Thursday, July 20, 2017

The Trading Post #99: Collecting Cutch

Nolan Arenado has been having a pretty great summer. Last month, he hit a walk-off home run to complete the cycle, the first time any player has done that while trailing in the 9th. A few, including teammate Carlos Gonzalez, did so when it was tied, but no one besides Nolan did it in such dramatic fashion. That capped off a four-game sweep of the Giants.

Last week, he became the first Rockie to slug two hits in a single All-Star Game. And yesterday, his 5-for-6, 7 RBI, 3-homer performance was one of the best days at the plate any Rockie has ever had, and that's saying something, given the team's history of double-digit win margins at Coors Field.

2017 Topps Jackie Robinson Day #JRD-28 Nolan Arenado
So it was nice to see a few cards of him show up as a bonus from Collecting Cutch, thanks to my Todd Helton entry into his top-ten cards contest. Arenado is making a strong case for keeping hold of his uniform number 28, the same one that hangs in my closet. But on Jackie Robinson Day, he and all his colleagues wear #42, as shown on this insert from 2017 Topps. You can't tell from the scan, but the Topps logo is done up in gold foil, something we don't often see in this set anymore.

On the back, Topps tells us about Nolan's home-run-hitting performance on April 15th, 2015, presumably the date of this photograph. The game was played against the Giants, but this doesn't look like AT&T Park to me. The person in the front row appears to be wearing a Braves hat or something. But people show up to the ballpark with random team memorabilia all the time these days, and I don't just mean Marlins Guy. So I'll trust Topps on this one, and I'll also point out that this year's Jackie Robinson Day was pretty much the same story. The Rockies played the Giants in San Fransisco on April 15th, 2017, and the Rockies won, thanks in part to a Nolan Arenado home run.

2017 Topps Spring Training Logo Patches #MLBST-NA Nolan Arenado (MEM)
This package alone has greatly expanded my count of 2017 Topps inserts, and while I don't usually go for manufactured patch relics, this one appeals to me, probably because it approximates the actual patches worn during Cactus League games this spring. I was expecting it to be metallic, but it's actually some type of polyurethane. The herringbone pattern in the copper area really jumps out, as does the tiny indentation for the ball in the MLB logo at the top of the shield.

Kudos to Topps for keeping the copper thing alive during Upper Deck's conspicuous absence from the hobby. I'd love to see one from the Grapefruit League, as I'm sure there are some slight differences that would make a nice little set.

2013 Bowman Platinum Chrome Prospects Purple Refractors #BPCP40 Nolan Arenado
He's only 26, but he looks quite a bit younger on this Bowman Platinum card from 2013. The base set isn't quite this well color-coded. This happens to be the Purple Refractor parallel, a color variation that is practically tailor-made for Rockies cards. It's not the rarest one out there, nor is it even rare enough to get a serial number, but I don't see how this card could look any better.

We all like to have actual card numbers in our sets, compared to the alphabet soup found on that Spring Training card above. But with Bowman, you get both! It's card #40 from the Bowman Platinum Chrome Prospects set, which helpfully gets shortened to BPCP40. The numbering system of Bowman continues to be one of my biggest sources of confusion in the hobby, further blurred by the fact that the "P" in the Bowman Platinum logo still looks like an "L" to me.

2017 Topps Bunt #80 Jon Gray
Jon Gray, who has returned to the Rockies rotation following an injury, offers my first look at 2017 Topps Bunt. Compared to 2016, this year's set design shrinks the logo way down, and adds a slightly-too-small circular border around it. Also, it's one of the most clearly color-coded sets in recent memory, a nice card to follow Arenado's Bowman Platinum card above. Jon Gray has cropped that long hair a bit since this photo was taken, abandoning the trend that Tim Lincecum started last decade.

Long hair or no, this card is correct. Colorado has never had a pitcher like Gray. 16 strikeouts in one game gives us a tantalizing hint that maybe, just maybe, the Rockies rotation can someday be as fearsome as its lineup.

2016 Diamond Kings DK Originals #DKO1 Mike Trout
Every so often, a non-Rockie sneaks into a trade package. I certainly have no problem with cards of other teams, as I'm a set builder at heart. But it's not something I tend to expect, especially when it's of the best player in baseball. Trout would be a fearsome addition to any lineup, and even though he's fallen out of the top spots on the leaderboard due to injury, he can still keep the Angels on the map.

Earlier this week, he even traded first-inning home runs with Bryce Harper, his NL counterpart that broke into baseball right around the same time. Five years from now, we could even be talking about Cody Bellinger and Aaron Judge the same way. But don't count out Joey Votto, the career Red and 2010 NL MVP, who quietly puts up top-tier stats without the glamour, youth, or fame of Harper and Trout.

I've seen a couple cards from the 2016 Diamond Kings set, but none from this 20-card Originals insert set, one that I probably wouldn't have run across if my fellow collectors never sent me non-Rockie cards. Team collectors, how do you get around this? Do you still have any interest in seeing insert sets that don't feature your team? Maybe that's a question only a set builder would ask, but the gold foil and sturdy playing card surface make this quite a nice card, regardless of who's on it.

And here's a more interesting question: if you ignore sets where your team is absent, do you consider that a disappointment or a relief?

2015 Topps Heritage Chrome #THC-453 Troy Tulowitzki /999
Somewhat surprisingly, there were no Todd Helton cards in this trade package, but Tulowitzki made an appearance or two. It's still a bit strange not to have Tulo around, but the way the team has been playing lately makes it seem a bit more normal with each passing day. Trevor Story is still a solid player, and Brendan Rodgers remains one of MLB's top prospects, though he hasn't progressed past double-A yet.

Of all the retro-themed sets Topps cranks out every year, Heritage is usually my favorite. For some reason, I tend to see more Rockies from 2015 Heritage than any other year, and with 19 cards in my collection, that has to be the whole team set, right?

I'm fortunate to be able to add this Chrome parallel just a page or two away in the binder, just the 8th in a print run of 999. These Heritage Chrome cards are always a bit jarring, just because it's so unusual to see a half-century-old design get the shiny treatment. But because they're serial-numbered and so easy to spot, I do gravitate toward them. And the print run has dropped back down into the sub-thousand range. For a while, Topps set the print run equal to the calendar year the design appeared in. If that trend continued, there would be 1,966 copies of this one, but these are half as plentiful (twice as scarce?) as in some previous years.

2012 Topps Triple Threads Unity Relics #TTUR-155 Troy Tulowitzki /36 (MEM)
The print run drops way, way down on this Tulowitzki relic card, to just 36. The black swatch is housed in a cute little home-plate shaped window. Of course, the plate actually comes to a point at the bottom, but I see what they're getting at. Triple Threads (not triple threats, as I originally typed - insert set idea?) always includes an appropriately thick and shiny card, necessitating one of my 100-pt toploaders.

There's some small text above the serial number that says "2007 Heart and Hustle Award". This is not something I had heard of before, but apparently it's been around since 2005. Tulowitzki was a three-time nominee from the Rockies, but wasn't selected by the MLBPA for the final award. Craig Biggio is the only two-time winner of the award, which is given to "an active player who demonstrates a passion for the game of baseball and best embodies the values, spirit and traditions of the game." Helton never got the nod, nor did a name I expected to see on this list, the always scrappy Eric Byrnes.

I do not know how heart vs. hustle is calculated or weighted, but there are some great players on that list. Todd Helton may have wanted that more than my personal top-ten list, but maybe Nolan Arenado will earn a nomination before too long.

Thanks to Collecting Cutch for this consolation prize, one I didn't expect when I put that Helton list together. But I now have a few more potential candidates if I ever want to make a list for Tulo or Arenado.

Saturday, July 8, 2017

The Three Dollar Group Break (and a contest winner!)

Peter, everyone's favorite Darryl Strawberry collector and author of the Baseball Every Night blog, recently ran a highly affordable group break of 2017 Topps Series 2. For the price of a rack pack at Target, I was happy to sign up for the Rockies slot, once someone kindly brought this one to my attention on Twitter.

I have to admit that I'm not keeping up with the Cardsphere on a daily basis. I'm much more likely to scroll through at least four days of posts at a time, which would explain why I'm listed as the last commenter on many of your posts. But I found out in time to shell out three bucks for some Rockies, knowing I'd end up with most of the team set, and likely a few inserts on top of that.

2017 Topps #371 Chad Bettis
Even though this is Series 2, the card was sent to printing a little too soon. Bettis, expected to be a key figure in the Rockies' 2017 rotation after being "declared good-to-go" following his treatment for testicular cancer, had some unfavorable test results during spring training and had to undergo another round of treatments. That seems to have been successful, and his rehab is progressing nicely. He may even make an appearance this season, perhaps when rosters expand in September.

Bettis isn't the only pitcher this year to be affected by the disease. Jameson Taillon of the Pirates (and my fantasy team) was treated in May but is already back on the hill. He's scheduled to face Jon Lester and the Cubs to close out the first half tomorrow, Lester himself being a cancer survivor. Here's wishing all three pitchers continued good health.

2017 Topps #415 Pat Valaika (RC)
Series 2 is a great place to find some lesser known players that have been making an impact in the early stages of the season. Pat Valaika, brother of former MLB player Chris Valaika, has been a reliable utility infielder for the Rockies, and has played nearly every position this season. "Patty Barrels", as the TV guys like to call him, has six homers this year, more than DJ LeMahieu, the starting second baseman and All-Star reserve.

This card also marks one of the first appearances of Coors Field's raised wall in right-center field on a baseball card. It's a blurred background, but you can see the heightened fence over his shoulders, which is now equally high as the out-of-town scoreboard in right field. It's still a hitters park, for sure, and as a longtime fan, one of the more noticeable changes related to that was the removal of the Darryl Kile memorial banner, visible on this shot I took in 2007.

2017 Topps #516 Tony Wolters
Other than Greg Holland, much of the Rockies' success this year can be attributed to their rookies. It's obviously trailed off a bit in the past few weeks, but Kyle Freeland, Antonio Senzatela, Jeff Hoffman, and others kept them right at the top of the standings well into June. Catcher Tony Wolters, stepping in for the injured Tom Murphy, has been doing a great job as the starting catcher. Murphy, on the other hand, came back from the DL in late June and was quickly sent down to the minors.

I haven't said much on the design of 2017 Topps yet other than a handful of trade posts and my annual Opening Day blaster. I think the design looks particularly good on this card, as the lines and angles on the banner match pretty well with Wolters' uniform. It is still odd to see anyone besides Andres Galarraga wear #14 for the Rockies, even though lots of players have, including Josh Rutledge, Greg Norton (one of my least favorite Rockies ever), and even Troy Tulowitzki, once upon a time.

2017 Topps #467 Adam Ottavino
Adam Ottavino, the only Rockie to ever wear the number 0, has been one of the shakier options in the Rockies bullpen this season. Greg Holland has been lights out except for a few instances, but Ottavino has a rather alarming 5.81 ERA so far in 2017. The Rockies are a high-scoring team, especially like last night when they beat the White Sox 12-4, so they are often able to leave their relievers with a bit of wiggle room. But on the other hand, their record in one-run games has been pretty good this season.

2017 Topps #397 Stephen Cardullo (RC)
Stephen Cardullo, last season's surprise rookie, managed to finally make it to the majors just before his 29th birthday. He added some real pop to the Rockies bats in late summer last year, but his inspirational story didn't last, as the Rockies cut him earlier this season. Still, not only did he manage to hit a grand slam the day he turned 29, but also earned a spot in Series 2 of 2017 Topps, complete with the rookie card logo and everything, not to mention a nice example of a first baseman's mitt. It seems likely that this will be both his rookie card and sunset card, all in one, but it's still a great story and would make a nice episode of 30 for 30, a fantastic sports documentary series that is now also a podcast.

2017 Topps #385 DJ LeMahieu
I realize that few of you have even heard of the five players so far, so we'll move on to a more recognizable name, and one of the four Rockies elected to the 2017 All-Star team. You can just barely make out the seams on this rapidly-spinning baseball that DJ is about to field, something he's been doing a great job of on the right side of the infield. His production at the plate has been less than stellar this season, but he'll always have the batting title from 2016, and a nice little .348 in red italics on the back of all his future Topps cards. Or at least for the next five years, assuming Topps doesn't revert back to giving us complete career statistics.

I'm not sure what stadium this is. I had originally thought Chase Field, due to that odd split that the outfield wall is doing behind his right shoulder. But photos suggest the split in that ballpark is different, so I'm at a bit of a loss. Can anyone help out?

2017 Topps #400a Nolan Arenado
Here's your NL All-Star starting third baseman, Nolan Arenado. He just edged out Kris Bryant for that honor, and we'll see him Tuesday in Miami. Hopefully he gets a chance to flash the leather in front of a huge crowd, so the rest of the baseball world can see what us Rockies fans see pretty much every night. He did commit a very rare error on Wednesday night, bringing his 2017 total up to just three. And those three have come in the last three weeks, meaning he had a perfect fielding percentage until June 17th. Perhaps not coincidentally, that was right around the time the Rockies started losing their grip on first place. They now sit 8.5 games behind the Dodgers, and even the Diamondbacks have slipped a bit, now at 5.5 games back.

2017 Topps Major League Milestones #MLM-3 Trevor Story
The nice thing about packs is that you're certain to find a few insert cards, the lack of which is the primary drawback to factory sets. This group break didn't disappoint, and included one documenting Trevor Story's amazing debut in April 2016, tying an MLB record for 10 home runs as a rookie in the month of April. It was quite a sight, watching six in his first four games, including two in the home opener. There were lots of jokes being thrown around by us fans along the lines of "He's on pace for 243 home runs!"

Of course, he came back down to earth and finished the 2016 campaign with 27, matching his uniform number. He would certainly have made it at least into the 30s if he didn't experience a season-ending injury at the end of July. And the rookie home run sensation has grown even bigger this year, thanks to Aaron Judge of the Yankees, and Cody Bellinger of the Dodgers. Both of them will participate in Monday's Home Run Derby. Bellinger has 24, despite not being called up until April 25th. And Aaron Judge is the only player league-wide to hit 30 so far. No Yankee rookie has hit that many in a season since Joe DiMaggio in 1936, and it's not even the All-Star Break yet. Judge has a real shot at Mark McGwire's rookie record of 49, and he just needs 8 more to tie Frank Robinson and Wally Berger in 2nd place.

2017 Topps '87 Topps #87-180 Andres Galarraga
Retired players have their spot too, such as this throwback to the 30-year old (!) 1987 Topps, the set that really kicked off the overproduction era. It's nice to see such a faithful reproduction of the old set, aside from the glossy finish and silver foil, of course. But the back is pretty much just like you remember it, except for the gum stain. Andres Galarraga's "Big Cat" nickname is clearly visible on the collar of his undershirt, and this photo clearly dates to the Coors Field era, in the early days of the Blake Street Bombers. It's tough to tell for sure, but I'd date this one to 1996, based on the sliver of a small memorial patch on Galarraga's right sleeve. That patch had the initials "MDM", after Michael McMorris, the son of then-owner Jerry McMorris. Michael passed away from cystic fibrosis in 1996, and was honored with that patch throughout the season.

Finally, a little housekeeping before I head off to catch the Rockies play the White Sox tonight. I announced a contest for my 200th post, offering a 36-card Moon Mars Space Shots set. There were 12 entries, including plugs on their own blogs from two of the ten commenters.

And the winner is...

GCA of The Collective Mind, thanks to the bonus entry from this blog post! Congratulations, and thanks to all who entered.

Saturday, July 1, 2017

To 200, and beyond!

Somehow, some way, I've managed to keep this thing going long enough to write 200 posts. I certainly have enough material for a lifetime of posts, but the variable is finding enough time to write them. Darn near half of these 200 have been trade posts, which is a testament to how awesome this community is. I know I still owe a few of you cards (Trevor and Johnny are on my list), and I will get shipments out soon.

The Rockies have been doing amazingly well the first two or so months of the season, which has been a joy to watch, at least until their recent 8-game losing streak that dropped them into third place. And I've been on a pretty steady pace of about three posts a month, but I only managed one lone entry in the entire month of June. Not quite as much as I'd like, especially since I still have stacks from long-ago card shows sitting around waiting for their turn at Infield Fly Rule.

Most of all, I'm thankful for my readers and everyone who comes by this little corner of the internet. I put a lot of time into these posts, so I appreciate anyone who lends me even a few minutes of their attention.

I do have a little contest planned, related to the awesome Lego set of the Saturn V I just finished. As a prize, I'm offering up a 1991 Space Shots Moon Mars set. You can see a few of my favorite cards from the 36-card set here.

1991 Space Shots Moon Mars #7 Buzz Aldrin - Moonwalk
As Anthony Bourdain put it in his recent Antarctica episode of Parts Unknown, we are living in "a time when science is held in open contempt". I thought a little reminder of how cool science can be, and more importantly, what America can do when there is a common goal, is a good thing to spread around. And I know it's not exactly baseball-related, so I'm happy to throw in a few cards from your preferred team, too.

All you need to do is comment on this post, but I'm happy to give you an extra entry if you'd care to mention this on your blog as well.

Thanks for reading, and I hope to keep watching all your milestones roll by as well.

Edit: Entries are now closed.

Wednesday, June 7, 2017

Came for Bunt, left with Stadium Club

Nick and I had a pretty similar experience at Target in recent weeks. The famed author of Dime Boxes and I both had an urge to check the shelves for a recent Topps release, but neither of us found exactly what we were looking for. He was on the lookout for Archives, and I was for Bunt. Neither had been stocked yet, but we both managed to pick up discounted blasters of 2016 Stadium Club for just $13.

2016 Stadium Club Gold #25 Chris Archer
2016 Stadium Club isn't that big of a set at 300 cards, so we did pull a few of the same ones. This card of Rays pitcher Chris Archer has a spot in Nick's frankenset, but I did manage to find the gold parallel. Archer, clearly enjoying life in this photo, has a 4-4 record so far in 2017, and even helped take home the WBC trophy for Team USA prior to the regular season. He had a whopping 19 losses last year on just 9 wins (of course as a member of my Fantasy team), but he's turning things around.

2016 Stadium Club #156 Randal Grichuk
This is my second blaster of the product, and it's as great as ever. In fact, true to its name, there is a great supply of stadium-centric photos like this peppered throughout the set. Grichuk looks like he's rounding the bases after a home run against the Marlins, with the iconic Gateway Arch in the background. If you look closely, you can even spot an American flag on top of the green building, just in front of the Arch itself.

I had been seeing the Cardinals during their annual visit to Denver for most of the past six or seven years, but I missed them in late May. I had been going with a Cardinals fan friend, but he and his wife moved to Tennessee a few months ago, marking the end of a tradition. But even if I wanted to see Grichuk, it might be tough for a while, as the Cardinals sent him all the way down to Single-A following that series.

2016 Stadium Club #184 Byron Buxton
I can't say I really know that much about Byron Buxton, but our first of several horizontal cards gives us a great look at Target Field, home of the Twins. I can't quite tell who they're playing here, possibly the Royals. But the horizontal orientation is perfect for showing off a stadium. Just check the back of 1992 Topps. Of course, print quality has improved by leaps and bounds since then, not to mention that only a small handful of stadiums (stadia, I know... but no one says that) found in the 1992 set are still in use. The Metrodome is not one of them, allowing this majestic shot to exist.

2016 Stadium Club #272A Michael Conforto
The Mets have a new stadium too, as Shea Stadium is no more. They did carve out a spot in center field for the Home Run Apple in Citi Field, though it's almost twice the diameter of the original. And the stadium itself isn't quite as blue as Shea was.

Conforto is quite young. He's only 24, but is in his third Major League season already. He was born in March 1993, just about a month before the Rockies played their first-ever game in Shea Stadium. Yes, even in their inaugural season, they didn't have the luxury of beginning their season at home. Their memorable home opener at Mile High Stadium, and first-ever win, which people all over the Denver area will tell you they attended (about 80,000 of whom actually did), didn't occur until after a short two-game set in Shea Stadium.

2016 Stadium Club #249 Yasmany Tomas
Not much to see here, just a quick illustration that even the beauty of Stadium Club can't make the Diamondbacks' hideous dark gray uniforms look decent.

2016 Stadium Club #268 Jordan Zimmermann
Sometimes you're not trying to show off the stadium or capture as much of a play as possible with a horizontal card. Sometimes you need to do it just to fit the guy's name on it. Ex-national Jordan Zimmermann (not to be confused with his former teammate Ryan Zimmerman), has a great pitching motion, and an unusual Tigers uniform and cap that I'm not familiar with. I do spot a tiny bit of a Spring Training patch on his right sleeve, which makes sense, as Zimmermann didn't begin his career as a Tiger until 2016, so Topps didn't have much time to obtain a photograph before going to print.

2016 Stadium Club #107 Jake Arrieta
Jake Arrieta and the Cubs will forever be known for finally winning it all in 2016, but their 2015 season, which this photo is from, was pretty successful as well. While honoring the late Ernie Banks with that #14 patch, they beat the Pirates in an exciting wild card game, and their other NL Central rival, the Cardinals, in the NLDS. They were stopped in their tracks by the Mets, but not before Arrieta and his buddies got a chance to celebrate with lots of spilled liquids. The photographer did a nice job grabbing this shot without getting water droplets all over the lens.

2016 Stadium Club #259 Aroldis Chapman
Of course, Aroldis Chapman was an important part of the Cubs' championship in 2016, joining them in a late-July trade. That was clearly too late a transaction to make the print deadline, but fortunately for the accuracy of this card, Chapman re-signed with the Yankees for the 2017 season and beyond. He's been on the disabled list (and guess whose Fantasy team he's on), but should be rejoining the bullpen within a week or so.

He has that same spring training patch on his sleeve that Zimmermann does, offering us yet another look at some Grapefruit League uniforms.

2016 Stadium Club #32 Bob Feller
Trevor Bauer is having a rough go of it on the mound at Coors Field as I write this. The Rockies are up 2-0 in the bottom of the 4th, and Bauer very nearly walked four batters in the 3rd. They have two men on with no outs, partially thanks to another walk. If this keeps up, the Rockies are likely to sweep this two-game set (P.S. they did), the first of which I saw in person yesterday. Lots of home runs in that one, including two by Mark Reynolds.

I bet the Indians would love to have Bob Feller out there right now. He had arguably the best fastball of the prewar era, which was measured at over 98 mph, thanks to some fancy military equipment. The presence of retired stars in Stadium Club really makes it magical, though I'm sure Topps doesn't have an easy time finding fresh photographs. But I'd love to see a card showing him pitching through the measuring device as shown in this clip.

2016 Stadium Club #87 Lou Gehrig
Now that the Yankees retired Derek Jeter's uniform number 2, there are no single digits left in the Yankees' equipment room. Lou Gehrig forever has #4 to his name, thanks to six World Series titles and a hugely impressive streak of consecutive games, which set the record until Cal Ripken, Jr. came along. 2,130 games in a row, stopped only by the tragic onset of ALS. He removed himself from the lineup on May 2nd, 1939, ending his streak and also his playing career. How much longer that could have gone without his debilitating disease will forever remain an unknown.

Ripken's streak carried on for about 500 more games than Gehrig's, and there are a couple ways to look at that. It's impressive that Ripken managed to keep his streak alive despite the sport having changed so much. It would be a bit like a modern pitcher winning 35 games in a season. And let's not forget that the 1994 strike and the idea of replacement players nearly put an end to it just months early. But on the other hand, you have to wonder if Ripken's streak of 2,632 would have fallen short if Gehrig got the chance to play a few more seasons.

2016 Stadium Club #208 Edgar Martinez
Some retired stars in Stadium Club are recent enough to have existed in the color photography era. And also the overproduction era, come to think of it. Edgar, who is inching his way closer to being voted into the Hall of Fame, is a fan favorite in Seattle. He's their current hitting coach, lending his hitting expertise to a whole new crop of Mariners. And since they took three out of four games against the Rockies in late May, he must be doing something right.

The grip that he's demonstrating with his left pinky out feels really unnatural. But I am not a Hall-of-Fame candidate. Neither Edgar nor I are lefties, but I'm curious what tactic he's going for here.

2016 Stadium Club ISOmetrics #I-3 Kevin Kiermaier
I got a little unlucky in the inserts department, pulling just this one in the whole blaster. Nick has me beat there, pulling a die-cut of Tom Seaver. I've been hearing Kevin Kiermaier's name more and more lately. The front of this card shows solid and well-rounded stats, but what currently comes to mind is how he massively misjudged a fly ball in yesterday's game against the White Sox. Still, an insert is an insert, and this is definitely a Rays hot blaster.

2016 Stadium Club Black #36 Nomar Mazara
The black parallel I pulled in my first blaster was a gorgeous one of Babe Ruth. At the time, I wondered how a black parallel would look as a color card, and I got my answer from Nomar Mazara. I think it actually looks pretty good, but it does get lost a little bit against the dark background in the dugout. It's also an excellent State Farm ad, even better than the Coca-Cola ad on Grichuk's card. The only real issue is that the Stadium Club logo in the upper left is pretty illegible.

Without that, I might confuse this with 1997 Fleer.

</beating dead horse>

2016 Stadium Club #287 Blake Snell (RC)
I'll wrap this up with the same card that Nick led off with. Chris Archer gets a cameo on fellow pitcher Blake Snell's card, and we also get to see their handshake / high-five / seagull hand puppet. He started the year 0-4 but seems to be getting back on track in Triple-A Durham. He might be called back up soon where he can continue to practice handshakes with his fellow Rays, and ideally watch Kevin Kiermaier up his fielding percentage a little bit.

I have since found some Topps Bunt at Target, but I'm always happy to take the scenic route through a blaster of Stadium Club.

Saturday, May 27, 2017

Todd Helton: A Collecting Cutch Contest Entry

When you visit Coors Field, you'll find three retired numbers mounted above the visiting team's bullpen in right center.

The first, of course, is #42, once worn by the great Jackie Robinson, which is retired across the league. The second is a set of initials, KSM, to honor the memory of Keli McGregor. McGregor was the president of the Rockies baseball club until his untimely death from a rare viral infection in 2010. The Rockies wore a memorial patch on their uniforms for the remainder of the 2010 season. The third and final number is #17, belonging to Todd Helton, the career Rockie and fan favorite who spent, coincidentally, seventeen seasons in Denver.

2005 Leaf #69 Todd Helton
He was a fixture at first base from 1997 through 2013, as shown on this rainy Leaf card from 2005. Helton is ready for a throw from a fellow fielder, although his mitt is partially cropped out of the photo. Fans in the Coors Field seats are sheltered under plastic ponchos and umbrellas. It's not the most enjoyable way to watch a ballgame, but at least the sun isn't in their eyes.

Though I'm a bit late to the party, I thought the Rockies deserved an entry into Collecting Cutch's contest. I'd have liked to pick Arenado, but I don't really have that many cards of him, and he's only been playing since 2013. Todd Helton seemed like a better choice to get the top-10 treatment, not only because I have many more of his cards, but also because his career spanned a few eras of the post-strike baseball card industry.

Collecting Cutch promised "this is going to be an easy and fun one." Fun, yes, but narrowing this down to just 10 cards was pretty tough. That it was well after midnight when I made the final selections probably didn't help, but Helton had quite a few great cards throughout his career as a Rockie.

2005 was Leaf's final year of existence, a set that Panini hasn't brought back yet. There was a gap or two, but they had a solid run during the '90s, produced some beautiful sets, and gave us perhaps the rarest main set of the whole overproduction era in 1990.

2000 Stadium Club #193 Todd Helton
Most of these cards are from Helton's pre-goatee days, not that you can tell from this shot. Stadium Club can always be counted on for awesome photography, but they have an even more inconsistent history than Leaf. Helton was always better known for his abilities at the plate, but he took home three Gold Gloves to go along with a few Silver Sluggers.

Apparently I like horizontal cards more than some of my contemporaries, and I'll take a little asymmetry in my binder pages for a card like this any day. Watching Helton dig out a slightly errant throw to nail a runner (crossing the baseline in the process) against an all-dirt background earns it a spot in the top-10.

Arenado already has Helton beat when it comes to Gold Gloves, but this card reminds me of a rocketing one-hopper that Nolan speared in last night's game with a little extra flourish. The Gold Glover's version of a bat flip, if you will.

2004 Playoff Honors #73 Todd Helton
These aren't ranked in any particular order, they're just what seems to flow when I thumb through the stack. Most of my posts are like that to a degree. The cards tell me what to write, in a sense. And I did make an effort to not just pick my ten favorite sets. That's partly why 2004 Playoff Honors is on here, a single-year set you probably haven't seen in the Cardsphere in ages, if at all.

It's a shot from a recognizable AT&T Park (or rather Pacific Bell Park, as it was called when this photo was taken), but it shows Helton in a very familiar spot. Second base. Yes, he played first defensively, but he was a machine when it came to hitting doubles. Those doubles, coupled with his lifetime totals of homers, hits, and other stats, put him in the same company as Stan Musial.

2002 Upper Deck Vintage #262 Todd Helton
Helton followed the Stan Musial school of thought for getting yourself into scoring position, rather than Rickey Henderson's. He wasn't much of a base stealer, but sometimes he could be seen diving back to second base, trying to avoid the tag of the Expos' Orlando Cabrera like he is here. The out-of-town scoreboard is out of the frame, so I don't have enough information to date this card, but the horizontal layout against a black border earned it a spot in the top-10, even if it is a pretty blatant knockoff of 1971 Topps. The back calls him "One of the best players in the game today," and also calls out his stellar .999 fielding percentage the previous season. That translates to just two errors all year.

I doubt there's been a baseball card set with that kind of accuracy.

2000 Finest #71 Todd Helton
When I first started thinking about this post, 2000 Finest was one of a few that immediately came to mind. Other than the gigantic shiny silver baseball, the photo of his post-swing pose is pretty common on many of his cards. That's what makes things like the rainy day at Coors and the fielding a short hop stand out so much. It's a set that I've shown a couple times, and I'm sure I've purchased this card a couple times over in error. Helton is in a lot of discount boxes around here.

These cards are all pretty thick. You can always count on Finest for that. The thinnest one so far is the Leaf card at the top. But this is the shiniest one.

2001 Ultra #97 Todd Helton
Speaking of Helton's swing, this Fleer Ultra card is the best one I found in my whole collection. He's back in Pacific Bell Park, with a cameo of (I think) catcher Bobby Estalella, a future Rockie. The extension is textbook, and while I never liked pinstripes on their road uniforms, Helton's swing reminds me a bit of Mickey Mantle's. 2007 Topps illustrated that maybe a little better, and it was one of the last to miss the cut in favor of this gorgeous full-bleed card.

2008 Stadium Club #4 Todd Helton
There were other candidates from Stadium Club, and this post wasn't that far off from being a "top-10 Todd Helton cards from Stadium Club" post. And we're not done yet. This one is from the poorly-received 2008 set, which still hits the Coors Field mini-collection quite well. The luxury suites and Club Level rarely make it onto a card. Helton had grown his goatee by this point, and was still honing his craft daily at batting practice. You don't become a fan favorite and the face of the franchise by slacking.

In addition to his #17 retired number plaque, there's a "Burger Shack" named after him behind the left field bleachers, just under the giant scoreboard. It's not far from where a group of die-hard fans unfurled a white banner with Helton's name on it during all his at-bats. The Helton Burger is one of the best snacks in the ballpark, but it competes with the Oskar Blues-branded CHUBurger found in the Rooftop.

And yes, I realize I just called a burger a "snack". No further comment.

1993 Topps Traded #19T Todd Helton USA (RC)
This wouldn't be much of a list without Helton's Team USA Rookie Card from 1993 Topps Traded. It's the headliner in that 132-card set, one that featured many newly-minted Rockies and Marlins who didn't make it into Series 2. Little did Helton know he'd eventually take over at first for Andres Galarraga, card #31T in that set.

The aluminum Easton bat takes me back to my little league days, and in looking closely at this card, Helton can be seen wearing a Topps patch on his left sleeve. The card back gives us some of his baseball stats at the University of Tennessee, and mentions that he "also plays college football." Famously, he was briefly the starting quarterback for the Volunteers until he experienced an injury and a guy named Peyton Manning took the job. Both became legends in Denver sports history.

1999 Topps #52 Todd Helton
There's not much overlap between my top-10 Helton cards and my top-10 overall sets. 2000 Finest stands a chance, though, as does the final set. But if nothing else, this list list should give you a pretty good idea about what I like in a card. Thick card stock, full-bleed printing, a bit of foil but nothing crazy (2000 Finest obviously excepted), a horizontal layout, and if none of those boxes are checked, at least an interesting photograph.

This card from 1999 Topps is the second card that popped into my head before I even checked the binders. The overall design isn't going to win any awards, but Helton shielding himself from the rain with a white towel is somehow extremely memorable. The red wheelbarrow and tarp add a bit of uniqueness to the card, and I had forgotten that this one also included the Topps All-Star Rookie trophy.

The back of this early Helton card hit the nail right on the head, by wrapping up the paragraph with the following: "Statistically, Todd's season was also a success - but likely just an appetizer for a banquet of feats to come."

2014 Stadium Club Members Only #31 Todd Helton
That "banquet of feats" came to its end on September 25th, 2013, Helton's final home game. The Rockies got trounced by the Boston Red Sox that day, but Helton's 2nd inning home run and farewell lap (as pictured) are more likely to stand out in fans' memories. He did play a final weekend series on the road to conclude the 2013 season, but this one is what Rockies fans remember.

I found no card of Helton's triumphant pose to close out the 2007 NLCS, which surely would have made the cut, but this Members Only parallel from 2014 Stadium Club concludes the top-10 list, one that I knew had to be on it. Julie of A Cracked Bat sent me this rare specimen, and it shows that final lap around Coors Field. It's in foul territory down the third base line, as we can see by Todd reaching over the tarp to high-five (side-five?) a fan.

Upon the conclusion of his storied career, Helton found himself atop the Rockies career leaderboard for hits, home runs, games played, RBIs, walks, doubles (592, almost twice Larry Walker's total), runs scored, and, well, pretty much everything else that doesn't involve speed. 2000 was his best single season, where he led the National League in a slew of statistics, including, yes, doubles.

And don't forget the horse.

Whether he'll be the Rockies' first representative in Cooperstown remains to be seen, but he gave Denver fans a wealth of memories, years of solid performance, a trip to the World Series, and more than enough cards to make a top-10 list.

Thursday, May 25, 2017

Diez de Mayo

No one has thrown a no-hitter at Coors Field since Hideo Nomo did it in 1996. There's only been the one in the stadium's 23-season history. There have been a few close ones, though. Most recently was German Marquez taking one into the 7th inning against the Cubs earlier this month. The Rockies ended up with a shutout against the defending World Champions, but the Cubs did manage to scratch out three hits.

This occasion marked my first purchase of a 2017 Topps Now card, which I believe is my first one of Marquez. The pitcher was a more minor piece of the Corey Dickerson trade, where the Rockies and Rays swapped players, with the Rockies also getting Jake McGee for the outfielder. Dickerson has been a solid piece of Tampa Bay's outfield this year, and Marquez has a 3-2 record so far in the 2017 season.

2017 Topps Now #132 German Marquez /378
It's a Coors Field card, yes, it marks yet another series the first-place Rockies won, and it shows off the new extra-purple Rockies jerseys. But I wasn't at this game, and a near no-hitter isn't exactly Hall of Fame material.

So why did I order this Topps Now card?

Well, May 10th, 2017 happens to be the day that my nephew was born. Little baby Levi came into the world at 6 lbs, 3 oz on a rainy Wednesday, just about equaling the weight of nineteen baseballs. He's already the proud owner of an official Colorado Rockies pacifier, so I'm doing my part to instill fandom early.

The print run was only 378 cards, and it documents the excellent pitching feat as well as the Rockies hot start to the 2017 season, which is still going strong almost into June. As many other bloggers have observed, the reverse of the card has a rainbow finish, the only set I can remember that has a special finish on the back but not the front. The packaging has been upgraded quite a bit from the 2016 cards, as well.

May 10th has always been an important date in my family. The day would have been my grandfather's 97th birthday, as well as my parents' 37th wedding anniversary. It feels extra-special for that date to suddenly be cause for celebration again.

Even if the Rockies gave up three hits that day.

Saturday, May 13, 2017

The Trading Post #98: Bump and Run Football Card Blog

Before the season started, the illustrious Night Owl sent an insert card from 1996 Fleer Ultra's Rising Stars set. Despite having a few in my collection already, it had somehow escaped my attention that Coors Field was the featured stadium throughout the set.

Fortunately, Trevor from Bump and Run Football Card Blog was watching out for me, offering a few more cards and getting me about halfway to completing the 10-card set. I still need to get a return package out to Trevor, but I figured today would be a good day for a post, since I'm attending my first baseball game of 2017 tonight.

1996 Fleer Ultra Rising Stars #8 Hideo Nomo
The Dodgers are in town this weekend, so who better to kick off this post than Hideo Nomo, the then-Dodger who pitched the first, and so far only no-hitter in Coors Field history. That happened to occur in 1996, the exact year of this card. I was not present for that game, but this card is a coincidental memento of that event, sort of an accidental Topps Now card.

The photo of "The Tornado", so called because of his windup, even appears to be from 1996, according to the commemorative patch on his left sleeve. That patch is for the team's 35th Anniversary of playing in Dodger Stadium, where they started in 1962. Of course, the Dodgers famously moved to the West Coast for the 1959 season, forcing them to play in Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum for a few seasons until their shiny new park could be built, which is now the third-oldest stadium in the Majors.

Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum, while woefully inadequate as a properly-sized baseball park, is getting lots of renewed interest as L.A. bids for the 2024 Summer Olympics, a city that is sure to reuse the iconic stadium that was opened in 1923 if they are selected over Paris, the only remaining candidate. Several other cities have withdrawn their candidacy in response to financial pressures and voter objections, reminding us of the tremendous costs of hosting such an event.

And they're not just financial costs. As we saw in Rio, there are plenty of societal costs, especially for those living on the land where the facilities will be built. And concerns about the environmental impact are partly what led Denver to turn down the 1976 Winter Olympics, the only city ever to do so.

1996 Fleer Ultra Rising Stars Gold Medallion #4 Cliff Floyd
That fact is something that Montreal knows better than most. Olympic Stadium, where the Montreal Expos played between 1977 through their departure after the 2004 season, was plagued with cost overruns and structural problems throughout their tenure. The stadium was built for the 1976 Summer Olympics, but wasn't fully paid off until 2006. Now the city doesn't even have an MLB team to show for it, thanks to a variety of reasons.

Cliff Floyd never became the star he was expected to be, only getting one All-Star selection throughout his 17-year journeyman career. But he was a good candidate for this insert set, and Trevor not only sent the base card, but also the Gold Medallion Edition parallel, which you see here. This parallel just gets a tiny bit of extra silver foil around the logo, quite a bit different from Gold Medallion parallels found in the main set.

1996 Fleer Ultra Gold Medallion #459 Eric Davis
Maybe Fleer used so much gold foil printing those up that they had none left over for a little 10-card insert set. But I'm a little surprised they didn't even emboss Floyd's card, as they did with other insert sets in the 1996 Ultra set.

I'll give your eyes a minute to recover before we move on.

1996 Ultra Rising Stars #6 Chipper Jones
There are several players found in this set that could be part of the mythical "Hall of the Very Good", like Jim Edmonds, Ryan Klesko, Nomo, and maybe Manny Ramirez. But Chipper Jones is the only one of the ten that's a sure-fire bet to be voted in to the real Hall when he's eligible next year. As the card mentions, he was runner-up for 1995 NL Rookie of the Year, losing out to set-mate Hideo Nomo, the fourth of five straight Dodgers to win the award. But Chipper, whose stellar career ended with a frustrating loss in the first-ever NL Wild Card game, did indeed become a future MVP candidate as this card predicted, even winning it in 1999.

Jones' career mostly overlapped with the Braves' residence at Turner Field, one of the key venues built for the 1996 Summer Olympics in Atlanta. Of course, the Braves moved to the new SunTrust Park for 2017, making Turner Field one of the shortest-lived MLB ballparks in recent memory.

Like many Braves of the era, Jones (or C. Jones, when Andruw was his teammate) was a thorn in the Rockies' side, and many fans in the Rockpile, the center-field bleacher section where this Coors Field photo was taken, got a distant view of him at the plate. I only saw Chipper in person once, on April 28th, 2007. Jones went 1-4 with 2 RBIs and a walk that day, behind a strong pitching performance by John Smoltz.

I remember having awesome seats for that game, right behind the visitors' dugout, so close you could hear the Velcro rip when players removed their batting gloves. That game also happened less than 24 hours before Troy Tulowitzki turned an incredibly rare feat, an unassisted triple play, one that Chipper himself lined into while hitting from the left side.

2014 Topps Green #117 Anibal Sanchez / Bartolo Colon / Hisashi Iwakuma LL
That about does it for the Rising Stars cards, but Trevor wasn't done there. I mentioned that I like green cards, so he found a couple for that preference of mine. This league leader card from 2014 Topps is obviously one of the green-bordered parallels, a shade that clashes slightly with Bartolo Colon's Athletics jersey. Anibal Sanchez took the top spot that year with an ERA mark of 2.57, a player who threw a no-hitter in 2006 that couldn't have come at a worse time for my fantasy baseball championship run. Hishashi Iwakuma rounds out the top three, while ex-Rockie Ubaldo Jimenez squeaked his way into the top-10 as a Cleveland Indian.

Three photos is a lot to squeeze onto a card to begin with, but somehow the green border makes it feel more crowded. It makes me appreciate the single-photo League Leader cards that Topps is using this year.

1994 Stadium Club Team #116 Willie Blair
The green theme carries on with this one of pitcher Willie Blair, and it's from an infrequently-seen team set that Stadium Club put out in the early 1990s. As in 1993, only a handful of teams were represented in this set, and while I do run across the Rockies from time to time in the Denver area, finding other teams is surprisingly difficult. In case your chosen team appears in this set, keep an eye out for First Day Issue parallels. At the end of the day, this is still Stadium Club.

2006 Fleer Ultra #147 Matt Holliday
Fleer and their family of brands found themselves under the ownership of Upper Deck in 2006. They wouldn't have much longer to go, but they did put out this Fleer Ultra set, keeping the full-bleed design going for a little while longer. A simple band of silver foil with a little upside-down crown on it gives us the player, position, and team, along with a redundant but more stylish printing of the player's last name above that.

Holliday is hitting in Wrigley Field here, as we can see Cubs catcher Michael Barrett behind the plate and wearing a hockey-style mask. You can even barely make out the bear logo on the top of his helmet. I wasn't that up-to-date on my decade-ago Cubs catchers, so I had to break out the magnifying glass for this one. In that same area, we can see that Holliday, uniform #5, is using a bat labeled #19. This was way before Charlie Blackmon, so that bat belongs to Ryan Spilborghs, currently part of the Rockies' on-air TV broadcast crew.

2017 Topps Gypsy Queen Autographs #GQA-RT Raimel Tapia (AU)
The "hit" of this trade package is an on-card autograph of Raimel Tapia, one of the Rockies' top prospects. In fact, Tapia was just called back up to the Majors yesterday, so he might even play a bit tonight. Trevor put this one in an Ultra-Pro penny sleeve, easily the highest-quality sleeve I've ever seen. It's thick, almost like that sealed Mickey Mantle card that Topps put in their 1996 Factory Sets, if you ever ran across one of those. But more than that, it even has a little Ultra-Pro hologram on the back in the lower left corner. I might have to pick up a few of these for my higher-end cards.

I wasn't really aware that 2017 Gypsy Queen was even out yet, as it's not something I tend to seek out until it hits the discount boxes. But it's a nice card for the autograph collection, and I hope it will become a conversation piece if Tapia lives up to his potential.

I'm awarding extra bonus points to this card for its obvious location inside Coors Field, with a great, if a bit blurry, shot of the manually-operated out-of-town scoreboard in right field. It's blurry, but I think there's just enough information on the Giants/Cubs matchup we see under Tapia's right arm to date this card to September 4th, 2016. Those white numbers on the right side of the scoreboard signify the current pitcher's uniform number. 47 on the Giants facing 41 on the Cubs translates to Cueto facing Lackey, in Chicago.

Tapia got on base a few times that day, and advanced to third twice when DJ LeMahieu was at the plate, once in the first after being picked off but advancing to third on the pitcher's throwing error, and again in the 5th when DJ hit a long fly ball. Hard to say which of those two scenarios this is, but I'm leaning toward the 5th inning, since it seems like Tapia has slightly less a sense of urgency than if he had just escaped being thrown out.

2012 Absolute #44 Demaryius Thomas
With Trevor running primarily a football card blog, it should come as no surprise that a few Broncos made it into the envelope. Demaryius Thomas, one of the Broncos star wide receivers, looks like he just made a catch while playing against the Minnesota Vikings. Panini was resurrecting Donruss brands way back in 2012, using the Absolute set for this card, along with a little inspiration from Upper Deck thanks to the copper foil.

I never played football as a kid, but I've watched enough to know that the way DT is holding the ball out in midair like that is just asking for a fumble, especially since it looks like he's about to block an incoming Viking on his right.

Football cards are significantly easier to date than baseball cards. You know the year the card was printed, you can usually make a good guess as to whether it's a home or away game based on the jersey, and as long as there's some indication of who the opponent is, that's pretty much all you need.

This photo was taken on December 4th, 2011, as the Broncos were visiting the Vikings. Thomas had 4 catches for 144 yards, on the way to a 35-32 win. The Broncos won it with a field goal as time expired, which was pretty typical of the way the Broncos won games in the Tim Tebow days.

2016 Prestige Xtra Points Green #63 Von Miller
This is a road game, as the Broncos typically wear the all-white uniforms away from Denver. I can't determine the opponent, but that's okay, as the shiny green foil more than makes up for a bit of ambiguity. The front of the card also has a rainbow finish, and the rest of the background behind Miller fades into the darkness a little bit.

Miller, the Broncos' star outside linebacker, has been racking up sacks for several seasons, amassing 73.5 since beginning his career in 2011. No Bronco has ever been on the cover of a Madden video game, but Miller was briefly the "cover athlete" for the iOS/Android mobile version of the game. Whether he was on the splash screen or the icon, I don't know. But that alone sets him apart as a Bronco. He's sure to become a Ring of Famer when all is said and done, and his MVP award earned during Super Bowl 50 is only a small part of that.

So that catches me up on trade packages, but I still have plenty of birthday gifts and card show purchases still waiting their turn. Thanks again to Trevor, and here's hoping the Rockies keep up the great season so we're not waiting for the Broncos by the time August rolls around.