Wednesday, February 22, 2023

Rooting for laundry

If my memory is correct, the current Cubs' roster features exactly one remaining player (Kyle Hendricks) from their historic 2016 World Series squad. 

While it's true that seven years is a long time in a baseball career, it seems like I think of the famous Jerry Seinfeld bit more and more as time goes on - when paraphrased, it goes something along the lines of "rooting for a sports team is basically rooting for laundry." It's a slick one-liner, but it also raises the very relevant paradox of attaching ourselves to teams when so many of the players on those teams jettison around the league as much as they do.

It's a question I ask myself all the time: when I say that I'm a Cubs fan, what does that really mean?

It's weird being a fan of a team in transition like the Cubs - looking at their roster, it seems like half the guys are new arrivals and/or dudes I barely recognize.

In time, the answer I've developed of what it means to be a fan is that, when I root for the Cubs, I'm not only pulling for the guys on the field - to me, fandom is a form of appreciating the history of the team as a whole. I don't think it's a coincidence that my Cubs binders feature more individual players than any other in my collection - I'm simply more interested in their history than any other club out there. Which I suppose is why Cubs cards often put the biggest smile on my face, including the Cubs-centric packages I've received from Johnny of "Johnny's Trading Spot" recently.

Do I care about a set called Panini Absolute? Not really. Do I care about Ryne Sandberg and Ron Santo cards I don't have? Absolutely!

I've said it before: when in doubt, send me Cubs - I don't consider myself a team collector, but there's a better chance I'll need more cards from a random stack of Cubs than any other team around.

I still find it amazing how common (and better yet, attainable!) those Silver Pack cards are, but I guess it goes with the territory when people are opening thousands upon thousands of boxes of a product.

Yes, I know Haray Caray called games for the White Sox and Cardinals, but ask 100 baseball fans what team they associate this guy with, and I'll bet 99 of them say the Cubs.

(P.S. - We need more baseball cards of announcers!) 

Other Cubs content from Johnny included a nifty high-end Ernie Banks, as well as a cool insert of NPB import Seiya Suzuki who's quickly become a fan favorite here at Dime Box HQ.

Johnny also threw in a non-Cubs jewel in with that Mike Lieberthal - finding weird team-issue oddballs has quickly become a premier part of my collection.

I've never been a big postcard collector - part of that is because I'm just not a big fan of oversized stuff in general, but I think another reason is because that's a whole other can of collecting worms I'm a bit afraid to open up.

The daily discoveries in the never-ending galaxy of baseball cards alone already occupies so much of my brain space - if I extended myself into the adjacent world of postcards and general baseball memorabilia, I think my head might explode.

But whether I'm a postcard fan or not, I very nearly hit the ceiling when I flipped the Boudreau over - because it's signed!

This is exactly the kind of thing I don't necessarily chase, but definitely treasure. Lou Boudreau left us in 2001, which means there's a finite amount of stuff he signed and touched out there. Knowing I have one of those sacred pieces he left his fingerprint on is just darn cool, and that's amplified even more when you consider that, besides being a Hall of Famer, he's also a key figure in the history of my beloved Cubs.

There's certainly truth to the idea that, as sports fans, we find ourselves rooting for laundry a lot of the time, but I think the true nature of our fandom lies somewhere between Jerry Seinfeld and Walt Whitman - because, of course, that laundry contains multitudes.

Friday, February 17, 2023

I told myself I wouldn't do this (or, a box of 2023 Topps)

In 2023, for the first time in my adult life, I was fully prepared to sit out the once-beloved ritual of buying the first cards of the new collecting year.

Is it possible to be burnt out with a set before it even hits the shelves? Because that's what I was feeling with 2023 Topps. The previews, the promos, the hype - it seemed to never end. There's always gonna be a certain amount of chatter before a new year's cards release, but this year, for whatever reason, seemed to take it to DEFCON 5. I told myself I'd buy whatever singles I needed online, maybe pick up a few packs if I happened to find myself in a Target in the next couple weeks, and that'd be that.

Fast-forward to a couple days ago, when a rather unexpected bit of news shot across the headlines of Dime Boxedonia: a new card shop opened in town, a good five minutes from where I live! I've long dreamed of having an LCS in my tiny little suburb, and somehow that wish came true all these years later. While I wasn't expecting much, my trip to the shop turned out to be a surprisingly fun treat for a few reasons (which I'll cover in a future post) - but I suppose it's no coincidence that I went there this past Wednesday...the day 2023 Topps came out.

Not wanting to get too crazy, I asked the LCS owner if I could purchase a few single packs, and at some point while my hand was descending upon the trove of loose wax, I heard myself say - ah what the heck, I'll just take a box.

Like I said, I told myself I wouldn't do this, and there's a couple reasons why.

First: if you believed Topps's marketing team, the only two guys in this set are Adley Rutschman and Julio Rodriguez. Topps themselves even billed 2023 Topps as "The J-Rod Show." Other sets might be appropriately labeled as such, but to me, Flagship is here to let us appreciate the game as a whole, not just a couple dudes. If nothing else, I hope this post is a reminder that there are 328 other guys to collect in this set.

Second: the cost. Not to sound like an old coot, but I remember (not that long ago) when I could get a nice basic hobby box of Topps Series 1 for $60-65. I paid $100 for this box - sure, there's a little bit of a card shop markup, but either way, that just seems insane to me. (Thankfully my birthday's in a couple days, and I had a little extra cash in my pocket.)

But the fact is, even with all that, I still bought the box - and while I wasn't in the least looking to "offset" the cost of it, I'm pleased to report that I did pull a nifty Rutschman insert at the top of this post (one per case!) that should cover my expenses.

Okay, so you've heard me yammer on about jumping through all the mental hoops of what it took for me to buy this box - but what about the box itself, Nick??

I'll just say it right now: I like 2023 Topps! I was a bit underwhelmed when I first saw the preview a few months ago, but for me the cards pop a lot more in-person. I've gone on record on saying Topps designs have gotten a bit too TV-graphicy in recent years - and while this year's look most certainly continues that trend, they're at least entertaining. Player and team names are still smaller than I'd like them to be, but that's a minor quibble.

It sounds weird to say, but this is the first time in at least a few years where it actually feels like we get a design, and not just a few carefully placed lines and names across a piece of cardboard.

Plus Topps actually honored 1988 Topps as their main Anniversary insert set this year, giving us a much-needed breather from the more "classic" designs they've been shoving down our throats lately (looking at you, 1987).

I haven't bought a Flagship box in a while, so I completely forgot I a bonus four-card Silver Pack with it - definitely a treat since I always want shiny cards.

Those "Aces" inserts are also fantastic, but the rest of this year's inserts are a big bag of nothing.

Also, the gold parallels are seeded one-per-box(!) which is a telling clue of how overproduced this set is - thankfully the one I pulled was a need (send me all your Sonny Gray cards!).

There's quite a few excellent photos scattered throughout 2023 Topps - with a special nod going to that Cubs Field of Dreams throwback.

But what I really like about the design is that it makes even the average cards look at least passable, which isn't something you can say about a lot of sets these days - because after all, not every card is gonna show a guy leaping into the stands with a Rookie Cup at his feet.

Another bonus: the design serves horizontals quite well.

Major points to Topps for giving a couple greats the sunset cards they deserved. 

I don't know that I'm ready to declare a full-blown "City Connect Jersey" mini-collection yet, but I have to admit I had fun picking these out of my box.

I'm certainly not a fan of all these things (yikes, Brewers), but like my throwbacks collection, they're fun to hunt down - and 2023 showed off a cast of debut duds.

I'll admit I had a slight bit of buyer's remorse walking out of the card shop that hallowed afternoon, but after opening the box and introducing myself to 2023 Topps, I can honestly say it was worth the price of admission.

At this point, I can't help but wonder if there's something embedded in my collecting DNA here - because no matter how hard I try to ignore it, or tell myself I shouldn't care, there's just no escaping the thrill of a new year's worth of baseball cards.

Wednesday, February 8, 2023

There's something about Bowman

I'm about to do something I don't think I've ever done in the history of this blog, and that's devote an entire post to Bowman.

Bowman fascinates me for all the wrong reasons - it's become a historic brand while also producing decades and decades of entirely forgettable baseball cards. How forgettable, exactly? Enough that I had to do an internet search to remember what 2022 Bowman looked like. That's how little the cards stick in my memory.

When we're talking about post-revival Bowman (1989-present), we're talking about cards that really aren't meant for me. There's a desultory group of known stars alongside a gluttony of rookies, of whom only a small fraction will ever crack a big-league roster. 

The latter, however, are what most people buy Bowman for - the hope that a Single-A unknown will become The Next Big Thing. 

Modern Bowman began under a bad moon - I've often declared '89 Bowman to be The Worst Set of All-Time.

I don't know if I still believe that these days - I've found other sets I hate more than this - but I think most of us can agree that '89 Bowman is just plain dull. Not to mention the weird oversized thing that triggers my OCD every time I look at one of these in my binder. Just an incredibly bottom-tier group of baseball cards.

People are justified in believing crazy sets like '95 Fleer are worse than this (not me, of course!), but if nothing else I would have to imagine those people would at least admit that '95 Fleer is interesting - not one of us can say the same for '89 Bowman.

Bowman was never destined to be a set we were supposed to collect or even discuss, really - it's pretty much about the prospects and that's it.

No one is buying a pack of Bowman because they fancy themselves as a connoisseur and want to appreciate the design. Most of what Bowman puts out there barely qualifies as a design. It's like Stadium Club but infinitely less fun for collectors like myself. I suppose I don't fault anyone for wanting to get the jump on the next hot thing, but that's just not the way I collect - I struggle to understand how that can be called "collecting" at all. 

But whether you want to call it branding or whatever else, even I'll admit there's something special about having a guy's first Bowman card - although do me a favor and don't tell anyone I found this Trout rookie in a dime box back in 2011, or, perhaps even more egregiously, that I wouldn't have bought it at all if he wasn't wearing a throwback jersey!

While I sat and tried for a good few minutes trying to think of what random Bowman sets looked like without consulting the internet.

1996 Bowman? 2002 Bowman? 2007 Bowman? I couldn't remember a single one. And when I finally broke down and looked, the reaction wasn't Oh yeah, that's right! as much as it was Oh, I can see why I forgot that. I'm in the minority, in that the only cards I even remotely care about in today's Bowman are the veterans - on the rare occasion I open a pack of the stuff, the prospects feel like filler to me. And even then I forget what the cards look like two seconds after I put them in my binder.

So that begs the question: are there any Bowman designs I actually like?

The answer: in the 34 years of Modern Bowman (1989-2022), there are exactly two sets I can honestly say I like.

The first is 1992, probably the most universally adored Bowman set among card collectors. The prospect lovers get their fill with some of the most famous rookies of the generation (Piazza, Rivera, Hoffman, etc.), but it's also just a darn good-looking set of baseball cards. I don't own as many as I'd like - they didn't seem to be mass-produced like most cards of the era - but the ones I do have are excellent. (Even the weird fashion-show rookies are memorable in their own way.)

In Bowman's long string of apathy, '92 is really the only time I can say they hit on something classic.

Perhaps as a result, I think most people sleep on what Bowman did the very next year.

There's a Jeter in '93 Bowman, but it's not one of his more famous rookie cards, and outside of that I'm not sure this set has any other notable prospects. As a whole, though, I'd argue this is one of the most unjustly ignored offerings of the '90s. While not as timeless as '92, I've always thought '93 Bowman was a solid set, with a few cool photos mixed in for good measure (something you can't say about Bowman very often). It doesn't deserve to be lumped into the rest of Bowman's long and generally unspectacular history.

In the end, I suppose what I find most interesting about Bowman is that I hear both everything and nothing about it - people talk about this prospect and that prospect, but no one ever seems to care anything about the cards themselves.