Sunday, March 8, 2015

My First Group Break

I was recently involved in my first-ever group break, which was hosted by Nachos Grande. He does these quite frequently; he's already on his second this year. The one previous was a jumbo case of 2015 Topps Series 1, which I was not involved in. This post is actually from his final group break of 2014, where he opened some Topps High Tek and Stadium Club. I didn't see too many posts from other bloggers about their winnings, but that may be because I ended up with one of the hits from a fairly small selection of high-end cards.

For the uninitiated, a group break works like this: a couple dozen or so people pool their money and buy several boxes, or perhaps a case, and divide up the cards by team. Anyone who anted up gets all the cards of their chosen team(s), or perhaps a random team; there are lots of ways to do it.

Anyway, I'll get to that in a bit, but part of this group break also included a bunch of assorted cards from your team that had nothing to do with the fancy new boxes of high-end Topps. That means that much of this shipment looked a lot like a trade package, and I'm sure that Nachos Grande was able to clear out lots of extras.

Gold was the name of the game in the mid-1990s, and even the "filler" cards didn't disappoint.

1998 Bowman's Best #4 Dante Bichette
I never saw any of the Bowman's Best cards when they were released. I'm sure I acquired a few here and there in the early 2000s, but I never really got a good look at this brand until they made it an insert set it in recent Bowman releases.

They're quite thick, maybe even a little more so than Topps Finest. And I think I finally found the right scanner settings to get a somewhat accurate representation of a shiny card.

1994 SP #165 Ellis Burks
Upper Deck didn't miss an opportunity to put the "Super Premium" in "SP", because all that brass-colored foil on the right side wasn't enough. Even the little Upper Deck hologram on the back is gold on these SP cards, as opposed to the usual silver.

If I never ran across Bowman's Best in their early years, then I definitely never saw the first few Upper Deck SP sets. They just weren't in my budget as a young collector, although I could probably have stretched if I really wanted to. But at $75 for a box of eight cards, Topps High Tek would have been completely out of my price range. Even now, taking my chances in a group break really only made sense because I knew there would be lots of other goodies included.

Goodies like awesome photography on UD Collector's Choice.

1997 Collector's Choice #321 Bruce Ruffin
I'm not sure how well a Bic ballpoint pen will do when used to sign a baseball, but it beats no signature at all if the Rockies' closer is giving out autographs under a partly cloudy sky.

Based on that black jersey and the relatively small light fixture in the background, I'm guessing that this was taken during Spring Training. The players are a lot more accessible during the preseason, and most of the autograph collectors I know have had much of their success while visiting Arizona or Florida in the month of March.

Speaking of Spring Training, we're just a few games in, and as I write this, my TV is tuned to live baseball for the first time in many months! Nothing like a ballgame to get me in the card-blogging spirit.

I don't have any autographs from Spring Training, but I have managed to snag a few at Coors Field over the years.

1996 Stadium Club #377 Kevin Ritz
Kevin Ritz spent a few years in the Rockies' rotation, and he signed my hat before a game. He probably wasn't on the mound that day, as starters have plenty of time to kill during game time except every fifth day.

This card shows Ritz pitching in an away stadium, as neither Coors Field nor Mile High Stadium employed the use of Astroturf, thankfully. That stuff was just hideous. It was in quite a few parks before the recent round of new ballpark construction, even in outdoor stadiums with relatively mild climates, like St. Louis and Philadelphia. Only Toronto and Tampa Bay still have artificial surfaces, and those are both indoor stadiums.

Pretty much every time I get a random stack of cards from about 1997 to 2005, there's a card from a set I've never seen before. And I'm not talking about insert sets; that's how many base sets were out there until Fleer, Pacific, Pinnacle, and Donruss all fell on hard times.

2002 Fleer Maximum #17 Todd Helton
Fleer Maximum. New to me. Unfortunately, this card is a bit beat up. It probably fell victim to being stuck to the card on top of it, which has a tendency to take out tiny bits of the glossy coating when you peel them apart. It might just be generally fragile and was thumbed through too many times in a discount box, but it looks to me like this was sealed in a pack and left to cook in someone's garage for too long before it was liberated.

Jeff Baker's 2003 Studio card fared quite a bit better, which is fortunate, because this is just about the best Coors Field backdrop that's ever appeared on a card.

2003 Studio #123 Jeff Baker
That's a great example of a summertime Colorado sunset, just before the Giants faced off with the Rockies in Denver. If you look closely, Andres Galarraga and John Vander Wal, both former Rockies, are back to back in the San Francisco lineup.

There's lots in this photo to document the earlier iterations of Coors Field. That Bank One sign is no more, as that bank was acquired by Chase not long after this card was printed. The left field scoreboard is also in its original layout, where all the lights were an amber color. They've since replaced it with a full-color high definition screen. Longtime readers know how I love little details, and there's another one to point out. The bat that Baker is holding has "17" written on the knob, indicating that he swiped one of Todd Helton's bats for this photo op.

1998 Leaf #76 Dante Bichette
I have no reason to believe that Dante Bichette isn't using his own bat in this photograph, but one thing I noticed about this Leaf card is that prominent "50th Anniversary" seal.

The 1948 Leaf set is considered to be the first set in the modern collecting era, at least according to Beckett. 1998 happened to be fifty years after that set was released, but calling it an "anniversary" seems like a huge stretch to me. Until the mid-'80s when the Leaf brand was basically a Canadian Donruss parallel set, and 1990 when they took it upmarket with a high-end set, the brand was pretty much nonexistent for decades following that seminal 1948 release. Far be it from me to admonish the use of gold foil on a late-1990s card, but using the word "anniversary" implies a lot more continuity than a decades-long gap between releases.

Munnatawket Custom #62 Carlos Gonzalez
As is common with shipments from Nachos Grande, he included a card from the custom Munnatawket Mini set, and this one was of a Rockie, no less. I only have a handful of these, but it's a small set and trading is a great way to find a few more. I've written about these before, and now that I have both CarGo and Tulo, I probably have all the Rockies from this small set. And Spider-Man.

Anyway, this has pretty much been a trade post so far, so let's get to the actual cards from the break! The slot I purchased in this break contained not only the Rockies, but also the San Francisco Giants. There were a handful of assorted Giants cards like the above, but I hit some new ones in the break itself.

2014 Stadium Club #64 Tim Lincecum
I'm slowly finding more cards from 2014 Stadium Club, including Tim Lincecum experimenting with facial hair. As the back of this card notes, he's chopped off the long hair he was known for, but still has "electric" stuff on the mound. The only way this card could be better is if it were the "electric foil" parallel.

But the headliner of this break were the Topps High Tek cards. Topps saw fit to resurrect this brand from the late-'90s, which are printed on clear acetate instead of cardboard, and have a wide variety of possible background patterns. Unlike the earlier sets that had up to 80 possible backgrounds (making for an 8000+ card set), they scaled that back significantly in 2014, offering only twelve patterns, six for each league. You could call this a "fractured set", which are pretty much impossible to explain in a reasonably-sized paragraph.

The luck of the draw meant I ended up with two of the sixteen Topps High Tek cards in the group break. The same held true for the collectors who had the Braves, Dodgers, Yankees, Brewers, and White Sox. That's rather unfortunate collation for a group break, as all the rest of the team slots walked away with only four cards. Such are the risks with these high-end products that contain only a few cards per box.

Based on the patterns guide, it looks like these two boxes yielded the more common patterns, and that held true for my two as well.

2014 Topps High Tek Net #HT-TT Troy Tulowitzki
This Tulo card has the National League's "Net" pattern. As usual in these small sets, the only two Rockies to be found are he and Carlos Gonzalez. The plastic is fairly flexible, but it's probably pretty hard to actually crease it. This type of plastic instead tends to turn white when bent too much. None of the cards has a numeric card number; instead they use the frustrating alphabet soup of the set name and player's initials. Trying to actually build a fractured set without card or pattern numbers would be a pure nightmare.

Still, these are pretty cool cards, and my second win from the break is an awesome one!

2014 Topps High Tek Spiral Bricks Clouds Diffractor #HT-WMA Willie Mays /25
Like Stadium Club, Topps High Tek contains a mixture of current and retired players. That's a "clouds diffractor" parallel of the Say Hey Kid, numbered to 25. The acetate pattern is the National League's "Spiral Bricks" pattern, one of the more common patterns. The diffractor pattern isn't visible in the scan, but it looks more like bubbles than clouds. The break got a pretty even mix of current and retired players, and I'm happy with one of each.

I definitely got lucky with this one. It was my first experience both with a group break and packs of high-end baseball cards. The group break idea I am sold on, and I really have to hand it to Nachos Grande for putting these together. After all, we do have a pretty small community, and it seems like he struggles a bit filling breaks. I appreciate the effort he puts in, and I'm sure it's not the last one I'll participate in.


  1. That Mays is terrific. I'm guessing it looks even more spectacular in-person!

  2. That Mays is really cool. I got shut out in Tek, but it was fun to see the other cards. It seems the cards have been doing pretty well on the secondary market too as I haven't been able to secure any Pirates yet.

  3. The Mays is awesome. But, it is a rare break where the person who gets the Brewers does better than most other teams! :-)

  4. The Mays IS awesome! My fave card here is 2003 Studio. Has to be one of my favorite Studio sets! I just did my first break too with Heritage. Looking forward to the remaining spoils from Nacho Man.