Saturday, April 30, 2016

The Trading Post #64: Waiting 'til Next Year

Tom from Waiting 'til Next Year and I have exchanged cards a few times since last year. As the Cubs #Supertrader, he's certainly kept up his end of the deal, and maybe, just maybe, this is the year for him and his long-suffering fellow fans. The Cubbies are off to a 17-5 start so far, with two of those losses coming against the Rockies at Wrigley.

But you don't come here for Cubs talk. Or maybe you do, in which case you're probably highly disappointed after two years of all this Rockies stuff.

2015 USA Baseball Stars and Stripes Longevity #29 David Dahl
Tom included numerous cards from 2015 Panini Stars & Stripes, a set focused on prospects and minor leaguers. This is a typical modern set, loaded with inserts, relics, autographs, and too many parallels to count, like the card above. A few of the players featured have already made it to the big leagues, like Corey Seager and Michael Conforto, along with lots of Cubbies, such as Kris Bryant, Addison Russell, and the out-for-the-season Kyle Schwarber.

This is my first time seeing this unlicensed set, and they're quite a step up from the Team USA cards that popped up in Topps Traded sets every few years. Helton's Rookie Card came on just such a card, along with plenty of other well-known names like Mark McGwire, Jason Giambi, Nomar Garciaparra, and Jason Varitek.

I can only hope that David Dahl adds himself to that list in the next decade or so.

2015 USA Baseball Stars and Stripes Fireworks #12 David Dahl
Though it looks like one, this is not actually a parallel. It is from an entirely separate insert set, despite using the same photos as the base card, front and back. We're still months away from Independence Day, but this one would be worth taking out of the binder for the 4th.

2015 Bowman Draft #95 Jack Wynkoop
The Rockies have been around long enough that some of their draft picks weren't even born yet when they began play in 1993. Jack Wynkoop is barely out of college and is pitching with Single-A Asheville right now, so there's not a lot to report on as far as his career yet. But thanks to the Up Close section on the back, I know that he once went surfing in Indonesia and that he likes sushi.

I, too, like sushi.

2013 Bowman Prospects #BP96 Shane Broyles (AU)
Shane Broyles was drafted a few years earlier, and has made it as high as Triple-A. For now, he's pitching for the new Rockies Double-A affiliate, the Hartford Yard Goats.

Here we go Yard Goats, Here we go! [Clap, clap]

2013 Bowman also has an Up Close section, and it turns out that Broyles is a fan of the Breaking Bad TV show. Shades of 1992 Studio, right there. Sounds like I'd get along pretty well with these guys.

One interesting thing about this card is the autograph you might have noticed. This card isn't sporting any type of Topps Certified seal (or a sticker, for that matter), leading me to believe this was signed in person. I don't know whether that was obtained by Tom, but based on the cards he's sending me, he seems to be a bit of a prospector. And I can certainly understand that from a Cubs fan, especially since they might have the strongest farm system in the game.

2008 Topps #402 Taylor Buchholz
It wasn't all prospects, though. A few of these players have played in The Show before. Taylor Buchholz was a member of the pennant-winning 2007 Rockies, and he got one of the best cards in 2008 Topps, featuring a photobomb from the Pirate Parrot mascot. More than any other Rockies card, this is probably the one most frequently featured on non-Rockie blogs. It's a fun card, and Topps had the brilliance to make it the base card instead of some rare photo variation.

2011 Topps Update #US231 Charlie Blackmon (RC)
I don't usually go after Topps Update, which means I often miss out on the major Rookie cards. Charlie Blackmon got his RC in 2011 Update, a bit before he became a regular starter and grew his epic beard. I can't imagine how uncomfortable it must be for him standing out there in the outfield all summer long. Hockey beards I get. But in the summer it can't be much fun.

Maybe one of these years I'll buy some Topps Update at retail. It just seems to find its way into discount boxes so quickly, though I did miss out on Mike Trout's rookie card in 2012 Update. My dealer did offer it to me as part of a complete set, but it was way more than I wanted to spend.

If there's one part of my collection that's a bit lacking, it's rookie cards. I don't have Griffey's from 1989 Upper Deck, nor Trout's, nor Pujols' from 2001 Update. I purchased Helton's Team USA card from 1993 Topps Traded from that same dealer, and I have plenty of RCs from the overproduction days (Thomas, Palmeiro, Weiss, I think Mattingly, and of course Barry Bonds), but it's never been my focus.

2010 Topps #398 Carlos Gonzalez
The Topps base card parade rolls on to 2010, and a shot of Carlos Gonzalez likely celebrating a walkoff hit. He looks quite a bit younger here, but this shot is from seven years ago, a reminder of the ever-increasing perceived speed of passing time. It's also been that long since we've been back to a Topps monopoly, at least on MLB-licensed products.

2013 Topps Heritage #245 Jordan Pacheco
There were a few Heritage cards in here, but this 1964 design stood out. The card looks right, but the surface is more like an Archives card with a smooth matte finish rather than just regular cardboard that is more common on Heritage. Maybe they just did that for 2013 and changed it back for subsequent years, since more recent Heritage cards again use thicker, rougher cardboard than this.

2012 Topps Opening Day Elite Skills #ES-14 Troy Tulowitzki
Tulo seems to be showing up on fewer and fewer cards since the Blue Jays trade, but there are still plenty of them out there. This is from the same insert set as this Ivy and CarGo card, naturally from Opening Day, always a treasure trove of great insert cards. Tulo's tip for fielding a grounder is partially in the posture, but also in using your momentum to assist your throw over to first base. And he's sporting his favorite glove, one he still uses to this day.

1993 Cardtoons #85 Andres Colorado
Last up is this oddball, not of Andres Galarraga, but of "Andres Colorado". This is so unlicensed that it doesn't even have MLBPA approval, so they had to parody all the names. Looking through the checklist is pretty amusing, with names like "Toad Stottlemyre", "Shawon Tungsten", "Frankenthomas", and my personal favorite, "Rambo Canseco". The back of the card has various made-up state facts, like a founding date of 1993, a peak batting average of .392, a state bird of long flies, and the only useful piece of information on the whole card, that it's important to drink lots of water and take rest breaks to avoid being affected by the thin air.

Everyone wanted in on the card industry in 1993, and according to BaseballCardPedia, there was a lengthy court battle around the existence of this set. Cardtoons was probably a bit fed up by this, and they couldn't resist another pun, creating an insert set called Field of Greed, a chronicle of all the labor disputes in baseball history.

As oddballs go, this one is pretty odd. I've never run across it, and I have no idea how scarce it is, but pricing on eBay is nothing out of the ordinary. It reminds me a little of Upper Deck Fun Pack, and I sure got a good laugh out of it!

The existence of oddballs seems to correlate with the health of the industry. And though there was a long dry spell, the rise of Panini and even those Topps cards found only in frozen pizza boxes at Wal-Mart just might be a sign of strength.


Tuesday, April 26, 2016

The Trading Post #63: Cooperstown Exit 3:16

Like Andy at Ain't Nobody Got Time for Cardboard, Brett at Cooperstown Exit 3:16 is a newcomer to the Cardsphere. He represents the Nationals in the #SuperTraders group, and though he didn't have a blog when the group was conceived, he started one up just a couple months ago. Already he's making his presence known in the community.

2015 Topps Archives #38 Carlos Gonzalez
Brett started off the package with a few cards from Topps Archives, including this 1957-themed CarGo card. Like most Archives cards, this has a distinct smooth matte surface, definitely not one of the glossy cards we've been seeing for a couple decades, but smoother and higher-quality than just standard cardboard.

This is definitely a photograph of Gonzalez, but somehow it looks ever so slightly painted, though nowhere near a Gypsy Queen card. Perhaps it's the unusual surface that gives it a different look.

2014 Topps #290 Chad Bettis (RC)
Of course, Topps base cards usually find their way into these trade packages, and though I don't often feature them, I've always liked this 2014 Rookie Card of Chad Bettis. Bettis has been a bright spot in the Rockies' short season, with a perfect 2-0 record so far. Tyler Chatwood has as many wins, but also has two losses and got off to a rough start last Saturday against the Dodgers.

By now, this design is very familiar to me. 2014 marks the year that Infield Fly Rule debuted, and I was highly active on Topps Bunt that year. "The Wave Set" (or was that 2010?) wasn't universally loved, but the sets I spend the most time with tend to be my favorites. Whether one causes the other, I can't say, but I'll be able to place this one in the correct pile with barely a glance.

1994 Score Samples #8 Andres Galarraga
1994 Score is also an easily recognizable set, partially because they're the only ones to ever use a dark blue border like this, but also because it fit easily into my budget as a ten-year-old. And there were Rockies cards in it, like this Galarraga, a card I could almost reproduce from memory. I'd probably miss the batting glove he's holding in his left hand, but I'd know this card anywhere. 

Except, of course, for the large black "SAMPLE" lettering, which appears front and back. Never saw one of those before. These pop up on occasion, though more often on Leaf/Donruss products, and occasionally Topps. But Pinnacle/Score was in the preview game too, providing cards for dealers to display. They're a relic from a time when the industry was hot, and the real thing had to be kept under lock and key.

Call it a Beta version, to use a modern tech term. I rarely see significant changes from a preview to a final release, but there are occasionally subtle differences. The card back of this sample card feels rougher than a standard 1994 Score card from the actual print run. 1994 Topps Pre-Production cards had the same basic design as the final product, but the fonts on the back and the background colors on both sides were changed.

1994 Topps #180 George Brett
We all know how awesome George Brett's card from 1994 Topps is, and that's the second time I've used this scan. But the Pre-Production example is rather different.

1994 Topps Pre-Production #397 George Brett
It's clearly the same photo, but cropped much differently. Making a card horizontal is often nice, but doing so here takes away the legendary status of this card. The action is still there, but the ambiance of Kauffman Stadium is completely lost, along with the information we need to specifically date this photo. If Topps went with this version, I doubt we'd still be talking about it today. The lack of a nice green behind the player's name also makes the final version less appealing to my eye.

1995 Select Certified #68 Dante Bichette
The cards just keep getting shinier and glossier as this post evolves. Pinnacle made some really shiny cards in the mid- to late-90s. Some even seemed to have a mirror finish. This one reflects back a slightly distorted image (unlike the perfect reflection I saw in the blue paint of an Acura NSX many years ago), but it's an eye-catching specimen. The gold border around Bichette's outline accentuates it even more.

Rather than consolidated statistics, the reverse breaks out his performance by team in the strike-shortened 1994 season. That means we get a tiny logo of the other thirteen NL teams. Yes, this was before Interleague play, and before the Diamondbacks. Bichette loved to face the Cardinals that year, racking up 20 of his 95 RBIs, and 5 of his 27 home runs. 

2006 Artifacts AL/NL Artifacts Blue #NL-TH Todd Helton Jsy /325 (MEM)
The breadth of the Rockies existence was well-represented in this trade, concluding with a serial-numbered swatch relic of Todd Helton! It's a fairly rare solid purple (matching the uniforms the Rockies are wearing as I write this), though not matching Helton's photo on this Upper Deck card. As it's a UD relic, that means I get another tiny printed signature of Richard P. McWilliam on the back. And a nice blue serial number on the front.

You can see it quite clearly on this particular photo of Helton, but this Artifacts card also lists the player's uniform number, always a nice touch. It's one of the pieces of information cluttering up the "loincloth" on 1996 Donruss, but the fact that the Rockies retired #17 in Helton's honor makes it just a bit more special.

Thank you, Brett, and welcome to the Cardsphere!

Sunday, April 24, 2016

Infield Fly Rule Booster Club

Even though I'm a member of the #Supertraders group, I have long had plenty of people close to me looking out for my love of baseball. My girlfriend is at the top of that list, spotting lots of collectibles and other baseball-related things for me over the past couple years. Like tickets to Star Wars night. And books. And art prints. And lapel pins.


Not to mention putting up with all the cards coming into the house. The significant other of a baseball card collector has quite a bit to contend with, but at least I'm not into restoring British roadsters from the 1960s or something.

That pin, by the way, commemorates the Rockies' first-ever home run in their new home of Coors Field. The Mets hit a couple home runs earlier that night, but Dante Bichette had the one we all remember, a walk-off shot in the 14th inning.

I was in fifth grade at the time, and I was sent to bed long before the game wrapped up. But I couldn't go to sleep knowing this epic game was still going on. So I stayed up, quietly tuned my little clock radio to 850 on the AM dial, and listened to the entire rest of the game in the dark, including Bichette's game winner.

It was the perfect crime.

Until I blew my cover the next morning. My dad woke me up for school, informed me that the Rockies had won it with a home run, and I groggily said "What? Oh yeah!"

Oops.

But no trouble; now it's just a fond memory. And an indication that good things happen when you stay up late. That was far from the first time, anyway. I'd often listen to the late innings on that clock radio, even going so far as to find and hold the baseball card of whoever was at the plate for the Rockies, hoping my dedicated young fandom would help send the Rockies into the Win column. Sometimes it worked! Either way, I'd even stay up for the highlights.

Anyway, as I arrived at school the morning after Bichette's homer, and we were all taking our chairs down off the top of our desks, my teacher said "Mr. Kaningher, I have two words for you." He struck a batting pose and said loudly, "Dante. Bichette!"

And now I have the pin.

2014 Topps Allen & Ginter #210 Anthony Bourdain
In addition to Beethoven's card from 2009 A&G, my girlfriend included a second card as part of that Valentine's Day gift, Anthony Bourdain's card from 2014. Allen & Ginter looks more or less the same throughout the years, but they do find some pretty interesting characters for the non-sports segment of the set.

If you're not familiar with Anthony Bourdain, he's a well-known celebrity chef, but he'd be the first to tell you that his skills in the kitchen don't hold a candle to some of his buddies like Eric Ripert. Some years ago, he wrote a book called Kitchen Confidential, half autobiography, half exposé of the restaurant industry. Since then, he's written more books, appeared as a guest judge on Top Chef, and even had a cameo in The Big Short, analogizing three-day old fish to the various derivatives cooked up by the investment banks that tanked the economy.

In the past ten years, he's become quite a well-known journalist, graduating from various travel shows on the Food Network and Travel Channel to CNN, exploring mysterious and controversial places like Lebanon, Iran, and Congo. Even here at home, he shines a light on real problems, like unemployment in Detroit and drug addiction in Massachusetts. He isn't just smacking his lips over clam chowder anymore.

So now I have his card in my collection.

If you've been coming here a while, you've probably noticed that I finally have a proper logo. Scroll up if you missed it. That came from my girlfriend too. She's got some graphic design chops and whipped that up for me a few nights ago, thanks to a font pack she found. She's been doing design for her food blog, where she's running a series on hunger in America and Colorado. If you're so inclined, head over there. You might be surprised by what you read.

Anyway, I've had other family members help out on the baseball front too, including my parents. Let's be honest; when I was a kid, pretty much all of my collection came from presents they bought me, or money I saved from my allowance. I rode my bike to Wal-Mart now and again for packs (and Micro Machines), but trips to the LCS, card shows, and autograph signings could only happen when my parents took the time to drive me around.

I had a trading partner or two in my neighborhood, and a classmate gave me a zipper-top bag full of 1992 Topps in 5th grade, but without my parents, I couldn't have gotten started in this hobby.

My sister's in on it too. Just in time for the first month of baseball season, the folks over at BarkBox put together a baseball-themed shipment as part of their monthly subscription box of dog toys and treats. While my pets currently consist of the residents of a five-gallon fishtank, my sister and her husband have an adorable pup, framed by one of the BarkBox items.


How clever is that? Obviously they're inspired by the 1965 Topps design, and the "statistics" they came up with are really quite accurate, even for a single day. I tagged along for a trip to the dog park last week, and 41 sounds about right. Zoey can't get enough of bolting after tennis balls, especially ones launched extra-far by a Chuck-It. She runs like she was launched from a cannon, and she'd make an excellent center fielder. She's more into chasing bunnies than squirrels, and as I've been told, the "almost" doesn't apply.

She's a little out of focus, making me wish it were possible to stop down the aperture on an iPhone, but it fits right in with the theme around here. I've seen this elsewhere in the Cardsphere, too.

Even outside my immediate family, I have some great people in my life who are happy to indulge my hobby and my preferred sport. That's pretty much how I ended up with a World Series ticket back in 2007, thanks to my boss at the time. One of my coworkers gave me a couple hundred cards from 1991 and 1992 Topps a couple months ago. And I have a pair of Rockies tickets on my desk right now that were given to me by my girlfriend's sister, so I know I'll be seeing a day game toward the end of May.

I'm unbelievably fortunate to have all these people in my life. And though it's easy to forget, I have been fortunate in many more ways since before I could remember. Growing up, the basics like food, clothing, transportation, medical care, were essentially a given. What my girlfriend's been writing about hunger and the millions of Americans affected by it just didn't affect me growing up. That meant my parents had plenty left over to afford things like computers and cell phones (long before most people had computers and cell phones), plus toys like Legos and baseball cards, or Beanie Babies and art supplies for my sister, etc.... Not to mention money for college.

So while we weren't a "giant bow on top of a new Lexus" family, we were always a "plenty of food on the table" family. That's what privilege looks like. Again, its easy to forget. Easy to assume that's how it is for everyone. But it's not.

And while I have no brilliant ideas for solving world hunger, I can at least spread some of the baseball card love around.

Recently, I spent an afternoon going through my duplicates and putting together a two-row box for donation to Big Brothers Big Sisters. We've probably all seen (or own) the same base cards a dozen times over, and probably have piles of duplicates that we don't know what to do with. The Dodger bloggers might have a different situation, but I seem to have become the de facto Rockies Guy in the Cardsphere, meaning I don't really have a place to trade the extras. And there's certainly not much of a market to sell them. So why not donate?

Even if it's just the thrift store, or an organization like BBBS or Boys & Girls Clubs, I encourage you to take a look at your collection and see if anyone in your area would be interested in a donation. Seeing a photo of the recipient holding that two-row box with a beaming smile on his face is a great reminder that there are plenty of cards to go around, that little kids still like baseball, and that I can do something to help.

Rather than lament how "there are no kids in this hobby anymore," help get some kids started, because I'd bet everyone in this community has the ability to do so. Yes, maybe a lot of kids are choosing to play Minecraft instead, but it could also be that their parents need to put $2.99 toward a sack of potatoes rather than a trip to the card aisle.

Because you never know. A baseball card in the hands of a kid staying up late for the end of a ballgame could be the difference between winning and losing.

Friday, April 22, 2016

The Trading Post #62: Ain't Nobody Got Time for Cardboard

The Cardsphere is still drawing in new participants, like Andy from Ain't Nobody Got Time for Cardboard. He reached out to me a few weeks ago offering up some Rockies, and really took the time to understand what I liked as a collector, sending over a few shiny cards from other preferred teams of mine. I still owe him a return package, but please help me welcome him to the community!

2015 Stadium Club #206 Julio Teheran
Andy knows I am a big fan of Stadium Club, and though I have never cared much for the Braves, I am fairly certain this is a Coors Field card! There's a glimpse of a blue spruce past the center field wall in the Coors Field Forest, which happens to be Colorado's (and Utah's) state tree. There's a nice 40th Anniversary patch on Teheran's sleeve commemorating Hank Aaron's record-breaking 715th home run, and if my botany skills are correct, then this is from Teheran's start on June 11th, 2014, which the Rockies won by a score of 8-2.

2008 Upper Deck X Xponential #X-CW Chien-Ming Wang
At first glance, this card of Taiwanese pitcher Chien-Ming Wang looks like it might be from Coors Field as well. And though the Yankees did visit Coors Field in 2007 (and got swept, in fact), Wang did not appear in any of those games. That forced me to do some digging, and called into question any card I deemed a Coors Field card based on a low center field wall with foliage behind it. Turns out that Jacobs Field, home of the Indians, has a similar setup, and Wang did start there in an injury-shortened 2008 season on April 27th. This set was released late in the 2008 season, so it's plausible that the photo is from the same year, even though photos often predate the copyright date by a year.

Anyway, this card has lots of shine, lots of texture, and lots of Upper Deck's favorite letter, X, along with a shot of a commemorative patch for the final year of Yankee Stadium, further indicating that this photo is from 2008.

2000 Finest #190 Carlos Delgado
I was never a fan of these Blue Jays jerseys, but it's balanced out by 2000 Finest, a year from that brand I've always enjoyed. Delgado was originally a catcher, but turned into quite the slugger, spending most of his career on the Blue Jays and Mets. He ended up with darn near 500 home runs by the time he called it quits. One of those might be depicted on this card. Usually they know if they get under it and sky one to an outfielder.

2014 Donruss #301 Mike Trout
Even though he's not a Rockie, Mike Trout has appeared on this blog a few times already. Being the best player in baseball will do that. The unlicensed brands are happy to have him, I'm sure. We can't really tell that it's him, but the jersey is definitely the right color.

2016 Donruss Stat Line Career #71 Carlos Gonzalez /500
2016 Donruss keeps making appearances, but instead of a base card, this is a numbered parallel documenting CarGo's career stat line for slugging percentage. It's on the 1991-esque 2016 design, and after three years of this, it's becoming apparent that Donruss isn't planning on mixing it up that much from year to year, just like the late '80s and early '90s.

2016 Topps Opening Day Blue Foil #OD-38 Jon Gray
This Jon Gray card should look pretty familiar. The only differences from my previous post are that this is from the Opening Day set and is a foil parallel. I'd love to see a Trevor Story-esque performance from him when he returns to the Majors, like six straight wins or something, but we'll we'll see what happens once he makes his season debut tonight against Scott Kazmir and the first-place Dodgers.

1993 Rockies Team Stadium Club #29 Roger Bailey
Roger Bailey was an early draftee by the Rockies, and pitched for them for three seasons, coming up just short of a .500 record. This is from the same Team Stadium Club set as that Jeff Parrett card I had on my Eight Men Out list, and Andy included about two-thirds of that 30-card set. Bailey's got on a great piece of 1990s apparel, an official team Starter jacket. Anytime a pitcher donned one of these after hitting the basepaths, I looked on longingly. They're a bit out of fashion now, but this card serves as a reminder of how awesome these were when I first became a baseball fan.

1998 Upper Deck Special F/X #48 Neifi Perez
Unassisted Triple Play-er (in the Minors, that is) Neifi Perez is turning two against Dave Clark and the Cubs in this Upper Deck card from a partial parallel set. This is almost certainly a spring training shot, as that outfield wall is definitely not plant-based, as it would be if Clark were wearing his home uniform during the regular season. The back of the card shows the completion of this play, and has a sentence about Perez helping turn five double plays in one game against the Giants on June 26th, 1997. I remember Perez as a better defender than a hitter, and the last couple posts have confirmed that.

1997 Stadium Club #59 Andres Galarraga
First basemen are typically on the receiving end of a double play, with most of the magic being worked by the other infielders. The best first basemen can dig out a short hop or stretch to grab a ball a split second before a runner's arrival. But they have to be ready to field a pickoff attempt anytime there's a man on first. That looks to be the case here, as Carl Everett and Galarraga both check with the umpire to see what happened. Shea Stadium and its giant sea of blue is pretty easy to spot, even without the benefit of a Mets cameo.

Other than all the blue, the thing I remember most about Shea Stadium was that "No Pepper Games" sign printed on the wall behind home plate. It's also where the Rockies played their first-ever game in 1993.

2016 Wacky Packages MLB #85 Pop Fly Corn
Mmm... popcorn.

OK, how have these been a thing for almost 50 years and I've never heard of them? Is it because they finally started including these Wacky Packages sticker cards as inserts for 2016 Topps Baseball? Perhaps they're a bit too whimsical for my tastes, but Andy threw in three of these, and since popcorn is one of my favorite snacks, I figured I'd show it. I don't usually go for the buttered stuff, just a bit of salt and some dried herbs on the stuff I make on the stove. But yes, if you drench it in butter it might cushion an incoming baseball a bit. Even at ballpark prices, it should be marginally cheaper than catching one with your beer.

Seems like the perfect thing with which to catch a [puts on sunglasses] can of corn.

2013 Panini Cooperstown Green Crystal #7 Walter Johnson
But seriously, how about one of the all-time great pitching legends on a modern Panini card? He's the career leader in shutouts with an astonishing 110. I see that record standing for at least a few more years. There are a few colored parallels of this set, and somehow Andy knew I'd love the green one. And as good as Walter Johnson was, you don't really see that many cards of him in sets containing Hall-of-Famers.

If you ever ran across a 2011 Topps Chrome Atomic Refractor (and who hasn't?), the sparkle pattern on this Panini Cooperstown card is about the same. Lots of little rainbow triangles of varying size arranged haphazardly, sort of like little shards of broken glass encased in tile.

There are so many sparkle patterns from Topps that I had to check several binders to find the card I was thinking of, and here it is:

2011 Topps Chrome Atomic Refractors #21 Carlos Ruiz /225
That might be the pinnacle of my scanner's career. I've never seen a shiny card get captured that well, let alone on the first go. Picture that pattern on Johnson's card.

Panini. Catching up to Topps, one unlicensed set at a time.

Andy, thanks for the cards, and welcome to the blogging world!

Sunday, April 17, 2016

The Trading Post #61: Night Owl Cards

Well, it finally happened. I completed a trade with the great Night Owl Cards. He is a legend in our community, and I don't know of another (active) blogger with such universal appeal. Granted, as a Dodger blogger, he's not much of a fan of the rest of the NL West, but he nearly always has interesting things to say about our little hobby. And I know no bigger fan of 1975 Topps.

1995 Flair #344 Dante Bichette
1975 predated the Rockies by quite some time, and even Hockey's Colorado Rockies by a year, the franchise that is now the New Jersey Devils. But baseball's Rockies have been around for long enough to have a wealth of great baseball cards. And with the rise of retro sets, finding Rockies on old designs isn't that tough anymore, as we'll see later.

The more I look at these Flair cards, the more I see where Topps Gold Label got its inspiration. In fact, Flair pretty much singlehandedly invented this type of super-premium card printed on thick card stock. Topps Museum Collection, Triple Threads, Panini Immaculate Collection, and plenty of others can trace their lineage to this brand right here. 1995 was a couple years into Flair's run, but they had the formula down by then. This one's still thin enough to fit in a standard top-loader, but it's as sturdy as a sheet of metal compared to its competition in 1995.

2009 Upper Deck Icons #41 Garrett Atkins
Icons is one of the numerous sets UD released throughout much of the '00s, but this is the first time I can remember seeing it. They were certainly going after player collectors with all those products, but with more innovation and product development than just a bunch of colored parallels. UD became big on color-coding once they exhausted their supply of copper, and that much purple behind Atkins' batting helmet strongly reinforces that this is a Rockies card. Atkins looks a little late on this swing, but he's clearly swinging for the fences here.

That was something I remember the Rockies doing a lot of in their last couple playoff appearances, especially once they reached the World Series, and in 2009. Later in the game, everyone who got up to the plate was clearly trying to hit a home run, and it usually resulted in a lot of strikeouts. Just putting the ball in play and getting guys on base is enough, as the Padres reminded the Rockies of last weekend, scoring 29 runs in the first two games of the series.

2004 Fleer Ultra #293 Vinny Castilla
Night Owl sent cards from all throughout the Rockies' existence, including this one, from Vinny Castilla's second of three stints as a Rockie. Vinny looks like he just hit one out, and we can see catcher Charles Johnson (and I believe Royce Clayton on the left) waiting to congratulate him at the plate. Castilla hit over 40 home runs in three straight seasons in the early years of Coors Field, and he was always welcomed back into the fold when he rejoined the Rockies in 2004 and 2006. I saw him pinch hit in 2006 against the Nationals (for which I had some awesome seats behind the Nats' dugout) in one of his last games in Denver.

2002 Upper Deck #720 Larry Walker
Here's more post-Run action at the plate, as Larry Walker calmly fist-bumps his teammate. Looks like that's a Cardinal in the visitor's dugout, which gives me a clue. The Rockies hosted the Cards six times in 2001, but the only game in which Larry Walker hit a home run against them was on Opening Day, April 2nd, 2001. It's as good a guess as any.

But now I'm second-guessing myself, since Walker doesn't have batting gloves on. More likely he nonchalantly trotted home from third on someone else's extra-base hit.

By the way, that's a fairly rare occurrence for the Rockies, to begin the season at home. more often than not, especially in recent seasons, they open up on the road and come back to Coors for a weekend series.

1993 Leaf #312 Alex Cole
There were lots of 1993 Leaf cards in here, including one of Night Owl's favorite non-Dodgers, Alex Cole. He spent the 1993 season as a Rockie before moving back to the American League. He was more of a contact hitter than a power hitter, having hit only seven home runs in his career, none of which came in a Rockies uniform. He was well-known for his goggles, and chased down lots of long fly balls in Mile High Stadium.

1993 Leaf #312 Alex Cole (Reverse)
We get a shot of the Denver skyline on the back, one of my favorite features of 1993 Leaf, a set that appears here quite often. Though not as breathtaking as the snowy Rocky Mountains found on other 1993 cards, it's a nice photo of my home city (or at least my home Metro area). That is Republic Plaza on the right, the tallest building in Denver. It's among the tallest buildings in the entire Western USA, not counting the cities on the Pacific Coast.

The skyline in Denver has changed quite a bit in the last few years. Coors Field was still under construction when this was printed, and looking at an aerial photo from 1993's home opener (also a season they started on the road), you can see that Denver has grown significantly since then. So has satellite mapping technology, for that matter. McNichols Arena and the old Mile High are gone, but Coors Field, the Pepsi Center, an amusement park, an aquarium, an expanded transit hub, residential high rises, and lots more have gone up since 1993, with more under construction.

1996 Score #74 Vinny Castilla
I can't remember an action shot with more displaced infield dirt than this. Deion Sanders was a force of nature, and it was a good idea for Vinny Castilla to wear eye-shielding shades here. Score used the torn paper look in the upper left just a year after Topps did something similar for their own border in 1995. With photography like this, it's a shame Score didn't stick around longer. Perhaps it's the next brand that Panini will reinstate.

1996 Pinnacle #107 Walt Weiss
Walt Weiss sure had a lot of double play cards! Seems like everyone spent years trying to recreate his 1991 Topps rookie card. Here's another, with Jason Bates and an unidentified Cub making cameos.

In all these years of looking at 1996 Pinnacle, I never noticed the tiny silhouette of a batter in the center of the gold pyramid. And I didn't even need my magnifying glass to finally spot it. I pulled out my 1996 binder and confirmed that they all seem to have it, even the pitcher cards. It never ceases to amaze me the things I still manage to unearth after a lifetime of collecting.

2008 Topps Update #UH286 Aaron Cook AS
Like Shawn Chacon, Aaron Cook is one of just six pitchers to go to the All Star game in a Rockies uniform. Though the AL ended up winning in 2008, as they usually do, Cook pitched three solid innings of relief, giving up a few walks but no runs.

Since the early 1960s, the National and American leagues alternated the host city of the All-Star Game until 2007, when the Giants hosted a year after the Pirates. This was done to ensure the All-Star Game in 2008 would be held in Yankee Stadium, its final year of existence before being replaced. In that research, I learned that there were two All-Star Games each year between 1959 and 1962. My first thought is that they played one on each coast to accommodate the teams that had recently moved out West, so players wouldn't have to schlep out to the East Coast for a single exhibition game. But the real reason turns out to be pretty dumb.

And that alternating trend will be broken for the foreseeable future, as NL parks are scheduled to host through 2018, marking four consecutive years including last year in Cincinnati. I don't know if that's because the AL always seems to win and they want to level the playing field a bit, or just because the NL has been building more new stadiums lately.

Probably the latter.

2008 Topps Heritage #548 Glendon Rusch
There were a few retro cards in here, including this Topps Heritage card recreating the 1959 design. Rusch's photo here is very fuzzy, either taken out of focus, or more likely blown up from a low-res image. Maybe they did that deliberately to better make it look like a 1959 card. But I've seen better photography on cards. Even 1959 originals, like a Robin Roberts card I've had since I was a boy.

2015 Topps Rainbow Foil #680 Nick Hundley
Though he just got placed on the DL for a quick seven days, Nick Hundley has been the Rockies' starting catcher for most of the season so far, and after spending most of his career as a Padre, he surely knows his former NL West competitors well. Catchers are smart fellows. Maybe even smart enough to spot an obvious Photoshop job like this. Topps has kept up the rainbow foil parallels for a couple years, and I've ended up with most of the 2015 Rockies via trades and card shops by now.

1995 Upper Deck Minors #101 Neifi Perez SH
This last one made me do a double-take. I was completely certain that Neifi Perez never turned an unassisted triple play. Tulowitzki has, but not Neifi. Then I took a closer look and saw his California League All-Star Game jersey, and realized it must have been in the minors! I had never known that. This event did not occur in the Minor League All-Star Game as pictured, but it's an interesting bit of trivia regardless.

From some Minor League trivia to a tiny detail in a sea of gold foil, my first trade package from #SuperTrader Night Owl expanded my knowledge quite a bit.

Thursday, April 14, 2016

Offseason

Offseason? What are you talking about, Adam? The season just began!

Well, I do realize that baseball is not the only sport out there. While hockey playoffs started last night, basketball playoffs are about to, and the first of golf's four Majors just wrapped up, football is definitely in offseason mode.

1999 Upper Deck Victory #83 Shannon Sharpe
Which is as good a time as any to show some contest winnings from Daniel at It's Like Having My Own Card Shop. He posted various groupings of four cards, and it was our job to figure out which one was different from the other three. Apparently, I did well enough to win a few Broncos cards, bumping my entire collection of football cards from maybe five binder pages to about seven.

I don't have a lot of football cards. Or many cards from any other sport. Hockey's a little bit higher, but when I say my collection is 99% baseball, that's rounding down. Still, it's an action-packed sport (perhaps too much so, say neurologists) and can make for some great cards. Here, Tight End and now-broadcaster Shannon Sharpe is evading a Washington defender.

Though the Broncos just won their third Super Bowl, most of these cards are from the late-1990s era of their first two wins. Shannon Sharpe was a key member during that period, and this is probably my first card of him.

Because there's only one game a week, and because it's rare to have a repeating matchup in a season (outside your division, anyway), football cards should be significantly easier to date than baseball cards. However, this Sharpe card has me a little bit stumped, because while the Broncos definitely played Washington in 1998, it was in D.C., and Sharpe is clearly wearing a home jersey here. Regardless, I'll go with Sept 27th, 1998, because that's the only possibility based on the copyright date and the new Broncos jerseys.

1991 Score #496 Simon Fletcher
1997 marked the year of the new logo and jerseys, leaving the old blue and orange in the history books. Denver is much more into the Broncos than any other professional sports team, and you still see quite a few of these jerseys around. Though they have similar colors to Washington, the Broncos are playing the Chiefs here, their longtime division rivals. I don't really remember anything about Simon Fletcher, but this was the only card that had the old jerseys, so here it is.

You've probably noticed by now that I'm dancing around using the actual team name of Washington, and unless you're living under a rock, you've probably heard about the controversy around their team name. "Chiefs" seems to be fine, as do the "Braves". So the NFL isn't the only sport with Native American names. In fact, looking through the various native-themed logos of other teams, Washington's probably had the least offensive logos of them all, even since the early 20th century. But that name. Wow.

It's a bit of a relief that most of the team names in Denver are named after geology (Rockies, Nuggets) or various phases of water flowing downhill (Avalanche, Rapids).

But in the naming controversy, I have to side with the challengers on this one. Of course, the name of a football team is a drop in the bucket compared to the high unemployment, racial profiling, poor education, and general lack of opportunity that exist on Native American reservations (and among most minority groups in this country, for that matter). But an offensive NFL team name is just one consequence of the attitudes that led to all the other problems.

And while I think the name should be changed, I'm sure plenty of people on this continent could care less, and would rather have electricity and running water than a 32nd non-offensive NFL team name.

1999 Donruss #38 Ed McCaffrey
Anyway, yeah. Football. If you collected Donruss cards in 2001, you probably ran across the 1999 Donruss Retroactive insert set. Donruss didn't release a baseball set in 1999 or 2000, but in addition to their resurgence in 2001, they created an insert set using 1999's design and team assignments. Little did I know they actually released a football set in both years, whose design influenced their insert product in 2001. I thought they just made it up from scratch all this time.

These are the things we miss when we focus on just one sport.

There's a little bit of foil in the upper right, and while it's a good action shot, this one looks pretty overexposed to me. Perhaps it's just the printing. And more than the Chiefs these days, the Patriots have become one of the Broncos' main rivals, especially in the playoffs.

2000 Private Stock #30 Ed McCaffrey
Here's another one of my favorite Wide Receiver of the era, Ed McCaffrey. He's still well-liked here, and even has a line of mustards and condiments that you sometimes run across in local supermarkets.

Pacific didn't save their odd cards for baseball, as this premium card from Private Stock applies a bit of rotoscoping to McCaffrey's photo. If you saw Waking Life or A Scanner Darkly, you know what I'm talking about. And this card was printed before either of those movies were released. But there's a slight error on the back, as the paragraph refers to the Broncos winning Super Bowl XXXIII against Green Bay. Though they did win SB33, Pacific put one extra Roman numeral in there, since the Broncos' win against the Packers was in SB32.

1999 Bowman Chrome #114 Marcus Nash
I don't really remember Marcus Nash either, but the thing I tend to appreciate most about football cards is how they vary slightly from the baseball design. Topps' 1994 Football design replaced a home plate with an oval football shape. And this 1999 Bowman Chrome card replaces the black woodgrain (just now noticed that) in the baseball set with the color and texture of a football. The texture is just in the appearance; it's not actually raised. But how cool would that be?

I don't know if all players signed their team name and position on the football set, since on the baseball side it's just a facsimile autograph. And I don't have nearly enough football cards to compare. But this certainly stands out from the ocean of black borders that Bowman is known for.

1998 Playoff Momentum Hobby #74 Rod Smith
Rod Smith was another important member of the Broncos' first two Super Bowl wins, and he got this shiny Playoff card to show for it. It's thick, but there's hardly anything to differentiate the front from the back other than a couple logos, the card number, and the copyright date. Displaying this reversed in a binder page wouldn't obviously stick out like most other cards, although the back does have a slightly less eye-catching pattern in the silver border.

2000 SP Authentic #25 Terrell Davis
And now we come to Mr. Mile High Salute himself, Terrell Davis. He won the Super Bowl MVP award in XXXII, the first Bronco to have that honor, and followed that up with an excellent 1998 season with over 2,000 rushing yards. Sadly, his career declined quite rapidly after that, as he never really recovered from a serious knee injury he experienced in 1999. He got this textured SP card a couple years before his official retirement, but though his excellent career was cut short, he still walked away with two Super Bowl rings and legendary status in Denver.

Thanks to Daniel for these cards, as they certainly mixed things up around here!