Wednesday, June 29, 2016

The Trading Post #70: The Chronicles of Fuji

If you're a longtime Rockies fan, or even a moderately informed baseball fan, you probably know that Monday night's game in Denver between the Blue Jays and the Rockies was the first time Troy Tulowitzki returned to Coors Field following last year's sudden trade. I had planned on attending that game as soon as the 2016 schedule was released, and got a small group of friends together to go with me at the last minute.

2013 Bowman Platinum Sapphire #69 Troy Tulowitzki
The above parallel is a prophetic card, recycled photo or not. The blue background against Tulo in purple pinstripes predicted where he'd end up within a couple seasons. With as many colored parallels as Topps prints, perhaps that's not so surprising. One of them had to be accurate.

Overall, Monday's game was fairly typical. Hot dogs, a few beers, a seat on the third base side so as not to stare into the sun for half the game, Jon Gray giving up a first-inning home run then largely settling down, Nolan Arenado flashing the leather. But what was different was me. My chosen attire for the game was a Tulowitzki jersey. A Blue Jays one.

Consider it an act of protest.

I found the trade to be quite upsetting. At first I scoffed that it was just business, but the next morning and for some time after I was in a state of disbelief and sadness. My blog archive offers a glimpse into my thoughts at the time.

The Rockies hadn't ever really done anything quite like that before. Sure, they've traded a few guys I liked, and opted not to shell out for various free agents in the offseason. When Matt Holliday was traded I wasn't too fazed. Holliday was a rather subpar outfielder, and Carlos Gonzalez came over in return from the A's. But Tulo, with the Rockies since his debut, being dealt for three pitchers that are still in the minors, and Jose Reyes? It just...hurt. Especially when Jose Reyes' domestic violence incident came to light.

Maybe Jeff Hoffman and the other pitching prospects will turn out to be awesome. And the Rockies made an expensive statement in cutting Jose Reyes, which I think was the right move. Plus, Tulo's untimely departure did clear the way for Trevor Story, which no one saw coming.

2013 Topps Allen & Ginter Across the Years #ATY-TT Troy Tulowitzki
But I was eager to welcome him back to Denver. Prior to his first at bat, the fans (myself included) gave him a standing ovation as he doffed his helmet. We even got the TU-LO chant going a couple times.

Just like in this A&G insert card, Tulowitzki made a nice play or two in the field Monday night. Reyes left a bit to be desired in that department, but Story is coming along nicely, despite a few rookie mistakes. Even Nolan Arenado had a tough time in the field during his first six weeks or so, but he might be the best defensive third baseman in the game right now.

Flipping this card over tells us that Tulo shares an October 10th birthday with all sorts of famous people, from Verdi to Andrew McCutchen. He's not too much younger than me, you know. We even wore pretty much the same jersey on Monday.

2001 Topps Opening Day Stickers #10 Colorado Rockies
Which raises the question: what does it mean to be a Rockies fan?

Despite that standing O, there were more than a few people that heckled and booed him. And he did go 0-4, which I was genuinely disappointed about, though he hit a home run in game 2 of the series following what I'll call a hail delay. I'm still glad the Rockies won the game, but I felt rather conflicted throughout. Does that make me less of a Rockies fan? Does my loyalty to a player mean I support the team less?

I've always had an affinity for ex-Rockies as they traveled around the league. Charlie Hayes, in his first season away from the Rockies as a Pirate, hit a home run on May 20th, 1996. I stood up and cheered for him, even though he was on the other team. I was disappointed when Larry Walker retired without ever winning a World Series. I was happy for Joe Girardi when he helped the Yankees win the World Series in 1996. And I definitely was pulling for the Blue Jays in the 2015 postseason.

I caught a lot of heat from a lot of people for wearing that jersey. Even random strangers. Tulo's stock in Denver has gone down quite a bit, partially for some of the comments he made about management. Which surprises me, because it's nothing that the papers and fans haven't been saying for two-plus decades.

Am I a Rockies fan? Yes. But does that mean that I'll blindly agree with all their decisions and root for whichever players they put on the field? No. If they did an even swap of 25-man rosters with any given team like the Braves or the Rangers, I wouldn't show up the next day and root for the Rockies. The uniform carries a lot of weight, but so do the players that have worn it.

2012 Bowman Chrome Legends In The Making Die Cuts #LIM-CG Carlos Gonzalez
Fortunately, despite trade rumors that circled around him last year, Carlos Gonzalez remains a Rockie, and he's still capable of mashing monster home runs. For that type of consistent performance, he's rewarded with an always-interesting and always-hard-to-scan die cut card from Bowman. In 2012 he was a Legend in the Making. By now he's one of the longest-tenured Rockies and still a fan favorite.

2015 Topps Custom #NNO San Jose Fuji (AU)
In all this talk about Tulowitzki, I've been neglecting the blogger who actually sent these cards. Along with all these Rockies, Fuji of The Chronicles of Fuji included a signed, custom card of his South Park avatar, proclaiming himself as a member of the Oakland Athletics. He chose the 2015 style for this Topps Custom, a bit different from the 2008 design on his blog profile. The Junior Junkie, the other blogger to include a custom as part of a trade package, chose to go with the iconic 1987 design.

I haven't made one of these myself, but if I were to, I'd probably pick 1994. There's something about your first factory set.

1996 Collector's Choice You Crash the Game #CG16 Larry Walker
Back to the shiny. This is a You Crash The Game insert card, a redemption card that became valid only if the pictured player hit a home run during the series listed on the front. But Larry Walker broke his collarbone in June 1996, meaning he was injured for most of the summer and didn't have a chance to make this card pay off for collectors. Sadly, it's destined to remain in this format forever, always offering an optimistic glimmer of hope for something that's no longer possible.

1994 Pinnacle Museum Collection #103 Jerald Clark
You've seen this card on several blogs before, including this one. Well, at least the base version of it. Pinnacle had one of the better parallel sets of the mid-1990s with this fancy starburst finish called Dufex. Lines radiate out from the Pinnacle logo as Jerald Clark scales the outfield wall at Mile High Stadium. It's a bit harder to make out details in the photo than the base card, but then again, that's not the point of this set. There's no serial number, but it had a print run of 6,500. That's a needle in a haystack as 1994 cards go.

2015 Topps Update Chrome #US16 John Axford
John Axford's tenure as a Rockie has already come and gone. I saw him pitch last July, one of those bullpen wins that can only be generated when you blow a save and come back in the bottom of the 9th. Starting pitchers love when that happens, let me tell you.

Anyway, he got a card in 2015 Topps Update, and this is one of those sparkly Chrome parallels that everyone seemed to be buying at Target in late summer 2015. I never ended up getting one of those gift boxes they were sold in, trusting that they'd make their way to me via trade sooner or later.

2015 Topps Update #US29 Ben Paulsen (RC)
Ben Paulsen makes an appearance from time to time. He's played in a couple dozen games this season, but for now is just on the 40-man roster. Fuji threw in a couple copies of this one, which may end up in my Coors Field frankenset. It has a long way to go, and I may already have a card #29, but this is a pretty great night shot either way. And it transitions us into the non-shiny portion of the post.

1998 Leaf Rookies and Stars #171 Larry Walker TLU (SP)
Leaf Rookies & Stars isn't a set I run across too often. I was out of the hobby at this point, and while I appreciate a Larry Walker power swing as much as the next guy, the "Team Lineup Card" labeling had me intrigued. Turning the card over did not disappoint.

1998 Leaf Rookies and Stars #171 Larry Walker TLU (SP) (Reverse)
It's a team checklist, yes, but it's done a bit differently than usual. Insert cards are included on the right hand side, a unique feature among all the team checklists I've ever run across. The actual Opening Day lineup is listed as well, giving at least a little nod to lesser players that didn't get an actual card in the set. Todd Helton was just getting his career off the ground in 1998, and he bridged the gap between the modern Rockies and a couple of the inaugural players like Bichette and Castilla. You don't need more than a few players to bridge a huge portion of the team's history, sort of like the transfer of power between Mickey Mantle and Joe DiMaggio in 1951.

1998 Leaf Rookies and Stars #136 Todd Helton PT (SP)
Here's one of the subset cards referenced on the Lineup Card checklist! This is a Power Tools card, and they're definitely going for the style of a Ford F-150 commercial. The back of the card praises Helton's budding talents, even saying that the Rockies expect him to bring home a batting title. Just a couple years later he did just that, hitting .372 in 2000, his first All-Star season. Other than Larry Walker's .379 the year before, that remains the highest batting average among the numerous batting titles they've brought to Denver. In fact, since their inaugural 1993 season, they've won nine NL batting titles out of a possible twenty-three—about 40%.

Of course, that adds to the frustration of being a Rockies fan, because their pitching is consistently as bad as their hitting is good.

But maybe the loot from the Tulowitzki trade will change that in a couple seasons.

2012 Topps A Cut Above #ACA-25 Troy Tulowitzki
I couldn't really end this post with anyone else, could I? I'm not sure if this asymmetrical die cut is supposed to represent a particular shape, but he is "a cut above". An out-of-focus right field scoreboard is visible in the background as Tulo gets ready to fire an off-balance throw to a fellow infielder. This is always where he excelled, in the field. He was always a threat at the plate, though he surprisingly hasn't ever led the league in any stat. Nolan Arenado has already surpassed Tulo's collection of Gold Gloves, and Trevor Story looks to be an exciting player to fill Tulo's shoes, something Jose Reyes would have had a hard time doing even if he wanted to be here.

He'll always have a place in Denver history, and while I'll never forget the TU-LO chants echoing off the other side of the stadium at a particular 2007 World Series game, now that I got to say my goodbyes, I can better accept that Tulo and the Rockies have parted ways.

1 comment:

  1. I've actually though about buying and wearing a Kurt Suzuki Twins jersey and wearing it to an A's game... but it would get ruined by my fellow Athletics fans dumping beer or nacho cheese on me ;)

    As for my custom... I think I might go with the 1982 design next... since JJ already claimed the 1987 design.