Sunday, July 23, 2017

NOW and Then

Heading into the All-Star break, Rockies starter Kyle Freeland twirled a masterpiece, one of the best pitching performances in Rockies history. Thanks in part to some clutch defense by Gerardo Parra, he took a no-hitter to one out in the 9th inning before surrendering a base hit to Melky Cabrera, over the head of a leaping Nolan Arenado.

His pitch count was pretty up there, so after he did give up that first hit, manager Bud Black went straight to the bullpen. Jordan Lyles cleaned things up and the Rockies sailed to a 10-0 win to take the series. I had seen the disappointing one-run loss the night before (but did attend the game with a very old friend), so the Rockies got some nice momentum heading into the break.

2017 Topps Now #341 Kyle Freeland /354
And with a performance like that, Freeland was honored with a Topps Now card, the second one I've purchased this year. That first card also documented a near no-hitter by German Marquez, but that only went into the 7th. And I bought that more for the birth of my nephew than for the game itself.

Like Marquez, Freeland got the Rookie Card logo on his Topps Now card, and he's sporting the black lettering and camouflage hat that the team wore for Military Appreciation Day. And it was thrilling to watch on TV, especially that play from Parra to keep the bid alive.

No-hitters tend to take a predictable path. It usually isn't until the 5th or 6th inning that the possibility really starts getting noticed. The unwritten rules start to be talked about, and the camera crew shows lots of shots of the pitcher sitting all by his lonesome in the dugout. The fans are hanging on the edges of their seats, hoping that they might get to witness history. And every so often, they do.

And if one does happen, the buzz inevitably turns to the pitcher's next scheduled start, and the name Johnny Vander Meer gets thrown around. Vander Meer, of course, threw two consecutive no-hitters in 1938, a record that has never been tied, and I think we can safely say it will never be broken. By the way, that second no-hitter, which took place on June 15th, 1938, happened to be the first night game ever played at Ebbets Field. For as often as Johnny Vander Meer's name comes up, it's a shame ESPN never seems to give a nod to history and mention that fact.

You might remember Ubaldo Jimenez' no-hitter in 2010, the only one in Rockies history. But that was in Atlanta. In fact, there's only been one no-hitter thrown at Coors Field, although there have been plenty of cycles.

So if not Freeland, who earned his tenth win of the season today, then who was it?

1998 Topps SuperChrome #15 Hideo Nomo
Hideo Nomo no-hit the Rockies on September 17th, 1996, in Coors Field's second year of existence. None other than Vin Scully can be heard on that clip, and he's just as much in disbelief about that as everyone in the seats. Perhaps he's less surprised knowing that no one has done it since. But that makes Freeland's performance all the more impressive.

This oversized Topps SuperChrome card of The Tornado makes no mention of this feat, one that he repeated as a member of the Red Sox in 2001, which remains the only no-hitter thrown at Oriole Park at Camden Yards. Nomo has some impressive accolades in the NH statistic, including being one of just five to throw one in both leagues.

Anyway, you might think that this huge card (about 4" x 6") is a box-topper of some kind, but it's actually part of a 36-card set that was sold separately. It's a bit tricky to store, but it certainly stands out. I even remember where I got this one, and it was at the card store that has since closed in my local shopping mall. It was run by a guy named Adam, who I still see from time to time at the monthly card shows, but he's out of the retail game. I can't remember what I paid for it, and I surely don't have a Hideo Nomo collection like some of the Dodger bloggers out there, but it's a memorable card for more than just its size.

1998 Topps SuperChrome #29 Todd Helton
I was wandering through that very same shopping mall on Friday night, browsing one of the autograph shops that occasionally have cards, when I spotted this SuperChrome of Helton. This one set me back $7, surely inflated a bit by the Helton premium around here, but I was happy to add it to my collection, and I even mentioned to the owner that I had Nomo's card from the same set. Helton had just recently made a splash in the final months of the 1997 season, as documented on this card.

These are the only two cards I have from Topps SuperChrome, but fans of Nomar and Vlad might want to keep their eyes peeled for something similar, as Topps picked the young stars pretty well in this small set.

It's no secret that card shops have become a rare sight these days, but I've found a little bit of luck at the autograph and memorabilia stores in a few shopping malls. Sometimes there's nothing, other times you don't see more than 1988 Donruss, but occasionally you run across some gems. This store, which is just across the hall from where Adam's store used to be, also had a stack of limited-edition parallels from 1993 Topps, a few Gypsy Queen minis, some porcelain reproductions of Mickey Mantle's cards, and lots more "in the back".

It would be nice to have a card shop in every strip mall like it used to be, but there are still enough shopping malls and sports memorabilia stores around that you're likely to find a little something here and there. You never know what diamonds in the rough will turn up, so it's worth looking.

And you also never know when you might see a no-hitter. Which, as Bud Black said in his postgame interview, is why we keep coming back to see "the beauty" of this game.

1 comment:

  1. and it is - a beautiful game! How I love baseball!