Monday, June 29, 2020

Old faces in old places

It seems kinda weird to say, but I've been blogging long enough to where I sometimes start thinking about the "good ol' days" of the cardsphere.

While it feels like close to an eternity ago, there was a time when I was a bright-eyed new blogger discovering people who'd been writing about cards years before I ever found the blogs. Sadly, many of those early bloggers I admired have since hung up their blogging cleats and have disappeared from the card community without a trace. A few of those older voices, however, have started to pop up again in various places around the blogs -- whether thanks to the quarantine or whatever else, I'm sure glad to see.

One of those early bloggers who recently put in an out-of-the-blue appearance was Dustin, who ran/runs "Coot Veal and the Vealtones," which is seriously a HOF-caliber blog name (he's also a published author, and that instantly earns brownie points from me). Dustin's blog was a staple for me in those early days, and I fondly remember trading with him a few times when I was first getting into the community -- he sent me my prized 1950 Bowman Enos Slaughter! -- and he recently reached out via email for another trade, all these years later.

And when his package finally arrived, it quickly became apparent that Dustin's trading game hadn't lost a step.

In addition to that strange gigantic Mark Prior relic at the top of the post -- I seem to remember those coming out of repacks many moons ago -- came these two jersey cards of dudes I collect.

It's true that I'm not the biggest jersey-card collector these days, but that doesn't mean I throw them in the air and run screaming from the room whenever I get one -- they're still worth collecting when done right, but I just kinda treat 'em like any other insert.

Here's some other more conventional inserts from Dustin, including one of those "150 Years of Baseball" cards from 2019 Topps which I'm thinking will take several lifetimes for me to get all the ones I need.

Seeing Pacific Online in a trade package warms my heart, and that goes double for Pacific Online double dips!

A couple neat '80s cards here -- the Ripken was actually a Dime Box Dozen need that Dustin gleefully took down.

Admittedly, it might be a stretch to label an '83 Topps Ripken as a dime box card, but hey, stranger things have happened.

I still have a weird interest in odd-shaped baseball cards.

I've been getting a lot of Cubs stuff lately, and while I say all the time that I'm not a team collector, fact is that there's a much higher percentage of me needing random Cubs cards than of any other team.

I remain a sucker for parallels.

In addition to everything I've already shown, Dustin even managed to do some major damage to my top-tier player collection dudes, including this spectacular quartet of shiny.

More biggies from rarely-seen sets like early Finest, and long forgotten brands like Topps HD.

I'd also like to note that I don't think Donruss Originals gets mentioned enough these days -- it's basically Donruss's version of Topps Heritage except, unlike Topps, they didn't reprint their designs to death.

What's more, Dustin pulled off a masterful feat by finding not one, but TWO Hoyts I needed!

And finally, here's a gosh darn fantastic insert design I've never seen before (which I get the feeling my dad and other record collectors will like) of Big Mo Vaughn, a dude I've recently introduced to my top tier of player collections.

While the cards Dustin sent were obviously awesome, this trade meant a lot to me in terms of just knowing that some of the people I got to know when I was a blogging rookie are still here, still prowling around the blogs. Maybe some things don't have to change.

I love blogging now every bit as much as I did then, but if you're like me and prone to nostalgia anyways, it was awesome to be shot back into the webs of time and trade with someone from the "good ol' days."

Friday, June 26, 2020

Big League will save us all

In case you haven't noticed, I've been somewhat down on the hobby lately.

I've just kinda had it up to here with the people milling around Targets/Walmarts, waiting for the vendor to show up so they can clear out the inventory. I've had it with people treating cards as a capitalistic venture. I've had it with people acting like Billy Badass because they pulled a card of some rookie no one'll know in three years. And sure, these misguided souls have always been out there, but it seems to me that they're coming in bigger droves now. I've long been an advocate of the collect-how-you-wanna-collect theory, but I can only take so much greed and idiocy (and let's face it, none of those people are collectors).

But what I've really had it with, perhaps most of all, is Topps pandering to these people who see cards as nothing but profit modes. All the online-only exclusives and high-end products are clear evidence of that. And yet somewhere, way out in the distance, I saw a glimmer of hope through the storm of dollar signs. I saw it earlier in this year when Topps released their planned product lines for the 2020 card season, and that light has gotten closer and closer and closer with each passing day until, finally, last week, it arrived, and blinded us with its power.

That jewel in the sky, of course, was Topps Big League.

I fell in love with Big League months before it ever actually existed, back when it was nothing more than mock-ups on a virtual sheet.

I loved it so much that I pre-ordered a box of it way back in March, back before this whole pandemic thing put a halt on most new card product. I'd also like to make a special note of the fact that I paid exactly $30 for an 18-pack box of Big League, which is a price point I think way more sets should have. And while it took three long months of waiting, I was absolutely thrilled when it finally, against all odds, showed up yesterday.

I suppose a small part of me was worried that Big League wouldn't live up to my massive expectations, that the glow in the sky I'd seen long ago would turn out to be an illusion -- but I'm happy to report no such thing happened, because, and I'll say this forever, OH MY GOD I LOVE THIS SET.

Perhaps the only thing I don't like about Big League is that it shines a big gigantic light on all the things Topps could be doing, but most of the time, just doesn't, whether out of scorn for the low-end collector or pure apathy (or both).

Topps can, for instance, make an absolutely fantastic card back when they put their minds to it -- because this, my friends, is what the back of a baseball card should look like.

Big League also reminded me how much I miss sets with borders, mostly evidenced by how well these parallels pop.

Even inserts, which are designed to be somewhat of a jolt from base cards, have gotten kind of bland lately.

Not so with Big League, which features insert sets that range from bat flips and cartoons -- the big background logos give those "Star Caricatures" a bit of a '90s Studio feel to them, which I like.

Those "Roll Call" cards don't grab me much, but they're certainly distinct, which is basically all I can ask out of an insert set.

And it's weird: I don't read comic books, and I find superhero movies dull, but I really like when companies add a little superhuman flair to their baseball cards (see: Metal Universe).

But let's be honest here: you're here for the base cards, and so am I.

The 2020 Big League design alone is enough to win my heart -- it reminds me a lot of the excellent 2009 Upper Deck OPC layout, with a little '81 Fleer mixed in for good measure. It's the best design I've seen from Topps in longer than I can remember, and right now I'd have to call it my favorite of all three Big League sets thus far (and I know that's not just the new-release rose-colored glasses speaking).

But along with the design comes absolutely stunning photography, with a few Dudes on New Teams mixed in for good measure!

And the subsets are just as good as the base design.

Perhaps I'm a little biased since cards featuring awards are a mini-collection of mine, but even though it's somewhat jarring to see ballplayers in suits and ties, it's kinda nice seeing some cards with the actual hardware displayed on the front.

Baseball in 2020 is gonna be weird, but hopefully 2019's cornucopia of memorable moments will make up for whatever's lacking this year.

I guess what I like most about Big League is that every single card feels like the end result of real, actual effort.

Over and over again, I've gotten the opposite feeling in today's hobby, the feeling that cards are absentmindedly churned out on an assembly line. Too many times, I've even asked the question: do the people at Topps even LIKE baseball? I still often wonder about that, but the fact that something like Big League exists, with designs and photos that appear to be selected by people who do like baseball (and baseball cards!), gives me hope. It sounds simple, but I mean every word of it: this is what baseball cards should look like. This thrill, the excitement I've tried to communicate in this post, is what I should feel about baseball cards all the time.

Even with all the casualties and imperfections of the current hobby, a set like Big League makes me proud to collect baseball cards, plain and simple.

So go ahead and take a bow, Topps Big League.

You're gonna save us all.


(Also, on a more somber note, we had to put our oldest cat, Latte, to sleep this afternoon. If you have a pet in your life, please give him/her an extra hug for me tonight.)

Wednesday, June 24, 2020

Reporting from the Online Dime Box

With all the unprecedented happenings going on right now, I've gotten to the point where I'm obscenely thankful for any little reminders of pre-quarantine life.

I can't even remember the last time I dug through a real, actual dime box, and so one welcome nod to the good ol' pre-pandemic days came in the form of, a place that's been all the rage around the blogs lately because it's basically an online dime box. I repeat: an online dime box! Covid or not, this place sounded like a dream waiting to happen, because...well, you've seen the name of this blog, yes?

At first, however, I wasn't sold. Many others have already alluded to this, but the site isn't terribly user-friendly. It's somewhat difficult to search through and the cards aren't sorted in any meaningful way. Despite my obvious dime box leanings, I actually gave up on finding anything on the site after trying (and failing) to use it a couple times. It was kinda like a dime box at a card show where you pick up a couple stacks of cards, see absolutely nothing you need, and move on down the aisle, disappointed at the temptation.

But one night, a couple weeks ago, I braced myself for one final try, one final push through the inventory, because I just knew there had to be some cards I needed sitting out there, waiting for me in the online dime box.

Turns out I was right -- it took until the wee hours of the morning, and required a whole lot of random searches and rabbit-holes, but at the end of it all I kinda got the hang of it and was able to add a whopping 250 cards to my cart.

It goes without saying that I miss dime boxes, and when the box of cards I'd found arrived on my doorstep earlier this week, it took me right back into those pre-Covid dime box days, viewing and cherishing all the great new cards I'd shrewdly added to my collection.

The standard dime box fare was well represented -- I found a few mini-collection hits, for instance (yes, that Griffey checklist counts for my "42" theme).

It's not the most exciting way to find cards, but I was able to check my spreadsheets of my larger player collections against the site's inventory to find cards of big dudes I needed.

And after all was said and done, quite a few of my bigtime collections got a nice boost, which is really all I can ask out of a dime box (the Abbott is an OPC).

A rarer dime box treat, however, is finding cards I need for my smaller and more obscure player collections, but the online dime box passed that test too (Calvin Pickering is an A+ baseball name, isn't it?).

I found a bit of latest-and-greatest flavor as well, and my god that Dee Gordon throwback is wonderful.

Dime box shiny, online edition.

I'm still trying to figure out why I get such a thrill out of finding cards from high-end sets in dime boxes, but I do -- there's probably some kind of score-one-for-the-little-guy idea in there somewhere.

Dime box oddballs will forever warm my heart.

Stickers don't generally make for my favorite baseball cards in the world, but I raided the online dime box's supply of '90s Panini Stickers because I have almost none of these.

I wish I could give you more tips and tricks about how to navigate the site's inventory, but truth be told I don't even remember a lot about how I found the cards I did.

One thing I do recall trying was simply searching the word mini, which ultimately resulted in a nifty handful of A&G minis I needed.

But, of course, A&G minis are far from the only minis out there, and turns out the search term brought out a whole lot of other fun-sized cards I probably never would've found otherwise.

Many times, when combing through my finds from any given dime box, I'll come across something and wonder, why the heck did I buy THIS card? which was kinda the case with that A&G card of...a palace?

I'm not building that set or anything, and I'm thinking I bought it simply because it was jarring to see it in the middle of all the Prince Fielders and Griffeys in their inventory, but I'm still happy to know I bought it even if I'm not quite sure why I did.

A good dime box has randomness that can't be confined to specific categories, like these four excellent cards that didn't really fit anywhere else in this post.

Even though the site has a Canadian domain name, the cards themselves shipped from New York, and the $5 shipping cost is quite reasonable considering the amount of stuff I bought.

Still, I'm thinking this place has some ties to Canada, because I saw a whole lot of OPC cards over there, including these '94 OPCs of which I previously had almost none -- off the top of my head I'm pretty sure it's the only year OPC scrapped the Topps design altogether and did their own thing.

I've gone through countless numbers of dime boxes in my life, and in the end what makes a dime box dig truly memorable is finding stuff that you don't see everyday for loose change.

Minor league cards are tough pulls from dime boxes, but that didn't stop me from finding a few of those here (Olt and Alcantara fit nicely in my unofficial Failed Cubs collection).

It's also not every day you find '90s parallels for a dime, which makes these all the more thrilling because I will insist until my dying day that '90s parallels rule.

Wait, wait...Pacific in a dime box? Never.

You can probably count the number of times I've found anything Pacific-related for a dime on one hand, but there's a whole lot of excellent millennium-era gems like these available from our online friends. That Melvin Mora is particularly exciting for me, because it's a card I've actually wanted for a while -- just the second one I own of his brief stint with the Mets at the beginning of his career.

I love dime boxes for their randomness, and don't really expect them to hit longtime needs, but it's sure nice when it happens.

All in all, I'd say my parade through the online dime box was an overwhelmingly positive experience -- it might take a few tries to get the hang of things, but much like the world of dime boxes as a whole, there's quite a few gems to be had over there with a little effort.

While I always prefer the real to the virtual, I can honestly say that this dig felt every bit like the celebratory spoils of an actual dime box -- all the joys and victories, all the oohs and ahs.

Friday, June 19, 2020

Free Card Friday #5

Real quick, I'd just like to note that this will probably be the last Free Card Friday on the blog for a week or two.

Not because I don't enjoy giving stuff away, or because I'm cheap, but mostly because I wanna get caught up on sending out all the cards that've already been claimed. Plus I'm getting to the point where I need to go digging to find more stuff to offer up. If you didn't receive cards during my first batch of mailings, don't worry, I'll have 'em in the mail during the second wave at some point next week! Anything you grab in today's post will go out with everything else already claimed. Also, I still need mailing addresses from the following claimees, which can be emailed to nickpecucci AT gmail DOT com:

bbcardz (I think you said you sent an email but for whatever reason I didn't get it, could you try again? Sorry!)
Jeremy @ Topps Cards That Never Were
Trevor P.

And so, as usual, the above card is up for grabs, as well as any/all of the following:

Page #1

Notes: Remember the simpler times of 2018? Here's a few stragglers from my trade box. Alcantara is a sepia refractor, Cozart is a gold parallel.

Page #2

Notes: Remember the simpler times of...2019? Middle three are those doggone elusive Utz cards, rest are standard base/inserts/parallels.

Page #3

Notes: I think at some point I was trying to hoard as many copies of those Sandlot inserts as I could find, but I abandoned that because I discovered I don't find collecting doubles and triples very fun, so my extras are up for grabs! From the others: Vlad Jr. is an Update Chrome, the De Los Santos is /299, and the Duplantier is /99.

Page #4

Notes: Random rookies, oddballs, and vintage (including a Pilots card!).

That's it for this week -- claim away!

Thursday, June 18, 2020

Chasing vs. collecting

For a long time, I think I was more of a card chaser than a card collector.

There's important distinctions between the two. I've mentioned many times that I used to go nuts over jersey cards as a teenager -- I chased stuff that was inserted into cards. After that, I had a brief obsession with serial-numbered cards -- I chased different versions of base cards (but not really the base cards). I can vividly remember opening packs as a teenager, seeing some kind of parallel in the middle of the pack, and bypassing every base card to get to it. I quite literally chased that card. I sacrificed the joy of that entire pack to get to it.

I find box break videos incredibly dull, but on the rare occasion I do try to watch one, I usually see a blur of base cards, and then a single long shot of whatever the real "prize" of the pack was (usually not a base card). This, to me, isn't really collecting. It's chasing. I find the term "the thrill of the chase" to be a bit misguided -- sure, there are specific things I chase, but that's not my sole reason for hoarding baseball cards. My thrills don't come from chasing for something through that blur of base cards. I want the base cards. I want to collect them.

I'm not saying I don't get excited if I see something cool waiting in the middle of a pack these days, but I still try to absorb everything else in there before getting to whatever caught my eye -- which usually isn't even anything better than those terrific, joyous base cards.

A reader named Wes W. who's been shoveling great cards on me for a long time now (most recently a scarce Hoyt and a '56 Topps card!) recently sent me a big ol' stack of cards in the mail, not a single one of which would be defined as a "chase" card in the modern sense of the term.

These are often my favorite kinds of packages to receive. They are cards to be looked at, scoured, appreciated. Collected. I know Wes probably included most of these cards for a reason, and I want to find that reason. As a kid, I think I tended to write off entire sets as "boring" and basically ignore them forever. I still don't think '83 Fleer is anything special, for example, but as a collector I can at least appreciate bits of greatness hiding inside a set that might not be at the top of my list.

Bits of greatness like Enrique Romo, who looks like he was awakened out of a nine-month hibernation by a Fleer photographer -- and bits of greatness like Greg Brock, who doesn't seem to be aware of the TV cameras setting up shop behind him.

If you collect long enough, and try to find the beauty in each and every card, you'll probably find certain sets once banished to obscurity starting to grow on you.

Unlike its counterpart from two years prior, 1985 Fleer is definitely one of those late bloomers for me -- and that was before I'd ever even seen these two gems courtesy of Wes.

I, of course, love '73 Topps for its action, but here's proof it could do poses just as well as anyone -- it's a set that, for whatever reason, just decided to break from the status quo, and I'm forever thankful for that.

I think it's telling that I almost never decided to start new player collections back when I was a "chaser" -- the guy on the front was almost secondary in some cases.

I'm doing my best to rectify that these days, and somehow Wes must've known that all four of these guys are relatively new and woefully overdue player collections of mine.

Mini-collections have been one of the supreme joys of my post-chase life, but packages like these show me just how far I still have to go with those.

I don't think I ever realized how consistently great catcher cards are until recently, but better late then never I guess.

(Also, who is Ron Hodges, and why is he wearing Jackie Robinson's number?)

Other great cards from Wes that I might've missed in my "chaser" past -- primitive facemasks, garbage-bag warmup jerseys, and more.

This isn't to say that chasing doesn't have a role in collecting -- parallels in general, when you get down to it, have no reason to exist, and are pretty much just chase cards.

While I don't obsess over them as much as I once did, I still enjoy parallels, and welcome them into my binders. They sometimes offer the pleasure of allowing me to appreciate a beloved set all over again, like these 125th Anniversary foil parallels from the excellent '94 UD Heroes checklist. I already have all the base cards of these, but the parallels offer an extra delicacy.

The only thing that drives me slightly up the wall about this set is that some of the main and inset photos don't match -- I so badly want to put that Al Oliver in my Dodger binder (he doesn't have many Dodger cards) but I can't do it because of that blasted floating head of him as an Expo.

These were issued by a brand called Cramer (first name, Cosmo?) for a few years in the early '80s, and I love 'em because they almost exclusively feature names you almost never see in the hobby these days.

But while the Three-Finger Browns and Roger Bresnahans of the world are of course fantastic, one of the Cramers from Wes was a card I'd actually been wanting (chasing?) for a long time now.

This is just my second card of Chuck Connors, a man whose brief baseball career would be all but forgotten if he hadn't starred on the hit series The Rifleman later on in his life.

I've long found these rare sports/pop-culture crossovers fascinating, and Connors is one of the faces of that particular Mount Rushmore. I've known about this card for years, but a copy just never managed to fall into my hands until I was lucky enough to have Wes came along. I love it for exactly what it is. A baseball card. Not a baseball card with a piece of jersey embedded in it, or a baseball card limited to X amount of copies.

It's why I'm proud to call myself a collector, and not a chaser.