Archive for baseball

The Title Defense Starts Today (Opening Day)

Posted in Commentary with tags , , , , , , , , , on March 28, 2019 by Cardboard Icons

Chris Sale peered in at the catcher, gripping the baseball within his glove. He agreed to the pitch selection and began his windup.

The weight transfer. The release. The swing and miss by Manny Machado.

The Boston Red Sox were again the World Series Champions.

I remember the scene clear as day as I viewed it from the auxiliary press box at Dodger Stadium that night, five months ago today.

I had tears in my eyes. I had witnessed something that few have been able to lay claim — watching their favorite team clinch their sports title.

The memories will last a lifetime. That title will forever be linked to that team.

But today starts a new. A new journey for the Red Sox as the team begins its title defense. And for every other team, today also marks the beginning of their quest to unseat the champions to earn the right to start next year at the top of the hill.

Opening Day is upon us. So full of hope and joy. This day is indeed a holiday for some of us. As a kid as would favor illness so that so could stay home and watch the Triple Header on ESPN. As an adult I have selected vacation day(s) based on the seasons first pitch. And for more than a decade I have celebrated this day with packs of baseball cards.

This morning I began this years ritual with my kids as they each opened two packs of Topps Opening Day. And this afternoon I will carry on that tradition with my girlfriend, with whom I will be attending Opening Day festivities in Oakland — this will be our second straight Opener together.

I would have preferred to be in Seattle today to see the Red Sox kick off their title defense against the Mariners, but I have to say being able to see generational player Mike Trout kick off the next chapter of his career after signing the largest contract in the game’s history isn’t a bad consolation.

This will be my third straight year seeing Trout and the Angels open their season against Oakland. And I know that while I understand how lucky this opportunity is, it has not fully sunken in yet how special it has been to see Trout in his prime on Opening Day given that I do not live in the Angels geographic market.

Additionally, it’s also special to be able to see the budding Athletics, especially star third baseman Matt Chapman, whose defense is second to none, something I appreciate since his position is my favorite on the diamond, and slugger Khris Davis who has hit a home run on each of the last two Opening Day games on Oakland.

Writing these words now is getting me pumped up. I can’t wait for the pageantry to begin in less than two hours.

Baseball is back.

Play freakin’ Ball!

It took 27 years to see the sexual innuendo on this 1992 Upper Deck Card

Posted in Commentary with tags , , , , on March 27, 2019 by Cardboard Icons

I was poking around COMC on Wednesday and I spied a 1992 Upper Deck Cecil Fielder Card, a single I had seen many times over the last 27 years. But it was not u til today that I realized the unintentional sexual innuendo here.

Cecil Fielder seated, with a water bottle between his legs and a chicken on its knees before him, and of course the cropping doesn’t help.

Yeah, it’s a bit immature, but it is what it is. Is it not?

Sometimes I wish for simplicity

Posted in Commentary with tags , , , , , , , , , , on March 24, 2019 by Cardboard Icons

When you look at your collection what is it that you see? What makes you proud? What still has you passionate about the hobby? Does the amount of cards or the complexity, or lack of focus, weigh you down?

These are the types of questions I often ask myself.

When I started collecting cards I collected because I enjoyed the idea of acquiring cards. Value wasn’t a big factor. Of course time has changed and I needed a focus, and as you know by now, value — or perceived value, or worth, or whatever you want to call it — most certainly does play a big factor in our hobby these days.

By the time I entered college I realized that I truly loved rookie cards because they were a player’s first card, often their most iconic card, and for better or worse the value of said first cards seemed to rise and fall with performance more than any other a player’s card. And so I determined that I was going to be a rookie card collector.

First it was a rookie card of every baseball player who had one. I actually pulled out a Beckett Almanac and started making a checklist of cards officially designated with the RC or XRC tag.

And then I narrowed it a bit to just Hall of Famer Rookie Cards, but I realized I was missing an entire generation of players who starred on baseball diamonds before Goudey cards were a thing. So I expanded to include t206 or any suitable tobacco or gum card released from HOFers playing days.

For the most part I had accomplished all I set out to do. I do not own a 52 Topps Eddie Matthews because they’ve never been affordable by comparison to what it cost me for other HOFers.

But I do own an authentic rookie or tobacco era cards of just about every other HOF player.

Ruth. Gehrig. Honus. Cobb. Big Train. Mantle. Mays. Aaron. They’re all there in my collection.

For all intents and purposes, my cardboard dreams have come true. I have accomplished what I set out to do — with or without the Eddie Mathews.

But sometimes I sit and wonder what my hobby experience would have been like had I not taken the plunge and sought out rookie cards.

Once I pulled the trigger on the 1951 Bowman Willie Mays in 2006, the seal was broken for me. I was no longer “just collecting cards” I was buying pieces of Americana; I was buying the most iconic baseball cards created. And because I had gone down that route, it seems as though I have spent the last 13 years chasing the fleeting feeling I got when my Mays arrived — and that is an impossible task. Because when the card of your desire arrives via whatever means, it usually creates a situation where you’re instantly looking for the next one that evokes the same emotion. It’s like a drug user constantly looking to match the euphoria they got on the previous hit.

Many people never collected the way I did when I actively chased the HOF rookies. In fact, most people are content with what makes/made them happy regardless of what it is. And in many ways I envy that; I have a great appreciation for those who find the same joy and express such passion in simplicity.

It’s nice to accomplish your goals, but inevitably there is a point where you begin to ask yourself: Now what?

The hunger, the passion that I once had for cards has waned a bit. And I have taken joy in reverting to player collecting. But it does at times feel like I poisoned my own hobby experience. I miss the ability to cherish my pulls, to enjoy cards for what they are and what they represent without constantly measuring them to the HOF collection. While I do not regret the path I have taken; I am not sure where I go from where. I’m not sure there is a suitable answer for the “what’s next” question.

Ichiro’s MLB career spans my adult life as a person and a collector to this point

Posted in Commentary with tags , , , , , on March 22, 2019 by Cardboard Icons

April 2001. There is a buzz around Seattle Mariners Spring Training camp about the new player, a baseball veteran who had played in his native Japan for eight years before inking a deal with the MLB club. His name was Ichiro.

The name was like none that many of us followers of baseball in the United States had heard. We were intrigued how this player’s skills would translate. About a half decade earlier, pitcher Hideo Nomo had made the transition to Major League Baseball and he did so with plenty of fanfare and success. And a few years later, another Japanese pitcher, Hideki Irabu, signed on with the New York Yankees and didn’t exactly enjoy loads of success. So there was some excitement with Ichiro — especially since he was an everyday player — but there was some trepidation as there wasn’t anything to which he could really be compared.

Of course as history has shown us, Ichiro was better than any of us could have imagined. In MLB he was a premier batsmen, a speed demon on the base paths, and on defense he possessed everything an outfielder could want, including closing speed and a rocket launcher for an arm.

When he came into the league, I was in my third year in college, about to turn 21. I had a lot going in my life. I had just decided that Journalism was the thing for me and I was spending more time at school working as an editor for the college daily paper. My days were long, which left very little time for cards. But that’s not to say that I wasn’t still buying. And if memory serves me right, one of the first Ichiro cards I was able to obtain was the 2001 Upper Deck.

Unless you collected in 2001, there is very little that can compare to the spark that Ichiro and Albert Pujols brought to our hobby during their fantastic rookie season. In fact, I’d say that level of excitement probably wasn’t broached until Stephen Strasburg and Bryce Harper hit Bowman products in 2010, and maybe again in 2018 with the triumvirate of Ronald Acuna, Juan Soto and Shohei Ohtani hit the scene. But still, in its time, 2001 was a special year.

I digress. I remember that first season for so many reasons. That summer I had my first internship, at the Oakland Tribune in Oakland, Calif., and at a convenience store across the street they had a single box of 2001 Upper Deck Vintage. The set design was a play on the 1963 Topps set, but in the set was a multi-player rookie card of Ichiro. As odd as the floating head design of that rookie card was, I still bought pack after pack during my lunch breaks that summer. In fact, I am pretty sure I ended up buying the entire box. Sadly, I did not pull an Ichiro.

This was also the case for so many other products that summer, although it should be noted that a lot of the releases had serial numbered rookie cards. This didn’t stop me from chasing. In fact, it was not until Bowman Heritage, and Topps Update hit shelves that I started to routinely pull — and sell — Ichiro rookie cards. I even managed to hit one of the Topps Gallery rookies, which if memory serves me right, were redemption cards as they were released with both English and Japanese text versions.

What’s interesting to note is that was also driving the Upper Deck higher-end products at the time as relic cards featuring swatches of his Spring Training uniform were also produced, as were a few autographed cards. And it was right about this time we really started to see a bunch of fake patch cards of Ichiro. The most common was the Sweet Spot plain white or blue swatch that often was manipulated to look as though it contained a piece of the Mariner’s logo. Many were sold for big bucks before people started to wonder just how many of them could contain what looked to be the center of the compass logo.

By 2002, Ichiro was continuing to solidify himself as a major player on the field and in the hobby. And personally, he was the favorite active player of a good friend of mine who was living in Oregon, which is in the television market for the Seattle Mariners. That summer I had my second internship, and it was in the same down and the same newspaper at which my friend lived — the Statesman Journal, Salem, Ore. That summer I got to know so much more about Ichiro through talks with my friend and by watching games that summer. I was also lucky enough to see some of the Mariners’ television commercials, which used Ichiro as a comedic crutch. To say they were epic would be an understatement.

The following summer, 2003, I had my third and final internship. Anyone want to guess where? In Seattle, at The Seattle Times. That summer I was immersed in the Mariner’s culture. And if I had the financial means I would have been at Safeco Field every night watching the Mariners — they were a fun team to watch in this era. I did manage to catch two games that summer, one on Aug. 11 — a game in which Ichiro collected three hits and a stolen base (his 615th, 616th, and 617th hits of his career, and his career 115th stolen base). And then five days later, on Aug., 16, I saw Ichiro in person again when he collected his 625th career base hit, and was struck by a Pedro Martinez pitch, the 19th HBP of Ichiro’s career. (Side note, that HBP ball would be amazing to own given that I collect HBP game-used baseballs.)

In the following years, Ichiro was a guy whom I enjoyed watching and from time to time would be the player for whom I would trade. And I would have drafted and traded for him in fantasy leagues save for the fact that one of my good friends — the same mentioned above — had pretty much secured his services from 2002 through the end of his regular playing time as a Mariner.

Ichiro’s signature — as loopy and unreadable as it is — was something I only dreamed about owning. That is until the summer of 2008 when I managed to sell enough other items to afford a 2004 Sweet Spot, a card that I managed to purchase during the infancy of this blog. In fact, the card actually arrived at my home during the first week I began writing here. I was out of town at the time so the card sat for two days in a padded envelope in an unsecured mailbox. Thankfully the card was there when I arrived home. It’s still in my collection to this day.

I’d be a liar if I could tell you I followed or collected Ichiro with the same voracity in which I chased Roger Clemens, or even various rookie cards that eventually came to make up my Hall of Fame rookie card collection. But over the time I managed to acquire a slabbed copy of his 1993 BBM Japanese rookie card, as well as a raw copy of the much-coveted 2001 Bowman Chrome rookie card — note, all of these rookies have a refractor finish — and even a few others, including a 2001 Keebler Mariners card graded a BGS 9.5 that hits on a nostalgic point for me since it somewhat resembles the old Mother’s Cookies cards from the late 1980s and early 1990s.

And while I do not own a Ichiro Hit By Pitch game-used baseball, I do own an Ichiro foul ball that I bought directly from the Miami Marlins last year, used during his career 2,627th game. The ball was used for three pitches during his 9,873rd career at-bat (10,669th career plate appearance) in the sixth inning of the 9/19/17 contest against the New York Mets. Josh Smoker blew a 93.5 mph four-seam fastball past Ichiro for strike one, and then threw a 81.5 mph slider for a ball. Smoker then hurled a 94.4 mph four-seam fastball toward the plate and Ichiro fouled it off, sending the ball back into the mask of catcher Travis d’Arnaud — the ball wound up with two lines on it, presumably from striking the catcher’s mask as the ball went out of play.

The Ichiro game-used ball was the last piece of his that I acquired. And even at the time I struck the deal, I was surprised that I was able to own such an item, given that I figured Ichiro was effectively retired. As it turned out, he wound up playing in 15 games in 2018, and then then returned for the Opening Series in Japan earlier this week.

This has been a rough week for me in terms of dealing with home life and getting sleep, and this Opening Series in Japan certain didn’t make things easier for me as I was determined to catch all or some of these games. I caught the final two innings of the first game, but during the second game I watched along with the world as Ichiro struck out in what looked to be his last at-bat in the seventh inning, only to cheer on the Mariners so that we could see him swing the bat one more time. And in the eighth inning after he grounded out to shortstop, I am not ashamed to admit that I teared up as Ichiro waved goodbye as he was removed from the game in ceremonious fashion, especially when he embraced rookie pitcher and fellow countryman Yusei Kikuchi, whose Topps Opening Day rookie card I happened to pull a day earlier.

We all knew Ichiro had a great skillset, and a was building a fantastic Cooperstown resume. But his style of play wasn’t the type that was going to stoke the flames of baseball passion for everyone, especially not in an era when power hitting and pitching were the name of the game. The one stat about Ichiro that continues to amaze me is that he collected 200-plus hits in each of his first 10 seasons in MLB. That’s an entire decade of consistency; death by paper cuts for opposing pitchers, made more painful by the fact that he was averaging almost 40 stolen bases a season during that same time.

At times it seems as though the last 18 seasons have passed in the blink of an eye. Ichiro’s MLB career started when I was a college kid, and between the time he first donned his Mariner’s uniform to the last time he doffed it as a player earlier this week, I had lots of ups and downs: I graduated college; had three Internships; lived in three states; got married (and divorced a decade later); had two kids; owned a Mustang; started and ended one career and then began another; had a side gig for almost two years as a columnist for Beckett Baseball, the magazine I read religiously as a kid; attended two National Sports Collector’s Conventions (2012 and 2014); and have started this blog, which has now been around for nearly 11 years; watched my team win four World Series, the most-recent of which I managed to watch the clinching game in person, and much more.

Ichiro’s MLB career pretty much encompasses much of my adult life to this point, and it’s going to be weird going forward not seeing him on the field, or as a regular member of our annual baseball card sets.

MLB’s soft season opener means another year of tradition

Posted in Box / Pack Break with tags , , , , , , , on March 20, 2019 by Cardboard Icons

The 2019 Major League Baseball season kicked off early this morning With the Oakland Athletics facing the Seattle Mariners in the first of a two-game Opening Series showdown in Japan.

It’s essentially MLB’s soft Opening Day. The League-wide official Opening Day comes March 28.

Tradition in my household includes opening packs of cards on Opening Day. Seeing as how the first games were played today, I had to keep up the tradition and as luck would have it, Target received its allotment of 2019 Topps Opening Day Mega Boxes, which is one of a few new ways Opening Day is being presented to collectors.

Thankfully I remembered that I had a coupon in my wallet for $1 off — there were coupons on select Series One blasters — so it made this purchase even better.

For $14.99 you get 16 basic Opening Day packs and one pack of seven exclusive red foil parallels.

The Reds are actually quite nice; sadly I didn’t get the Clayton Kershaw I needed for my collection.

The standard packs appear to have the same odds as single retail packs.

My box started off strong in Pack Two as it contained two timely names: Mike Trout and Alex Bergman, both of whom signed extensions yesterday, as well as this sweet Andrew Benintendi Card.

This pack was followed up by one that contained the rookie of card Seattle Mariners pitcher Yusei Kikuchi, who coincidentally will start Game Two against Oakland before the two teams head back to the United States to continue and complete the exhibition season before the official Opening Day.

This Mega Box contained two blue foil parallels, which are seeded 1:13 packs, so I managed to beat the odds there.

Also two Team Traditions and Celebrations (1:10 packs) and two Opening Day cards, seeded 1:7 packs — the Royals one is neat since it has a Salvador Perez cameo on the big board.

I also received the allotted four Mascot cards (1:4 packs) including the unnamed Baltimore Orioles mascot, and one of Mariner Moose, who looks like he is flipping people off.

And the standard 8 150 Years of Fun cards, seeded 1:2 packs. There was the Trout shown above as the following seven.

This was a fun, cheap way to celebrate the soft opening of the season. I’ll have to find something else to open next week before I head to Oakland to watch the A’s take on the Angels and the sports richest player Mike Trout on the real Opening Day.

31 of my favorite Clayton Kershaw cards for his 31st birthday

Posted in Collecting Kershaw with tags , , , , , on March 19, 2019 by Cardboard Icons

Future Hall of Famer Clayton Kershaw turns 31 today. Here are 31 of my favorite cards from my collection to celebrate his birthday.

eTopps Kershaw Rookie Card is a thing of beauty

Posted in Collcting Clemens, Collecting Kershaw, Misc. with tags , , , , , , , on March 19, 2019 by Cardboard Icons

Way back before Topps started The Living Set, the 150 Years of Baseball set, or any of the other on-demand sets that have been for sale on the company’s site, the company had a thing called eTopps — essentially the precursor to on demand cards.

I’ll admit I am not an expert by any stretch of the imagination when it comes to this, due in large part that I really didn’t like the business model for eTopps so I didn’t spend a lot of time learning or dealing with it.

The basic idea was the cards were available for sale on the site for a set price, and were available until sold out or for a limited time. And to my understanding you could keep the cards on the site and trade them like stocks, or you could choose to have them delivered later.

That was way too complicated for me when the company started eTopps in 2001 and by 2008, the year of Kershaw’s rookie cards, I still hadn’t grown to love the idea of paying for single cards directly from the company.

The eTopps model continued for several more years but looks to have stopped just a few years ago, but some of the business model has morphed into what we now know as the on demand market.

The reason this comes to mind today is a recent addition to my collection — the 2008 eTopps Clayton Kershaw Rookie Card, serial numbered to 999 copies and encased in a plastic holder with a holographic sticker to ensure the card has not been removed. The card arrived over the weekend and once in hand it’s easy to see why anyone could have fallen in love with these cards. The question now is whether I leave it in this holder, remove it and put it in something else — due in part to the fact that it looks like the card is upside down based on my preference — or send it to BGS so it can be displayed with my other Kershaw rookies.

As for eTopps cards, This is the third eTopps card that I own, one of which is a Roger Clemens Card designed to look like 1984 Topps — That Card was one of the New were autographed during a special signing session at Topps.