Monday, February 29, 2016

They Were Discounted- But Not the Five Finger Kind

I've got to be honest. One of the most frustrating things about being a parent is trying to keep your child clothed at a time when she's growing like a weed.

I was reminded of this recently when my wife and I took our daughter out to look for some snow boots. She was getting ready for the winter camp that her school has for the middle school-high school each winter, and the boots we bought her last year (which she wore maybe twice) were too small for her. So we went shopping, hoping to find a pair that were affordable- knowing that she would probably grow out of them before it snows again here in the valley. My mind began souring on the idea pretty quickly, though, as we checked Payless and found they were wanting $60!! There was no way we were paying that much for something she'd wear once, so we checked the next closest place- K-Mart.

We settled on a larger pair of snow boots that my daughter can grow into (at about half the cost) and I decided that I'd check the card aisle while we were there. 

I didn't know if the Big K even had cards anymore, but I found some jumbo packs of 2014 Update that had been discounted at 40% off and went with those. It was perfect timing, as I had yet to start that set (and have been wanting to). 

One unfortunate incident happened as we were leaving-- the girl at the register apparently didn't get the security strip demagnetized, so the loud beeping went off as we were leaving. And, of course, everyone turned and looked at us.  I'm sure y'all have had that happen while buying cards, no?

Anyway, here are some of the highlights...

I'm convinced that being a catcher automatically qualifies you for a cool card. Even if you're sporting a Marlins logo on your jersey.

Mickey Mike Trout !

Okay- All-Star game cards have worn out their welcome. But I do like this one that captures the excitement of the HR hitting contest.

Will Mookie become a star? How about George Springer?

This design lends itself nicely to the horizontal shots- don't cha think?

Still have  a long way to go. If anyone out there has singles, here's my list of cards still needed for the set. Let me know if we can work out a deal...

Friday, February 26, 2016

Chopping it Down with the Help of Her Hands

Well, I stand up next to a mountain, chop it down with the edge of my hand...well I pick up all the pieces and make an island, might even raise a little sand ~ Jimmi Hendrix Voodoo Child (Slight Return)

There is no mistaking the work of some artists- Rembrandt's use of light and darkness (chiaroscuro); Hemingway's short, rhythmic sentences and his preference of nouns and verbs over adjectives and adverbs; Hendrix' experimental sound and chord voicing.

One trader within our card community whose packages are unmistakable is Julie from A Cracked Bat. I received a package in the mail this week that had no return address. The first thing I saw upon opening the bubble envelope was a note from the sender, and immediately I could tell it was from Julie. What gave it away? (well, besides her name- duh!) The 'Chop Chop' line; she always finds a way to include it and something else related to clipping, cutting, cropping or chopping. It's kind of frightening, actually. Oh, wait, it's a play on my blog name.

 Other characteristics of Julie's trade material range from the surprising (autographed Dale Murphy card) to solid stuff I didn't have ('95 SP Championship Series) and everything else in between.

The content of this package didn't take me by surprise- Julie had said she was sending some Update my way. Her frustration with the product is my gain, I guess you could say. Onto the cards....

We have a current Brave

Former Braves:

Celebratory shots

Pictures of puffy-cheeked pitchers

A rare action-shot in contemporary Topps

And a pitcher whose curveball is the best pitch in an impressive repertoire.

This was no slight return (32 cards in all) for some cards I had sent Julie's way and one that chopped down what seemed to be an insurmountable mountain- finishing that 2015 Topps Update Set.

Thanks again, Julie!

Jimi Hendrix Voodoo Child (Slight Return) by GlendoraDent

Wednesday, February 24, 2016

Great Pages in the Annals of Topps #2: 1978 (#307-315)

Pride, as a vice, is an ugly thing. Early church father St. Augustine once said that it "changed angels into devils." Some folks would rather 'be right' and go to their grave unreconciled to a loved one than to humble themselves and admit that they are the one who might be wrong. Another thinker (I forget the name) once described pride as 'arrogant ignorance.' In other words, where wisdom is the ability to know and recognize truth, pride is the antithesis to wisdom: an inability to see things as they truly are. That same writer went on to describe pride as a distinctly human vice, where 'we (ironically) imagine ourselves more than human.'

I'm certainly not immune from embarrassing situations (read:pride), but one, in particular, sticks out in my mind. In my younger years (from about ages 16-22) I went through the stage of wanting look like a rock god. I played guitar, was in a band, and wanted to emulate those heroes of mine. So one of the things I started to do was grow out my hair to where it was long enough to get a perm. Not the tight-spiral stuff that we will talk about shortly. No- this was the loose, wavy perm sported by many of the hair-metal kings. But that wasn't enough; I later decided to get highlights.

And so I talked my mom (who is a beautician) into giving me those golden locks. But instead of going down to her shop, she decided to do it at our house. Now, if you've never seen it done, there is a rubber cap that would be slipped over the head. The cap had all these holes throughout it, where a crochet hook-type thing would pull the hair through the holes so that the bleach or coloring could be applied.

More modern version-but you get the picture

Anyway, there I was at one of our tables, looking like Medusa, when I suddenly hear a knocking at the front door. We had these french doors- allowing us to see who was at the door- and as I looked up, I became mortified. It was a female friend, whom I had dated briefly in high school but had remained friends with(believe it or not). My rock-god persona quickly came down to earth.

Looking back, I can laugh at myself. I've found a self-deprecating sense of humor to be a wonderful remedy to this problem. But I wonder about others- how they deal with embarrassment.

Especially when it's captured on cardboard for all eternity- or at least for our earthly existence. Perhaps it's a Sutton-perm, or a caterpillar across one's forehead; an empty stare or being forced to wear a ridiculous pill-box cap and pinstripes (and who hasn't been forced by mom to wear something ridiculous?). And remember that time your school pictures turned out horrible, and you had that huge zit on your face and they didn't airbrush it out? Yeah, Greg Minton feels your pain.

Monday, February 22, 2016


Melody: a sweet or agreeable succession or arrangement of sounds; a rhythmic of single tones organized as an aesthetic whole (Merriam-Webster)

I love Saturday mornings. It's the one day that I (usually) don't have to be anywhere by a certain time, giving me a foretaste of what retirement will feel like. Is it any wonder that it's my favorite time of the week?

My typical Saturday morning involves coffee, reading, writing and listening to music while lounging in my sweats or pajama bottoms. And the earlier, the better. No sleeping in for this fellow. The earliest I leave the house is usually sometime after lunch. Have I mentioned how much I love Saturday's?

The routine was broken up a little bit this past weekend, but not due to work or anything other unpleasantries. In fact, it was intentional and involved going to Hastings to pick up a CD that had been released the previous day. I probably wouldn't have done such an out-of-the-ordinary thing if it wasn't something I've been anticipating for, oh, 30 years.

Heavy Crown, the debut album by Last in Line ( featuring 3/4 of the original Dio lineup) is something I've been waiting for all that time- not that I thought it would ever happen. I was/am a big fan of the first three Dio albums, primarily because of the guitar playing of Vivian Campbell, whose melodic playing is fused with blazing speed and is very reminiscent of his hero- Gary Moore. After his firing from Dio, Viv spent a tour with Whitesnake, did a couple albums with the River Dogs (among other projects) before settling in with Def Leppard 24 years ago. While I did like his stuff with River Dogs, I feel like his talent is wasted with Leppard. So his return to 'guitar hero' status with the Dio-ish sounds of Last in Line are a welcomed treat.

Something else that was very welcomed arrived Saturday- a trade package from Greg over at Night Owl Cards. This one, in particular, was like music to my ears. A melody, if you will, with a number of singles from seven different sets, organized as an aesthetically pleasing whole. (note: there are seven pitches in the diatonic scale. Coincidence?)

The '79 Topps set seems to be a difficult one to find cards in nrmt condition. Most of the cards in my set are in less than mint condition- so these cards from Greg will fit right at home in my binder. The set also brought an end to 1970's cardboard. While '70s cardboard are not my favorites (I'm an '80s man), there's no denying that no other decade featured as many colorful characters- which provides us bloggers plenty of material write about.

Ronnie James Dio was hired by Black Sabbath in June of 1979, replacing former vocalist Ozzy Osborne. Dio would record two albums with Sabbath- 1980's Heaven and Hell and 1981's The Mob Rules- before setting off on his own in November of 1982 to put together his own band. He would recruit the aforementioned Vivian Campbell (a 20 year-old unknown at the time) as his guitarist and the band would release their debut album, Holy Diver, in May of 1983.

When it comes to music, 1982 and 1983 are two of my favorites for the hard-rock/metal genre; those years are also among my favorites for Topps sets, and Greg included these two much-needed cards for my sets.

The last year I would buy any baseball cards before my return to the Hobby would have been 1984- and very few were bought that year. My interests were quickly changing and in the fall of 1984 I would buy my first guitar.

Although I was still a huge sports fan, my hero worship would move from athletes to musicians such as Campbell. The ending of my collecting wasn't the only 'end of an era' at that time; in August of 1985, Dio would release its third and final studio album with Vivian, who would be fired shortly after the Sacred Heart tour.

I may not have collected during this time, but I have since made up for that lost time and purchased a lot of '85 Topps cards to build a set. I was in need of 327 (!!!) to finish the set until Greg sent me the following 8 cards. With a wantlist now standing at 319, I still have the card collector blues.

Another set I've decided to take on with very little to start out with is the 1995 Topps set. Night Owl was kind enough to send 7 cards to help me out (there we are with that number 7 again!). The good news is that I found an eBay seller who had an auction for a 'complete your set'-type of lot. But that's a post for a different day. Anyway, the '95 set had some interesting photography, but is one of the ugliest sets they've ever done- IMO.

One of Viv's trademarks is his use of 'double stops'- or two-note harmony runs. Simply put, it's playing two notes at the same time. Included in this package from Greg were two cards from 2014 Update and Highlights or whatever it's called these days.

Rhythmically, Viv used a lot of the standard rock/metal root 5 and root 6 bar/power chords while in Dio. The final of the seven sets included many from the 2015 Update set- 26 in fact. But since that's an awful lot of scanning I'm going to stick with the music theme and scan five or six.

Thanks again for the welcomed additions to the collection, Greg. Oh, and one other thing...

ROCK ON!  \m/

RIP, Jimmy Bain

Sunday, February 21, 2016

Sunday Comics #3: It Happened on My Birthday

Did you hear the good news? The Pittsburgh Pirates are bringing back some pretty sweet throwbacks this year, paying tribute to their 1979 team. That Pirates "We Are Family" team won their last World Series title that season and featured two of my childhood favorites, Dave Parker and Willie Stargell.

Here's a piece of trivia: How many home runs have been hit out of Dodger Stadium?

I'll let you take guesses, but there's been at least two. As you can see, Willie Stargell pulled off the feat twice- the first of which came on the day of my birth. In fact, Willie was the only player to have done it at the time this card was produced. Others have done it since.

Bonus points: Has a comic strip on the back of a more recent card mentioned any of the other players?

Friday, February 19, 2016

Cast of Characters

My Wednesday was bookended with two related events: one of the first things I read in the news that morning was of the death of Nathan Barksdale, the former Baltimore gangster who inspired certain characters in David Simon's HBO original series The Wire. The end of my day was spent watching the finale of the same series. Upon completion, I realized how a good story is a lot like a baseball season: it's built upon creation (or, beginning), fall and redemption. And it always leaves you wanting more.

Another thing that always leaves me wanting more is opening new cards- whether in packs, boxes or, as in the case of today's post, a trade package. One such trade package came my way recently from Brian, the proprietor of the great blog Play at the Plate. Brian and I discovered we matched up with 2016 Topps needs, so a trade was quickly agreed upon and product exchanged. 

And like a good story, every trade package includes its own interesting array of characters. Let's take a look at some of the individuals included in what I received in the trade (along with some of those characters from The Wire). 

The Wire was produced and set in the heart of the city of Baltimore, Maryland and depicts the relationship between different institutions (drug trade, the seaport system, city government and bureaucracy, the school system, and the print news media) within B'more and the city's law enforcement. There's even an episode (5:2 Unconfirmed Reports) in which Baltimore Sun general assignment reporter Scott Templeton attends the Orioles home-opener, looking for a hook to go with his color copy on the game. Frustrated that he's not getting any good quotes, Templeton fabricates a story about a handicapped 13 year-old boy who couldn't afford to get into the game. The journalist's compromising of the ethics of the trade will play an important part in the fifth and final season. 

Of course, Baltimore was the scene of an interesting game (the 'No Fans' game following the Freddie Gray riots) last season between the O's and the White Sox. It's pretty obvious that the photo for the White Sox team card included in this trade wasn't taken during the Orioles game- they're wearing their home uniforms and you can see what I believe to be fans in the background. Oh, and speaking of cheats...the ChiSox have Melky Cabrera on card number 122- also included in the trade.

I don't know if Night Owl has ever had to deal with dishonest journalists in his work as an editor, but I'm sure he would take a stand for journalistic integrity, just like City Editor Gus Haynes, who butts heads with Templeton, as well as his superiors more than once. Surely Night Owl wouldn't embellish about how good of a season Justin Turner had in 2015, would he? Well, the back of Turner's card tells us he had a 4.0 WAR. I guess numbers don't lie.

My favorite character on The Wire is an addict named Bubbles (played by Andre Royo). 'Bubs' is a compassionate man who has tried to clean himself up a number of times but always finds himself back to using. He lives in the streets and provides for himself by selling second-hand items out of a shopping cart (Bubbles Depot, as his hand-written sign reads) and also earned a few bucks here and there as an informant for detective Kima Greggs.

While my stack of cards didn't (to my knowledge) have any addicts, there is a card of one player whose nickname could be 'Bubbles'. After all, Freddie Freeman is known for his affectionate hugs. While many of the characters on The Wire are livin' the thug life, Freeman (card #241) is livin' the Hug life.

Speaking of the thug life... two of the most despicable characters, Avon Barksdale and Marlo Stanfield, are thugs to the core and become embroiled in a bitter turf war for corners in which to do their drug trafficking. Avon is a powerful veteran of the Westside drug trade and the man whose crown Marlo Stanfield is seeking. Stanfield is a 'ruthless and cunning young player' (HBO's The Wire site) and will stop at nothing to get full control of the West Baltimore drug trade.

The back of card #283 informs us that Felix Hernandez passed Johan Santana with his 1,989th strikeout last season, making "The King" the all-time strikeout champion among Venezuelan-born pitchers. He might be aging, but the King still reigns.

Season Four of The Wire takes a look at the school system of Baltimore and introduces four boys who are entering the eighth grade. Two of the young'uns (Namond and Michael) become involved in the game as runners on Bodie Broadus' corner and, though both are products of similar environments, their character arcs are vastly different.

The Houston Astros entered the 2015 season young and hungry- but not expected to compete for another two years (according to SI- remember that?). But with the help of rookie Carlos Correa and Cy Young Award winner Dallas Keuchel, the 'Stos arrived early- earning an AL Wild Card berth after going 86-78. Card 302 featuring the boys celebrating after what appears to be a walk-off win.

Finally, we have Detective William Moreland, also known as 'Bunk.' The Bunk is a veteran in the homicide department and has a propensity for being a philanderer and a hard-drinker. Despite these shortcomings, he is a loyal cop who's good at what he does and "has a low threshold for bullshit, excepting his own, of course." (as described on his character page on HBO's The Wire site)

Brian also sent me a card (#337) of a dude who plays half of his season not far too from Baltimore. He doesn't smoke cigars- and if you ask him to go out for a drink he'll probably say, 'that's a clown question, bro.' But he is pretty good at what he does- even if the only people who like him are fans of the team.

These were just a few of the cards that I received from Play at the Plate. There were just too many others in the supporting cast and time is short.

Thanks again, Brian, for helping me get got some of the cards from my set.

 Collecting, trading and blogging really is the life of kings.


Wednesday, February 17, 2016

Captured on Cardboard #1: Now You See It, Now We Don't

Topps missed a great opportunity for a tongue in cheek moment with today's card. Considering the photo on the front of the card, what they should have done on the back of the card was show Ortiz with the glove on his left hand and an empty right hand. Now you see it, now you don't.

The ball could have disappeared quicker than it did on one of the league-leading 40 homers Ortiz gave up in 2002. Despite all the home runs allowed, Ramon would have the best year of his career as the Angels would win their first and only World Series. 

It's too bad that the Angels uniform pictured on the card didn't disappear as soon as a prototype was made. Both jersey tops and hat rank among the worst ever, in my opinion.

Monday, February 15, 2016

Coming Out

My boss sent out an email a few weeks ago asking those of us who are either department managers or in sales to provide a short bio that will be featured in upcoming newsletters and on our various social media sites. "Give it a personal touch," he exhorted us. 

And so I struggled for the next couple of weeks, trying to find just the right things to say. I'm a bit of a perfectionist and, like always, found myself unhappy with what I had put on paper. I finally settled on a couple of short paragraphs which included my 'coming out,' if you will: baseball card collector. I didn't want it to sound so juvenile- so I said that I "enjoy working on a complete run of Topps baseball sets dating back to the mid-70s." I guess I've never come to grips with the truth that I have never completely grown up and so I have to paint a more mature picture of myself.

Speaking of the mid-late 70's and my childhood... I've recently discovered something else I've suppressed for years: I want a Seattle Mariners Trident hat. 

I've mentioned it before but I'll say it again. Before I became an Atlanta Braves fan, I was a Seattle Mariners fan. Living in the northwest, it was a natural attraction and I was able to follow them from their maiden voyage. I would listen to their games on the radio and watch what few games would be broadcast on a local television channel (which would not happen until the early 80s). We also made a number of trips to the Emerald City, with an M's game- or Seahawks game- as a part of the vacation. 

Despite my fandom, I would never own one of the original logo caps. I would eventually get the 'Star Trident' logo'd hat from the early eighties- and would have it until around 1990. I eventually bought a pretty sweet trident t-shirt during our trip to Seattle back in 2010 but it's seen better days and isn't something I would wear in public at this point (I wore it while painting the house, and it shows). 

The airbrushing of the hat on this 1977 Topps card (#14) doesn't do the logo justice. Neither does the equally-bad airbrush job on its O-Pee-Chee counterpart. Smith's Topps card, by the way, is the first Mariner card in a Topps set.

A visit to the M's store on their website pulled up a few of the desired hats. But as a fan of one team, do I dare wear another team's colors on my lid? Or do I just keep it in my closet?

Sunday, February 14, 2016

PWE from Buc and Ray Country

About a month ago I received a PWE in the mail from Buccaneer and Rays Country. No- that's not the name of the blog, but rather the area of the country where Jeff from Wish They Still Came with Bubblegum lives. I'm not going to complain about his choice in baseball team's, but why he's a Falcons fan and not a Buccaneers fan, I'll never know- but I digress.

Jeff sent a nice assortment of Braves, Seahawks and even a card of a local kid. Let's take a look at all the goodness coming from the sunshine state...

Two of the Braves prospects whose debuts I'm most anticipating are pitcher Tyrell Jenkins and outfielder Mallex Smith. Both are expected to start at AAA Gwinnett this year but will probably get the call at some point in 2016. Each also represent the more all-around athletic player the Braves are looking to put into their system, something they had gotten away from in recent years.

Atlanta considered pitcher A.J. Minter a first-round type of talent heading into the 2015 draft and were thrilled to choose him at number 75- despite the fact that he would miss the entire season due to undergoing Tommy John surgery in March. Minter had good success during his time with Team USA but it's hard to get excited about a guy whose collegiate career consisted of only 58 total innings. 

Included in Jeff's PWE were two of many players that I have started collecting- only to give up on once they were traded. In the case of Bethancourt, I started seeing the writing on the wall well before his being traded and stopped collecting him. I wish the guy success in the future but his work ethic and focus needs a lot of improvement before that can happen.

Two of a few players returning from last year's roster, both of whom need to see improvements from last season. Freeman needs to stay healthy and prove that he can be an impact bat without much help surrounding him in the lineup, and Folty needs to improve his command if there is any hope of him being a starter at the major league level.

A strong rookie class this past offseason will overshadow the very promising performance put in by Seahawks return specialist/wide receiver Tyler Lockett, whose 51 catches and 6 touchdowns caught many by surprise. He also scored a touchdown on both a punt return and a kick return.

Tyler's rookie campaign was capped off with an appearance in the Pro Bowl game- not that anyone would have watched it, but cool nonetheless.

I'm sure Richard was flapping the mouth at some point during this play. I do like the looks of the Gridiron Kings, 2015 edition. Has that Topps Gallery look that I always liked.

Finally, Jeff also included this auto of local kid Shea McClellin of the Chicago Bears. Shea was born in my hometown and graduated high school about 14 miles southwest of us. He was drafted in the 1st round of the 2012 draft and played three positions (DE, outside linebacker, inside linebacker) under three different coaches during his four years in Chicago. Now a free-agent, it's a good possibility that McClellin, whose fifth-year option was declined by Chicago prior to the 2015 season, will be playing elsewhere in 2016. I'm not a fan of Leaf's products, but this is a very cool card of the former Boise State star.

Thanks again for all the great cards, Jeff. With the baseball season not too far off, I guess we will have plenty of time to watch some of these Braves prospects blossom. Hopefully the season won't be as bad as last year!