Thursday, May 5, 2016

...and we're back

Hey, all.

How's it going? I hope all's been well since I announced my semi-retirement from the blogs a few months ago. Still collecting, I hope?

It's been a strange few months for me. A lot of ups and downs, steps forward and steps back, etc. I had a short story published. My undergraduate days are officially over. I completed my final college courses earlier this week. Grad school is fresh on my mind now, and I'll still be auditing some other courses at my college for my own mental enrichment in the meantime, but it does feel odd to say that I'm no longer an undergraduate. Hard for me to spit out.

As you might guess, going to school four days a week and working the other three didn't leave a ton of time for blogging, which is why I decided to step away from the game for the better part of the winter and early spring thus far. And, although I've probably spent less time with my baseball cards over the past few months than any other point in my life, I've come to realize just how therapeutic my collection can be.

There have been many times so far this year in which card-related activities -- sorting old cards, filing away new cards, or simply flipping through a binder in the wee hours of the morning -- have helped put my mind at ease and make everything else a little less scary.

Now that school is done for the summer, I think I'm finally ready to dip my toes back into the water and return to something I genuinely enjoy: blogging. I can't promise consistent posts -- I'm moving to a full-time work schedule for the summer -- and it'll probably be more of a gradual comeback, but I'll do my absolute best to be here at least once or twice a week these next few months.

I have a lot planned -- a card show recap, a flea market run, a couple Just Commons orders, and the ton of trade packages I've accumulated both before and during my hiatus...along with some (hopefully) original material, too, of course. I also want to get moving with my frankenset posts, as we only have about a dozen pages left before we can finally move onto the big Frankenset Bracket Extravaganza I've been looking forward to for nearly two years now.

I'm excited for all of it. While I've been reading and commenting on other blogs during during my semi-retirement, it does feel good to say that I'll be back to get my own posts up in the near future. I've missed contributing to this wonderful community.

To be honest, with the way my mind has been working lately, I've been worried that my baseball cards had become a distraction, a detour from an abstract vision of something larger I felt like I should be doing. But I see now that it's exactly the opposite. Baseball cards -- or any hobby, for that matter -- help to maintain our sanity. In a strange way, it's these very kinds of "distractions" that keep us focused in the long run, I think.

Sometimes, you just have to pick up a baseball card and laugh. Whether it's a devilish cartoon depiction of Anthony Rizzo or whatever else, I've learned to never underestimate or underappreciate the power of this hobby, a hobby that genuinely puts a smile on my face, day in and day out.

They really are more than just pieces of cardboard, you know.

Anyways, that's it from me for now. I'll see all of you very soon, most likely with Part 1 of a recap of a recent card show I attended.

Thanks for reading...and collecting.

Friday, February 19, 2016

A birthday farewell

Today is my 24th birthday.

Also celebrating birthdays among the MLB brethren are Josh Reddick (29), Chris Stewart (34), Miguel Batista (45), Dave Stewart (59), and, if you want to take a ride in the way back machine, George Miller (163) -- who played in 17 games over the course of two seasons in the 1870s-1880s.

The fact that I'm actually writing a post today, as you may have noticed, is something that's become a rare event around here. I've fallen into another blogging funk lately, and, unlike my last shutdown which was due to new time crunches, this one is thanks to a plain old lack of blogging motivation, and one that, I'm sorry to say, feels a lot more permanent.

My passion for collecting is still going strong, but I'm finding it harder and harder to extract joy out of the hobby's supplemental activities such as blogging, scanning, cropping, etc. I'm not exactly sure what brought about this sudden fog, but my drive to blog has whittled down to next to nil.

Don't worry, though. I'm still reading and commenting when I can. I'm still sending out trade packages when I can (and I wholeheartedly appreciate all the ones I've received during my hiatus). And I'm still a member of my local collecting community, hitting card shows when I can. (Maybe I can meet up with Jeff and/or Tony at a nearby gathering once I get off this weekend-heavy work schedule.)

Basically what I'm saying is: I'll still be around to connect with this awesome community, whether through trades or comments or just plain readership. It's just that instead of being front-and-center in the class photo, I'll be the bystander in the back who accidentally wandered into the picture.

I may post here and there from this point forward, but I honestly don't see myself attempting a full-on return anytime soon, if ever. I wouldn't call it a retirement, but I guess this is somewhat of a farewell.

In the meantime, I'll just be over here coming to grips with the fact that I'm officially in my mid-20s now.

At least I'll have my baseball cards for support.

Friday, February 5, 2016

2016 Topps: A brief commentary

(Think of this post as a 2016 Topps movie with an overdubbed director's commentary.)

(I've been severely lacking blogging inspiration lately.)

(Sorry for another prolonged hiatus.)

(Dad supplied my first taste 2016 Topps for me the other day in the form of a blaster and some loose packs.)

(He's actually been working a side gig at his local Target lately.)

(He gets to straighten and stock the card shelves: one of his jobs was to -- you guessed it -- put out the brand-spankin'-new 2016s earlier this week.)

(I checked my local Target on Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday earlier this week to no avail.)

(Apparently the pimply-faced teenagers who work there can't be bothered.)

(I may be in the minority, but I'm glad reprints are back.)

(Although it does feel odd pulling a reprint of a card from 1997.)

(I think Topps reads my blog.)

(Why else would there be insert sets devoted to Wrigley Field and position players pitching?)

(Is this a dream?)

(Stadium Club is infiltrating Flagship now.)

(I mean that in a good way.)

(Because holy heck are these nice cards.)

(Base cards? Eh.)

(Not a fan of the clouds or the fractured team logos.)

(Plus I'd rather baseball cards not look like my high school Graphic Arts projects.)

(I sucked at Graphic Arts.)

(The backs are almost exactly the same as last year's.)

(Parallels are back and as average as ever.)

(The rainbow foils are barely even rainbowy, and the gold parallels now have a honeycomb effect due to the lack of borders in 2016 Topps.)

(Topps needs to take a step back, and I mean that literally.)

(Like the past few years, way too many zoomed-in game-faces in this year's Flagship.)

(Also not a fan of the return of the pointlessly-foiled FUTURE STARS headers.)

(But there were good cards.)

(I still enjoy Gatorade-shower shots.)

(As voted by fans, Mr. Trout is Card #1 in 2016 Topps...and I can't think of a better Card #1 in recent memory.)

(I wonder if Pat Neshek -- a noted collector -- has ever pulled a card of himself?)

(Also, I'm pretty sure that's the first card of Chase Utley as a Dodger.)

(The horizontal team/combo cards are superb this year.)

(A couple other personal favorites of the horizontal variety.)

(Topps could use more "hero" shots like the Cueto.)

(Card. Of. The. Year.)

(I'm calling it now.)

(VERY glad I pulled it on my own, because -- thanks to the national attention this card has been getting -- it's selling for highly inflated figures on the secondary market.)

(That's about it.)

(Thanks for reading/watching/looking/consuming.)

(I'll be back with more complex thoughts if/when this blogging funk ever washes over.)

Monday, January 18, 2016

The best sets of 2015

Even though it's the middle of January here in 2016, I still want to sneak in my Sets of the Year countdown for 2015 on the blog.

The rules here are simple: In order for a set to qualify for this list, I had to have bought at least one pack of the brand and/or picked up an ample amount of singles elsewhere. While I may have snagged a small amount of cards from sets like Museum Collection and High Tek, I don't really have enough to form any kind of opinion on them. So they won't appear here.

Also, in the interest of time and space, I've consolidated most of the offshoot brands (Bowman/Bowman Chrome, Heritage/High Numbers, Flagship/Opening Day, etc.) into one entry on this list.

In the end, ten different sets qualified for the countdown, and we start, once again, with the three-time reigning Worst Set of the Year.

#10 -- Donruss


#9 -- Bowman/Bowman Chrome

As far as just Bowman is concerned, this actually isn't a half-bad design.

But even a fair Bowman set is still a subpar offering in the grand scheme of things. As usual, there's unnecessary foil and unreadable nameplates. As usual, the design isn't much of a standout. And, as usual, the singles seemed to flock to the dime boxes the day after the set hit the shelves.

It's not like anyone buys Bowman for the veterans anyways.

#8 -- Finest

I've still never actually opened a pack of Topps Finest, but I do seem to find them in the discount bins fairly easily.

The last two years of designs for the brand were surprisingly impressive, but 2015 was a big letdown as far as I'm concerned. I think Topps was trying to go for some kind of shattered glass effect, but I don't think the final product ever quite got there.

It reminds me of that weird, futuristic room in Bill and Ted's Excellent Adventure.

#7 -- Gypsy Queen

Gypsy Queen remains the one set I just can't wrap my head around.

A lot of other collectors seem to rave about this brand, but I've never seen it. I will grant that the 2015 edition was probably my favorite since the debut 2011 design, but, like Bowman, that doesn't mean a whole lot.

Though it was prone to sparse amounts of greatness -- like this Mike Leake (what is that in his pocket, anyways?) -- Gypsy Queen still struck me as a rather bland (especially the backs) and uninspired effort in 2015.

I always thought I'd come around on GQ one day, but, at this point, I don't think that day's ever going to come.

#6 -- Diamond Kings

Here's the only debut brand that qualified for this list.

I didn't buy a single pack of Panini product in 2015, but they hit the discount bins by the bucketload. That was especially true with Diamond Kings, which I found odd since a lot of people seemed to like this brand.

To tell you the truth, I'm still not 100-percent certain how I feel about these. I was never a big fan of the '80s Diamond Kings, but I do enjoy the canvas-like feel with the 2015 edition. And I've been awestruck by a select few singles I've found, like this dandelion-yellow Paul Waner.

But, for whatever reason, the singles seemed to run together after a while for me. I don't know if it was the lack of logos or whatever, but I tired of the design pretty quickly. But I'm not sure if that's a comment on my brain or the cards themselves.

Like I said, I'm still working out my thoughts ample time, this set could move either up or down on my list.

#5 -- Allen & Ginter

I don't have much to say about 2015 A&G.

It was a step down from last year's surprisingly nice design, but still an average effort overall. I think 2015 was the first time I didn't buy a single pack of the stuff in the brand's ten-year history (though, like so many other sets, I found scores of them in dime boxes).

For what it's worth, A&G wins the Most Average Set of 2015 award for me.

#4 -- Archives

Last year was, for me, comprised of The Big Four.

The most surprising member of The Big For was Archives, a set that, admittedly, was met by lukewarm reviews by Dime Boxedonia upon its release early on in 2015.

But then a funny thing started to happen. Like that AHA! moment of realization in a movie romance, I began to realize...holy cow, I think I'm actually starting to LIKE these after I began to dig up more and more from the dime boxes. I began to ask myself just why I was so meh about Archives in the first place and I couldn't come up with a good answer.

I'm always crying for more old-time posed shots...and Archives has nostalgic old-time posed shots (the '57s were especially well-done). I'm always crying for more reincarnations of my favorite designs...and this year's Archives featured three of my favorites with 1957, 1976, and 1983 (all of which made the Top 20 of my Topps set countdown). It's all there.

I just want to take a moment to apologize to Archives for all the bad things I said.

#3 -- Heritage/High Numbers

Heritage has the most at stake when it's featuring a design I'm not all that wild about.

There was no pressure in 2014. I knew I'd like Heritage then because it was featuring my all-time favorite Topps design ('65). Last year was a different story, because I've never considered '66 Topps to be anything more than average.

I'm happy to report that Heritage passed with flying colors in 2015. They even earned themselves a few bonus points by reintroducing High Numbers to retail shelves. There were many points in 2015 in which I went back and viewed some of the real '66 Topps cards in my collection because of how well I thought Topps pulled it off last year.

That's really all I can ask out of Heritage.

#2 -- Topps Flagship/Opening Day/Chrome

Many years from now, we could be looking at 2015 Topps as the set that changed it all.

Last year's Flagship was the first that dared to stride away from the annoying overuse of foil that Topps -- for whatever reason -- has been adamant about giving us. In fact, 2015 featured the first non-foil nameplate in a Flagship set since 1994.

The lack of foil was a breath of fresh air, and I absolutely loved the color-coded borders. They gave a sleek, new look to Topps. It's a modern design that's not trying to be too self-consciously futuristic. And that's not even mentioning the expanded checklist. (There were 1,100 cards spread out between the three Flagship checklists this year. 1,100!)

We already know that 2016 Topps will also be another non-foil set, so maybe 2015 will indeed be the year that ushered in a new era for Topps Flagship.

#1 -- Stadium Club

Was there ever any doubt?

By unanimous decision, Stadium Club captured its second straight Set of the Year crown in 2015. Last year's edition was even better than the 2014 release, which I honestly didn't think was possible going into 2015.

I'd say the 2015 Stadium Club theme was "Even Better." Even better mix of legends and current stars. Even better player selections -- fan-favorite-types like Ron Gant and John Olerud made appearances, to name a few. And, most importantly, even better photography. You know it's good when this drool-worthy George Springer couldn't even crack the Top Ten.

Perhaps the best thing about Stadium Club is that it's indeed a high-end set at a fairly low-end price. I had almost no trouble finding singles for loose change in 2015, and it's still cheap enough that I can buy a retail pack of the stuff on impulse here and there if I so choose.

O almighty Stadium Club, we collectors bow down to you.

Thursday, January 14, 2016

Latest and greatest

I'm really not much of a "latest and greatest" person.

The type of phone I own is probably sitting in many dumpsters and landfills right now. I have no clue what qualifies as Top 40 music these days. I don't keep up with the hot new sitcoms on the telly. Celebrity tabloids? Forget it.

When it comes to baseball cards, I like to think that I'm not much for the latest and greatest, but, in reality, I am. Vintage is king -- because I'm still an old soul -- but, at the same time, I get excited when the new Topps sets come out, or when someone throws a bunch of newer cards at me in a trade package.

The latter happened with a mailer I received from Kerry of the great "Cards on Cards" blog recently. This Pujols insert actually arrived in a separate PWE, and I love it because it features cameos from both Joc Pederson and Joc's brother Champ, who is diagnosed with Down syndrome -- a disease that is one of the main focuses of Pujols's foundation.

Last year's Home Run Derby was actually pretty memorable (when's the last time you could say that about a Derby?), and this was one of the reasons why.

The initial package that Kerry sent was filled with latest-and-greatest cards for many of my latest-and-greatest player collections.

I probably shouldn't like these shiny Heritage gimmicks of Matt Harvey and Adam Jones. I mean, refractors weren't a glimmer in anyone's eye in 1966...but I have to admit that they're actually kinda cool. 

I feel like I'm going to be exiled from the vintage circle by saying that, but it's true.

Gotta love the giant Rookie Cups, and, hey, there's another Heritage shiny.

I received this package before The Toddfather was dealt to my hometown White Sox, which means that I'm even more excited to be collecting this guy now.

I often wonder why I get so giddy when I get "latest and greatest" cards, like this sweet Craig Kimbrel base/refractor combo from 2015 Chrome.

I think it's because I have this weird feeling that if I don't get these cards now, then I never will. Like everything from 2015 (and before) will suddenly fall off the face of the earth when the 2016 cards start coming.

I sure hope people don't forget about 2015 in about a month or so, because it really was a great year for cardboard.

Unlike most of the longer-tenured players I collect, most of the guys Kerry sent are fairly new additions to my binders.

My Stanton collection has eclipsed the 100-card mark despite the fact that I've been collecting the guy for barely over a year. I now own about a dozen Jake Arrietas, and I expect that number to rise at a painfully slow pace because he's a hot commodity in the Chicago card market now.

Actually, probably the nationwide market, too, now that I think of it.

My McCutchen collection also hit the century mark recently, but both of these Heritage singles were new to me.

I still say he needs to bring back those dreads.

Ah, but Kerry didn't forget about my oldest and most extensive player collection with Vlad here.

The Topps Attax card is actually a sunset issue featuring Guerrero's brief time with the O's that I never thought to track down.

I should really learn how to that game works one day...and then I can join maybe the two other people that actually remember how to play Topps Attax.

This trade was born out of the fact that I claimed these two Update throwbacks on Kerry's blog.

This is one of the coolest "latest and greatest" innovations I've seen in a while, because, when you get down to it, I'm definitely not a "latest and greatest" guy when it comes to today's uniforms.

Throwbacks rule, and always will.

I also specifically claimed this pair of "First Home Run" inserts from Kerry.

One features a guy who blasted over 500 dingers as a Cub, and the other features a guy who I hope equals or exceeds that number one day.

But, you know, no pressure, Kris.

But through it all, Kerry's grand finale was a sacred piece of vintage.

This '79 Bruce Sutter was a "Dime Box Dozen" need prior to this package, and one I was shocked to find out I didn't already have. (I think there might be a gigantic Bruce Sutter hoarder out there, because I also have yet to see a copy of his '77 Topps rookie in-person.)

I love both vintage and modern cards, but I could never see myself being exclusive towards one or the other. I could never collect just vintage because I'd feel out of touch with the current hobby. But, at the other end of the spectrum, I'd probably get bored being a pure "latest and greatest" type of guy. This package had the best of both worlds.

For me, the hobby is best with a healthy combination of old and new.

Monday, January 11, 2016

Best. Belated. Christmas. Ever.

My dad and I both had to work on Christmas this year, which, frankly, sucked.

Spending quality time with the family is one reason I still have a gushy love for the holiday season, and it didn't quite feel like Christmas without hanging out with my dad. Our schedules didn't match up until last Sunday (the same day I hit the recent card show), and I was counting down every single day leading up to it.

Holidays, as I've learned with age, are about much more than gifts, but the fact of the matter is that my dad does have a penchant for masterful Christmas presents. You may remember the T206 Fred Merkle I received last year. So when my dad said he'd found something that'd blow that out of the water, well...I just couldn't wrap my head around what could be better than a T206 Merkle.

But more on that in due time. Meanwhile, my dad started out his array of Christmas gifts in a familiar place with The Bird here, a perennial favorite of both of ours.

I've had the standard copy of Fidrych's 1978 Topps card in my binders for a while now...

...but my dad upped the ante by tracking down the OPC version of it, adding to (what I like to believe is) my Fidrych supercollection.

He did this despite his incredulity towards my OPC fanaticism. My dad and I see eye-to-eye on most hobby topics, but this isn't one of them. They're the same cards!!!!!, he often says. No, Dad, I say, they're the same cards with FRENCH ON THE BACK. That's everything!

Parents just don't understand.

My dad climbed aboard the Fidrych OPC train once again by nabbing the French version of The Bird's 1977 League Leaders card.

Sorry, John Denny, but anyone paired up with Mr. Fidrych is an afterthought to me.

I'm paraphrasing my dad here, but he's said to me on a few occasions that the 1971 OPCs are really the only ones that matter.

The yellowed, floating-head backs are what do it for him, and he backed up that claim with these Sweet Lou and Red Schoendienst Frenchies. I'm in unanimous agreement with him that '71 OPCs are the best OPCs.

But I'm not giving up on converting my dad into a full-on OPC devotee...yet.

My dad's belated Christmas gifts basically culminated into The Big Three.

Actually, more like The Big Two and then The BIG, BIG, BIG, BIG, BIG One...but, again, I'm getting ahead of myself.

My dad came out firing with Yogi here. This is only my second real Topps card of the late great, and my first of him in the Yankee pinstripes. (The other being his legendary Short Term Stops/sunset issue as a Met in '65 Topps.)

You know it's a heckuva present when Yogi only gets the bronze medal.

For a while, I thought this was the big card my dad had been promising, and, had that been the case, it most certainly would've fit the bill.

This 1952 Red Man of Stan the Man is a thing of beauty, one of those cards that you might admire from afar but never actually dream of owning. It's vintage, it's an oddball, it's Stan Musial. It hits all the checkpoints of a grade-A Christmas present.

But I can honestly say that it was a distant -- and I mean distant -- second in the voting this year.

So what came in first?

Oh, you know, just a real, actual baseball card of Dizzy Dean, that's all.

Now, I'm not the type of person who curses very much, and I certainly wouldn't hurl a string of obscenities in front of my dad, but I came very close to doing so once this fell out of the wrapping paper. I mean, just look at this thing. Can you blame me?

If Mark Fidrych was the first guy my dad told me stories about, then Dizzy Dean was probably the second. Much like my dad did, I've idolized Diz since an early age (one of the family cats is named after him) for his southern twang, his quotable quips (second only to perhaps Yogi), and, of course, his gift of being one of the best pitchers baseball has ever seen.

And, as if this card needed any incentive to be even better than it naturally is, it comes from the 1934 Goudey checklist, a year in which Diz, at his pinnacle, led the famous Gashouse Gang St. Louis Cardinals club to a World Series victory over the Tigers.

I'm still honestly in shock knowing that I now have a real Dizzy Dean card in my collection, but I know one thing: my best binder page needs revising. I now see why my dad was bragging about this gift in the days preceding our belated Christmas.

But, as Diz himself once said, It ain't braggin' if you can back it up...and, boy, was he ever right.