A pair of games

After our first game at the beginning of this month we decided it was time to try a couple more. A good thing too since Covid numbers are going up again and it might get a bit scary to take the kids out soon. Things aren’t bad yet and hopefully we’ll respond fast enough to turn things around rather than let them spiral out of control for a month.

Anyway enough about Covid, this is about the two baseball games we went to last week as a way of salvaging a bit of normalcy for the first time in over a year.

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The first game we went to was at Somerset where we got to watch some of the guys we used to watch at Trenton. It’s interesting to compare the experience to what it was when Somerset was independent a couple years ago. Food is definitely cheaper and the crowd is a bit more partisan. Something about Independent ball caused fans to be a bit agnostic about things. Being a Yankees affiliate in definitive Yankee territory though resulted in a crowd that’s a bit more vocal: heckling the opposing team, complaining about the Somerset pitching, etc.

Heck the crowd was a bit more aggressive than Trenton too. Definitely a different vibe and made all of us miss the Trenton experience a bit. It’s not Major League Baseball’s fault in this case since the Yankees are the ones who changed affiliates but the fact that Trenton ended up in the Draft League is something we can blame MLB for.

The game though was good. At first. Got through six innings in 1:45 and we were having a pretty good time. Baseball card night so we each got a small pack of four Bowman cards. Somerset was winning 6–1 and cruising. And then the wheels fell off. The last three innings took another 1:45 as Somerset’s relievers couldn’t find the plate and shipped eight runs to lose 9–7.

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Still it was good to get out. A bit of a weird experience as the smoke from the West Coast wildfires made the air hazy and the moon red but I really like the drive through the wilderness to and from the stadium. No autographs. The boys tried for Sparky Lyle but he walked too fast and neither of them is bold enough to walk fast or call his name.

Later last week we went to a Draft League game. With the Canada border opening up again, Toronto is moving out of Buffalo and so the Bisons are leaving Trenton and returning to Buffalo. The last AAA Thunder game was last Sunday and as a result, the Draft League Thunder are moving back to Trenton for the last week of their season.

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Through this month though the Draft League Thunder have been playing their games at Rider University. Free admission and I wanted to check it out. The experience couldn’t have been better. Maybe 20 of us in the stands at a small college field. Super fast crisp game—so fast they didn’t even have a national anthem or 7th inning stretch*—which finished in two hours. Started at 3:00. Ended at 5:00. 80° day with clouds in the sky and just enough shade in the stands to be comfortable.

*Still got Sweet Caroline in though.

I can’t think of a better way to spend an afternoon with the boys. Due to free admission you can’t keep foul balls but the Thunder equipment manager gave one to each of the boys since they were the only kids in the stands. Plus we added a couple more autographs to our binders. Jeff Manto is the Draft League Thunder manager and Derrick May manages the Frederick Keys and they’re both in the 1991 Topps set.

I got some of my dupes signed but I’m really just excited for the boys. My eldest is up to seven signed cards from his 1991 Topps set. He got Joe Oliver, Brian Harper, and two Frank Violas back in 2019 and has now added Casey Candeale, Jeff Manto, and Derrick May. My youngest was working my 1991 Donruss duplicates in 2019 but now has a 1991 Score set of his own so he’s gotten Candeale, Manto, and May this year to go with the TTM Will Clark he got last year.

I know I’ve wondered before what resonance these players have to my kids but I also know that by getting autographs of the guys who come through town as coaches it actually makes these sets more personal to them as well. They’re not just players who played when their dad was a kid any more. Instead they’re a way for my kids to document the games they went to with me over the past couple years.

Restarting Normalcy

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On Father’s Day the Trenton Thunder invited everyone who had been in the Kids Club in 2020 to a day at the park. They had dollar hot dogs and free popcorn and soda. The kids could take part in various activities like hitting from home plate and running the bases. It looked to be a fun thing to do and so I duly took the boys.

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We had fun. Good to be back at the park and remember what it felt like to be in the stands even if there wasn’t a game. Also good to see that we felt relatively safe there. Which is why when the Thunder offered us half-price tickets to any upcoming Tuesday night game I decided to get some.

So last Tuesday we went to our first game since September 2019. It’s been way too long. I should’ve gotten more than one game’s worth of tickets.*

*Seriously though, until the kids can get vaccinated I reserve the right to turtle the family at home for a month and committing to multiple games is not something I feel comfortable doing yet. As much as I’d love for this post to bookend my start of Covid post, we’re not out of the woods yet.

We ended up with seats four rows off the field, right behind the plate. The boys have never sat that close before and it would’ve been plenty of fun if that was all that we did. But it turned out to be quite the event-filled night out.

It was a mystery giveaway night so we all got bats. Not full size but not mini either. Two-foot bats are big enough to actually use and kind of scary as giveaways.* I’m glad I brought a bad to put them into otherwise the boys would’ve been swinging them all game and there’s a decent chance someone would’ve been accidentally noggined.

*Though not as scary as the metal BBQ spatula and fork set a couple years ago.

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Then, since they were wearing their BRIGHT orange Kids Club tshirts, they were approached to do two of the activities—specifically throwing out the first pitch and saying “play ball” to start the game. My eldest was game, my youngest was not. So the eldest ended up throwing out the first pitch and being named the “fan of the game.” Very cool.

Oh, also it was kids eat free night so they each got a free hot dog, bag of popcorn, and soda. Plus dollar hot dogs for the rest of us. No complaints here.

No complaints about the weather either. Kind of a perfect balmy night. No rain in sight. A crisp well-played pitching duel (even though the teams combined to go through nine pitchers) which the Thunder won 2–1 by coming from behind and scoring 2 runs in the bottom of the 7th inning. No pitch clock in AAA but we still clocked in at ~2.5 hours.

And we even got some autographs. Turns out the Trenton/Buffalo coaches feature a couple guys who have a ton of junk wax cards (including in the 1991 sets that each of the boys has). We only got manager Casey Candaele’s autograph after the game but it was a wonderful way to wrap up a perfect night. I got these two signed—I love the 1993 photo and it looks better on-card than in the scan—while the boys got a 1991 Topps and 1991 Score from their sets.* Unlike a lot of the times when I’ve wondered what their connection to an autographed card will be, Candeale has an obvious hook due to his brother and mom’s relation to A League of Their Own.

*My eldest is up to five (I think) 1991 Topps cards signed from his set while this is my youngest’s second 1991 Score. This isn’t a project as much as a fun way for them to use their complete sets as a way of elating to the players.  

The boys went to bed a little late and took a while to fall asleep since they were both a bit hyped up.

For my part I’m less excited and more almost relieved. Feels nice to do something normal again. But even besides Covid, it’s great to remember how much going to a ball game—especially a low-stakes minor league game—just relaxes me. I can enjoy the good plays but just the pace and ambiance does wonders for my peace of mind. I hope I can get to some more this summer.

Box of “Junk”

A couple months ago I received a box of cards from @Captnarrr who had grown tired of using it as a doorstop in his woodshop. No pages this time so I didn’t have the same sense of looking through someone else’s collection that I had from his previous box. Instead I just found stacks of mostly 1981 to 1985 Topps.

I’m not going to go through all the cards because they’re mostly commons and I don’t feel like scanning or photographing them all. But it’s a fun stack which hits a bunch of sets that fall into a bit of a black hole in my card knowledge.

Cards from before 1979 I never encountered in the wild as a kid so everything I’ve learned about them involved learning about them through hobby sources. However since I also spent a decent amount of time trying to choose which one of them I wanted for my collection, I got a chance to look through the commons binders and at least see a good amount of the sets.

1980–1985 though are cards which I opened exactly one pack of.* As a result, despite being cards that I’m superficially aware of, my knowledge has been limited to the ~15 cards I pulled over three decades ago.

*Except 1983 Fleer and 1984 Donruss which cost more than I could justify on a pack and so I just purchased Giants team sets. 

Which means that it’s been a lot of fun to just look through, sort these, and get a much better sense of some sets that, given my age in the hobby, I would expect to know better.

A few Hall of Famers (and one should-be Hall of Famer) to show some of the breadth of cards here. As a Giants collector, the league leader cards are things I don’t come across much in the late 1970s and early 1980s. And it’s nice for me to find cards of players like Carlton, Fingers, Perry, and Stargell who aren’t exactly 1980s stars but are fun to find in these much-more affordable 1980s sets.

And the Giants cards from the box.Most of these I have already. Some are upgrades to what I do have though. But most of them have been mixed in with my existing duplicates for distribution to the boys who still very much enjoy adding to their Giants baseball card collections.

It wasn’t just early-80s stuff in the box though. The oldest cards were a handful of 1961 Yankees cards including the always-interesting Ryne Duren who I’ll have to make sure to tell the boys about. It’s funny, I complain about the Yankees surcharge but I also have to admit that I’m more likely to recognize a random Yankee than a lot of other players.

A few other older cards included a card of Ruben Amaro Sr. whose son is part of my Stanford collection and a 1973 team card of the Mets which doesn’t appear to include Willie Mays in the team picture.

And finally, probably the weirdest part of the box was 15 Tigers cards from 1976. This is a significant portion of the base Tigers cards from that year but given how Captnarrr lives in he Pacific Northwest, I’m a bit confused about how/why he ended up with these being his stack of 1976s.

Anyway very cool. Lots of fun to look through. I’ve already sent a few out TTM* and I’ll probably continue to look through the stacks and get to know these sets better.

*Willie Wilson for example.

June Returns

A good month. I’m continuing to work my 1986 duplicates and am moving into my 1988 duplicates as well while mixing things up with some random Giants. That I got a few 100+ day returns is also a lot of fun.

The first success of the month was a 34-day return from outfielder Billy Sample. Sample played primarily with the Rangers so this Yankees card represents the end of his career. He had a decent 9 years in the Majors with a couple particularly nice seasons such as 1983. I was sad to not have a Rangers card to send but it’s always nice to add another 1986.

Sample included a very nice note on this photocopy of his 1987 Sports Illustrated article (Sample’s post-playing career has seen him publish, broadcast, and get involved with filmmaking). It’s the last page of a particularly nice issue which focuses on a single day of baseball. Looking through the online copy hits me right in the feels since this is the baseball I grew up with.

While at one level, the way I’ve been hitting my 1986 duplicates is opportunistic, it’s been especially refreshing to remember what baseball used to be like when I fell in love with it. Cards serve as that entry point but everything about the process serves to remind me why I still care about the sport despite all the crap that Manfred and the owners are pulling to make me hate it now.

A 7-day return from Mark Thurmond added a very short-term Giant to the collection. Thurmond bounced around a bit but is primarily a Padre. He’s strictly a one-per signer otherwise I would’ve included a Padres card as well. This is his only Giants card and also represents my first signed 1991 Fleer card. Not a set I reach for but sometimes I have no choice.

Thurmond is noteworthy for the somewhat ignominious achievement of losing both games in a double header. This was on June 16, 1985 against the Giants in San Francisco. Thurmond started the first game and gave up 5 runs in 3 innings before being pulled for a pinch hitter in the top of the 4th. In the nightcap, the Padres tied the game in the 9th. Thurmond was brought out to pitch in the 12th inning only to surrender the winning run an inning later. A rough day for sure but the Padres bullpen must’ve been totally shot in the second game.

Willie Wilson was an established veteran by the time I became a fan (even playing for the A’s a bit) which means that he was one of those guys whose card backs caught my attention when I was first starting off in the hobby. Nothing like a back full of agate type and with the occasional bold-italics that signified someone led the league.

Wilson had a lot of bold italics in the triples column and his 1980 line also shows him leading the league in plate appearances, at bats, runs, and hits. His single-season record remains the second-highest number of at bats in a season and it was fun to get this card back in 10 days.

This is a fun one. Johnnie LeMaster wasn’t even a replacement-level shortstop but his stunt with the Boo jersey is the stuff of legend. It’s not his fault that he was the best shortstop the Giants had for like five years. I loved the story when I was a kid; reading about it now and finding out that he only wore it for an inning makes it even better. It’s a priceless bit of Giants memorabilia and it’s fantastic that he’s kept and treasures it.

When I came across a photo of him in the jersey I knew I had to make a custom. He kept an extra and sent the rest back in only 6 days.

I also included this post card in my request. This photo is also kind of stupidly amazing since he’s not the player I’d think of most for wielding a hot bat (although his 1983 season was probably the best of his career). The signed result means this return is one of the best ones I’ve gotten ever.

So this was kind of amazing. I sent a request to Mark Leiter on a Monday and it arrived back in my mailbox the following Thursday. The only way this could be any faster than 3 days is if he somehow mailed the cards out the same day he received them AND everything at the post office went perfectly.

Anyway, Leiter wasn’t a Giant long but he did win the Willie Mac Award and it’s always cool to add an autograph of one of those winners. He also added the 1996 Score card featuring him with both a camera AND his son for the quintessential mid-90s baseball card photograph. His son is actually playing in AA right now and if they were signing at Minor League games I’d seriously consider bringing this card to a Somerset-Erie game.

Fred Lewis is a guy I remember from the Barry Bonds years and I love the story about how he flew himself out to Barry Bonds’s number retirement and ended up as part of the ceremony. Definitely the kind of thing the Giants do well. It turns out that Lewis also has a very-nice looking signature which looks great on this card. He sent this back in 37 days.

A 20-day return from Kurt Kepshire brought my first 1986 of the month. I’m mostly finished with my duplicates so it’ll be interesting to see how many more come back. This is the 59th in the collection which is pretty good considering I’m not pursuing a signed set.

Kepshire had a decent rookie season in 1984, wasn’t as good in 1985, but then only appeared in two games in 1986. It’s always amazing to me how a guy can disappear out of the league that quickly.

Of course the day after I received the Kepshire return, I received my 60th 1986 return. This time it was Andre Thornton in 63 days. Thornton was sort of the only Cleveland star when I was a kid. There were some up and coming guys (Carter, Snyder, Butler, etc.) but Thornton was the only heavy hitter.

Jim Lindeman is another guy who I watched in the 1987 post season. Even though I hate the Cardinals, I can’t deny that that team also brings me back. I was happy to find a card of him with the Phillies as well and enjoyed getting these back in 11 days.

Al Worthington is a bit of  a TTM legend. One of those guys who returns quickly and sends lots of extras. He’s also one of the few remaining New York Giants out there so I was very happy to get these back in only 10 days.

Worthingon is an interesting character. A lot of the stuff he sends back is tract stuff but he’s noteworthy for basically quitting two teams (one of which was the Giants) because they were stealing signs and signaling the batters. As much as this kind of cheating has been going on forever, not many players had the spine to make a stand about it like Worthington did.

Mike Bordick is one of those names I remember from my youth in the Bay Area. He’d go on to try and fill Cal Ripken Jr’s shoes in Baltimore but it’s his time with the A’s which resonates with me. This is also a fantastic photo the likes of which we couldn’t even conceive in the hobby when I started collecting only a handful of years earlier and I was very happy to get it back in 68 days.

A 27-day return brought a second Willie Mac Award winner to my collection this month. This time it’s Marvin Benard who was a bit frustrating at times but was definitely a big part of the team in the late 1990s. He brings my total of Willie Mac Award Winners up to 18 (out of 40) which is pretty good for something I’m only building casually.

At 353 days, Gary Thomasson is now my third-longest return.* He had a decent career as a Giant before a flurry of trades in 1978 sent him all across the league. I really like his 1974 card because of the view of Candlestick in the background.

*Only Jim Willoughby at 494 days and Juan Gonzalez at 418 days are longer.

Thomasson though is most noteworthy for his two years in Japan. Not because of his baseball prowess there but rather the way he inspired the concept of a “Thomasson.” It’s a snarky term architecturally in that it implies that something is not only useless but expensively useless. But for photographers it’s actually something inspiring.

Thomassons are wonderful and evocative as they suggest both the past usage of a building and the way a building live as an entity of its own. As a photographer, they’re the kind of detail I’m always looking for and the kind of detail I love to see when others find them. I especially like the concept when it applies to old roads and rights of way which have been abandoned or repurposed.

Some cards just kind of resonate. Sammy Khalifa’s 1987 Topps card for example is one which a lot of guys my age remember. Kind of the perfect combination of an interesting name and photo to stand out as a memorable common in the set that introduced my collecting generation to the hobby. I still like the photo today in the way it’s somewhat distinct from other cards. I enjoyed writing the letter about this card and was just as happy to get it back in 96 days.

Khalifa himself is an interesting story. Besides  being the first MLB player of Egyptian descent, he also quit playing when his father was murdered by an extremist.

Four home runs in a game is a big deal. When I was a kid though it had only been accomplished twice since 1961, once by Mike Schmidt in 1976, the other by Bob Horner in 1986. As such, Horner was kind of a big deal to me in my nascent baseball fandom. Getting a 10-day return on a 1986 card no less is the perfect way to remember that.

A 9-day return from Mike Ivie added another 1981 card to the collection as well as a second KNBR Police card. There’s something especially fun about sending out team issued stuff—even stuff like this card which breaks most of my rules for what kinds of cards I like the get signed*

*awkward size plus facsimile sig in this case being two things that typically disqualify cards.

On the topic of facsimile autographs, this 10-day return from Dan Schatzeder is another example of why I break my rule against using these cards. Since this is his only Giants card—and it’s a stretch to call it a Giants card—I decided that I should send it. It’s a little crowded but it’s a fun addition to the Giants album. I actually didn’t realize he was a former Giant until I pulled his 1988 duplicate so I’m happy I even had this available.

I’m solidly into my 1988 duplicates now but this 106-day return from Mike  Birkbeck was one of the first to go out. Birkbeck is currently a baseball coach at Kent State and just completed a decent season over there.

Another 1988 duplicate. This time only a 12-day return from Keith Hughes. He had a short MLB career and bounced around with five different teams over four seasons. According to Wikipedia though he hit a grand slam in the bottom of the 10th inning to give Mayagüez the Puerto Rico Winter League championship.

An 8-day return from Davey Johnson brought a great 1986 Topps card to the collection. I wanted to send his Giants card but didn’t trust the mail. Instead I sent a 1986 and mentioned in my letter how that World Series was the first one I ever watched and represented when I really began to be a baseball fan. That he inscribed it with “86 WS Champs” suggests that he read my letter and that’s pretty cool.

Back to 1988 duplicates. Terry Leach was a 107 day return and I enjoy the difference between his 88 Topps and 89 Donruss photos. Leach bounced around a lot in his professional career but 1987 and 1988 were his statistical high points so it’s nice that these cards cover those seasons.

Orioles fan favorite Floyd Rayford came back in 16 days. The 1985 represents his best season (131 OPS+) and the 1988 is a career capper. One thing that’s been fun as I work my duplicates and pull cards of names I remember from my youth but who had pretty pedestrian careers has been noticing that even guys like Rayford whose overall stat lines are pretty basic (7 years, 1 WAR, 86 OPS+) tend to have one good, maybe even great, season.

Eric Bell’s 1988 card captures the only full season he played in MLB when he went 10–13 in 33 games for the Orioles. Not a good season but he was good enough enough to stick in a Major League rotation all year. His 1991 is kind of amazing in that he pitched 10 games in relief and racked up a 4–0 record and 0.50 ERA in 18 innings. I wonder why he didn’t pitch more that year. This request came back in 16 days.

The last couple returns this month are customs. The first one is the 2021 Burdick Award winner, Doug McWilliams. Since I wrote the SABR post I don’t have much more to say about Doug here except that as a photographer who formed his visual literacy in part through collecting cards, I am extremely appreciative of Doug’s work and how he’s been so open in discussion the conditions it was made in.

He sent me back a very nice note too. I’m looking forward to the official award presentation later this month as well. I should probably start working on my intro.

And the last return of the month is a super-fast 6-day return from Bill Mazeroski. I put an order of customs together since there were a bunch of guys I wanted to send to who I didn’t have cards of and it’s faster and cheaper to make customs than order what I want online now.

The Maz photo choice was obvious but I really like how the rest of he card came together and I love how it looks signed. A great sig and it’s placed perfectly. A great way to both end the month and step into the next one as I’ve sent out a bunch of new customs now.

Oldest Sports Card

A fun blog bataround idea which I first saw from NPB Card Guy. “What’s your oldest sports card” is a simple-enough prompt but, as always, once pre-war cards are involved the answers aren’t always so simple. So I’ll go through a handful of cards/sets here which can all work as answers to the question.

Since I’ve blogged about all these before I won’t go too much in depth here. In other words, definitely click on the links and read more about whatever seems interesting.

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We’ll start with my oldest trading card. The Arbuckle Coffee History of Sports and Pastimes of all Nations is definitely a sports card but it’s also so generic in what it depicts that it also doesn’t feel quite like a real sports card. Still, it deserves to be mentioned because it features both baseball and cycling.

1901–02

The Ogden’s Tabs set is huge and features all kinds of subject matter. The sporting subjects are definitely sports cards so the first three samples here—especially the shot put and horse racing cards—are probably the best answer to the prompt. But I also have to give a shout out to RG Knowles who, while not depicted as a baseball player, kind of is.

1909–11

I’m including this Murad College Sports card because it’s the oldest card I have from a set dedicated to sports. Of course, my sample doesn’t actually depict anything which would count as a sport nowadays.

1910–11

Moving on to oldest cards depicting specific sports, this card in the second Players’ Cigaretes Polar Exploration set counts as my oldest soccer card though it doesn’t come from a set at all dedicated to sport.

1916

My oldest baseball card which functions the way that modern cards function in how each card is dedicated to an individual, named player is this Zeenut featuring Johnny Couch. One of these days I’ll work my way into T205s or T206s and move this date back another handful of years.

1928–29

And finally, my oldest soccer cards which depict distinct players are these John Player and Sons Footballer cards. I could do other sports but the 1934 Gallaher Champions set takes care of most of them and the ones it doesn’t (namely basketball and gridiron football) don’t have very exciting examples.

A couple PWEs

Catching up on a few small mailings I’ve received in the past couple weeks. I do try and blog everything but most PWEs work better in post with other PWEs.

First off, a Juan Marichal numbered parallel from Tim. Apparently someone had sent him this and since he doesn’t collect Giants cards, he figured it would be better of in my collection. This purple parallel is from 2020 Archives and is numbered 48/175. Since this is the kind of thing I don’t chase, it means there’s definitely a place for it in my collection.

I’m not a fan of colored border parallels unless they end u[ being team-color related. However, 2002’s base border color is so bad as it is that going purple is more of a lateral move. The 2002 design itself is strong but with the colored borders you lose track of how good it is.

Absolutely no complaints about that Marichal photo though.

Gio over at When Topps Had Balls is one of the best customs card guys on Twitter. He’s helped me with some photosourcing for my Stanford customs on a few guys from the 1970s who I was having problems finding photos for* and while I haven’t been able to really reciprocate material wise, I did mention something that turned out to be a great customs idea.

*Don Rose, Bob Gallagher, Bob Reece.

Gio’s collecting miscuts and I suggested online that I’d love to see a miscut card that functioned as a traded card. There are a lot of 1970s designs where this approach would work well with* and I could see the lightbulb go off and gears start turning over Twitter. This Nolan Ryan is the first of his miscuts series and it’s awesome. Looks exactly like I’d want it to look and it’s going to be great to see people’s heads explode when they see this.

*Primarily 1975 but 1972 and 1974 also have the right sort of design to be able to split the team name from the rest of the card.

Also, this post was embargoed until Gio gave the go-ahead since I didn’t want to scoop his own release. So all the other trades on here happened weeks ago. It was great to get in on the ground floor and talk to him about these. And I love that he had to triple check with his printer to confirm hat this was intentional.

Very cool stuff and my brain won’t stop thinking about other possibilities. Since I like the 1975 design for this, it’s fixating on Catfish Hunter, Bobby Bonds, and Bobby Murcer.

Thanks guys!

Revisiting the 2019 Thunder

While we haven’t been able to go to a Minor League game in well over a year, that 2019 season that the boys and I spent at Trenton is the gift that keeps on giving. We’ve been keeping an eye out for the players we got to know and it’s been a lot of fun to see them progress through the Minors and into the Majors.

This is something the three of us are all doing kind of in parallel. No one’s tracking, we’re just letting each other know when someone we watched makes it to the show or does something noteworthy. I have however decided to do quick card mockups of the guys who have debuted in the majors.

Since we’re up to a page’s-worth of cards now I figure it’s time for a quick rundown of who we’ve been following. And for fun I’m including autographs (when I have them) which I got that 2019 season as well as looking into whether or not their major league appearances have translated to cardboard yet.

Adonis Rosa was the first of the 2019 Thunder to make it to the show, debuting in the summer of 2019. This was a thrill for the boys since they had just gotten his autograph in Trenton that spring. Rosa pitched one game in 2019, then 2020 happened and he not only never got called up again he ended up being released last September.

He’s supposedly playing for Guadalajara in the Mexican League but his name doesn’t show up on the Guadalajara roster

Detroit grabbed Rony García in the 2019 Rule 5 draft so he ended up spending the entire 2020 season on the Tigers’ MLB roster. He ended up pitching 21 innings over 15 games, winning one game but getting knocked around a bit with a 8.15 ERA. His 2021 looked to be going better until he sprained his knee.

Unlike Rosa, García does have a Major League card that I should consider grabbing for the album. I haven’t started a “guys I watched in the minors” mini-PC but I can totally see myself doing this.

Brooks Kriske pitched in four games in 2020 and has pitched in four more this season. His ERA is not great (12.91 after 7.2 innings) but one horrible appearance each season for a reliever will really mess things up.

He looks to be a member of New York’s taxi squad for this season so I suspect we’ll see more of him this year. He has no MLB cards yet but if he sticks around all year he might slip into one of the end-of-year sets.

So I did get Nick Nelson’s autograph in 2019 only I sent it to Zippy. Probably should’ve gotten a stub signed. Oh well no regrets. Hardest part of Minor League autographing is getting the cards.

Nelson has been pitching a lot more that Kriske has for the Yankees—11 games last year, 8 games so far this year—and has a stronger ERA to show for it. He did pick up his first win last year but only has two losses this year. Like Kriske, he appears to be doing the tax squad thing bouncing between Scranton and New York.

Like Rony García, Nelson is on a multiplayer rookie card in 2021 Heritage.

So far, none of the guys who made it to the Majors where a big deal when they were in Trenton. Albert Abreu on the other hand is a completely different story. He was one of the guys to watch in 2019 and already had a bunch of cards available for autograph hunters to the point where he had to set strict one-per limits on requests.

He actually sort of struggled that season but I wasn’t surprised to see him get a chance in 2020. His 2020 numbers weren’t great (2 games, 1.1 innings, 3 earned runs) but he’s been doing good so far in 2021. Yes he’s made the trip between Scranton and New York a dozen times this season, but he’s kept the batters off the basepaths when he’s in New York.

Abreu also shares the same multiplayer rookie card as Nick Nelson. Unfortunately, the third player (Yajure) is not one of the Trenton guys.

Now, in terms of players who had it when they were at Trenton, Deivi Garcia is probably the best example. He could pitch and we all knew it was only a matter of time before he got called up. Unfortunately, I never managed to get his autograph but it was fun to watch him play.

Deivi is the first of the pitchers here who has featured as a starter. He had a decent 2020 where he went 3–2 over 6 starts and an ERA of 4.98. He’s primarily in Scranton this year but has been called up for two spot starts after which he is immediately sent back down. Neither of his year’s starts went particularly great.

Of the players here, Deivi is the one who Topps is hammering as one of the choice rookies of the season. He’s got cards in every product and I’ll be unable to avoid snagging one at some point.

Like Albert Abreu, Trevor Stephan was another prospect we all knew to watch in 2019. He battled injuries during the spring we were going to games but we did get to watch him pitch one great one. He’s also the only autograph in this post which we got at the open house. He got picked by Cleveland in the 2020 Rule 5 draft so he’s been up in the Majors since opening day.

So far he’s doing okay. 24.1 innings over 17 games. A 4.07 ERA which suggests that he’s been effective in most of his appearances nor has he gotten knocked around yet. And as a Rule 5 guy there’s a decent chance he’ll end up on one of the fall sets.

Garrett Whitlock wasn’t as good as Deivi Garcia but he was another pitcher who was clearly one to pay attention to. Unlike with Garcia, I did manage to get Whitlock’s autograph on a ticket stub. Whitlock was grabbed by Boston in last winter’s Rule 5 draft and has been pitching great for them all season.

34 strikeouts in 32.2 innings over 19 games. A 2–1 record and 1.95 ERA. It’s been fun to see how well he’s doing since he was also one of the friendlier players at Trenton too. He has no cards yet and I’m definitely looking forward to when he gets his first one.

And finally the first position player. Chris Gittens was literally the nicest guy on the Trenton team. Great with the fans. The type of player to promise to return to waiting kids and then actually do so. He was a good hitter and put together a pretty good season but I had to temper my kids’ optimism about his future because he’d been stuck at Trenton for a few years.

Was cool to see him get called up and the morning after he hit his first MLB home run my kids were more excited about him than they were about the Giants coming back from a 7–0 deficit. My eldest couldn’t wait to do the ceremonial transfer of the autographed card from the Minor League page to the Major League page. I’m pretty sure they’ll be excited to get a Major League card of him should he actually get one. Debuting in June 5 means there’s a chance he’ll make it into Update.

And for now that’s it. There are other guys from the 2019 team who have made it to the Majors but they weren’t part of that spring team that we got to know. Will be interesting to see if anyone else makes it up since this would be the year to do it. I see a decent number of guys in AAA (including a bunch in the Padres organization) so we’ll see if I have to make a sequel to this page.

May Returns

No mail today so there’s no sense in waiting to publish this post next week. May was a decent month as I mostly worked through my childhood duplicates. But I did pick up a few fun bigger-name players.

Let’s start off with a couple signatures from guys who were a big deal in my childhood. Jeff Reardon was one of the best closers around before LaRussa and Eckersley completely changed the position.

I didn’t send a Twins card even though he was a part of that 1987 World Series Championship since I didn’t like any of the options available to me. I did however like the photo on his 1987 and I’ll always send a 1991 Studio card if I can. I was very happy to get these back in only a dozen days.

Howard Johnson was even a bigger deal than Reardon. Besides the fact that he used to kill the Giants, he also was one of the guy whose inserts and special cards I always used to pull. I’d want a Will Clark or Kevin Mitchell but I’d invariable get a HoJo. Kind of amazes me how much he’s been forgotten now but third base was a pretty deep position in those years.

I of course had a ton of inserts to choose from for this request but I went with a 1986 Mets Fan Club card because it was my favorite of his oddballs and also represented the World Series year. This came back in 24 days.

A 9-day return Shane Rawley continues the run of guys who had their best seasons during my formative fan years. With modern stats we can see that Rawley put together a very good 12-year career with a handful of solid WAR and ERA+ seasons. At the time though that 17-win season in 1987 (for a sub-.500 Phillies team) was impressive instead.

This is the fist time I’ve gotten a base and All Star card signed and I kind of like the way that having the pair together works. Not a lot of reliable signers who I can do this with though.

Since I’m not a huge college football guy, I was unaware of Cris Carpenter’s college career as an all-SEC punter. He was just one of those Rated Rookies from my youth whose career I lost track of in the strike year. I do remember being confused when Chris Carpenter debuted with the Cardinals in the early 2010s though. Nice to add a Rated Rookie signature in 9 days though..

A 7-day return from George Wright brought another 1986 card to the collection. Wright had an excellent 1983 season and a historically bad 1985 season. I’m not a huge proponent of WAR but his –3.7 WAR i 1985 is one of the worst on record.

I associate Tim McCarver with many of the big games I watched in TV when I was a kid. I didn’t get to see a lot of TV and so bringing it out of the closet for playoff baseball (or the Olympics) was always a special occasion. That McCarver was frequently part of those occasions means I think of him fondly. This came back in 9 days

A 54-day return from Erik Hanson added another 1989 Rated Rookie to the collection. I also like this 1991 Topps card and it captures his career-high 18 wins in the 1990 season.

Stormin’ Gorman Thomas is one of those fun nicknames and I enjoy the attitude in this career-capping 1987 Topps card.  I would’ve liked to use an older card but I didn’t have any good ones handy. But I was happy to get this one back in 10 days.

Thomas also included a signed index card for his Stormin’ Sauce business. I’m not a huge sauce guy in general but I have to admit I’m a bit curious.

And Thomas also included this note about how to order. I enjoy how different the St. Jude notepaper is compared to Thomas’s fu manchu image.

I thought this return had gotten lost. In late March I received an envelope that had already been opened. It had a Michigan postmark and the only person I’d sent to there was Ernie Whitt so I figured these were gone. Turns out it was another card. No idea who but the Whitts came back after 72 days.

Whitt was the last original Blue Jay to play for the team and put a solid career together in the 1980s. He’s since become the manager of the Canadian National baseball team as well.

It’s always fun to get a postcard back.  I would’ve sent this out a long time ago but I didn’t realize that Darrell Evans signed. I was starting to thing I may have lost this too but it came back in 70 days.

Evans is one of the definitive underrated guys, a couple amazing seasons with the Braves in the 1970s and a decade of solid, or better, production from the mid-70s to mid-80s. His name doesn’t come up as often as it should considering that he’s that near-Hall of Fame tier type of player.

It’s especially nice that this postcard is from 1983 which is both his best year as a Giant and the year he won the Willie Mac Award.

Since I’m not building 1979, I’m okay sending out non-duplicate cards to reliable guys. Barry Bonnell is one such player and returned these in only 8 days. One of the things I enjoy a lot about hitting my 1986 duplicates is finding guys whose cards I have in earlier sets.

The difference between 1979 and 1986 doesn’t seem that big to me now but I haven’t shaken my understanding of these two sets as being the difference between OLD and current. This mentality works for Bonnell’s career in which he’s just starting off in his 1979 card while 1986 represents his last year in the bigs.

Funny how things work out. Back-to-back returns of 1979 cards and I’m not even working that set. I remember Jim Beattie’s 1987 card from my youth. Such a distinct photo and definitely different than most other photos in the set. Beattie is also an interesting player in that he went back to school and turned himself into a General Manager, with the Expos first and followed by the Orioles.

This was a weird return. I write my address in both slots of the return envelope just in case something happens. Still, I never expected to find an envelope that had been ripped completely in half with the stamp and half my address missing. Someone taped up the ripped side and the return address took care of the rest. Inside I found a 62-day return from Mark Eichhorn and the cards no worse for wear.

Eichhorn had a distinct sidearm motion that you can get a sense of in these photos. He’s also currently a high school baseball coach in Aptos.

I only caught the end of Cecil Cooper’s career but he’s one of those guys I kept running into cards of during my youth. I couldn’t avoid him in all those 1980s oddball sets and as a result I always think of him as being a bit of a star. He definitely had a good decade-long run in the majors and it’s nice to add another 1988 card in only 18 days.

A 12-day return from Bert Roberge increased my 1986 count to 54. I’m not trying to build a signed set but it’s been fun to work my duplicates. Roberge is the first of those 54 to sign with a ballpoint pen. This is pretty common even with 1970s players but the 1980s and later guys seem to understand that sharpies are better.

Always nice to add another Stanford custom. I got Willie Adams’s autograph when he was at Stanford and I was a teenager. I didn’t mention the story about his dad asking him to “sign one for the little guy” (I was pushing 6′ at time but Adams was 6’7″) but that was a fun in-person memory from three decades ago. Comparing to his college sig these are pretty close. He did not keep any customs and sent everything back in 31 days.

The Team USA cards are fun but I enjoy having a signed card of him as a pro. It’s also nice to add my first 1998 to the collection.

Frank Eufemia is almost local and returned his card in just 6-days. He had a short career but also featured as a replacement player for the Yankees in the 1995 fake spring training.

Another 1986 return. This time from Jack Perconte in 8 days. He’s written a couple books about hitting and seems to be a decent guy in terms of wanting to help kids and their parents navigate the world of youth baseball.

Ed Wojna also sent back a 1986 card in 8 days. Wikipedia states that this card was massively overproduced but I have my suspicions since the assertion isn’t sourced and I haven’t run into as many of this card often enough for it to stand out as a double or triple print.

Wojna sent back a really long letter which represents the first Jehovah’s Witnesses’ pitch I’ve received. I’m not surprised to receive evangelical tracts and personal testaments but many of them feel like they come from similar churches.

A 25 day return from current Ranger broadcaster Mark McLemore was a fun one. I remember him as an Angel since that’s who he played for in my formative years but he put together a more-than-respectable 19-year career with seven different teams.

I’ve been working a Scott Erickson collection of sorts because of high school reasons so I figured I should look up what other players attended my school. It’s a short list consisting of four players,* only three of which have cards showing them with a Major League team.** Sandy Wihtol was the only one with flagship Topps cards so I grabbed one and sent it out for a request.

*Doug Clarey, Sandy Wihtol, Scot Erickson, and Evan Marshall.

**Clarey only has 1970s minor league issues. Marshall meanwhile has only a Bowman card and a Total card to his name.

It came back 35 days later. Wihtol is now a high school coach for a rival school but I got a nice “Go Mustangs” note on my letter. The high school project doesn’t have enough players to be a real project like my Stanford one but it’s a fun little mini collection to have going.

And that’s it for May. I’ve been slowly working on customs and am close to placing an order. But for now next month looks to be more of the same as I work through my duplicates.

A couple PWEs

A quick round-up of a couple recent small maildays. As the card supply dries up, there’s less stuff out there in everyone’s collections that needs to be redistributed.

The first mailday was a couple of cards from Andrew who found a bunch of cards on the sidewalk one day and recognized that one of them was a Stanford guy. This is a little beat up but still a lot of fun to add to the album. I didn’t yet have a Jim Plunkett card either so it was good to take care of that as well.

The second mailday came from The Shlabotnik Report (@Shlabotnik_Rpt) and contained a Giants team set of 1990 Topps Mini Leaders. I always liked these cards since they were similar to the base Topps cards but featured gloss coatings and white paper. The mini size was also a lot of fun. While the Giants had no cards in the 1986 set, by the time the run ended they were up to six league leaders.

There were a half-dozen other Giants cards in the envelope. Four I had but these two were new. Always fun to add some Pro Debut since it’s a set I don’t ever come across. The gold Longoria Big League meanwhile is fun in the exact opposite way since I very much enjoy this set and while I don’t seek the parallels out they’re always welcome.

April Returns

April continues my returns of junk wax and players from my youth. Lots of players who my parents would sarcastically refer to as household names but every single one of them jogs one of those “oh yeah that guy” memories from my childhood. I kind of miss being able to remember every card I owned while I’m also quite glad that I’ve trained my mind to no longer have to hold on to that information.

The month started off with a 15-day return from catcher Chris Hoiles. He had a 10-year career with Baltimore, including an especially excellent 1993 season, catching a no hitter in 1991, and and hitting two grand slams in one game in 1998.

Bruce Benedict is another one-decade catcher who spent his entire career with the Braves. He stuck around as a good fielder who backed up maultipe catchers who the Braves hoped could provide good offense. He returned these cards in only 9 days.

A 31-day return from Dick Schofield prompted me to add a families tag to my database because his father played for the Giants in the 1960s. Schofield had a nice 14-year career, most of it with the Angels, in the majors.

Stewart Cliburn added another 1986 card to the collection in 12 days. In addition to being a set that I’m using a lot for TTMs, this specific card has his very good 1985 stat line on the back. Cliburn only played parts of a couple seasons but his 1985 line of 44 games and a 2.09 ERA is impressive.

A 22-day return from Scott Medvin added a pair of 1989 cards. Medvin is another guy who only played a few seasons in the majors. but he managed to time it with my peak fandom. Both of these 1989 cards are from sets that I like to get signed but which I usually don’t select due to other cards looking better.

This is a pull from my dentist haul instead of my childhood cards. There were a couple Paul Popovich cards in the pile so I decided to try sending one out. Seven days later it came back. Popovich is primarily a Cub who was known for being a bit of a “super sub.”

An 8-day return from Buddy Groom added a cool photo of Turn Back the Clock day in Cleveland. Took me a long time to figure out that that weird Detroit uniform was a throwback and Municipal Stadium has the same kind of pillars in the grandstand at Tiger Stadium for me momentarily think this photo was a home game. Something about all the textures in the dugout really makes this work as a card. I can’t imagine any modern park looking this beat up ever.

Okay this is a fun one. As a Giants fan, Jose Canseco wasn’t one of my guys when I was a kid. But that doesn’t mean that he wasn’t he wasn’t a big deal on the playground. My junior high self would’ve totally expected him to make it to the Hall of Fame and the fact that he played locally made him even a bigger deal.

I went with the 1989 card for 40/40 reasons since it lists that season on the back. It’s also just a nice clean photo and design featuring him at the peak of his powers. My teenage self would be very pleased by this. Heck, three decades later I was still excited to find that in my mailbox after 55 days.

The same day I got Canseco I also got a 10-day return from Rick Parker. While he’s not a childhood hero of sorts, his excellent (it’s possibly the best photograph in the set) 1991 Score card made this a return I enjoyed a lot as well. The fact that Parker was a bench player for the Giants made it relatively easy to track down the actual play depicted.

The bad news, Parker is out here. The good news, this is the end of a play where the Giants were down a run with two outs in bottom of the ninth inning and Will Clark doubled with runners on the corners to tie the game. Parker was thrown out to end the 9th but the Giants won it in 10 innings.

I recently read The Wax Pack by Brad Balukjian. It’s fun and touches on a lot of the things that all of us who collect cards feel when we look back on those cards from our youth. It’s a bit more about Brad than the cards and players but some of the vignettes wth each player are great. The Jaime Cocanower chapter is a good one. He’s one of those distinct names that’s memorable to a kid and which, as a result, is able to evoke an entire age.

While I didn’t mention the book to him, as someone who’s using this activity to reminisce a bit about the guys from his youth, I couldn’t help smile and enjoy some of the overlap between my project and the book. Not all the guys in the book are good signers but Cocanower returned his card in 27 days.

I had put off sending to a couple Stanford guys because I wanted to make customs for them. Unfortunately, finding photos of a number of them has proven to be quite elusive. So I decided it would make sense to send out index cards to a few of the players who I don’t have cards of. Former Angel and Stanford catcher Jim Hibbs set this pair back in only 11 days.

I sent two index cards because I’ve noticed that a lot of the Stanford guys like to write notes back due to the nature of my project and I like to give them something to write on. Hibbs instead signed bith cards and enclosed a nice note on his own stationery.

Von Hayes doesn’t have the strongest stat line but his best years happen to correspond to my first years as a baseball fan. As a result, he’s one of those players who still stands out in my memory. Very nice to add another 1986 to the collection. This one took 12 days to come back.

A 66-day spring training return from Daniel Robertson caught me by surprise. This one came from Milwaukee where he’s playing this season. Always fun to add a signed custom and this is one which I think turned out really well. He did not keep one however.

Back to the 1986 cards. Dane Iorg came back in 13 days. Most of his career was with the Cardinals but his career highlight in many ways is his game-winning hit in the infamous Don Denkinger game in the 1985 World Series. This 1986 card sort of commemorates that World Series victory.

I bought this Brett Jodie card a year and a half ago because I was planning on trying to get it signed at Somerset. Sadly, the season got cancelled and Somerset affiliated with the Yankees and, as a result, Jodie got left without a job. He’s now the manager of the Lincoln Saltdogs and I sent my card out thanking him for his time a Somerset and wishing him luck in his new gig. He sent this back in 12 days.

Journeyman infielder Mike Fischlin was a quick 9 day return. He put together close to a decade in the majors but is probably most notable for being both one  of Scott Boras’s first clients as well as a member of the Boras organization.

Bryn Smith was also a 9 day return. He was on multiple National League teams so I know I probably got to watch him at some point. Unfortunately, I didn’t have a Rockies card since he has a notable place in Rockies history as having recorded the first win for the franchise.

Harvey Shank is like Jim Hibbs and represents a Stanford guy who has no cards nor any photos online that are high-enough resolution to make customs.  I’m not going to go down the index card rabbit hole but they have a place in the collection and I will eventually do something more with them than just having pages of index cards.

Shank’s return actually confused me a ton because it came back in a bubble mailer. I didn’t recognize the sender nor had I ordered anything. Only after I opened it up did I realize it was a TTM request coming back after 13 days. Inside were my two index cards, a very nice note, my unused SASE, and this book which is blurbed by John Ortberg (among other people). I’ve gotten tracts before but this one seems to be aimed at atheists rather than being a general “here’s my personal story” testament.

A 10-day return from Rich Thompson added another 1986 Topps card to the collection. I like the photo on this one quite a bit and favor photos like it for my custom cards.

Kevin Elster set a MLB record by playing in 88 straight games in 1988–1989 without making an error. He also hit 3 homers in the first game at Pac Bell Park. His card came back in 12 days.

While the first Series I ever watched was 1986, the first one I watched as a fan was 1987. Tom Lawless was an extremely light-hitting infielder—good glove and speed but his 1987 batting average was .080—who happened to surprise everyone with a home run (and bat flip) off of Frank Viola in that series. He sent these back in 57 days.

Willie Montañez had a dozen-year MLB career—even making the All Star team in 1977—but from 1975–1982 he managed to play for eight different teams including two different stints with the Phillies. His two-seasons with the GIants were actually pretty good and it’s nice to add him to the Giants album after only 10 days.

A 9-day return from Mark Wasinger added another two-year Giant. Wasinger though was only ever a bench guy even though his second game with the team involved him going 4 for 5 with a homer and scoring 3 runs. He stands out in my memory though as one of the Mothers Cookies cards I always needed.

Mike Easler was wrapping up his career when I was starting out as a fan but he was one of those names I just knew. His “Hitman” nickname certainly didn’t hurt here either and while it would’ve made sense to get his autograph on a Pirates card, these are the two I remember him from.

Easler in the midst of writing a book and included a business card soliciting donations for his project. It’s clear that a lot of other fans remember him fondly too.

Another short 10-day return and another short-term Giant. Alan Fowlkes only pitched for the team in one season but that got him cards in the 1983 sets. 1983 is one of my favorite Topps sets and designs too but for some reason I just don’t have many of them, signed or otherwise.

And i’ll finish the month off with a 20-day return from Justine Siegal. I made these customs way before she got a Ginter card last year but never sent them out. Siegal does great work with Baseball for All and, as a Little League coach who’s both coached girls and had to tell his players to knock it off when we played against girls, I very much support and believe in her mission.  I was a little surprised that she didn’t keep any of these customs.

And that’s it for the month. A good one with a few great returns and a lot of fun ones. Lots of pending stuff out there still so here’s hoping that next month is more of the same.