to get the Topps Now card from Wednesday's game, thanks to German Marquez tying a modern-era Major League record. That makes it the second Marquez Topps Now card in my collection.

Marquez struck out eight straight batters to begin the game, tying a record set by Jim Deshaies in 1986 and tied by Jacob DeGrom in 2012, which we know thanks to the helpful paragraph on the card back. That card back has some faint rainbow-colored Topps logos, basically a series of watermarks. What it doesn't tell us is that during this early-innings streak, German Marquez passed Ubaldo Jimenez to become the Rockies' single-season strikeout leader, finishing the year with 230.

It was an impressive performance, and even though a couple batters got on base to end the streak at eight, Marquez struck out another batter to end the third inning, meaning he got his first nine outs via the strikeout. And as soon as it happened, I knew exactly which card to pair it with, assuming Topps released a NOW card for the feat.

1987 Topps #2 Jim Deshaies RB
Long before Topps NOW, Topps opened their annual sets with a subset of Record Breaker cards, and this one of Jim Deshaies, the first player to set the modern record of eight strikeouts to start a game, is a card that's been in my collection since the very beginning. This 1987 Topps card has been replaced over the years, but it's one of the most familiar cards I own. It might have even been at the very top of the once-small stack that comprised my entire collection, since even back then I was alphabetizing cards by team. None of the 1987 Angels cards jump out at me, so this is pretty much Side 1, Track 1 of my baseball card collection.

Despite this being more or less my first-ever baseball card, it still has things to teach me. I keep saying that this 8-strikeout opener is a "modern" record, because according to Deshaies' card back, there was a game way back in 1884 where Hall-of-Famer Mickey Welch started a game with nine Ks.

The strikeout story doesn't end there, because in his very next start during the NL Tiebreaker game against the Dodgers, Marquez tied another mark, recording four strikeouts in one inning. Many pitchers have reached that catcher-assisted record, this time thanks to a passed ball from Tony Wolters. It ended up being extremely costly, because instead of Max Muncy sitting in the dugout as the first out, he remained on first base after the third strikeout, at which point Cody Bellinger hit a home run to lead the the Dodgers to a sixth straight division title.

That set up a Wild Card matchup between the Rockies and Cubs at Wrigley Field, and let's just say Rockies managed to earn another Topps NOW card, despite 13 innings of little offense and terrible announcing from ESPN.

2018 Topps Now #834 Colorado Rockies /360
I covered the results of the NL Wild Card game in my previous post, which ended up being the only Rockies win of the postseason. Lots of Rockies are visible on this team card, including Nolan Arenado, Scott Oberg, Garrett Hampson, and the backup catcher with the game-winning hit, Tony Wolters. Topps was sure to mention that the Rockies played games in three time zones in three days, something that had to take a toll on the team. Sunday was in Denver, Monday was in L.A., and Tuesday was in Chicago.

None of that would be possible without air travel, which reminds me of an interesting article I read recently on the Washington Nationals and all the behind-the-scenes logistics management that it takes to field a Major League team.

German Marquez would take the mound one final time in 2018, starting NLDS Game 3 at home against the Brewers. I had the good fortune to snag four seats in the upper deck, two rows from the top. It was cold, cloudy, and rainy, and the offense that was on display during the final week of the regular season was nowhere to be found. Go figure, the team finally has some solid pitching, and the bats shut down.

It was just the tenth postseason game ever played at Coors Field, and I've been to two of them. I'd really love to see these banners around the ballpark more frequently, but we'll have to wait until next year. The Brewers look great, and I can't help but wonder how this postseason would look if the Rockies had managed to win the division for the first time ever. They would have hosted the Braves for a rematch of the 1995 NLDS, and the Braves did almost as badly in this year's NLDS as the Rockies did. If the Rockies had been able to scratch out just one more win this year, things might be very different.

Wednesday, October 3, 2018

The Shiny Donruss Group Break

Two months ago to the day, the cards from Colbey's Donruss Optic group break showed up in my mailbox. After a bunch more travel in September, and a nail-biter of a sudden-death game last night, I have a little time to get back to blogging. In the 2018 NL Wild Card Game, the Rockies managed to hold the Cubbies to a single run in 13 innings, the longest-ever elimination game in MLB Postseason history, advancing to the NLDS and bringing the month of Rocktober back to Colorado.

The cards that arrived from Cardboard Collections looked pretty familiar, and I've seen plenty of 2016 Donruss in the past few years. It's a common fixture in trade packages, and it's only 150 cards large, not counting short prints. But the shiny version, Donruss Optic, basically a clone of Topps Chrome, is a bit harder to come by. $4 to add the shiny quasi-parallels was literally a small price to pay.

2016 Donruss Optic #107 Nolan Arenado
Nolan Arenado will start us off today, and he began the scoring last night with a sacrifice fly, allowing his buddy Charlie Blackmon to score from third. Charlie was sent back to third after a ground rule double ended the previous play before he could score. But number 28 came through in the first, though he and much of the Rockies offense were shut down by Jon Lester and the Cubs bullpen for most of the game.

It was one of the greatest pitcher's duels I've ever seen, and to have Kyle Freeland on one end of it was amazing.

There are a handful of parks with brick behind the plate, and this Donruss Optic card may have gotten its photo courtesy of Wrigley Field. It's a bit tough to tell for sure. Regardless, Nolan won't soon forget his most recent game in the Windy City, including that odd hug with Javy Baez.

2016 Donruss Optic #48 Jonathan Gray RR (RC)
The Rockies gave Jon Gray the ball in last year's Wild Card game, which they lost to the Diamondbacks. Gray is notoriously unreliable in the first inning, so Bud Black decided not to go with him this time around. He'll surely start at some point in the NLDS. 

He's long past being a Rated Rookie, perhaps Donruss' most famous subset besides Diamond Kings. And he's shortened up his name, just going by Jon these days. He's a strong pitcher, and I'm glad to have him in the rotation, but he hasn't quite been able to handle the pressure like Kyle Freeland. 

2016 Donruss Optic Purple #53 Trevor Story RR
It doesn't seem that long ago, but Trevor Story was once a Rated Rookie, too. His flurry of home runs at the beginning of the 2016 season is mentioned on the back, but no one knew that he'd soon take to regularly launching home runs onto the left field concourse at Coors Field, some even eclipsing 500 feet. I've seen him hit home runs in person, and I can assure you, he absolutely puts them into orbit.

This purple parallel (a border color tailor-made for Rockies cards) shows Story in the field, where he's no slouch, either. In fact, he speared a liner yesterday with a man on, which kept the momentum on the Rockies' side.

I've noticed that Donruss is prominently featuring player's uniform numbers on these photos, which is just as well, since this is of course an unlicensed set. Gray's #55 is a bit covered up, but #27 and #28, the stellar left side of the Rockies infield, are clearly visible, and show one of the more significant uniform changes since Marvin Freeman and the early days of the franchise. 

2016 Donruss Optic Purple #56 Tom Murphy RR
There were about as many purple parallels in this shipment as base cards, and that Rated Rookie logo is enjoying its time back in the spotlight, after years of being shoved into basements and closets.

Tom Murphy, #23, played in a handful of games for the Rockies this season, but there is a bit of a logjam at the catcher's spot this year. Chris Iannetta is enjoying Rocktober once again, and apparently Drew Butera became a Rockie about a month ago, unbeknownst to me. But the real catcher hero yesterday was none other than Tony Wolters (which ESPN kept mispronouncing "Walters"). With two outs, Wolters singled Trevor Story in during the top of the 13th, and it ended up being the game winner. Scott Oberg wasted no time in striking out the side in the bottom of the 13th, and the Rockies got to pop some champagne for the first time in quite a while.

2016 Donruss Optic Aqua #72 Carlos Gonzalez /299
CarGo has been a Rockie for ten seasons, but other than when they clinched a playoff spot last year just edging out the pre-Yelich Brewers (and I guess Friday when they sealed this year's spot), yesterday was the first time CarGo got to spray champagne around the clubhouse. It couldn't have been easy for the Cubs to watch two teams in two days celebrate in Wrigley Field as visitors, but that's how it ended up this year with the two tiebreaker situation. One of the four teams had to lose two winner-take-all games in a row. I would have preferred it if that had been the Dodgers, but we'll get them in the NLCS, unless the Braves take care of them first.

The Yankees have won the AL Wild Card as I wrap up this post, so I'll close with this Aqua parallel of Carlos Gonzalez' Donruss Optic card, serial numbered to 299 copies. I bet this one is at Wrigley, too, judging by that brick and the fan in blue and red apparel. Maybe even from the same game as Nolan.

CarGo's Diamond Kings card from 2016 Optic is the only one from the set that has appeared on this blog before, a trade post concerning Highly Subjective and Completely Arbitrary. Looking back, that was one of my favorite posts I've ever written. It might be a while before I find the time to do an 18-card post like that again, but five cards at the beginning of the month is a good start, and that means I might be able to do multiple posts in October.

Er, Rocktober.

Sunday, September 9, 2018

Mom's 6-for-6 Day at the Thrift Store

Mom is always on the lookout for cards for my collection. When she's not simply referring to my Eight Men Out list, she's unearthing some gems at a card show. This past spring at my nephew's first birthday party, she presented me with a small envelope of cards obtained at a local thrift store. Surprisingly, even amazingly, each and every one of them is brand-new to my collection. That's not usually a feat even I can pull off. It's never been as bad as getting five copies of the same card at one show, but I inevitably end up with a few I already had.

Not so when Mom is shopping for me.

I had the good fortune to witness Charlie Blackmon go 6-for-6 at the Rockies' Home Opener in 2014, the very first day The Rooftop deck at Coors Field was opened to the public. Mike Trout had a 5-for-5 day yesterday, so let's take a look at what a perfect day at the plate looks like.

1997 Upper Deck #479 Jaime Bluma DD
First up is a subset from 1997 Upper Deck, a Diamond Debuts card of Jaime Bluma. I'd never heard of this reliever before, and it's actually a bit tough to tell which team he's on. The stack of golden diamonds on the right each contain a small "KC" (which scan better than they look), but I never really noticed them while this card was sitting on my side table all summer.

Bluma was a late-season call-up for the Royals in 1996, converting five saves in 17 relief appearances. He held promise, and the card back tells us all about those five saves, but Bluma didn't return to the big leagues in 1997 or any year after. Also on the back is a 1995 Fleer-esque thermal image of the front photo, as well as what ended up being his complete MLB stats.

It's unfortunate when your rookie card is also your sunset card. But those two months in late 1996 must remain unforgettable for Jaime Bluma.

1997 Upper Deck #381a Ruben Rivera CF
Clearly, Mom found a rich vein of 1997 Upper Deck subsets. This gold nugget, with a conspicuous absence of copper, UD's favorite metallic element, documents a key pinch-hit that Ruben Rivera delivered during the 1996 pennant race for the Yankees. His efforts helped them (and his cousin, Mariano Rivera) win their first World Series since 1978, even though he didn't end up on the ALCS or World Series roster.

Rivera did end up playing a World Series game at the old Yankee Stadium in 1998, but he came up on the losing end that year as a member of the San Diego Padres. After that, he wrapped his career up as a Giant, but not before going down in history by executing one of the worst displays of baserunning ever seen. Despite that TOOTBLAN, the Giants still managed to salvage a win in 13 innings, although the very next game would be the final one of Rivera's career.

Quite the contrast to his cousin's Hall of Fame-worthy career.

1997 Upper Deck #280 Greg Norton
More 1997 Upper Deck gives us a subset I was at least familiar with already, the shiny Star Rookies set. As with Bluma's card, there's a small shield in the lower left with the date of Greg Norton's debut with the White Sox, and it's less than two weeks after Bluma's. He earned an interesting distinction in that debut game, becoming just the second-ever Major Leaguer to get his first two hits in the same inning.

Some real star power coming up in the AL Central in August 1996, right?

Pardon my sarcasm, but if I had to pick a least-favorite Rockie of all-time, it would be Greg Norton. He was a nice enough guy, and looking back, his stats aren't that bad, but he didn't start a ton of games, and when they did put him in as a pinch-hitter, he always seemed to strike out at the worst possible times. I do recall a grand slam, which was so uncharacteristic that I still remember Greg Norton once hit a grand slam.

2000 Upper Deck #241 Fred McGriff
That taps out 1997 UD, but there's a bit more of that familiar copper to ease us into the new millennium with their 2000 set. We also get to see a much more familiar player in Fred McGriff, not quite a Hall-of-Famer, but an MVP, World Series champion, and five-time All-Star.

Tampa Bay kept the "Devil Rays" name for so short a time that it's quite strange to see their early cards. By now, they've been the Rays longer than they were the Devil Rays, so it's definitely a case of a team still trying to find their identity. Getting out of Tropicana Field would help, and they do have a proposal for a new stadium, which would open in 2023.

Mom told me she was hesitant to give me this card at first, due to what she called an "unflattering" pose. I told her it was fine; action sports sometimes generate slightly awkward positions. Just a little extra reassurance that I am happy to have this card in my collection, adding to a very small stack of 2000 UD.

1997 Pinnacle X-Press #21 Vinny Castilla
I have an even smaller stack of 1997 Pinnacle X-Press, and now I get to add another Rockie to it, the first one of this post.

No, we're not counting Greg Norton.

Pinnacle didn't have much time left in late 1997, but they were still putting out nice sets. The border of this card is a bit fragile, but I like the design, color coding, and slightly different shade of gold that Pinnacle often used compared to Topps and Upper Deck.

There's a nice action shot on the back of Castilla applying a tag at third base to #4 on the Montreal Expos, who happens to be Mark Grudzielanek. In my constant vigilance for Coors Field cards, the 1997s tend to feature a lot of Expos. I'm not quite sure why, especially because it crosses over lots of card brands. You'll see plenty once I finally manage to complete my Coors Field frankenset.

1995 Ultra #373 Marvin Freeman
The final card is another Rockie, and this is the only one I even thought might be in my collection already. I bought a handful of 1995 Ultra when it was new, or at least some was purchased on my behalf. It was a bit spendy for an 11-year old. But I knew I had most of the Rockies from this set.

For that matter, I opened plenty of 1997 UD, but that's just been Series 1, and the three at the top of the post are all from Series 2. Mom managed to find just the right ones across two different sets. 2000 UD and '97 Pinnacle X-Press were wide open, though.

Rockies jerseys haven't changed much throughout the years, but back in the early days of the franchise, especially when they shared Mile High Stadium with the Denver Broncos, they didn't have the uniform number below the letters on the left side, as they do now. I'm looking right at them on the TV now, although a lefty is on the hill as I write this. If the uniforms looked then like they do now, we would see a "44" near Freeman's gloved hand. Its a bit less informative, but a slightly cleaner look, especially on this properly cropped full-bleed card.

So there you have it. Six brand new cards that I didn't go looking for, without a single duplicate to omit or toss in the extras box.

That's what we call batting a thousand.

Sunday, August 26, 2018

The Trading Post #121: A Penny Sleeve for your Thoughts

Back in 2015, when it was unthinkable for the Rockies to be in a tie for first place at any point after April, I ran a contest for my 100th post. I was blogging much more consistently then, not squeezing in a single post at the end of the month like I've been doing all summer long. The winner of that contest was Jon, the writer of A Penny Sleeve for your Thoughts. Not long after, he sent a return package, #49 in The Trading Post series.

That history between Jon's blog and mine takes us up to about March of this year, when I spotted my ZIP code (yes, technically that's an acronym) on an outgoing mail post of his.

Yes, March. Meaning this group of beautiful, shiny Rockies cards has been sitting in the lower left area of my side table since the early days of Spring Training. And in case you were wondering, most of them came in penny sleeves. But better late than never, the saying goes, so let's see what Rockies history we can unearth today.

1999 Bowman Chrome Refractors #22 Vinny Castilla
1999 Bowman was well-known for including facsimile signatures in a prominent vertical banner on the right. Rather than an illegible signature, Vinny Castilla's card has his full, printed name of "Vinicio Castilla Soria", with the same large dots over the "I"s that can be found on his 1993 Studio card. Owing to his Hispanic heritage and Mexican nationality, you might notice that his full name includes his second last name, properly an apellido materno, his mother's maiden name. This practice is generally quashed down in English-speaking countries where First Name, Last Name is the law of the land, but dropping that final piece hides an integral part of one's identity that many Hispanic cultures honor and acknowledge much more than we do here.

Credit card issuers in Latin America must have another way to verify who you are when you call customer service, which is good, because your mother's maiden name (or any static identifier) is a truly awful way to authenticate someone. But I digress. All I know is that if I were a Hispanic player, I wouldn't stop at making sure accent marks were on my jersey.

Another thing I noticed on this shiny Bowman refractor applies to all the non-prospect (i.e. red) cards that year, a pair of "Now & Then" photos on the card back. Castilla's then-current photo was displayed on the top, with a very slightly smaller shot of him as a young player in the Braves organization on the bottom. 1999 Bowman remains one of the few Bowman sets I can recognize and assign to the right year, but even it still has surprises.

2013 Bowman Platinum Cutting Edge Stars #CES-DD David Dahl
Less rectangular but no less shiny is this die-cut card of David Dahl. The recent re-signing of Matt Holliday might limit Dahl's playing time more than he'd like, but they're both hitting key home runs for the Rockies at an important time in the pennant race. This Cutting Edge (get it?) card dates back to 2013, not long after the Rockies drafted him, but still many years before his first MLB appearance in 2016. He's just 24, but he's taken a bit longer to develop than some of his contemporaries, like, say, Andrew Benintendi.

He still has plenty of time to hone his craft. After all, his nickname on his Players' Weekend jersey is "Baby Dahl". And think of how long it took Topps to get this good at die-cuts.

2015 Bowman Chrome Bowman Scouts Update #BSU-RT Raimel Tapia
With all that depth in the outfield right now, both old and new, there's simply no room for Raimel Tapia. But even if you don't have a roster spot, everyone has a shiny card. This particular card is from the same set (well, the Update checklist) as a Jon Gray card I received from Bob Walk The Plank over three years ago. Fans of things like chain-link fences and fans in pink shirts consuming ballpark snacks ought not to miss Bowman cards. Minor league games are far from a national spectacle, and the venues still allow for gems like these.

Tapia has just a handful fewer games in the big leagues than Dahl, but he did beat Topps' prediction of a 2017 debut by a year. We're less than a week away from September call-ups, so Tapia will likely get a few more games in this year, as will Garrett Hampson, the player who was sent down to make way for Matt Holliday.

2008 Topps Chrome Trading Card History #TCHC50 Brad Hawpe
There were no cards of Matt Holliday in this trade package, but one of his outfield mates, Brad Hawpe, did make it in. The 2009 All-Star made it into 2008's Topps Chrome Trading Card History set, the final card in the 50-card set. The set had a larger, non-shiny counterpart in Topps base that year at 75 cards. He's pictured (literally, just pictured) on the 1953 Bowman design. Most of the chrome in that decade ended up on grilles and tailfins of Buicks and Mercurys, not on baseball cards. Times have certainly changed. We still love shiny stuff, but our preferences about which products contain it have dramatically shifted.

1999 Topps Chrome Refractors #144 Jeff Reed
Not many collectors liked Topps' experiment with non-white borders between 1998 and 2003. 1998 and 1999 used a gold border that wasn't well received, but both Opening Day and Chrome used silver borders in 1999. It does seem to work a little better, especially with that little "Refractor" word underneath the card number on the back.

Topps gave us a great action shot on this one, picturing Jeff Reed throwing down to second with his full gear on. When I first started watching baseball, I seem to remember catchers rapidly removing their masks before trying to nail a would-be base stealer, but there's no time for that anymore. On the other hand, the veteran catcher might have just been making a practice throw before the start of an inning. He's occupying a lot of real estate without a batter or umpire in the frame, and the Met in the background seems to be casually preparing to begin an at-bat at Shea Stadium. I'm not quite sure who that is, but the uniform number looks like a "5" to me. John Olerud wore #5 for the Mets, so that's my best guess for this cameo.

There's a Cincinnati Red on the back, making this a rare double-cameo card. There are no identifying marks on that Reds jersey, so I'll guess Sean Casey and leave it at that.

1995 Score Gold Rush #228 Mike Munoz
There have been a lot of players who have worn the Rockies uniform over the years, but it's rare for a player to make a first appearance on this blog after a couple hundred posts and at least a thousand or so cards. Mike Munoz, an inaugural-year Rockie, is just now debuting on Infield Fly Rule. In fact, Jeff Reed appeared only once before, and then as an Expo.

Mike Munoz is a name I remember well. He appeared in a whopping 300 games as a Rockie, always in relief. In baseball slang, he was the LOOGY (Left-handed One Out Guy), but he earned a 15-14 record in his Rockie career, and even was credited with a handful of saves. Score, in one their legendary write-ups, identified him as "A durable southpaw relief specialist" on this Gold Rush parallel.

In retrospect, I don't think I realized how much I liked Score until recently. It was an inexpensive brand, they gave us plenty of reading material with those epic paragraphs (many of which I've never read and have no idea what gems are waiting to be uncovered), and the designs are just, well, fun. Plus they gave us cards of guys like Mike Munoz.

2016 Topps Museum Collection #43 Nolan Arenado
We finally depart the realm of the shiny (cue mental image of the magic wormhole to Asgard), but not before passing through the luxury section with a look at Topps Museum Collection. The photo from this card would be from 2015, and the excellent photo reproduction in this set makes the old shade of purple noticeably different and more blue. Even the bat looks a little bit blue. Compare that with a Corey Dickerson card that came from A Cracked Bat, and the shade looks a bit different.

It's nice to have a couple cards from Museum Collection without having to pay the crazy prices associated with that product. That's one of the reasons I liked Score.

2008 Upper Deck First Edition #206 Kazuo Matsui
Kazuo Matsui, another rarely-seen Rockie, got a card in 2008 Upper Deck First Edition, basically UD's foil-free Opening Day equivalent. The card tells us about Matsui's 32 stolen bases in 2007, as well as his two-hit performance in the epic Game 163 against the Padres in October 2007.

That was a long time ago, but in some ways not a lot has changed. Matt Holliday is still not a great outfielder, but is good enough at the plate to make up for it. Chris Iannetta is still around, and they're both once again on the Rockies roster. Double-digit scores are still common at Coors Field, and you're likely to see a passing thundercloud on a late-summer afternoon in Denver, though the level of wildfire smoke obscuring the mountains has increased alarmingly.

I'll never turn down a Coors Field card, especially one showing the out-of-town scoreboard. Usually there's enough to date the card to a specific game, but not quite exactly on this one. All we know is that the Pirates were hosting the Dodgers, which would put this at some point between June 1st-3rd, 2007, when the Reds came to visit Denver.

2003 Fleer Ultra Photo Effex #17 Todd Helton
Fleer likes their plain white backgrounds, don't they? New to me is 2003 Fleer Ultra Photo Effex, where they've applied a rotoscope effect to a photo of Todd Helton. If you've ever seen A Scanner Darkly or Waking Life by Richard Linklater, you'll know what I mean. The large white area at the bottom is clearly meant to make this look like a Polaroid, and they even use a rougher matte finish in the frame area. It's a clever design, if a bit simple.

I'm curious whether any other players in this set got a different photo effect applied to their images, a la Instagram, or if they did this rotoscope look for all twenty cards. 2003 Fleer Ultra isn't exactly flying off the shelves these days, so I'll have to keep a sharp eye out.

2014 Topps Rookie Cup All Stars Commemorative #RCAS-15 Troy Tulowitzki /99
The last card for today is another member of that magical 2007 team, shortstop Troy Tulowitzki. It's a manufactured relic of the Topps Rookie Cup, which was awarded to Tulo on his 2008 card, and this is by far the thickest card I own. It's almost comically so, thicker than the entire stack of cards above, and even thicker than my iPhone 6.

There's a nice serial number on there, just 99 copies, and the card tells us lots about Tulo's rookie year in 2007. There were plenty of defensive gems, an unassisted triple play, and more home runs as an NL rookie shortstop than Ernie Banks, a record that would stand until Tulo's replacement, Trevor Story, came up about a decade later.

I hope to get back into the swing of things with trade posts, because I certainly have plenty waiting for me. There are lots of cards left to be blogged about and filed away, though none as thick as this one.

Thanks to Jon for sending a few that fit my collection (but not my toploaders) perfectly!

Sunday, July 29, 2018

#Walletcard Amongst the Greats

Well, I did it again. I waited until the last weekend of the month to write a post. That's how it's gone since May, which, perhaps not coincidentally, was the same month as a major change at work. I haven't taken any big trips this month, but I have seen four games at Coors Field in July, including a win against the Oakland Athletics yesterday for Star Wars Night. Another mark in the Win column, and I left with a souvenir Chewbacca beer koozie.

More news from the baseball front includes a visit to the Play Ball! exhibit at History Colorado Center, a showcase of the best of the Marshall Fogel Collection. On display were jerseys, gloves, hats, and more from the most memorable Hall-of-Famers from Babe Ruth to Sandy Koufax. Nearby, there was a large clear plastic case filled with about fifty bats spanning the history of Major League Baseball, all the way from Ty Cobb and Tris Speaker, up to Ichiro and Ken Griffey, Jr. Off to the side was a small case with memorabilia of some of baseball's more infamous figures: Joe Jackson, Pete Rose, and Mark McGwire. And, since this is Denver, plenty of Rockies memorabilia, such as a ticket stub from the first-ever Rockies game on April 5th, 1993 at Shea Stadium, three bottles of champagne and a ring from the Rockies' historic 2007 playoff run on loan from pitcher Jason Hirsh, and signed jerseys from current All-Stars Nolan Arenado and Charlie Blackmon.

Don't think for a moment that there were no cards. There were. One item was a box (likely empty) of 1954 Bowman, a gumball vending machine that also once distributed 1956 Topps cards for a penny, and a serious highlight that was on display for only three days during the All-Star Break, a PSA 10 1952 Topps Mickey Mantle, estimated to be worth $10 million. My visit was a day too early to see that (it was there between a Monday and a Wednesday, and I had All-Star Game parties to host), but there was plenty of news coverage about it in the Denver area.

Finally, as you might have gathered from the post title, my Wallet Card had a chance to come out and play with the greats, occupying a small space in a 1975 Topps frame, one of those wooden platforms you could pose behind.

If you happen to find yourself in Denver before the MLB season wraps up, be sure to check it out. I've never been to Cooperstown, but I assume this exhibit offers a small taste of the full experience.

Also, now that the Wallet Card has some serious travels under its belt, I decided to give it its very own blog tab. Because travel seems to be way more fun when you can look back on the good parts.

Saturday, June 30, 2018

The Travels of Adam

In the four and a half years since I started this blog, I haven't missed a month. Here it is June 30th, and this is my first post in the month of June, just barely keeping my streak intact. I have barely kept up with the Cardsphere since late April, and I'm sure I've missed quite a bit.

I did see Nick mention yesterday that Bob Walk The Plank is calling it quits, which hits particularly close to home for me, since that particular Pirates blogger and I started right around the same time, in January 2014. He's done zillions more posts than I have, but it's always tough to see another blog decide to cease operations. Despite my relative absence around here lately, I still intend to keep this blog going. I like writing; in fact hardly anything puts me in a state of "flow" more than this. Unfortunately, "baseball card blogger" isn't a job title that will pay the bills, as much as I'd like to live in that world.

Yet despite all its frustrations, my day job affords me the opportunities and the resources to see a bit of the world. Come along for the ride and I'll tell you what I've been up to the past couple of months while ignoring my blogger feed.

As I mentioned last month, I took a trip to London, England in early May. It was a great trip, and I saw some sights I'd wanted to see for quite some time, and also flew on a Boeing 747 for the first time, which was one of the reasons I took the trip in the first place. By now, I mainly recall the fond memories like world-class art museums, awesome corner pubs, tons of history, beautiful parks, outdoor food markets, cheddar & onion crisps, contactless payments nearly everywhere, usable public transit, and lots more. The general travel annoyances of jet lag, walking so far my legs and feet hurt, and generally being sandwiched in like a sardine in the Tube and in Economy class on said 747 are slipping out of mind.

However, one less forgettable issue I encountered within about five minutes of venturing out into the city was losing my wallet somewhere near Victoria Station. Once I stopped kicking myself, ordering replacement cards and ID online was a cinch, which were all waiting for me when I got back stateside. Mercifully, I had the foresight to squirrel away another credit card, my Oyster transit card, and a couple banknotes in a separate wallet that became my lifeline, and is part of the reason I discovered the prevalence of contactless payments in the UK.

£120 evaporated into thin air, which is a bummer, but I'd say the biggest loss of all was probably my Wallet Card. It was a 1994 Topps Gold Joe Girardi, and it had been all over the place, including Vienna, Sacramento, and of course my home city of Denver. Interestingly, that particular card was sent by The Card Papoy, who mans the French outpost of the Cardsphere. I guess that Girardi card really wanted to be near the 0° longitude line (which I saw while visiting Greenwich).

1994 Topps #372 Joe Girardi
Fortunately, my girlfriend recognized my plight, and gave me a replacement just a few weeks ago. There's Mr. Girardi in his inaugural-season Rockies gear in Mile High Stadium, pictured on the 1994 Topps design. Longtime readers will recognize that as the first factory set I ever purchased, so this card has a lot of meaning to me, gold or not.

That explains a week or so in May, but that still leaves June. Well, work has been crazy the past couple months, but they believe I'm enough of a top performer to award me with a second President's Club award. The first award took me to Vienna, and this time I was headed to Orlando, Florida in mid-June. I happen to have friends and family in central Florida, so I extended the trip a few days before the company event started.

The first time I visited Florida in 2013, I was there for an old friend's wedding. She still lives there, and I got to meet her four-year old daughter. The next day, we went to Acme Superstore, which is first and foremost a comic book store, but also has aisles upon aisles of pop culture memorabilia. Star Wars, Mario, Hot Wheels, you name it. There were a few baseball cards, including a 1962 Topps Gaylord Perry rookie card, but i didn't pull the trigger on it.

1999 Pokemon Fossil Unlimited #52 Omanyte C
One thing I did get for myself was this Pokémon card, the first one in my collection. Like many people in the summer of 2016, I played Pokémon Go, a great opportunity to get out and about and explore my local parks. This little critter Omanyte, which is based on the extinct ammonite (a sort of nautilus squid thing), inexplicably became my favorite little Pokémon. I set it as my "buddy" when they added that feature to the app, and couldn't pass this card up when I ran across it.

After visiting friends and family, the four-night company event began in Lake Buena Vista. Similar to the Vienna trip, there were various daily activities to choose from, concluding with a dinner each night. It all went pretty well, other than flipping my kayak over in a creek following an inadvertent collision. One evening took us to dinner at a Universal Studios soundstage, followed by a rather empty theme park to explore. I have a lot of friends and family who are into Harry Potter, so naturally my guest and I spent some time in Diagon Alley.

Harry Potter Chocolate Frog Cards Gilderoy Lockhart (s17)
One can't go to Diagon Alley without getting a chocolate frog, and inside those chocolate frog boxes you'll find a pentagon-shaped lenticular card like the above. In addition to a pretty decent 5 oz. chunk of solid chocolate, I pulled Gilderoy Lockhart's card, the Defence Against the Dark Arts teacher from Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets, portrayed in the film by Kenneth Branagh.

It's hard to find a complete list of these, but I think there are only seven or eight to be found at the Universal parks. This isn't something that Beckett has cataloged yet, and it'll be tricky to find a spot to store it. There's a little "s17" in the corner, which may refer to its release year.

So that's why I haven't been around much. "Work Hard, Play Hard" has definitely been the name of the game lately. That doesn't leave a lot of time for blogging, and has put me even further behind on trade posts from Nachos Grande, A Penny Sleeve For Your Thoughts, blog reader Chris, and my annual Opening Day blaster. The year's flying by (in fact the baseball season just hit the halfway point), but I'm still around.

Thanks, as always, for reading.

Sunday, May 27, 2018

The Trading Post #120: It's Like Having My Own Card Shop

I'm still here.

As you might have guessed, it's been a pretty busy month for me. I haven't posted (or really kept up with the Cardsphere at all) in about a month. I hope I didn't miss a super-awesome Blog Bat Around topic or anything like that.

So what have I been up to? Well, the main event was a trip to London, which happened the same week that MLB announced the Yankees and Red Sox would be playing each other in London in 2019. It was kind of neat to read about that in the evening paper as I headed down to the nearest Tube station. I didn't have a ton of time to read, since I don't think I had to wait more than seven minutes for a train or bus the whole trip. They know how to do public transit in that city.

Other highlights this month included my nephew turning one, my first ballgame of the season on Friday, which resulted in a win against the Reds, and (more of a lowlight), a new ERP system at work, which I managed to miss the first week of due to the aforementioned vacation.

The baseball season has carried on, as have a handful of trades. I'm going a bit out of order here, but one such trade came from Daniel of It's Like Having My Own Card Shop. He did a great job of finding a few cards for my Coors Field frankenset, but one thing he sent isn't quite a card.

Daniel's team, the Diamondbacks, and my Rockies share a spring training facility in the Phoenix area, and Daniel snagged a pocket schedule from the '18 Cactus League season. All the usual Western teams are on here, as well as an exhibition game the D-Backs played against the ASU Sun Devils.

I have yet to visit this park, but I did once see the Rockies play the Cubs in 2008. That was when the Rockies and a few other teams still made their spring training homes in Tucson. It's about a three-hour drive from Phoenix to Tucson, though, so in 2011 everyone decided it would be a lot easier for everyone to just play in Phoenix, and you now find a situation where ten stadiums host fifteen teams, with many teams sharing facilities in a similar arrangement. However, according to the stadium map, the D-backs and Rockies still have separate gates. I'm not sure how strictly that's enforced for incoming fans, or if each team just wants a spot to run their own promos.

2014 Topps #199 Matt Davidson (RC)
The main event was a few D-backs duplicates from Daniel's collection, which all fit perfectly into my Coors Field frankenset. As in spring training, these two teams find themselves in each others's stadiums on a regular basis, whether that's Opening Day, the Wild Card game, the NLCS, or anywhere in between. Many Diamondbacks in 2014 Topps clearly had their photos taken in Coors Field, starting with Matt Davidson. Davidson is now on the White Sox, and he started off the 2018 season with a three-homer game. But before his current tenure in Chicago and a couple seasons of Triple-A, he was a late-season callup in 2013.

I had to do a lot of digging to date this card, but it's either from September 21st or 22nd, 2013. Davidson sure looks like he's casually rounding the bases after a home run, and he had one in each of those games. My initial guess was the 21st, which was a night game, and there are definitely lots of stadium lights reflected in his helmet, a trick we all learned from Night Owl. Davidson hit one to straightaway center off of Collin McHugh to drive in three, but video review shows that the team wore their gray jerseys that day. That must mean it was Sunday the 22nd, where he launched another three-run shot, this time to left field. It was late in the game, and the video shows it was a cloudy day, which would account for the lights.

So there you have it. September 22nd, 2013, showing Davidson rounding second after taking Chad Bettis deep. A close look at the video lets you match the out-of-town scoreboard, the numbers on the left corresponding to the Reds blowing out the Pirates 11-3 in Pittsburgh, and the Marlins beating the Nationals in D.C. Home teams did not have a great day that day, as this shot helped the Diamondbacks win 13-9, even though the Rockies chipped away 4 runs in the bottom of the 9th.

2014 Topps #232 Chris Owings (RC)
Chris Owings, now a veteran Diamondback, was a young rookie when this card was printed. It's very possible that this is from the same game as Davidson's card, but there's not much to go on besides the center field forest and the leg of a pinstriped Rockie who seems to be stuck in an inning-ending fielder's choice. Owings, another late-season callup in 2013, only played 20 games for the Diamondbacks that year. I'm certain it's from the same series, and it probably is from the same game on the 22nd, since a highlight from the Friday game in that series shows the Diamondbacks in their gray jerseys again.

Any candidate plays? Possibly in the first inning, when DJ LeMahieu hit a comebacker, resulting in Charlie Blackmon being forced out at second base. This looks more like an end-of-inning "can I keep the ball?" gesture to the ump, and that play was just the first out. But it's a reasonable guess.

2014 Topps #648 A.J. Pollock
A.J. Pollock, one of my (injured) Fantasy team members this year, appeared in Coors Field much more frequently that year than his rookie teammates. I can't be sure it's the same game, but the jersey matches. The distinctive purple banner on the dugout roof makes it easy to locate, but any one specific pitch is near impossible to pinpoint.

Also, is it just me, or does Pollock's right elbow look a little strange?

2014 Topps #379 Gerardo Parra
I showed this card before, actually just a few months ago when I wrote my entry into the What I Collect Blog Bat Around. It's nice to have an extra copy of this now-Rockie, as it shows an angle that's not often seen on cards. Interestingly, that press box has been the site of an important development in broadcasting. For the first time since 1993, a woman has called the play-by-play for an MLB TV broadcast. Jenny Cavnar, a longtime TV personality on AT&T Sportsnet, has been calling games for the Rockies telecasts all year long, and she's been doing a great job. It's not every game, but she has a wealth of knowledge, and has even inserted her own catchphrase into the Rockies fan's lexicon, "Fire up the fountains!" That phrase refers to the fountains near the center field forest that are turned on after each Rockies home run. I assume it's a home-game-only phrase, but I haven't watched enough games this year to know for sure.

Another change at Coors Field this year is the updated video scoreboard in left field. It's now even bigger, and rather than just a plain old rectangle, it now has the outline of a mountain range at the top. It's quite stunning to see in person, and the traditional analog-style clock still occupies the top areas of the scoreboard during the normal course of play. They do use its full height during some of the introductory videos and between-inning features, and sometimes the top of the action was cut off a little bit. To this collector, that reminded me of 2008 Topps, the set with the bump at the top where the Topps logo intruded into the photograph.

2016 Topps Wal-Mart Marketside Pizza #3 Nolan Arenado
Finally, Daniel found a card from my Eight Men Out list, my first one from Topps' Marketside set, the one that was inserted into frozen pizza boxes at Wal-Mart. These were all the rage a couple years ago, but I'm not a Wal-Mart shopper so I never ran across one. I was still interested to add one to my collection and see the design up close, so thanks to my trading buddy for unearthing one. It's too bad these weren't more widely available, because it's a solid design. The two bold silver stripes at the bottom are attractive, and the grid of small squares in the background add some character without taking things over. They're about the size of what you'd see on a Chrome X-fractor without being shiny, and remind me of another insert set or two that I can't quite place at the moment.

The back makes that grid theme just a little bit bolder, and also mentions Nolan's excellent defense, plus his ability to reach 40 HRs and 130 RBIs, numbers that he's pretty consistently met or exceeded for a few years now.

Thanks for sticking around. If I missed anything major this month, feel free to let me know in the comments!