Wednesday, December 5, 2018

Eight Clubby Nights: A Stadium Club Hanukkah (Night 4)

As we continue with our Stadium Club Hanukkah, we've reached Night 4, nearing the halfway point. By now, one side of the menorah is entirely full, and we're up to using five candles for tonight's ceremony. Yes, even though it's just the fourth night, there are five, since you use a separate candle, called the shamash, to light the nightly candles, rather than just lighting the nightly candles with a match or lighter.

There are all sorts of rules and customs concerning how Hanukkah is celebrated, each with varying degrees of debate surrounding them. It's a translated Hebrew word, so there are about a dozen ways to spell Hanukkah. There's a bit less debate about which direction to light the candles, traditionally from left to right (i.e. newest to oldest). The menorah is supposed to have certain design elements, candles have to burn a certain length of time, and so on. But they don't have to be wax candles in the modern form we're familiar with.

More to come as we progress past the halfway point, but I think there's room for only one rabbit hole on this blog, or at least one a night, so let's see what this fourth pack contained. Spoiler alert: it was pretty awesome.

2018 Stadium Club #52 Paul Goldschmidt
Paul Goldschmidt is the face of the Rockies' chief division rivals, the Arizona Diamondbacks. I've never been a big D-backs fan, but there's been more of a sense of solidarity in recent years, thanks to the shared spring training facilities, and the alliance the rest of the NL West seems to have built against the Dodgers. There was a lot of "root for whichever NL West team is playing the Dodgers this week" camaraderie in our individual team subreddits this season.

As Hot Stove season heats up, the trade rumors are swirling around Goldie, as it has been for a ton of other players. (EDIT: Looks like he's going to the Cardinals.) The six-time All Star is starting to cool off just a hair as he hits his 30s, but he's been in the running for MVP honors more often than not. He was the runner-up twice, and finished third in MVP voting in 2017, a point the card back stresses. It remains to be seen whether it will fully click for Goldschmidt and he'll walk away with the highest individual honor in baseball.

If he does, that will probably not be a great year for the Rockies.

2018 Stadium Club #103 Tim Raines
Tim Raines, or "Rock", as nearly everyone else besides Topps called him, is our second retired player from this blaster, and our first Hall of Famer. Raines is one of the rare players to play across four decades, his career spanning from 1979-2002. His playing time in '79 amounted to nothing more than six pinch-runner appearances. It would be 1980 before he saw big league pitching for the first time. He was a speedster, leading the NL in stolen bases for four straight seasons, 1981-1984, even eclipsing the great Rickey Henderson in a couple of those years.

His career was in full swing (pun not intended) when I became a baseball fan in 1993. I remember him playing for the Chicago White Sox in the ALCS that year, though it would take him getting traded to the Yankees before he'd win his first of two World Series rings. The Yankees came out on the winning end of that swap, as the PTBNL in that trade, Blaise Kozeniewski, never progressed past Double-A, nor did he ever play a game in the White Sox farm system.

I like seeing retired superstars scattered throughout this checklist, and I especially like seeing the Expos uniform pop up from time to time. We're over a dozen years removed from their departure to Washington, D.C., and I regret never having the chance to see them play in person. That may change, as it's been twenty years since the last round of MLB expansion. There are a few cities in the running, with Portland, Oregon leading the rumor mill. Las Vegas, Charlotte, Nashville, even sites in Mexico have been suggested. But seeing baseball return to Montreal is something many people want to see, and it could definitely happen.

That might leave the Rockies in an odd spot. They may end up in some sort of weird Central-South division and could even have to switch leagues. I'm not wild about that idea, but it beats having your team moved across the continent.

2018 Stadium Club Power Zone #PZ-NA Nolan Arenado
For now, the Rockies remain in the NL West, and Nolan Arenado's tremendous power swing is a part of that. This insert of the six-time Gold Glove winner is our first Rockie of the blaster. I think this space theme works a little better with a righty than on left-handed hitter Kyle Schwarber's card. It looked vaguely like Schwarber was moving backwards. But Nolan's launch angle on this card really does make it look like he could put a ball into orbit, and he's not even at Coors in this photo.

The back of this Power Zone insert card, which seems to be pretty common in this year's Stadium Club, goes in-depth about Arenado's unique "step back", a slight lift of the back foot before he steps into a swing. MLB has written at length about it, and I never really picked up on this movement, but it certainly seems to work well for him. He's climbed up one spot in NL MVP voting each year since 2016, so by 2020, he'll have the award, if that trend continues. Of course, there's no guarantee he won't instead get a massive payday in free agency, so that MVP award may not come as a Rockie.

The Rockies as a member of the AL South without Nolan Arenado is really not a future I'm looking forward to. But nothing lasts forever.

2018 Stadium Club #74 Ichiro
The standard arrangement of these packs is starting to become clear. Two vertical cards, followed by an insert, concluded by two horizontal cards. This glorious card of Ichiro shows him taking the field in a spring training game. It's probably the Peoria Sports Complex, which the Mariners share with the Padres, and you can just make out a tiny "SD" logo on the outfield wall. If you look closely, you can see the ageless outfielder bounding onto the field without his feet even touching the ground. That youthful vigor isn't often seen as players near their retirement, but Ichiro has always been in a class of his own.

He returned to Seattle to finish his career, which many thought would end in 2018. But the Mariners are opening their regular season against Oakland in Tokyo in March 2019, and the M's have confirmed that Ichiro will be on their slightly expanded roster of 28 players. I never really quite know what Ichiro's retirement plans are, but if he plays his final two games for the Mariners in his home country, a place where he amassed nearly 1,300 hits starting at the age of 18, it will be a spectacular end to an amazing career.

2018 Stadium Club #96 J.D. Martinez
Speaking of international series, the Boston Red Sox and J.D. Martinez will be squaring off against the Yankees in London in late June 2019. The two-game set will be held at London Stadium, the central location of the 2012 Olympics. It marks the first time the MLB will visit the UK, and I see no reason to doubt that the iconic AL East rivalry will be diminished in any way. Power hitters like J.D. Martinez, who finished second on the home run leaderboard last year, and whoever the Yankees get this offseason to complement Stanton and Judge, will surely put on a show this summer.

Interestingly, that series was announced on May 8th, 2018, which was right smack in the middle of my trip to London. Copies of the free Evening Standard are handed out at all the Tube station entrances during the homeward-bound rush hour, and I happened to grab a copy as I was returning to my Airbnb from the Saint Pancras area. I remember reading all about this announced series on the final leg of the train journey from Victoria Station to Battersea Park, and it was actually quite comforting to read about baseball after being alone in a giant foreign city like London for several days.

Coincidentally, I visited the Jewish Museum in Camden Town that same day, which included a collection of menorahs, among many other items. Even more coincidentally, I just saw a production of, and have been reading, Charles Dickens' A Christmas Carol, and none other than Bob Crachit and his family lived in Camden Town.

You never know what will come out of a sealed pack of cards, and it's amazing to be able to tie a baseball card of J.D. Martinez to a destination I visited in London half a year ago. The candles are pretty, but when I see a bunch of seemingly unrelated puzzle pieces fall into place, that's what really makes me feel there's something bigger than myself. The philosophers might call it sympatheia. It can catch you off guard, but it's there if you look for it.

And I'm pretty sure this post broke my record for using italics.


  1. Maybe I should just speak for myself but I'm not sure we appreciate Ichiro's accomplishments enough. Ten straight seasons with 200+ hits, and that coming to a new league in a new country.

    1. Ichiro is one of the greats. People definitely don't appreciate him fully, especially in light of everything he did in Japan first.

  2. There's nothing quite like Stadium Club photography. Love that Ichiro card.

    1. It's in the running for my Card of the Year already.

  3. That was an awesome pack! Lots of cool cards, including the Arenado insert. Hope you're having a nice Hanukkah!

    1. Thanks Chris! Going well so far at the halfway point.