I've been a baseball fan for as long as I can remember.
Looking back, though, my fandom was extremely limited in my pre-teen years.
At the time, my heart lied solely with the hometown Cubs and White Sox. Any player or team not based in the Windy City was just simply...there.
Any year that the Cubs and White Sox didn't fare all that well was basically a "lost" season for me. I was pretty much indifferent towards the other 28 teams in the bigs.
That all changed when I was about ten years old.
Thanks to the efforts of one single player, my entire understanding of the game of baseball changed.
As it happens, that player is the focus of tonight's "sunset" post.
I can still remember seeing him on the highlights every night, playing the game like it was meant to be played.
All 5'6", 170 pounds of him.
He was far from a hulking figure, yet he still managed to get things done on the ballfield.
In a nutshell, that's what Eckstein taught me about baseball as a whole. You don't have to be a gargantuan, larger-than-life human being to succeed.
There will always be a place for the "little guy" in the game of baseball. Nobody has been a better example of that than Mr. Eckstein.
It's the exact reason I selected his 2005 Heritage issue as his "peak year" of cardboard.
It manages to perfectly exemplify that "underdog" quality.
After all, he was a major factor during the Angels' championship run in 2002, the first non-Chicago franchise I really came to love and appreciate.
Whether he played in Chicago or not made absolutely no difference.
From that moment on, I was a devoted fan of David Eckstein.
I'm appreciative of a lot of different things in this great game, and I think that perfectly comes across in my collection. Everyone from Hugh Duffy to Craig Kimbrel is represented in some way, shape, or form.
I still enjoy watching and collecting cards of the hometown clubs, but my collecting focuses branch out much further than simply the "regional" teams these days.
Mr. Eckstein is largely to thank for that.
I really haven't mentioned him as much as I'd like so far on this blog. That had to be rectified.
Tonight, David Eckstein will receive every bit of the spotlight with his very own "sunset" post.
It's the least I could do.
Five years after earning World Series MVP honors in St. Louis, Eckstein would play his last games with the Padres in 2010.
As we know, 2010 marked the last gasp for Upper Deck in the cardboard market as well.
Call me crazy, but I've come to like UD's final effort much more since its release. Cards like this Eckstein showcase the creative ways Upper Deck got around the whole "no logo" thing.
No matter how you slice it, this is a perfectly acceptable action shot.
However, through no fault of Upper Deck, it brings up the rear in this "sunset" countdown.
Due to their stranglehold on the card market, Topps was the only company on hand to produce true "sunset" cards of Eckstein in 2011.
Because of that, I have to give Topps the top two slots here.
Short-prints from Topps Heritage aren't all that easy to come by.
Of course, I probably don't have to tell you that.
Once I saw that Eckstein was one of the dreaded SPs on the Heritage checklist in 2011, I couldn't help but think...
"Well, that's another card I'll never be able to track down."
People just don't like to trade them. And I certainly wasn't going to buy the necessary amount of packs that would warrant a shot to get it.
Because of all that, you can imagine how excited I was to pull this coveted Eckstein SP out of one of the few Heritage packs I opened last year. (Note the uncommon "INF" designation as well.)
Whether I like it or not, SPs do have a kind of special "feel" to them. If this was just another ordinary Heritage base card, I'd probably put it in my binder without much of a second thought. After all, these run-of-the-mill posed shots are a dime a dozen in this hobby.
Yet, for some reason, I find myself gushing over this card whenever I see it in my Padres binder. The only thing that sets it apart from all my other Eckstein cards is the fact that it's a short-print.
It's one of my guilty pleasures in this hobby.
I'm still not completely at peace with it, though.
Even with my ashamed admiration of SPs, though, I'll take the awesome action shot every time.
That's exactly what we have here with his 2011 Topps issue.
I'm a huge fan of double play shots, and this is certainly one of the better ones I've seen in recent years. (Although it's not even Eckstein's finest example.)
It's been difficult to select the best "sunset" card for a few of the players I've featured thus far.
However, in the case of David Eckstein, it really wasn't much of a contest.
This one had the top slot all along.
I considered showcasing a few different players for tonight's post.
Kaz Matsui, Vida Blue, and even Manny Ramirez were on the short list. (For the record, Manny was only there so I could make fun of his laughably short stop with the Rays and his "zero-year" A's issue.)
In the end, though, I realized it was Eckstein who was most deserving of his very own post.
Few players have contributed more to my appreciation of baseball than him.
Had David Eckstein never played in the majors, chances are that I'd view baseball in an entirely different light.
Because of all that, there's really only one thing left to say.
Thank you, Mr. Eckstein.