Monday, March 16, 2015

The Trading Post #28: The Lost Collector

I don't get a whole lot of mail, and I'm fine with that. I check the mail every day, and when there is actually something there, more often than not it's important. Like a Netflix disc. Or my renewed Colorado Driver's License. Or maybe a birthday card. And with increasing frequency, baseball cards!

The lone item in my mailbox today was a Plain White Envelope (PWE) from a previous trading partner, The Lost Collector. We did a fairly big trade shortly before Christmas, but he found two more that missed the first shipment.

2008 Topps Moments and Milestones Black #125-38 Matt Holliday /25
I've written about the insanity that is Topps Moments & Milestones before. They pick a player and a season or career stat, in this case Matt Holliday's 216 hits in 2007, and print a separate card for each of those hits. This one commemorates his 38th hit, as we can tell by the numeral "38" on the front. That's the only thing to distinguish it from the other 215 varieties.

So let's do the math. 216 base cards for each hit, plus three colored parallels (this one is Black, the most common of the parallels), plus the four printing plates. That means there are 868 varieties of this single card. The 2008 Moments & Milestones base set comes in even bigger than the 2007 release at a whopping 12,000+ cards, and that's before you factor in the colored parallels.

Frankly, I think Topps seriously dropped the ball on this concept. I would much prefer if they had done something more along the lines of Upper Deck's Documentary product, or even the Mickey Mantle home run cards, one for each of the Mick's 536 career dingers.

2006 Topps Chrome Mantle Home Run History Blue Refractors #MHRC530 Mickey Mantle /200
What makes this set work is that we get specifics about his 530th home run, not just the numeral 530.

2006 Topps Chrome Mantle Home Run History Blue Refractors #MHRC530 Mickey Mantle /200 (Reverse)
Flip it over and we get all sorts of goodies about #530. The date, the inning, the opposing team and pitcher, the number of men on base, even on which side of the plate the legendary switch-hitter was slugging from at the time. Interestingly, #531 happened on the same day in 1968, and was hit off the same pitcher.

Topps made a similar 73-card set for Barry Bonds in 2002, and that one even gave detail about its distance and direction.

2002 Topps #365 Barry Bonds HR 73 (Reverse)
I like cards that can be dated based on the photograph or a caption. If Moments & Milestones gave us detail like the Mantle or Bonds sets, you can bet your bottom dollar that I'd be out hunting for cards whose "moments" occurred with me in attendance.

Anyway, I do like the Holliday card, and the Black parallel that The Lost Collector sent works well with the Rockies' colors. I'll just let this card appeal to my affinity for serial numbers and the Rockies, and try to suppress the set builder in me.

A question for player collectors: would you want every base card of your chosen player from Moments & Milestones? Or would any one of them suffice?

I mentioned there were two cards in this PWE, and this was intended to be the main attraction, according to the handwritten note.

1998 Ultra Rocket to Stardom #10 Todd Helton
The late 1990s were a crazy time, indeed. Without a doubt, this Ultra insert (notice the absence of the Fleer name) is the most textured card I own. Each one of those potentially lethal "icicle shards" is a raised surface. Both the lettering and Helton's outline are raised as well, but the strangest part are the slanted streaks in the jersey area. They make him look sort of ghost-like. There's a lot going on here.

Not only that, but this card is die-cut. The edges are rounded, which makes the overall shape look something like a comic strip thought bubble. I think this is a good idea in a die-cut card, since those rounded edges are much less likely to get dinged than some of Topps' recent designs.

For all its over-the-top design features, the paragraph on the back actually speaks pretty intelligently about Helton's upcoming career. It was hoped that Helton would replace Andres Galarraga at first base, bringing a strong bat to the lineup. After his long career as a Rockie, Helton also ended up being a bit of an upgrade defensively, winning three Gold Gloves to Galarraga's two.

These are some of the more unusual cards I've received via trade, and though they aren't setting any design benchmarks, they certainly inspired plenty of commentary for a two-card PWE.

Saturday, March 14, 2015

The Trading Post #27: Highly Subjective and Completely Arbitrary

Brian, of the Twins-focused blog Highly Subjective and Completely Arbitrary, started trading with me recently. I found a ton of cards for him, including Twins, but the majority of what I sent him (and what I have in reserve) was intended for his mini-collections. He collects cards with commemorative patches in the picture (more on that later), as well as sunglasses. There was a lot to be found, unlike some other mini-collections that are few and far between, like Daniel's all-dirt backgrounds.

Brian's sent me a lot of stuff recently. This post will focus on his first shipment. He sent one more as a trade, as well as the Rockies cards from the group break he did not long ago. He knows I like shiny stuff, and he did a great job in finding plenty for me to like.

2006 Bowman Heritage Chrome #77 Garrett Atkins
Bowman Heritage base cards might be the least shiny cards produced in the last decade. These are true cardboard; the card backs are brown with red and dark blue printing. Yet somehow, Bowman managed to make chrome parallels on that type of card stock, and these are conspicuously shiny for that reason alone. The 1949 Bowman design doesn't give you a whole lot of information on the front of the card; but it's got a very pure and classic look.

A 2012 Chrome Refractor offers something a bit more familiar, yet not really all that different from the surrounding five years of card designs.

2012 Topps Chrome Refractors #155 Drew Pomeranz (RC)
In addition to this rainbow-finish refractor, Brian also threw in the base Chrome card. The back notes that this is a refractor, which is always nice to know for certain. Topps seems to waffle back and forth about actually labeling a refractor card as such. Some years don't have that note, and you have to rely on a good light source to tell the difference.

Pomeranz pitched for the Rockies for three years, amassing a disappointing 4-14 record. He's pitching for Oakland now, and broke the .500 mark in the 2014 season. So it goes for Rockies pitchers. Pomeranz came over from Cleveland in the Ubaldo Jimenez trade, who was one of the very few Rockies pitchers that had a successful career at Coors Field.

Regardless of his record, a shiny card is a shiny card.

1993 Upper Deck Diamond Gallery #23 David Nied
Although David Nied, the first Rockie selected in the expansion draft, was hyped as a star pitching prospect, like many others, he never really panned out.

I collected plenty of 1993 Upper Deck as a child, although I am still running across insert cards from that set for the first time. Research shows this particular card is from the 36-card "Diamond Gallery" set, which was sold separately as a boxed set with a print run of 123,600. For 1993, that's downright scarce. I'm surprised that the hologram image of Nied on the right comes across so well on the scan. It's a stunning card.

Not all the cards from Brian were shiny, but most were still on the uncommon side.

2007 Upper Deck First Edition #16 Alvin Colina (RC)
I must admit that I have never heard of Alvin Colina. He was a catcher who only appeared in two Major League games, which explains that. The one upside of a two-game MLB career is that your Rookie Card also has your full career statistics, or what Nick would call a "sunset card". More interestingly, this is a Coors Field card, showing Colina during pre-game with some American Servicemen and Servicewomen standing on the warning track in front of the out-of-town scoreboard in right field.

I've written before that I adore almost all the insert cards from Topps Opening Day, including Superstar Celebrations.

2012 Topps Opening Day Superstar Celebrations #SC-8 Troy Tulowitzki
The one drawback to these is that it's a little unclear whose card it actually is. Tulowitzki is the only one with his face toward the camera, and it is indeed his card. Iannetta and Chacin aren't quite "Superstar" caliber, but Carlos Gonzalez' photobomb steals the show a little bit. Perhaps this set is Topps' way of giving some of the lesser players who aren't quite worthy of an insert card an appearance outside the base set.

This particular card is from an Interleague game against the White Sox, in which Tulo scored the winning run. Interleague play hasn't been friendly to the Rockies. Since games started in 1997 they have a .475 winning percentage. That's higher than I expected to find when I looked it up, but there are a few AL teams that always give them fits, like the Angels, Yankees, and White Sox.

With the Astros moving to the AL West, Interleague play has become quite prevalent. With 15 teams in each league, there's always at least one active AL/NL series. But this last card is from 1999, when it was in its infancy.

1999 Topps Stars One Star #76 Vinny Castilla
This is from Castilla's glory days as a Blake Street Bomber. He actually had three stints as a Rockie, returning to the team in 2004, and wrapping up his career in Denver in 2006. He's still active with the team in a coaching role. I had great seats to see him in one of his final games, sitting just a couple rows behind the visitor's dugout when the Washington Nationals visited on Sept 9th, 2006.

I do enjoy Topps Stars cards; as they are one of many, many sets I barely knew of in their heyday, only finding examples many years after they were printed. Even better, the back of this card is more interesting than the front.

1999 Topps Stars One Star #76 Vinny Castilla (Reverse)
Castilla is apparently an avid bubble-gum user, and we get a great look at a commemorative patch on his right sleeve. That is from 1998, the year the Rockies hosted the All-Star Game. I don't often show card backs, but given that Brian appreciates commemorative patches, I figured it would be a nice way to thank him for this great stack of cards!

Monday, March 9, 2015

Birthday Season

My birthday is on Tuesday! Mine is the first in about a five-week stretch that also contains my sister's birthday, as well as both my parents'. Now that my sister and I both have busy adult lives, we often get everyone together at once to celebrate a couple at a time. To mark the beginning of "birthday season", we all went out to brunch yesterday along with our significant others, and my mom gave me a small wrapped package.

The thoughtful mother that she is, she picked three cards from my "Eight Men Out" wantlist and ordered them from eBay!

1998 Collector's Choice #443 John Olerud
I first saw this card on Nick's Dime Boxes blog and I knew it would be perfect for my Coors Field mini-collection. That is a great shot of the third deck in right field, along with the iconic light towers that show off the exposed metal architecture of the stadium.

As I mentioned yesterday, Coors Field has been through some changes over the years. Just last season, The Rooftop opened where you see most of those stands in Olerud's card. They tore down the upper right field seats all the way to the corner (just barely visible on the right side of this card) and built an outdoor patio, complete with lounge areas, premium food and drink, and standing-room terraces with great views of the ballpark, Downtown Denver, and the mountains to the west.

Olerud, one of the few players to go straight to the Bigs without ever playing in the minors, certainly doesn't look too pleased about whatever just transpired on the diamond. He spent a few seasons as a Met, but I remember him as a Blue Jay, and a key part of the 1993 World Series, the first one I ever watched.

Not only does this card give you a great view of Coors Field's architecture, but also of Colorado's summertime weather. That is a pretty angry-looking storm cloud looming beyond right field, which is a pretty common occurrence in the Denver area. True rainy days are quite rare, but quick isolated thunderstorms are pretty common in the afternoons. They usually go west to east, meaning that whatever precipitation this cloud has in store is likely safely past the stadium and on its way to hammer the Eastern plains and airport.

That was your meteorology lesson for today, so let's move on to the next card.

1995 Fleer Lumber Company #2 Albert Belle
Most insert cards from 1995 Fleer are pretty tame relative to the polarizing base set. I actually have a little bit of a soft spot for that set, as well as a fairly complete collection of the insert cards. That Belle is one of the last few I need for the 10-card Lumber Company insert set. Though there isn't actually a bat relic in that oval (good idea, though), this gave collectors a wood-grain fix that hadn't been seen since 1987 Topps.

Notice I said "most" insert cards from 1995 Fleer. That statement does not include "Pro-Visions" cards, which are a perfect accompaniment to the crazed base set.

1995 Fleer Pro-Visions #6 Manny Ramirez
All six Pro-Visions cards are pretty much like the above. There are a lot of randomly appearing baseballs, a nature background that looks like something from an iPad game, a very red/orange color pallete, both gold and silver foil, and usually some type of natural disaster. Tim Salmon's card has...salmon.

1995 Fleer Pro-Visions #5 Tim Salmon
You can't make this up.

But I already completed that set, as well as three others from 1995 Fleer. There's one card I need to finish off the 10-card League Leaders set, and it's of the late Tony Gwynn.

1995 Fleer Ultra League Leaders #6 Tony Gwynn
Tony Gwynn won eight batting titles in his career, so there are understandably lots of cards to document that. Some readers might notice that this one is actually from 1995 Fleer Ultra, rather than just 1995 Fleer.

Apparently, Fleer was so busy in 1995 making some truly wacky cards that they couldn't be bothered to give Tony Gwynn a different card number in their premium set. It's still #6 (of 10, even). Paul O'Neill suffered the same fate in that checklist. I have relatively few cards from 1995 Fleer Ultra, and, as is common for mid-1990s cards, this is the first time I've known of or seen this particular design.

So, there are lots of questions to answer here. Is this the precise Tony Gwynn card from my Eight Men Out list? Not exactly. Is there a reasonable likelihood of confusion for a non-collector or eBay seller, based on Fleer's numbering snafu? Absolutely. Is this new to my collection and baseball card knowledge base? Yes.

Does it matter that I got a different Tony Gwynn League Leader card #6 of 10 printed by Fleer in 1995 than I had been on the hunt for? Nope. Am I grateful for having such wonderful loved ones that spend time and money on indulging this little hobby blog of mine?

You'd better believe it.

Thanks, Mom!

Sunday, March 8, 2015

My First Group Break

I was recently involved in my first-ever group break, which was hosted by Nachos Grande. He does these quite frequently; he's already on his second this year. The one previous was a jumbo case of 2015 Topps Series 1, which I was not involved in. This post is actually from his final group break of 2014, where he opened some Topps High Tek and Stadium Club. I didn't see too many posts from other bloggers about their winnings, but that may be because I ended up with one of the hits from a fairly small selection of high-end cards.

For the uninitiated, a group break works like this: a couple dozen or so people pool their money and buy several boxes, or perhaps a case, and divide up the cards by team. Anyone who anted up gets all the cards of their chosen team(s), or perhaps a random team; there are lots of ways to do it.

Anyway, I'll get to that in a bit, but part of this group break also included a bunch of assorted cards from your team that had nothing to do with the fancy new boxes of high-end Topps. That means that much of this shipment looked a lot like a trade package, and I'm sure that Nachos Grande was able to clear out lots of extras.

Gold was the name of the game in the mid-1990s, and even the "filler" cards didn't disappoint.

1998 Bowman's Best #4 Dante Bichette
I never saw any of the Bowman's Best cards when they were released. I'm sure I acquired a few here and there in the early 2000s, but I never really got a good look at this brand until they made it an insert set it in recent Bowman releases.

They're quite thick, maybe even a little more so than Topps Finest. And I think I finally found the right scanner settings to get a somewhat accurate representation of a shiny card.

1994 SP #165 Ellis Burks
Upper Deck didn't miss an opportunity to put the "Super Premium" in "SP", because all that brass-colored foil on the right side wasn't enough. Even the little Upper Deck hologram on the back is gold on these SP cards, as opposed to the usual silver.

If I never ran across Bowman's Best in their early years, then I definitely never saw the first few Upper Deck SP sets. They just weren't in my budget as a young collector, although I could probably have stretched if I really wanted to. But at $75 for a box of eight cards, Topps High Tek would have been completely out of my price range. Even now, taking my chances in a group break really only made sense because I knew there would be lots of other goodies included.

Goodies like awesome photography on UD Collector's Choice.

1997 Collector's Choice #321 Bruce Ruffin
I'm not sure how well a Bic ballpoint pen will do when used to sign a baseball, but it beats no signature at all if the Rockies' closer is giving out autographs under a partly cloudy sky.

Based on that black jersey and the relatively small light fixture in the background, I'm guessing that this was taken during Spring Training. The players are a lot more accessible during the preseason, and most of the autograph collectors I know have had much of their success while visiting Arizona or Florida in the month of March.

Speaking of Spring Training, we're just a few games in, and as I write this, my TV is tuned to live baseball for the first time in many months! Nothing like a ballgame to get me in the card-blogging spirit.

I don't have any autographs from Spring Training, but I have managed to snag a few at Coors Field over the years.

1996 Stadium Club #377 Kevin Ritz
Kevin Ritz spent a few years in the Rockies' rotation, and he signed my hat before a game. He probably wasn't on the mound that day, as starters have plenty of time to kill during game time except every fifth day.

This card shows Ritz pitching in an away stadium, as neither Coors Field nor Mile High Stadium employed the use of Astroturf, thankfully. That stuff was just hideous. It was in quite a few parks before the recent round of new ballpark construction, even in outdoor stadiums with relatively mild climates, like St. Louis and Philadelphia. Only Toronto and Tampa Bay still have artificial surfaces, and those are both indoor stadiums.

Pretty much every time I get a random stack of cards from about 1997 to 2005, there's a card from a set I've never seen before. And I'm not talking about insert sets; that's how many base sets were out there until Fleer, Pacific, Pinnacle, and Donruss all fell on hard times.

2002 Fleer Maximum #17 Todd Helton
Fleer Maximum. New to me. Unfortunately, this card is a bit beat up. It probably fell victim to being stuck to the card on top of it, which has a tendency to take out tiny bits of the glossy coating when you peel them apart. It might just be generally fragile and was thumbed through too many times in a discount box, but it looks to me like this was sealed in a pack and left to cook in someone's garage for too long before it was liberated.

Jeff Baker's 2003 Studio card fared quite a bit better, which is fortunate, because this is just about the best Coors Field backdrop that's ever appeared on a card.

2003 Studio #123 Jeff Baker
That's a great example of a summertime Colorado sunset, just before the Giants faced off with the Rockies in Denver. If you look closely, Andres Galarraga and John Vander Wal, both former Rockies, are back to back in the San Francisco lineup.

There's lots in this photo to document the earlier iterations of Coors Field. That Bank One sign is no more, as that bank was acquired by Chase not long after this card was printed. The left field scoreboard is also in its original layout, where all the lights were an amber color. They've since replaced it with a full-color high definition screen. Longtime readers know how I love little details, and there's another one to point out. The bat that Baker is holding has "17" written on the knob, indicating that he swiped one of Todd Helton's bats for this photo op.

1998 Leaf #76 Dante Bichette
I have no reason to believe that Dante Bichette isn't using his own bat in this photograph, but one thing I noticed about this Leaf card is that prominent "50th Anniversary" seal.

The 1948 Leaf set is considered to be the first set in the modern collecting era, at least according to Beckett. 1998 happened to be fifty years after that set was released, but calling it an "anniversary" seems like a huge stretch to me. Until the mid-'80s when the Leaf brand was basically a Canadian Donruss parallel set, and 1990 when they took it upmarket with a high-end set, the brand was pretty much nonexistent for decades following that seminal 1948 release. Far be it from me to admonish the use of gold foil on a late-1990s card, but using the word "anniversary" implies a lot more continuity than a decades-long gap between releases.

Munnatawket Custom #62 Carlos Gonzalez
As is common with shipments from Nachos Grande, he included a card from the custom Munnatawket Mini set, and this one was of a Rockie, no less. I only have a handful of these, but it's a small set and trading is a great way to find a few more. I've written about these before, and now that I have both CarGo and Tulo, I probably have all the Rockies from this small set. And Spider-Man.

Anyway, this has pretty much been a trade post so far, so let's get to the actual cards from the break! The slot I purchased in this break contained not only the Rockies, but also the San Francisco Giants. There were a handful of assorted Giants cards like the above, but I hit some new ones in the break itself.

2014 Stadium Club #64 Tim Lincecum
I'm slowly finding more cards from 2014 Stadium Club, including Tim Lincecum experimenting with facial hair. As the back of this card notes, he's chopped off the long hair he was known for, but still has "electric" stuff on the mound. The only way this card could be better is if it were the "electric foil" parallel.

But the headliner of this break were the Topps High Tek cards. Topps saw fit to resurrect this brand from the late-'90s, which are printed on clear acetate instead of cardboard, and have a wide variety of possible background patterns. Unlike the earlier sets that had up to 80 possible backgrounds (making for an 8000+ card set), they scaled that back significantly in 2014, offering only twelve patterns, six for each league. You could call this a "fractured set", which are pretty much impossible to explain in a reasonably-sized paragraph.

The luck of the draw meant I ended up with two of the sixteen Topps High Tek cards in the group break. The same held true for the collectors who had the Braves, Dodgers, Yankees, Brewers, and White Sox. That's rather unfortunate collation for a group break, as all the rest of the team slots walked away with only four cards. Such are the risks with these high-end products that contain only a few cards per box.

Based on the patterns guide, it looks like these two boxes yielded the more common patterns, and that held true for my two as well.

2014 Topps High Tek Net #HT-TT Troy Tulowitzki
This Tulo card has the National League's "Net" pattern. As usual in these small sets, the only two Rockies to be found are he and Carlos Gonzalez. The plastic is fairly flexible, but it's probably pretty hard to actually crease it. This type of plastic instead tends to turn white when bent too much. None of the cards has a numeric card number; instead they use the frustrating alphabet soup of the set name and player's initials. Trying to actually build a fractured set without card or pattern numbers would be a pure nightmare.

Still, these are pretty cool cards, and my second win from the break is an awesome one!

2014 Topps High Tek Spiral Bricks Clouds Diffractor #HT-WMA Willie Mays /25
Like Stadium Club, Topps High Tek contains a mixture of current and retired players. That's a "clouds diffractor" parallel of the Say Hey Kid, numbered to 25. The acetate pattern is the National League's "Spiral Bricks" pattern, one of the more common patterns. The diffractor pattern isn't visible in the scan, but it looks more like bubbles than clouds. The break got a pretty even mix of current and retired players, and I'm happy with one of each.

I definitely got lucky with this one. It was my first experience both with a group break and packs of high-end baseball cards. The group break idea I am sold on, and I really have to hand it to Nachos Grande for putting these together. After all, we do have a pretty small community, and it seems like he struggles a bit filling breaks. I appreciate the effort he puts in, and I'm sure it's not the last one I'll participate in.