Thursday, July 20, 2017

The Trading Post #99: Collecting Cutch

Nolan Arenado has been having a pretty great summer. Last month, he hit a walk-off home run to complete the cycle, the first time any player has done that while trailing in the 9th. A few, including teammate Carlos Gonzalez, did so when it was tied, but no one besides Nolan did it in such dramatic fashion. That capped off a four-game sweep of the Giants.

Last week, he became the first Rockie to slug two hits in a single All-Star Game. And yesterday, his 5-for-6, 7 RBI, 3-homer performance was one of the best days at the plate any Rockie has ever had, and that's saying something, given the team's history of double-digit win margins at Coors Field.

2017 Topps Jackie Robinson Day #JRD-28 Nolan Arenado
So it was nice to see a few cards of him show up as a bonus from Collecting Cutch, thanks to my Todd Helton entry into his top-ten cards contest. Arenado is making a strong case for keeping hold of his uniform number 28, the same one that hangs in my closet. But on Jackie Robinson Day, he and all his colleagues wear #42, as shown on this insert from 2017 Topps. You can't tell from the scan, but the Topps logo is done up in gold foil, something we don't often see in this set anymore.

On the back, Topps tells us about Nolan's home-run-hitting performance on April 15th, 2015, presumably the date of this photograph. The game was played against the Giants, but this doesn't look like AT&T Park to me. The person in the front row appears to be wearing a Braves hat or something. But people show up to the ballpark with random team memorabilia all the time these days, and I don't just mean Marlins Guy. So I'll trust Topps on this one, and I'll also point out that this year's Jackie Robinson Day was pretty much the same story. The Rockies played the Giants in San Fransisco on April 15th, 2017, and the Rockies won, thanks in part to a Nolan Arenado home run.

2017 Topps Spring Training Logo Patches #MLBST-NA Nolan Arenado (MEM)
This package alone has greatly expanded my count of 2017 Topps inserts, and while I don't usually go for manufactured patch relics, this one appeals to me, probably because it approximates the actual patches worn during Cactus League games this spring. I was expecting it to be metallic, but it's actually some type of polyurethane. The herringbone pattern in the copper area really jumps out, as does the tiny indentation for the ball in the MLB logo at the top of the shield.

Kudos to Topps for keeping the copper thing alive during Upper Deck's conspicuous absence from the hobby. I'd love to see one from the Grapefruit League, as I'm sure there are some slight differences that would make a nice little set.

2013 Bowman Platinum Chrome Prospects Purple Refractors #BPCP40 Nolan Arenado
He's only 26, but he looks quite a bit younger on this Bowman Platinum card from 2013. The base set isn't quite this well color-coded. This happens to be the Purple Refractor parallel, a color variation that is practically tailor-made for Rockies cards. It's not the rarest one out there, nor is it even rare enough to get a serial number, but I don't see how this card could look any better.

We all like to have actual card numbers in our sets, compared to the alphabet soup found on that Spring Training card above. But with Bowman, you get both! It's card #40 from the Bowman Platinum Chrome Prospects set, which helpfully gets shortened to BPCP40. The numbering system of Bowman continues to be one of my biggest sources of confusion in the hobby, further blurred by the fact that the "P" in the Bowman Platinum logo still looks like an "L" to me.

2017 Topps Bunt #80 Jon Gray
Jon Gray, who has returned to the Rockies rotation following an injury, offers my first look at 2017 Topps Bunt. Compared to 2016, this year's set design shrinks the logo way down, and adds a slightly-too-small circular border around it. Also, it's one of the most clearly color-coded sets in recent memory, a nice card to follow Arenado's Bowman Platinum card above. Jon Gray has cropped that long hair a bit since this photo was taken, abandoning the trend that Tim Lincecum started last decade.

Long hair or no, this card is correct. Colorado has never had a pitcher like Gray. 16 strikeouts in one game gives us a tantalizing hint that maybe, just maybe, the Rockies rotation can someday be as fearsome as its lineup.

2016 Diamond Kings DK Originals #DKO1 Mike Trout
Every so often, a non-Rockie sneaks into a trade package. I certainly have no problem with cards of other teams, as I'm a set builder at heart. But it's not something I tend to expect, especially when it's of the best player in baseball. Trout would be a fearsome addition to any lineup, and even though he's fallen out of the top spots on the leaderboard due to injury, he can still keep the Angels on the map.

Earlier this week, he even traded first-inning home runs with Bryce Harper, his NL counterpart that broke into baseball right around the same time. Five years from now, we could even be talking about Cody Bellinger and Aaron Judge the same way. But don't count out Joey Votto, the career Red and 2010 NL MVP, who quietly puts up top-tier stats without the glamour, youth, or fame of Harper and Trout.

I've seen a couple cards from the 2016 Diamond Kings set, but none from this 20-card Originals insert set, one that I probably wouldn't have run across if my fellow collectors never sent me non-Rockie cards. Team collectors, how do you get around this? Do you still have any interest in seeing insert sets that don't feature your team? Maybe that's a question only a set builder would ask, but the gold foil and sturdy playing card surface make this quite a nice card, regardless of who's on it.

And here's a more interesting question: if you ignore sets where your team is absent, do you consider that a disappointment or a relief?

2015 Topps Heritage Chrome #THC-453 Troy Tulowitzki /999
Somewhat surprisingly, there were no Todd Helton cards in this trade package, but Tulowitzki made an appearance or two. It's still a bit strange not to have Tulo around, but the way the team has been playing lately makes it seem a bit more normal with each passing day. Trevor Story is still a solid player, and Brendan Rodgers remains one of MLB's top prospects, though he hasn't progressed past double-A yet.

Of all the retro-themed sets Topps cranks out every year, Heritage is usually my favorite. For some reason, I tend to see more Rockies from 2015 Heritage than any other year, and with 19 cards in my collection, that has to be the whole team set, right?

I'm fortunate to be able to add this Chrome parallel just a page or two away in the binder, just the 8th in a print run of 999. These Heritage Chrome cards are always a bit jarring, just because it's so unusual to see a half-century-old design get the shiny treatment. But because they're serial-numbered and so easy to spot, I do gravitate toward them. And the print run has dropped back down into the sub-thousand range. For a while, Topps set the print run equal to the calendar year the design appeared in. If that trend continued, there would be 1,966 copies of this one, but these are half as plentiful (twice as scarce?) as in some previous years.

2012 Topps Triple Threads Unity Relics #TTUR-155 Troy Tulowitzki /36 (MEM)
The print run drops way, way down on this Tulowitzki relic card, to just 36. The black swatch is housed in a cute little home-plate shaped window. Of course, the plate actually comes to a point at the bottom, but I see what they're getting at. Triple Threads (not triple threats, as I originally typed - insert set idea?) always includes an appropriately thick and shiny card, necessitating one of my 100-pt toploaders.

There's some small text above the serial number that says "2007 Heart and Hustle Award". This is not something I had heard of before, but apparently it's been around since 2005. Tulowitzki was a three-time nominee from the Rockies, but wasn't selected by the MLBPA for the final award. Craig Biggio is the only two-time winner of the award, which is given to "an active player who demonstrates a passion for the game of baseball and best embodies the values, spirit and traditions of the game." Helton never got the nod, nor did a name I expected to see on this list, the always scrappy Eric Byrnes.

I do not know how heart vs. hustle is calculated or weighted, but there are some great players on that list. Todd Helton may have wanted that more than my personal top-ten list, but maybe Nolan Arenado will earn a nomination before too long.

Thanks to Collecting Cutch for this consolation prize, one I didn't expect when I put that Helton list together. But I now have a few more potential candidates if I ever want to make a list for Tulo or Arenado.

Saturday, July 8, 2017

The Three Dollar Group Break (and a contest winner!)

Peter, everyone's favorite Darryl Strawberry collector and author of the Baseball Every Night blog, recently ran a highly affordable group break of 2017 Topps Series 2. For the price of a rack pack at Target, I was happy to sign up for the Rockies slot, once someone kindly brought this one to my attention on Twitter.

I have to admit that I'm not keeping up with the Cardsphere on a daily basis. I'm much more likely to scroll through at least four days of posts at a time, which would explain why I'm listed as the last commenter on many of your posts. But I found out in time to shell out three bucks for some Rockies, knowing I'd end up with most of the team set, and likely a few inserts on top of that.

2017 Topps #371 Chad Bettis
Even though this is Series 2, the card was sent to printing a little too soon. Bettis, expected to be a key figure in the Rockies' 2017 rotation after being "declared good-to-go" following his treatment for testicular cancer, had some unfavorable test results during spring training and had to undergo another round of treatments. That seems to have been successful, and his rehab is progressing nicely. He may even make an appearance this season, perhaps when rosters expand in September.

Bettis isn't the only pitcher this year to be affected by the disease. Jameson Taillon of the Pirates (and my fantasy team) was treated in May but is already back on the hill. He's scheduled to face Jon Lester and the Cubs to close out the first half tomorrow, Lester himself being a cancer survivor. Here's wishing all three pitchers continued good health.

2017 Topps #415 Pat Valaika (RC)
Series 2 is a great place to find some lesser known players that have been making an impact in the early stages of the season. Pat Valaika, brother of former MLB player Chris Valaika, has been a reliable utility infielder for the Rockies, and has played nearly every position this season. "Patty Barrels", as the TV guys like to call him, has six homers this year, more than DJ LeMahieu, the starting second baseman and All-Star reserve.

This card also marks one of the first appearances of Coors Field's raised wall in right-center field on a baseball card. It's a blurred background, but you can see the heightened fence over his shoulders, which is now equally high as the out-of-town scoreboard in right field. It's still a hitters park, for sure, and as a longtime fan, one of the more noticeable changes related to that was the removal of the Darryl Kile memorial banner, visible on this shot I took in 2007.

2017 Topps #516 Tony Wolters
Other than Greg Holland, much of the Rockies' success this year can be attributed to their rookies. It's obviously trailed off a bit in the past few weeks, but Kyle Freeland, Antonio Senzatela, Jeff Hoffman, and others kept them right at the top of the standings well into June. Catcher Tony Wolters, stepping in for the injured Tom Murphy, has been doing a great job as the starting catcher. Murphy, on the other hand, came back from the DL in late June and was quickly sent down to the minors.

I haven't said much on the design of 2017 Topps yet other than a handful of trade posts and my annual Opening Day blaster. I think the design looks particularly good on this card, as the lines and angles on the banner match pretty well with Wolters' uniform. It is still odd to see anyone besides Andres Galarraga wear #14 for the Rockies, even though lots of players have, including Josh Rutledge, Greg Norton (one of my least favorite Rockies ever), and even Troy Tulowitzki, once upon a time.

2017 Topps #467 Adam Ottavino
Adam Ottavino, the only Rockie to ever wear the number 0, has been one of the shakier options in the Rockies bullpen this season. Greg Holland has been lights out except for a few instances, but Ottavino has a rather alarming 5.81 ERA so far in 2017. The Rockies are a high-scoring team, especially like last night when they beat the White Sox 12-4, so they are often able to leave their relievers with a bit of wiggle room. But on the other hand, their record in one-run games has been pretty good this season.

2017 Topps #397 Stephen Cardullo (RC)
Stephen Cardullo, last season's surprise rookie, managed to finally make it to the majors just before his 29th birthday. He added some real pop to the Rockies bats in late summer last year, but his inspirational story didn't last, as the Rockies cut him earlier this season. Still, not only did he manage to hit a grand slam the day he turned 29, but also earned a spot in Series 2 of 2017 Topps, complete with the rookie card logo and everything, not to mention a nice example of a first baseman's mitt. It seems likely that this will be both his rookie card and sunset card, all in one, but it's still a great story and would make a nice episode of 30 for 30, a fantastic sports documentary series that is now also a podcast.

2017 Topps #385 DJ LeMahieu
I realize that few of you have even heard of the five players so far, so we'll move on to a more recognizable name, and one of the four Rockies elected to the 2017 All-Star team. You can just barely make out the seams on this rapidly-spinning baseball that DJ is about to field, something he's been doing a great job of on the right side of the infield. His production at the plate has been less than stellar this season, but he'll always have the batting title from 2016, and a nice little .348 in red italics on the back of all his future Topps cards. Or at least for the next five years, assuming Topps doesn't revert back to giving us complete career statistics.

I'm not sure what stadium this is. I had originally thought Chase Field, due to that odd split that the outfield wall is doing behind his right shoulder. But photos suggest the split in that ballpark is different, so I'm at a bit of a loss. Can anyone help out?

2017 Topps #400a Nolan Arenado
Here's your NL All-Star starting third baseman, Nolan Arenado. He just edged out Kris Bryant for that honor, and we'll see him Tuesday in Miami. Hopefully he gets a chance to flash the leather in front of a huge crowd, so the rest of the baseball world can see what us Rockies fans see pretty much every night. He did commit a very rare error on Wednesday night, bringing his 2017 total up to just three. And those three have come in the last three weeks, meaning he had a perfect fielding percentage until June 17th. Perhaps not coincidentally, that was right around the time the Rockies started losing their grip on first place. They now sit 8.5 games behind the Dodgers, and even the Diamondbacks have slipped a bit, now at 5.5 games back.

2017 Topps Major League Milestones #MLM-3 Trevor Story
The nice thing about packs is that you're certain to find a few insert cards, the lack of which is the primary drawback to factory sets. This group break didn't disappoint, and included one documenting Trevor Story's amazing debut in April 2016, tying an MLB record for 10 home runs as a rookie in the month of April. It was quite a sight, watching six in his first four games, including two in the home opener. There were lots of jokes being thrown around by us fans along the lines of "He's on pace for 243 home runs!"

Of course, he came back down to earth and finished the 2016 campaign with 27, matching his uniform number. He would certainly have made it at least into the 30s if he didn't experience a season-ending injury at the end of July. And the rookie home run sensation has grown even bigger this year, thanks to Aaron Judge of the Yankees, and Cody Bellinger of the Dodgers. Both of them will participate in Monday's Home Run Derby. Bellinger has 24, despite not being called up until April 25th. And Aaron Judge is the only player league-wide to hit 30 so far. No Yankee rookie has hit that many in a season since Joe DiMaggio in 1936, and it's not even the All-Star Break yet. Judge has a real shot at Mark McGwire's rookie record of 49, and he just needs 8 more to tie Frank Robinson and Wally Berger in 2nd place.

2017 Topps '87 Topps #87-180 Andres Galarraga
Retired players have their spot too, such as this throwback to the 30-year old (!) 1987 Topps, the set that really kicked off the overproduction era. It's nice to see such a faithful reproduction of the old set, aside from the glossy finish and silver foil, of course. But the back is pretty much just like you remember it, except for the gum stain. Andres Galarraga's "Big Cat" nickname is clearly visible on the collar of his undershirt, and this photo clearly dates to the Coors Field era, in the early days of the Blake Street Bombers. It's tough to tell for sure, but I'd date this one to 1996, based on the sliver of a small memorial patch on Galarraga's right sleeve. That patch had the initials "MDM", after Michael McMorris, the son of then-owner Jerry McMorris. Michael passed away from cystic fibrosis in 1996, and was honored with that patch throughout the season.

Finally, a little housekeeping before I head off to catch the Rockies play the White Sox tonight. I announced a contest for my 200th post, offering a 36-card Moon Mars Space Shots set. There were 12 entries, including plugs on their own blogs from two of the ten commenters.

And the winner is...

GCA of The Collective Mind, thanks to the bonus entry from this blog post! Congratulations, and thanks to all who entered.

Saturday, July 1, 2017

To 200, and beyond!

Somehow, some way, I've managed to keep this thing going long enough to write 200 posts. I certainly have enough material for a lifetime of posts, but the variable is finding enough time to write them. Darn near half of these 200 have been trade posts, which is a testament to how awesome this community is. I know I still owe a few of you cards (Trevor and Johnny are on my list), and I will get shipments out soon.

The Rockies have been doing amazingly well the first two or so months of the season, which has been a joy to watch, at least until their recent 8-game losing streak that dropped them into third place. And I've been on a pretty steady pace of about three posts a month, but I only managed one lone entry in the entire month of June. Not quite as much as I'd like, especially since I still have stacks from long-ago card shows sitting around waiting for their turn at Infield Fly Rule.

Most of all, I'm thankful for my readers and everyone who comes by this little corner of the internet. I put a lot of time into these posts, so I appreciate anyone who lends me even a few minutes of their attention.

I do have a little contest planned, related to the awesome Lego set of the Saturn V I just finished. As a prize, I'm offering up a 1991 Space Shots Moon Mars set. You can see a few of my favorite cards from the 36-card set here.

1991 Space Shots Moon Mars #7 Buzz Aldrin - Moonwalk
As Anthony Bourdain put it in his recent Antarctica episode of Parts Unknown, we are living in "a time when science is held in open contempt". I thought a little reminder of how cool science can be, and more importantly, what America can do when there is a common goal, is a good thing to spread around. And I know it's not exactly baseball-related, so I'm happy to throw in a few cards from your preferred team, too.

All you need to do is comment on this post, but I'm happy to give you an extra entry if you'd care to mention this on your blog as well.

Thanks for reading, and I hope to keep watching all your milestones roll by as well.

Edit: Entries are now closed.