Thursday, July 24, 2014

A labor of love, Pt. 2

We're back with Part 2 of the tremendous box from my buddy Wes.

Before we start, I'd like to emphasize that this is not the same Wes of Jaybarkerfan fame. Yes, this is in fact a different Wes who likes to generously drop flat-rate boxes of cardboard on people.

Coincidence much?

As I showed in yesterday's post, Wes neatly divided all of the cards he sent into individual themes. Most of the ones I featured last night featured terrific mini-collection hits.

While I love my mini-collections, Wes went even further by developing a few random themes that he thought I'd enjoy.

Let's kick things off tonight with a section that pretty much speaks for itself.

Awesome Photography





Clothing Oddities (For Baseball Cards, At Least)

Baseball card or not, I'd say that what we have here is most certainly a clothing oddity.

Part of me wishes I could forget these '92 Bowman fashion model-esque shots all together.

Unfortunately, they'll forever be ingrained in my memory.

Cool Cards

This was an exciting section because it gave virtually no clue as to what I'd find inside.

Even with my Manny Trillo fandom, I'd never seen that '84 Fleer "Superstar Special" issue prior to this box. Definitely a cool card in my book.

At first, I couldn't figure out why Wes included the DeShields in this batch. I have a hard time putting "cool" and "1991 Donruss" in the same sentence.

That's when I noticed the shiny Expos necklace hanging down on Mr. DeShields's bright red Expos jersey.

Huh. I guess '91 Donruss can be cool.

Did I really just say that?

Minor League Cards

If you look closely, you'll find a ton of gems in early-to-mid '90s minor league sets.

This fantastic "grip" shot of future star Jason Schmidt is just the beginning.


Those "Soaring Stars" inserts should get more publicity.

They have a very '72 Topps feel to them.

Game Cards

Ever since the demise of MLB Showdown in 2005, I've been about as far from a "gamer" as possible.

And yet I still continue to have a fascination with game-themed baseball cards.


Tandems and Trios

Vince Coleman and Willie McGee absolutely tore up the basepaths for the Cardinals in the late '80s.

You won't find many better tandems in baseball.

Tricks with Bats, Balls, and Bases

Wes included a lot of great cards in this section, but I featured the Coleman because it matched up well with the fellow '86 Fleer issue.

I developed an even greater appreciation for Fleer's "Superstar Special" subsets after digging through this package.

Star Cards

Every package needs a little star power, right?

While we're on the topic of '86 Fleer, I can't say I knew that Tommy John card in the top-right even existed before this box came along. It's only my second card of John as an Oakland A.

Iron Men, broken bats, and '84 Fleer are always fun, but the the Ty Cobb in the center of this page stole the show.

It's a gold-bordered parallel of one of my favorite cards ever.

Government Issued Cards

Wes really went to town with this section.

I'm not much for politics, but I enjoy collecting cards of important historical figures and events. I've been meaning to get my hands on more of those Topps "Campaign" inserts for a while now.

Oh, and I'm glad UD's prediction about Chicago hosting the 2016 Olympics was wrong.

This city is cluttered enough as it is.

Vintage and Old Timers

New cards of Vida Blue and Josh Gibson are always a thrill.

I really have to get around to showing my Negro League collection one of these days.

Fun with Bubbles

Most epic bubble ever?

Well, almost.

Goofin' Around

Yes, that's a sword on a baseball card.

What is it with Jose Lind and sharp objects?

Something You Don't See Everyday

You can add the Murphy to the "How Have I Never Seen This Card Before????" category.

I always thought laptops were more of a mid '90s innovation. I had no idea they were around in 1990.

Heck, they were already popping up on baseball cards by then.

That's a medicine ball cameo on the Vaughn.

The '90s never cease to amaze me.

Spot the Oddity

Wes added a new and exciting game to complement the "Spot the Error" challenge from his last batch.

This one's called...




Above are eight seemingly normal baseball cards from various eras and brands. However, each one has a slight quirk or, dare I say, oddity that sets them apart from your run-of-the-mill pieces of cardboard.

Can YOU spot them?




Here's the answer sheet that Wes included with the eight "Spot the Oddity" contestants.

How many did you get?

The only one I missed was the Tibbs. I wouldn't have caught the inordinate amount of space between his name and the #53 in that shot if Wes hadn't pointed it out.

That does it for this edition of...




We'll see you next time.

Oversized Cards


Back to normal.

The final item I pulled out of this glorious box was a large envelope filled with oversized cards. I've never made it a mission to hoard these types of pieces, but I'll certainly take any people want to send my way.

I had a few of those '80s oversized Donruss issues, but I never knew UD produced plus-size cards in 1996. I've actually been on the hunt for a standard copy of that Worrell for a while now.

The Guzman is one of those happy accidents that tend to pop up on cardboard every now and then.

Let's take a moment to appreciate the humor of an oversized card of a guy wearing an oversized mitt.

Now this is a thing of beauty.

That's Jay Bell at the plate in front of an elegant natural backdrop. I assume what we have here is a spring training shot of some sort.

My jaw dropped in awe when I first saw it.

Now that I think of it, this whole box left me awestruck. One great stack of cards after another. Every single one courtesy of an all-around great guy in Wes.

The thought, care, and time he put into crafting this box is a perfect example of why I love this community so much.

Let's all give Wes a standing round of applause.

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

A labor of love, Pt. 1

I found this gigantic box sitting downstairs one afternoon a couple weeks ago.

I knew who the culprit was as soon as I glanced at the return address. It was reader Wes, a good friend of the blog and someone who has already shown an unbelievable amount of generosity towards my cooky collecting ways.

The last boxes he sent spanned three different posts on this blog. His latest offering was a medium flat-rate box packed to the gills with cardboard. I could barely carry it up the stairs because it was so heavy.

What you see above is what I laid eyes upon when I initially cracked the seal. Inside was a terrific typed note from Wes along with mounds and mounds of carefully sorted team bags of cards.

A few thoughts immediately ran through my head.

Holy crap! That was awful nice of Wes. I can't wait to dig through all of these.

Followed by...

I wonder how much time it took Wes to sort through his collection and find these for me?

And then...

I wonder how long it'll take me to sort, organize, and file all of these.

All in all, Wes put together a staggering thirty-nine different themes for his latest smorgasbord.

I can't imagine how much time and effort it must've took to sort these the way he did. I think the fact that he'd do such a thing for a fellow collector speaks to how much Wes loves the hobby, something for which I'm greatly appreciative.

That last thought that raced through my head is probably viewed as a negative for some. A lot of collectors simply don't like to organize their cards, which is understandable.

Not me. I couldn't wait to sink my teeth into each individual theme Wes composed for me. I spent a good two or three hours sorting and organizing through this megabox. That doesn't even include the time I spent filing everything away in the days following.

I savored every minute of it. This hobby is a labor of love.

With that in mind, let's take a look at some of the themes Wes put together, shall we?


Not surprisingly, the amount of cards Wes sent necessitated two separate posts.

Part 1 of this two-part series kicks off with the oddballs. Wes found a bunch of good ones for me, but I especially enjoyed this Troy Glaus Baseball America cover.

I think it's the first non-SI magazine cover I've seen featured on a baseball card.

Players I Collect

Ron Cey and Aubrey Huff were merely the tip of the iceberg in this section.

Wes hit a whole bunch of my player needs, but these two groovy designs particularly caught my eye.

It's hard to go wrong with '84 Donruss.

Wild Thing

I guess Wes made a note of my appreciation of the "Wild Thing" section he included in his last box.

This latest offering featured another similar team bag, only this one contained about three times as many Mitch Williams cards. It was never my intention to become a "Wild Thing" supercollector, but I don't think I have much of a choice now.

Send me your Mitch Williams cards, everyone.

Pitchers at the Plate

A good portion of the themes Wes included were hits to my many mini-collections.

I feel a seizure coming on every time I look at something from UD Spectrum, but the nice shot of Jake Peavy at the plate managed to distract me.

It's one of Spectrum's few bright spots.


I've found that early Upper Deck is filled with "interview" subjects like the Langston.

You might have to squint your eyes to see the microphone peeking out above that Expos logo.


I still can't decide if the Schilling is a true "anthemic" shot.

It looks like Mr. Schilling could be bowing his head for the National Anthem, but he may well simply be enjoying one of those little pump-up moments that a lot of pitchers have before taking the mound.

I'll add it to the "anthemic" mini-collection for now.

Ah, the crazy dilemmas we collectors have.

Mound Meetings

Here's a great example of one of my newer mini-collecton quests.

I love how each of Gooden's teammates appear to be giving him a good ol' pat on the back in that shot. I've never seen another card quite like it.

Maybe I've been underestimating '92 Donruss this whole time.

Bat Barrels

The Hundley is one of many "bat barrel" shots you'll find in '09 Upper Deck OPC.

Just another reason to love an already awesome set.


When I first started this mini-collection, I figured "award show" shots were fairly sparse.

Great people like Wes have shown me otherwise.

Plays at the Wall

This is becoming one of my favorite mini-collections because of how much it leaves up to interpretation.

The most common feature shots at the outfield wall, though not many feature guys like Jerald Clark actually climbing it.

However, Wes took "at the wall" to include plays near side walls as well, as shown with the Abreu. I'd also include shots of catchers making grabs along the back wall.

It's really up to you.

Plays at the Plate

Wes absolutely went to town with a few of my mini-collections.

He included a boatload of "plays at the plate" from about every era imaginable. Some horizontal, some vertical. Some focus on the catcher, while others feature the baserunner.

You name it, Wes probably found it.

Auto Signings

Topps appears to be getting slightly back on board the "autograph" shot bandwagon, which is a joy to see.

I've come across a few cards from 2014 that feature these types of photos. They've basically been non-existant over the past decade or so.

Another great thing about Wes was that he took the time to search the fronts and backs of every card to check for possible mini-collection hits. It's hard enough to sift through stacks of cardboard looking for ones to fit my wacky themes.

To examine the backs is going way above and beyond.

Double Dips

I had no idea what I was getting into when I started collecting these.

Double plays are easily the most expansive mini-collection in my catalog. There are literally hundreds and hundreds of these things floating around.

I especially enjoyed the centerpiece of this particular page. That's Bill Ripken turning a double play on his '91 Ultra issue. If you look carefully, however, the sliding Mariner runner is none other than Harold Reynolds. Both he and Ripken are currently analysts on the MLB Network.

And both leave me scratching my head at times.


The final section we'll cover in this post was the awesome array of throwbacks Wes included.

Look at all the spectacular retro uniforms in this page. White Sox, Giants, Tigers, A's, Angels, Braves, Reds, plus so many more that I didn't include here.

Wes really covered all the bases.

However, this was far and away the best throwback of them all.

I've seen this card a few times before and wondered how I didn't already own a copy. Wes put that worry to bed fairly quickly.

Those old Giants uniforms alone would've made this a fantastic addition to my throwback collection. What makes it for me, though, is the bite-sized glove on Mike Benjamin's hand.

You can see the look of confusion on his face. I mean, the thing barely fits on the guy's hand.

No wonder old-time baseball players used to make so many errors.

Even if Wes had stopped here, this would've been an epic trade package. But he didn't. Believe it or not, there was even more cardboard in store.

I've said it once and I'll say it again.

Collecting baseball cards is truly a labor of love.

I wouldn't have it any other way.

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Serious buyers only, Dad

I'm convinced that bargain hunting is in my genes.

One of the good things about living near a big city is the fact that there always seems to be deals floating around. I always see tons of garage sale ads in the local paper.

People in the suburbs have a tendency to hoard a lot of trash that could become someone else's treasure, I guess. My dad knows this better than anyone. As I've mentioned many times before, he's an avid record collector.

Over the past few months, he's found quite a few great deals on Craigslist from people who have spare vinyl. He told me he just bought a lot that included eight rare Hank Williams albums yesterday. Total cost? Twenty bucks.

Garage sales have been a vital part of his recent vinyl spree. Every so often, he'll come across one that offers both records and cards. Luckily for me, he has a good eye for both vinyl and cardboard.

I don't recall if he scored any albums out of the deal, but my dad stumbled upon someone with a big tub of cards at a recent garage sale. There wasn't a ton of baseball, but he managed to dig deep and salvage a few gems.

Complete with the iconic Rookie Cup, this terrific '94 Topps Mike Piazza has actually been on my radar for a while.

My dad knows my obsession with oddballs better than anyone.

I was more than happy to take this pair of red-bordered beauties.

My dad took the oddball train even further with a stack from the 1994 Post checklist.

Though it may sound like an oxymoron, these are among the most common oddities in existence. I see them all the time.

While it was an unlicensed set, Post did a nice job of omitting the logos in a rather unobtrusive way. The borders are a bit dull, but I've always had an appreciation for these oddballs.

Almost all the ones my dad found were new to me.

The real coup of this batch was the pile of Conlon Babe Ruths my dad found.

I don't know why, but these have been trickling into my collection at an extraordinary rate lately. I've learned more about the "Sultan of Swat" from reading the backs of these cards than most books could ever teach me.

The photography in this set is simply fantastic. This sampling alone features quite a few great action shots. Not to mention a star-filled portrait of Ruth with Ty Cobb and Tris Speaker in the centerpiece of this page.

And let's not forget that photo of "The Great Bambino" in a dunce-like cap in the top-right.

I think this was my favorite of the bunch.

For one thing, it's a cute addition to my "cards with kids" mini-collection. (I'll come up with a better name for that theme one of these days.)

Also, as the bottom of the card says, Ruth is seen here posing as a righty. The back notes that he did actually take a few at-bats in the right-handed batter's box during his career. Talk about something you'd never see today.

The one problem that often arises with garage sales is people simply wanting too much for their items. I saw someone trying to sell a framed Nolan Ryan plaque that included a 1990 Topps card of his for 100 bucks once.

I'm happy to report that my dad had no such problem with this lot. The owners let him have everything from the Piazza to these Ruths for a single dollar.

An absolute steal.

Not long after that, my dad attended some sort of storage locker/garage sale hybrid.

He said that it was a Storage Wars-esque deal where the people would offer items from storage lockers up for sale. However, the difference with this one was that they were selling the items from the locker individually, so my dad was able to pick and choose what he wanted.

He found a few records to his liking, including an old Bill Haley "Rock Around the Clock" album. Apparently, the storage gods decided to drop some cardboard into the mix.

My dad found a box full of cards. Once again, the initial look wasn't promising. He said it was mostly comprised of cartoon and sci-fi cards, which isn't my bag. However, a more in-depth dig resulted in a few baseball knick-knacks for my binders.

Among the goodies were a stack of "Score Superstar" inserts, a lot that included Jim Abbott and John Olerud cards that I didn't already have. Note the shot of Doc Gooden at the plate as well.

The person in charge asked my dad if he wanted to buy the whole box, which he refused. After that, the guy let my dad take home the dozen or so baseball cards he found for free.

You can't go wrong with free cardboard, right?

As much as I like to glorify them, the harsh reality is that most garage sales don't have anything interesting.

Even if the owners do have cards, they're bound to be boxes and boxes of 1989 Bowman or 1990 Topps. Even worse, the out-of-touch sellers will want insane prices for them. That's exactly what my dad found at one particular garage sale not too long ago.

Now, you'd think he'd know better than to buy a baggie full of 1990 Topps. He does, trust me.

Though there were a few cards I didn't already have in the lot...

...he bought the bag merely for a laugh.

I don't even know where to start.

In his garage sale report to me, my dad said the seller was adamant that the cards were actually worth something. As collectors, it's easy to chuckle at people who still think along those lines, but it's hard for someone to know how overproduced 1990 Topps cards were.

Okay, I won't lie. My dad and I did have a good laugh at the expense of this particular purchase.

For one thing, the bag clearly says FRAGILE!!! and HANDLE WITH CARE. Ironically, the cards themselves were strewn all around the thing without any sort of protection.

Also, the buyer wrote HALL OF FAME COLLECTION even though a good number of guys included aren't Hall of Famers.

The thing that we got the best kick out of was the SERIOUS BUYERS ONLY note. What does that even mean? Whatever it was, I doubt my dad and I were the "serious buyers" the guy had in mind.

The original asking price for the bag was ten bucks. My dad gave the guy three and agreed to "donate" two dollars to his kids' lemonade stand. So, essentially, it cost him five bucks. A small price to pay for a good laugh.

My dad managed to cover the entire the entire garage sale spectrum in a few simple purchases.

He found the good, the bad, and the ugly.

Monday, July 21, 2014


Here's a scenario that I play over and over again in my head.

I'm sitting at home on an ordinary summer afternoon when my phone rings. It's one of my longtime friends. Common smalltalk follows. That's when he decides to drop the big bomb.


Nick, I've decided to try and start collecting baseball cards. You babbling on and on about them on your blog got me interested. 

No kidding?

Yeah. Only problem is that I have no idea what to buy. You think you could help me? I just need a few basic beginner tips.

Sure. It'd be my pleasure. Think you could meet me at Target in like ten minutes?

Target? Why?

You'll see.

(We walk into Target, making a beeline for the aisle near the cash register.)

Wow, look at all these! I've been in here a million times and never noticed they carried cards.

Not many people do.

What should I start off with?

Here. Take a pack of 2014 Topps. Even as you start to develop your own collecting tastes, I think it's always good to stay recent. At least dip your toe into the current stuff every now and then. Just watch out for pack searchers.

Pack searchers? 

Yeah, people who put every once of effort into finding a worthless--

--never mind. It's a long story. Hey, grab that discounted blaster of A&G.


Sorry. Allen and Ginter. These things are supposed to look like old cigarette cards from the 1880's. It's a fun set, good for new collectors like you.

(He reads the odds on the back of the box.)

What's with these minis?

Oh, those are just smaller versions of the regular cards. They're cool. You think that's enough to tide you over for now?

(We walk back to my house. I start showing my friend some of the binders strewn across my room.)

What kind of non-current stuff would you recommend?

Glad you asked. Here, check this one out.

What the hell is that?

That's 1995 Fleer. Cards got a little crazy in the nineties. Kinda sums up the whole decade in one design, I think. See if you can grab a pack of those on Ebay or whatever.

I don't know, man. Those things are a bit too crazy for me.

I understand. They're not for everyone.

Hey, check online and see if you can pick up a box of something from the early nineties.


Well, they're cheap, for one thing. I bet you can find a box of 1991 Topps for around five or ten bucks.

Really? That's it?

Yeah. Long story short, companies made too many cards in the late eighties and early nineties because people thought they were going to be worth something in the future. Now they're way overproduced and you can find them cheap.


They're fun to buy if you're new to the hobby. Just don't expect to make any money off them or anything.

Oh, I won't. Maybe I'll even buy two or three boxes if they're that cheap.

Careful. You'll start to get sick of seeing those overproduced cards if you stick around the hobby long enough. They're everywhere. That reminds me, wanna hit a card show up the road this weekend? These things have pretty much everything you can imagine.


(Flash forward to a few days later at the card show.)

Hey, check it out. These are what we call dime boxes.

Dime boxes? As in a dime a card?

Yup. Pretty cheap, huh?

Yeah. I always thought you needed a lot of money to collect cards.

Nah, not at all. Go through a handful of these and see if you find anything you like. You'll almost always find a few gems.

What's this? Ziploc made baseball cards?

Yep, oddly enough. That's just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to oddballs.


Well, they're--I don't even know where to start. I'll tell you later.

Cool! These cards have pieces of jersey in them!


They must be worth a lot!

Check out the price tag.

Two dollars each or three-for-five. Huh. Guess I was wrong.

I usually stay away from those, but it might not be a bad idea for someone new like you to buy a few. They're nice as a novelty.

Check out this vintage table over here.

Vintage? Sounds expensive.

Sometimes, yeah. This guy's got a fifty-card lot of 1975 Topps for five bucks, though. You can still find them cheap. You don't care if they're in good shape or not, do you?

I don't know. Should I?

I usually don't. It'd be nice for every card to be in good condition, but that's not the case with a lot of vintage. Being able to live with the occasional crease or rounded corner will probably save you a lot of money in the long run.

Makes sense to me.

While we're here, let's find you a fifties Topps card.


They're great building blocks for a new collection. Some of the first cards I fell in love with were early Topps.

Hey, wait. These are bigger than those other cards I bought.

It took them a few years to get to the current dimensions. Here, how about this one?

Roy Face? Who's he?

Guy won seventeen straight games in 1959. It's tough to afford the big names with vintage sometimes, but it's fun finding those little under-the-radar guys who have an interesting tidbit here and there. Guys like Roy Face, I mean.


Well, that's basically my initiation for a new collector like you. Just a few basic things that I think are good jumping off points. There's a lot left for you to discover, trust me. I'll let you take it from here.

Cool. Thanks, Nick.

Don't mention it. It's nice to finally have a friend who collects.

Sunday, July 20, 2014

Hey, St. Louis

Like any vacation, my trip to St. Louis seemed to go by in the blink of an eye.

My mom and I got in at about three in the afternoon on Friday and left at about noon yesterday. It wasn't a terribly long trip, but we managed to pack a lot in and had an absolute blast.

As I saw when we were arriving, the St. Louis skyline is beautiful. The Gateway Arch is probably the city's most famous feature, though we didn't make the trip to check it out this time. (I saw it the last time I went to St. Louis ten years ago.)

The hotel we stayed at was great, and there just so happened to be a casino across the street. I played a few losing hands of video poker at about one in the morning before calling it a night.

Both of the meals I ordered in St. Louis came with a side of tater tots, which I loved. I'm a big tot guy, and it's surprisingly hard to find them in restaurants around Chicago.

And, no, I didn't buy any baseball cards during my stay. I didn't find any promising leads on card shops around the city. I doubt we would've had time to hit them even if I had.

Stray observations aside, the big event of the trip...

...was the Cardinals-Dodgers game my mom and I attended on Friday night.

The hotel had a shuttle that took us directly to and from Busch Stadium, so that worked out perfectly. There hustle and bustle around the area near the ballpark reminded me a lot of Wrigley Field.

My mom and I were handed rolled-up posters as soon as we walked into the stadium. I had no idea there was a stadium giveaway going on that night.

That's me with the giveaway there, an awesome poster commemorating the Cardinals' 1964 World Series victory over the Yankees.

It'll get a spot of prime real estate in my room.

Like any baseball fan would be, I was eager to see the ballpark itself.

The Cards were still playing in the old Busch Stadium during my last trip to St. Louis, so this was my first look at the (relatively) new yard.

Our seats along the third-base line gave my mom and I an absolutely perfect view of the beautiful ballpark.

I personally think some clubs have overdone the whole jumbo-sized scoreboard thing in recent years, but the one at Busch is stunning. I just so happened to snap this shot as they were featuring a Bob Gibson highlight reel on the screen.

I looked around the ballpark for three hours and found something new to admire each time.

On top of that, the stadium gives a breathtaking view of the St. Louis skyline.

Like the rest of the city, the Arch is once again front and center. Oh, and did I mention that it was a perfect evening for baseball?

Barely a cloud in the sky.

After taking in the beautiful scenery, I noticed an inordinate number of fans crowded around the visitor's dugout as my mom and I were getting to our seats.

I realized what all the commotion was about as I neared closer to the field.

There, just a few feet from where I was sitting, was Clayton Kershaw himself signing autographs. I didn't try to get anything signed, knowing I would be crowded out of the pack anyways.

Simply seeing the greatest pitcher in baseball in the flesh was enough for me.

It was definitely one of the biggest moments from my trip.

Just a few minutes later, Yasiel Puig emerged from the dugout for his pre-game stretches.

As I saw from all the blue shirts scattered around the ballpark, Dodger fans do indeed travel well. I was caught off-guard by all the "PUIG!" shouts that erupted from around me as he ran to the outfield.

Guys like him are good for baseball.

After finding our seats, my mom and I decided to head down to the concourse for a little pre-game grub.

I've learned that most ballpark food around is pretty similar. I actually look forward to seeing the names of the eateries themselves more than anything else. We passed by Broadway BBQ and the Gashouse Grill before setting eyes on the best of them all.

Dizzy's Diner.

The place is appropriately named after Dizzy Dean, a Cardinal legend and one of my favorite players of all-time. I got a hot dog and fries and a neat little souvenir Cardinals cup. The red hot was a little below Chicago standards, but the fries were better than most you'll find around the Windy City.

I don't know what it is with St. Louis and potatoes, but I like it.

By the time we got our food, the game was just about to start.

I quickly penciled in the starting lineups for each team as they were announced over the PA. Keeping score is a dying art amongst baseball fans. I've done it for as long as I can remember. Nary a game goes by where I don't get a scorecard.

I was even commended by the nice lady sitting next to me for keeping score, which I greatly appreciated. To me, scorecards are mementos from all the games I've attended over the years.

Plus, at only $3.50 for the card and a pencil, they're a lot cheaper than anything you'll find at the souvenir shop.

The game itself was a good one.

Lance Lynn toed the rubber for the Cardinals against Dan Haren and the Dodgers. Since it was the first game back after the All-Star break, I was hoping to see Clayton Kershaw and/or Adam Wainwright. No luck on that front.

I'm sure we've all heard the claim that the Cardinals have The Best Fans in the World. Now, I can't speak to whether or not they're the best in the world, as I have limited ballpark experience.

That said, I definitely got a different vibe from the St. Louis fans. Most of the conversations around me were about the game at hand, a grand departure from the mindless dialogue I seem to hear at every Cubs game.

The whole stadium seemed to cheer after a Matt Adams sacrifice fly in the first, which was comforting to hear. Only a handful of fans left after the seventh and eighth innings, which, again, is a grand departure from Chicago and a lot of other cities.

There's little doubting that St. Louis is a baseball town. Cardinals shirts, posters, and pennants were strewn all around the city.

Heck, even the blackjack dealers at the casino were wearing Cards jerseys.

A first-inning RBI double from Matt Holliday gave the Redbirds an early 1-0 lead.

Both Lynn and Haren took over for a while after that, shutting down each lineup with minimal traffic. Around the fourth inning, darkness set into St. Louis. Night baseball is a thing of beauty. If you've never seen the National Pastime under the lights, I'd highly recommend it.

After about five innings of Dan Haren dominance, Matt Holliday once again came to the rescue, cranking a two-run bomb to center to put the Cardinals up 3-0. (I later found out that it was Holliday's 1,000th career run.)

Lance Lynn pitched shutout ball into the 7th before being removed for Seth Maness. Maness allowed two runners to score in the inning, though both were charged to Lynn.

The Cards held a slim 3-2 lead going into the eighth.

That's when the highlight of my night happened.

It's tough to tell from this shot, but that's Pat Neshek on the mound for the Cardinals. The man is quickly turning into my favorite player in baseball. If you haven't heard his story yet, do so now. Or, at least, after you're done reading this post.

Neshek signed a minor league deal with the Cards in spring training, not expecting to make the club with all the bright young arms in the St. Louis organization. He shocked everyone by not only making the club, but also being elected to the All-Star team this season.

His ERA dropped down to a sparkling 0.68 with the scoreless inning he tossed on Friday night. His herky-jerky windup is right up there with the likes of Chad Bradford and Hideo Nomo, which makes him all the more endearing to me.

After the tragic death of his one-day-old son in 2012, the Nesheks welcomed another baby into the world earlier this year. Though he was born 13 days premature, the little tyke is happily doing well now.

The toddler's name is Hoyt, by the way. Yes, as in Hoyt Wilhelm. The Nesheks named their baby after the man behind my most expansive player collection.

Oh, which reminds me. Pat Neshek is also an avid baseball card collector.

How could I not like this guy?

After a tense last couple innings, the Cardinals ended up holding on for a 3-2 victory.

Trevor Rosenthal picked up the save as Lance Lynn got the win. Dan Haren took a tough loss. Matt Holliday drove in all three for the Cards on Friday, the unquestioned MVP of the contest.

All in all, I couldn't have asked for a much better night of baseball. Or a better trip altogether, for that matter.

St. Louis is definitely my kind of town.