Saturday, May 27, 2017

Todd Helton: A Collecting Cutch Contest Entry

When you visit Coors Field, you'll find three retired numbers mounted above the visiting team's bullpen in right center.

The first, of course, is #42, once worn by the great Jackie Robinson, which is retired across the league. The second is a set of initials, KSM, to honor the memory of Keli McGregor. McGregor was the president of the Rockies baseball club until his untimely death from a rare viral infection in 2010. The Rockies wore a memorial patch on their uniforms for the remainder of the 2010 season. The third and final number is #17, belonging to Todd Helton, the career Rockie and fan favorite who spent, coincidentally, seventeen seasons in Denver.

2005 Leaf #69 Todd Helton
He was a fixture at first base from 1997 through 2013, as shown on this rainy Leaf card from 2005. Helton is ready for a throw from a fellow fielder, although his mitt is partially cropped out of the photo. Fans in the Coors Field seats are sheltered under plastic ponchos and umbrellas. It's not the most enjoyable way to watch a ballgame, but at least the sun isn't in their eyes.

Though I'm a bit late to the party, I thought the Rockies deserved an entry into Collecting Cutch's contest. I'd have liked to pick Arenado, but I don't really have that many cards of him, and he's only been playing since 2013. Todd Helton seemed like a better choice to get the top-10 treatment, not only because I have many more of his cards, but also because his career spanned a few eras of the post-strike baseball card industry.

Collecting Cutch promised "this is going to be an easy and fun one." Fun, yes, but narrowing this down to just 10 cards was pretty tough. That it was well after midnight when I made the final selections probably didn't help, but Helton had quite a few great cards throughout his career as a Rockie.

2005 was Leaf's final year of existence, a set that Panini hasn't brought back yet. There was a gap or two, but they had a solid run during the '90s, produced some beautiful sets, and gave us perhaps the rarest main set of the whole overproduction era in 1990.

2000 Stadium Club #193 Todd Helton
Most of these cards are from Helton's pre-goatee days, not that you can tell from this shot. Stadium Club can always be counted on for awesome photography, but they have an even more inconsistent history than Leaf. Helton was always better known for his abilities at the plate, but he took home three Gold Gloves to go along with a few Silver Sluggers.

Apparently I like horizontal cards more than some of my contemporaries, and I'll take a little asymmetry in my binder pages for a card like this any day. Watching Helton dig out a slightly errant throw to nail a runner (crossing the baseline in the process) against an all-dirt background earns it a spot in the top-10.

Arenado already has Helton beat when it comes to Gold Gloves, but this card reminds me of a rocketing one-hopper that Nolan speared in last night's game with a little extra flourish. The Gold Glover's version of a bat flip, if you will.

2004 Playoff Honors #73 Todd Helton
These aren't ranked in any particular order, they're just what seems to flow when I thumb through the stack. Most of my posts are like that to a degree. The cards tell me what to write, in a sense. And I did make an effort to not just pick my ten favorite sets. That's partly why 2004 Playoff Honors is on here, a single-year set you probably haven't seen in the Cardsphere in ages, if at all.

It's a shot from a recognizable AT&T Park (or rather Pacific Bell Park, as it was called when this photo was taken), but it shows Helton in a very familiar spot. Second base. Yes, he played first defensively, but he was a machine when it came to hitting doubles. Those doubles, coupled with his lifetime totals of homers, hits, and other stats, put him in the same company as Stan Musial.

2002 Upper Deck Vintage #262 Todd Helton
Helton followed the Stan Musial school of thought for getting yourself into scoring position, rather than Rickey Henderson's. He wasn't much of a base stealer, but sometimes he could be seen diving back to second base, trying to avoid the tag of the Expos' Orlando Cabrera like he is here. The out-of-town scoreboard is out of the frame, so I don't have enough information to date this card, but the horizontal layout against a black border earned it a spot in the top-10, even if it is a pretty blatant knockoff of 1971 Topps. The back calls him "One of the best players in the game today," and also calls out his stellar .999 fielding percentage the previous season. That translates to just two errors all year.

I doubt there's been a baseball card set with that kind of accuracy.

2000 Finest #71 Todd Helton
When I first started thinking about this post, 2000 Finest was one of a few that immediately came to mind. Other than the gigantic shiny silver baseball, the photo of his post-swing pose is pretty common on many of his cards. That's what makes things like the rainy day at Coors and the fielding a short hop stand out so much. It's a set that I've shown a couple times, and I'm sure I've purchased this card a couple times over in error. Helton is in a lot of discount boxes around here.

These cards are all pretty thick. You can always count on Finest for that. The thinnest one so far is the Leaf card at the top. But this is the shiniest one.

2001 Ultra #97 Todd Helton
Speaking of Helton's swing, this Fleer Ultra card is the best one I found in my whole collection. He's back in Pacific Bell Park, with a cameo of (I think) catcher Bobby Estalella, a future Rockie. The extension is textbook, and while I never liked pinstripes on their road uniforms, Helton's swing reminds me a bit of Mickey Mantle's. 2007 Topps illustrated that maybe a little better, and it was one of the last to miss the cut in favor of this gorgeous full-bleed card.

2008 Stadium Club #4 Todd Helton
There were other candidates from Stadium Club, and this post wasn't that far off from being a "top-10 Todd Helton cards from Stadium Club" post. And we're not done yet. This one is from the poorly-received 2008 set, which still hits the Coors Field mini-collection quite well. The luxury suites and Club Level rarely make it onto a card. Helton had grown his goatee by this point, and was still honing his craft daily at batting practice. You don't become a fan favorite and the face of the franchise by slacking.

In addition to his #17 retired number plaque, there's a "Burger Shack" named after him behind the left field bleachers, just under the giant scoreboard. It's not far from where a group of die-hard fans unfurled a white banner with Helton's name on it during all his at-bats. The Helton Burger is one of the best snacks in the ballpark, but it competes with the Oskar Blues-branded CHUBurger found in the Rooftop.

And yes, I realize I just called a burger a "snack". No further comment.

1993 Topps Traded #19T Todd Helton USA (RC)
This wouldn't be much of a list without Helton's Team USA Rookie Card from 1993 Topps Traded. It's the headliner in that 132-card set, one that featured many newly-minted Rockies and Marlins who didn't make it into Series 2. Little did Helton know he'd eventually take over at first for Andres Galarraga, card #31T in that set.

The aluminum Easton bat takes me back to my little league days, and in looking closely at this card, Helton can be seen wearing a Topps patch on his left sleeve. The card back gives us some of his baseball stats at the University of Tennessee, and mentions that he "also plays college football." Famously, he was briefly the starting quarterback for the Volunteers until he experienced an injury and a guy named Peyton Manning took the job. Both became legends in Denver sports history.

1999 Topps #52 Todd Helton
There's not much overlap between my top-10 Helton cards and my top-10 overall sets. 2000 Finest stands a chance, though, as does the final set. But if nothing else, this list list should give you a pretty good idea about what I like in a card. Thick card stock, full-bleed printing, a bit of foil but nothing crazy (2000 Finest obviously excepted), a horizontal layout, and if none of those boxes are checked, at least an interesting photograph.

This card from 1999 Topps is the second card that popped into my head before I even checked the binders. The overall design isn't going to win any awards, but Helton shielding himself from the rain with a white towel is somehow extremely memorable. The red wheelbarrow and tarp add a bit of uniqueness to the card, and I had forgotten that this one also included the Topps All-Star Rookie trophy.

The back of this early Helton card hit the nail right on the head, by wrapping up the paragraph with the following: "Statistically, Todd's season was also a success - but likely just an appetizer for a banquet of feats to come."

2014 Stadium Club Members Only #31 Todd Helton
That "banquet of feats" came to its end on September 25th, 2013, Helton's final home game. The Rockies got trounced by the Boston Red Sox that day, but Helton's 2nd inning home run and farewell lap (as pictured) are more likely to stand out in fans' memories. He did play a final weekend series on the road to conclude the 2013 season, but this one is what Rockies fans remember.

I found no card of Helton's triumphant pose to close out the 2007 NLCS, which surely would have made the cut, but this Members Only parallel from 2014 Stadium Club concludes the top-10 list, one that I knew had to be on it. Julie of A Cracked Bat sent me this rare specimen, and it shows that final lap around Coors Field. It's in foul territory down the third base line, as we can see by Todd reaching over the tarp to high-five (side-five?) a fan.

Upon the conclusion of his storied career, Helton found himself atop the Rockies career leaderboard for hits, home runs, games played, RBIs, walks, doubles (592, almost twice Larry Walker's total), runs scored, and, well, pretty much everything else that doesn't involve speed. 2000 was his best single season, where he led the National League in a slew of statistics, including, yes, doubles.

And don't forget the horse.

Whether he'll be the Rockies' first representative in Cooperstown remains to be seen, but he gave Denver fans a wealth of memories, years of solid performance, a trip to the World Series, and more than enough cards to make a top-10 list.

Thursday, May 25, 2017

Diez de Mayo

No one has thrown a no-hitter at Coors Field since Hideo Nomo did it in 1996. There's only been the one in the stadium's 23-season history. There have been a few close ones, though. Most recently was German Marquez taking one into the 7th inning against the Cubs earlier this month. The Rockies ended up with a shutout against the defending World Champions, but the Cubs did manage to scratch out three hits.

This occasion marked my first purchase of a 2017 Topps Now card, which I believe is my first one of Marquez. The pitcher was a more minor piece of the Corey Dickerson trade, where the Rockies and Rays swapped players, with the Rockies also getting Jake McGee for the outfielder. Dickerson has been a solid piece of Tampa Bay's outfield this year, and Marquez has a 3-2 record so far in the 2017 season.

2017 Topps Now #132 German Marquez /378
It's a Coors Field card, yes, it marks yet another series the first-place Rockies won, and it shows off the new extra-purple Rockies jerseys. But I wasn't at this game, and a near no-hitter isn't exactly Hall of Fame material.

So why did I order this Topps Now card?

Well, May 10th, 2017 happens to be the day that my nephew was born. Little baby Levi came into the world at 6 lbs, 3 oz on a rainy Wednesday, just about equaling the weight of nineteen baseballs. He's already the proud owner of an official Colorado Rockies pacifier, so I'm doing my part to instill fandom early.

The print run was only 378 cards, and it documents the excellent pitching feat as well as the Rockies hot start to the 2017 season, which is still going strong almost into June. As many other bloggers have observed, the reverse of the card has a rainbow finish, the only set I can remember that has a special finish on the back but not the front. The packaging has been upgraded quite a bit from the 2016 cards, as well.

May 10th has always been an important date in my family. The day would have been my grandfather's 97th birthday, as well as my parents' 37th wedding anniversary. It feels extra-special for that date to suddenly be cause for celebration again.

Even if the Rockies gave up three hits that day.

Saturday, May 13, 2017

The Trading Post #98: Bump and Run Football Card Blog

Before the season started, the illustrious Night Owl sent an insert card from 1996 Fleer Ultra's Rising Stars set. Despite having a few in my collection already, it had somehow escaped my attention that Coors Field was the featured stadium throughout the set.

Fortunately, Trevor from Bump and Run Football Card Blog was watching out for me, offering a few more cards and getting me about halfway to completing the 10-card set. I still need to get a return package out to Trevor, but I figured today would be a good day for a post, since I'm attending my first baseball game of 2017 tonight.

1996 Fleer Ultra Rising Stars #8 Hideo Nomo
The Dodgers are in town this weekend, so who better to kick off this post than Hideo Nomo, the then-Dodger who pitched the first, and so far only no-hitter in Coors Field history. That happened to occur in 1996, the exact year of this card. I was not present for that game, but this card is a coincidental memento of that event, sort of an accidental Topps Now card.

The photo of "The Tornado", so called because of his windup, even appears to be from 1996, according to the commemorative patch on his left sleeve. That patch is for the team's 35th Anniversary of playing in Dodger Stadium, where they started in 1962. Of course, the Dodgers famously moved to the West Coast for the 1959 season, forcing them to play in Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum for a few seasons until their shiny new park could be built, which is now the third-oldest stadium in the Majors.

Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum, while woefully inadequate as a properly-sized baseball park, is getting lots of renewed interest as L.A. bids for the 2024 Summer Olympics, a city that is sure to reuse the iconic stadium that was opened in 1923 if they are selected over Paris, the only remaining candidate. Several other cities have withdrawn their candidacy in response to financial pressures and voter objections, reminding us of the tremendous costs of hosting such an event.

And they're not just financial costs. As we saw in Rio, there are plenty of societal costs, especially for those living on the land where the facilities will be built. And concerns about the environmental impact are partly what led Denver to turn down the 1976 Winter Olympics, the only city ever to do so.

1996 Fleer Ultra Rising Stars Gold Medallion #4 Cliff Floyd
That fact is something that Montreal knows better than most. Olympic Stadium, where the Montreal Expos played between 1977 through their departure after the 2004 season, was plagued with cost overruns and structural problems throughout their tenure. The stadium was built for the 1976 Summer Olympics, but wasn't fully paid off until 2006. Now the city doesn't even have an MLB team to show for it, thanks to a variety of reasons.

Cliff Floyd never became the star he was expected to be, only getting one All-Star selection throughout his 17-year journeyman career. But he was a good candidate for this insert set, and Trevor not only sent the base card, but also the Gold Medallion Edition parallel, which you see here. This parallel just gets a tiny bit of extra silver foil around the logo, quite a bit different from Gold Medallion parallels found in the main set.

1996 Fleer Ultra Gold Medallion #459 Eric Davis
Maybe Fleer used so much gold foil printing those up that they had none left over for a little 10-card insert set. But I'm a little surprised they didn't even emboss Floyd's card, as they did with other insert sets in the 1996 Ultra set.

I'll give your eyes a minute to recover before we move on.

1996 Ultra Rising Stars #6 Chipper Jones
There are several players found in this set that could be part of the mythical "Hall of the Very Good", like Jim Edmonds, Ryan Klesko, Nomo, and maybe Manny Ramirez. But Chipper Jones is the only one of the ten that's a sure-fire bet to be voted in to the real Hall when he's eligible next year. As the card mentions, he was runner-up for 1995 NL Rookie of the Year, losing out to set-mate Hideo Nomo, the fourth of five straight Dodgers to win the award. But Chipper, whose stellar career ended with a frustrating loss in the first-ever NL Wild Card game, did indeed become a future MVP candidate as this card predicted, even winning it in 1999.

Jones' career mostly overlapped with the Braves' residence at Turner Field, one of the key venues built for the 1996 Summer Olympics in Atlanta. Of course, the Braves moved to the new SunTrust Park for 2017, making Turner Field one of the shortest-lived MLB ballparks in recent memory.

Like many Braves of the era, Jones (or C. Jones, when Andruw was his teammate) was a thorn in the Rockies' side, and many fans in the Rockpile, the center-field bleacher section where this Coors Field photo was taken, got a distant view of him at the plate. I only saw Chipper in person once, on April 28th, 2007. Jones went 1-4 with 2 RBIs and a walk that day, behind a strong pitching performance by John Smoltz.

I remember having awesome seats for that game, right behind the visitors' dugout, so close you could hear the Velcro rip when players removed their batting gloves. That game also happened less than 24 hours before Troy Tulowitzki turned an incredibly rare feat, an unassisted triple play, one that Chipper himself lined into while hitting from the left side.

2014 Topps Green #117 Anibal Sanchez / Bartolo Colon / Hisashi Iwakuma LL
That about does it for the Rising Stars cards, but Trevor wasn't done there. I mentioned that I like green cards, so he found a couple for that preference of mine. This league leader card from 2014 Topps is obviously one of the green-bordered parallels, a shade that clashes slightly with Bartolo Colon's Athletics jersey. Anibal Sanchez took the top spot that year with an ERA mark of 2.57, a player who threw a no-hitter in 2006 that couldn't have come at a worse time for my fantasy baseball championship run. Hishashi Iwakuma rounds out the top three, while ex-Rockie Ubaldo Jimenez squeaked his way into the top-10 as a Cleveland Indian.

Three photos is a lot to squeeze onto a card to begin with, but somehow the green border makes it feel more crowded. It makes me appreciate the single-photo League Leader cards that Topps is using this year.

1994 Stadium Club Team #116 Willie Blair
The green theme carries on with this one of pitcher Willie Blair, and it's from an infrequently-seen team set that Stadium Club put out in the early 1990s. As in 1993, only a handful of teams were represented in this set, and while I do run across the Rockies from time to time in the Denver area, finding other teams is surprisingly difficult. In case your chosen team appears in this set, keep an eye out for First Day Issue parallels. At the end of the day, this is still Stadium Club.

2006 Fleer Ultra #147 Matt Holliday
Fleer and their family of brands found themselves under the ownership of Upper Deck in 2006. They wouldn't have much longer to go, but they did put out this Fleer Ultra set, keeping the full-bleed design going for a little while longer. A simple band of silver foil with a little upside-down crown on it gives us the player, position, and team, along with a redundant but more stylish printing of the player's last name above that.

Holliday is hitting in Wrigley Field here, as we can see Cubs catcher Michael Barrett behind the plate and wearing a hockey-style mask. You can even barely make out the bear logo on the top of his helmet. I wasn't that up-to-date on my decade-ago Cubs catchers, so I had to break out the magnifying glass for this one. In that same area, we can see that Holliday, uniform #5, is using a bat labeled #19. This was way before Charlie Blackmon, so that bat belongs to Ryan Spilborghs, currently part of the Rockies' on-air TV broadcast crew.

2017 Topps Gypsy Queen Autographs #GQA-RT Raimel Tapia (AU)
The "hit" of this trade package is an on-card autograph of Raimel Tapia, one of the Rockies' top prospects. In fact, Tapia was just called back up to the Majors yesterday, so he might even play a bit tonight. Trevor put this one in an Ultra-Pro penny sleeve, easily the highest-quality sleeve I've ever seen. It's thick, almost like that sealed Mickey Mantle card that Topps put in their 1996 Factory Sets, if you ever ran across one of those. But more than that, it even has a little Ultra-Pro hologram on the back in the lower left corner. I might have to pick up a few of these for my higher-end cards.

I wasn't really aware that 2017 Gypsy Queen was even out yet, as it's not something I tend to seek out until it hits the discount boxes. But it's a nice card for the autograph collection, and I hope it will become a conversation piece if Tapia lives up to his potential.

I'm awarding extra bonus points to this card for its obvious location inside Coors Field, with a great, if a bit blurry, shot of the manually-operated out-of-town scoreboard in right field. It's blurry, but I think there's just enough information on the Giants/Cubs matchup we see under Tapia's right arm to date this card to September 4th, 2016. Those white numbers on the right side of the scoreboard signify the current pitcher's uniform number. 47 on the Giants facing 41 on the Cubs translates to Cueto facing Lackey, in Chicago.

Tapia got on base a few times that day, and advanced to third twice when DJ LeMahieu was at the plate, once in the first after being picked off but advancing to third on the pitcher's throwing error, and again in the 5th when DJ hit a long fly ball. Hard to say which of those two scenarios this is, but I'm leaning toward the 5th inning, since it seems like Tapia has slightly less a sense of urgency than if he had just escaped being thrown out.

2012 Absolute #44 Demaryius Thomas
With Trevor running primarily a football card blog, it should come as no surprise that a few Broncos made it into the envelope. Demaryius Thomas, one of the Broncos star wide receivers, looks like he just made a catch while playing against the Minnesota Vikings. Panini was resurrecting Donruss brands way back in 2012, using the Absolute set for this card, along with a little inspiration from Upper Deck thanks to the copper foil.

I never played football as a kid, but I've watched enough to know that the way DT is holding the ball out in midair like that is just asking for a fumble, especially since it looks like he's about to block an incoming Viking on his right.

Football cards are significantly easier to date than baseball cards. You know the year the card was printed, you can usually make a good guess as to whether it's a home or away game based on the jersey, and as long as there's some indication of who the opponent is, that's pretty much all you need.

This photo was taken on December 4th, 2011, as the Broncos were visiting the Vikings. Thomas had 4 catches for 144 yards, on the way to a 35-32 win. The Broncos won it with a field goal as time expired, which was pretty typical of the way the Broncos won games in the Tim Tebow days.

2016 Prestige Xtra Points Green #63 Von Miller
This is a road game, as the Broncos typically wear the all-white uniforms away from Denver. I can't determine the opponent, but that's okay, as the shiny green foil more than makes up for a bit of ambiguity. The front of the card also has a rainbow finish, and the rest of the background behind Miller fades into the darkness a little bit.

Miller, the Broncos' star outside linebacker, has been racking up sacks for several seasons, amassing 73.5 since beginning his career in 2011. No Bronco has ever been on the cover of a Madden video game, but Miller was briefly the "cover athlete" for the iOS/Android mobile version of the game. Whether he was on the splash screen or the icon, I don't know. But that alone sets him apart as a Bronco. He's sure to become a Ring of Famer when all is said and done, and his MVP award earned during Super Bowl 50 is only a small part of that.

So that catches me up on trade packages, but I still have plenty of birthday gifts and card show purchases still waiting their turn. Thanks again to Trevor, and here's hoping the Rockies keep up the great season so we're not waiting for the Broncos by the time August rolls around.