Tuesday, February 21, 2017

A wonderfully odd birthday at the card show

I turned 25 this past Sunday, and for the first time in my quarter of a century on this Earth, I attended a card show on the exact date of my birth.

This was the same village hall show I made it down to a couple weeks ago, and I finally remembered to snap a picture of it amidst the chaos. This image really doesn't do the place justice since I took it near the end of the day when the crowd was thinning out. The hall was brimming with people for most of the afternoon and much more well-attended than the gathering a couple Saturdays ago.

Over time, it's probably become my favorite local show because it's not a quick stop like some three-table mall shows I've attended in the past, but not overwhelming like the massive tri-annual, flood-lighted, convention-hall show in my area. It's the absolute perfect size for a collector -- and somewhat anxious human being -- like myself.

Better yet, not a single cent I spent over the two shows I've attended in the past couple weeks came out of my own pocket. Last Saturday's budget consisted of leftover Christmas cash, and this past Sunday was funded by additional holdover holiday money I didn't spend on Saturday, along with a generous birthday gift donation to the card coffers from Mom.

Granted, I did have one major worry going into Sunday morning: since I'd just attended this show barely a week before, would that mean I'd be seeing the same cards I saw the last time?

In one word: NO.

One of the major factors in my decision to return to this show, in fact, was the presence of a table full of nickel boxes that I didn't have time to dig through during my first trip. The thought of a half-dozen 3200-count boxes of uncombed nickel cards was just too much to bear. I just knew there were scores of gems in there, waiting to find a home with yours truly.

I made a beeline for that table as soon as I stepped into the convention hall Sunday morning. It didn't take long for the first surprise of the day to present itself in the form of the Yoenis Cespedes photo-variation SP you see above which, yes, fell out of the nickel boxes.

And then...

...bam, another short-print!

Unlike the Cespedes, I wasn't 100 percent sure this was a SP at the time. All I knew was that it didn't look familiar to me and that I remembered Topps had short-printed some photos featuring camo jerseys last year. I figured it was worth a shot. Turns out my suspicions were correct: Mr. Hamilton was, amazingly, the second SP gifted to me by the nickel box gods.

Not a bad way to get my birthday up and running.

Last Saturday's show took care of most of my 2017 base needs, but I did some more damage to my Flagship insert/parallel lists on Sunday.

Among my favorites here are the Cubs World Series gold parallel, the pair of MLB Network inserts (which bring me within two cards of completing that set), and the rainbow parallel of Josh Reddick, who celebrated a birthday along with me this past Sunday.

Parallels in general seem to be becoming a bigger and bigger part of my card show experience lately.

The Miller -- the first Toys 'R' Us parallel I've ever found at a card show -- was part of those masterful nickel boxes, while the others came to me via a 5/$1 box about midway through the show.

The purist in me shouldn't like shiny Heritage, but my goodness do they look nice in person.

Nickel box minis!

Like Saturday, my mini-collections were absolutely torn apart by vendors who were gracious enough to stock their nickel/dime boxes with many new themed hits.

This show -- like most I've attended lately -- is heavy on the Cubs stuff.

Literally every table had some sort of Cubs-centric corner to it, most of which was out of my price range. But I did find a couple young guns within my budget: the Bryant came from a 7/$5 box, while the Rizzo was two dollars.

That's more than I usually pay for anything modern, but still a bargain when you consider it's a zero-year rookie card of my favorite current Cub.

Though the South Siders are in the midst of a vast rebuild, most vendors at local shows still stock their inventory with a fair amount of White Sox.

In one of the steals of the afternoon, I scored a stack of three-dozen new Paulies (as well as about 30-40 other miscellaneous cards) from the final vendor of the day with the last three dollars I had in my wallet.

Minis, parallels, and Cubs are all to be expected at a card show, but it didn't take long for things to spiral completely out of my control.

Perhaps the single best vendor of the day presented himself about midway into the village hall. His table didn't look like anything special: a lot of old, discounted overproduction-era wax boxes and a couple small boxes of miscellany.

The vendor informed me that everything in the boxes was a dime...

...and it didn't take long for me to discover that his selection was the stuff of oddball heaven.

Among the first goods I pulled from his boxes were these superb Sotheby's singles, which I'd never seen nor heard of before Sunday. From the looks of it, they're basically ads for auction items related to the events depicted on the front.

All fantastic, but my personal favorite is easily the "Pine Tar Rhubarb" above: it's the first baseball card I've ever seen that features a shot from the infamous moment itself.

Just about all of these glorious oddities came from this vendor's oddball files.

I don't know which I like most -- Ryan for President, SI for Kids Bartolo, tobacco-style Uecker, McDonald's Medwick, etc., etc. -- so I'll just go ahead and say they're all tied for first.

Also among the dime box of oddballs were these fantastic Cubs from the team-sponsored '83 set.

A notable appearance: that's Sweet Swingin' Billy Williams at the center of the coaching staff card.

The dime box was also heavy on the minor league cards, which resulted in a Bernie Williams oddball from way back in '87 becoming mine for a single FDR.

As if the dime cards weren't enough, the vendor had a whole box full of complete minor league sets for 50 cents each. I picked up the '88 Indianapolis Indians set for the sole fact that Randy Johnson was staring back at me through the shrinkwrap.

Turns out I didn't need any of the other cards in the set, but I think we'd all agree that a minor league Big Unit is worth two quarters alone.

Another big get was this entire '91 White Sox team set for a grand total of 50 cents, topped off by an odd shot of the Big Hurt bunting.

One vendor had a big box that said EVERYTHING INSIDE: $5 EACH which I would've passed up without a second thought had I not stumbled upon this strange Black Sox oddball set, produced by a company called Little Sun.

They're not all that well-made, and I'm still not sure how great of a deal five dollars was. I do, however, pride myself on being a collector of anything and everything Black Sox, and I knew that I'd probably never see the set again if I didn't buy it right then and there.

The set is 15 cards deep and features other periphery characters in the Black Sox scandal (like Arnold Rothstein and Abe Attell) as well as the Eight Men Out and, overall, I can't much complain about it for five bucks.

One vendor had a big dime box full of oddly fantastic goodies from late '90s/early 2000s.

When I told the nice gentleman behind the table how great it was to see such a large selection of cardboard from the often-ignored era, he replied that he had a whole garage full of cards from those years. (!!!)

Here's hoping he sets up at future shows.

A couple groovy inserts I'd never seen before: and, yes, that Reggie is in fact shaped like an actual pennant.

But cardboard surprises aren't just relegated to years past.

The Trout is the first card I own from the (seemingly) MLB Showdown-esque Platinum Series card game, and I had no idea Bowman revived their classic Bowman's Best design as an insert set last year.

I don't much pay attention to current minor league sets, but turns out they do the whole oddball thing pretty well, too.

The Benintendi features an always-appreciated floating head, and the card on the left is apparently part of an entire insert set devoted to strange promo uniforms minor league franchises donned the year prior. The one I found (from the nickel box) puts the Brooklyn Cyclones' "Saved By the Bell" jerseys front and center.

All I can say is: how cool is THAT?

It still boggles my mind that I can find fairly big-name rookies for loose change.

These cards cost less than a buck all together, and I vividly remember the days when that Dice-K (which came from a 5/$1 box) was commanding near-triple-digit figures.

A beautiful quartet of legends, and it's not every day I can say I took a Burleigh Grimes home from the card show.

In honor of the recently retired Nick Swisher, I pulled the trigger on my first Heritage Venezuelan parallel from a 6/$5 box I encountered near the end of the afternoon.

These aren't numbered, but everything I've heard seems to indicate that they're quite scarce.

I initially wasn't even going to dig through that 6/$5 box, but discovering the Swisher convinced me to find five more cards to complete the deal.

Whew, am I glad I did. Among the scores were Flagship SPs of a young Ty Cobb and Adam Eaton (which features the highest five I've ever seen on a baseball card), a snow-camo parallel of last year's home run leader, and the first Diamond Anniversary insert I've ever seen/held/owned first-hand, which were only available through redeeming codes online via Topps's website.

I distinctly remember when the Diamond Giveaway promotion was going full throttle, although the influx of "virtual cards" these days makes it seem like so long ago now.

But here's the unquestioned hero of the 6/$5 box...WILBUR!

This beauty was actually still encased when I purchased it, and the first thing I did upon arriving home later that afternoon was bust it out of its unsightly plastic shelter.

It's a basic biological fact: cards, like humans, need to breathe.

The only downside of this show is that it tends to lean more towards the modern than the vintage, though I still managed to salvage a few old-time scraps from the village hall.

At three bucks, the Aparicio ended up being the most expensive card I purchased all day. Worth every penny.

The Perry came from a 7/$5 bin I encountered near the end of the show...

...though it kind of played second fiddle to the gobs of Kellogg's that fell out of that very same box.

Since my budget was dwindling at the time, I initially set a max of seven cards from this table, and I actually had things under control until this 3-D paradise happened.

Even the best-laid plans fall to Kellogg's.

But there was no plan with this one: it fell out of that wonderfully oddball-centric dime box I kept gushing about earlier on in this post.

That's right, a real-live 1970 Kellogg's Boog Powell for a single, solitary dime. I said WOW under my breath when I saw it, because wouldn't you? It so perfectly represented the gloriously odd birthday I spent at the card show.

All told, I've never been a big birthday person. I'm not that someone who goes around telling everyone in sight that it's their birthday. But, darn it, I felt downright giddy knowing that I was at a card show on my exact date of birth. I think it's a good bet that this was the best birthday celebration I've had in a long, long time, and maybe ever.

My thanks goes out to all the vendors who were nice enough to stock the village hall with such thoughtful birthday gifts.

Saturday, February 18, 2017

Top Five: Mark Grace

I think it's about time I focused on a hometown Cub in my weekly Top Five series.

The Cubs have a particularly sparkling stable of stars to choose from: Ernie Banks, Ron Santo, Billy Williams, Fergie Jenkins, etc. Any discussion regarding the North Siders is bound to involve such greats of decades past.

Maybe it's just a product of the era I grew up in, but to me, Mark Grace is one of those rare All-Time Cubs. He patrolled first base at Wrigley for virtually an entire generation, played on good teams and bad, did pretty much everything you could possibly do as a major leaguer...all while sporting that famous eye black in the process.

He also has the distinction of being my mom's all-time favorite ballplayer, which has earned him special prominence in my own collection (which currently stands at 380 different cards) and the spotlight in this week's Top Five.

#5 -- 1995 Pinnacle #371 Mark Grace

Mark Grace, first and foremost, was a leader and a beloved figure at Wrigley.

This crowded -- yet fantastic -- Pinnacle card shows that more than any other I've seen of Gracie, presumably featuring the celebratory aftermath of some kind of game-winning hit.

If you're a fan of cameos and/or the Cubs, then this is a card for you.

#4 -- 1994 Collector's Choice #114 Mark Grace

I've always loved this one because it provides a clear look at the ivy and the basket at Wrigley -- an angle of the ballpark you don't often get to see on baseball cards.

One of the many gems Collector's Choice provided in the brand's relatively short lifetime.

#3 -- 2002 Topps Total #566 Mark Grace

I'm still conflicted over seeing Mark Grace as an Arizona Diamondback.

Don't get me wrong, I'm infinitely pleased Grace finally won it all in 2001 after years of misery with the Cubs. And he seems to have found a second life in Arizona as well: he's making a return to the broadcasting booth with the Diamondbacks this year, in fact.

Still...holy cow does Mark Grace look awkward in a D'Backs jersey, although that doesn't get in the way of my love for this awesome shot of him with a giant Coke bottle in the backdrop.

#2 -- 1989 Topps #465 Mark Grace

Mark Grace seems to be one of those players destined for the Hall of Very Good purgatory.

I'm not saying he's a surefire choice for Cooperstown, but I'd definitely argue that he deserved better than the 4.1 percent of the vote he received in his first (and only) year on the ballot in 2009. The credentials are there for all to see: a .303 career average, four Gold Gloves, nearly 2,500 career hits -- including the single most hits of any player during the 1990s.

Yet here's Gracie just as his illustrious career was getting underway, wearing the unfamiliar #53 (which he never wore outside of spring training) while flanking a Topps Rookie Cup, looking up and out at the greatness awaiting him in the decade to come.

#1 -- 1988 Donruss #40 Mark Grace RC

Baseball cards are portals, and few of them represent that fact better to me than the one you see above.

I can't say for sure what the first card I ever owned was -- and I envy those who can -- but this was, at the very least, somewhere within the first batch of cardboard I welcomed into my collection as a young, pre-adolescent baseball fan. It's one of those select few pieces of cardboard I can't help but attach personal meaning to.

I see this card and I think of my childhood. I see this card and I think of Little League. I see this card and I think of the way I would sit on the floor of my room, sorting my "good" cards into a little blue binder which was always being retooled and reorganized.

I see this card and, even all these years later, I see my absolute favorite piece of my Mark Grace collection.

Tuesday, February 14, 2017

The first card show of 2017

I hit my first card show of the new year with my dad this past Saturday at a (semi) local village hall gathering about an hour away from my house.

It couldn't have come at a better time, because I hadn't had much card-related activities going on thus far this winter. Not a lot of packages coming in and out, no new cards on the shelves, not much interaction with my collection in general. Between that and the fact that I was set to meet up with Tony for the first time, I found myself looking forward to this show more than any I can remember in a while.

The night before the big day, I decided to spice things up a bit by adding a new player collection to the fold: Nolan Arenado. The Rockies aren't very well-represented in my binders to begin with, and Arenado is one of the best sluggers in the game, so the choice was a no-brainer. It gave me a little pet project to chase the following afternoon.

Card shows are a great place to get a player collection going in a heartbeat. One of the first tables of the day, in fact, added the centerpiece to my sparkling new Arenado project: this rare pink parallel (numbered to 50) from last year's Update.

Not a bad way to get things up and running.

My one big hope for Saturday's card show, however, was a simple one: find cheap 2017 Topps.

One lap around the village hall revealed no visible signs of this year's Flagship. I wasn't able to concentrate on much else during the time I was touring the place. I'd been counting on this show to knock out the vast remainder of my needs from 2017 Topps.

Thankfully, I asked one vendor who had some new Topps inserts on display if he had any base singles from the set, and he pointed me to a few large stacks of cards at the far end of his table, all 2017 Topps. I actually said the word Awesome! when he did this, something I almost never do (in public).

I did away with about 95 percent of my remaining needs at what turned out to be just a dime per.

A vendor a few tables down took care of a large chunk of my 2017 insert needs on the cheap, as I got a stack of about 50 for $9.

The "Salute" inserts work best when they focus on uniforms and, with the four I purchased on Saturday (not pictured: Harold Reynolds), I'm now more than halfway done with finishing off the "MLB Network" series.

Sometimes card shows can shine a new light on something you've previously ignored.

I was, at best, lukewarm about this year's '87 minis upon my first samples of 2017 Topps, just because of how often we've seen the wood-grain design in recent years. After picking up an ample amount of '87s on Saturday, however, I have a new appreciation for it. Yes, the design is overused, but these are still darn fine cardboard specimens and a fun insert set to chase.

That Ozzie Smith has to be the Card of the Year so far.

I also picked up my four most pressing "First Pitch" needs from 2017 Topps, though my favorite of the bunch is most likely John Goodman.

It's a league game, Smokey.

With 2017 Topps out of the way, I was able to focus on the most important part of the card show experience: the random stuff.

The very first table of the day featured as perfectly random of a dime box as you could ever hope for, which got this much-anticipated show off on the right foot. At one point, I unearthed something you rarely see: dime Kellogg's.

This Jack Clark was the only keeper of the lot, but I did find a few others to distribute in future trade packages.

Card shows may be invigorating due to this dive into the unknown, but, even with someone as consistently random as myself, there's still some dime box cornerstones I seem to dig up at every gathering.

As usual, Vlad and Ichiro came out to play on Saturday.

As usual, I couldn't resist the allure of some dime box shiny.

As usual, dime box minis were on full display.

And, as usual, I found myself making all sorts of new cardboard discoveries thanks to the uncharted paradise that is a card show.

That's the first I've seen of E-X's (awesome) jersey-shaped inserts, and it turns out the already-geeky Orel Hershiser sported an even more Revenge of the Nerds look in his college days.

These two horizontals cost just 35 cents together: a quarter for the Stooges (spread out!) and a dime for that beautiful Joe Morgan (with a Vida Blue cameo).

It always warms my heart to find high-end base cards in a dime box.

Though 2017 may have been fresh on my mind on Saturday, I managed to mop up a few remaining 2016 needs on the cheap as well.

Among my favorites are the "First Pitch" Craig Sager insert (RIP), the National Baseball Card Day Arrieta, and the Wal-Mart-exclusive Abreu snowflake parallel, which I was surprised to find in a dime box about halfway through the show.

I guess some vendors buy retail just like the rest of us.

Archives is notorious for its tough short-prints, but that didn't stop these two from winding up in a dime box.

This particular show has been light on the mini-collection hits the last couple times I've attended, but Saturday changed that in a flash.

These were all a dime each, and the finding "Unique Unis" Halladay for an FDR made me feel stupid about dropping a dollar per on a couple inserts from the same set at my LCS.

The last dime box I dug through was an all-retired dime box from a vendor I've seen on a few occasions at this show.

While it does extract a bit of the random factor, I think it's smart to separate out the current and non-current guys to cater to certain collectors. It makes a simple dime box dig feel like a history lesson.

I certainly get a kick out of digging through stacks and stacks of all-legend cards, and I'm particularly enthralled with that Pee Wee Reese insert.

Some cool Fan Favorites from the all-retired dime box, though I'd be lying if I didn't say that Bob Sheppard didn't spook me a bit.

A couple legendary quarter box gets.

Tony was actually the one who found the Ott insert as we were digging and asked if I needed it, so full credit to him on that one.

This same quarter-box vendor gave myself and the other shoppers at his table the equivalent to a two-minute warning late in the afternoon: he was about to pack up for the day, so there was only a short time left to pick out whatever you wanted to buy.

At that point, I began rifling through the 50-cent bins. I'm normally picky when it comes to anything over the quarter, but I started pulling cards left and right. I'd been way under budget most of the day and decided to treat myself to some "high-dollar" purchases.

Mega-box parallels, gold parallels, high-end parallels, Yaz: all were deemed worthy of their 50-cent price tags.

Out of the vendor's two-dollar box came what is (surprisingly) my very first sabermetric short-print.

Finally, between All-Star Whitey...

...and the Duke, I saved a couple sacred pieces of vintage from the vendor's three-dollar box with just minutes to spare.

I've always thought this "Baseball Thrills" subset was criminally underrated, as I almost never see them mentioned anywhere around the cardboard community.

What started out as a tongue-in-cheek quest has become a foreseeable reality: I am on a mission to obtain every Seattle Pilots card ever made.

I made a couple major strides in realizing that goal at Saturday's show thanks to a vendor with all sorts of vintage scattered around his table, many of which were tough high-numbers. I actually collect Ted Kubiak -- a reserve infielder on the Swingin' A's teams of the early '70s -- and I didn't know he had a Pilots card until recently.

For three bucks, I scored this pesky high-number (#688) and semi-zero-year card: Kubiak never played for the Pilots, though he did suit up for the Brewers when the team moved to Milwaukee in 1970.

But here's the biggest Pilots acquisition I've made in a long, long time: the only team card ever produced of the doomed Seattle Pilots.

Again, its high-number status (#713) had prevented me from adding it to my collection at a reasonable figure. In fact, I'd never seen it cheaper than the price the vendor had it marked at on Saturday: five bucks. Most copies I'd tracked previously went for twice that, and the vast majority of those were in far worse shape than the one I bought on Saturday.

Talk about a bargain.

My birthday is coming up, and, as an early gift, Dad was generous enough to float me $20 to spend however I saw fit.

I spent $12 of that on the aforementioned Pilots cards and this '51 Bowman Richie Ashburn, originally priced at five bucks though the vendor let me have it for $4. Ashburn has long been a favorite of mine -- has there ever been a better baseball name? -- and this beauty is now the oldest card of his I own.

Even with that trio of vintage heaven, I still had eight bucks to play with...

...and I used it to track down a card I've been chasing for what seems like forever.

You may have heard the story behind these before: leading into the '74 season, the Padres seemed all but sold to investors who wanted to move the team to Washington. McDonald's mogul Ray Kroc swooped in and bought the Padres at the last minute, keeping the franchise in San Diego -- though not before a handful of Topps cards slipped out of the presses with "Washington -- Nat'l Lea." listings on them, which were soon pulled and corrected.

Like my Pilots project, my quest to chase down the full set of "Washington -- Nat'l Lea." variations from '74 Topps once seemed like an impossibility. But eight dollars later, the toughest part of that goal has been reached: Willie McCovey is now mine. Maybe it's not so absurd after all.

Turns out that the insane amount of fun I had on Saturday might just be the powerful intro to a continuing saga of this particular card show, because, wouldn't you know it, they're holding it again this coming Sunday, the 19th. Also known as my birthday.

It seemed silly to think of at first. Two card shows in two weeks? No way. But: I took the day off work, I'll have a few extra bucks, I'll have the whole morning free, and, come to think of it, there were a few stones I left unturned this past Saturday...

I think a second trip to the card show is in order, birthday style.