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.

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.

Retired Numbers

Just over a year ago before everything got shut down I visited Queens to see Ralph Carhart’s Home Base exhibition. While the show was good, as was getting to met Ralph and Mark Hoyle, one of the things that I didn’t discuss anywhere was how Ralph showed us some images of a massive collection that he had been cataloging and preparing for sale.

He’s since blogged about the collection on SABR and watching his journey down the rabbit hole of awesomeness has been a lot of fun. Earlier this month he reported on Twitter that the auction houses had picked through everything and he had a ton of index cards available for sale. So I took a look and there was a lot to covet.

Being disciplined, I remembered a goal that I had mentioned when Jason sent me a Bill Terry card for Christmas and started off looking for Giants retired numbers as a supplement to my goal of getting a playing-days card of every Giants retired number. Lo and behold, Ralph had three that I was missing and so I placed an order.

A few days later the cards arrived and I was very happy.* It’s not just autographs but the fact that I feel like I learned about them before almost anyone else and how they serve as kind of the perfect way for me to mark a year of pandemic living.

*As were my kids since one of the first things they noticed at their first Giants games was the line of retired numbers posted in the stadium.

It also means that I have enough material to put a post together of my Giants retired numbers. This isn’t a comprehensive list of what I have. For each player I’m showing the oldest playing-days card I have and his autograph.

NY—Christy Mathewson, John McGraw

No cards here and autographs are completely outside the realm of consideration (I’m not sure I’ve even seen a picture of a McGraw signature). Heck their cards are also pretty much a pipe dream. Both of their T205s and T206s are some of the nicer ones in the sets and both of them remain pretty big fish in the pool of pre-war stars.

3—Bill Terry

Both of these are total shocks. Still. The National Chicle card is a beauty and great example of a playing-days card. The index card is from the Gould collection and is a great clean version of his signature.

4—Mel Ott

Not as hard to get cards of as McGraw and Matthewson but still very much in demand. Ott is another guy whose signature I can’t recall ever seeing as well.

11—Carl Hubbell

Very happy to have his signature on an index card. Like Ott his cards are still in high demand.

20—Monte Irvin

Irvin’s cards are surprisingly not too spendy. Only his rookie cards seem to be tough. I haven’t ventured into any of his 1952s yet but I can actually see that happening.I actually have a signed card of his on my COMC pile which will show up some day once I get around to requesting it.

22—Will Clark

Still boggles my mind how expensive that 1986 card was when I was a kid in the Bay Area in the 1980s. I think I’ve encountered enough of them in the past couple years in trade packages that both of my kids have copies now. And the autograph is an in-person one which I’ve blogged about already.

24—Willie Mays

Story about the card is on the blog. The autograph is one that my mom got in spring training. The only time she took advantage of her media pass was to get this. And yeah it was worth it.

25—Barry Bonds

Is interesting that Barry is the only retired number who didn’t debut with the Giants. So I went with his oldest Giants card instead of his oldest card for this post. I honestly forgot I had this until I started witing. My complete sets aren’t something I’ve looked though as much as my team binders.

The photo meanwhile is one my mom took in 1993 and when I got it signed in 1994. I wish we had had silver sharpies back then but I really like that this is truly one of a kind.

27—Juan Marichal

Marichal is going to start a trend where my oldest card is the oldest card which is neither a rookie nor a high number card. I don’t have any of the Hall of Fame rookie cards and Marichal is a high number in 1962 and 1963. Which makes 1964 my oldest card. His autograph is one of the first TTM requests I wrote.

30—Orlando Cepeda

I’ve a decent run of Cepeda cards. I’m just missing his rookie. And I’ve blogged about his autograph before.

36—Gaylord Perry

I know, this looks like a rookie card but it’s not. His 1962 is the one that costs a lot. This floating multi-head card isn’t the prettiest card out there but many of Perry’s cards are pretty dire. Topps was not particularly kind to him until the 1970s. The story about the ball is one of my favorites on the blog.

44—Willie McCovey

And finally the last index card from the Gould collection. McCovey is like Marichal with an expensive rookie card followed by high numbers until 1964.

Looking forward, Bruce Bochy is totally going to get his number retired some day (or at least he should). I hope it’s sooner rather than later but my guess is that the Giants are waiting for the Hall of Fame to make the first move. Besides, they technically haven’t had Will Clark’s ceremony yet so once they do that this summer we’ll see what happens.

Childhood brain explode

I mentioned this in my January returns wrap up but it deserves to be its own post. Where my childhood collecting goal was to get one card from every set, I’m fast approaching a place where I’ll accomplish my childhood goal with autographed cards. This hasn’t been an explicit project or anything it’s just been mostly organic growth as a result of my autograph hobby.

Taking a look at Topps right now. As a kid I had cards from 1960–1994 (minus 1965). Right now? 1957–1997 minus 1971, 1975, 1982, and 1996—three years with facsimile signatures and one that’s past my childhood window.

I don’t like the facsimile signature thing but the double signature doesn’t look awful in the 1959, 1967, and 1977s here. I do like that my 1980 card is a non-facsimile card and I’ll likely find a way to get the three years I don’t have. I also expect to gradually add more-recent cards to this. I have a decent number of 1997 but there’s multi-year gap before I get to them.

It’s fun to see a sample of everything all together so I figured I’d do this with the other flagship brands from my youth.

Donruss is one where I have a sample from 1981–1993. No 1994s. Go figure. I don’t usually pick Donruss designs for autograph requests although 1986–1989 tends to feature decent photos. The printing though is frequently super dark and not the best for showing off a signature.

Fleer is a better autograph card. Even 1982 with its disastrous photography frames things pretty nicely. I just haven’t been able to bring myself to get 1991 signed and for some reason haven’t gotten any 1993s either. Everything else from 1981–1994 is here though.

I’ve also gone ahead and done the rest of the Fleer run since there are no multi-year gaps here. Post-strike I’m just missing 1995, 1998, and 2001 which brings me to missing five years total from the 1981–2003 run.

Score is the first manufacturer where I have a complete run of examples even extending past my childhood collecting. It’s helped by only starting in 1988 but I have signed cards from there through 1995. I frequently like how Score signs although I shy away from the 1992 design.

Upper Deck, especially the 1990–1993 run, is a other favorite of mine. Like Score I have samples into 1995. Unlike Score, that Upper Deck rivals Topps as the card of record up until 2010 means I have a decent shot of carrying the run forward. Upper Deck’s designs have also meant that, like Fleer, I’ve accumulated a decent number of autographed samples for the post-strike years too. For the run from 1989–2007, I’m missing just 1996, 2000, and 2005.

As I said at the beginning, this isn’t something I’m doing on purpose. But it’s definitely something that’s a lot of fun to keep track of. My childhood brain wasn’t even able to conceive of accomplishing something like this and in this hobby it’s always good to remind myself to keep that sense of wonder in mind.

To Be Eleven Again

A recent post from Night Owl coupled with my Bill Bathe return in October has me thinking about the equivalent Giants team from my youth which I truly followed all the way through the postseason. Where Greg chose the 1977 Dodgers, for me it’s the 1989 Giants who represent my peak youth fandom.

No surprise that we are both eleven years old for these teams. There’s something magical about that age when you’re old enough to truly geek out out about sports while still being young enough that all the other distractions haven’t materialized yet. When you’re eleven you have an allowance—or at least birthday/holiday money—with nothing to spend it on except for what you want. It’s a great year to follow sports and collect cards.

This was also a magical year for me because of our Philadelphia trip. I didn’t just get to know the players as players, I learned how to recognize them in their civvies and got to meet most of them in person. This also gave me a massive head-start on putting to together a complete roster of signed cards.

For example, the starting lineup* are all guys I met in Philadelphia. The Roger Craig and Terry Kennedy cards are later acquisitions since they’re on my team ball but every other card is an in-person signature that I got when I was eleven. Of these nine, Kennedy is the only one who doesn’t count as a fan favorite.

*Organized as I described in my mission creep post.

Yes even though we booed Brett Butler once he went to the Dodgers, I think we all still prefer to remember him for the good years he had in San Francisco.

The pitching staff wasn’t as simple to assemble. Garrelts, Robinson, and Lefferts are from Philly while Reuschel, Hammaker, and Brantley are other in-person experiences.* There are also three notable pitchers missing. Kelly Downs and Mike LaCoss are the only two players on the postseason roster whose autographs I don’t have and Randy McCament is the only other pitcher who appeared in over twenty games

*I have an in-person Trevor Wilson too but I couldn’t not use that 1990 Upper Deck for this post.

Of these, Gossage is the only one who I forget was a Giant. The rest are all memorable even if they only played with the team a short while like Bedrosian.

Filling in the rest of the post-season roster. Gossage and Wilson weren’t on it despite appearing in a decent number of games that season so these last seven (a mix of in-person and TTM returns) take my total to 22 out of 24 players from the post-season roster (just missing Downs and LaCoss as stated earlier).

Of these seven are guys like Earnie Riles who was the third baseman for the first half of the season until Matt Williams became a star. Despite Williams’s emergence, Riles actually played more games at third. Sheridan and Nixon meanwhile both played a lot of games in the outfield, Manwaring was the backup catcher, and Oberkfell, Litton, and Bathe were among the standard pinch hitters.

The last eight cards here join Gossage and Wilson on the list of players who appeared with the Giants in 1989 but who didn’t go to the playoffs. A fun mix of players. Fan favorite veterans like Speier, Krukow, and Brenly whose careers I didn’t get to see but who I saw enough of to learn why the fans loved them. Prospects like Benjamin, Mulholland, and Cook who I remember for their potential. A veteran rental like Joe Price. And of course the incomparable Dave Dravecky who only played in two games but provided both the highlight and the lowlight of the season.

So this means I have 32 out of 45 players* who appeared for the Giants that season. Notable players I’m missing are Tracy Jones and Ed Jurak, both of whom appeared in at least 30 games. The other eight players played anywhere from two (Stu Tate and Russ Swan) to 17 (Mike Laga) games and include a couple names like Jim Steels and Jim Weaver who I not only don’t remember, I don’t even recognize them at all.

*The complete list of missing players: Mike LaCoss, Kelly Downs, Randy McCament, Tracy Jones, Ed Jurak, Mike Laga, Bob Knepper, Ernie Camacho, Jim Steels, Jim Weaver, Charlie Hayes, Stu Tate, and Russ Swan.

One of the reasons I’ve not been a completist about this is that a few of the down-roster guys don’t resonate for me and the point of a project like this is the memories that it does bring back. Settling on just the postseason roster plus whoever feels right is fine.

The feels right concept is why I’m happy to have all but one of the coaching staff from that year as well. Not sure why I knew who al the Giants coaches were but I did. Things were simpler then, just 5 coaches—hitting, pitching, bench, 1st base, 3rd base—and nothing like the current team* where I can’t keep anything straight.

*In addition to the bench, 1st base, and 3rd base coaches, there are two hitting coaches, a director of hitting, a pitching coach, an assistant pitching coach, a director of pitching, two bullpen coaches, and two other assistant coaches.

The only coach I’m missing is Norm Sherry. Also it’s a shame that Wendell Kim never had a proper baseball card. He’s on a couple Mother’s Cookies coach cards but aside from a few minor league issues he never got his own.

Will these ever get framed like Night Owl is doing? Not a chance. But one reason I like scanning everything is that I can mix and match sorting  and put things into posts like this or just have a dedicated category for the 1989 autographs. I can throw something together digitally, see all the guys again, and remember that 1989 season when I was the age my eldest son is now. I hope he’s able to have a team next year which is as memorable to him as mine was to me.

Starting a new set

So late last month Matt Prigge decided that he wanted to clear out a bunch of sets and cards that he’d accumulated for accumulation’s sake. Matt just moved and while he had moved with all his cards, I guess that he realized that he didn’t want to buy enough Ikea Kallax units to get them all his basement floor.

I haven’t gone through such a downsizing yet but it’s coming. I have to get what I have organized first though. But with cards it’s easy to fall into the accumulation trap and taking a step back to figure out what I really like is a healthy activity to do every once in a while.

Currently, aside from my Giants, Stanford, and a few mini-projects, I’ve found that I’m enjoying filling out the cards and sets from my childhood but am enjoying just having samples—preferably Giants or Stanford players—from the other years. I’ve been enjoying building a 1978 set but it’s really the guys from 1987–1994 that I remember best. That’s my youth and all I cared about was baseball and cards.

I had collected complete sets of 1987–1993 Topps as a kid. I’ve been building 1986 since it represents the cards that were in existence when I became a fan and I acquired a couple hundred of them over my childhood collecting years. I only had a couple dozen 1994 Topps for comparison. By then I’d realized that I shouldn’t be spending money on packs if I was just going to get the set. When the strike hit and I dropped the hobby cold-turkey I never picked up any more 1994 Topps cards.

As a result I have no real memories of 1994 as a set. It’s not a design that I liked at the time* and I just didn’t spend a lot of time looking at the cards. But I’ve seen more examples in recent years and have found myself liking a lot of things about it. Plus the players are still the guys I knew and the set itself serves as a bit of commemoration of the single best Giants season I’ve ever witnessed.**

*As an autograph hunter I found myself skeptical of glossy cards since we hadn’t figured out the best way to get them signed. In many ways my preferences for non-glossy cardstock and older-style designs versus the fancy-shmancy modern cards the the 1990s pulled the hobby into is rooted in autograph hunting practicalities rather than any design-based critique.

**Yes winning a World Series is great but there’s also something wonderful about seeing your team dominate the regular season. The sting of getting pipped to the pennant by the Braves still hurts but looking back on it I just remember a heck of a run and pennant race.

So when Matt sent out feelers for who’d be interested in various junk wax sets I said hat I’d be interested if he had a set or partial set of 1994 Topps. The price was more than reasonable (especially since it was coming already-paged) so I sent over the money and a week later (thanks to Thanksgiving) the box arrived.

Yeah they don’t make sets like this anymore. I’m still not sold on the design but it’s not as bad as I remember and the only time it makes itself noticed is on cards like the Brett where it brilliantly mirrors the scoreboard. Photography-wise though this is fantastic stuff. A great mix of close action, distant action, experimental action, quiet candids, and poses.

What I like best is how much stadium detail I get. There’s enough depth of field to see what the grandstands are like. Many of the candids are wide-angle shots that show off all kinds of dugout details.

There are also plenty of horizontal cards too with the same mix of images. These are things we have to look for the photo-specific Stadium Club set to see nowadays and it’s a shame since this set is three times as large and so offers an abundance of photographic riches.

One of the things I like best about the photography in the set is how it allows the photos to remain grounded. We can see feet on the ground and know where the play is occurring. How far off the ground a dive is. That plays at second base refuse to hide the baserunner and bag behind the card graphics. These are cards that have been designed by people who know and understand baseball.

While it’s easy for me to rue my bad luck about getting into cards at the peak of card worthlessness, comparing these to what 1986 Topps looks like allows me to be thankful for being able to witness the incredible improvement in the quality of baseball photography.  Just the fact that I got to see the changes as they happened was a lesson in and of itself.

Anyway, Matt’s cards plus the ones I had already left me 45 cards short of a complete set. Most of those holes are in Series 2, much like my 2014 build. Full list of what I need is here. I’ll also keep an updated list on the set need page but this one will mark my starting point.

155 200 387 408 411 416 417 421 428 442 447 465 473 476 477 480 484 486 528 549 586 589 593 615 626 637 649 662 664 668 670 671 672 677 678 679 688 702 718 733 736 738 750 772

Matt, of course, was not content to just send me what I paid for and instead packed assorted other goodies into the box. Two packs of Topps Baseball Talk are so cool I almost don’t want to open them. Since I don’t have the player I need to go to YouTube to listen to the cards but the cards themselves are pretty cool too. As oversize versions of the 1989 design they feature nice big images and with the record grooves on the back are among the oddest to the oddballs.

Most of the packing though was assorted Giants cards from over the years. Many of these I have but I have two boys who are more than happy to take my duplicates too. I’ve already given them each a 300-count box each of cards from 1960 to  2019 as a house-warming present and need to put together other gift packs of duplicates for them now.

In the batch here it turned out that I was missing a bunch of the 1985 Donruss, 1987 Donruss, 1987 Fleer, and 1988 Donruss cards. 1989–1991 though were my peak years and if there’s a hole in my binder it’s because the card is autographed and so is merely in a different binder.

Which means I fastforward to 1992 here and mention that I’ve never seen those blue Classic cards before. They’re kind of horribly printed but I’m amazed that I’m still finding out about new cards from my peak collecting years.

The 1994 Bowmans are also mostly new (I do not remember this design from my youth even though I had a bunch) and the Upper Deck Fun pack represents a set I never saw as a kid. I’ve gotten some Fun Pack cards in previous trade packages but the Pro Files Bonds card is a completely new one to me as well.

Past the strike now and into cards I never saw as a kid No idea if the red lettering on Pinnacle means anything but all that gold foil still kind of amazes me. The 1996 Donruss Steve Scarsone though is a perfect demonstration of how quickly cards designs went from grounding the action to covering it up.

Instead of looking like a fantastic play Scarsone looks like he’s trying and failing to imitate the Karate Kid. Unfortunately, this school of card design is what Topps does repeatedly in modern cards and it’s noticeable enough that my 10-year-old complains about it.

Getting into the 21st century. Standout card here is the First American Church of Baseball Tim Lincecum. I have no idea what this set or organization is (its Facebook page suggests it is/was a Giants fan club) but it’s wonderfully odd and hand-numbered to 500 on the back.

Also the two Buster Posey 2015 cards are part of the Giants team set and NL All Stars set. Needless useless variants that I refuse to chase. But having a sample in the binder is fu none the less. The only reason I actively want those team set cards is if they included a guy who otherwise doesn’t have a Giants card that season.*

*A few of the hardest Stanford cards for me are guys who only showed up in the team sets.

And finally the 2018 and 2019 cards. I appreciate the Gypsy Queen since I categorically refuse to buy these. Ditto to Gallery. Not my cup of tea even though seeing how they’re made is of interest to me from a technical point of view. Like it appears that 2019 Gypsy Queen cut back on the logo and nameplate stupidity of 2018 and doesn’t feature any areas that look like they were printed in a second printing pass.*

*This is a long-overdue SABR post.

Lastly, buried in the stack of Giants cards was this Bill Swift autograph. I had to double check that this was included on purpose but Matt confirmed that it was. Bill Swift was a good Giant whose two full seasons were good enough that I forget that they were his only two complete seasons with the club. His 1993 was especially fantastic and he fully deserved to be in the running for the Cy Young Award.*

*As an aside, how awful was Jose Rijo’s run support that season since he was pretty damn good in every other stat besides Wins/Losses.

This card in particular has always been one of my favorites since it includes the Giants’ awesome Turn Back the Clock uniforms. I liked this card so much that I got it signed back in the day.

Yeah. This is from Spring Training 1993. And this isn’t a complaint about having two but rather an observation at how much Swift’s signature is different. I’m assuming Matt got his card signed TTM at some point in the past couple decades. The signature there more closely matches the neat signature examples Google pulls up. My card meanwhile is a hasty scrawl while getting into or out of the Scottsdale clubhouse.

Anyway, thanks Matt! I’m looking forward to finishing this set build too.

So I jumped the gun…

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When I wrote about wrapping up our season, while it was about Trenton, I was in the mindset that it was also our last baseball game of the year. As we drove back from the ballpark we were talking about how many games we’d gone to and had all reached the conclusion that that was it.

Then last weekend I caught notice that Somerset was playing a Saturday night game with a super hero theme so the boys and I decided to head out for one last game. I’d been to Somerset earlier this season but this would be the boys’ first time. It’s always nice to add a new ballpark to your life list.

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We ate before we left and still managed to get the the park in time for the boys to get their capes. There were enough kids wearing them at the ballpark that even the older kids were okay dressing up. Also there were all kinds of costumed heroes walking around and many of the fans were dressed up too.

My youngest ate it up. He loves Batman so he loved the Batman-themed jerseys and all the other stuff going on. We just wish that the baseball caps had batears like the batcowl.

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The highlight though was getting Frank Viola’s autograph before the game. My eldest received a complete (well near complete) set of 1991 Topps for Christmas and when we were getting ready for the Thunder season I noticed that Frank Viola was the Binghamton pitching coach. It was at this moment that the idea of getting his 1991 cards signed occurred to him. And it was this moment which also encouraged me to look up the other coaches and figure out who had played in the pros.

So while Joe Oliver was the first autograph of the set (and my son added Brian Harper later), he was disappointed to find that Viola had switched from Binghamton to coach for the High Point Rockers. That High Point was in town for this game meant that we were able to wrap up the season getting autographs on the two cards that were part of the excitement in the beginning. Very cool.

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This takes my son to four in-person autographs on his 1991 Topps set. Is he getting the complete set signed? LOL of course not. But it’s going to be fun to see how many he can add to it. Princeton baseball coach Scott Bradley has a card in the set (a fact I only realized after the season ended).  And Pete Incaviglia manages Sugarland which comes to Somerset a couple times a year*

*Actually this week but only on school nights so no dice.

1991 also just looks pretty good signed. Nice photos and simple borders. I like that the two Viola cards look so different too.

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In order to stave off sibling rivalries for now, I’ve been supplying my youngest with cards so he can “me too” with his brother. In this case where his brother is getting 1991 Topps signed, he’s getting 1991 Donruss. I know I know. Those are just the duplicates I have handy.

Still there is something to 1991’s color which appeals to his sensibilities though. In many ways it’s a perfect set for him. And the 1987 is because I happen to have a ton of those as well. But it’s a good year for Viola too.

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Viola is a super nice guy. Chatted briefly with the kids and thanked them for having his cards. They were super happy as we settled into our seats and watched the game. It was fun for the boys to watch without a rooting interest. Somerset is nominally our home team but they kind of rooted for High Point because of Viola.

We just watched the game. Saw a couple guys steal first base and chatted about how the Atlantic League rules are different.* My eldest has started to recognize when balls are well hit too. For a long time they couldn’t tell if something was hit well or not but a couple of the homers in this game were crushed and he could tell how those looked and sounded different.

*I’ve been wondering how to score those. The box score from this game lists them as HBPs even though the Atlantic League rules suggest that they should be listed as SBs. My gut suggests that they should be listed as WPs or PBs and count (or not) as earned runs accordingly.

He also noticed that many of the players had Major League experience and even recognized a few names from his collection. I suspect we’ll be going to more Somerset games next year and be keeping more up-to-date on the roster. The more low-key autograph scene here suits my preferences and my kids’ comfort a lot more.

High Point jumped out to an early 4-run lead. Somerset scratched back to within one. Then the Somerset pitcher ran out of gas, loaded the bases, and the relievers proceeded to let a couple runs in, re-load the bases and serve up a grand slam. Still, we saw some nice defense in there as well and there were plenty of other Independent League shenanigans as well.

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Mascots and superheroes roaming the aisles. Batman clips on the Jumbotron. Tshirt tosses (my eldest grabbed one). Playing “Piano Man” when it hit 9:00.* And yes fireworks after it all ended and Somerset was put out of its misery.

*No tonic and gin for sale though. 

The show had been hyped as a good one and it was one of the better stadium shows I’ve seen. An NJ Transit train pulled in right during the finale and I found myself wondering how much the train riders could see since it looked like things were being fired off right nest to the tracks.

There’s another series in a couple weeks. I don’t expect us to go but I can see them lobbying for it…

End of the season

We got back from summer vacation in time to catch one last Trenton Thunder game. Feels like ages ago since we were going to games in the Spring. Not just the two-month gap, we’ve moved and everything is different (in a good way) in our lives now.

Trenton’s changed a lot too. Half the team we remember has been promoted and since we hadn’t paid too much attention to the Yankees Minor League transactions over the summer we had a lot of catching up to do. The boys enjoyed it though in an everything-positive way. They were excited for all the guys who made it to AAA and they were happy to see some of their favorites who were still around.

They were especially excited to find that one of the players whose autograph they’d gotten in Spring had since appeared in the Majors. Adonis Rosa got just a cup of coffee pitching the final two innings of one game but still, very cool. Now they get to decide if that‘s enough to move him from their Minor League section to their Major League section of their autograph binders.

We didn’t plan on doing any autograph hunting at the game. Last one of  the season and just relaxing at the stadium sounded fun. But there was a table set up behind the press box and the line wasn’t too bad so the boys decided they’d take their chances.

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It turned out that two players would be signing. The first was Chris Gittens whose autograph we’ve gotten before. He’s super nice though and it was a great chance to congratulate him on winnig the Eastern League MVP Award. He’s one of the boys’ favorites too so they were excited to see him as well. I suspect they’re hoping that he’s promoted next year though.

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The other player was Isiah Gilliam who’s been at Trenton since July but is new to all of us. He also seems like a nice guy. Since he started at Tampa this season there’s a decent chance we’ll seem him next year.

The boys each got their program signed and I got my ticket stub signed as a memento. They then proceeded to keep score for the entire game—a decent game but ultimately disappointing 3–2 loss. It’s been a lot of fun to see them grow so much this year.

My youngest used to struggle keeping score and paying close attention longer than 90 minutes. He made it the full two and a half hours this time.

My eldest meanwhile is increasingly noticing stuff that I’m not. This is great since one of the best things about going to a game with other people is that we all key into different things that are going on.

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After the game we got to go down on the field for the final Kids Club activity. This was the last Fireworks night of the season and the kids club got to watch it from the outfield. It’s always a treat to be out on the field and this would be the closest they’d been to fireworks ever.

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It’s a decent show. Nothing fancy like what Princeton does or crazy like Redentore in Venice. But a very nice way to close out the season and celebrate the ending of summer.

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For my part I’ve found that I like turning around and watching people watch the fireworks. Something about the field all dark but the crowd still lit up is sort of magical to me and I like seeing faces get illuminated by different flashes of color (and accompanied by various oooohs and ahhhhs).

School starts this week but the boys are already making plans for next year. The 2020 schedule is in the program and they’ve not only circled all the Sunday day games but have noticed that one of them is Richmond. The boys may be Thunder fans but they‘re Giants fans first and will rooting for the Flying Squirrels that day. I suspect we’ll be trying for autographs as well.

Blink of an eye

Note: This is a longer version of a post I wrote for SABR which was in part inspired by my previous post on this blog.

This year I enrolled my sons in the Trenton Thunder’s Boomer’s Kids Club. It’s a great deal. Tickets to eleven games for the three of us plus fun activities and a tshirt* for $45. I knew we wouldn’t be able to make the games in July and August because of summer plans but even just going to the games through June it would be worth it.

*Shirt and activities for kids only.

So this past weekend were our last games before summer vacation. Normally summer means more baseball but in our case it means a break. Well from Trenton at least. Hopefully we’ll catch a San José Giants game in California. Given the way San Francisco has been playing we have a decent chance to get to Pac Bell AT&T Oracle as well.

Erie was back in town and the three of us went to games on both Saturday and Sunday. Saturday was a Copa de Diversión night between the Trueno and the Piñatas. Sadly Boomer is not renamed Bumador but the Guatemalan band was a nice touch. Game was not good either—only one of the 5 runs scored was earned—but it was an enjoyable night at the ballpark.

I wandered over to the Erie dugout before the game with a Casey Mize card since he’d been so cool the previous Erie game I’d been to. And indeed he was. He’s very strict about one autograph per person but takes his time, personalizes everything, and has no problems posing for photos. It’s nice to see. I don’t blame these top prospects for getting a bit surly and tired of the autograph stuff—especially the autograph hounds with dozens of the same card who are clearly in the resale business. Mize’s approach with the personalizations is perfect. Clear lines about what’s appropriate but also super accommodating for the actual fans.

The following afternoon we were back at the ballpark. The game itself couldn’t have been more different. Crisp and well-played. 1–0 pitching duel which gave the Thunder a win the desperately needed. Over in just about two hours.

Because I knew it was our last Thunder game for a while I decided to let the boys hang around the clubhouse after the game and try to get some cards signed. I wasn’t sure how the boys would be able to handle a stack of cards as well as the pens but there’s no way to find out unless you try.

So we hung out for an hour and they did great. Missed a few guys because they were shy. Missed some others because of having to pick one out of a bunch to get. But they each ended up with seven signed cards plus the program and were super happy with their results. For my part I got the Albert Abreu Kenny sent me signed since I was there and had the card.

We’ve now been to seven games this season and it’s been awesome. The boys have gotten two shirts, a jersey, a frisbee, and a pennant. They’ve had a chance to throw out the first pitch, walk around the field, be part of a high-five tunnel for the players, and watch The Sandlot on the outfield after a game. We’ve even been tossed five baseballs. Oh yeah and the games have been good. The Thunder are a decent team and it’s been a lot of fun to watch the boys learn the players and really get into following the season.

They’re also completely hooked on the hobby—especially autograph collecting. Completely. This is all me and my interests rubbing off on them. They’ve seen me write TTM requests and get cards signed at Trenton Thunder games and they want to join me. So I indulge them.

Not too much. I supply cards and pens (for now) but they have to do the requesting. I’m not going to flag a player down for them or ask on their behalf. I’ll help spot guys but the boys need to learn how to approach players, make the request, and say thank you. In addition to the Trenton players we’ve started off pretty simple by just focusing on visiting coaches. As a result the two of them have pretty eclectic autograph binders.

My youngest’s binder is organized alphabetically by first name. His idea. It’s a wonderfully random bunch of cards.* Seven Thunder players. Five coaches. And one card that Marc Brubaker mailed to him. I find myself wondering how much a first grader even cares about people like Joe Oliver, Brian Harper, or Matt LeCroy. These aren’t guys he knows. Some, like LeCroy, aren’t even guys I’d really talk to them about.** But they’re in the binder and he’s super-excited to show them off.

*Unless you make the Eastern League connection.

**Even though the Frank Robinson story is pretty touching

Can he tell you about the players? Only what he knows by turning the cards over. But he’s into this as a hobby even though he’s, so far, just tagging along with me.

His brother’s binder is pretty similar except that his one TTM return is in there and there are a couple 1991 Topps cards that he pulled from his own binder because he got the set for Christmas last year. As a result he has a bit more of a connection to guys like Harper and Oliver but LeCroy, Mark Johnson, and Mike Rabelo are all ciphers to him.

As the season’s progressed I’ve been questioning what it means to collect autographs of guys you’ve never heard of and second-guessing the importance of what I’ve gotten my kids into. Are they excited only because I’m excited? Am I pushing them to do something that only means something to me?

I jumped into the hobby in 1987. I bailed in 1994. Not a long period of time but it felt like forever. And in a way it was. Not only did those years represent half my lifetime by the time I stopped, they covered most of my years in school—pretty much my entire youth.

Now, 25 years later as a father, I’m seeing things from the other side. What was a lifetime when I was a kid is already flashing by in the blink of an eye. I know I only have a handful of years where my sons will legitimately share my interests. Yes legitimately. At the end of the day I’ve realized that it doesn’t matter why they’re interested in the hobby, the fact that they are and that we’re able to share it is what matters.

My two boys love collecting and everything it entails. Getting cards. Sorting cards.* Re-sorting cards.** Showing me their cards. Asking for new cards. Etc. Etc. It’s great. It reminds me of being a kid and it inspires me to document their adventures so that in a decade or two when they look back at their collection they’ll have my thoughts and memories to go with their memories of those years when the three of us were enjoying baseball together.

*On the floor as God intended.

**One day will be by number, the next by team, the next by last name, the next by first name.

I get to experience what I put my mom through, how patient she was, and how much she enjoyed seeing me get excited by the hobby. She kept a journal which I eventually turned into a book so that we could all have copies. I still enjoy rereading her essays and I’m looking forward to my boys reading them too.

Instead of journalling I’m blogging about our adventures and putting together summaries of events we’ve gone too. Like when we went to the Thunder Open House I took photos of their baseballs and printed out a letter-sized sheet for their binders. I’ll do the same thing with their haul of autographed cards for the season since I know they’ll re-sort them multiple times in the future.

It’ll always be important to have the biographical breakdown of their collection. As my sons get older, their cards and autographs will increasingly become markers for their memories rather than just objects to collect and hoard. The memories they’re attached to is what makes them special. It’s why I collect and why I hope they keep collecting.

In fact, I’ve been inspired to start doing the same thing for my cards and autographs. I know I’m going to be passing  everything on to my sons. I also know that “all dad’s stuff’ will be nowhere near as memorable as having an introduction to a given collection or set which explains who I was when I got these and why the set was important to me. This is a big project but I’m looking forward to it.