With the 2019 card season starting to appear on the horizon, it's time to look at my Cards of the Year for 2018 -- an annual series of posts I always enjoy writing, though the entry into P-Town Tom's contest is a fine bonus.
For me, 2018 had a distinctly different feel than the last couple years of the hobby, and I mean that in a good way. Sure, we still had the rookie crazes and all that stuff, but there were truly memorable (and fun!) cards produced amid the chaos, which is, for the most part, more than I could say about the last couple years.
I had trouble composing my last couple Cards of the Year lists simply because so few stuck in my memory (I mean, last year's best card was a photo-variation SP, which should probably never happen). I had no such trouble in 2018. I even had to hem and haw over cutting a few from the final countdown this time around.
So here, my friends, are my ten favorite cards from the pleasant surprise that was 2018.
#10 -- 2018 Topps #391 Ben Zobrist
Here's the rare case where a card's debut on my blog comes in the Cards of the Year countdown.
For whatever reason, I never showed this one when it was released, but that's no knock against it -- Ben Zobrist's backwards leap into Wrigley's electric green ivy is a worthy way to get the list off and running.
#9 -- 2018 Topps Opening Day #200 Shohei Ohtani RC
Both on the field and in the hobby, 2018 was the year of Shohei Ohtani.
I'm one of the many who jumped aboard the Ohtani train. Few developments have thrilled me more in my lifetime of baseball fandom than the prospect of watching a dude pitch AND hit. And along with that -- a dude with a "P/DH" designation on his baseball cards!
I managed to accumulate 24 different Ohtanis during the course of 2018, but this one from Opening Day was my first and, to date, my favorite.
#8 -- 2018 Topps Heritage High Numbers #540 David Bote RC
While Shohei Ohtani may have captivated the baseball world as a whole, the most exciting rookie I personally watched through the tubes of my suburban Chicago home in 2018 was one David Bote, a backup infielder I'd never even heard of before last year.
Bote is the personification of what makes baseball so special. He'd never sniffed big-league ball prior to 2018 and nearly quit the game all together at one point. But after a big spring training, the Cubs called Bote up, and he actually saw a decent amount of playing time due to Kris Bryant's off year while also providing the single most exciting moment of the season (and of my entire baseball lifetime, for that matter).
I actually yelled BOTE! out loud when I pulled this card from a pack of High Numbers a few months ago -- which should tell you all you need to know about my appreciation for David Bote.
#7 -- 2018 Topps Big League #159 Mookie Betts
Topps really did a great job with panoramic wall shots in 2018.
#6 -- 2018 Topps #578 Melky Cabrera
See what I mean?
This one's kind of an oddball choice for this list, in that I hadn't pegged it as a possible Card of the Year nominee until well after I'd first acquired it. But the more and more I looked at it, the more and more it grew on me -- the product placement for Sprint coupled with Melky Cabrera, yes, sprinting after a long fly ball is darn near perfect.
These are my favorite kinds of cards: the kinds of cards you can just tell a Topps employee had fun cobbling together.
#5 -- 2018 Topps Update #US79 Altuve/Judge "A Game for Everyone"
As if you needed any more reasons why baseball is the greatest game on earth.
#4 -- 2018 Stadium Club #180 Ted Williams
Stadium Club was its usual awesome self in 2018, but this card stands on a whole other level.
#3 -- 2018 Topps Archives "Sandlot" inserts
I feel like I've said this a million times on the blog over the past year, but once more couldn't hurt: The Sandlot is my favorite movie of all-time.
So you can imagine how excited I was when Topps announced plans for an all-Sandlot insert set in 2018 Archives, and how doubly thrilled I was when they finally hit the shelves. Sure, the checklist isn't perfect: no Mom, no Bill, no Babe, no Mr. Mertle. But the nine Sandloters are all represented, with a couple other supporting characters thrown in for good measure (including Wendy Peffercorn, who knows exactly what she's doing).
The Major League inserts were cool, and the Bull Durham inserts were okay, but these Sandlot inserts will live until...for-ev-er.
#2 -- 2018 Topps Big League #226 Ichiro Suzuki
In any other year, it's likely that those Sandlot inserts would've been my Card(s) of the Year -- but not 2018.
Not the year that could likely have been Ichiro's last, and not the year that Topps seemed happily determined to send him out with a bang by rewarding him with some of the finest cards of my collecting lifetime, first with Big League...
...then with Stadium Club.
These two could really be 1a and 1b on this list, but I give the slight edge to the Stadium Club card because of how it makes me feel. Perhaps no player has better spanned my baseball life than Ichiro -- he debuted in the MLB when I was nine years old, and might well have played his last game in 2018, when I was 26. Things change from the time you're nine to the time you're 26, obviously. Heck, the whole world changes.
But this card is a great reminder that, well, not everything has to change. Some things, like the sight of a 44-year-old Ichiro dashing out onto the field looking as spry and youthful as ever, running out there the way he did when I was a kid, can stay the same.
That's why it's my Card of the Year.