Sunday, April 10, 2022

Opening Day Is Upon Us (Part 1: Base)

At long last, the 2022 MLB season has begun. The lockout, while it did delay Opening Day by a week or so, was ended early enough to salvage a full season. Baseball is back, though not without some notable changes.

The National League, nearly a half-century after the American League made the switch, is now using a Designated Hitter, although MLB carefully carved out some exceptions so as not to diminish Shohei Ohtani's unique strengths. The extra innings ghost runner rule is still intact. Playoffs have expanded to 12 teams, further eroding the value of playing a 162-game schedule. The TV streaming landscape continues to grow ever-more fragmented, and umpires are finally using the stadium PA system to explain reviewed calls. 

But in speaking with more casual baseball fans in my circle, the thing I've been asked about the most (once they learn that the lockout is over, that is), is the electronic pitch-calling system that a few teams tested during spring training. After what happened with the Astros in 2017, the system for catchers calling pitches was definitely due for an upgrade. Teams throughout the league now have the option of using the new PitchCom system, a button-operated device worn by the catcher that audibly communicates the selected pitch to up to five players over an encrypted radio channel. As baseball changes go, it's been pretty well-received.

The game has changed a lot in the past few years, not to mention in the past century.

2022 Topps Opening Day #76 Eloy Jiménez

On the other hand, the game hasn't changed so much that it's lost its roots. The 1919-esque Field of Dreams game that took place last summer still has its place. And Topps picked a few photos from that evening's event for 2022 base cards (and thus the quasi-parallels of the Opening Day set). Eloy Jiménez, one of the stars of a young White Sox team, is pictured here in the throwback Sox uniforms worn by the team that night in Dyersville, Iowa. It's been jazzed up a little bit with modern touches like the Nike Swoosh, gold chains, and the helmet C-Flap, a piece of safety equipment that saved Francisco Lindor from a serious injury on Friday night.

As we approach Easter, it's worth telling an amusing story about Eloy Jiménez. Late in spring training last year, he suffered a tendon injury and was projected to miss several months. Of course that was unfortunate, but the White Sox tweeted about it in such a way (granted, on April Fools' Day) that made it sound like he had died. After plenty of misunderstanding among the fan base, everyone started joking "He is risen" upon his earlier-than-expected return last summer, which came in plenty of time for him to emerge like an apparition from the outfield corn in Iowa.

2022 Topps Opening Day #120 Carlos Rodón

In flipping through the surprisingly massive quantity of cards that came out of a single blaster (including not one, but two "Extra Packs"), I noticed just how many different uniforms the White Sox wore last year. Another throwback worn by pitcher Carlos Rodón is, um, thrown back but not as far, bringing us back to the early-mid 1980s. There sure is a lot of red on the sock for a team called the White Sox.

Rodón, who pitched a no-hitter just under one year ago, has an "MR" memorial patch on the right sleeve of his uniform, something we'll see lots of throughout this post. The MR initials are for Martyl Reinsdorf, wife of White Sox Chairman Jerry Reinsdorf. She passed away in June 2021.

2022 Topps Opening Day #192 Lance Lynn

Of course, the White Sox often wore their normal black and white pinstriped uniforms too, but that's less interesting, so let's move on while pitcher Lance Lynn recovers from knee surgery.

2022 Topps Opening Day #194 José Abreu

That brings us to José Abreu, the MVP veteran of the White Sox, sporting the team's special City Connect uniform. By the end of 2022, about half the teams will have partnered with Nike to create these unique City Connect uniforms, meant to "explore the personality, values, and customs that make each community and their residents unique", according to the press release. The White Sox, as you can see, have all-black uniforms with white pinstripes, and "Southside" lettering across the front, tying them into their particular area of Chicago.

2022 Topps Opening Day #147 Nico Hoerner

Contrast that with their crosstown rivals, the Cubs, whose dark blue City Connect uniforms have "Wrigleyville" lettering. A mere eleven miles away up Lake Shore Drive, the Cubs have their own section of Chicago firmly locked up, and are next in line to play in Iowa for their own Field of Dreams game this August 11th.

2022 Topps Opening Day #98 Trevor Rogers

The Marlins debuted their own City Connect uniforms in 2021, featuring "Miami" in script lettering on a red background, along with a blue cap. These are the colors once worn by a Cuban-based Minor League team, the Havana Sugar Kings. That team's history came to a sudden end around the time of the Cuban Revolution, although they eventually evolved into the franchise that is today's Triple-A Norfolk Tides.

Even the patch worn on Trevor Rogers's right sleeve is a near-replica of the original Sugar Kings logo, slightly altered to include the Marlins name. The Sugar Kings may not be around anymore, but the Cuban connection in Miami very much is.

I'll always have a fondness for the turquoise uniforms the Marlins debuted with in their inaugural 1993 season, but these are pretty cool.

2022 Topps Opening Day #129 Max Scherzer

The Dodgers debuted their "Los Dodgers" jerseys in L.A. last summer, but this one wasn't as well-received among fans. It's a nice shade of blue, but isn't especially different from the team's usual uniform. Max Scherzer isn't even a Dodger anymore anyway. He's with the Mets now, and I find it surprising that neither New York team has been involved in this program yet. The Yankee pinstripes are timeless, but surely the Mets could come up with something.

2022 Topps Opening Day #86 Mike Yastrzemski

Think of San Francisco, and you'll probably think of the Golden Gate Bridge. The designers of Mike Yastrzemski's alternate Giants uniform thought the same thing. They added what's meant to be a layer of fog on the all-white uniforms, and even a white gradient on the bottom of the "G", as though the logo is emerging from the fog the way the bridge towers do.

As a tech worker, the bridge design on the sleeves remind me of older Cisco logos.

The Red Sox and Diamondbacks got in on the City Connect fun last year, but I didn't find any such cards of theirs in this blaster. Several more teams this year, including the Rockies on June 4th, will have a new alternate jersey in the series with which to take the field.

I have to admit that these kind of flew under my radar last year. I had seen them on highlight reels, but didn't really put together how inspired and creative these were meant to be. I'm excited to see more teams have their City Connect jerseys unveiled throughout the season. I've made it a point to put this year's release dates on my calendar, since clearly I'm into it. I've spent eight cards talking about little else but uniforms, and there's more where that came from.

2022 Topps Opening Day #166 Ernie Clement (RC)

This is a Photoshop job, but it is our first look at Cleveland's new team name and logo, the Guardians. Unfortunately, they lost their first game under the new banner. 

I don't have much to say about rookie Ernie Clement, but I haven't said anything about the 2022 design yet, so here goes. 

I like it.

It doesn't seem quite as much like a Bowman design as I first thought. I particularly like how the red line around the outer border swoops around and curves through the stitches of the baseball design element in the lower left. The team name and especially the position are pretty tiny and hard to read, but the size of the player's name is a huge improvement over the 2021 set, as are the photographs. 

I do see how collectors are calling this the "wrench set" based on the lower design elements, but I don't see a wrench as vividly as I see the so-called sea turtle in 2013 Topps, at least not when the border is color-coded for a red team. Maybe it's a little more noticeable with a white border. The colored border carries over to the back, but the baseball stitch loop area is only halfway there. Where the other half would be is occupied by the card number.

2022 Topps Opening Day #219 Freddie Freeman

Not counting something like Topps Update, the photos we get on baseball cards are typically one season behind. Printing technology has improved by leaps and bounds since I started collecting (really, go back and look at the photo quality on late-80s Donruss sets), but the constraints of creating, printing, and distributing baseball card sets have only gotten more challenging. We've only had Topps Now for a handful of years, and keep in mind you've never been able to buy that by the box.

I'm not expecting a current-year photo of Freddie Freeman on this card. That would be silly; the season is only a few days old. I'm just using that as a segue to point out the commemorative patch from 2021 on Freeman's sleeve, the 150th Anniversary of the Braves franchise. They can trace their lineage all the way back to 1871's Boston Red Stockings, which predated the National League itself by five years.

I happened to get a good look at Freeman on Friday when his new team, the Dodgers, visited Coors Field for Opening Day. Yes, some Opening Day tickets came my way this year, and it was a fun experience to be back at the ballpark, but the Dodgers sort of spoiled the fun. Their entire lineup is just one MVP after another, with some All-Stars peppered in there for good measure.

2022 Topps Opening Day #94 Adam Wainwright

Adam Wainwright's stellar career is likely drawing to a close this season, along with that of his longtime battery mate, Yadier Molina. That's probably just who is ready to catch the pitch that Waino is winding up for on this photo.

Many of the Hall of Fame legends we lost in the past couple years were honored with memorial patches during the 2021 season. Bob Gibson and his #45...

2022 Topps Opening Day #174 Christian Yelich

...Hank Aaron and his #44 (though he was only briefly a Brewer)...

2022 Topps Opening Day #65 Julio Urías

...Tommy Lasorda's #2 and Don Sutton's #20...

2022 Topps Opening Day #5 Joey Gallo

...Whitey Ford's #16...

2022 Topps Opening Day #168 Josh Donaldson

...Mike Bell's initials, the bench coach of the Twins...

2022 Topps Opening Day #191 Pete Alonso

...and Tom Seaver's #41.

It's sad, that much loss. But it's always a nice gesture when teams honor their great legends. 

Seaver's number is being worn by Pete Alonso, one of the exciting young stars whose name isn't mentioned nearly as much as Tatís, Guerrero, Soto, Acuña, and others. He was the 2019 NL Rookie of the Year and has two consecutive wins at the Home Run Derby. Alonso, aka Polar Bear, is a few years older than those vibrant young players, but I think he's a bit underrated.

The card back mentions the whopping 74 home runs he hit at the 2021 Home Run Derby. He's likely to get plenty more great horizontal cards in future Topps sets if he keeps that up.

2022 Topps Opening Day #82 Manny Machado

I really am not a fan of Manny Machado, but I have to admit that this a fantastic card. The cropping and pose is great, and the "wrench" design works especially well in horizontal orientation. I even noticed the tiny white dot between the team logo and the player's name, which I didn't spot on the vertical cards.

2022 Topps Opening Day #38 Byron Buxton

Many of the best defensive plays, which I have a special appreciation for thanks to my Nolan Arenado fandom, really can't be depicted any other way than horizontally. Byron Buxton, now a Twin for the next seven years, shows us exactly why. 

Home run robberies, on the other hand, would typically need a more traditional vertical orientation. 

We've been seeing cards like these for a long time, but I have to wonder what a collector from fifty years ago would think, someone who had just started seeing "In Action" photos appear on baseball cards. We look back fondly on various baserunning and play-at-the-plate cards from that era and still write about them today. Will we still be talking about Byron Buxton cards in the year 2072?

I can't promise this blog will go on that long, despite my best efforts.

2022 Topps Opening Day #169 Ryan McMahon

Only a couple Rockies were present in this blaster, chock full of over 150 cards. Ryan McMahon was the first among them, and he's holding down the starting third baseman job for the Rockies even after the team signed Kris Bryant, who is now apparently a left fielder. I never expected this Stadium Club insert from several years ago would end up being related to an eventual Rockies player, but I'm glad I held onto it. Bryant had a chance to tie the game on Opening Day in the 9th inning, but foul tipped the last pitch for a strikeout.

Clearly he is the big news in Denver this year, other than Russell Wilson joining the Broncos, who traveled a couple miles east to throw out the first pitch on Opening Day. All I'm talking about is Bryant in relation to RyMac's card. But McMahon is growing into one of the fan favorites around here, and he had an RBI and a double in Saturday's night game. Perhaps the All-Star Game patch on his sleeve is a sign for the future of his career.

2022 Topps Opening Day #177 Trevor Story

Trevor Story, on the other hand, couldn't get out of here fast enough. He signed a deal with the Red Sox, and he's playing second base instead of his usual shortstop, a position that is currently occupied by Xander Bogaerts. As I understand it, the Rockies offered him more money than did Boston, but he still decided to venture out elsewhere.

Whatever happens now, at least us Rockies fans had six seasons of electrifying performance and monster home runs from Trevor Story to look back on. I don't know what it was, but somehow his homers just felt like they were bigger, even if they often traveled roughly the same distance as many others. He was a lot of fun to watch, and I wish him well.

2022 Topps Opening Day #199 Trent Grisham

Trent Grisham is one of the very few players in the MLB who chooses not to wear batting gloves, but the main reason this Padres card caught my eye is that it's obviously a candidate for my Coors Field frankenset. That much purple, especially in and on the dugout, makes it hard to mistake for anything else. Plus, as a player in the NL West, he's much more likely to play in Coors Field during a road game.

2022 Topps Opening Day #208 Wander Franco (RC)

And finally, this wouldn't be a proper post about a 2022 baseball card set if I didn't mention Wander Franco, this year's red-hot rookie whose cards are currently going for eye-popping prices. I'll end up with his Topps Series 1 rookie card later on once I buy the factory set, but the nearly-identical Opening Day version will hold me over until then.

The season is barely underway and I've already seen this card countless times, enough to notice that between the Topps Rookie Cup and the Opening Day logo, the design elements at all four corners of the photo are nicely symmetrical. That symmetry is slightly thrown off on his Series 1 base card since there's nothing in the lower right.

This post was twenty-two cards, possibly a record for me. And this is just part one. Come back later for the Mariner Moose (yes, I did get the Mariner Moose because of course I did) and the rest of the inserts in part two.

1 comment:

  1. I kinda wish Topps didn't photoshop the Guardians logo on the Cleveland cards (the name on the card is fine). I'd rather see the Indians uniforms one more time and then get some Guardians uniforms for Series 2. I'm also having the funny feeling that Topps increased the size of the Opening Day blaster and forgot to up the price, but this is the best deal for cards. Thanks for showing them off!