Archive for memories

Baseball cards continue to mark the timeline of my life

Posted in Memory Lane with tags , , , , , on June 29, 2021 by Cardboard Icons

From a young age I found that baseball cards in some ways acted as hash marks on the timeline of my life. I can remember certain cards associated with events of my life, both good and bad. And this weekend, they certainly found their way into my timeline as we celebrated the life of my grandmother.

Trips to grandmother’s house, which was about 70 minutes away from where I grew up, almost certainly involved me asking, begging and pleading with my mom to take me to a card shop, or anywhere I could purchase new cards. Sure, I grew up (ages 7-10) directly across the street from a card shop, but trips out of my neighborhood always presented new opportunities to see new shops. And so each trip to Fairfield, California, involved me finding cards somewhere. At times it was packs of 1989 Topps at Target; 1989 Donruss at the local corner store, 1990 Topps at 7-Eleven; packs of 1991 Classic Best Minor League or Donruss from some car shop.

I have lots of memories bringing baseball cards to grandma’s house and spending hours sorting them while the adults talked, argued, and laughed.

Grandma passed away in February of this year due to health reasons, she was 81. Grandma lived in Fairfield from the early 1980s through 2002 when she and her husband uprooted and moved to North Carolina, where pace of life was much more to their liking as they grew older. Since then her trips to California have only been for major events, a few weddings and graduations, but in recent year it was deaths. In 2017 her first husband died; then in 2018 her husband passed — I called both men “grandpa.” She came to visit again in 2019 to see her husband’s tombstone and to celebrate her 80th birthday with family. Then COVID came and stopped all plans for a 2020 visit. I last spoke to her during Christmas of 2020, she was so happy to hear from me. She laughed and cried; as did I as I could tell her memory was starting to fade. The came the call in February that she had been admitted to the hospital and then passed rather suddenly from non-Covid related health issues.

We’ve had a few months to process the passing, but we knew we as a family would gather again here in California when restrictions loosened so that we could have her ashes buried with those of her husband. And that’s how and why we all ended up near Fairfield again this weekend. And as luck or fate would have it, there just so happened to be a card show at Solano Town Center IN Fairfield. I knew I had to make it happen even if it was just for an hour or two with my son.

We went and it was the first real show my son had been to in almost two years; it was my first since March 2020 — literally as the country began to freak out over COVID. I remember it vividly because all autograph guests canceled their appearances over growing health and travel convcerns.

Anyhow, my son and I went to the Fairfield show and I had no expectations other than to find at least one card that I could use to memorialize this weekend; also to watch my son again dig through boxes and find something he enjoyed. I’ll probably post the small haul in a different post because I want to dedicate the rest of this space today to the one card I found.

We dug through a few bargain boxes and in one of the boxes I located this 1991 Score “Bo Breaker” card and it made me stop immediately. I knew I had found THE card for the weekend. Here’s the story.

In 1991 my family took a trip to Fairfield and my cousin and I visited a shop called “Batter Up.” To my recollection this was the second location for the store, but I recall it being larger than the ones I frequented in my hometown. They houses a dozen oshowcases with lots of singles, and for 1991 they seemed to have every pack one could want. During one trip I remember taking a few dollars and buying a fistful of 1991 Score Series 2 packs looking for a certain card — the “Bo Breaker.” The card features black borders and showcases Bo Jackson snapping a bat over his leg after striking out in a game. The reverse shows Bo finishing his swing with a broken bat in his hand. It’s sort of silly, but at the time it was a big deal. Anyhow, as luck would have it I pulled the Bo! But it didn’t leave the card shop with me.

You see, I didn’t get a ton of money for cards as a kid, but I loved opening packs. Every now and again my mom would give me a few dollars, but more times then not I earned my card money by raiding garbage bins for cans and bottles to recycle. So when I pulled this Bo, I asked how much the shop could give me in trade and the guy offered $3, which meant I could rip six more packs of 1991 Score baseball! (Insert eyeroll emoji here)

In the genius state of my 11-year-old mind this deal made total sense so I took it and then walked away with six more packs of Score figuring I’d pull another and just enjoy the extra stuff as well. Of course those new six packs did NOT contain another Bo Breaker and I went home with a stack of commons, which I still enjoyed (I later built the set with them) but certainly didn’t celebrate them the way I did or would have with Bo Breaker in my collection at the time.

I’ve owned a few Bo Breaker cards over the years, and have a few at home at the moment. But this particular copy feels extra special. I realize not everyone gets sentimental over their cards. But for me, it seems certain ones have been placed in front of me, just for me in that moment. And to find this card in the same city where we used to visit grandma, in the same city where the aforementioned transaction occurred 30 years ago, feels like the workings of something from beyond. And now THIS copy is going home with me to mark this occasion, this weekend. Love you, Grandma. Rest easy.

Card show bargain bin find brings back a fond memory

Posted in Memory Lane with tags , , , , , on March 10, 2020 by Cardboard Icons

Last week I managed to make it to the first night of the annual GT Sports Marketing show in Santa Clara, California. One of my favorite things to do it dig through the bargain boxes while everyone else is clamoring over the newest, shiny cards in the show cases.

As I dug through one dealer’s dollar box, I stopped dead in my tracks when I came to a stack of Frank Thomas cards because there in my hands was a copy of a card that I honestly called the second best card — second only to my my 1993 Elite Eddie Murray — I had ever pulled to that point in my life.

In 1994, I was a freshman in high school and my parents had been separated for about five years. My father was living with his girlfriend in a city about 15 miles away and on the weekends I would go to his house and spent time fishing and just hanging out. In that small town there was a card shop run by a gentleman who smoked cigars while customers browsed the shelves and showcase.

That year 1994 Score caught my attention because for the first time the brand had created parallel cards (Gold Rush) that were seeded one per pack and at the time that was a big deal. I bought a fair amount of Series One and completed a base set and had a partial set, so when Series Two was released I was excited.

I had no money, but my cousin — who is a year younger than I — had $10 and said I could borrow it if I promised to pay her back. You know I was down for that deal, and so she gave it to me and I plunked the cash down on the counter and asked for nine packs of 1994 Score Series Two — it would have been 10 packs if not for taxes.

I ripped pack after pack and somewhere in the middle of the session came out a 1994 Score “The Cycle” Frank Thomas card. It was one of 20 cards on the checklist, and the cards were seeded 1:72 packs, which was a common ratio for rare inserts of the time. And Frank Thomas was no slouch — his popularity in the hobby was on par with Ken Griffey Jr. at the time; they often traded top positions as the top player on the Beckett Baseball’s monthly hot player list.

When the cards were priced in Beckett, that Thomas — and the Griffey — were listed at $75. The Thomas I owned went right into a four-screw, 1/4-inch screw case for maximum protection — sans penny sleeve of course.

That Thomas stoked a great passion of mine to chase that entire set. I spent much of the fall trading various football rookies — Heath Shuler and Trent Dilfer to be specific — for various cards on the checklist, mostly the lower end guys. Dealers were more than happy to take the hot quarterback rookies for these inserts.

I never did finish the set as a kid, but it is something I have half completed at present time and intend to finish at some point.

Although I already owned a copy of this Frank Thomas card — it’s not available even for $75 — I could not pass on the chance to obtain another at such a low price. It’s not that I needed the card for my collection, but I needed it for my collecting soul and so that I could revisit that story and share it with you.

The kids will get to see Kershaw pitch

Posted in Collecting Kershaw, Misc. with tags , , , , , , on June 7, 2019 by Cardboard Icons

Today is a special day. Los Angeles Dodgers star pitcher Clayton Kershaw is set to take the mound tonight at Oracle Park, home of the rival San Francisco Giants, and not only will I be there to see the future Hall of Famer take the mound, but so will my kids and my nephew.

The Points are Poop gang will finally get to watch the player whose cards they see all over my home, the player whose game-used items and cards are frequently arriving by mail, and the guy whose picture I took in 2015 and had the image printed on canvas and eventually hung in my hallway.

This will be my fourth time seeing my favorite player pitch. My sister and I saw him in 2015 as he locked down the NL West title in San Francisco in what was scheduled to be a pitchers duel against Madison Bumgarner. Kershaw was masterful that night, allowing just one hit and striking out 13 batters. It was at that game I took the aforementioned photo I had printed on canvas, and it is also the game at which the image used on this 2016 Stadium Club Gold Autograph card was snapped.

I saw Kershaw again last season when the Dodgers came through Oakland; and of course My sister and I saw him at Game 5 of the World Series at Dodger Stadium when my favorite team knocked around my favorite player in order to clinch the World Series Championship.

If this was just me going, I would have ponied up for seats along the first base line, but with three kids going with me, the budget just doesn’t allow for such premium seats. Instead we’ll be taking the game in from the bleachers.

Kershaw may not be the dominant pitcher he was five years ago, and I won’t pretend that he is the best in the game — pretty sure Max Scherzer has that title at the moment — but it’s pretty special for me to bring my kids and my sister’s son to a game that features my favorite active player.

By comparison, I only saw Roger Clemens — my childhood favorite — pitch twice, once on Opening Day 1999, which his first start with New York, and again in 2007 as a member of the Houston Astros. My ex wife was with me on both occasions.

I did have loose plans to see him in 1997 when the Blue Jays came through Oakland in May of that year, but I had a medical emergency right around my birthday that prevented that from happening — I wound up watching that game from a hospital bed. And in the early to mid 1990s I really didn’t have the means to see him as the Red Sox ace, which is unfortunate.

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.

First Warriors game offers excitement, victory

Posted in Dad Life with tags , , , , , , , , , , , on February 11, 2019 by Cardboard Icons

Eight years old. So many questions. So eager to experience the sport live.

That was me in 1988 when my father took me to my first Major League Baseball game. It was in Oakland and the Athletics hosted the Baltimore Orioles that day. I can remember generally the events of the night. But it would be years before I could appreciate the intricacies of the game.

Oddly enough that age and description is also true of my son, who last night got to experience his first Golden State Warriors game. I grew up a baseball fan but enjoyed the other sports.  My son seemingly has taken a liking to basketball, and who can blame him.  It’s easy to be a kid who gets swept up in a sport that everyone in this area talks about because the local team has been the best team in three of the last four seasons.

I told my son about a month ago that I had purchased tickets for us to go see Steph Curry, Klay Thompson, Kevin Durrant and Draymond Green play – remember, this was before Demarcus Cousins was actually scheduled to debut, so he really hadn’t heard of him.

As we got closer to the date, he kept asking about the game, and increasingly paid more attention to the games as we watched on television.  Then last week he told me that he already had his outfit picked out, one consisting of a Steph Curry shirt, some Warriors sweatpants, and a pair of Curry Under Armour shoes.

His thirst for this one single game really tugged at my heart strings. I’m a divorcing father of two, a boy and a girl.  The kids are quickly approaching the tween years, and I am pushing 40 in less than 18 months.  I’m not going to call it a mid-life crisis, but there has been an emphasis for me to make memories with the kids, especially as it pertains to stuff I know … which is this case is sports.

I watch games with them; I include them in much of my card shop trips, and try to take them to as many baseball games as I can during the summer time.  But this Warriors game was special because the damn tickets are pricey, and for the first time it was not I who was asking to go to a game – it was my son.

We woke Sunday morning, Feb. 10, 2019, and one of the first things my son asked was if we could go to the card shop before going to the Warriors game … because he wanted to look at basketball cards.  And later that day we headed to Oakland and got to the arena about 10 minutes before the doors opened to the facility. We stood in line with thousands of others, and once we got into Oracle Area, we basically went straight to our seats so we could watch the players warm up.

There was DeMarcus Cousins shooting three pointers with the hood of his black sweatshirt pulled over his head.  And moments later came Steph Curry taking jumpers both inside the arc, and even half way between the arc and the half court line. Later Klay Thompson and Kevin Durant took the floor, takings shots all over the court.  This was not only my son’s first time seeing the Warriors, it was MY first time seeing this version of the Warriors. I’ve only been to a handful of Golden State games over the years and have not seen them since 2005, a night in which the Warriors hosted Kobe Bryant and the Los Angeles Lakers.  And every time I had seen the team before this time with my son, I had seats in the upper level. On this night with my boy, we were 18 rows from the court, behind the north basket. So this was a sort of “firsts” for both of us.

The game started slow pace for the Warriors as the Miami Heat took a commanding lead early, causing my son to look at me like he was a bit worried.  At one point Golden State was down 19. I leaned over and told him I was worried too, but explained that Golden State could easily close this gap because they have so many good players.

And that’s what happened. Golden State cut it to 10; and then had it down to 5 at halftime. GSW then took an 8-point lead through three quarters, setting up a fun final quarter in which Miami would close the gap and re-take the lead on the back of Josh Richardson who scored 37 points. The Heat even had the lead in the final moments of the game after stellar play by Dwayne Wade, who was playing his last game in Oracle Arena.  In the end, though, the Warriors triumphed after Cousins hit a pair of free throws in the final minute and Golden State’s defense helped prevent Miami from scoring a tying bucket as the buzzer sounded.

The game was close, but it made for an exciting fourth quarter which had my son smiling all the way to the car. The look on his face is one I won’t soon forget.

It was a great experience. We saw Curry hit — and miss — multiple three pointers; watched Durant dominate at times; witnessed Klay hit big three pointers at each end of the court, and watched Cousins and Green both play their brand of gritty basketball. And we got to see an NBA Legend in Wade make his final trip through Oakland.

Hopefully this game was the first of many he and I can attend. But unlike baseball, basketball games are much more expensive these days – the price I paid for the two tickets (plus parking) was about as much as I had spent on my Game Five 2018 World Series tickets. That financial hit makes it tough to get out to a mid-season game.