New Year, New Focus: The 10th Anniversary Edition

It’s a tad bit embarrassing to admit this, but I recently celebrated the 10th anniversary of this blog. It’s weird to say that it’s been a decade since I started writing here; it’s even more awkward since the last few years have been relatively light on posts.

It’s been a turbulent decade to say the least, one filled with the highest of highs, and the lowest of lows both personally and in this hobby. But here, as I start this tenth year owning my own Web domain, I am on an even keel, with a new focus for my collection.

I’ve started to shift gears over the last year — a journey I’ve hinted at and have written about minimally — from straight cardboard to something else. Topps likes to use the slogan “bringing you closer to the game.” But I’ve decided to just eliminate the middleman when it comes to my new focus. The focus of my collecting efforts is now procuring game-used baseballs.  Not small pieces of the ball — which Topps, as a middleman, places into cards for the hobby — but the whole damn ball.

Whether you know it or not, your local (or favorite) Major League Baseball team will sell directly to you: jerseys, helmets, bases and other items — including balls — used in their games.  And most of these are not just generic “used” items. Everything from the teams come with an MLB Authentication holographic sticker and serial number that matches their database letting you know exactly when your item was used and often by whom it was used.

Like many collectors, I was intrigued by game-used memorabilia cards when they started to hit the market in the late 1990s.  And over the last 20 years I’ve owned thousands of the cards, a few hundred of which are still in my collection. But over time, the authenticity of the fabric has been brought into question. Furthermore, the ambiguity with which companies chose to word their certificates of authenticity is off-putting.

Take for instance Topps, which for years has pledged to bring us closer to the game but still uses verbiage to legally cover themselves by making no claim as to which season or year the enclosed item was used. Hell, sometimes they won’t even make a claim as to what the item is. Is that really a piece of bat used by Jackie Robinson or Babe Ruth, or a piece of a seat used at the stadiums in which the legends used to play? It wasn’t until recently that Topps began partnering more often with MLB Authentication to add some credibility (and collectability) to the modern relic cards

And Panini? Please … I don’t want cards with swatches from photo shoots and signing sessions, even if they are very appealing to the eye. I’m glad I don’t collect basketball or football cards as it is common place to see guys dropping hundreds (if not thousands) of dollars on breaks hoping to get a signed patch card featuring swatches handled and glanced at once by the pictured player.  BUT, at least Panini is clear on what these swatches … most of the time.

I digress. My point here isn’t to slam Topps or Panini — or even Upper Deck — for what they’ve provided to us collectors. Rather, my point is that what’s being offered these days just doesn’t fit my needs to feel like I own something special, something significant.

Enter: The game-used baseball.

The ball is white, the stitching is red, and in blue are the facsimile signature of the League commissioner and the logo of Major League Baseball. From several steps away — and even just a few inches away — one ball does indeed look just like other.  But if you look closely, none of them are identical. All of them are unique, especially when you take into consideration the way that MLB authenticates their items.

I know I am late to this hobby. But I’d argue that there is no better time to have gotten into this arena of sports memorabilia collecting. Have you see all of the information that MLB includes in their authentication?

It’s no longer about simply assuring you that the ball in your possession was actually used in a certain game. MLB’s Authentication program now includes the player who threw the ball, the hitter who was at the plate, and the fielders involved in the plays. Hell, the program now includes the speed and type of pitch thrown, as well as the launch angle off the bat … or off of a person.

Yes, I said off of a person.

On May 10, 2018, the Minnesota Twins faced off against the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim. On the mound for the Twins was right-handed 24-year-old pitching phenom Jose Berrios of Puerto Rico. At the plate in the fifth inning was 26-year-old Mike Trout, easily considered the best player in the game today.

Berrios reared back and threw a 92.5 mph fastball to get ahead of Trout 0-1. He then threw a slightly faster pitch (92.7 mph) down the middle of the plate to make the count 0-2.  On the third pitch Berrios lost control of a 92.8 mph fastball — the ninth straight fastball of the night to Trout if you watched the broadcast — and drilled Trout in left arm between the elbow guard and his bicep. Clearly it was a mistake pitch; but that goof created a one-of-a-kind collectable.

That ball was taken out of play, authenticated by MLB, and sold by the Angels.  And after passing through the hands of at least one other owner, the ball that struck generational player Mike Trout for his 57th career official Hit-By-Pitch now sits in my collection as one of the cornerstones for a segment of my game-used baseball collection that focuses solely on balls that struck players.

You see, the Trout HBP ball is not the first ball that I own which has caused a grown man to grimace in pain, or in Trout’s case cause him to turn away from home play, look upward for a few seconds and then flip his bat toward the dugout in disgust before trotting to first base.

This Trout ball is merely the latest of my admittedly odd theme.

My love for these HBP balls began only a year ago when taking in a Cubs game in San Francisco.  After the Aug. 7, 2017, game, I headed to the Giants official store at AT&T Park to buy a ball from the game as a momento, hopefully something with Kris Bryant’s name attributed to it.  Lo and behold the only available ball attributed to Bryant was the one that struck him on the left arm in the third inning — a 2-2 92.6 mph fastball that got away from Giants starter Matt Moore.

The acquisition that night ignited a passion that has now led to me owning nearly 10 pain-inducing baseballs, some of which I shall show off in the future.

Baseball cards have always been my collecting passion. But to say that the thrill is gone would be an understatement. The current products produced by manufacturers by and large just don’t appeal to me. And my goal of collecting Hall of Fame rookie or tobacco cards is one that I’m choosing to take a break– although truth be told, I’ve got the majority of the guys I’d sought many years ago.

And the stars of today? All those Bowman Chrome autos I collected? Yeah … I’m selling.

The crack in the foundation for these Chrome autos came last year when I decided to part ways with my BGS graded 2009 Bowman Chrome Draft Prospects Mike Trout. His basic autograph from that set had reach an all-time high and the money was just too appealing. Once I sold that card, it decreased the purpose to keep any of the other chromes. And so, as this tenth year of writing here, those Chromes will slowly start to hit the market as they no longer appeal to me.

Just don’t ask about my 2006 Bowman Chrome Draft Picks Refractor Clayton Kershaw. That’s not for sale as Kershaw is one of only two guys I’ve decided to focus my cardboard collecting attention.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

w

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: