Yo dawg I heard you like printing

Being sort of the resident print expert over at SABR Baseball Cards has resulted in me getting tagged into other print-related discussions online. It also meant that people like Jason have started to alert me about non-baseball-related sets that I should be interested in from a printing point of view.

The most-interesting of those sets was manufactured in 1906 by Liebig’s Extract of Meat Company. Liebig was a massive producer of trade cards around the turn of the 19th century. Most of these appear to have been printed through chromolithography. There were enough sets produced by Liebig and its ilk that in some parts of the world it appears that trading cards are still known as chromos.*

*Where trading cards are known as “barajitas” in Latin America, they’re known as “cromos” in Spain.

Liebig sets are wonderfully printed and fantastically varied in subject much in the same way that American and British Tobacco cards depict subject matter that runs the gamut from sports to geography to history to anthropology to science and nature. The key difference is that the Liebig cards are huge—much larger than the traditional baseball card size and close to four times the size of a tobacco card. As a result the artwork can be much more detailed and informative.

Jason had specifically informed me about a set which details the production of the cards themselves both through illustration and print progressives which demonstrate how the image looks as each ink is added. This set immediately became something I’d occasionally search for on ebay. It’s there but not cheap. While some pre-war cards are affordable, this did not look to be such a case. Jason however suggested he had a source where it was way cheaper and offered a trade where I’d help out with some fast graphic design expertise in exchange for him sending me the set. So I did. And he did.

The cards arrived last weekend and they’re wonderful. I received the French issue* which, while I can’t read French, I have enough experience doing tech support and QA on non-English computers that I can sort of muddle my way through a lot of romance and germanic languages now.

*There are Italian and German versions as well.

They’re in remarkably good shape for being the oldest cards in my collection* and the depth of the printing is indeed fantastic. Chromolithography looks so much different than modern offset printing. No halftone line screens although there are dot patterns in the different inks. Also there are 14 different inks used on these cards and the resulting images have much different tones than anything you’ll get with modern four-color offset printing.

*Though not the oldest cards in the household. That honor is held by a 1901 T-175 Heroes of the Spanish American War card of Albert Beveridge which is in my wife’s collection.

Anyway, because these cards themselves describe how they’re made I’ll take each card one by one.

Card number one is titled, “The artist composes the subject.” The back, rather than going into the detail of this step chooses to offer a brief description of lithography itself. It was invented in 1796 by Alois Senefelder. It’s useful in reproducing signs, designs, colors, etc. from an original artwork. Liebig works with many artists to create all kinds of chromos.

The front shows an artist whose work gives a hint at the diverse nature of Liebig’s subjects. The progressive though is what’s most interesting to me since it shows the first three inks (two colors and gold) that get printed.

I’m intrigued that the gold goes down first. Metallic inks are opaque so the order they get printed can make a big difference in how things look. In modern printing they usually go down first because they’re denser but sometimes they get thrown on last because they cover up everything else.*

*I always had to check with the pressman on how he wanted things to be trapped.

With this century-old printing, the ink order appears to generally be reversed. Where on modern multi-ink printing presses the dark colors go down first for density reasons, back when colors were printed one at a time you printed the lightest colors first so you could register them while you could still see them on the press sheet. Starting with the yellows and light tans produces a faint image but one where you can still distinguish the inks from each other.

Card two, “Extraction of the lithographic stones.” Lithography requires a specific kind of fine-grained limestone.* As this card specifies, the stones are from a Jurassic deposit found in Solnhofen, Bavaria** but can also be found in France in Le Vigan, Gard. They can also be found in America and England albeit of a lesser quality than the Solnhofen stone. The stones are cut to be 5 to 10 centimeters thick and ground flat. They’re colored yellow-grey and on occasion blue-grey—which indicates a stone that’s especially suited for printing fine details.

*Hence the “lith” portion of the name of the medium. This is literally writing with stones.

**Non-printing nerds may know of this deposit and quarry as the location where Archaeopteryx was discovered and as the single source of all Archaeopteryx fossils. And yes this is why one Archaeopteryx species’s scientific name is Archaeopteryx lithographica.

The image on the front presumably shows a picture of the Solnhofen quarry and shows how the limestone in the quarry guides the thickness of the slabs that get cut. To print these cards you’d need fourteen different slabs.

The progressive has added light cyan and a darker tan. Already Mr Liebig’s face is starting to look real with the blue providing a decent amount of shadow detail. The gold is no longer showing up on the list but we’re at five inks used now.

Card three, “Lithographic reproduction,” contains a bunch of details about how lithography actually works. A reversed image has to be drawn using special oils on a polished stone. With colored subjects, the design has to be drawn on multiple stones, one stone for each color although when inks overlap even more colors can be produced. Nothing I can make sense of as for how the different color components are determined though.

This description finally starts to get into the actual process of how lithography actually works. At it’s heart it’s just the oil and water principle. The design gets drawn on the stone in oil or grease. The stone is wetted. Water doesn’t stick to the design. The stone is then inked. Ink is oil based, sticks to the design, but doesn’t stick to the water. Then the paper is pressed against the stone and takes the ink.

The image shows a room with multiple artisans each drawing on a lithographic stone. Note that everyone’s working on a large-scale lithograph rather than something card sized.

The progressive meanwhile has added a brown and a light magenta ink, taking our total to 7 inks used and giving Mr. Liebig a little flush in his cheeks.

Card 4, “Printing proofs.” After the stones have the grease drawing on them they’re cleaned with Nitric Acid.* This cleaning allows the non-oily parts of the stone to accept and hold water so only the oily parts attract the ink. Before the final printing, progressive color proofs (which will look very much like the progressive portraits of Mr. Liebig) are run beginning witt the lightest colors and ending with the darkest.

*Diluted since limestone aka Calcium Carbonate and concentrated acid will react.

It’s nice to see my observation about the progressive proofs being explicitly mentioned. We’ve now got a pair of darker cyan and magenta inks added to the mix as well.

And the image shows a number of printers all working single sheet hand presses that squeeze the paper against the stone in order to produce the print. This is a pretty labor-intensive process where the wetting, inking and paper pressing is all done by hand.

Card 5, “Final printing.” When the proofs are sufficiently close to the original artwork, the rotary pressman can follow them. The original artwork is transferred multiple times to a new, larger stone which undergoes the same polishing, drawing, and acid wash as before only this time it’s wetted, inked, and printed via automated cylinders.

I wish this described how the images are transferred from the small stones to be printed multiple times on the large ones. It’s very interesting however to see a depiction of the automatic press. I’ve only seen lithography done as art prints now so hand-presses are the only surviving production method.

The automatic press shows why offset printing is a commercially more viable process. Instead of a stone which has to be inked by rollers moving across the entire surface, modern offset lithography uses metal plates that have the same oil/water surface but can also be wrapped around a cylinder. The water can get applied via rollers. Same with the ink. A rubber blanket cylinder transfers* the ink from the plate to the paper (also on a cylinder) and, since it’s softer than stone allows for a more-even print while also protecting the stone image from being degraded by paper.

*Hence the term “offset” being used since there’s no longer a direct contact between the plate and the paper.

The printing industry just needed photography to catch up to its needs. We used photography to convert images to halftone screens. We used it to expose plates. And we used to create multiples of a single piece of artwork.

Also I can’t help but point out that a woman makes her first appearance on the cards as the press operator.

Meanwhile Mr Liebig now features dark brown and dark cyan inks and is looking nearly human in his 10 inks plus gold frame.

Card 6, “Cutting and packing.” The sheets are cut mechanically. They’re then counted and packaged for shipping. The rest of the text describes the progressive proofs in twelve colors plus gold and calls out the new colors that result in the completed image.

The bindery is a basic hand bindery with a mechanical paper cutter and lots of desk space for people to count and sort and package everything. This is still a pretty common thing. While super-advanced automated systems do exist, for small jobs doing it all by hand is the way to go. Cutters are safer and counting is usually done by weighing the finished product but otherwise yeah, lots of hand work at this point.

Also, while the progressives specific 12 colors plus gold, the last two inks added on the list are dark magenta and medium grey. Black never gets mentioned despite being clearly in the image not only as his name plate but also the final detail work in Mr. Liebig’s irises.

This isn’t an oversight but instead reflects how Black doesn’t show up much in the images. Black objects usually get there because of mixing the other inks. You only need to generate the black component to save ink or prevent too much getting put on the paper. Black typically only shows up on it’s own Key* plate and is used for text and border colors and so.

*Why it’s assigned K in the CMYK model.

So yeah. Where modern printing would print this in five inks (CMYK plus metallic gold) in 1906 this used fourteen. Lots more work. Lots more effort. All for something that was being given away. Still, super duper cool and I love having these in my collection both as a explanation of how chromolithography works and as a demonstration of what they actually look like. Thanks Jason!

First TTM roundup

A post as promised when I wrote about getting into TTM requests. I’ve now received all the envelopes that have been accumulating at my parents’ house.* Did I say over a dozen before? Turns out it was closer to 30.

*Yup. I’m over 40 and my parents’ address is still the closest thing to a permanent address that I have.

Yeah. I’m a firm believer in the “fill up the hopper” approach for this kind of thing. Send a ton out early and then take things easy and not worry about sending out as many later. I expected returns to trickle in bit by bit—taking two or three weeks at best—so having a good batch of returns I was waiting for made a ton of sense.

I was not expecting so many returns to take between one and two weeks instead. That’s been a super-pleasant surprise and meant that I perhaps front-loaded my letters a bit.* Anyway aside from a second Neshek return I’ve been getting everything sent to my parents’, tempering my excitement, and biding my time until my sister brought everything over.

*Although trying to get everything to Spring Training sort of forced my hand.

This is going to be a big post so I’ve broken it up into three different sections that cover the main categories of people I’m sending to.

Stanford

I sent a bunch of request to Stanford players. Guys who pre-dated my autograph-hunting years. Guys who came after. And in the case of Ryan Turner, guys who I watched play during those peak autograph-hunting years.

Ryno was the first return I got back. Only 7 days too. I was very surprised. I mentioned him a bit in my Mussina post but he’s noteworthy for being the first player in the Colorado Rockies organization and his 1992 Bowman and Upper Deck cards are the first Rockies cards produced.

Jeremy Guthrie took 10 days to get two cards back to me. As a player who’s about the same age as me, Guthrie is exactly the kind of player who I would’ve felt super uncomfortable getting a signature from back in the day. This isn’t a bad thing or a regret, just an observation.

I like that Guthrie changes his uniform number to match the team he’s playing for. Some guys use their current number. Others stop doing that after they make it to the majors.

Bruce Robinson’s 8 day return shows the promise and fun of TTM requests. I sent him one card. He sent me back five signatures. My card, the signed index card I use as a bit of stiffener in the envelope, and two signed and personalized business cards are pretty cool but he also wrote me a very nice letter in response.

I guess it shows how much I enjoyed writing the letter to him. Robinson gets credited for modifying the catcher’s chest protector to have a hinged protective flap on the throwing shoulder. It’s even called the Robby Pad. I mentioned how, as a Product Design guy, just seeing the ubiquity of that invention in today’s game must be pretty satisfying.

It looks like I need to check out brucerobinsonmusic.com and write him back now. Kind of surprised that I’m the first Stanford collector out there too. But I guess it’s nice to have such a solid collecting niche too.

Jim Lonborg was another fast return in only 8 days. As the 1967 Cy Young Award winner he was arguably the most-prominent Stanford player in terms of winning awards until Jack McDowell won the Cy Young in 1993.

Lonborg represents my first custom return too. I whipped up a “1949 Bowman plus 1954 Topps” custom of him for Mark Hoyle since Mark has so much stuff that he’s impossible for someone like me to send anything to. The thing about using the 1954 Topps template though us that it sort of needs a signature to really sing so I figured I’d try and get one signed. He kept a couple copies, returned one, and I’m really pleased with how it turned out.

Chuck Essegian’s card also came back in 8 days. He’s the last of the guys who started playing in the 1950s but I chose to leave him for whenever I did a summary of 1960s Stanford players.

Essegian is most famous for hitting two pinch hit home runs in the 1959 World Series—there’s even a cool 1970 Laughlin card of this—but he bounced around playing for 6 different teams (Phillies, Cardinals, Dodgers, Orioles, A’s, and Indians) over 6 years of cards.

Doug Camilli is another 1960s guy. His card came back in 8 days as well. I went with 1965 Topps because it’s one of my favorite sets. He was mainly a backup catcher but did get to catch one of Sandy Koufax’s no hitters so that’s pretty cool.

Camilli is tough since many of his cards are high numbers. His 1962 high number rookie I’m never going to get. His 1966 high number is as crazy as the rest of the 1966 high numbers. Thankfully I found a deal on his 1967 high number.

Bob Gallagher sent back my card and a nice note in 10 days. when sending these letter I sort of wrestled whether to out myself as an alumnus but eventually settled on it making the connection to my project even better.

Gallagher had a short career—only 2 Topps cards, one with Houston and one with New York—so I chose his 1974 card since I’ve never liked getting cards with facsimile signatures signed. I should probably track down his SSPC card as well since that one will probably look best signed.

Don Rose signed his only card in 11 days. Rose is one of the Stanford guys who intersects with my Giants fandom. Unfortunately he never got a Giants card.

Darrell Sutherland signed my 1966 Topps card in 14 days. Sutherland, as with Rose, had a pretty short career so I’m glad that he got a couple of cards out of it. His 1968 is one of those hatless awkward crops so I’m happy the 1966 is such a traditional pitchers’ pose.

Drew Jackson was my first Spring Training return coming back in only 11 days. He’s been bumping around in the Mariners organization for a few years but the Orioles picked him up as a Rule 5 draftee last winter so he’s on a Major League roster now. It’s fun to write a “congrats on making the show” letter and these Bowman designs look pretty nice signed.

Frank Duffy had a nice long career in the 1970s. His 1976 card came back in 18 days with a fun “Go Cardinal” inscription added. I had a lot of card choices here but 1976 is a design I’ve always liked to get signed.

Duffy is also one of those guys who played for the Giants but never got a card.

Jed Lowrie has signed on and off so I didn’t know what to expect when I sent to him. These two came back from Mets Spring Training in 18 days complete with the inscription. Getting A’s and Astros is wholly appropriate since he’s bounced between those two franchises a lot. He’s yet to show up on ay Topps checklists this year so it’ll be interesting to see what product he finally shows up in with the Mets.

This has been fun enough that between the Alumni Game post and Sunken Diamond post I’ve put together a page of all the Stanford Autographs I have now.

Former Giants

I figured I should go through my Giants duplicates to see who was worth sending out. It’s been a fun exercise of letting my duplicates guide me into doing some research and learning about players who I never got to see play.

Joe Amalfitano came back in 10 days. As one of the last New York Giants Amalfitano’s a fun addition. That he’s also a baseball lifer who’s not only still working in the game and actually working with the Giants is an added bonus.

This is the big return that makes everything else worth it. Juan Marichal took only 10 days. When I was a kid Marichal was on the “don’t even think about mailing to him” list so seeing him turn into a reliable signer is pretty cool. I kind of wanted to send a 1974 Topps or 1972 In Action card since the leg kick is so iconic but I eventually went with the extra 1965 I got from Dimebox Nick.

I’m still amazed that I have duplicate 1960s cards let alone duplicate Hall of Famer cards. 1965 is a beaut of a set and never ever a bad choice for signatures.

Bob Bolin also came back in 10 days. When you think of the 1960s Giants pitching you think of Gaylord Perry, Juan Marichal or Mike McCormick but in 1968 only Bob Gibson had a better ERA than Bob Bolin in the National League.

Tito Fuentes came back in 8 days and included a nice index card. I’ve always liked Tito’s signature with the star dotting the I plus the nice baseball tail. It reminds me of how my son signs his name right now in all the best ways. Plus he’s one of those players who everyone likes.

He was the Giants’ Spanish-language announcer on KLOK when I was a kid and while I didn’t listen to every game in Spanish we’d turn it on on occasion and try and listen to the game. Sports is a good way to help learn the language.

I had his signature on a ball but I always intended to get him on a card. I’m glad I had a 1970 card handy instead of the 1975 I had acquired for this purpose 25 years ago.

Ken MacKenzie was another fast 8 day turnaround. While he played for the Giants he’s much better-known as an original Met who Casey Stengel immortalized as the “lowest paid member of the class of Yale ’56.”

Hobie Landrith took 9 days. He’s most famous for being THE original Met as he was their first selected player in the expansion draft.* Landrith also caught Juan Marichal’s first game so it’s nice to get the pair of them in this first batch.

*This is in comparison to Ryan Turner being the Rockies first player taken in the amateur draft rather than the subsequent expansion draft.

The 1978 Rob Andrews came back in 11 days. This card is a family favorite. Since it was double-printed I come across it a lot. As a result it’s become both boys’ oldest Giants card and they really enjoy having it in their collection.

And I got the Jack Hiatt that Night Owl sent me back in 11 days. Hiatt was the Giants back-up catcher for a number of years but had a great stretch in the first half of 1969 while Dick Dietz was injured. It’s nice that this card includes that stretch in its stats.

2018 Giants

A huge batch of the requests I sent out were packages including my customs from last season. I would call this “current Giants” but I sent to, and got returns from, guys who are no longer with the team as well. Most of these requests included a Topps card or two plus a stack of customs with a request to sign one and keep the rest.


The first return here was a big surprise. Dereck Rodríguez sent four cards back in only 10 days. As the sort of breakout rookie last season I had him pegged as a long shot of a return but he appears to, so-far, be a great signer.

I especially like the two customs he signed. As one of the breakout stars of last season I sent him a bunch. I’m especially happy with the one of him batting but there’s also something nice about a classic horizontal pitching action photo.

Will Smith also signed in 10 days. This is a great return. I love the way the Heritage card looks signed. So happy Topps stopped using the Giants in black Spring Training uniforms. I’m pretty sure the 2019 card is not of him but he signed it anyway and the custom of his roster card looks great.

Smith also signed both Wille Mac Award cards. Not sure why but this is appreciated nonetheless even though the black ink doesn’t show up well. It occurs to me that a Willie Mac Award Winner project could be an especially fun one for a Giants fan to embark on. I already have a few: Brenly, Krukow, Uribe, Bedrosian, and Manwaring from my youth and Speier, Dravecky and Pence as gifts from the wonderful members of Card Twitter.

And finally, Smith signed the silly Skybox-Basketball-style cards I made of the players in their ugly sweatshirts. As soon as I saw that post I thought there had to be something I could do with them. When I saw those 1990s Skybox designs I figured I should give it a shot and make a run at those 1990s colors and gradients. I didn’t really expect to get these signed but they were too much fun not to send off.

Ray Black signed his sort-of-disturbing 2019 Rookie card in 14 days. I had sent him an extra for him to keep but he signed both.

Black kept his ugly sweatshirt cards as well as the ones commemorating his relief no-hitter (9+ innings of no-hit relief work) last season and sent me back his signed roster card. I very much appreciate that he changed pens and used a silver sharpie on this custom. It’s a sharp look for the dark background and shows that he’s a very sensitive signer.

Sam Dyson signed his 2018 card in 14 days. Dyson made the most pitching appearances last year and was an integral part of the Giants bullpen. Unfortunately this also meant that he rarely showed up in any highlight situations since he just racked up holds and neither finished games nor was on the mound when the wheels fell off.

Dyson signed both of his roster cards but he did keep his ugly sweatshirt cards. I hope that, as with Black, this means he liked them instead of just tossing them.

Reyes Moronta signed everything I sent him in 16 days. I’d sent him an extra rookie card since I’ve heard that Topps doesn’t provide them to the players but he sent both back. I probably should’ve written to him in Spanish.

He also kept none of the customs. It’s cool to have doubles but I also feel guilty getting this many cards back. I don’t want to be one of those guys who contributes to the burnout that players end up feeling for TTM signing by sending too many in a request.

I was excited to get an Abiatal Avelino return in 16 days. My eldest’s first reaction to the Andrew McCutchen trade was to ask if the Giants got any guys we’d seen at Trenton.* He was excited to learn that Avelino was part of the trade and even more excited when Avelino got called up in September.

*I was extremely impressed at the maturity and baseball purity of this response.

It’s things like that that help prevent my son from converting to being a Yankees fan like so many other local kids. Trenton is a great Minor League experience and seeing players like Aaron Judge, Miguel Andujar, and Gleyber Torres make a splash in the Majors only a year or two after we watched them is pretty exciting. Realizing that they might not make the majors as Yankees and instead appreciating them wherever they end up—including the Giants—is a much less dangerous mindset for the kids.

Avelino also signed his sweatshirt card! This is just too cool and I can tell he thought about where best to put his signature.

Chase d’Arnaud is tied at 7 days for my fastest return.* He seems like a super-nice guy since he’s already responded to and reacted to my tweet thanking him. I especially love the position player pitching card.**

*Ryan Turner and Pat Neshek are also 7-day turns. Given the way USPS works I’m not sure anything shorter is even possible. 

** I also sent one to Pablo Sandoval but I don’t expect that to come back.

Gorkys Hernández sent a great return in 14 days. He was another breakout player last year whatwith being one of the team leaders in Home Runs. I understand why we let him go but I’ll miss him just the same. I’m happy to have him in the album.

He signed one each of all the customs. I really like the variations in the photos here and he’s got a nice-looking signature too.

My last return was also my longest so far. Chris Stratton in 32 days coming in much closer to the way I expected things to turn out. He kept all the customs I sent him—kind of flattering actually—but it’s nice to have the signed Topps card. Stratton’s final stat line didn’t look that great but he pitched the best game of 2018 and really held the staff together at times in the season.

When I received this card Stratton was still a Giant. He’s since been traded to the Angels and while I understand why he went (no more minor league options) I’m a bit sad to see him go.

And whew. Almost 3000 words. I didn’t expect this many returns at all but what a wonderful “problem” to have. What a great start to this whole TTM thing. Pretty sure things are going to calm down a bit moving forward but we’ll see where things go. I’m looking forward to sending a few more letters out here and there as things come back.

Buttes film

Working through my film backlog brings me another roll of film from like ten months ago. Most of these are from the Sierra Buttes hike.

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Tolkien

On our big New York day trip, the stop I was most looking forward to was visiting the Morgan Library to see the Tolkien exhibition. As a long-time Tolkien fan* being able to see the actual artwork that I grew up with on the covers** was super exciting.

*Lord of the Rings is on the short list of books my wife had to read when when we got together and I’m in the process of reading them now with my eldest.

**Specifically the Ballantine editions that published in the 1970s.

I don’t have much to say about the book illustrations aside from how great it is to see them in person. It’s always nice to see how he envisioned Middle Earth and being able to see the actual brush strokes is especially wonderful.

The best part of the exhibition though is all the ephemera related to how he developed the books. His working maps with multiple layers of revised geography. His lettering sketches where he’s working out how the fire writing or other illustrations will look. Notes about units and how Hobbits will measure distance or volume. Timelines so he can keep the multiple storylines synchronized.

Much of this information didn’t make it into the Lord of the Rings Appendices. Instead I’ve seen people reassemble and compile it after the fact. It’s fantastic to see that he considered it all during development.

Related to this, I love the production notes and how his desires for the artwork printing was more than the printer was able to do at the time. From the red sun and dragon on the classic Hobbit cover to the silver on black desire for printing the Doors of Durin* it’s nice to imagine what things could have looked like. I can’t help but wonder why no one’s printed a copy of Lord of the Rings which follows Tolkien’s desired artwork reproduction.

*So as to mimic the look of Mithril on rock.

Finally, there were a lot of items that didn’t relate to Middle Earth but which demonstrated Tolkien’s development as a graphic artist. I kind of loved these too. His sketches and doodles are wonderful. You get a sense of his esthetics and his love of lettering and it was great of to see these with my kids so they could see how doodling is a way of practicing skills.

There’s also an amazing letter from his mom—who has the same hand lettering that he uses throughout his books. I’d always thought that his lettering was something he practiced and created himself. It turns out that he owes much of it to his mom. And that’s pretty cool.

Sunken Diamond Visitors

Of course it wasn’t just Alumni or Stanford players whose autographs I got at Sunken Diamond. Stanford played a very competitive schedule. Not just was the Pac 10 South* a bit of a powerhouse with Stanford, Cal, UCLA, USC, Arizona, and Arizona State, but Stanford also played yearly series against good teams like Cal State Fullerton and Fresno State. I saw a lot of good players come through.

*For whatever reason in the late 80s and early 90s the Pac 10 had two 6-team divisions for baseball.

At first I only learned who I’d seen after they made it to the pros. But we had a subscription to Baseball America and I realized that I could use its scouting reports to start prospecting. This started off on a basic level with just getting signatures whenever the cover players were guys who’d come through.

So in 1990 it was Bret Boone. I was already aware of Bob Boone as a Stanford alumnus and had a vague dream of maybe getting this cover signed by all three Boones.* Yeah I only got Bret. Upside down because that’s the orientation I handed it to him (lesson learned, make it as easy as possible when you hand someone an item).

*It occurs to me that Bret’s son is playing college ball locally… But that would be kind of weird.

This turned out to be a decent prospecting job too. Bret went on to have a good major league career. Over a dozen years. An All Star a couple times. A few Gold Gloves. Pretty respectable stuff.

The following year a bunch of Arizona State guys were on the cover. I’m not sure how I didn’t get Tommy Adams but I did get Jim Austin and Mike Kelly. Despite the hype of the million dollar outfield, only Kelly went on to have a Major League career with 6 years in the bigs.

Once I started to read the scouting reports and mark who the top prospects were who’d I’d be seeing each year I had to get a bit more creative. I decided to use the photocopied roster inserts from the scorecards so I’d have a record of both the year and the team. These aren’t the most-attractive artifacts but they’re pretty handy for identifying everything I’d want to know about the circumstance of the autograph.

Anyway these are:

  • 1993 UCLA—David Roberts, Ryan McGuire
  • 1993 Arizona State—Doug Newstrom
  • 1994 USC—Aaron Boone
  • 1994 Arizona State—Antone Williamson

Turned out to be a mostly-successful batch of prospects. Boone and Roberts had pretty good careers and McGuire and Williamson both made it to the bigs. No one made it huge but I can’t complain.

Interestingly, for some reason the USA cards in Topps Traded didn’t include many guys who came through Sunken Diamond. The only card I got signed by a visitor was Dante Powell when he came through with Fullerton. But he also made it to the bigs—even playing for the Giants—so that turned out pretty well.

New York City

Took the boys on a nice trip to New York during Spring Break. They’re old enough now that navigating Penn Station isn’t a concern and they have the stamina to walk a couple miles before running out of gas.

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The first place we went was the John T. Brush Stairway and Polo Grounds location. Ever since I visited a couple years ago they’ve been asking for me to take them. I even warned them there wasn’t much to see but they insisted.

Turns out they were plenty happy just walking down the stairs and seeing the plaque. Seeing Yankee Stadium across the river and learning about Coogan’s Bluff was enough. They asked me to describe where the rest of the stadium was and they were predictably interested in where centerfield would’ve been. I was surprised and pleased at how much they enjoyed this.

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We then headed to Central Park for lunch. We had to take the subway and change trains at Yankee Stadium. I totally forgot about Opening Day and so we could have easily run into crowds had I scheduled this trip a day later. The boys though enjoyed seeing the stadium as well as the Polo Grounds location from the station.

They played on a playground by The Met before running through central park for a bit. It’s great. Walking on city streets is a recipe for complaining but give them the same distance in windy paths and rocks to climb on? They will happily run the entire distance.

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They ran all the way to the Museum of the City of New York. There was a nice Jackie Robinson show there that I thought they’d enjoy. It was indeed a nice little exhibit. Lots of photos of him hanging out in the Ebbets Field dugout and in action on the field. The more interesting part was all the magazines—Look and Ebony mostly— with articles featuring him even before he’d actually played in the Majors. I suppose I’d realized that him signing a contract was a big deal too but I didn’t realize the degree the national spotlight was on him even before 1947. The kids liked the photos and videos—especially the one og him playing with his own family.

There was also a nice room of Corduroy drawings where the kids sat and read books for a bit. I never read these books as a kid but it’s clear that mine have. And we went through the New York history rooms to get a quick primer on the history of the city. They’re not ready to go through slowly and read everything* but they’ll absorb what they can from even small exposures.

*Since I’ve already gone through these rooms I wasn’t too upset about going fast this time.

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Then we walked back to the subway and really got into tourist stuff. We got off at Grand Central and I made sure they looked up at. They were impressed. Then I took them outside and made them look up at the Chrysler Building. They were impressed again.

We then made a visit to the Morgan Library (post coming later) to see an exhibition on Tolkien before I refueled them with a sandwich and we made our way to out final stop of the day.

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When I previously visited the New York Public Library I had stuck my nose into the children’s room and texted them a photo of Winnie the Pooh. so I figured they’d like to see the real thing. The eldest acted all cool about it* but the youngest was enchanted. Lots of fun to see his face light up as soon as he recognized what he was looking at.

*Yes it’s kicking in already.

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Then we wandered back to Penn Station. The boys got to see the Empire State Building as well as Macy’s for a last couple of highlights. And we took the train back home. All told, a ten and half our day of mostly walking and train riding. they were very tired that night but also had more than a day’s worth of memories they enjoyed recounting.

Getting Zapped in time for the Thunder Open House

As I, and my son, have gotten more and more into Trenton Thunder games I’ve started paying more and more attention to Kenny’s Twitter feed and blog. In addition to being a prolific trader whose Zippy Zappings are somewhat legendary, he’s a big-time Yankees prospector and autograph seeker. While the prospecting life isn’t for me, knowing who to expect to see in Trenton and who the likely big deals are is good information. At some point I suspect my kids will take over this knowledge base but for now Kenny’s my go-to.

Since Kenny is located in New York City he has access to the Staten Island Yankees (also the Brooklyn Cyclones but we don’t talk about the Mets) and sees Yankees prospects fresh out of the draft. When he realized that the Trenton Thunder were having their open house last Tuesday he put together a package of Staten Island extras and sent them to me and my boys so we could start prospecting on our own.

I suspect he’s also trying to convert them into being Yankees fans. Many of the local kids around here have turned their backs on their parents’ teams and have instead begun to support the Yankees. It would be infuriating if it weren’t so pure. Trenton is a good experience and the past couple years with Aaron Judge, Gary Sanchez, Miguel Andujar, and Gleyber Torres all making the jump from Trenton to New York City means that the kids are really just following the players’ careers and being excited about them making The Show.

This would be super concerning to me if the Andrew McCutchen trade hadn’t gone down the way it did last year. But seeing Abiatal Avelino in Trenton and then seeing him play in San Francisco later that same season? Super cool. We also got to see Billy McKinney, Brandon Drury, and Justus Sheffield last season and none of those guys are with the Yankees anymore either. My kids have already learned that the Yankees like to trade for players during the season and that minor leaguers at the Trenton level are frequently exactly who gets sent the other way.

Anyway I got my first Zippy Zapping on Monday. Just in time. Inside were three piles of cards—one each for me and the boys.* Plus a bunch of other ephemera from Staten Island. Like I said, I think he’s trying to convert us.

*Yes plural. The youngest is old enough to go to games now and has been jonesing to go for a while. He’s super pumped for the season and is more than ready to join his big brother.

One thing the Trenton is great at is giving away the program at every game. It’s fantastic and welcoming. I thought perhaps this was just a Trenton thing but since Staten Island appears to also do it maybe it’s a Yankee thing. I’d be impressed if it were.

I think this is a complete run of monthly programs from 2016. The first one has an embarrassingly low-resolution cover image but it’s really interesting to see how much roster turnover there is form the first program to the last one.

Also two ticket stubs from last season. I may as well link to Kenny’s post about these games. I’m kind of shocked at the prices. Trenton isn’t cheap but is cheaper than this (San José meanwhile papers the house so everyone feels like they can afford to buy BBQ and churros). I hope the food at Staten Island is affordable since this seems like it would be tough to take families to.

On to the loose cards. Two of the Chromes are for me. The Abreu is for getting signed at Trenton. And the other three Minor League cards are to be divided among the three of us.

Kyle Crick is the guy the Giants sent to Pittsburgh (with cash) for Andrew McCutchen; who then turned into Abiatal Avelino and Juan De Paula. De Paula meanwhile just got shipped to Toronto with Alen Hanson and Derek Law for Kevin Pillar. So in a sense the Giants got rid of Crick, Hanson, and Law and received Avelino and Pillar in exchange.

Kyle Holder is currently with Trenton with Albert Abreu. David Sosebee is with the Yankees’ AAA club in Scranton. And Josh Roeder is now in the Marlins organization. Travis Phelps meanwhile played a couple years in the Majors for Tampa Bay.

Like the Abreu, the rest of the cards were intended for autograph hunting. I didn’t have time to scan anything before the Open House so instead I’m scanning what got signed  and moving into a rundown of the event.

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DSC_0157I took the boys directly from school. The event started at 3:00. We got there around 3:45 and just wandered around the stadium before grabbing our $1 hot dogs once batting practice started. They loved just watching the players hit.

One of my favorite things as a kid was to get to the park early and watch the teams practice too. There’s something very calming about it and it warms my heart that the boys share my mindset. I’m glad we can all watch together.

Around 5:00 we went up to the autograph line. They were excited—a little too excited—so I gave them each a Thunder baseball and told them we’d try the cards another day. Juggling everything was going to be tough. Which meant I was the only one getting cards signed. I gave the notebook method a shot this time and it’s pretty nifty. Definitely a timesaver if you have a lot of cards you’re managing.

The autographs were managed so well that everyone finished signing like 20 minutes early. Finished in this case means that all the fans in attendance had gotten everyone’s signature. This is just as well since it was pretty chilly and as much as I like minor league ball, the way the players get treated (and not paid) is making me feel really guilty about enjoying it.

Anyway, to the autographs. Two non-team-set cards are of Jorge Saez and Trevor Stephan. Saez has been stuck in AA for too long. He’s better than this and is a perfect example of many of the things wrong with the way Major League Baseball treats minor leaguers. He enjoyed the blast from the past with this card featuring him with the Blue Jays though.

Stephan was the only top prospect to show up (Albert Abreu was on the list but ended up not being in town) and sort of carries himself like he knows it. Still nice enough but definitely someone who’s already been asked to sign a ton of autographs.

Kenny sent us three 2015 Staten Island Yankees team sets. A lot of the players in this set are with Trenton. I don’t normally go for minor league sets but I figured, what the hey, if I have the cards I may as well try and get them signed. Jeff Hendrix, Jhalan Jackson, and James Reeves are ones I recognize from last season. Kyle Holder and Brandon Wagner are new to me but joined Trenton after I’d stopped going to games in June.

Of note here is how different Holder’s signature looks from the certified one Kenny sent.

He also sent us three 2016 Staten Island Yankees sets. Only a couple of these guys are with Trenton. For now. Ben Ruta was on the team last year and Angel Aguilar was a late late promotion. Kenny suggests that a lot more of the guys in this set will make their way to Trenton before the year is up.

I like the way they signed in the white space on these cards. A marked difference compared to the the signed cards that Kenny sent me.

I’ll sit on my copies of the team sets for additional autograph purposes. The boys are already making noise about putting theirs in the binder. Yes they also want to get them signed. I’m going to have to talk to them about how it’s one or the other for now.

That finishes up my Zippy Zapping. Thanks Kenny for getting the new season off on the right foot!

I’m not sone with this post though because I also brought a few of my own cards as well. Jason Phillips is the Trenton bullpen coach but played catcher for the Mets for a few years. And I’d grabbed some 2018 Topps Heritage Minors cards from Tampa since that’s the lazy method of prospecting that appeals to my lower attention span. Unfortunately only Stephan showed up at this event.

The main autograph thing I was planning on working on was a team ball. I had one and I gave each of the boys one as well. I’m not planning on a compleat comprehensive ball but it’s nice to get one with 25 signatures on it. They’re good reminders of the event and the boys are both in love with theirs.

My ball is is an Official Eastern League ball. Supposedly they’re switching to the generic Official Minor League balls this year but I like having things being as specific as possible.

Image 2 is manager Patrick Osborn #13 who signed last but all the players left him the sweet spot.

Image 3: Brody Koerner #24, Trevor Stephan, Raul Dominguez #23, Jhalan Jackson #30, Mandy Alvarez #3, and Chris Gittens #34.

Image 4: Angel Aguilar #7, Kaleb Ort #29, Jeff Hendrix, Kyle Holder #6 and Bullpen Coach Jason Phillips.

Image 5: Pitching Coach Tim Norton #40, Jorge Saez #18, Francisco Diaz #8, Will Carter #11, Daniel Alvarez #31, and Trey Amburgey #15.

Image 6: Brandon Wagner #10, James Reeves #26, Ben Ruta, Wendell Rijo #12,
Nick Green #45, Trevor Lane #9, and Bat Boy Tommy Smith #48.

I like having the signed cards. I also like having the single ball as a memento. Small enough to store and display easily but also represents a memory, and set of memories much more than a card can.

I’m not going to run down the boy’s baseballs the same way since we all have the same signatures. I gave them the cheaper fake-leather balls since they have the Thunder branding and I was (correctly) expecting these to get beat up a little. Kids love their treasures but also tend to love them to death.

It’s a lot of fun to watch but also a serious marker into observing when they‘ll be ready for nicer things. They can graduate to real leather balls once they can buy them themselves and handle them better.

At least they’re happy having these in cubes and displayed in a place of honor on their desks. Could be worse. They could’ve been chucked into the big box of athletic equipment with all the other balls.

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All in all a very successful afternoon. Worst part of the day was getting them to calm down after we got home. They’re both amped and ready to go to their first game and are even asking to go early so we can watch BP. April 14 can’t come soon enough for them. Good thing they’re part of Boomer’s Kids Club. It’s going to be a fun spring.