Sunday, July 30, 2017

Going Clubbing (Part 1: Base Cards)

This just in: I still love Stadium Club.

The midsummer release of the premium set is as good as ever, and I was fortunate to find a blaster at my local Target recently. I scored some nice hits, as you'll see in part 2 of this post. But the key aspect of this set is the stellar photography, lovingly selected by Sooz herself.

While all you Chicago-area dwellers are having a grand old time at The National, (I know Nick picked up a few cards for me at the show), I'm just soaking in the glory that a $10,000 camera setup can capture.

2017 Stadium Club #231a Giancarlo Stanton
Horizontal cards look particularly good in a full-bleed design like this, and Giancarlo Stanton, the 2016 Home Run Derby champion, is shown grabbing one at the wall in Marlins Park, the same wall he clears so many times with his bat. Stanton is now sitting at 33 home runs this season, tied with Aaron Judge, who hasn't done much since the break.

Stanton hit a home run earlier this year that just cleared the center field wall at his home park, and it's about the sweetest sound you ever heard a bat make while contacting the ball. Have a listen.

Capturing a sound like that on cardboard is about all they could do to improve this set. Unless they slashed the price a little. Granted, these photos aren't cheap to license, but it is a pricey set to collect.

2017 Stadium Club #170 Ryne Sandberg
As beautiful as it is, another plus to this set is all the retired stars that make appearances, often with photos we haven't seen before. A relatively young-looking Ryne Sandberg is shown in the ageless Wrigley Field, with what looks to be a Phillies catcher off to the side. Pretty tough to say for sure, but assuming this image is from Sandberg's MVP year of 1984, which is the subject of the paragraph on the back, that could be Ozzie Virgil with a cameo.

The Phillies, of course, was where Sandberg spent his rookie season in 1981, playing in just 13 games before being traded to the Cubs. He finished his career in the Windy City, retiring in 1994, then returning in 1996 to play two more seasons.

Interestingly, I have a very specific memory of Sandberg's first retirement announcement, which happened on June 13th, 1994. That was the day I purchased my very first factory set, 1994 Topps, after calling every card shop in the Denver area Yellow Pages to find the best price. That was an all-day project back then, as opposed to about a five-minute task today. Anyway, on the car ride back after transacting the astronomical sum of $45 for a box of cardboard awesomeness, Sandberg's retirement was mentioned on the radio.

Judging by the late spring date of June 13th, I wasted no time that summer vacation in lining up a baseball-related activity to keep me occupied. And while it is nice for $45 not to feel like the jackpot on a game show anymore, having three straight months of perfect weather and no obligations sure sounds nice right about now.

2017 Stadium Club #49 Masahiro Tanaka
Even though Sandberg looks great in Cubbie Blue, they're not the only team to wear pinstripes. The Yankees are probably the team most associated with that, and Japanese pitcher Masahiro Tanaka displays them perfectly. Tanaka was the winningest Yankees pitcher last year, and seems to have found his groove following some elbow problems earlier in the decade. He even took a perfect game into the 6th inning yesterday, helping the Yankees take first place in the AL East. It's like my dad always says, "You don't have to check where the Yankees are in the standings until about August."

2017 Stadium Club #17 Didi Gregorius
Didi Gregorius concurs, and is clearly thrilled to be following in the footsteps of great Yankee shortstops like Phil Rizzuto and Derek Jeter, both of whom are mentioned on the back of this card. It's a bit unusual to read "Rizzuto" and "Wins Above Replacement" in the same paragraph, but Didi had 2.7 last year. And he's been way better than Brandon Crawford on my fantasy team since I picked him up, helping me squeak out a 10-point victory in an extended week following the All-Star break.

The Dutch-born player has a long way to go to stay in the same breath as the Monument Park legends, but if the Yankees hold on to first place, he's sure to get a chance to play some October baseball, just like so many of his predecessors.

2017 Stadium Club #70 Ken Griffey, Jr.
Albert Pujols recently reached the rarefied air of the 600-home-run club, leaving him perhaps a season or so short of passing Ken Griffey, Jr. on the career home run list. Pujols is also the next in line to reach the 3,000 hit club, which Adrian Beltre just joined today. But the next group of active players have hundreds to go to tie Griffey, so we might not see another player join the 600-homer club for a very long time.

I'm guessing that this is a pre-Interleague photo, right when Griffey and Frank Thomas were dominating the Beckett Hi/Lo columns. But I can't figure out which stadium Griffey is playing in. The yellow railings are distinctive enough, but it's not ringing any bells. Before interleague play, I pretty much never saw an AL game other than during the playoffs.

2017 Stadium Club #283 Willie McCovey
Stadium Club is a treasure trove for mini-collection hits, and those who like the batting practice shots ought to track down this one of Willie McCovey. He's leaning on a particularly narrow bat behind the cage, which is really little more than a chain-link backstop. The game has certainly changed, as my sister and I both played on fields about like this. Patchy grass in front of the plate, the grass by the fence in need of a weed whacker, bats lying around, etc.... It's almost like we have a glimpse into a Hall of Famer's little league career. The 1959 Rookie of the Year and 1969 NL MVP played almost his entire career in the National League, save for an 11-game stretch in Oakland at the end of 1976. What a great unfamiliar uniform card that would be.

2017 Stadium Club #99 Paul Goldschmidt
Autograph seekers are after Paul Goldschmidt in another mini-collection candidate, including one fan holding a slightly creepy poster off to the right. I don't go to great lengths to seek them out, but I've only gotten one autograph on the sidelines, and that was Rockies pitcher Kevin Ritz, a starter who is 7th on the Rockies all-time Wins list. I came pretty close to getting Ben Petrick, too, but he headed back to the dugout just before my spot in line came up. A friend of mine got Edwin Jackson before a Cubs game a couple years ago, and if there's one thing I've learned, it helps to have your own pen.

2017 Stadium Club #175 Mark McGwire
There's not a lot of Mark McGwire love in the Cardsphere these days, as he's pretty much the poster child for steroid use in baseball. Still, the 1998 home run race made for a pretty exciting season, PEDs or not. There always seem to be asterisks attached to that record, whether it was McGwire's PED use, Barry Bonds' PED use coupled with his elbow armor (I can't blame him—getting hit on the elbow hurts!), or Roger Maris taking 162 games compared to Babe Ruth's 154, coupled with hitting just ahead of Mickey Mantle. And I've written about this before, but as part of Ken Burns' The Tenth Inning follow-up to his Baseball documentary, Chris Rock pointed out that Babe Ruth had 714 "affirmative action" home runs, noting that Babe Ruth didn't play in an era when guys like Torri Hunter were "snatching home runs out of the sky."

It's definitely a feat, hitting over 60 home runs in a season. When you think about it, of course there will be unusual circumstances surrounding it. Otherwise it would be a lot more common.

Asterisk or no, it's still a great mini-collection card on a couple fronts: dugout shots, and throwback uniforms. I wish I could nail down the date of this card, and if the lineup card posted on the dugout wall was legible, I'm sure that would have been a much easier task. Maybe McGwire even hit a home run on that day.

2017 Stadium Club #9 Greg Maddux
As powerful as he was, belting a home run was never known as "hitting a McGwire". But Greg Maddux has an unofficial stat all his own, a complete game shutout with 99 pitches or less. Maddux threw 13 of those in his career, and may have been on his way to one here. He was a master on the hill, and it was a sign of doom when he was slated to start against your team. You always hoped Maddux's spot in their five-man rotation skipped your three-game series. And the Braves, more than any other team, gave the Rockies fits in their early days. You don't hear the phrase "season sweep" very often, but that's exactly what the Braves did to the Rockies in 1993.

I guess the font on all the Stadium Club cards this year have a little extra flourish on the final letter of the last name, but I didn't really notice it until Maddux's card. The "E" on McGwire's card looks a bit overwrought, but it works very well with the unusual "X" on this card.

2017 Stadium Club #245 Chris Sale
This looks like a modern interpretation of a Studio card to me. With image stabilization, ultra-fast telephoto lenses, and ever-improving low-light performance, not to mention improved printing methods, action shots are relatively easy to obtain these days. Outside of retro sets like Heritage and Allen & Ginter, posed shots are pretty uncommon on cards. That makes this one of Chris Sale, bathed in the warm red glow of his new team in Boston, stand out even from the rest of these cards. It's just another reason why I keep reading bloggers who say they're considering abandoning Flagship entirely and just pursuing Stadium Club.

2017 Stadium Club #254 Maikel Franco
And I can't say I blame them. I'm pretty far from that point, but I do wish it was easier to find this set in larger quantities. Despite my obvious fanboy feelings about this set, I've yet to complete any of the four in this latest rebirth. I did find a full 900-card set of 1992 Stadium Club at a card show, and I completed Series 2 of the inaugural 1991 set thanks to a hobby box and a few Eight Men Out successes, but unlike Bowman, this brand tends not to show up in discount boxes.

Maikel Franco has been putting up some pretty consistent performance for the Phillies the last few years. Not great, but consistent. And whatever happened on this card, it looks like he made quite a defensive play. Probably not like what Nolan Arenado does on a daily basis, but anytime you end up on the tarp, you can safely assume you went above and beyond.

What particularly caught my eye in this photograph are the three young fans watching this play unfold right before their eyes. I've never had front-row tickets down the line before, and even after a two-hour rain delay in a 10-1 game, the best I could find was somewhere in the fourth. But these young ladies look quite curious about the play that just transpired, and don't seem to be shielding themselves from a potential impact. And that curiosity about the game doesn't seem to be terribly common among kids anymore. When I hear about what kids are up to, whether its Minecraft, fidget spinners, slime, or Snapchat, baseball doesn't seem to be high on the list.

2017 Stadium Club #159 Johnny Bench
All-time great Johnny Bench, perhaps the best catcher to ever don the gear, looks rather alarmed in this close-up. It was one of my favorite cards in the whole blaster (notice the lack of a throat guard), but I can't help but tie it to my concern about the future of baseball.

It's no secret that the current baseball card hobby is pretty much made up of middle-aged white men, myself included. But not that long ago, I was trading cards with the neighborhood kids and my schoolmates, playing on a little league team, watching the Rockies most Friday and Saturday nights, riding my bike to Wal-Mart to buy trifold hanger packs of 1993 Fleer (and Micro Machines), and getting 89-cent packs of 1991 Score at Toys R Us, whose card backs were practically short stories.

Of course, there are many more ways to nurture a love of baseball than through cardboard, but I don't know that the current game is translating that well among kids. Having a star like Griffey helps, and there isn't necessarily a fan-friendly superstar like that in the game today. Bryce Harper, for example, seems to be much better at losing his temper and getting ejected than engaging with fans. And Mike Trout, as good as he is, comes off as rather dull.

Distribution is a big part of it too. When I was growing up, all the Rockies games were on broadcast TV, Denver's channel 2. They shifted to cable many years ago, and with the growing rise of cord-cutting, being able to watch your local team is a whole lot tougher these days, and reserved only for those families who are both willing and able to pay the ever-growing prices for TV packages. Sure, there is MLB.TV, but you're still blacked out of watching your hometown team's live games, regardless of where they're played.

And I think this has a lot to do with why the NFL is so popular. Concussion risks aside, you can tune to your local CBS or Fox affiliate and see your city's football game every Sunday in the fall. And all the playoff games too. Monday and Thursday night games have migrated to cable, so it's a little tougher to see what's going on around the league, but your local affiliate will carry the feed if your city's team is playing in a cable-only game. Bottom line, it's free to follow your local NFL team, assuming you have a digital TV and an antenna. All else equal, why would fans pay extra for hometown baseball when what's already the nation's most popular sport is a channel flip away? I do, but that's partially because I could watch it for free when I felt like Scrooge McDuck spending my $45 at a baseball card shop.

MLB's recent move to broadcast games on Facebook, blackout free, is one of the smartest things they've done, distribution-wise, in a long time. This week's matchup between the Phillies and Braves wasn't fantastic, but its a step in the right direction. And if they're not blanketing Snapchat with top plays from the highlight reel, they're missing an entire genertaion.

I'll hop off my soapbox and enjoy these beautiful cards. I'm just saying, in a sport that still sort of feels like it's being played in black-and-white at Ebbets Field, it seems like they're taking the current level of interest for granted.

Sunday, July 23, 2017

NOW and Then

Heading into the All-Star break, Rockies starter Kyle Freeland twirled a masterpiece, one of the best pitching performances in Rockies history. Thanks in part to some clutch defense by Gerardo Parra, he took a no-hitter to one out in the 9th inning before surrendering a base hit to Melky Cabrera, over the head of a leaping Nolan Arenado.

His pitch count was pretty up there, so after he did give up that first hit, manager Bud Black went straight to the bullpen. Jordan Lyles cleaned things up and the Rockies sailed to a 10-0 win to take the series. I had seen the disappointing one-run loss the night before (but did attend the game with a very old friend), so the Rockies got some nice momentum heading into the break.

2017 Topps Now #341 Kyle Freeland /354
And with a performance like that, Freeland was honored with a Topps Now card, the second one I've purchased this year. That first card also documented a near no-hitter by German Marquez, but that only went into the 7th. And I bought that more for the birth of my nephew than for the game itself.

Like Marquez, Freeland got the Rookie Card logo on his Topps Now card, and he's sporting the black lettering and camouflage hat that the team wore for Military Appreciation Day. And it was thrilling to watch on TV, especially that play from Parra to keep the bid alive.

No-hitters tend to take a predictable path. It usually isn't until the 5th or 6th inning that the possibility really starts getting noticed. The unwritten rules start to be talked about, and the camera crew shows lots of shots of the pitcher sitting all by his lonesome in the dugout. The fans are hanging on the edges of their seats, hoping that they might get to witness history. And every so often, they do.

And if one does happen, the buzz inevitably turns to the pitcher's next scheduled start, and the name Johnny Vander Meer gets thrown around. Vander Meer, of course, threw two consecutive no-hitters in 1938, a record that has never been tied, and I think we can safely say it will never be broken. By the way, that second no-hitter, which took place on June 15th, 1938, happened to be the first night game ever played at Ebbets Field. For as often as Johnny Vander Meer's name comes up, it's a shame ESPN never seems to give a nod to history and mention that fact.

You might remember Ubaldo Jimenez' no-hitter in 2010, the only one in Rockies history. But that was in Atlanta. In fact, there's only been one no-hitter thrown at Coors Field, although there have been plenty of cycles.

So if not Freeland, who earned his tenth win of the season today, then who was it?

1998 Topps SuperChrome #15 Hideo Nomo
Hideo Nomo no-hit the Rockies on September 17th, 1996, in Coors Field's second year of existence. None other than Vin Scully can be heard on that clip, and he's just as much in disbelief about that as everyone in the seats. Perhaps he's less surprised knowing that no one has done it since. But that makes Freeland's performance all the more impressive.

This oversized Topps SuperChrome card of The Tornado makes no mention of this feat, one that he repeated as a member of the Red Sox in 2001, which remains the only no-hitter thrown at Oriole Park at Camden Yards. Nomo has some impressive accolades in the NH statistic, including being one of just five to throw one in both leagues.

Anyway, you might think that this huge card (about 4" x 6") is a box-topper of some kind, but it's actually part of a 36-card set that was sold separately. It's a bit tricky to store, but it certainly stands out. I even remember where I got this one, and it was at the card store that has since closed in my local shopping mall. It was run by a guy named Adam, who I still see from time to time at the monthly card shows, but he's out of the retail game. I can't remember what I paid for it, and I surely don't have a Hideo Nomo collection like some of the Dodger bloggers out there, but it's a memorable card for more than just its size.

1998 Topps SuperChrome #29 Todd Helton
I was wandering through that very same shopping mall on Friday night, browsing one of the autograph shops that occasionally have cards, when I spotted this SuperChrome of Helton. This one set me back $7, surely inflated a bit by the Helton premium around here, but I was happy to add it to my collection, and I even mentioned to the owner that I had Nomo's card from the same set. Helton had just recently made a splash in the final months of the 1997 season, as documented on this card.

These are the only two cards I have from Topps SuperChrome, but fans of Nomar and Vlad might want to keep their eyes peeled for something similar, as Topps picked the young stars pretty well in this small set.

It's no secret that card shops have become a rare sight these days, but I've found a little bit of luck at the autograph and memorabilia stores in a few shopping malls. Sometimes there's nothing, other times you don't see more than 1988 Donruss, but occasionally you run across some gems. This store, which is just across the hall from where Adam's store used to be, also had a stack of limited-edition parallels from 1993 Topps, a few Gypsy Queen minis, some porcelain reproductions of Mickey Mantle's cards, and lots more "in the back".

It would be nice to have a card shop in every strip mall like it used to be, but there are still enough shopping malls and sports memorabilia stores around that you're likely to find a little something here and there. You never know what diamonds in the rough will turn up, so it's worth looking.

And you also never know when you might see a no-hitter. Which, as Bud Black said in his postgame interview, is why we keep coming back to see "the beauty" of this game.

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.