Sunday, December 24, 2017

The Trading Post #108: All Trade Bait, All The Time

It was my own fault, I suppose.

Here I was, mentally acknowledging that I actually felt, you know, good. Happy. Content. And of course that lasted all of about eight minutes, because I had unwittingly tempted fate. Following that thought, what did Blogger decide to do to cut me back down to size than to overwrite a completed post when I was uploading the images with a completely blank draft?

Thanks, autosave.

So please forgive me if this second draft isn't as cheerful or well-written as the first.

But that doesn't change the fact that a fellow blogger, specifically All Trade Bait, All The Time, sent a PWE as part of his Operation Cardboard Christmas initiative. There are several piles on my side table from the usual generous bloggers, including one from Nachos Grande that I haven't even opened yet. But it's the holiday season, and I decided to let this Christmas-themed one jump the line a little bit.

1998 Topps #274 Andres Galarraga IL
The Winter Solstice happened just three days ago, and the days are finally getting longer. It still gets pretty dark at a quarter to five, but the trend is heading in the right direction toward its astronomical opposite, the Summer Solstice, a date that this Topps subset card is only three days removed from. (Yes, I ended a sentence in "from". Deal with it). Interleague play was a big change for the 1997 season, but the way this particular game played out is pretty much what you'd expect for one played at Coors Field.

Heading into the bottom of the ninth with a three run lead is a good situation to find yourself in. But sometimes things don't go your way, and that inning on June 18th, 1997 got away from Rangers' All-Star closer John Wetteland rather quickly. An early error let the leadoff runner on, and after he allowed another batter to reach, Andres Galarraga promptly evened the score at 9 with a three-run homer before an out had been recorded.

As this card tells us, the Rockies kept the Blake Street magic going the rest of the inning, loading the bases, still without recording an out, until the sharp-eyed Walt Weiss came up and drew a walk, forcing in the winning run. As the Rangers' win probability continued to fall of a cliff, that walk elevated the score to 10-9, elevated John Wetteland's ERA accordingly, and led Topps to document the occasion on their first of two straight gold-bordered sets.

That was just the sixth Interleague game in Rockies history, and just the second at home. You can spot an empty Rockies dugout behind the Big Cat's power stroke, and his pinstripes further cement this as a Coors Field card. To my eye, this looks better than a lot of the base cards in 1998 Topps, partially because it's a lot more readable. I do have one gripe, which is that the home team is usually listed on the right, opposite to this card's design. But that's the only point of confusion, as the pinstripes, stadium, and wild 9th inning pretty obviously locate this in a pre-humidor Coors Field.

1997 Upper Deck #197 Vinny Castilla GI
Vinny Castilla was on base during the above scenario, drawing an intentional walk two batters after Galarraga's homer. Remember those? When pitchers had to throw four actual pitches to put a batter on? Those were the good ol' days. And perhaps went just a little further in rattling Wetteland that day than if his manager could do it with a gesture.

Anyway, Galarraga's fellow Blake Street Bomber appeared on another subset card, this time from 1997 Upper Deck, shiny but somehow devoid of copper. I once opened a box of '97 UD, and these Global Impact subset cards were everywhere. I seriously wonder if they were double printed. My fellow blogger must have experienced the same, as he sent me Larry Walker's card in a previous trade. That covers the countries to America's north and south, Walker being from Canada and Castilla from Mexico, even though his card looks more like the Italian flag. You can just barely make out the central eagle feature of the Mexican flag under his left shoulder.

2005 Bowman #56 Jeff Francis
If Bowman International parallels existed in 2005, this one could have had the Maple Leaf behind Jeff Francis, giving us a nice tour of the world's flags. But this is a base card, one with a nice splash of red on the sides. I guess you could sort of pretend that's the Canadian flag. Jeff Francis didn't appear in a Major League game before 2004, but seven appearances that season was enough to qualify him as a veteran in 2005 Bowman, earning these red accents on his card instead of the usual blue for prospects.

I will never really understand Bowman, try as I might.

His photo on the back caught my eye, as it's pretty similar to his 2005 Diamond Kings card, sent by Daniel. In that, Francis is pictured wearing Canada's World Baseball Classic jersey along with his Rockies cap. At the time, I guessed that was an artist's rendering, perhaps to drum up interest in the first-ever WBC in 2006. But Francis has the same jersey on the back of this 2005 card, leading me to assume that it must have been taken during a qualifying round.

Canada never had much success in the World Baseball Classic, which was created in the wake of the International Olympic Committee's 2005 decision to remove baseball following the 2008 Beijing Olympics. The sport was absent from both the London and Rio games, but it will be making a return in Tokyo 2020, surely thanks to the increasing global popularity of baseball. Israel was a favorite underdog in the 2017 WBC, and it's even gaining traction Down Under. I hope the WBC continues in 2021 and beyond, and I think it's important to keep interest going, which was part of the reason that baseball was removed from the Olympic lineup in the first place.

I can't say I fully agree with the IOC's original decision, as there is lots of interest in the sport outside of the USA. "World" Series jokes aside, both Japan and Korea have highly competitive leagues, and the first three players in this post are from three different countries, Venezuela, Mexico, and Canada to be specific.

2016 Topps Archives #174 Tom Murphy (RC)
Tom Murphy adds the USA to that list, and he's a catcher prospect that the Rockies keep banking on.

The two big news stories this offseason are the Angels signing Japanese star Shohei Otani, and yet another Marlins fire sale. But in case you missed some of the more minor news, the Rockies are bringing back Chris Iannetta for 2018, penciling him in as the primary catcher. Veterans Jonathan Lucroy and Ryan Hanigan became free agents when 2017 ended, and it doesn't look like the Rockies are pursuing either of them. But no one can catch 162 games, so that means that Murphy and Tony Wolters will be the backups.

The batter's eye at the Salt River Fields practice facilities, Spring Training home of both the Rockies and Diamondbacks, is becoming a frequent sight on their Topps cards, especially in sets with lots of posed shots like Heritage and Archives. This 1979-esque card will go along nicely with several other cards from 2016 Topps Heritage. I just hope that Murphy starts showing up in the lineup as often as he appears in my collection.

2017 Topps Gypsy Queen #19a David Dahl (RC)
The Rockies outfielder situation, as usual, is a lot clearer. Even with the likely departure of Carlos Gonzalez, David Dahl and Raimel Tapia are waiting in the wings, and there has to be somewhere to put them. Topps is already mentioning Dahl in the same breath with retired legend Todd Helton. Both Dahl and Helton turned in .315 batting averages in their rookie year, which is about the extent of what's on the back of this sparse Gypsy Queen design.

2017 Topps Gypsy Queen Green #24 Adam Ottavino
In addition to that GQ base card, this green parallel arrived, which is a bit better centered than the Tapia card that Scott sent in a recent trade. Surprisingly, even though this appears to be precisely the same thickness as Dahl's card above, it feels a lot sturdier.

I have seen a few examples of this year's Gypsy Queen set, but I didn't truly notice the gentle rainbow gradient at the bottom of the design. Somehow the green border made it a little easier for my eye to catch. On the photo side, GQ tends to be hit or miss for me. This one is quite nice, and the shadows aren't obviously highlighted, unlike a particular Ben Zobrist card that I haven't quite been able to forget.

Ottavino had a rough season in 2017, but that was largely due to one rough road outing against the Dodgers. We started this post with that theme, where John Wetteland gave up four runs without recording an out in the middle of what was otherwise a pretty solid season. There's just no telling what will happen on any given day, and it doesn't even need to be in Coors Field. I'll kindly remind you that both roller coaster games in the 2017 World Series took place at sea level.

Depending on what happens with Greg Holland, Adam Ottavino is likely to play a larger role in the 2018 Rockies bullpen, despite his rough patch last year. The team as a whole is set to look quite a bit different next year, with numerous players throughout the talent range hitting free agency. Holland, CarGo, and Lucroy I already mentioned, Mark Reynolds is still on the market, and Tyler Chatwood and Pat Neshek have already signed on with other clubs. There's still lots of young and retained talent; I just hope that reaching the 2017 Wild Card game isn't the high water mark for the next decade.

The Rockies still have some work to do this offseason. But not right now. It's the Holidays, and I hope the Rockies and their front office are all set to spend some quality time with friends and family.

And I wish the same for you.

Just like I did the first time I wrote this.

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