Sunday, March 19, 2017

Yarrrr, Matey

It's time for my annual blaster of Topps Opening Day, and there was a theme to this 11-pack box that became apparent very quickly.

2017 Topps Opening Day Mascots #M-12 Pirate Parrot
Not much has really changed with the brand for 2017. There is still no foil, it still partially parallels the Topps Base set, Target still just charges $10 for a blaster, the inserts are still awesome, and I still can't tell which pack is the Bonus Pack.

Speaking of inserts, the Mascot set continues its run, even if they missed an actual mascot name or two. The Pirate Parrot was one of a few mascot cards to fall out of this blaster, leading the charge with a Pirates logo flag.  The Pirate Parrot, of course, famously appeared on Taylor Buchholz' 2008 Topps card, another of the most frequent Rockies cards I see on non-Rockie blogs, after the humidor.

2017 Topps Opening Day Mascots #M-23 Clark
If you look closely, Clark, a newcomer to the mascot realm, has a Sharpie in his right...paw (?) and is ready to sign some autographs for Cubbies fans at Wrigley. Clark refers to one of the Chicago cross streets at which Wrigley Field is located, the other being Addison.

Despite the Cubs' long and storied history, they only brought on a mascot in early 2014, according to the back. That leaves just three MLB teams without one: the Yankees, Dodgers, and Angels. Clark got to wave the "W" flag at the Cubs' victory parade last year, and maybe that's all the Cubs needed to break their century-long curse.

The Dodgers haven't won a World Series since 1988. Maybe they should look into it.

2017 Topps Opening Day Mascot Relics #MR-F Fredbird (MEM)
Have you picked up on the theme yet?

No, I didn't get 77 mascot cards in my blaster, but the NL Central was extremely well-represented, especially among the insert cards. Though I didn't expect to pull another printing plate like I did last year, a mascot uniform relic really fits the Opening Day set perfectly. It's even specified as a "Mascot-Worn Relic" right on the front. The Cardinals are not a pinstripe team, so no chance for one of those on the swatch, but it's a pretty fun card and shows that Opening Day doesn't take itself too seriously.

I also pulled Fredbird's base card, which helpfully informed me of his height and "hatching" date, in April 1979.

2017 Topps Opening Day Incredible Eats #IE-17 Cracker Jack & Mac Dog
One of the new insert sets found in 2017 is the Incredible Eats set, which looks to be a cross-promo with foodservice company Aramark. Their logo is on the back of both insert cards I pulled. The ballpark snack depicted here is about as baseball as it gets, a hot dog with cracker jacks on it. This snack happens to be available at PNC Park, home of, yes, the Pirates.

The foot-long hot dog at Coors Field makes an appearance in this set, a ballpark snack I've had more than a few of over the years. One of those with some onions on top really sounds good right about now. The set offers an interesting look at the cultures and cuisines that exist in various Major League cities (poutine in Toronto, pastrami in Queens, chicken and waffles in Houston, etc...), but the $25 stuffed corn dog at the Diamondbacks' Chase Field is not present.

2017 Topps Opening Day Superstar Celebrations #SC-19 Gregory Polanco
The Pirates showed up again in the long-running Superstar Celebrations insert set. And twice more on the other two Superstar Celebrations cards in the blaster. This one of Gregory Polanco low-fiving Andrew McCutchen was my favorite of the three, and offers the best look yet at PNC Park, home of the Cracker Jack and Mac Dog. The Pirates ended up going on to a 12-1 rout of the Diamondbacks that day, starting off with Polanco's 3-run homer. Disappointingly, the video cuts out just before McCutchen and Polanco connect on their celebration.

2017 Topps Opening Day Edition #42 Yulieski Gurriel
The only rainbow foil parallel in the box was of Astros rookie Yulieski Gurriel. These Opening Day Edition parallels are stated to have a print run of 2,017, though no serial number appears, consistent with the past few years. There are a few games scheduled for April 2nd, but April 3rd, the day all 30 teams get under way, is printed in silver foil below the Opening Day logo.

What's that you say? The Astros are in the AL West now? Yes, I knew that, but it still doesn't sound right. And they suffered a computer hacking attack at the hands of the Cardinals not long ago. The issue has been settled, and the Cardinals were given little more than a slap on the wrist.

Gurriel is just a few months younger than I am, which is certainly on the old side for an MLB debut. But he played for Cuban teams since the tender age of 17, so this photo of him spearing a rocketing grounder isn't that surprising.

2017 Topps Opening Day #165 Alex Reyes (RC)
Perhaps some karmic adjustment has been forced upon the Cardinals, as their star pitching prospect will be missing plenty of time recovering from Tommy John surgery, which he underwent just as Spring Training was beginning. At only 22, he has time to recover, but it will likely be a while before we regularly see him in Topps sets. The Cardinals, long a dominant force in the NL Central, now have the Cubs to contend with, along with a dangerous Pirates team.

2017 Topps Opening Day #115 Carlos Gonzalez
A few Rockies made it into the blaster, always a nice bonus. The Venezuelan slugger looks ready to take his place in the on-deck circle, all decked out in purple, right down to the batting gloves. He helped carry Venezuela to the second round of the World Baseball Classic, but they finished 0-3 in Pool F. The final will be on March 22nd.

But look more closely. What team logo is that on the roof of the dugout? Yep, Pirates. CarGo is scowling at the playing surface of none other than PNC Park. Even the Rockies cards can't escape the Pirates in this blaster.

2017 Topps Opening Day #100 Jonathan Villar
A Rockie even got a cameo appearance on another NL Central card, this one of a Milwaukee Brewer. Jonathan Villar, who represented the Dominican Republic in the WBC, narrowly missed an appearance in the final round, falling to Team USA partially thanks to this amazing catch that Adam Jones made to rob MLB teammate Manny Machado of a home run.

I'm not sure who that Rockie is. Possibly Cristhian Adames, who didn't get a base card in Opening Day or Topps Series 1. But if he has a cameo, the Brewers is as good a team as any when it comes to this particular blaster. Incidentally, the Rockies begin their season on the road in 2017, visiting the Milwaukee Brewers,

2017 Topps Opening Day #70 Jay Bruce
In case you forgot that there are five other divisions in MLB, here's one of Jay Bruce at Citi Field in a throwback Mets uniform. This one really jumped out at me, as those old Mets jerseys I grew up with are among my favorites from that era. It probably doesn't hurt that the first two regular-season games played in Rockies history were against the Mets in Shea Stadium. Even back then, the Rockies rarely began their season at home. 2017 will be no different, as Opening Day at Coors Field falls on Friday, April 7th against the Dodgers.

Some readers will recall that Jay Bruce wasn't always a Met. His previous team? The NL Central Cincinnati Reds. Todd Frazier almost made it into this post as well, before Bruce's blue and orange jersey caught my eye.

Between the snacks, the mascot, the players, division rivals, and even a clear opposing team, this blaster was almost like going to an actual Pirates game.


Monday, March 13, 2017

The Trading Post #92: A Cracked Bat

She's back.

In case you hadn't heard, the always generous Julie has picked the flag back up at A Cracked Bat, her wonderful blog that had been dormant for most of 2016. True to form, she included lots of high end cards that I have no idea where she gets. It's good to have a female perspective on the hobby, but as I recall it's pretty much just her and Ana Lu from Hobby Cards Europe, aside from the occasional guest post.

2006 Fleer Tradition #165 Ryan Shealy (RC)
First base for the Rockies has always been pretty buttoned up by fan favorites. Andres Galarraga started off the franchise covering first base through 1997, passing the torch to franchise player Todd Helton, who retired in 2013. Ex-Twins Cuddyer and Morneau covered it for a couple years, as did Mark Reynolds last year. And the plan is to put newly acquired Ian Desmond there this year. Or at least that was the plan before he fractured his hand over the weekend.

So that doesn't leave a lot of room for guys like Ryan Shealy. He was drafted by the Rockies in 2002, and showed promise in his rookie 2005 season, but there just wasn't room for him. He was traded to the Royals for a couple relief pitchers, but only played three partial seasons for Kansas City.

Upper Deck had acquired Fleer by this time, and they kept the Tradition, um, tradition going for another couple years. Unlike the retro cardboard sets released around the turn of the millennium, this Tradition set is glossy and on white card stock. The yellow band at the bottom reminds me of the very yellow 1991 Fleer set, and I like the color coding and the little hat containing the team logo, a nod to 1981 Topps. 1981, of course, was the first year in ages that Topps had company in the marketplace, with Donruss and Fleer hitting the shelves. Fleer was on life support by this point, but Upper Deck was doing its best to save it.

Anyway, regardless of what was going on in the Hobby in 2006, it's for the best that the Rockies didn't unload Helton to make room for Shealy.

2006 Fleer Tradition Triple Crown Contenders #TC-8 Todd Helton
Even pre-goatee, Todd Helton was well worthy of being included in an insert set. This focuses on his stellar performance in the 2000 season, leading the National League, or rather, the "Senior Circuit", which I'd never heard before and had to look up, in hits, extra base hits, slugging percentage, and more. And yes, doubles.

Julie must have opened a box of this stuff since there were a half-dozen or so cards from it in the package. But these two vying for first base stood out to me.

2015 Topps Mini #683 LaTroy Hawkins
Minis also have a tendency to stand out, especially of veteran players like this. This isn't quite his sunset card, as he got a Blue Jays card in 2015 Topps Update before retiring. He was part of the Tulowitzki blockbuster trade, but I don't know if any Jays stats made it onto the back of that card.

You can imagine how tiny the statistics are printed, especially on a mini. Of course, 2017 cards omit all but the last five stat lines, which could be even fewer than five seasons if a mid-season trade took place. That new design decision also calls into question what a sunset card even is, since they won't have complete career statistics on their final card anymore. 2015 wasn't really that long ago, but a lot has changed.

The rosters have changed too, and it's surprising how different the roster is even a couple seasons later. Julie included the entire mini Rockies team set, minus Arenado and Justin Morneau's league leader card, who won the batting title in 2014. Blackmon, De La Rosa, LeMahieu are all in there, but plenty more, maybe even a majority, are long gone.

2015 Topps Gypsy Queen Mini #78 Charlie Blackmon
Before returning to a standard size, the minis got even minier. This is from the distinctive 2015 Gypsy Queen set, and it's a parallel just like the white-bordered one I got from Cardboard Collections. So now there are a couple parallel varieties kicking around my collection, on top of the base version (which I had to check for).

Makes me wonder how close I am to the rainbow. Probably still pretty far away, knowing Topps these days.

2016 Bowman Platinum Top Prospects #TP-JH Jeff Hoffman
Back in the land of 2.5"x3.5", Bowman Platinum continues its run after a break in 2015. Jon Gray's card, which recently found its way to me from Johnny's Trading Spot, is from the base set, but this card of Jeff Hoffman, the primary return piece in the aforementioned Tulowitzki trade, is part of the quasi-insert Top Prospects set. It's still sort of a continuation of the base set, but Bowman, ever-bent on making things as confusing as possible, didn't even use numerals in the card number. But it is available in all the same parallel varieties as the 100 base cards.

Hoffman isn't in the regular rotation yet, but with the unfortunate return of Chad Bettis' cancer, he might be appearing in more 2017 games while we wish Bettis a speedy and full recovery.

2016 Diamond Kings Framed #169 Tom Murphy
More young Rockies are likely to take the field in 2017, with Tom Murphy a leading candidate to appear behind the plate, sharing duties with Tony Wolters. I wouldn't call him a Diamond King just yet, but Donruss has to pick someone to show off their custom Rookie Card logo. Like that Charlie Blackmon card I linked to earlier, this is the framed parallel, with a raised cardboard border surrounding the card. The playing-card like feel of Diamond Kings cards, coupled with that frame, make this feel even more like a painting than other framed cards I've seen.

When I got a similar card recently from UD Masterpieces, I even said that Diamond King cards were going for that type of look. With this card, I'll say they finally got what they were always after.

1994 Collector's Choice Silver Signature #304 Eric Young
Before moving into the high-end cards, let's take a quick step back into the Blake Street Bombers era. 1994 Collector's Choice was a solid successor to the legendary 1993 Upper Deck, as the 1994 UD base set moved in a more modern direction and allowed them to begin their long fascination with copper. Silver Signatures are a fairly frequent specimen around here, even in Julie's past trade packages. Andres Galarraga gets a small cameo on the back, but the main attraction is this photo on the front. Judging by the blue on the outfield wall, I'll guess this is Shea Stadium. It looks like EY ran in a little bit too far on this popup, but he was a good defender so he likely made the catch.

2016 Topps Tribute #17 Nolan Arenado
Sometimes I wonder if Julie is an anonymous lottery winner or something. Because she sends me a lot of obviously expensive stuff. Judging from everyone else's posts, I'm not the only one. Nolan Arenado, my favorite current Rockie, gets an amazing-looking card in Topps Tribute. It's not much thinner than the whole stack of cards I've shown thus far, and has a very visible rainbow finish. Unlike some rainbow/refractor cards, this is pretty obviously so, meaning you don't have to hold it under the lamp just right.

Going back to the humidor from my previous post, this card points out that Nolan is the first Rockie to put up a 40-homer season since it was installed. Not even Todd Helton did that in the post-humidor era. Which makes a possible Hall of Fame case for Arenado more likely. I hope we don't have to wait that long to see a Rockie in Cooperstown, but if Larry Walker keeps getting the snub, I don't see who else would be on the horizon, other than Helton, who's a borderline case to begin with.

2016 Topps Museum Collection #79 Corey Dickerson
Corey Dickerson has been playing for Tampa Bay since 2016, so even these ultra-expensive sets can't get past the nature of late-breaking offseason trades. Dickerson is pictured as a Rockie, and there's some analysis of his stats on the back, but no mention of his January 2016 trade to the Rays.

It's quite a striking card, the black border with the thin silver foil frame. Some of the lines around the Museum Collection logo are surprisingly even thinner and mostly uniform. And the photograph is as sharp as they come. When I hold such a card, I can't help but wonder how they can even print something like it. That Eric Young card is pretty nice compared to something twenty years its senior, but we're definitely living in the high definition era.

2016 Topps Triple Threads Amethyst #88 Carlos Gonzalez /340
So far we have Tribute and Triple Threads, and don't forget about Tier One. Museum Collection is an outlier, yes, but the high end brands from Topps are clearly being brought to you by the letter T. These are getting so high-end now that serial numbers are making their way onto the cards. A print run of 340 signifies that this is the Amethyst parallel, so this just so happens to be the perfect color-coded variety to match the Rockies' colors. The purple areas you see will vary depending on which colored parallel you have.

Topps changed the Triple Threads logo for 2016, making me wonder if there was yet another high-end set out there. And as long as we're on T words, how about tessellation? The pattern of triangles in the background illustrates that concept of closely stacked similar shapes. By the way, Nolan Arenado isn't the only recent Rockie to hit 40 homers. CarGo accomplished the same feat in 2015, just a few days after Arenado hit the mark.

2014 Topps Triple Threads Unity Relics #UJR-JCH Jhoulys Chacin /36 (MEM)
Jhoulys Chacin's Triple Threads from two years earlier contained the logo that I'm more familiar with. It's still a pretty thick card, and is textured on the front similarly to the swatch. That double-height uniform piece is unique in my collection, as best I can recall. Unfortunately, though it does have one of the prized pinstripes, it is slightly misaligned. I even mentioned such a possibility in my previous post.

Sometimes I wonder how these things are constructed. I'd certainly never tear apart a card like this, especially one with such a low print run, but I am curious as to how these little scraps of fabric stay in place so firmly. I'd be surprised if it were glued, as I'd expect an adhesive to discolor and seep through the fabric. Perhaps one day I'll appease my inquisitiveness and sacrifice a relic card.

You know, for science.

Saturday, March 11, 2017

The Trading Post #91: My Best Friend Collects Chipper Jones

Even though I've been in a little bit of a blogging hibernation, trade packages have continued to roll in. I figure now that baseball is starting back up, with spring training games and the World Baseball Classic being played, my focus might return to blogging. Having a sporting event of some kind on TV, especially baseball, is a muse of sorts. The period between the NFL season ending and baseball season beginning is a bit of a slow time, especially since the Colorado Avalanche have been completely atrocious this year.

Fortunately, the Rockies are looking pretty good in spring training, even with a couple of their star players opting to get up to speed via the WBC this year instead. One of those players, Carlos Gonzalez, is facing off against Italy as I write this. The colorful colors of his home country of Venezuela don't feature pinstripes, but CarGo's day job as a Colorado Rockie offer a 50 percent chance that one of his relic cards will contain a purple pinstripe.

2016 Topps Scouting Report Relics #SRR-CGN Carlos Gonzalez S2 (MEM)
Mark from My Best Friend Collects Chipper Jones found just such a card, a sharp relic from 2016 Topps. The pinstripe is lined up just perfectly on the swatch, and there still is something cool about these, especially if you suspend the cynicism and trust that this really is part of a jersey that Gonzalez wore. I've seen a few of these where the pinstripe is partially obscured by the edge of the window, or even in there a little crooked. Topps' quality control on this one certainly succeeded.

2010 Topps Update More Tales of the Game #MTOG-8 Mile-High Humidor
The other card Mark sent is one I've seen before, but it still shows what makes Colorado baseball so unique. In fact, if you can consider this a Rockies card, this is probably the single Rockies card that I see most often on non-Rockie blogs. I'd really like to go on a tour of Coors Field one of these days and see this in person. But even if I don't get that chance, it has succeeded in lowering the scores at Coors Field and turning the place into less of a launching pad. One-run games have become more commonplace at 20th & Blake, or at least the 14-9 affairs less common. The Rockies do need to do a little better in one-run games this season, but so far in spring training, that has looked promising.

I'm not sure if they have a humidor at the Triple-A Albuquerque park, but given that the Rockies selected it for the top of their farm system, it would make sense to try to replicate the conditions players would find in Denver. That's partly why Albuquerque was chosen in the first place. It's similarly dry and at a high elevation.

But the mountains are on the wrong side.

1988 Donruss Stan Musial Puzzle #55 Musial Puzzle 55-57
Another small trade came in from Peter at Baseball Every Night, a handful of puzzle cards from 1988 Donruss. I've yet to pop them out of their frame to see if they line up and match the color better with the Stan Musial puzzle pieces I recently completed, but it will be worth a try once I work up the courage to take the fragile collectible out of its sheet protector.

Thanks to Mark and Peter for keeping the trading going over the winter!

Saturday, February 25, 2017

Unretired

I'm always a little late to the party when it comes to new releases. But yes, I have obtained a pack of 2017 Topps Series 1 at my local Target by now, and there's plenty to discuss.

2017 Topps #290 Shin-Soo Choo
I've played quite a bit more than my share of Diablo and SimCity, so this isometric set (my official suggestion for what to call this set) doesn't look that odd to me. The team logos are a bit oddly squished, but it's a whole lot closer to a full-bleed design than last year's smoke design. That team logo is a bit distorted, but at least it's not getting chopped off like last year's.

The photos are as sharp as ever, so much so that we get a fairly good look at the tattoo on Shin-Soo Choo's right forearm, and excellent color reproduction of those red batting gloves and blue batting helmet.

2017 Topps #7 Gary Sanchez
Last year's runner-up for the AL Rookie of the Year award looks like he's in the post-swing phase of one of his many home runs. Or at least a long fly ball. He has a tattoo as well, and what seem like pretty thick pinstripes. And even though he finished second in Rookie of the Year voting, he did get selected for the catcher's position on the 2017 Topps All-Rookie Team, so Topps slotted that trophy logo on the right.

2017 Topps #7 Gary Sanchez (Reverse)
Lest we forget that Topps is the only licensed card manufacturer out there, Topps also includes the team logo on this heavily color-coded back, in smaller but non-distorted format.

Much has been said about the card backs, primarily the shift to a very Donruss-like five lines of statistics. Sanchez is young enough that we still get his full MLB record, but that format does chop off his early Minor League experience. For a player like Choo, we're missing over half his career. Of course, many of us shifted long ago to checking baseball-reference.com, a treasure trove of statistics that just recently got a refreshed design.

A further illustration of society's shift to digital is the display of each player's social media handles, if they happen to have one. Choo doesn't, so Topps just put the #TOPPSBASEBALL hashtag on there. But this card helpfully informs me of the @elgarysanchez account on Instagram.

My favorite so far is Mike Moustakas' Instagram handle, @MooseTacos8.

Sharp-eyed readers will notice another change this year, as this is the first time since Mickey Mantle's uniform number was "retired" from Topps sets that a current player got a card #7. Mantle himself had a few card #7s since his death, but Topps decided to unretire it for 2017. I'm not sure how I feel about that. Mickey Mantle is synonymous with postwar baseball card collecting, and his death at just 63 led Topps to honor his memory via their set numbering, if only for a couple decades.

But if they're going to start using Card #7 again, at least it's still of a Yankee.

2017 Topps #265A Charlie Blackmon
Charlie Blackmon was the lone Rockie I pulled in this 12-card pack, but a few others have already started to make their way to me via trade. It's great to see a Coors Field card so early into the 2017 baseball card cycle, and it looks like this one was against the San Diego Padres. That's more empty seats than I like to see at Coors Field, but maybe he's leading off the 1st inning and everyone is still obtaining their nachos and beers. Personally, I hate missing the first pitch, but the sections at Coors Field take a couple innings or so to really fill up.

The back of this card is very purple, which pretty closely approximates the new shade of purple the Rockies are rolling out for 2017. Topps may have just guessed correctly, but I wonder if they had advance notice of this change when designing this year's set.

2017 Topps First Pitch #FP-5 Deshauna Barber
The First Pitch insert set is back, which still pretty closely approximates the main set's design. This was one of two insert cards in the pack, showing Miss USA winner Deshauna Barber tossing out the first pitch for the Nationals last summer. Other celebrities to be found in this set include Stephen Colbert, John Goodman, Joan Jett, and William Shatner.

A lot of bloggers and collectors have criticized the sharp angular elements that make up the bottom portion of the card, saying that some of the photo is getting cut off. And yes, it does have the potential to get in the way of an action shot like a slide, double play, ground ball, bunt, etc..., but for the types of photos Topps has selected for this set, it works pretty well. At least it's nothing like the 2008 set, where the Topps logo bump intruded into the headroom of most photos. Having a design element like that on the bottom mostly just obscures pant legs, knee-high socks, and shin guards.

Although when Miss USA is the subject of the card, that is a bit of a disappointment.

2017 Topps MLB Awards #MVP-1 Mike Trout
Most Valuable Player Mike Trout showed up as the second insert card, part of the MLB Awards insert set. The numbering is a little confusing, as Trout has card #MVP-1. Cards with the other award winners, like Manager of the Year have an "MOY-" prefix, even though they share the same design and are considered part of the same set. Trout has finished at least 2nd in MVP voting every year since 2012, and 2017 looks to be no different. But with the 11th pick in my upcoming Fantasy Baseball draft, there's no way I'll end up with him.

I'm not especially wild about the design. The background is a fairly boring light gray, and the large colored banners are sort of the Hulk version of the diagonal stripe that contained the logo in last year's main set.

2017 Topps Now #NNO Mike Trout
This Topps Now card wasn't included in the pack, but rather sent to me via snail mail from Topps. Mike Trout just can't be avoided when you're talking about baseball these days, so who better to use to preview the 2017 Topps Now design? An upward slant design on the lower portion of the card is similar to the Topps base set, but this has a little bit of a shallower angle and is partially transparent.

I'll go ahead and assume that all Topps Now customers from 2016 got a copy of this, likely the same group of collectors that received the 2016 year-in-review card. It's a preview of what's to come on a daily basis throughout the 2017 season, but it's also a coupon for 25% off a Topps Now Opening Day team set. I'll probably be hanging on to my $50 (or rather, $37.50), but the coupon code is SPRING25, if you're so inclined to add to your collection.

2017 Topps #72 Chicago Cubs
But even bigger than Mike Trout's MVP performance last year, the biggest story came from the Chicago Cubs, who finally ended their 108-year championship drought. Their team card of course mentions that, and pictures some of their players returning to the dugout after one of their 103 wins. One of the fans is happy to Fly The W, and they're probably singing that infectious Go Cubs Go song. There are certainly no shortage of Cubs fans in this photo, except for the one woman in front sporting a Padres shirt.

The Padres only visited Wrigley once in 2016, and the Padres took two out of three. I was going to date this card to May 10th, 2016, until I realized that Aroldis Champan, who appears on this card, wasn't a Cub yet. So I don't know when this is from.

But I do know that Spring Training is finally underway, and the Cubs are on the MLB Network as I write this. It's been a long winter, but exhibition games are happening, the World Baseball Classic is coming up in early March, and Opening Day isn't far behind.

Baseball's back.


Tuesday, February 14, 2017

If it's copper, it must be Upper Deck

For holidays that you never get off from work, Valentine's Day and Halloween seem to be pretty big deals in this country. Restaurants and florists across the land are raking it in at enormously inflated prices. And the chocolate flows like honey on a day like today.

My parents have always made a bit of a special occasion around Valentine's Day when it came to us kids. In my family, it is an occasion worthy of at least a greeting card, some of which I have pretty specific memories of. Later on, I remember being in my mid-teens and my dad surprised me with a one-pound bag of plain M&Ms and a brand-new video game. I played that one quite a bit, and I even remember missing a four-minute time limit in one race by a mere six-hundredths of a second.

That tradition carries on, as my mom gave me a baseball card inside this year's greeting card. She picked one out when my back was turned at a recent card show in Denver, which I believe was her first-ever trip to a card show. She recently suggested that we visit one, which happened to be just a couple days before the monthly card show that one of my dealers puts on. So that Saturday morning, we stopped by Roy's table, the guy who sold me all this vintage, and picked out a few cards that she'll give to me on my birthday next month.

But while I was perusing some of the other cards on offer, she found one at another table that made for a great little surprise.

1999 Upper Deck Textbook Excellence Double #T8 Nomar Garciaparra /2000
I think my mom is kind of a Red Sox fan. She's always had this Boston hat that she likes to wear, the one with the red B. Just like Nomar's batting helmet, only softer. Derek Jeter was the other great shortstop in the AL East at the time, but Nomar was giving fans a preview that Boston was about to take its place near the top of that division. She asked if Nomar had won a World Series with Boston, and I couldn't quite remember. I knew he was part of a blockbuster trade, but had to look up when that occurred. Sadly for "Nomahh", he was traded to the Cubs just months before the Red Sox finally broke their curse.

She knows I like serial-numbered cards, she recognized the copper foil that completely dominated Upper Deck in the late 1990s, and couldn't pass up that eye-catching die-cut pattern on the right side. It's a lot like that postage stamp-shaped set that Pacific put out around the same time. It's a shame Pacific didn't stick around, because they really were quite innovative.

There was something about this design that looked familiar, possibly another insert set. So while I was answering all her questions about serial numbers, what's "rare", what the difference is between a subset and an insert set, I looked this card up on Beckett to see what it was all about. Apparently, this is the "Double" variety, obviously numbered to 2,000, and further differing from the base card by having copper foil instead of silver and offering the die-cut edge.

Triple and Quadruple varieties also exist that are more scarce, but I couldn't find an image of those. I'd just have to guess that more edges have the die-cut pattern, and likely there is a different foil color too.

But it still looked familiar, and it turns out I had five of the base cards in my collection. I really don't remember the "Textbook Excellence" name, but the overall theme jogged my memory.

Yes, the late-'90s were a lot to keep track of, especially since I probably didn't purchase a single card between 1997 and 2003.

1999 Upper Deck Textbook Excellence #T18 Ben Grieve
As expected, the base card looks a bit more normal, at least with four straight cuts. But an Upper Deck card from this era without copper looks sort of...off. Like Charlie Hough in a Marlins uniform.

This post also marks the first appearance of Ben Grieve on Infield Fly Rule. He was the 1998 AL Rookie of the Year, and although he didn't end up having a terrific career, he absolutely tore the Rockies to shreds in the early days of Interleague Play. In just six games against Colorado between 1998 and 1999, Grieve notched three doubles, three homers, and twelve RBIs. And only half those took place at Coors Field. It's a good thing he was an American Leaguer, because if he were in the NL West, he would have given Eric Karros a run for his money in his Rockie-slaying abilities.

Valentine's Day also happens to be right around the time that pitchers and catchers report to Spring Training, so while I'm not the biggest Red Sox fan, this surprise card from my mom and the email I just got about the upcoming auto-renewal of my MLB.TV subscription are great reminders that baseball season isn't far away.


Tuesday, February 7, 2017

The Trading Post #90: Highly Subjective and Completely Arbitrary

Brian of the blog Highly Subjective and Completely Arbitrary has sent me cards a bunch of times by now. He delivered again recently with another excellent trade package. On Superb Owl Sunday, (three hours to kickoff as I began this post, and what a comeback, Patriots!), I got to thinking a bit about how accurate Brian's blog title really is. This whole hobby is pretty much built on what each of us is individually drawn to. From which teams we root for (which admittedly has a lot to do with our geographic location), to what we think is appropriate in a baseball card set, it really comes down quite a bit to personal taste. Too many inserts? Not according to some. Card #7 shouldn't exist? Depends on who you ask. Yankees or Red Sox? Let's not even go there.

Except Stadium Club. Stadium Club is objectively awesome. There, I said it.

But what I found in this trade allowed me to come up with several arbitrary categories and place cards that I subjectively found awesome into them. There's a little more structure in this post than usual, and I hope you like what's to follow.

Category #1: Jon Gray Rookie Cards

2016 Bowman's Best #45 Jon Gray (RC)
Jon Gray, doing his best long-haired Noah Syndergaard impression, is certainly worthy of inclusion in the small Bowman's Best set. I haven't opened any yet, but the nameplate and team name at the bottom looks a lot to me like 2017 Topps Series 1, a recent release which has been all over the Cardsphere this week. With this much going on in the design, it's hard not to find similarities to something. And that is one monster-sized Rockies logo looming in the background.

For the first time since their inaugural season, the Rockies are making some slight tweaks to that logo. The logo itself isn't changing, but they are switching to a different shade of their trademark purple. My eye didn't pick it up, but apparently the jerseys, hats, and printed logos didn't look that consistent in various applications. So now the Rockies purple logo looks more...purpley.

Branding is important, people.

2016 Topps Bunt #141 Jon Gray (RC)
I really don't know what the rules are for the MLB Rookie Card logo, but Gray's cards in both Bunt and Bowman's Best get the treatment. And others did too. But some didn't. So it seems like it had to be a 2016 card, but not all his 2016 cards are considered rookie cards. I suppose it's just as well, as the RC logo would have marred that beautiful Stadium Club card sent by Tom.

But it seems like a pretty arbitrary rule to me. Especially since there is only one company making licensed cards these days.

Either way, it's good to see him appear in so many sets. That is a mark of success. Or at least hype. But a 16-strikeout shutout performance seems to indicate that he's the real deal.

Category #2: Uniform Numbers

2016 Topps Update #US286 Gerardo Parra
To me, this looks more like Trevor Story's card than Gerardo Parra's. Cameos are like that sometimes. It's from 2016 Topps Update, and Story was quite a newsworthy player during the first half of 2016. I'm excited for the 2017 season for a lot of reasons, but seeing Story take his place on the left side of the infield again is definitely one of them. I'd like to see this one zoomed out a little more so we could get the full view of the double-high-five, but it's a nice card and seems minimally affected by the smoke effect on 2016 Topps.

I couldn't tell you what number Parra wears (11? Nope, 8). but I hope to see Story's #27 at Coors Field for a long time to come. He wasn't the first to wear it; a slew of players I've never heard of or didn't know spent any time as a Rockie wore it in the early days. Garrett Atkins had it for a while, as did Todd Hollandsworth. But it's Story's now. And you never know when a player will come along who's the last to wear a number.

Which brings me to my next card.

1995 Collector's Choice SE #208 David Nied
David Nied, or Dave, as he's called on this Upper Deck Special Edition card, was the first-ever Rockie, selected first overall in the 1992 Expansion Draft. The Rockies had high hopes for him, but he ended up being a disappointment. Not the first time the Rockies would have trouble like that in a draft. Selecting pitching prospects that don't pan out is essentially a founding principle for this team. But Nied did wear #17, the only other Rockie to do so before it was turned over to Todd Helton.

Helton, of course, wore it proudly for seventeen seasons, coincidentally. And other than the league-wide retirement of Jackie Robinson's #42, it's the only number out of circulation at Coors Field. But the other major sports teams in Denver still use it, as neither the Nuggets, Avalanche, nor Broncos have had a superstar suit up with #17.

Yet.

Category #3: Weird Fleer Cards

2001 Fleer Legacy #82 Todd Helton
Normally I'm a fan of minimalism. No need for a lot of extra stuff or over-the-top design elements just for their own sake, sort of like that Bowman's Best card. But it has to be done right. That sparse, sort of Zen look really takes a lot of intent to get right.

This just looks lazy to me. If I had five minutes to design a baseball card, it would probably come out looking something like this. Solid white background, rectangular headshot that looks paperclipped on, an action shot, a one-letter logo in the corner with a drop shadow, and a basic all-caps font in two different colors.

I could literally do this in Microsoft Word.

It reminds me a little bit of that Jeff Francis autograph card, the one with all the empty space. But this is, frankly, bad. And worse, the back doesn't look any better. It has a couple shades of gray, the Rockies team logo that's oddly chopped in at least three places, and that same amateur Fleer logo. L is for Legacy.

Fleer was putting out an absolute ton of sets in the early 2000s, and there are only so many resources to go around. I don't think I've ever bashed a card design this harshly. But wow.

2002 Fleer Premium #91 Jeff Cirillo
Fleer got their act back together the next year, continuing their Premium set for a second and final year. It's a nice black-bordered set with a classic frame and a little silver foil. And a pretty good action shot of Cirillo covering third against the San Francisco Giants. It was likely taken in the then-new Pacific Bell Park (later SBC Park, now AT&T Park), reminding us of the AT&T breakup, and the reconsolidation of many of those once-separate entities.

So what's weird about it? Well, if you look closely, Cirillo is listed as a member of the Seattle Mariners. It's clearer on the back, as the Mariners logo and their sea green color are present. Or maybe it's aqua. Turquoise? Teal? I don't know. Us men are notorious for being able to recognize only about a dozen colors.

Category #4: Shiny Dante Bichette Cards

1996 Upper Deck Predictor Retail Exchange #R42 Dante Bichette W
Thanks to Dante Bichette's MLB-leading 128 RBIs in 1995, Upper Deck added him to their Predictor set the following year, a 120-card insert set (split into Retail and Hobby editions with 60 each). If the player pictured led the league in the listed statistic during any calendar month in 1996, the card could be sent in to Upper Deck for a 10-card foil parallel redemption set.

Believe it or not, Dante Bichette really did lead the league in RBIs in June 1996, with 39, including four in that legendary 16-15 win over the Dodgers on June 30th. His base Retail Predictor card became eligible for redemption, and I am pretty sure this foil parallel (copper-colored, UD's favorite metal) is one of the actual redemption cards. It took quite a bit of research to figure this all out, though. It looks like UD put six wild cards in the set to ensure they'd have something to do with the redemption cards in case no one won, but out of over fifty other Retail Predictor cards, only Bichette, Sammy Sosa, and Jay Buhner actually lived up to the forecast.

It was a similar story with the Hobby Predictor version of this set. Bichette won NL Player of the Month that June, and Roger CedeƱo led his category as well. There were numerous players found in both the Retail and Hobby insert sets, but Bichette was the only one to have a winning card in both.

1996 Leaf Limited #48 Dante Bichette
Bichette's stellar 1996 was the subject of his Leaf Limited card that year. This card was printed late enough in the season to mention that Player of the Month award, as well as his first-half RBI lead. He'd slip a little bit in that statistic by the end of 1996, yielding the lead to teammate Andres Galarraga.

There's no copper to be found here, as this isn't an Upper Deck product. But there's a shiny finish, a bit of gold foil, a shot taken in the distinctive Shea Stadium, and a little purple on the edges to round things out.

I always liked him when I was a kid, especially because of that perpetual .310 batting average and how much he excelled with a two-strike count. I'm glad to have a couple more cards of him to remind me of that era and that season.

Category #5: Purple Borders

2013 Topps Opening Day Toys R Us Purple Border #83 Wilin Rosario
As we all know, purple is synonymous with the Rockies. Their new purple is a little closer to what you see in the sea turtle than the border, but no other team in MLB uses it, now that the Diamondbacks abandoned it as an accent color. I'd be happy to share it with Arizona, as I find their dark gray uniforms to be hideous.

If you've finished your doctorate on Topps border parallels, you'll know that purple borders are a Toys 'R' Us exclusive. That's true for 2013 Opening Day, at least, as well as numerous other releases in the past few years. I haven't been in a Toys 'R' Us in ages. In fact, I couldn't even tell you where the nearest one is anymore. So these purple bordered cards are not something I run across very frequently. Neither Target nor Wal-Mart got exclusives in this Opening Day set, making this a pretty easy rainbow to complete, not counting the printing plates. Thanks to Brian, only the serial-numbered Blue parallel is missing from that rainbow.

The photo is similar to his shot in 2014 Stadium Club (mmmm, Stadium Club), but he's much more excited about the play that just occurred in that set, and he decided to switch over to Wilson for his chest protecting needs instead of All-Star.

2016 Donruss Optic #9 Carlos Gonzalez DK
Prizm is such a resounding success in the marketplace that Panini decided to make a second shiny set, Donruss Optic. Like Donruss sets of old, the first thirty cards or so are part of the Diamond Kings subset. They do a darn good job with this unlicensed set, especially when it's the purple-bordered parallel. It's definitely a different shade of purple than Rosario's card, so maybe those color guys know what they're talking about.

There are a couple of spots, like the border around CarGo's action shot, that catch the light with a touch of rainbow finish, and this thick card feels good to hold. It's pretty similar to the average Donruss card that's come out since 2014, but I do see a smidgen of 1972 Topps' tombstone design in the frame.

The back could use some work, though. It's mostly gray, roughly the same shade as those Diamondbacks uniforms. It's a little hard to tell if the gray splotches that spill into the white areas on the back are part of the design or just smudges. And the letters are jammed really close together in his paragraph, quoting him as "Ijustwanttoapplythatonthefieldandbethe" before it wraps to the next line as "player everybody wants me to be." Hard to tell if there is a miniscule space between those words, but it's certainly not consistent between the two lines. Maybe someone botched a Find & Replace in their text editor.

At least they still follow what Upper Deck, Fleer, and Pacific did ages ago and told me what set this is part of in the fine print. For the love of the hobby, Topps, start doing that.

Category #6: Awesome Insert Cards

1995 Stadium Club Power Zone #PZ6 Andres Galarraga
Of course there's another Galarraga card in 1995 Stadium Club that I've never seen before. Topps does like this "Power" theme, as we saw in my previous post. Galarraga is generating so much power here that he can simply fling the bat and cause a significant explosion. Who needs TNT when you have a Blake Street Bomber?

The back provides 1994 stats for his performance at home as well as in five other parks. This was before Interleague Play, so all the sites are National League stadiums, some of which aren't there anymore, or at least aren't hosting baseball. Wrigley Field and Dodger Stadium remain, but the Padres, Braves, and Marlins have new places to call home now.

This isn't the first time I've thrown this fact out there, but as new as Coors Field is, having opened in just 1995, it is already the third-oldest park in the National League.

2016 Topps Opening Day Superstar Celebrations #SC-18 Carlos Gonzalez
Sadly, the Rockies are usually out of the pennant race by the end of September. But they usually perform well enough to play spoiler in the NL West, usually against the Giants. April and May are full of hope and a strong performance, but by the time July and August roll around, things start to take a turn for the worse. By September, when the playoff picture becomes clearer and the pressure is off, things pick up again, but it's too little too late.

2007 notwithstanding, you can pretty much set your watch to it.

Regardless, none of that stopped Carlos Gonzalez from hitting a walk-off homer against the Dodgers on September 26th, 2015. Charlie Blackmon was sure to empty the Powerade cooler onto CarGo during his post-game interview, a moment that's forever documented on this Topps Opening Day insert card.

2014 Topps Opening Day Stars #ODS-9 Troy Tulowitzki
In breaking with the tradition I've set in this post, here's a third card in this category. When Opening Day is in the mix, there's just no telling what will happen. It seems like a long ago memory, but Troy Tulowitzki was once a Rockie, and a stellar performer on Opening Day. Not just anyone gets the 3D treatment on a Topps card. I opened quite a bit of 2014 Opening Day, but this Tulo card had eluded me until now. I'd just like to see a little more purple on it.

Category #7: Hits

2010 Topps Pro Debut Prospect Autographs #PDA-CB Charlie Blackmon S2 (AU)
It's strange to see Charlie Blackmon without that big bushy beard. Stranger even than seeing him in a minor league uniform. Until a few years ago, the Tulsa Drillers were the Double-A affiliate of the Rockies, and Blackmon progressed nicely through the Rockies' farm system and his 2010 season in Tulsa.

This is a candidate for Category #2, but that sticker auto helps put it into a category of its own. Not long after this card was printed, I started seeing Blackmon jerseys pop up at Coors Field. At the time, I found that odd. I had heard the name, but for some reason thought he was a front-office guy or part of the ownership group or something. I didn't know the farm system or the prospects even five years ago nearly as well as I do now. Part of the reason is that I almost never buy minor league cards, but also that the pipeline wasn't as promising back then.

2008 Upper Deck Spectrum Spectrum Swatches #SS-GA Garrett Atkins /99 (MEM)
In case you didn't believe me that Garrett Atkins wore #27, here's proof. This UD Spectrum relic card is quite an attractive shade of blue, maybe a dark cyan? The flattened "S" that makes up the Spectrum logo is barely visible as a pattern in the blue area, which looks sort of like those SP logos on some cards that Fuji sent to me. Not that the scanner picked those up either.

I do enjoy relic cards, especially when they have a low print run like this. It's a bonus when the swatch matches the jersey in the photograph, but that is never a sure thing. Sometimes these even have pinstripes, which is not something that every team's collector has a chance to find. Since this is a 2008 card, this is probably from the 2007 season, meaning there's a chance this is from a pretty special period in Rockies history.

2007 UD Masterpieces Captured on Canvas #CC-GA Garrett Atkins (MEM)
And that's not one, but two Garrett Atkins relic cards! This black swatch looks absolutely spectacular on this framed UD Masterpieces card. If I had to pare down my collection to just a handful of sets, this would definitely make the cut. I'd almost say these are the pinnacle zenith peak of a painted card design, what Diamond Kings was always trying to be.

Especially because they spelled "masterpieces" correctly.

Category #8: Green Topps Finest Cards

1994 Finest Superstar Samplers #35 Andres Galarraga
You knew this was coming, didn't you?

1994 Finest has made plenty of appearances around here, but this happens to be a Superstar Sampler parallel, which I've never heard of before. I know about the pre-production versions, and of course there is the base version. All I need is the refractor to complete the rainbow.

Apparently Topps picked 45 cards from the Finest base set, printed up these partial parallels with a circular red seal on the back, and included them as promos in Baker's Dozen varieties of 1994 Topps factory sets, along with a similar Bowman and Stadium Club card of the same player. I vaguely remember my old Beckett magazines referring to those factory sets, but I had no idea what made them so special. I've never seen a Bowman or Stadium Club Superstar variety, or at least if I did, I never flipped it over. I'll have to check my 1994 binders now that I know these exist.

Good thing I'm not a Griffey collector. I'm sure his card from this set sells for some ridiculous amount of money. Probably not the $2,000 that his 1993 Finest Refractor goes for, but still more than I'd care to spend.

2014 Finest Gold Refractors #30 Carlos Gonzalez /50
Supply and demand is real. There are about five times as many 1993 Finest Refractors of Ken Griffey Jr. as of this Gold Refractor, but this one goes for about $8 on eBay. Which is still a lot for a modern card. But I doubt this one will end up in a safe deposit box. Incidentally, The Junior Junkie, proud owner of one of those rare Griffeys, originally sent me the base version of this card. There isn't as much green in this one as you see in 1994 Finest, but there's a bit, and it's enough to earn a spot in this final category.

I feel like I have a pretty good memory, and my mom is often in awe of the encyclopedic knowledge I seem to have about this sport and the hobby. I have no idea how some people remember who sent them each card in their collection, where they got it, even how much they paid. I can remember that for my most special cards, but I had to look through my past blogs to figure out where the base card came from. I had originally thought it was Julie, who recently made a triumphant return to the Cardsphere, but that was an incorrect guess. Unless she sent a second copy.

I think to a larger degree than most of us would care to admit, these blogs are for us just as much as they are for our audience. There were a lot of great cards in this trade, and I'm sure I'll be referring back once The Trading Post #180 rolls around.