Checking the mail has always been an awesome experience for me.
Whether I'm having the best day in the world or the absolute worst, the rush of opening my mailbox on Monday through Saturday always seems to make things better.
Heck, even if I don't find anything addressed to me on a given day, that "rush" alone is enough.
It might sound a bit dorky to people outside of the hobby, but we collectors know how much joy a "mailday" can bring.
During my trading forum days, I thought that feeling had reached its pinnacle. A packed mailbox containing the "spoils" of a recent trading barrage was the most beautiful sight on the face of the earth, as far as I was concerned.
Until I joined the blogosphere, anyways.
See, although I had a lot of terrific maildays on the forums, I pretty much knew exactly what would be inside every package that arrived on my doorstep.
That's just how it works over there.
In that regard, the blogosphere trumps the forums about a thousand times over.
Because the blogosphere introduced a new, exciting element to the process of trading cardboard.
The element of surprise.
I literally have no idea what to expect from my mailbox on a day-to-day basis anymore.
On many occasions, I've gone to check the mail with little hope of finding anything for me inside. Then, lo and behold, I happen to find an "out of the blue" package with my name on it, courtesy of a fellow blogger who thought it'd be a nice surprise.
Anyone who has received one of those "out of the blue" mailers knows how special of a feeling it is.
Lately, those special "surprise" packages seem to be popping up at a blistering rate around here.
The first came from a common suspect in the world of surprise mailers, none other William from "Foul Bunt".
I've gushed on and on and on and on about William's generosity in the past, so most regular readers of this blog probably know about his legendary unselfish personality.
His latest package definitely continued that trend.
In it, William sent what proved to be my very first cards from the recent Panini Golden Age release.
The inclusion of the Three Stooges is what originally drew me to the set. Although I haven't yet been able to acquire the likes of Moe, Larry, or Curly, the checklist certainly has a lot of other parts to love.
Take this Gene Tenace card, for instance.
Despite its logo-less limits, this still proved to be one of the best pieces of William's latest mailer.
I mean, When's the last time we've seen Gene Tenace included in a major set?
I can't even remember.
Thankfully, Golden Age also set out to satisfy my love for the non-sport side of things.
The Three Stooges cards are currently my absolute number one want from this set, but the fact that Golden Age included everything from the Titanic to Secretariat shouldn't be overlooked.
There's a lot of fun material for the non-sport lovers in the checklist.
William managed to hit a couple of those for me with this pair.
Although I'll always be a little spooked out by Edgar Allen Poe.
Let's get back to the baseball side of things, though.
Yes, I'm sure that quite a few collectors simply threw out these used "Golden Giveaway" code cards in 2012.
That still pains me a bit.
While it might not be the most orthodox of the bunch, I still treat this as any of my other Roberto Clemente cards, worthy of a spot in my binders just like all the others.
Although the Golden Giveaway promotion is pretty much over, William still had the thought to hang onto this one for me.
I think he gave it a good home.
William has informed me of his personal dime box ties on a few occasions.
From what I know, he's been a vendor at his local show for a while. On top of that, he throws a dime bin out onto the sales floor at every single gathering.
And, from what he has said, he always plucks a few gems from his own personal dime box for these "surprise" packages he sends my way.
Although it might not be an actual, tangible box of dime goodies, I do get that familiar "dime box dig" feeling every time I open a package from William.
I have to believe that most of the cards I'm about to show came from those very dime box depths.
Even though the photo selection on this one might not be the greatest, I'm still a big fan of this Jack Morris "Topps Gold" card, one of the earliest examples of today's parallel-infused hobby.
Although Mr. Morris spent two seasons in Toronto (including a 21-win season in '92), I'm still not sure that a lot of people know he pitched for the Blue Jays.
For whatever reason, he just doesn't look right in the uniform to me.
Still, that's what I like most about cards like these.
Never underestimate the power of unfamiliarity, my friends.
Don't be fooled by the photo on that Jack Morris card, though.
The early-to-mid '90s really was a terrific time in the world of cardboard photography at Topps.
Given my longtime fandom of Diet Coke, the subliminal advertising in the backdrop of this one earns it extra points in my book.
So, even though neither Lloyd McClendon...
...nor Derrick May are in my binders, these are still a couple of unquestioned "treasures" for me.
Although many collectors view the era to be a so-called "wasteland" for cardboard, the photography suggests otherwise.
One forgotten "gem" managed to stand above all in William's package, though.
I'll admit it.
I'm not a fan of 1996 Topps.
Although I've never set out to determine such a thing, it may well be my least-favorite year of Topps' long and historic run.
The squeezed faces and impossible-to-read gold lettering makes it a fairly unattractive set, as far as I'm concerned.
Still, I'll give credit where credit is due.
This card is friggin' awesome.
And I'd never, ever seen it before.
Topps did try to compete with Upper Deck on the "multiple exposure" front for a while. Although they didn't do nearly as good of a job with it, Topps still managed to produce a few gems of the sort.
I particularly enjoy this "fold-out" approach to the concept, one that features baserunner Carlos Baerga in his attempt to take a double play away from Chuck Knoblauch and the Twins.
These are the types of forgotten "gems" that make this hobby so much fun for me.
And, needless to say, these are the types of packages that make William such a terrific part of the blogosphere.
Amazingly, the "surprise" package from William was just the first of a trio I've received during the past week.
The second came from blogger Joseph, another of my many "blogging buddies". You might know him better as TTG, author of the fantastic blog "Friars on Cardboard".
He won the first contest I ever held on this blog. That turned out to have a mutual benefit.
Ever since then, Joseph has been absolutely flooding me with terrific cardboard.
However, I still continue to be surprised by every single package he manages to put together for me. They've been nothing short of terrific.
This latest one proved to play a great role in filling one of the more gaping holes in my collection.
A few weeks ago, I mentioned the apparent shortage of Collector's Choice issues in my area. For whatever reason, they just don't seem to pop up too often around here.
Given my lifelong appreciation of the set, I've always been a bit saddened by that.
Thankfully, a few bloggers have already started helping out the cause by sending me their extras.
Joseph certainly did his part, sending me a nice stack of cards from the "Special Edition" side of Collector's Choice.
As evidenced by Mr. Fryman...
...and this pair of gems, the excellent photography is one of the many redeeming features of Collector's Choice to me.
With the possible exception of the "Special Edition" logo in the upper-right hand corner, the designs are fairly clean and un-intrusive as well.
Plus, I don't think I've ever seen a DH hustling harder on cardboard than Kirk Gibson is on that one.
He was certainly an "all-out" kind of ballplayer.
In the end, though, the expansive checklist is probably my favorite aspect of the often-forgotten Collector's Choice brand.
Their regular checklist in '95 consisted of a whopping 530 cards, all of which were packaged together in a single series.
Much like the good ol' days of Topps.
Even the condensed "Special Edition" release was made up of 265 different cards, which is still more than most sets in today's hobby.
Given his brief 17-game performance with the Pirates in 1994, then-rookie Jon Lieber probably wasn't the most well-known player when Collector's Choice hit the shelves.
However, they still managed to find a place for him within their checklist.
Joseph managed to hook me up with quite a few of these base/silver signature "combos" in the package he sent, including this one of a longtime binder member with Lieber.
As I always say, these will look terrific next to each other in a nine-pocket page.
I've long had a fascination with knuckleball pitchers.
Because of that, Joseph definitely hit a "home run" by including this auto of Steve Sparks in his latest "surprise" batch of cardboard.
It'll join the still-meager group of in-person signatures in my collection.
As far as knuckleballers go, Steve Sparks is one of the more overlooked of the bunch.
If anything, I've always associated Sparks as "the guy who dislocated his shoulder trying to tear a phone book in half".
It's true. Look it up.
However, what I didn't know was that the bizarre injury is what actually propelled Sparks into becoming a knuckleballer in the first place.
Joseph included a note which featured that little nugget of information with this gem.
As if the cardboard wasn't enough, "surprise" packages can be informative as well.
People like Joseph continue to enlighten me on a daily basis.
Overall, I try not to make my trade posts too marathon-ish.
This one, as you can probably tell, is one of the exceptions.
There's a reason for that, though.
I'm not sure how many non-bloggers actually read my writings. I'd like to think there's at least a few.
In a way, what I've been trying to do with my lengthy "box o' cards" posts or these "surprise" write-ups is help convince people to start their own blogs.
Even if writing might not be your thing, don't let that faze you. Becoming a part of the blogosphere is a special thing. Although the benefits of blogging extend past simply sending and receiving cards, the amazing generosity of fellow bloggers is certainly one of the bigger perks.
I mean, look at all the great cards I've shown in this post so far. All of which arrived on my doorstep without any warning whatsoever.
And we're not even done with the "surprises" yet.
Just yesterday, a bonus package arrived from my good friend and blogger Mark, author of the awesome blog "This Way to the Clubhouse...".
Yes, I just posted about some cards Mark sent me about a week ago. But, as part of his generous nature, I guess he felt the need to send some more cardboard goodness my way.
As per the note he included, Mark suggested that this latest "surprise" batch be labeled as a "high number" addendum to our latest swap.
I'm on board with that.
Among the "high numbers" was this father-and-son issue of "The Mayor", Sean Casey. It's a card that I've actually been coveting for a while.
These types of family-themed cards are among the more scarce of my many mini-collections. Any I can find are welcome in this household.
Plus, how could anyone not like these types of cards?
It just doesn't seem possible to me.
Mark pretty much knows what I collect by now.
He continues to add "fun" cards to my collection with each passing package.
Whether it's a new "bubble" card or a "behind the camera" issue, he somehow always seems to hit the nail on the head every time.
You've got a long way to go before you reach the likes of Bevacqua, though, Mr. Wagner.
Mark also seems to have a good handle on the type of photography I love as well.
As far as that goes, anything from Stadium Club's tenure is probably a good bet.
If this Winfield is any indication, the checklists are absolutely littered with awesome shots.
Besides Topps Total, Stadium Club is the one brand I wish Topps would revive in today's hobby. It made a brief rise from the dead in '08, but that barely scratched the surface of its potential.
Here's another example of Mark's awesomeness.
To my knowledge, I've never mentioned Magglio Ordonez on this blog.
Although he is indeed a "binder inductee", I've never paid much attention to his cardboard.
The sweeping "Oh-wee-oh...MAAAAAAGLIO!" chants at the Sox games I attended as a kid are about the only specific memories I have of him with the White Sox.
Nevertheless, Mark had a feeling that I'd enjoy this one of the former South Side hero.
And that I did.
Although Topps has always been main force in the All-Star department, Upper Deck did produce a few similarly-themed base cards for a couple years as well.
Surprisingly, this Ordonez is better than most recent Topps All-Star issues I've seen, one that features a shot from the 2001 contest in Seattle.
While it'll probably always be remembered as the final All-Star appearance of Cal Ripken Jr.'s hallowed career, the game that year had a few other defining moments as well.
Until I looked it up, I had no idea that Derek Jeter and Ordonez hit back-to-back dingers in the sixth inning of the contest. (Incidentally, those homers came off of then-Cub Jon Lieber.)
This shot no doubt takes place in the moments following Ordonez's "jack", showing the former South Sider being greeted by "The Captain" in the process.
What an awesome piece of All-Star history.
Mark always seems to add a "shiny" element to every batch of cards he sends.
This pair continued the trend.
I'd requested the emerald Nyjer Morgan from Mark in the past. Given that "T-Plush" will be playing in Japan this year, it could very well go down as a "sunset" piece in the annals of cardboard history.
The Pence, on the other hand, was a complete surprise to me.
In that regard, I guess it fell within the overall theme of the package.
A card of Babe Ruth and Lou Gehrig fishing.
What more do you need?
My home will always be open to well-loved vintage.
Although I can't say I've ever heard of Mike Garcia or Frank Lary, my binders will welcome this pair with open arms.
Whether they're creased, battered, or water-logged, these will continue to have a place in my collection.
Need I remind you of the card I found on a Chicago train platform?
As far as Mark's "surprise" package goes, I think I have to give this one the "Best Of" award.
I've always had an appreciation for the playoff "highlights" cards Topps issued during the '70s. All other "playoff" cards are obsolete compared to these.
Many of my Pete Rose cards feature terrific action shots, but I can't think of any that capture his "Charlie Hustle" label better than this one.
Plus, the fact that the photographer managed to get a split-second shot of Rose in mid-air between steps makes it even better.
Yes, folks, the element of surprise is alive and well in the blogosphere.
Thanks to people like William, Joseph, and Mark, checking my mailbox has quickly become one of my favorite aspects of each passing day. I never quite know what to expect anymore.
In the end, that's one of the best parts of being a blogger.
The surprises just never end.