Category Archives: baseball

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.

A couple of TTMs

In addition to the mailday from Jason I also received a package from my parents with an assortment of items of the kids and some mail that I’m still receiving at their house. Yeah, until I move my parents’ house is still the most-permanent address I have. Anyway, tucked into that envelope were a couple TTM returns so I figured I should get those scanned and stored as soon as possible lest they get lost in the move.

This pales in comparison to the first couple of return roundups but since the home buying experience has pretty much killed my letter writing the past couple of months I’m happy with whatever straggles in.

The first return is a 51-day turnaround from Dave Marshall. He’s one of those guys who was lucky to play outfield next to Wille Mays. In 1969 in particular he was part of a platoon with Jim Ray Hart and played half of the season in Left Field left to Mays and Bobby Bonds.

He’s also got a great signature which looks fantastic on this card. I’ve gotten a number of 1970 Topps cards signed now and it’s made me reconsider some of my feelings about the design. I’ve long liked the photography but was never moved by the design itself. finding out how well it takes autographs though makes me appreciate the understated nature of the grey borders .

Speaking of understated cards that looks nice signed, Manny Mota signed his 1978 Topps card in 28 days. I’ve gotten a few of these signed now too and as with the 1970s, really like the way the autograph ties the card together.

Mota’s one of those players I’ve always liked because he was such a pinch hitting legend. And while I didn’t mention Airplane* in my letter to him I can’t deny that that was a huge part of why I wanted his signature.

*“I’ve got to concentrate!”

Mota also signed the index card I include as a stiffener. This was very nice of him and I’ll slip that into the binder for now until I think of a proper project to use these index cards for.

I’m looking forward to being able to receive these at my own house. The next batch of letters I send out will hopefully have the new address on the SASE though there are still a bunch of stragglers out there that will trickle in to my parents for a while.

PWE from Jason

I know I know I said I was going on hiatus for a bit. But late last week when I was writing that quick post I received a small envelope from Jason. Inside were two very different, very cool items. Since I haven’t cut off my internet yet or packed up my scanner I’m still in business for blogging so let’s jump in.

The first was this Ross Anderberg art card of Willie Mays. The scan doesn’t do it justice as the card is matte finished but the printing has a bit of sheen to it which causes the scanner to over-contrast things. Nor can you get a sense for this as an object—it’s on super-stiff black cardboard that I want to slap onto the table like a hanafuda card Not thick, just super stiff and satisfying to hold.

I can see why people get into these kind of art cards and why Jason was so excited to receive them. In the same way that I’ve enjoyed making customs, these  cards are a way to take photos of players and turn them into something that we don’t see in the standard card universe.

Plus small production runs where you know someone did everything themselves in the creation of the piece are always fun to have and handle. This is a very cool addition to the collection and, as my first such card, I’m not sure where I’m going to store it.

The other item is, I’m assuming, Jason’s ticket stub from his recent visit to the Hall of Fame. I’m still quite pleased about Moose entering the hall so I very much enjoy seeing that he’s on the museum tickets and I love being able to add the stub to my Stanford album. I especially like that he’s depicted as an Oriole here.

Very cool Jason and thanks for giving me two items that have made me rethink my existing storage decisions. As the kid who used to love any excuse to use pages that weren’t 9-pockets I still savor the challenge of fitting odd-sized items into the binders.

A perfect day

It’s been an interesting couple of weeks in the hobby on Card Twitter. It seems like the big Memorial Day meetup at the Hall of Fame spurred a lot of existential conversation about why we collect, what we collect, and what will happen to our collections in the future.

For guys without kids who collect, these conversations are kind of sobering but seem to have prompted some level of wanting to pare things down to the essentials and focus their collections as tightly as possible. For those of us with kids who collect, it’s made us think about both what we’ll be leaving them as well as how much we’re influencing their collections.

As a member of the second camp, I love that my sons are enjoying the hobby with me. In a way they’re responsible for bringing me back in but I’ve also had a huge amount of influence in encouraging their interest. I’m constantly trying to balance guidance with letting them find their own path. I want them to find their own interests and I love seeing how they use their cards. I also want them to avoid doing things I know they’ll regret later.

To-date they’ve been content following my interests. Collecting Giants. Tagging along on my autograph searches at Trenton. I worry that they’re only excited about stuff because I’m excited about it. I’ve also realized that it ultimately doesn’t matter.

For example. Last Sunday we went to the Thunder game. I wanted to get autographs of the visiting Harrisburg Senators coaches. Matt LeCroy is the manager. He was a journeyman catcher (and DH and 1st baseman when needed) whose seven-year career was decidedly average. I like getting in-person autographs from guys like this. Seven years in the bigs is seven years in the bigs and being able to tie the autograph experience with the game experience is the kind of thing I enjoy doing.

For my kids though it’s not like they know who LeCroy is. He’s not a World Series winner like Brian Harper or Joe Oliver. He played before they were even alive. But because I had a few extra Topps Chrome cards around I was able to supply them with cards to ask for an autograph when I got my two cards signed.

Untitled

And they enjoyed it. My rule, as with the TTM requests,* is that they have to handle the interaction—maybe not initiating contact but at least waiting and handing the card over and saying thank you. They enjoy it…not just because I do. Getting autographs is fun. Getting them on something specific like a card is even more fun. Not only will they always know whose signature it is, they’ll have the picture and memento as well.

*Where they have to write the letter.

In a decade, no matter what their opinion of collecting is at that time, this Matt LeCroy autograph will be on a binder page with Joe Oliver, Brian Harper, Mark Johnson, Brian Rabelo, and who knows what other autographs that we got together. They’ll be able to look back at that page and remember the season (hopefully, seasons) we were in Boomer’s Kids club and went to a ton of games.

It won’t be about the players. It will be about how they did it with their brother and their father and how the three of us spent Sundays together before other activities got in the way. And they’re sure to get in the way…probably much sooner than I expect or desire.

But for now things have been perfect. We get to the ballpark early. Hang out and watch them set up the field and see the players come out. The past couple times we’ve been on the visiting side of the field the boys have gotten balls from the players. Last Sunday Austin Davidson was the generous player. Unlike with Erie where I was caught flat-footed I was able to get my ticket stub signed for the scrapbook.

As with the autographed cards, I’ll look back on this stub and remember it as part of the experience. Spending a Sunday at the ballpark with my sons. Getting cards signed and balls tossed to us and enjoying the breeze that made the hot sunny day not just bearable but quite pleasant.

I also got the Harrisburg pitching coach Michael Tejera’s autograph. I didn’t have enough extras to give to the kids (and splitting up a Fleer Classic and a Topps Gold Label card between them was likely to risk complaining and hard feelings) but it’s just as well since they didn’t even notice me get this autograph. They were still excited about getting LeCroy.

Tejera had a five season career. Average like LeCroy but he did win a World Series with the Marlins in 2003. This is my first time getting a Gold Label card signed. Pain on the butt to scan but it turned out better than I thought.

DSC_0131

After that perfect start to the day we settled into our seats behind the Senators’ dugout and watched the Thunder lose 4–1 by batting 1 for 12 with runners in scoring position. A frustrating loss but we didn’t care. My youngest managed to keep score for the entire game this time* and my eldest only needs my assistance when things get weird.** The group of Nationals fans in front of us were both good-humoured and funny.*** Boomer even came by with a supersoaker to help everyone cool off.

*He’s just marking the result of each plate appearance for now.

**Like a player getting picked off of first by the catcher.

***I wouldn’t expect anything else from people wearing Sean Doolittle shirts.

As soon as the game ended the sky got dark and it started to rain. But we’d had our fun and I told the boys as much on the drive home. It’s been a fun couple of months. Four games now with the kid club plus one with Little League is a lot of quality time we’re spending together at the ball park. I’m making sure to enjoy it while it lasts.

A week of baseball

So my adventure in Somerset ended up kickstarting a busy week of baseball. Over the eight days Thursday to Thursday I ended up doing a ton of baseball games. The Somerset game, three at Trenton, and five Little League games for my sons. It’s been wild and wonderful. This has been my schedule:

Thursday: Somerset in the day, Little League in the evening
Friday: Little League Night at Trenton
Saturday: Little League doubleheader
Sunday: Trenton followed by a movie on the field
Monday: Little League in the evening
Thursday: Trenton in the day, Little League in the evening

I’ve already written about Somerset but it’s worth checking in on the Little League seasons. My eldest son’s team has just figured out how to field. It’s wonderful. We’ve been doing fielding drills about knowing what base to throw to and just practicing covering the bases and making good throws. For a few games the kids had the right idea but couldn’t execute. Now, all of a sudden, they’re making plays. It’s so much fun to watch and the kids are so proud of themselves.

It’s funny. All the kids want to bat but they get way WAY more satisfaction from properly fielding a grounder and throwing a guy out at first.

And yeah their batting is getting better too as more and more of them are getting comfortable with the pitching machine. And they’re even getting smarter on the basepaths. But it’s the fielding work which is great to watch.

My youngest’s team meanwhile is at the stage in coach pitch where they try and kill the coach with liners up the middle. Also a lot of fun to watch even if it doesn’t quite look like baseball yet. The improvement is obvious to everyone and a few of the kids have gotten really good.

I don’t take credit for these things as a coach since the kids have to put in the work but this stage of the season goes really really far in the “making it all worth it” department.

DSC_0015
DSC_0023
DSC_0032
DSC_0035

Which brings us to Little League Night at Trenton. It rained. It was fine. Game started late but we still got to walk around the outfield. Some of the kids got autographs but it’s not a coach’s place to join in there. The game itself was pretty good. Trenton made a nice comeback to take the lead. We didn’t stay until the end since we had Little League the following morning so we left after the 7th inning when the clock hit 10:00.

DSC_0057

The boys weren’t happy about leaving early—even though they accepted the reasoning—so they made me promise to check the score when we got home. They were happy to confirm that Trenton had hung on for the win. However before we left my son and his friend did get to partake in one of the between-innings contests. Very fun and I got to see a bit of how all that Minor League marketing stuff works. Lots of work goes into those every game.

Untitled
Untitled

We made it back to Trenton two days later for Miguel Andujar Jersey day as well as a post-game movie on the field with the kids club. We ended up sitting right next to the dugout and it overwhelmed the boys. Too much to pay attention to although they very much enjoyed all the action. We even got a ball that the Binghamton 1st baseman tossed our way after an inning.

The game in this case was not so good for the locals. Jason Vargas was rehabbing for Binghamton and had a no hitter through three innings before giving up a solo home run in his last inning of work. Meanwhile the Trenton pitchers couldn’t find the plate. Also, it was hot. Where Friday was kind of cold and wet, Sunday was hot and sunny and no one was used to it yet.

Untitled
Untitled

The boys were happy though because we got to hang around after the game, go out to right field, and watch The Sandlot on the jumbotron. That was pretty cool. It’s nice to have the park basically to yourself and it’s always nice to rewatch The Sandlot. It’s not the generational touchstone for me that it is for a lot of other guys but I enjoy watching it with my kids.

Then the following Thursday I caught the last morning start game of the year. It was a good one. A decent pitchers duel where Trenton fell behind 1–0 and then 2–1 before stringing a couple hits together to win 3–2. One of those wonderful Eastern League games that lasts less than two and a half hours.

I decided to try and get the last of the cards that Kenny had sent me and did pretty well in that department.

The Hoy Jun Park Bowman looks pretty nice signed. I don’t like all that Chrome bling but I can see why some people do. Park also takes a lot of time with his signature and I appreciate that he puts the effort in.

I think I have most of the guys in the 2015 and 2016 Staten Island Yankees sets who made it to Trenton. I’m still missing Jose Mesa Jr. and Will Carter but everyone else who’s been with Trenton for a while this year is in the binder. Acevedo does not like this card. He pointed out that they misspelled his name so I apologized. But at least he and Zehner have been playing pretty well this year. It seems like the Yankees are treating this class of players a bit tougher as they’ve cut a couple of them despite them not being that bad. I guess you’ve got to show something more than promise after 5 years in the organization.

Rosa and Kriske meanwhile are part of the next class of guys are are trickling into Trenton this season. Kriske is one of the first guys out of the pen most games. I’ve yet to catch Rosa pitching.

I also grabbed a Garret Whitlock autograph on my ticket stub. He’s been pitching pretty well so I figured I’d grab an auto since he was signing.

I don’t foresee having another week quite this busy baseballwise. No more midweek games on my schedule and Little League is wrapping up. It was fun while it lasted though.

Luis Torrens Fan Club

Last weekend I found an envelope from the Luis Torrens Fan Club in my mailbox. That could only mean one thing. More Yankees prospects.

Indeed there were two cards of guys who are currently at Trenton. Jorge Saez is still splitting time at catcher. The last few games I’ve been to he’s been on bullpen duty with a guy who’s hitting under .100 getting all the starts. I know Saez hasn’t been hitting all that great either but it seems like they’re going with the younger guy for now.

Hoy Jun Park though has been hitting pretty well. I’m a bit annoyed at myself for not realizing that he had 2016 Bowman and Heritage Minors cards so I’m glad I have this one. It’s a fancy shmancy refractor or something but it should look okay signed.

The rest of the envelope was assorted Giants mishmash, starting with this Topps Attax promo card. I don’t quite understand the game and I really don’t understand how a mascot card factors in to this but I kind of love discovering that such cards existed.

A few random Giants cards. Two Chromes which I’m increasingly intrigued by each time I scan them and do a better job at dealing with the different reflectivity of the white opaque ink and the silver foilboard. I kind of like that the 2011 Chrome in particular features white borders. That’s turning out to be especially interesting to loupe since it shows the transition from CMYK to opaque white super cleanly.

The 2011 60 Years of Topps Johnny Mize is a bit of a trainwreck in how it colorizes a photo and uses a design that evokes TV but also 3D effects and all of this looks especially weird when applied to a player who predates all of that.

And two 2019 Heritage cards rounded out the envelope. I like this set but I’m increasingly getting the greenscreen sense when I look at these photos. Still the BElt card in particular is pretty nice. Not the informal 1970 gestalt* but a decent posed photo with interesting background information.

*Needs more random dudes in the background and a cloudless cyan-only sky.

Thanks very much Kenny! I’ll try and get the Park signed ASAP and everything else has a place in the binders.

Independent Ball

DSC_0039

A couple weeks ago I noticed that the Somerset Patriots also had a few mid-week morning starts on their schedule. I’ve been intrigued by the idea of checking out some independent ball—especially with the Atlantic League partnering with Major League Baseball to workshop rule changes—but have never made the drive up to Bridgewater. Last Thursday was the first 11AM start of the season so I figured it was as good a time as any to make the drive.

It’s a nice drive along the canal. Only 35–45 minutes and very pretty for most of the way. Parking is cheap and plentiful and, if I lived along the train line,* I wouldn’t even have to drive. The park itself is pretty nice too. A good size but still cozy with no bad seats.

*Specifically the High Bridge line. I live on the Northeast Corridor so to change lines I have to spend the two hours to go all the way in to Newark and then back out again.

Morning starts are designed around school groups. This game was a combination STEM day and sports-careers day. For older kids there was a pre-game QA session with various community members who worked in sports. I didn’t catch much of this but I was listening to the portion involving a former Rutgers Athletic Director who was asked about paying college athletes. A good question. His answer though was essentially that if they paid athletes they’ll end up unionizing. Very weaksauce and serves as additional confirmation that the athletes should be paid.

DSC_0036

The STEM day portion involved a pre-game experiment/demonstration about how launch angle effects distance where they wheeled out a giant protractor and used a sling shot to launch a baseball at the desired angle. This then turned into the between-innings tshirt toss method. I’m not sure any of the kids got the lesson but if even one of them noticed that 45° appeared to be the best angle then I guess the exercise was worth it.

DSC_0038

To the game itself and thinking about the rule changes. First off, the 18″ square bases look comically huge. I’m not sure why this is needed. I guess it’s an attempt to increase offense without tampering with the canonical dimensions of the game. Changing the distance between bases from 90 feet would be outrageous. Making the bases 3″ larger though can slip through the cracks. I’m not sure how much offense it’ll create though since it also means that throws to first don’t have to be as long.

No mound visits is weird but wasn’t noticeable during this game due to pitchers not laboring and getting into trouble. This is an observation of its own and I don’t know if it’s just this game or a generic Atlantic League thing but there were very few walks or strikeouts in the game. At Trenton it seems like deep counts are increasingly the norm and that the three true outcomes are working their way through the minors now too. At Somerset? Lots of balls hit in play. It was kind of wonderful even if the fielding was a bit of an adventure at times.

DSC_0031

The exciting thing though was, appropriately for STEM day, I got to witness the first day of implementing TrackMan and automatic umpires. This isn’t the first case of implementing automatic umpires but it’s still super-new technology to the game. When I was watching the game I thought it was up and running completely and was amazed at how much of a non-factor it was. Then I noticed the home plate umps subbing out* and found out that they were calling their game but also hearing the TrackMan chirping in their ear.

*4 innings for the first ump. 1.5 for the next two (day/night doubleheader so only 7 innings)

Still, a pretty interesting thing to witness and I want to go back to see how the experiment progresses. Automated balls/strikes is clearly something Major League Baseball needs to implement soon.

Untitled

To the food. I wasn’t planning on eating at the game. I usually don’t and once I saw the prices I very clearly wasn’t. $5 for a hot dog. $8 for a foot-long. $13 for a burger. Yes the food looked good but even with the usualy ballpark markups that’s pretty high.* Then I saw an advertisement for their special of the day, chicken empanadas. I would’ve been second guessing myself all day if I didn’t try those. They were good. Not great. About the right value for ballpark food. I’m glad I got them. I also don’t need to get them again.

*I couldn’t help but wonder if the higher prices meant they were paying their players better than Minor League salaries.

And lastly. Of course I got some autographs. Frank Viola is the pitching coach for High Point. He’s definitely one of those players I remember from my youth. World Series MVP in 1987. Cy Young in 1988. A frequent All Star during those years. He had a very good big league career and I was very happy to get a couple of his cards signed. He was super nice and I bet he much prefers the autograph scene in the Atlantic League to the one in the Eastern League. There were maybe a handful of us at the game and we were all the type who like the older players or obscure guys. None of that prospecting/investing crowd that exists at Trenton.

I can see my kids having fun here. I can see myself having fun here again. I’ll definitely be back and will dial in some time to visit Bound Brook as well since it looks to be full of Costa Rican and Peruvian food.

DSC_0041