Like last year, both Dad and I will unfortunately be working on Christmas this year.
Working holidays isn't exactly ideal, but it comes with the territory when you have a job like I do at a place (Chicago's O'Hare airport) that's open 365 days a year. So, instead of having a belated Christmas like we did in 2015, Dad and I decided to have an early holiday here in 2016 this afternoon.
As he's done so often in the past, Dad hinted at a couple big card-related presents he found for me this year, which had me on the edge of my seat in the days leading up to our early Christmas. But first, along with Kit-Kats and other candies, Dad tucked a few unopened retail packs into my stocking, as well as one of those 100-card Walgreen's repacks.
While there were a handful of solid pulls from the stocking stuffers -- including this 2016 Stadium Club Bryant insert -- those retail packs were small potatoes compared to the big gifts of the year.
Dad apparently found a great deal on my big present this year: such a good deal, in fact, that he was convinced it was a fake.
Dad being the person he is, he went the extra mile and took it to an LCS owner we both know, who indeed confirmed that it was, by all accounts, the real thing. We'll get to what that real thing was in due time but, in the meantime, Dad bought this nifty Topps Tribute Ichiro parallel (numbered to 199 copies) from the shop owner as a thank you for his authentication services.
It wasn't the last appearance Ichiro would make this afternoon...
...but first, allow me a brief sidebar by noting that both Dad and I recently finished a book titled You Gotta Have Wa by Robert Whiting.
I found this volume completely by chance during a recent bookstore run (it was mistakenly placed on the Fiction shelves), and it turned out to easily be one of the best baseball books I've ever read, quite possibly up there with Ball Four and the like.
The book deals with the history of Japanese baseball -- with a focus on Americans like Bob Horner and Reggie Smith who have gone abroad to play in Japan -- but also provides tremendous insight in terms of portraying baseball as a microcosm for the stark cultural differences between the US and Japan. I'd say it's a must-read for any baseball fan with even a slight interest in the topic.
But anyways: it's safe to say that the Japanese game was fresh on the minds of both Dad and I because of Whiting's book...
...and that certainly came across in Dad's Christmas gifts.
Again, much like last year, Dad noted that he'd basically found three big presents for me this year and, believe it or not, young Ichiro here was only the third-best out of the bunch. I don't own many Japanese baseball cards, and I always assumed I'd go the rest of my life without owning a Japanese Ichiro.
Not so fast. Thanks to Dad, I can now say I have a 1996 BBM (basically the Topps of Japan, from what I can tell) card featuring Ichiro, the then-23-year-old star of the Orix Blue Wave.
A present like that is enough to be the king of any Christmas, but Dad just couldn't stop there.
Once again, Dad went the way of the Japanese with the next gift in my stocking, selecting a card that you basically don't see anywhere ever.
The card in question, as you see above, is a 1975 Calbee Sadaharu Oh, complete with a fantastic horizontal action shot of the Japanese Home Run King. It's a bit smaller than your standard-size card, but size really doesn't matter when it comes to something as jaw-dropping as this.
The copy Dad bought is graded, and although my original instinct was to bust it out of the unsightly PSA case, I think I'll keep it slabbed and displayed (at least for now) since I don't really own enough Japanese cards to have an all-Japanese binder at the moment.
Nevertheless, here's a better look at the Japanese legend without all that PSA mumbo-jumbo.
Both as a player and manager, Oh plays prominently in the narrative of Whiting's book as one of the upholders of the old-school Japanese tradition of tough love and twelve-hour practices. Oh's 868 career homers over the span of 22 seasons are still the most of any professional baseball league in the world.
And yet even that was still only the runner-up from Dad's Christmas gifts this year.
Remember what I said earlier about my dad being wary about the authenticity of one of the cards he bought? And then said card turning out to be the real thing after all?
Well, let me ask you: wouldn't you be skeptical if you got something like, I don't know...
I know I would. But it is, believe it or not, the real thing. I don't usually like to quiz people on the prices of the gifts they get me, but I just had to ask: turns out dad found this '69 Mick on Ebay for the mind-blowing price of $12. While there's a white-lettered variation of this card that goes for beaucoup bucks, I'd always believed even the standard version would always be well out of my price range.
Despite the fact that Mantle was well past his prime here -- note the 1st Base position listing -- that doesn't change the fact that this is a gem I've admired from afar for a long time, given the sheer fact that it's the Mick's sunset card (with complete career stats on the back!).
And now, thanks to yet another amazing batch of Christmas gifts from Dad, more of the seemingly unattainable legends of cardboard have somehow found their way into my collection.
Whether it's early Christmas or belated Christmas, there's just no stopping Dad around the holidays, is there?