Archive for Seattle Mariners

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.

An auto a day … #1

Posted in An Auto A Day with tags , , , , on August 19, 2014 by Cardboard Icons

So, a few weeks ago I had the pleasure of attending the National Sports Collector’s Convention in Cleveland.  It was my second such event.  During my multiple days in Cleveland I happened upon a dealer who had dozens — literally dozens — of three-row boxes in which every card was priced at $1.  And among these cards was a ton of autographs.

Well, as I alluded to in an earlier post, I bought about 100 signed cards, some duplicates.  And my intent was to show them off in one Thrift Treasures post, but I changed my mind because I love these cards and what they represent.  Instead I’ll show them off individually along with some interesting facts about the player.  The goal is to post one a day.

We’ll start with a 1996 Leaf Signature Extended Autographs Jeff Nelson.

IMG_2828

I’m a sucker for successful relief pitchers, the underdogs of all major league rosters. And I have a fascination with the 1996-1998 Donruss/Leaf Signature series cards as I find that they were important series in our hobby’s history.

When these cards were produced, he Donruss Trading Card Company was doing something that no other company was doing at the time — offering certified autographs of Major League players.  We’d been seeing prospect signatures for nearly half a decade by 1996 thanks to Classic/Score Board, but no sets with established major leaguers in their MLB uniforms. And while by today’s standards the player selection in these large signature series would be considered watered down due to the abundance of middle relievers and mid-level players, I think it’s actually a fascinating as these continue to be some of the only certified card for many of these guys.

Today I showcase Jeff Nelson, the large right-handed reliever who spent much the majority of his career with two teams, the Seattle Mariners and the New York Yankees.

Nelson broke into the majors in 1992 as a member of the Mariners and spent four years in Seattle before heading to New York and becoming an integral part of their multiple titles. In fact, Nelson has four — yeah, FOUR — World Series rings (1996. 1998. 1999, and 2000), all as a member of the Yankees, and had a career strikeout ratio of 9.5 per 9 innings pitched.Like it or not, he was an important part of the Yankees Dynasty and a member of 1998 team, which is considered to b the best — or second best — team in the history of the game.  Nelson ended his career in 2006 after 15 seasons in the Bigs.

Nelson has two rookie cards — 1992 Donruss and 1992 Fleer Update — and just one certified autograph, the one shown above.

Panini’s Elite Extra Edition Ichiro Card Makes Me Laugh

Posted in Newspaperman with tags , , , , , , on March 20, 2012 by Cardboard Icons

It’s very subtle, and unless you spent some time in the Pacific Northwest watching Seattle Mariners baseball, you may not get it.

But this 2011 Elite Extra Edition Ichiro card really is an homage to some of the funniest commercials in baseball.

The card, pictured to the right, features Ichiro in an interesting pose.  We usually see players in action on baseball cards, but with Panini, things aren’t that way.  Because Panini isn’t allowed to use MLB logos, the company use different kinds of poses to shield logos.

On this Ichiro card we get him looking over his shoulder, and it instantly reminded me of the Mariners commercials starring Ichiro. Continue reading

Ex-Mariner Edgar Martinez mistaken for ex-Steelers coach Bill Cowher?

Posted in Newspaperman with tags , , , , , , , , on October 14, 2009 by Cardboard Icons

93scoreMartinezThe early ’90s Score All-Star Team subset cards are the object of my objection. I HATE these things because the artistry shown of these cards is horrendous. I know many people were bashing artist Brian Kong for his sketches that have appeared in Topps products this year, but what the heck was going in the early 1990s? Look at this 1993 Score Edgar Martinez All-Star card, it looks like the artist mistook Martinez for former Pittsburgh Steeler’s coach Bill Cowher.

Card of the Day: 2000 Upper Deck Signed Jersey Alex Rodriguez

Posted in Card of the Day with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on February 3, 2009 by Cardboard Icons

00udarodautoxxBefore Alex Rodriguez was considered the game’s greatest player, publicly linked to Madonna and called the 25 Million Dollar Man, he was merely a rising star; a candidate to be among the game’s elite.

He was a stud shortstop for the up-and-coming Seattle Mariners. Hitting in a lineup with future hall of famers Ken Griffey Jr. and Edgar Martinez; playing on the same field as Randy Johnson. Continue reading

Card of the Day: 2000 Ovation Ken Griffey Jr. (Reds)

Posted in Card of the Day with tags , , , , , , , , , on August 1, 2008 by Cardboard Icons

Eight years ago, Ken Griffey Jr. went home. He went from being a superstar in the Pacific Northwest to a hometown hero. He traded the Mariner blue for Cinicinatti Reds pinstripes. Then for some reason his health betrayed him like Mother Nature or the Almighty himself was a Seattle fan. Griffey became an injured star; a shell of his former self. And aside from a few milestone homers, since that move fans have been relegated to watching old highlights of The Kid, or low lights of him hurting himself while round third base in a spring training game or chasing a routine flyball. But before The Kid became an old frail man, he was the greatest player the game had seen in decades. And when he made that move to Cincy, this 2000 Ovation card was one of the first to picture Griffey in a Reds uniform. It was one of the hottest cards on the market. Continue reading

Card of the Day: 2004 Sweet Spot Signatures Ichiro autograph

Posted in Card of the Day with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on July 11, 2008 by Cardboard Icons

I’ve finally netted myself an Ichiro autograph. The card featured here, 2004 Sweet Spot autograph, has been in my collection now for four days and I am still in awe staring at it. Since Ichiro broke into the Big Leagues in 2001, I’d always wondered if one day I would own one of his signatures. He’s a great player with a world-wide fan base, and because of this transcontinental love fest for Ichiro, the prices of his collectibles are nearly higher than anyone else. And when it comes to autographs, we’re talking a whole different ballgame, which makes this acquisition of mine even finer. Ichiro had an exclusive autograph deal with Upper Deck during the early years of his MLB career. Neither Topps, nor Donruss, nor Fleer could produce an Ichiro card baring his signature. Continue reading