Sunday, January 28, 2018

The Trading Post #114: Nachos Grande (Part 1: Unopened Packs)

It was only last night when I opened the team bags and unopened packs that Nachos Grande sent as part of his Season of Giving holiday gift round. Somehow, I managed to delay gratification and let some surprises lay in wait until I got closer to being caught up on trade posts. I always seem to have a few irons in the fire, and a reader reached out to me just today proposing a trade. Trades are really an amazing part of this community, and they've accounted for just under half of my blog posts. There are more to come, as always. Sometimes I worry about running out of cards (or even sets) to talk about, but I'm discovering that there is abundance to be found in this hobby, even a couple decades after the bubble burst.

In addition to several team bags full of Rockies, which are coming in part 2, Nachos Grande included four sealed packs, which are fun to open no matter what's inside.

2010 Upper Deck #129a Alexei Ramirez
First up is 2010 Upper Deck, which was sadly the end of the line for the innovative brand, at least in the baseball market. They're still doing hockey cards, but the Upper Deck name isn't quite as relevant to their current product line. 

2010 was supposed to be an unlicensed set, and each card tells us that it is "NOT authorized by Major League Baseball or its Member Teams." UD was hoping that disclaimer would shield them from the consequences of letting MLB logos creep into most cards in the set, such as the White Sox logo on Alexei Ramirez' cap, and the Royals logo on about-to-retire journeyman Jose Guillen's helmet. It appears that Guillen was safe at second, but he's checking with the umpire since it must have been a close play. 

Alexei Ramirez didn't play last season. His 2008 rookie year came at the age of 26, as he had played in Cuba in his younger days. That only left time for about a decade in the big leagues, although he finished second in Rookie of the Year voting to Evan Longoria.

2010 Upper Deck #67 David Ross
Upper Deck complied with the no-logos rule on this card of David "Papa" Ross, capturing the veteran catcher as he whipped off his hockey-style catcher's mask. That is, they complied on the main photo, allowing a portion of the Braves logo to sneak in on Ross' black-and-white headshot at the bottom, which is also found in color on the back.

2010 might have marked the end of the line for Upper Deck, but little did David Ross know that he had two World Series rings in his future, first with the 2013 Red Sox, and second with the Chicago Cubs in 2016, after which he immediately retired.

When your final MLB game finds you on the winning end of Game 7 in the World Series, well, I'm sure there's not much that can top that. I'm sure Carlos Beltran will agree.

2010 Upper Deck #28 Buster Posey (RC)
Buster Posey, on the other hand, got his rings out of the way early. Barry Bonds could never bring the trophy to San Francisco, but Posey has helped do that three times, and was involved in a 2011 collision that changed how plays at the plate work now. Like Babe Ruth and Bob Gibson, when the game changes because of you, you'll be remembered for quite some time to come.

In 2010, he was as green as they come, putting up just a .118 average in a 7-game call-up at the end of 2009. Those early jitters rapidly melted away, as Upper Deck correctly named him a 2010 Star Rookie, complete with four little silver stars above the bottom banner. Posey would win the 2010 NL Rookie of the Year award and the 2012 MVP award, and both seasons found him crowned as World Series champion.

2010 Upper Deck Pure Heat #PH-2 Albert Pujols
A insert or two fell out of this pack; one from the I'm-not-bothering-to-complete-this 2009 Biography set, and a properly-cut Pure Heat insert of then-Cardinal Albert Pujols. I once received an extremely miscut example of Troy Tulowitzki's card from this 15-card insert set, but now I have one that shows what this set was supposed to look like. And yes, it looks much better. The set leans toward including hitters, but I associate "heat" more with flamethrowing pitchers.

The 2001 Rookie of the Year and three-time MVP led the NL in home runs in 2009 and 2010, a stat he wasted no time in chasing in '09, thanks to his 30 homers by the end of June, as this card tells us. His production has trailed off significantly since then, although he recently passed the 600 career homers milestone, and now is the all-time leader for grounding into double plays.

Feast or famine, I suppose. But before the days of Mike Trout, Pujols frequently found himself in the very top slot of fantasy baseball drafts. I managed to snag him 5th overall in that MVP season of 2009, a season in which I lost the league final for the second time.

2007 Topps #205 Cory Sullivan
There are plenty of Rockies to come in part two, but this Cory Sullivan card was the top card in a clear pack of 2007 Topps, the year of their magical run to the World Series. In case you weren't collecting 2006 Topps Update & Highlights, Topps made sure to inform you once again of his two-triple inning in 2006. The speedy center fielder, who shares an August 20th birthday with Todd Helton, is now part of the Rockies on-camera TV crew.

AT&T Park is always pretty easy to spot, thanks to the little splotches of orange in the stands. I've never been to the stadium, but it seems likely that I'll end up there one day, thanks to how involved I am in the tech industry. It looks like an interesting park, partially thanks to the 14-foot aquarium they recently added on the left field concourse. This was featured on an episode of Tanked, a custom aquarium reality show that was recommended to me by a coworker.

2007 Topps #172 Morgan Ensberg
As I dug deeper in this 2007 Topps hanger pack, which had no inserts but did include a stick of gum that cracked into a thousand pieces as soon as I started handling it, I found a commemorative patch the Astros wore in 2006. The orange and black patch on third baseman Morgan Ensberg's right sleeve commemorates the Astros' 45th year. The team started in 1962 as the Colt .45s, but were renamed as the more space age-friendly Astros in 1965, at the height (no pun intended) of the Gemini program.

2007 Topps #26 Jason Jennings
The same patch appears on ex-Rockie Jason Jennings, however I'm almost certain this is a Photoshop job. Jennings wasn't traded to the Astros until the 2006 Winter Meetings, and Series 1 of this set came out in late February 2007. Furthermore, the stadium looks a bit like Coors Field, as you can see spots of purple here and there, the "Coca-Cola Front Row Seats" lettering on the wall (not sure if those are still there), a purple-shirted usher in foul territory, and that sure looks like Todd Helton in the background. Finally, Jennings wore #23 during his single season with the 'Stros, not #32, his old Rockie number.

It's a pretty good Photoshop effort, but the details give it away.

2007 Topps #300 Vladimir Guerrero
Newly-minted Hall of Famer Vladimir Guererro was the bottom card in the pack, but I didn't really look at it while it was sitting on my side table. Perhaps it was appropriate to save this for after the Cooperstown balloting. The slugger already had plenty of solid seasons under his belt by 2007, one of five years in which he led his league in intentional walks. He was usually in the running for the MVP award, which he won in 2004.

Guerrero is shown casually hanging around the visitor's dugout with lots of baseball equipment scattered around. Helmets, bats, batting gloves, and more, making this a good mini-collection candidate. And all that Angels gear will reflect the team insignia he'll have on his Hall of Fame plaque, even though he spent more time as an Expo.

Nick is one of the biggest Vlad fans in our whole community. Maybe you should just read his post.

2012 Triple Play #63 Ryan Howard
The third pack was 2012 Panini Triple Play, a frequent sight in repack-like stacks. Ryan Howard, the great career Phillie, confusingly got card #63 in two straight years of Triple Play. His career kind of fell off a cliff toward the end, but he hit a whopping 58 homers in his MVP season of 2006, which Panini tells us zoomed past Mike Schmidt's 48 for the Phillies single-season record.

This card is all about home runs. While a helmetless Howard stares longingly at his uniform number in the upper left, the back also tells us about his 22-homer 2005 campaign on his way to Rookie of the Year, and that 2011 was his sixth straight year of 30-plus home runs. Even the trivia question digs the long ball. It asks us in which year Howard won the Home Run Derby, and that unsurprisingly happened in 2006.

That was about all that caught my eye from the Triple Play pack, but fortunately, there is one more to go.

1991 Donruss #483 Mike Scott
You can't talk about baseball cards for as long as I have without at least mentioning 1991 Donruss on occasion, but this is its first appearance on the blog. As Rockies-focused as I am around here, anything before 1993 is essentially an archaeological dig. 

Also, as much as I talk about green cards, it surprises even me that Series 2 of '91 Donruss never really came to mind. But here it is, in all its overproduction glory. I remember buying the factory set at my local card shop for a mere six or seven dollars, a low price even in the heady days of the overproduction era.

Mike Scott, the 1986 NL Cy Young winner, wouldn't last past the 1991 season. His best days were behind him, but those days included a 20-win season, a no-hitter that clinched a playoff spot, and a postseason appearance in the 1986 NLCS. No one gave him a true sunset card in 1992, but that's probably for the best, as his 1991 season consisted of two losing starts, seven innings pitched, and an alarmingly high 12.86 ERA.

The Astros certainly like their commemorative patches, don't they? Mike Scott and his 1990 Astros honored the Astrodome's 25th Anniversary, a building that was once called the Eighth Wonder of the World. It didn't have staying power, though. The Oilers left in the mid-1990s, and the Astros would get their own baseball-only park around the turn of the millennium. But unlike many abandoned stadiums, the Astrodome still stands.

1991 Donruss #445 Kirk Gibson
Of course, many more teams than the Astros wore commemorative patches. Though they were once known as the Robins, and several other old-timey names, the Dodgers celebrated their centennial in 1990, as you can see on Kirk Gibson's jersey. He only spent three seasons as a Dodger, but most casual fans remember him as one, thanks to his famous home run in the 1988 World Series, which of course is mentioned in the "Career Highlights" section on the back. His only MVP season came in '88 with the Dodgers, as well. But he spent twelve seasons with the Tigers over two stints, as well as a couple short term stops elsewhere in the Majors in the early 1990s.

Curiously, even though Donruss tells us on the back that the Royals signed him to a two-year deal December 1990, they still have him pictured and listed as a Dodger, complete with on-deck circle bat donut.

1991 Donruss #471 Barry Larkin
Barry Larkin, the Hall of Fame shortstop, is seen pulling back a bunt attempt, fresh off the Reds' 1990 World Series championship. Maybe I was a bit selective, but this set seems to have some decent photography, certainly better than the underexposed 1988 set. Depending on how you sort them, green can look odd side-by-side with the blue borders found in Series 1, but 1991 Score pretty much did the same thing, and that one seems to be remembered much more fondly. I'm not apologizing for the weird blots on the border that could literally have been taken out of my 1st-grade art class in 1991, but maybe this isn't as bad as everyone remembers. 

A pack of overproduction cards can be fun to open. They're usually in pristine shape, they take you right back to childhood, and sometimes, the packs give you superstar after superstar. You're unlikely to fill any gaps in your collection with them, but they're just so ubiquitous as to remain an obvious part of the hobby. In this pack, I also found Ryne Sandberg, Dave Winfield, a young Frank Thomas, Tim Raines, and Cecil Fielder. Not bad at all.

I basically got the equivalent of a repack you'd find at Target, and Nachos Grande also sent a bunch of hand-picked Rockies in team bags, coming up in part 2. Hard to beat that.

Saturday, January 27, 2018

The Trading Post #113: A Cracked Bat (Part 2: Not Topps)

A lot has happened in the week since I posted part 1 of a recent trade with A Cracked Bat. Four players were elected to the Hall of Fame. By now you likely know that Vladimir Guerrero and Trevor Hoffman built up enough support to make it, and Chipper Jones and Jim Thome only needed a single year on the ballot. Not much has been happening in the free agent market, but the Milwaukee Brewers massively upgraded their outfield in one day, adding Christian Yelich via trade, and Lorenzo Cain via free agency.

As a Rockies fan, that concerns me. The Brewers only finished a game behind the Rockies for the second wild card spot, and with the Giants adding Andrew McCutchen, the NL West is shaping up to be a tough, tough division. At least the six games against the Marlins should be a cakewalk.

All this happened with a small pile of fifteen non-Topps cards sitting on my side table, just waiting for their time to shine on Infield Fly Rule. First up, a trio of Studio cards.

1993 Studio Superstars on Canvas #9 Andres Galarraga
1993 Studio is fairly well-represented in my collection, and I've been enjoying the regular series featuring the card backs that Bo at Baseball Cards Come to Life! has been running for a while. There were a handful of small insert sets that year, including this 10-card Superstars on Canvas set. Andres Galarraga, soon to be the face of the then-expansion Rockies made it in, along with several Hall of Fame-worthy players.

This design seems to be going for a sort of Diamond Kings / UD Masterpieces painted look, complete with an easel. It works pretty well until you get to the edge and you can clearly see the painted effect suddenly transition to the source photograph. Maybe they're trying to suggest that the subject was sitting behind the canvas, but it's painfully obvious that there was no painting going on here.

The card back tells us that The Big Cat, who has been showing up a lot around here lately, was set on proving that he still had lots of talent, and his low production in recent years was just due to injury.

I'd say he certainly did that.

1994 Studio #179 Charlie Hayes
Instead of a background consisting of a close-up of the player's jersey, which is what the 1993 Studio set had, they zoomed out in 1994 and gave us a peek inside clubhouses all around the Major Leagues. This must be the clubhouse at Mile High Stadium, since Coors Field was still under construction. It's one of the best ways to get the player's last name and uniform number on a card. The card back is what you'd expect for Studio, offering us all sorts of fun facts about the player's personal life. Charlie Hayes enjoys fishing, his favorite food is chicken, and his favorite player as a kid was Willie Mays.

The Willie Mays Hayes joke practically writes itself. But it's a great card, and all those pinstripes foreshadow that final putout he made in the 1996 World Series as a Yankee.

2002 Studio Stars #SS-20 Todd Helton
Studio really liked this concept of blending a credit card and a baseball card. This is the third different set they've done that approximates something you'd find in your wallet. The stat line numbers are slightly more raised on this insert card than the 1995 base set, and the corners a bit more rounded than the 1995 Studio Gold parallels. It is a clever idea, but perhaps Studio played it out a bit too much.

Take a look at these stats from the "perennial Triple Crown threat". .336 average, 49 homers, 146 RBIs. That's a solid season. It wasn't quite as good as his 2000 season, but it was during his streak of five straight All Star appearances, and the back has plenty to say about his stellar defensive skills. I hope Hall of Fame voters take that into account next year when Helton appears on the ballot. Outstanding defense in a hitter-friendly park should be given that much more weight, especially when "Coors!" is an automatic demerit in the eyes of many BBWAA voters, regardless of whether you're a hitter or a pitcher.

1996 Summit Ballparks #3 Dante Bichette /8000
Our next trio is of horizontal cards, led off by a Godzilla-sized Dante Bichette inside Coors Field. This 1996 card shows the ballpark in its infancy, probably in the 1995 season during a sunny, cloudless day game. There's far too little detail in the left field scoreboard for me to date this card, even with a magnifying glass, only that the line score tells us that three innings are complete, and the Rockies are in the field, making this the top of the 4th.

That scoreboard, by the way, is undergoing extensive renovations in preparation for the 2018 season, showing just how much the stadium has changed in two decades. There's a whole lot more plant life past the center field wall now, and the upper portion of the right field stands were removed in 2014 to make way for The Rooftop.

But what I especially noticed are the old advertising banners, many for companies that no longer exist. Above the bullpens in right-center, you can see ads for Hugh M. Woods, a defunct Denver-area chain of hardware stores, and USWest Cellular, a mobile subsidiary of the local Baby Bell which ended up as part of Verizon Wireless. I think. The lineage of phone companies in the post-AT&T breakup era is one of the most complex family trees you can find.

Surrounding the main scoreboard in left field are ads for Bank One, now part of Chase; the Rocky Mountain News, a tabloid-formatted newspaper that didn't survive the last financial crisis; King Soopers, which is now the local flavor of Kroger; and a few Chrysler brands that are no longer rolling off showroom floors, like Eagle and Plymouth. Immediately flanking the scoreboard are vertical banners for Coca-Cola and Coors. I'm not sure where those will go post-renovation, but those two brands remained in those slots ever since the stadium opened.

Oh, by the way, this Pinnacle Summit card is serial numbered to 8,000 when you flip it over, and there's also a home/away split of Bichette's 1995 stats. He had way more home runs at Coors (31 vs. 9), but an equal number of doubles (19) home and away.

2002 Ultra #133 Larry Walker
Away from their familiar home, Larry Walker is sliding into home with his right leg dangerously up, possibly in AT&T Park, or SBC Park, or Pac Bell Park (see earlier comment about telecom mergers). There's a tiny bit of damage on the front from this card sticking to the one above it, but mostly it blends in with the chunks of dirt that Walker is kicking up with his slide. He'll give the umpire and his trusty hand broom something to do between at bats.

2002 Fleer Ultra shows up from time to time around here. The banner they used that year seems pretty distinctive, and it was a worthy competitor to Stadium Club. Walker still has a decent amount of support on the Hall of Fame ballot, so we'll see if either he or Helton (or both—I can dream) become the first Rockie to enter Cooperstown.

2005 Donruss Champions #320 Juan Uribe
We're all used to baseball card photos being a year behind. The upcoming 2018 Topps set will have photos from 2017 all over the place. But I don't get why Donruss pictured a much thinner Juan Uribe as a Rockie in their 2005 Champions set when he played an entire year with the White Sox in 2004. The back of the card has only that 2004 stat line, in addition to his career totals. Most of the card back talks about his time as a Rockie, such as his 11 triples in his rookie 2001 season.

In looking at the surprisingly large number of cards I have from this set, I guess what this set was all about was occasionally showing players pictured with past teams, matching a highlight of their careers. There's a card of Larry Walker as an Expo, Nolan Ryan as an Astro, and more. It's just an odd, or at least an unconventional thing to do with current players. And this isn't even Uribe's only card as a Rockie in this set. He hit almost as many homers in 2004 with the White Sox as he did during his entire three-season tenure as a Rockie.

The other odd thing about this set is the large blank space on the right. Obviously, it's a perfect spot for a relic, but it leaves the base cards looking empty. I want to like this set, I really do. The color coding is beautiful and the gold foil on black looks great. But it has a few too many shortcomings to really stand out as a classic.

1996 Fleer #372 Kevin Ritz
We always like pitchers bunting, right? Clearly this is just batting practice, but if there's one thing an NL pitcher may be called upon to do, it's bunt. If the National League adopts the DH, then cards like this won't exist anymore. And that would be a shame. It's already bad enough that Fleer is no longer, and matte cards are certainly a tough thing to unearth.

Matte finishes supposedly work great for on-card autographs, which is appropriate, because Kevin Ritz actually signed a few things for my sister and I before a game at Coors Field once. I didn't have any cards on me at the time, but he did sign my hat, which has since been lost to the ages, as well as a small sheet of paper for my sister which came from a memo pad that my always-prepared dad had at the ready.

Ask him about the emergency blanket story.

1994 Triple Play #226 Darren Holmes
I don't think I've seen 1994 Triple Play since the Antique Mall Mystery Pack series from a few years ago. The set holds up well, and it remains a favorite design of mine. The color coding is great, and I still like that the block letters at the bottom are part of a transparent layer. Not transparent in the sense of an acetate card, but transparent to the photograph beneath it, giving it a 3D look.

The back tells us that Darren Holmes earned the first-ever save in Rockies history, a tidbit I had not been aware of. Even a quarter-century-old card still has secrets to share. That save came on April 23rd, 1993 against their perpetually-rebuilding expansion brethren, the Marlins.

Like Kevin Ritz, Darren Holmes signed a few pieces of memorabilia for me and my sister in the 1994 offseason at Mervyn's, another department store mall anchor that is no longer. In fact, Northglenn Mall is no longer, and the big box stores that now occupy that lot are struggling too.

Anyway, my sister and I each got an 8x10 signed, and I brought along a couple cards and a ball, which are still in my collection. Sadly, the ball has faded quite severely, and the two cards—1994 Topps and 1993 Team Stadium Club—have pretty fuzzy corners from when I got bored standing in line and started spinning them between two fingers. After the lines died down and my parents completed their shopping, he signed my hat, too. He's still part of the Rockies organization as the bullpen coach.

1994 Leaf Limited #103 Joe Girardi
This trio of cards is concluded by Joe Girardi, who signed a shiny 1994 Leaf Limited card just like this one for me at the Rockies Dugout Store in Boulder (which is also not there anymore), and I'm pretty sure that was on August 5th, 1995. I'm confident of that date because I very clearly remember congratulating him for hitting a home run the previous night, and if memory serves it was to straightaway center. The only home run he hit on a Friday at Coors Field in 1995 was on August 4th, and this autograph session definitely happened on a Saturday. Darren Holmes got the save that Friday night, by the way, in a 14-12 slugfest that Coors Field was rapidly becoming known for.

Eric Young was also at that autograph signing, and both he and Girardi signed 5x7 color photos for my sister and me, along with the fanciest and shiniest Joe Girardi card I could possibly locate in my collection. Dinger was entertaining the crowd in line, who signed a pair of oddball cards for us. That's how I'm sure it was 1995, because those Dinger cards have the Coors Field inaugural logo on them. I also remember standing front and center as Girardi came out of the building to do a quick radio interview with Mark Knudson, a former MLB pitcher, Denver native, and sports analyst for 850 KOA at the time.

I miss those days when everything seemed like a very big deal and stand out as distinct events. The days seem to run together a lot more when you're an adult. I've always had a pretty good memory (as you can see), but when I was just eleven, the gray matter hadn't been filled up nearly as much.

2006 Upper Deck Future Stars #23 Todd Helton
I never met Todd Helton, and thus concludes the in-person autograph portion of this post. This Upper Deck card, unsurprisingly, caught my eye because of the turquoise color, which would look great on a Marlins card. The short set of 2006 UD Future Stars is more or less a misnomer, as many players in it were nearing retirement, or at least past their years of peak production, like Helton. Greg Maddux and Roger Clemens can be found in this set, who had both hit their 40s. Most of the Future Stars were found in the short-printed Clear Path To Greatness subset. Like any prospect set, there are some nobodies, many players who had regular playing time, and a couple superstars like Justin Verlander and Adam Wainwright.

UD just doesn't want you to forget that this is about stars, because there are at least a dozen that I can count on the front, and another five on the back.

1998 Leaf Rookies & Stars #112 Ellis Burks
Maybe UD had to call it that because Leaf already made a more accurately-named set called Rookies & Stars several years before. Most of the major players you remember from the late 1990s are in this set, such as Ellis Burks with a same-year Coors Field photo. Note the 1998 All-Star Game patch on his right sleeve, just like we saw Vinny Castilla wear in the previous post. Also found in the Rookies portion (way up in the short prints) are names like Todd Helton, Mike Lowell, Aramis Ramirez, Troy Glaus, and A.J. Hinch, who managed the Astros to their first World Series championship last year.

1995 Collector's Choice SE Silver Signature #209 Dante Bichette
The Alice in Wonderland magic potion seems to have worn off of Dante Bichette by now, and here he is in Wrigley Field yet again. This time, Upper Deck snagged him fielding a base hit in the Friendly Confines, and applied the Silver Signature parallel treatment to the card in the late-1994 Collector's Choice SE set. The strike, which was still in effect when this set was released, is mentioned on the card, but Upper Deck commends Bichette on exceeding his 1993 totals for home runs, RBIs, and stolen bases despite having six fewer weeks to work with.

I pulled quite a few of these Silver Signature parallels when I collected this set, and the blue foil found on base cards still makes it stand out. I never ran across a Gold Signature until recently, long after the strike and the baseball card bubble were distant memories.

1996 Collector's Choice Crash the Game Exchange #CR15 Vinny Castilla
I've blogged about You Crash The Game redemption cards from 1996 Collector's Choice cards before. Fuji sent me Larry Walker's card from that set, a card that was never made eligible for redemption due to an injury. In fact, only three players in the whole set, Walker, Joe Carter, and Tim Salmon, failed to make good on any of their three possible You Crash The Game cards. I'm not sure in which series Vinny Castilla was on the hot seat, but at least one of his forty (!) 1996 home runs made the above card a reality.

It's a bit flimsy, but this two-layer card (which scans much more vividly than it really looks) shows the smiling third baseman in a transparent red plastic, thicker than cellophane but thinner than the typical acetate card. There's a design element in each of the four corners and the back has the mirror image and his 1995 stats.

And oh yeah, it's a woodgrain set!

2013 Panini America's Pastime #222 Rafael Ortega (RC) /125
Much, much thicker is Rafael Ortega's card found in 2013 Panini America's Pastime. I must admit that I'd never heard of this set before, but apparently I do have another Rafael Ortega card in my collection. This is one of those super-premium sets where even the base cards are serial numbered, in this case to just 125 copies.

The Venezuelan oufielder had just a two-game callup in 2012 as a Rockie, but did play in 66 games with the Angels in 2016. Interestingly, he signed a free agent deal with the Marlins organization last month, and seeing as how Miami has shipped Stanton, Ozuna, and now Yelich off to greener pastures, Ortega might actually get to see a fair bit of playing time in the decimated Marlins outfield.

1992 Donruss Bonus Cards #BC7 Colorado Rockies
Wrapping things up is possibly the first-ever Rockies card in existence, a 1992 Donruss Bonus Card detailing the founding of the franchise, the plans for where they'd play their first couple seasons (Coors Field was already named on this card), and their ownership group, which experienced some drama shortly before the season opened. Of course, the Marlins had an equivalent card, and both reside in the collection. The only other candidate I know of for oldest Rockies card is Ryan Turner's in 1992 Upper Deck.

Sharp-eyed readers will notice that this isn't quite the Rockies logo they've been seeing for 25 years. The actual logo changed the colors in the "Colorado" arch at the top, and the baseball and its related motion lines grew a bit. The team never took the field with this logo, but it can be found on very early memorabilia, and a few 1993 baseball cards.

This was a real walk down memory lane, from defunct Denver-area businesses to Blake Street Bombers, right down to the team's original logo and the Hobby's first exposure to a team that's about to begin their 25th season. Thanks to Julie for making her blog appear so frequently in my trade posts!

Sunday, January 21, 2018

The Trading Post #112: A Cracked Bat (Part 1: Topps)

I haven't run a pivot table on my Trading Post page to know for sure, but it sure seems like Julie of A Cracked Bat is my most frequent trading partner. The sheer number of cards she's sent me over the years is staggering, and that's not even mentioning the quality! Another one came my way late last year, and there were so many interesting cards that I had to give it my two-part Topps / Not Topps treatment. There were some familiar themes, but also quite a few cards that were new to my eyes.

1996 Topps Laser #106 Andres Galarraga
I don't think I've ever been as wowed by my first look at a single set than I was with Topps Laser. I've seen some of these before, first when they popped up in a medium flat-rate box I bought on eBay. It's a shame this set only lasted one year, because it took the idea of a die-cut to a whole new level. Yes, that design you see on the right really is laser-cut, and opens up a whole new world of design possibilities. It looks particularly striking when you hold it up to the light, especially against a snowy background.

It's rather fragile, and tends to catch the top of a 9-pocket page in numerous places all the way down. But it's worth it. You can even see how the edges are slightly charred in the cut area compared to the usual white paperboard of the rest of the card. Topps kept the light theme going on the back with a pair of "Spotlight Stats", mentioning that The Big Cat hit three homers in three consecutive innings on June 25th, 1995, and that he had a .321 career average as a Rockie, the best the team had seen to that point.

2017 Topps '87 Topps #87-196 Jeff Hoffman
I was only three years old in 1987, but I have to wonder if I was as much in awe when I opened my first pack of 1987 Topps. I was too young to remember, but those cards, and later some 1990 Fleer, occupied a prime spot in my desk drawer before I really started getting into the hobby and graduated to shoeboxes and binders. That early exposure to 1987 Topps is partially why I keep showing these 30th anniversary inserts. The silver seal and RC logo update the design into a more modern look, as does the Rockies logo itself, but it's still easily recognizable at a glance.

2017 Topps '87 Topps Silver Pack Chrome #87-NA Nolan Arenado
This one is still clearly the 1987 design, but it's shiny, glossy, and has a patterned background that wouldn't be out of place on Topps Tek. I had to do some research to figure out what this is, as the congratulatory note on the back doesn't give me any clues other than promoting the "2017 Topps Baseball Hobby Continuity Program".

Whatever that is.

Apparently, this is a 100-card Hobby-only flavor of the classic set. I haven't bought a hobby box of a current product in ages, so its good that I can rely on trading partners to discover things like this. And it's about the sharpest-ever photograph to appear on the 1987 design. I'm not sure if they all have the same pattern, but to me, it looks like a bunch of Chase logos stacked diagonally atop one another.

I can enjoy it for what it is; my only gripe is that the background obscures Coors Field behind Nolan Arenado, a five-time Gold Glove winner.

2015 Topps Tribute #36 Carlos Gonzalez
I have no idea where Julie gets all these high-end cards from Tribute and Museum Collection and such. But they find their way to me, and I get to see how Topps has arranged their gilded gold foil sets year after year. I can't quite tell what the subtle circular design is in the background, and there are some diamonds back there too behind still-a-free-agent CarGo. I know that no one buys these sets for the design; they go for the hits, but that's where my attention goes. And this is apparently not a hit according to the original buyer.

2014 Topps Triple Threads Gold #98 Troy Tulowitzki /99
This one is more of a hit, getting a /99 serial number. This excessively alliterative Troy Tulowitzki Topps Triple Threads card is a gold parallel, one of the rarer varieties of the many colored borders found in this set. It will go nicely with a relic from this exact set that Julie found for me in our previous trade.

Despite its thickness and rarity, I'm pretty sure that this is a zoomed-out version of Tulo's base card photo from 2014. For the kind of dough they charge for this set, I'd like to at least see a different photo. It is still nice to see the Rockies' 20th Anniversary patch again, which they wore in 2013. Their 25th Anniversary patch is ready to go for the upcoming season, showing that time continues to fly.

1999 Bowman Late Bloomers #LB4 Vinny Castilla
Topps decided in 1999 that they had enough of Metal Universe having the wild shiny silver background market all to themselves. When 1999 Bowman needed a 10-card insert set, they cranked the trippy background dial up to 11. I had a Santana CD that looked like this, but redder. And speaking of commemorative patches, Castilla's uniform has the 1998 All-Star Game patch, which was held at Coors Field. Castilla finished third in that year's Home Run Derby, and came in as a reserve in the game itself. He replaced soon-to-be Hall of Famer Chipper Jones, but went 0-2.

The set looks at players that took a little extra time to reach their prime form following their entry into the Majors. Trevor Hoffman needed eight seasons to reach his first All-Star Game (coincidentally, in 1998). Jim Thome took a while to develop, too. There are a lot of Hall of Famers in this small set, and hopefully Larry Walker will count himself among that group soon. I'm not so sure about some of the others, though. Mike Piazza and Andy Pettitte did pretty well right from the start. Jose Bautista and R.A. Dickey would be great candidates if Bowman brought back this set.

The card back for Vinny Castilla gives us a look at the 1987 draft, the year he first played in the Mexican League. Some of the players drafted that year were Ken Griffey, Jr., Jack McDowell, Todd Hundley, and Steve Finley.

2002 Topps Total Production #TP6 Todd Helton
Topps toned it down a bit, maybe to 7, when they made a similar insert set in 2002 Topps Total. Still just ten cards, again with lots of Hall of Famers, and a few more that should be. The card back describes one of the more interesting occurrences in an at bat, when batters foul off a series of consecutive pitches. Helton spoiled 11 straight pitches in a marathon 16-pitch at bat once, showing "extraordinary bat control for a power hitter", as Topps put it. Brett Gardner did something similar in the ALDS this year for the Yankees. It's one of the best examples of how a ballgame can suddenly turn into a chess match.

2017 Topps Chrome #27 Ian Desmond
This is just the second time Ian Desmond has appeared on this blog, and it's the first time for 2017 Topps Chrome. The curl this year is pretty minimal, which is always appreciated. Topps kept the traditional Chrome logo in the upper corner, and also included the Chrome word in the lower area of the banner, which is usually quite blank. The back tells us too, right below the card number.

2017 Topps Chrome Refractors #92 Trevor Story
There are refractors, of course, and in addition to the rainbow finish and helpful label on the back that tells us it's a refractor (thanks, Topps!), there's a pair of sort of spotlight shapes emanating from the catcher's area. I thought that made it some special variety (spotlight refractors?) but apparently that's there to give Topps an area to color when making colored parallels. Tough to do that without a border, I suppose. But it seems a bit pointless, sort of like building a tall building just to put a red light on top, as my dad used to say.

In addition to that welcome refractor label on the back, Topps tells us about Trevor Story's amazing rookie year, where he tied George Scott's record of hitting his first 10 home runs in just 21 games. "He's going to get called up to the next league!" as Drew Goodman, the TV play-by-play announcer put it during their home opener.

2014 Finest Sterling Refractors #TS-CG Carlos Gonzalez
More to come on Trevor Story shortly, but first, another one of Carlos Gonzalez. There is a Bowman Sterling, but most of us probably associate the Sterling name with Topps Finest. CarGo is one of 25 players to be found in this insert set, which is modeled after one of the themes found in the fractured 1996 Finest set. Luckily it's just an insert set this time around, as Topps mercifully abandoned the fractured set idea long ago.

It's a little different, more rounded perhaps, but the background pattern reminds me of that Arenado hobby card from earlier.

2017 Bowman Platinum #24 Trevor Story
As promised, back to Trevor Story. Julie's been doing a great job of keeping me informed of the state of Bowman Platinum (note to self: not Limited, not Premium). This is my first card from the 2017 iteration, even though I seem to recall this was pretty widely available in big-box stores as opposed to just hobby shops.

Bowman made this one pretty colorful and added a lot of angles and bold shapes in the background. It's a departure; usually the design tends to follow the font they use for that stylish "P". Lots of thin, curvy lines. This year, the background reminds me of Q*bert. The back recounts one of his successes in April 2016, and this time it wasn't even a home run. He hit a 9th-inning triple off of closer Brad Ziegler, leading the Rockies to a 5-2 road win on April 30th, 2016 over the Diamondbacks.

I'm always a fan of the Rockies beating the Diamondbacks.

2017 Topps Chrome Future Stars #FS-14 Trevor Story
We've had Future Stars cards for decades, but nothing quite like this. It's a cross between Opening Day Stars and a The More You Know commercial. It's extremely eye catching, and the color palette they use in the star has a real 1970s disco vibe. If 1972 Topps had insert cards, this would be a likely candidate.

I've collected enough Trevor Story cards by now to know that his 2017 releases can't say enough about his amazing start to the 2016 season. As this card tells us, he's the only player in MLB history to go yard (do we still say that?) in his first four big league games. I like having him on the team, and he'll be entering his third season in just over two months.

I guess I have to hand it to the Rockies for knowing what they were doing on the Tulowitzki trade. This is why I am a fan and not a front office guy.

2013 Bowman Chrome Cream of the Crop Mini Blue Wave Refractors #CC-CRO4 Jayson Aquino /250
I know next to nothing about Jayson Aquino other than what I just saw on Baseball Reference. He has bounced around various minor league organizations since 2010, but did progress to his MLB debut in 2016 for Baltimore. He started a couple games for them in 2017, so he's one of the few Bowman players to show up in the majors, albeit briefly so far.

There are a few other Rockies prospects listed on the back of this Blue Wave serial-numbered card with a way-too-long name, some who you may know from blog posts such as this one. David Dahl, Nolan Arenado, and Trevor Story are the #1-3 prospects, with the list being wrapped up by Kyle Parker, who was released by the organization in 2016.

2001 Topps Fusion #156 Larry Walker BB
Back to a name you'll recognize, Larry Walker, who has gone this whole post without an appearance. What you may not recognize is this set, and it's not actually Bowman's Best. Rather, it's Topps Fusion, a set that exposed collectors to five of Topps' premium brands in one shot. I've shown one on this blog before from Topps Gold Label. I probably have enough of these cards to cover the whole range, but haven't closely checked, nor am I certain I don't have a few misfiled in the 2001 binder.

This has a bit more texture than I'm used to seeing in Bowman's best. The thin lines within the outline of the "B" (the ones the scanner didn't pick up) are horizontal and close together, almost like a lenticular card. And it has a rainbow finish rather than just chromium. I don't know Bowman that well, but I assume the "Best Bets" lettering at the bottom is modeled after a subset of some kind.

1998 Bowman's Best #4 Dante Bichette
This is more what I'm used to seeing from the Bowman's Best brand. Lots of large, shiny, gold areas and a full-length photograph. Replace the gold with some blue and you're not too far off from 2000 Finest. I'll be honest, usually I'm so mesmerized by the gold arcs that I don't look too closely at the back. And the statistics that Bowman gives us here are unusual and insightful. Rather than the usual rows of stats for at bats, average, and doubles, this card gives us a lot of ratios. At bats per extra base hit (AB/XBH), Games per RBI (G/RBI) and several more. Mathematically, the lower, the better. In 1995 through 1997, Dante Bichette walked exactly as often as he hit a home run. And that math checks out; he had 97 homers and walks from 1995 to 1997. It's an interesting early attempt at Sabermetrics, and if you're not in the habit of looking at card backs, I encourage you to look a bit more closely.

2017 Topps Gypsy Queen #252a Nolan Arenado
There have been so many shiny cards in this post that I felt I had to at least give lip service to regular old cardboard. I've seen a bit of this year's set, but I don't like it as much as the 2016 or especially the 2015 designs. And I'm not quite sure what's going on with this photo. It's clearly in Petco Park, judging by all those Padres uniforms in the stands and the banner on the wall. But there are other MLB logos to be found, such as the Dodgers, Red Sox, and a couple others I can't quite tell. It's possibly from the 2016 All Star Game, which would make sense as to why so many different fans were in the seats. Confusingly, even though the Padres are an NL team, they played as the away team in that year's Midsummer Classic, which could explain why Arenado is wearing his road uniform.

Or maybe I'm overthinking it. Arenado would wear his road uniform every single other time he plays in Petco Park, and maybe there were a lot of casual fans that day. Los Angeles isn't a terribly long drive for that Dodgers fan.

2013 Topps Update Gold #US15 DJ LeMahieu /2013
Back in the friendly setting of Coors Field, we see DJ LeMahieu casually flipping the ball to Tulowitzki for a force out. I'm guessing that's the third out, as DJ looks quite calm, and Tulo isn't preparing to leap over an incoming baserunner while carefully avoiding stepping on the sea turtle. Let's see if I'm right.

I don't have a ton to go on here, but the out of town scoreboard in right field at Coors Field is one of the best sources of information if you're trying to date a card. From what I can see, it looks like the A's beat the Astros in Houston, 4-3. Even though this is a 2013 card, it's from Update, which is one of the few sets where the year matches the photo. Furthermore, DJ has that same 20th Anniversary patch that Tulo had on his Triple Threads card, dating this to sometime in 2013.

There were two occasions that year when the Astros lost at home by a score of 4-3 to the A's, and they were both in the same series. I narrowed it down to either July 22nd or July 24th, and the Rockies were at home both days. Either is possible, but I could only find a 4-6 forceout at second base on the 24th. So my official guess is that this photo is from when the Rockies beat the Marlins 2-1 on Wednesday, July 24th, 2013. And if that's correct, then this nonchalant toss was the final out of the game, retiring none other than Giancarlo Stanton who had just drawn a walk.

2001 Topps Limited #117 Brian Bohanon /3085
I know that LeMahieu card is limited to 2,013 copies, but what I don't know is how limited this "Limited Edition" 2001 card is. Beckett says 3,085, BaseballCardPedia says 3,905, and Topps said there would be a maximum of 5,000 copies of the Limited Factory Set available that year. So all I can assume is that it's roughly 50-100% as plentiful as that Topps Gold card. But it's probably harder to find. If I paid extra for a wood-packaged factory set, I wouldn't break it up.

I see 2001 Topps so infrequently. I'm not that familiar with it, and it doesn't show up via trade very often. This might be the first time that I truly noticed that there's a photograph on the back behind the stats table, a faded and zoomed version of the front photo. It also has the special red and green logo Topps designed for their 50th Anniversary on the back, something I see far less often than their 40th Anniversary logo on the famed 1991 set.

I'll be in my late 60s when Topps hits the century mark. I hope we're both still around by then.

2017 Topps Salute #S95 Nolan Arenado
And the last card of the day is from 2017 Topps Salute, a huge insert set that didn't especially impress me the first time I saw it. Now that I know it has a bit more character, I'm warming up to it. This doesn't just show Arenado in his Mother's Day pink-accented uniform. The back mentions his mom, Millie, as well. And it also has a bit to say about Nolan Arenado's work ethic. We're told that once upon a time, Nolan didn't run out a routine grounder. Perhaps not a huge deal if it's just a one-time thing, but Topps says that Arenado called his mom to apologize after the blunder.

I assume it goes without saying that his teammates and coaches got an apology, too. And that little story further cements him as my favorite player in the Majors. That's how you get to the Major Leagues. That's how you get to the All-Star Game. That's how you get to the playoffs. That's how you win five consecutive Gold Gloves. You hold yourself accountable to the people around you. I see too little of that in my professional career and in society at large. And when I do see it, I can do little else but to appreciate it, try to emulate it, and try to surround myself with it.

Maybe that's why I tend to sit on the third base side when I visit Coors Field.

Julie, thank you, as always, for a wonderful batch of Topps cards, and there is more to come on the non-Topps side of things.

Saturday, January 20, 2018

The Trading Post #111: The Chronicles of Fuji

It was just about a year ago when I blogged about a previous trade sent by The Chronicles of Fuji. Some of the themes might repeat a little bit, but Fuji is always able to send interesting cards, each carefully placed inside a penny sleeve.

My goal is to catch up on trade posts by the time the Winter Olympics start, which is just a few weeks away. Spring Training won't be far behind that, and just beyond, the earliest-ever Opening Day on March 29th. You'll probably see a flurry of activity on this blog by then, especially since there are lots of sports on (my preferred writing backdrop), a snowstorm incoming to the Denver area, and a day off work on Monday.

2011 Topps Wal-Mart Black Border #139 Eric Young Jr.
Lots of free agents are also likely to have Monday off, and Eric Young, Jr. is on that list. There remains a huge number of unsigned free agents just a month away from when pitchers and catchers report to their spring homes in Arizona and Florida, many ranked much higher than Young. Carlos Gonzalez, for example, still doesn't have a team at the moment. Perhaps everyone's saving up for Bryce Harper next year, who's expected to sign a $400 million contract.

Neither Eric Young, Jr. nor myself will be getting a $400 million payday anytime soon, but it's clear from this 2011 Topps parallel that he's much more acrobatic than I am. This is the Wal-Mart Black Border parallel, not to be confused with the Topps Black parallel, which were numbered to 60 copies and did not have the background blacked out.

Black borders have a tendency to chip, and this card is no different. But it's a great photo and is probably one of the best examples of this treatment in the 2011 Topps set. You can barely see the rest of the photo (the scan picks up more detail than you see in person), but you can tell that Young is executing a double play by leaping over a Giant in AT&T Park. I made it easy on myself to see what was really going on and just checked Young's 2011 base card. That's #48 on the Giants, better known as Pablo Sandoval.

If Kung Fu Panda were sliding into me while I was covering second, I'd also want to jump about this high.

1995 Topps Embossed Golden Idols #83 Dante Bichette
Black and Gold are my school colors. Not Missouri, not Purdue, not Army, but the University of Colorado. And Fuji sent me plenty of gold cards to follow up that black one from 2011, such as this parallel from 1995 Topps Embossed. This isn't the first time Fuji's sent me cards from this rarely-seen parallel set, so either he's gradually offloading parts of his collection to me, or he has a steady supply of mid-1990s Topps boxes.

This is somehow even more golden than Walt Weiss' card I got from Fuji last time, and I remain impressed by just how much texture Topps managed to get on this card. Usually this sort of stuff is confined to the front, but the back looks and feels just as much like a relief map as the front. No gold though, but there are some fun facts about Dante Bichette, such as that he hit the first-ever Rockies home run. That happened in their second-ever game, a losing affair at Shea Stadium on April 7th, 1993. In fact, it was the only run (and RBI) the Rockies scored, period, during that two-game set.

2009 Topps Gold Border #646 Chris Iannetta /2009
As you may have heard by now, Chris Iannetta is returning to the Rockies, increasing the accuracy of this 2009 card in one fell swoop. He's one of a relatively small number of free agents that have found a home in 2018, and I'm sure he'll quickly settle into a groove behind the plate again. In this photo, he's still wearing an old-style mask, choosing not to go for the hockey goalie variety. Either way, it seems quite rare to see such a complete example of a catcher in full gear on a baseball card. Chest protectors, masks, and mitts are quite common, but shin guards rarely make an appearance.

It was printed long after 1994, but I'm still drawn to Topps Gold. They were a bit more scarce in 2009, losing the gold foil on the front, but making up for it with a golden serial number on the back. This particular copy is numbered an even thousand out of 2,009.

2013 Topps Gold #613 Jhoulys Chacin /2013
They get ever-so-slightly more plentiful as the years carry on, but I'm sure it will be far into the distant future when the year matches the print run of 1994 Topps Gold cards. In 2013, the parallel set lost the gold foil on the serial number, just getting slightly raised black numbering. This is still an interesting number, 737 out of 2,013, matching the narrow-body aircraft that I flew on earlier this week on a quick business trip to Portland, Oregon.

Chacin is another free agent who's found a home in 2018, signing a two-year deal with the Brewers. He pitched a full season with San Diego last year, earning a respectable 13-10 record, just one win shy of his best year as a Rockie. Coincidentally, that happened in 2013.

2007 Topps Allen & Ginter Dick Perez #9 Troy Tulowitzki
In the baseball card world, artist Dick Perez is synonymous with Donruss' long-running Diamond Kings subset. But Topps couldn't stand by and let his talents go to waste, bringing him on board to "provide exclusive hand-painted images of the Hall of Famers of tomorrow". I'm not sure what relationship, if any, Perez currently has with Topps, but this 2007 Sketch Card let the baseball card world know that he was still around.

There really is a 1/1 version of this Tulowitzki card out there, but this is (presumably) not it, despite the facsimile 1/1 artist signature on the front. It's a thick card, and extremely sturdy, reminding me of those blank inserts that the card companies put in packs to confound pack-searchers. The card doesn't really tell us anything about the Rockies shortstop, and much more about Perez and his artistic endeavors. But I have plenty of Tulo cards to offset that if I want more information.

1995 SP Special FX #34 Dante Bichette
I'm not sure whether I ever saw a box of Upper Deck SP for sale when it was actually on the shelves. Or if I did, I didn't pay any attention to it due to the price. Even if I had that kind of dough as a kid, I would have spent it on Topps Finest instead. But because I never pursued it, I missed out on these holographic cards that UD printed up in the mid-1990s. Fuji must have taken note of my headliner cards in our previous trade and kept the supply coming.

Upper Deck was satisfied enough with the holographic headshot on the front that they did not include their usual hologram diamond on the back. But it's still clearly a UD card, and uses color schemes that are similar to some of the subsets found in 1995 Collector's Choice.

2011 Topps Diamond Anniversary #276 Miguel Olivo
The base variety of Miguel Olivo's 2011 Topps card once made an appearance on this blog, when I was recounting my visit to Raley Field to catch a Triple-A Sacramento River Cats game. He played in the Mexican League last year, but he's probably seen the last of a Major League park as a player. Still, it was good to see him in a Triple-A park. Perhaps it's not quite as cool as Portland, but I got a similar vibe from Sacramento, which has a vibrant downtown adjacent to the river, spanned by some picturesque bridges.

The veteran catcher was still crushing home runs in 2011, though Topps was a year behind on his team. Olivo suited up for the Mariners that year and hit 19 homers, just four off his high mark of 23. Maybe the familiarity is because I saw him in that River Cats game, but I was surprised to learn that Olivo only played one season as a Rockie. It was just the right season to take part in Topps' 60th anniversary, meaning he got this extra-shiny Diamond parallel.

2011 Topps Diamond Anniversary #141 Ubaldo Jimenez
Ubaldo Jimenez was one of Olivo's battery mates in 2010, and Olivo had the distinction of catching the first and only Rockies no-hitter. Jimenez was on the hill that day, however Topps did not pick that feat to honor with a checklist card in the 2011 set. Yes, this is a checklist card, and the shiny background steals your attention away from the small, gray print above the name banner, which says "Most single-season wins in franchise history".

Without a doubt, this is the shiniest checklist card in my entire collection, but I didn't even realize it was one until I flipped it over and saw the red background. Olivo's card has purple color coding, but this fits in with the general look of the Topps set. Topps has done it this way for most of the decade, but I find myself slightly annoyed year after year at how difficult it is to spot these checklists.

Jimenez' 19 wins in 2010 remains a Rockies season record. No Rockie has ever cracked the 20-win mark, but there's always next year!

2006 Topps Chrome Rookie Logos #CRC46 Manuel Corpas
He's not a household name in Denver, but Manuel (Manny) Corpas was the Rockies closer during their 2007 pennant-winning season. He notched five saves in the Rockies' seven wins in the NLDS and NLCS that year, and deserves more credit than he's generally given. Topps saw potential greatness in him, including him in 2006's Chrome Rookie Logos set, and this arrived to me still sealed in a cellophane wrapper.

I have no idea about the provenance of this card. Presumably it was an insert of some kind in Topps Chrome, or perhaps in a team set, but neither Beckett nor BaseballCardPedia have anything to say about the 50-card set. Regardless, it's in great shape, and has a nice /599 serial number on the back. I'm just not sure precisely where to file it.

1995 Stadium Club Virtual Reality #163 Mike Kingery
Another six weeks in the 1994 season would not have netted outfielder Mike Kingery any additional home runs, at least according to the Topps Virtual Reality computer's projections. He got several more doubles, but only two more RBIs. He wasn't a leadoff hitter, so I do have to question the plausibility of some of these computer-generated stats.

Frankly, this is a weird set. I collected it when it was new and opened plenty of packs. But despite what should be a familiar set to me, it remains quite an enigma. For one thing, I could never figure out the pattern in 1995 Stadium Club that determined whether a card got gold or silver foil. The base cards all seem to be gold. but the Virtual Reality cards can be either gold foil or silver, like this one. I've seen this partial parallel set since it came out, and Fuji sent me some last time. But it remains a curiosity. Not to mention the inserts and subsets that burst their way into my knowledge base after decades of dormancy.

1995 Flair Infield Power #4 Andres Galarraga
At least when a 1995 card is unfamiliar to me, like this Galarraga insert or Bichette's SP card above, it makes sense when I didn't actually collect it. The Dr. Who-esque wormhole on 1995 Flair Infield Power cards reminds me of Topps' more recent Power Players insert set, just a bit more muted. Fuji sent me one of those, too.

Fleer tells us that Galarraga's nickname is "The Cat", which is incomplete, to the best of my knowledge. He was always referred to as "The Big Cat" as best I can remember. But sometimes even nicknames have nicknames. The card also mentions his distinctive open batting stance, suggested to him by his old hitting coach in St. Louis, Don Baylor. I recall seeing some Galarraga cards of him as a Cardinal, but I didn't know that he and Baylor had a history before they both joined the expansion Rockies.

2010 Topps 2020 #T14 Ubaldo Jimenez
I know I've seen this set before. There are definitely some in my collection, but I believe this is the first time it's appeared on the blog. Surprisingly, this 3D lenticular insert set is not found in packs of Opening Day, but rather flagship boxes of Topps 2010. They turned the crystal ball forward ten years to guess at who might be top players in 2020. There are some sure things in this set, like Clayton Kershaw and Andrew McCutchen, but some that have virtually no shot at showing up for the 2020 All-Star game, like Tommy Hanson, Gordon Beckham, and well, probably Ubaldo Jimenez.

If you're interested in working on this set, you just have a couple years left to do it easily. By the time 2020 rolls around, you'll have to dig pretty deep into Google's search results if you search for "Topps 2020".

Fuji, I hope we're still trading in 2020, especially if you keep sending me cards like this!