Thursday, February 26, 2015

The Trading Post #26: Drew's Cards

As more snow continues to fall in the Denver area, I braved a trip to the mailbox this evening to find a single item inside: a package of cards from Drew's Cards. Drew is a big Yankees fan, and has a pretty extensive autograph collection, with many of those obtained in person.

Earlier this month, one of Drew's posts offered a stack of cards to any team collector who simply left a comment. Most teams have been taken by now, but there are still a few left if you'd like to get in on the action.

2015 Topps #62 Nolan Arenado
2015 Topps was released right around the same time as that post, but cards from that set are already making their way into trade packages.

Drew also included Corey Dickerson's 2015 card, but Gold Glove winner Nolan Arenado is my favorite Rockie these days. I even have a jersey just like the one he's wearing here, and you can bet I'll be sporting it at work on Opening Day, or at least the day of the home opener. Casual Friday, you know.

2008 Upper Deck Heroes #55 Jeff Francis
Jeff Francis was never my favorite Rockie, although he did have a pretty good year in 2007. The guy looked like he was twelve years old for quite a while, but as Rockies pitchers go, he was fairly reliable. I'm not sure that leading the Rockies in Ws and Ks is "heroic" enough to warrant an appearance on a Baseball Heroes card, but 2007 was the year the Rockies went to the World Series, so he was indeed an important contributor during that season.

The Baseball Heroes comes in quite a few colored parallels in addition to this sand color. I've showed the Black and Emerald varieties before, but that's the base card above. Regardless of the color, they're all on a pretty thick card stock, which does a lot to make a card feel important. It's a pretty simple but recognizable design, almost looking like an antique portrait.

Upper Deck Collector's Choice was a staple of the low-end collector's world in the mid- to late-1990s, although the designs started getting a bit uninspired by the end.

1999 UD Choice #81 Todd Helton
This is from the 1999 set, the final year of that brand. I see a bit of 1989 Topps in this design, which had that same curve in the upper left corner. I haven't scanned one from that set yet, but have a look at the mini inserts from last year to see what I mean.

Drew included a few copies of this card, but that's no problem, as it will fit nicely into my Coors Field frankenset, and Brian from Highly Subjective and Completely Arbitrary is sure to appreciate one due to that commemorative All-Star Game patch from the 1998 season. You spend a few hours on someone else's mini-collection and you start seeing it everywhere!

There were a few of Matt Holliday, including a card from one of the more foil-heavy releases of Opening Day.

2007 Topps Opening Day #19 Matt Holliday
I've blogged about the 2007 Opening Day set before, remarking that I preferred the white border with gold foil over the base set's black borders with silver foil. The facsimile signatures are pretty distracting, and everything seems to be center-aligned, but Holliday watching a long fly ball sail away as Shea Stadium fans look on is a solid photograph.

Another Holliday card was from the unloved Upper Deck SPx set.

2009 SPx #37 Matt Holliday
There are lots of parallelograms and triangles and shapes both front and back, but it is nice and shiny, and I do particularly like that little red hash mark on the left that points to his position. It reminds me of an analog radio tuner needle, and breaks up the explosion of background elements just a little bit.

It wasn't until flipping this one over that I noticed it wasn't actually a Rockies card. Holliday is pictured in his Rockies home uniform, but the back has the yellows and greens of the Oakland A's color scheme, as well as their team logo. Even on the front, you'll notice that Athletics are listed as Holliday's team.

In my binder organization scheme, I'd probably put this with the listed team rather than the pictured team, but as this is partially a Rockies card, I might make an exception and stick it out in front of my other 2009 SPx cards.

Unlike Matt Holliday, a great hitter but a not-so-great left fielder, Troy Tulowitzki is still unambiguously a Rockie.

2008 UD A Piece of History #30 Troy Tulowitzki
This might be my favorite card from the whole stack, although I prefer the 2009 A Piece of History set over this 2008. The inner frame is a bit morbid, as it reminds me of a headstone, even more so than 1972 Topps. It has a vague 3D effect, not in the sense of a Sportflix or Opening Day Stars card, but the way Tulowitzki seems to be "outside" the background frame gives it the illusion of action, which is a clever juxtaposition to the "carved in marble" look of the rest of the design.

I believe this is the first time I've posted about cards I received in the mail the same day. Thanks to all this generosity, packages like this have a tendency to pile up a bit. I have two more trade posts to do, as well as one about the Topps High Tek group break that Nachos Grande hosted earlier this year.

Thanks to Drew for the freebies, and he still has five teams left if you want a shipment like this!

Monday, February 23, 2015

The Trading Post #25: The Home Run Apple

My latest trade package comes from Keith at The Home Run Apple, obviously a New York Mets blog. Keith's blog title refers to the giant red apple that makes its appearance behind center field after each Mets home run at Citi Field (and previously Shea Stadium). Along with Coors Field's fountain, it's among the more tasteful home run displays in baseball, unlike the monstrosity they have at Marlins Park.

Keith included a few cards from one of my all-time favorite brands, Topps Stadium Club, including this tribute to longtime Rockie Todd Helton.

2014 Stadium Club #31 Todd Helton
Of all the Rockies, I believe this Helton was the last one I needed from the 2014 base set. This is from Todd's final game on September 25th, 2013, when an appreciative crowd bid Helton farewell. Todd even hit a home run in a 15-5 loss to the Boston Red Sox.

15-5? Yes, slugfests still happen even with the humidor around.

Dante Bichette was one of the Blake Street Bombers that participated in plenty of Rockies slugfests throughout his career, though regardless of whether there's been a humidor at Coors Field, the Rockies haven't had much success on the road.

1995 Stadium Club #326 Dante Bichette
Despite that, Bichette is still prepping his bat in the on-deck circle at an away stadium, likely during the strike-shortened year of 1994. The 1994-1996 Stadium Club releases are among my favorites, partially because of that circular TSC logo, although the card back of this 1995 card takes a page from Fleer's psychedelic designs of that same year.

1995 Stadium Club #326 Dante Bichette (Reverse)
Though LSD-inspired baseball cards don't really exist outside the crazed mid- to late-'90s (although one wonders about 1972 Topps), shiny cards are clearly here to stay.

2012 Panini Prizm #199 Wilin Rosario (RC)
Though Panini Prizm doesn't get much love in the blogosphere, the only real criticism I have of this set is that they use the same photo of "Baby Bull" on the back of the card. Photos are a challenge when you can't use MLB logos, or even the MLB Rookie Card logo, apparently. This is one of three Prizm cards I got from Keith, in addition to a nice assortment of other shiny cards, as you'll see later.

Though he and Rockies pitcher Jorge De La Rosa don't always get along, you have to appreciate that Rosario has an actual nickname, rather than just a shortened version of his real name, e.g. Tulo, Cuddy, CarGo, Miggy, Cutch, Maggs, etc....

On that note, I ran across a post on Reddit today that points out that quite a few players don't go by their given first names. With B.J. Upton deciding to now go by his given name of Melvin, that subject has been in the baseball news cycle.

2013 Topps Gypsy Queen Autographs #GQA-DL DJ LeMahieu (AU)
DJ LeMahieu is on that list, whose given first name is David. "David" is easy enough, but he might have one of the most challenging last names around. Nice to have an autographed card of his, considering he's been a fixture in the Rockies infield for a few years now.

2014 Topps Chrome Blue Refractors #112 Troy Tulowitzki /199
As has Troy Tulowitzki, when healthy, of course. In fact, DJ's appeared in more games over the last three seasons than Tulowitzki has. But Troy gets the fancy blue Chrome parallel card, my second of this particular parallel set, which is numbered to 199.

In honor of his 26th birthday, I'll conclude with another card of "Baby Bull".

2013 Topps Gypsy Queen Framed Mini Relics #GQMR-WR Wilin Rosario (MEM)
And it's a relic, with that prized pinstripe right in the visible area of the swatch! These Gypsy Queen minis are packaged the same as Allen & Ginter mini relics, sealed in a standard-sized frame.

For a professional ballplayer, it must be nice to celebrate your birthday just as training camp gets underway. I have one coming up in about two weeks, though I am not participating in any club's spring training activities.

Thanks again to Keith, and I hope you're all enjoying the early days of spring training!

Saturday, February 21, 2015

Opening Day is Nigh!

It's technically baseball season.

No, there aren't any games, home runs, defensive highlights, or pennant races happening yet, but pitchers and catchers have reported to their spring training camps for all but a few teams, so what better time to do a post about a box of 2013 Opening Day I bought from Dave & Adam's almost six months ago?

2013 Topps Opening Day Blue #113 Carlos Gonzalez /2013
Look familiar? It should, as Carlos Gonzalez does a lot of sliding into home plate here on Infield Fly Rule. I haven't shown this particular card yet, and these blue parallels are easily the shiniest things to be found in any box of Opening Day. Judging by that dirt stain on his jersey, CarGo clearly doesn't leave anything on the field when it comes to that oft-overlooked "fourth fundamental" of baserunning.
Though we're in the very early stages of the technical baseball season, as I write this, the Denver area is experiencing what's probably been the biggest snowstorm of this winter. Rather than venture outside, I spent a lot of time with my card collection today, as I sorted through my giant (but shrinking) boxes of duplicates for a new trading partnership with Brian from Highly Subjective and Completely Arbitrary.

2013 Topps Opening Day #78 Hisashi Iwakuma
Brian's has a mini-collection of commemorative patches (though not memorial patches) and I found a ton, especially on recent cards. I'm not sure whether I found a duplicate (or Topps Base version) of the above Iwakuma card, but that 35th-anniversary patch on the right sleeve is right up Brian's alley.

Lots of other collectors go for the throwback uniforms, and 2013 Topps (and thus, 2013 Opening Day) didn't disappoint in that area.

2013 Topps Opening Day #77 Mark Trumbo
Mark Trumbo was traded to the Diamondbacks for the 2014 season, but he got his start as an Angel, appearing here in an early-'70s throwback uniform, way before all that "Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim" nonsense. This card is even a two-for-one bonus, as there's a Texas Ranger, also in throwback gear, possibly beating the throw to first.

But Topps didn't stop there.

2013 Topps Opening Day #164 Jose Altuve
The Astros had some of the more memorable uniforms during the 1970s, and the color scheme sort of makes sense. When I see all those oranges, yellows, and reds, I think of some sort of sunrise in the Western desert. Frankly, Houston is pretty far from a Western desert, and Houston is definitely an oil town, so maybe it's meant to remind us of the Shell Oil logo.

The uniform number on the pant leg of the diminutive Jose Altuve is pretty distracting. The White Sox and possibly a couple other teams tried this, and I'm glad it didn't catch on.

If you're a fan of all these old uniforms, then be sure to visit A Cracked Bat. She's giving away some Kellogg's 3D cards on one of her recent posts. Though I claimed one of the Astros that she had available, there are a few still up for grabs.

Anyway, the base cards are really pretty solid (and foil-free!), but before I move on, I'd like to show one of the best "hits" I've managed to pull from a box of low-end cards.

2013 Topps Opening Day Autographs #ODA-DW David Wright (AU)
An autograph card of David Wright, the star third baseman of the Mets! I've seen his autograph before, and I really appreciate its legibility, which gives me something to aspire to. I also like that he signs his uniform number, a welcome bonus. That's the only way my friend knew that it was Edwin Jackson who signed his ticket stub when the Cubs visited Denver last summer.

Yes, it's a sticker autograph, which I don't mind nearly as much as some other collectors do, but we've all heard of David Wright, and the photo even has one of those patches that Brian likes so much, which commemorates the 50th anniversary of the Mets franchise.

But this isn't the reason why I keep coming back to Opening Day. It's not the $10/blaster price. It's not the base cards, which are more or less the same as the flagship set. For 2015, even those won't differentiate themselves with a lack of foil, as the base set finally uses it sparingly. And again, it's not the occasional autograph, although pulling a big name like David Wright is somehow more satisfying when it comes from a low-end product. Anyone with money to burn can spend a stupid amount on a box of Museum Collection and end up with an autograph of a high-caliber player, but it feels like such a bargain when it's from a $20-something retail box.

2013 Topps Opening Day Play Hard #PH-20 Yadier Molina
It's the inserts.

The inserts that pop out of almost every pack of Opening Day never fail to put a smile on my face. They usually have a few new sets that only exist for a year, like the "Play Hard" set above, and "Fired Up" last year, as well as others that make recurring appearances.

Play Hard cards are a sure-fire favorite for any collector who likes those plays at the plate or double plays. In fact, how awesome is that card? Yadier Molina, one of the most charismatic and driven players in the league, isn't even behind the plate on his own card. This could easily be Carlos Ruiz's card, or Yadi could be defending the plate against any baserunner. Instead, Molina himself is elbows up for a collision, consequences be damned.

Of course, plays at the plate changed quite a bit with the 2014 rule change, something this next player is in favor of.

2013 Topps Opening Day Stars #ODS-4 Buster Posey
Buster Posey lost most of his 2011 season following a knee injury and broken leg that he suffered while defending the plate. That didn't stop him from winning the NL MVP award and his second of three (and counting) World Series rings the following year, but I'm sure he's in no hurry to go through all that again.

The "Opening Day Stars" cards are 3D, and though they scan terribly, they have appeared in numerous Opening Day sets over the years, and they'll be making another appearance in 2015, which will be released next month.

Like "Play Hard", "Ballpark Fun" was another set that was unique to 2013.

2013 Topps Opening Day Ballpark Fun #BF-2 Josh Reddick
And it had a lot of post-game shaving cream pies in the face. Not only is Josh Reddick the beneficiary of baseball's equivalent of a Gatorade shower, but he's wearing an Oakland Oaks uniform, the minor-league team (who then became the Vancouver Mounties) that played in Oakland for the first half of the 20th century. This card has it all, especially for those who have a mini-collection of interview cards.

Why Josh Reddick, when I could have used a half-dozen others from this insert set? Well, that's my way of wishing my buddy Nick at Dime Boxes a happy birthday, who shares February 19th with the Oakland outfielder.

Anyone who's collected Opening Day has to know how I'll end this post. Right? What's everyone's favorite insert set from this brand?

2013 Topps Opening Day Mascots #M-16 Orbit

Come on, look at that card and tell me you don't want to bust some packs of Opening Day.

Orbit, who returned to Earth (sorry) prior to the Astros' 2013 move to the AL West, was their mascot during the 1990s and the final years of the Astrodome. Orbit was replaced by Junction Jack when the Astros moved to Enron Field, which became Minute Maid Park following the implosion of the Houston-based company.

Junction Jack was a train engineer rabbit that was only somewhat less terrifying than the Donnie Darko rabbit (click at your own risk). But happy times have returned to Houston again, with Orbit the Space Alien taking over the "00" uniform number and his rightful place in the Astros' locker room.

And with that, and as the snow continues to fall, we tick ever closer to Opening Day 2015, and a whole new set of mascot cards to smile at.

Sunday, February 15, 2015

The Trading Post #24: Cards From the Quarry (Part 2: Topps)

Hiflew from Cards From the Quarry recently sent over a huge assortment of Rockies cards, so many that I had to break it up into two posts. The first post was all about non-Topps cards, and in this second post, I'll just be featuring cards from the only current MLB-licensed card manufacturer.

There seem to be a lot of cards picturing Carlos Gonzalez sliding into home. One came over from Foul Bunt not long ago.

2013 Topps Chasing History #CH-72 Carlos Gonzalez
This package had one too, and it's from 2013's Chasing History insert set, one that is rapidly evolving into my favorite insert set of that year. Along with Emerald parallels and the playful "sea turtle" design, I think Topps actually did a pretty good job in '13.

That card refers to his streak of 20 or more stolen bases in consecutive seasons (which he continued through 2013), but I highly doubt he is actually stealing home in that shot. Now that the steroid era has come to an end, perhaps the game will focus a bit more on well-rounded players that can not only hit for power, but also get on base frequently and steal. Sort of like Barry Bonds did in his early days.

Here's another card that documents how CarGo can do more for a ballclub than just mash home runs in the thin, dry air of Denver.

2011 Topps Opening Day Stars #ODS-2 Carlos Gonzalez
The back describes how he started off the year with four singles, on his way to leading the NL in hits in 2010. Charlie Blackmon did him two better last year, having a rare 6-for-6 day at the home opener. Assuming the Opening Day Stars insert set returns in 2015, I hope Blackmon gets a card. He certainly earned it.

3-D cards never scan well, but it's a recurring favorite in Opening Day sets. Maybe that's why us collectors seem to like Opening Day insert cards so muchTopps reuses a few of the same great themes from year to year. Superstar Celebrations, these 3-D ones, and of course the sought-after Mascot cards. You'll find these old standbys in addition to a few new insert sets each year, and I think it's a winning formula.

Speaking of the thin, dry air of Denver, to say that Coors Field is a hitter's park is a massive understatement.

2010 Topps Update More Tales of the Game #MTOG-8 Mile-High Humidor
Yes, Topps made a card of the famous humidor at Coors Field, meant to keep baseballs from drying out and turning into little ballistic missiles. It's helped a bit, but slugfests are still pretty common at 20th and Blake. These days, they are at least the exception rather than the rule. Even with the installation of the humidor in 2002, the Yankees came to town that year and combined with the Rockies for a record 70 runs over a three-game series. Derek Jeter compared it to playing a video game.

Arizona has kicked the humidor idea around as well, and if an MLB team ever plays in Las Vegas, I'm sure they'll consider it too.

Topps Archives sets of the last few years haven't been at the top of my favorites list, but they appear in discount boxes rather frequently, so it's neither hard nor expensive to see which sets Topps has chosen to recreate. However, I do really like the semi-gloss coating on these cards. It's pretty easy to pick them out by touch alone.

2014 Topps Archives #24 Michael Cuddyer
In 2014, one of the sets they chose was 1973. Like most early- to mid-1970s sets, it usually ranks pretty high on the list of best Topps sets. The silhouette of a player in action in the lower corner is an iconic touch.

Cuddyer was a Home Run Derby participant in 2013, but since he's wearing his Rockies home jersey with the Mets All-Star Game patch rather than just a National League jersey, this must be from the exhibition game itself. The NL pulled off a streak of wins after many years of AL dominance, but it looks like the tables may be turning again, as the NL has now lost two in a row, including this game where Cuddyer was a starter.

One thing the Rockies aren't known for is All-Star pitchers. There have been a few, including Ubaldo Jimenez, who might be the best hurler to ever take the mound for the Rockies, but with a 6-11 record last year, Tyler Matzek isn't likely to make that short list.

2011 Topps Pro Debut #163 Tyler Matzek
Matzek only made the majors last year after numerous injuries to the rest of the rotation, and he's pictured here playing for the Asheville Tourists, a Class-A affiliate of the Rockies. Minor League cards are pretty hard to come by, especially of Rockies players, who never seem to draft the great prospects. In 2006, the Rockies had the 2nd overall pick, and missed out on Kershaw, Lincecum, Longoria, and Scherzer, They took Greg Reynolds instead.

2013 Topps Update Emerald #US206 Reid Brignac

Anyway, moving on from current cards, there was an eye-catching assortment from 1999 Stadium Club, the brand that made a terrific comeback in 2014.

1999 Stadium Club #9 Vinny Castilla
Castilla is launching a throw to first base with all his might, and the card number happens to match his uniform number (mini-collection idea, anyone?). It's a Coors Field card, to boot. That's the tarp in the background under its cover, which is kept by the wall near shallow left field. Over my fifty or so visits to Coors Field, I've seen the tarp deployed more than a few times, including during that "video game" Yankees series in 2002.

1999 Stadium Club #83 Darryl Hamilton
Though there is ivy at Coors Field on the batter's eye behind the bullpen area, Hamilton's card is obviously from Wrigley Field. The way this photo is cropped, it almost looks like he's fielding a fly ball on some British estate with trimmed hedges. Great photography in Stadium Club goes way back, long before 2014!

Two other cards from this set look fantastic when viewed side-by-side, and I'd wager they're even from the same game. Based on the cameo, it must have been from when the Rockies were visiting Philadelphia.

1999 Stadium Club #302 Kirt Manwaring
1999 Stadium Club #230 Larry Walker
Kirt Manwaring was a catcher who spent most of his career in the NL West as a Giant and then a Rockie. He's not the most well-known player, but when his 1999 Stadium Club card is paired with Larry Walker's, it looks pretty magical. I'll have to check if I have any other copies of these. Daniel from It's Like Having My Own Card Shop has a mini-collection of all-dirt backgrounds that these would be perfect for.

I am fully sold on having a "most-wanted cards" list, which I call "Eight Men Out", because it's already helped fill a few gaps in my collection.

2011 Topps Town #TT-48 Troy Tulowitzki
In our first email exchange, hiflew said he had around 20 copies of this ToppsTown card. He threw in two for good measure. Though another trader beat him to it, as seems to be a common occurrence when it comes to mini wantlists, I can't stress how much I appreciate my fellow collectors and bloggers taking the time to look at my specific needs when putting together trades. It's part of what makes this community so great. Even though he wasn't the first to send the ToppsTown card, I'm still happy to give him credit.

The baseball community is still mourning the loss of Ernie Banks, so I thought it would be appropriate for Mr. Cub to make another appearance to wrap this up.

2012 Topps Timeless Talents #TT20 Ernie Banks/Troy Tulowitzki
Given the outpouring of sympathy and fond memories following the passing of Ernie Banks, I think it is indeed clear that he was truly a "timeless talent." Those aren't just words that Topps is throwing around on that insert set; Banks was truly a legend. And Troy Tulowitzki should consider himself honored to be compared to such an amazing player. I hope he plays his whole career in Denver, because us Colorado fans don't have a "Mr. Rockie" just yet.

Sunday, February 8, 2015

The Trading Post #23: Cards From the Quarry (Part 1: Not Topps)

Given that I'm rather fond of the Colorado Rockies, it's only proper that I should be trading with the most well-known Rockies blogger out there, hiflew from Cards From the Quarry. I've mentioned some of his work before, such as his Quarry Unlimited custom sets, but after I commented on his want list post saying I had a few needs, he offered to send back a bunch of his Rockies extras to "a good home".

A small flat-rate box showed up not long ago, packed full of those Rockies extras. As you might expect from a collector focused on the same team I like, there were a ton of great cards in there. So many, in fact, that I had to break this up into two posts. This first part will cover the best of the non-Topps cards, starting with the late Darryl Kile, who pitched for the Rockies for two years.

1998 Ultra #303 Darryl Kile
There's plenty of green on that card, including most of the outfield behind Kile fielding a comebacker, as well as the raised foil lettering. The design is pretty typical of a Fleer Ultra set, especially with that script font.

Pacific was always trying to be one of the big boys in the card collecting world, often one of the first to put forth some minor innovations, such as listing which set a card was part of near the card number. Upper Deck didn't adopt that until many years later.

Topps is well-known these days for short-printed photo variations, and there has been lots of buzz about this year's SPs with the recent release of 2015 Topps. However, Pacific was printing photo variations long before Topps became known for it.

1999 Pacific #141 Dante Bichette
1999 Pacific #141a Dante Bichette (Headshot)
Like Topps, these Pacific "headshot" cards (on right) don't really differentiate themselves from the base cards (on left) unless you already know what to look for. It's hard to know that you're holding something unusual without having the run-of-the-mill version right alongside it. And even then, you don't know which is the rare one. However, Pacific did it a bit differently than Topps' does, in that there are different player photos on the back of each card.

I don't have an issue with having different varieties on the market; in fact, David Freese's Rally Squirrel card is one of my favorites in recent years. I just wish there was less of a super-secret-handshake feel to them. Just print it as card 141b or something.

Any trade package with mid-'90s cards is bound to have lots of shiny, and 1997 Pinnacle Certified certainly fits that bill.

1997 Pinnacle Certified #86 Eric Young
This set might hold the record for pure reflectivity. You could probably shave or tie a tie by using those mirrored triangles in each lower corner. Not only that, but this set comes with a peel-off coating that is way easier to remove than Topps Finest. The card backs in this set are a bit like overproduction-era Bowman cards because they break down the previous season's stats by opponent, rather than just a whole year's performance on one line.

The shininess doesn't end there; although this Castilla isn't reflective enough to put on your side-view mirrors.

1995 Flair #128 Vinny Castilla
Fleer's ultra-premium Flair brand made some of the thickest cards around in the mid-1990s. The brand got pretty weird toward the end of that decade by jumping on the insane "fractured set" bandwagon, but prior to that, you could always count on sharp photography, thick card stock, usually some cursive, and something that wouldn't look entirely out of place on the end of a gold chain.

The post-strike hobby was a weird place. Like many collectors that return after a long hiatus, I'm still finding cards and sets from that era that I had no idea about.

1996 Pinnacle Aficionado #152 Larry Walker GR
Ever heard of Pinnacle Aficionado? I sure hadn't. And the above isn't even a standard base card; it's from the Global Reach subset. That black background of latitude/longitude lines and the map of Canada is made of a strange, raised black surface that is rough to the touch.

Donruss Studio was still alive and kicking in 2004, and one of their insert sets that year is pretty similar to the 1995 base set. You know, the one that was supposed to look like a credit card.

2004 Studio Stars #48 Todd Helton
Though they don't have raised lettering or a facsimile of a magnetic stripe, Studio Stars aren't cardboard at all. This insert set is made of a flimsy plastic like an insurance or library card. Donruss also made a fairly serious goof by sticking a Diamondbacks logo right on top of that checkered background of Rockies logos.

I've blogged about the 2008 Baseball Heroes set before, but I don't think I've yet shown one of the black parallels, one of the many colors you'll find this set in.

2008 Upper Deck Heroes Black #57 Troy Tulowitzki
Though he was instrumental in bringing the Rockies to the World Series in 2007, Tulo finished as the runner up for the 2007 NL Rookie of the Year award, as this card notes. He finished a very close second to Ryan Braun. Of the two, I'll point out that since then, only one has been to a World Series, and only one has been suspended for much of a season for violating MLB's drug policy.

Perhaps Tulo's second-place finish isn't as big a snub as Ken Griffey, Jr. finishing third in 1989, but I think that voters made the wrong call by picking Braun.

But that's water under the bridge, so let's move on to something a little more fun.

1999 Fleer Tradition #311 Jamey Wright
Not only is this a fantastic shot of the right-center stands at Coors Field, but it's always amusing to see a pitcher storing his glove on his head. I usually tucked it under my arm or on the end of my bat when I needed impromptu glove storage, but then again, I never got my call-up. Maybe Jamey Wright knows something I don't.

One thing I do know for sure is that the Rockies play in a beautiful state, one I am proud to call home.

There are a few cards that show off the glory of the Rockies (the mountains, not the team), like the card backs of 1993 Leaf...

1993 Leaf #244 Freddie Benavides (Reverse)
...and this multi-player card from the legendary 1993 Upper Deck set.

1993 Upper Deck #478 Dante Bichette / David Nied / Andres Galarraga
But those are just plain photographs. What if it were 1998 and we wanted to make it shiny and difficult to scan?

Then you'd have 1998 Metal Universe.

1998 Metal Universe #151 Mike Lansing
Mike Lansing joined the Rockies prior to the 1998 season, so he's still shown as an Expo. But Fleer's Skybox division found a lovely autumn shot of the mountains, complete with a twisted-up log partially submerged in a high-altitude lake. There are lots of places like that in Colorado, so it could be anywhere.

But I know where this one is.

1998 Metal Universe #39 Vinny Castilla
Though the scans don't do either of these cards justice, those are the Maroon Bells, a pair of 14,000-ft. mountains just outside Aspen. They're some of Colorado's most iconic peaks, and judging by how much snow is still up there, that photograph was probably taken in late spring; likely early June.

This weekend has brought unseasonably warm weather to the Denver area, and it won't be long until the Maroon Bells look like that once again.

Baseball will be well underway by then.

Saturday, February 7, 2015

New Cards Have Come to Light!

This week's release of 2015 Topps has been quite well-received by the blog community. I must admit, I've been looking forward to it myself for a long while, so after a business dinner on Thursday, I stopped at my local Target and picked up a 36-card value pack.

Throughout my whole collecting career, I've never purchased new product so close to its release date. Usually I am content to see what ends up in the discount boxes or to wait for the price to come down, as I did with 2014 Stadium Club. I did buy last year's factory set on release day (which was the day after the All-Star Game), but the base cards had been out for months by then, so that doesn't really count.

So what newly-released goodness did $5 purchase?

2015 Topps #45 Carlos Beltran
Carlos Beltran in those iconic Yankee pinstripes was the first card out of the pack. And this set is a beauty, front and back.

Based on the pre-release images I'd seen, I thought this set was at least partially white-bordered. I expected to see the team colors on the bottom of the card, then a gradual gradient shift to pure white on the top. Turns out, that's not the case. The upper borders have a faint gray color that looks a bit like ice or frost. It's pretty faint, and it gets blown out a little in scans.

There is that ripple surrounding the team logo in the lower right, which is leading many collectors to refer to this as "the fingerprint set". There are a few other assorted curved lines and three rows of dots on the bottom that rather looks like something you'd find on a printed circuit board. Those concentric lines and various curves remind me a bit of 2014 Finest.

Overall, I really like this design, and I think it's been Topps' strongest effort in at least a decade. And there is that conspicuous and welcome lack of foil, aside from the Topps logo. That does make me wonder just how different Opening Day will look this year. It might take a sharp eye to tell the two apart.

2015 Topps #311 Jhonny Peralta
The one gripe I have about the design is that position circle next to the team logo. On most cards it blends in quite well, but for a few teams, it sticks out like a sore thumb. A black circle with yellow text would work better here.

2015 Topps #125 Troy Tulowitzki
Fortunately, that gripe doesn't extend to the Rockies' design. With any set color-coded by team, you're bound to have a few teams that work better than others. I didn't find any Oakland cards in this pack, but I'd be really interested to see that vivid shade of green in this design.

I just noticed that all three of those players above are wearing some pretty serious-looking elbow armor. I can't blame them, frankly. I was hit in the elbow by a pitch in little league, and let me assure you, it isn't an experience I'd like to relive.

2015 Topps #139 Gary Brown (RC)
I can't tell whether Giants prospect Gary Brown has elbow armor on, but I doubt it. The guy was called up in September last year following the annual late-season roster expansion, but the reason I doubt his use of elbow armor is that he's going old-school and forgoing the use of batting gloves! There are still a few players around the league that prefer that, like 2013 AL Rookie of the Year Wil Myers, but the last one I distinctly remember was ex-Cub Mark Grace, who retired not long after he finally won his World Series ring with the 2001 Diamondbacks.

There were quite a few team cards in this pack, which make up the bulk of the series' expansion from 330 cards to 350. Speaking of the Cubs, one of those team cards was a bit more special than the rest.

2015 Topps Snow Camo #196 Chicago Cubs /99
This is an example of the Snow Camo parallel, which are serial numbered to only 99. It's an appropriate theme for Topps to pick, based on my interpretation of what the top borders look like on the base cards.

Topps may be finally taking a hint from their fans and cutting back at least a little bit on the colored parallels. There are still lots of them, but like last year, there aren't different border varieties depending on whether a pack came from Target, Wal-Mart, or Toys "R" Us. Those were purely an annoyance and I never saw any value in those.

2015 Topps Snow Camo #196 Chicago Cubs /99 (Reverse)
Here's a look at the back of 2015 Topps. Here, they point out that the Cubs had a successful end to the 2014 season thanks to a slew of promising rookies. Design-wise, I particularly like the "Series One" text above the card number. I think that would be a great addition to the insert cards as well, though I am thankful that the insert card numbers are a bit less like alphabet soup this year.

On the topic of insert cards, this pack didn't disappoint in that area.

2015 Topps Highlight of the Year #H-29 Justin Verlander
This isn't my favorite of the 2015 crop of insert sets, but this card has a bit of personal significance. I traded for Verlander in fantasy baseball in 2007, so the Lucky Numbers were the beneficiary of this stellar pitching performance. I'm in a points league, and if memory serves, Verlander earned 126 points that day.

I was lucky enough to pull an insert of a Rockie as well.

2015 Topps First Home Run #FHR-38 Troy Tulowitzki
This photo is from Tulo's first week as a Major Leaguer, and it's really strange to see him wearing #14. Rockies fans from the Blake Street Bombers days will recall that Andres Galarraga wore that number, as did Josh Rutledge in recent years. Rutledge was traded to the Angels this off-season, so #14 now sits idle in the hopper of Rockies uniform numbers. In case you were curious, Tulowitzki now wears #2, just like his now-retired idol Derek Jeter.

The last card I'll scan shouldn't be too hard to guess, based on the title of this post.

2015 Topps First Pitch #FP-01 Jeff Bridges
The First Pitch insert set seems to be the fan favorite this year, as I've seen almost all the cards from this 15-card set across various blogs by now. I expect we'll see some more of this set in Series Two and Update. Bill Murray would be a great candidate for a card, as would army veteran Brian Keaton.

After watching that Bill Murray video, I think Topps missed an opportunity to engage internet users. How great would it be for this card to have a URL for the actual first pitch video, especially if Topps embedded it on their own site?

Anyway, to recap my first pack of 2015 Topps, I didn't pull any photo variations (I think), but a couple Tulowitzki cards, pretty good inserts, a fairly rare serial numbered parallel, and some wonderfully-designed base cards point to a bright collecting year ahead.