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.

New Years Zapping

Last week Kenny gave me a heads-up that he’d sent me a package. I was expecting a small bubble mailer or something and kept an eye out…especially after we realized that the package had been sent to my old address. Then on Friday though my old neighbor gave me a call and said that a box had arrived for me.

A box? That was unexpected. So last weekend I popped on by (we only moved down the street), said hello, and picked up a medium priority mailing box filled with a lot more than just Yankees prospect cards.

Assorted vintage and junk wax. I love the 1975 Len Randle and am looking into other Len Randle cards now since his 1978 is one of the best of the set. The more I see of 1981 the more I like about it even though I really dislike the floppy caps still. But the bright, solid border is great and the photography has character.

A pre-A’s Dave Stewart is always fun and I’m very happy to have the giant glove Mickey Hatcher. I don’t have all the classic fun Fleer cards* but every one I do add makes me smile.

*Still missing the 1984 Hubbard and Johnstone cards among others. 

I’m also never going to be upset to add another Topps Gold card and while Collectors Choice was a set I barely collected due to 1994 reasons I like it more and more each time I see it.

Some more-modern cards starting off with a great photo on the Mark Bellhorn and then moving into more-expected territory with Yankees and Mets cards. Nice image on the El Duque card and it still weirds me out to see Derek Lowe as a Yankee.

A bunch of 2016 Archives in the 1979 design. Nice to get a couple Giants. Brandon Drury is also appropriate since I saw him rehab at Trenton. These cards all have pretty nice paper too, they just have some slightly weird photo processing especially the Billy Williams and Maz cards which feel like the backgrounds have been messed with a little.

It’s especially instructive to compare the Archives cards with the big batch of over 60 real 1979s in the mailer. Archives does a decent job at mimicking things but can’t quite get the photography right. This is partly because there’s been a standard Topps portrait setup used for all of Archives and Heritage recently and, while it’s fine for what it is, it’s not trying to capture the 1979 look either.

Some of this is the poses (the hands over head pitching posed windup is a thing of the past now). There’s also the slightly lower angle which, results in lots of sky-dominated, if not sky-exclusive, backgrounds. But it’s really cards with candid shots like the Garry Templeton which just no longer exist now. They’re not super-common in the 1979 set either but they’re there and tend to be my favorite shots of the set.

I still don’t like the 1979 design but it’s growing on me. Very photocentric and the splash of color is great. The fact that it’s the base card for Basquiat’s anti-product baseball cards is an added bonus.

Some more 79s. Larry Cox is a great catcher card. Clint Hurdle has a wonderful cheekful of chaw. I will never understand why the Cubs team cards were the way they were in the 1970s with all those floating heads. Mike Lum is a key addition to the not-yet-official Hawaii-born players project I keep telling myself I should start. And Nino Espinosa is an addition to the Candlestick binder.

Almost done with the 1979s and I have to admit that the Ken Landreaux stopped me cold when I was flipping through the stack. I joked on Twitter by calling it Vermeer lighting but in all seriousness I’ve never seen a baseball card lit like this before.

Indirect windowish light is not a situation that occurs that often in baseball as it is. The fields are exposed. Dugouts are usually open. Photographers are usually shooting into dugouts or out into the field. So getting a side shot of a player looking back from an open window? Even if it’s just a grab shot it’s one of those moments and lighting situations that makes the photographer side of me look closely.

Last handful of 79s includes another Candlestick card with the Jamie Easterly. I’m slowly putting together a page from each set showing just cards taken at the Stick. No specific searchlist, just pulling cards as I come across them This batch took me to five 1979s of Candlestick and also pushed my non-set-building accumulation over 200 in general.

Kenny included a few Giants and Giants-related cards. The Panini Joey Bart is especially nice. It doesn’t look like I’m going to get to see him in Trenton since he’s projected to end up at Sacramento but I’m hoping he’ll start the season in Richmond and only move up after they visit Trenton.

Chrome Suarez is cool and I know that Yastrzemski is an Orioles card but it just looks like a Giants card to me. The bunch of Pence cards is also fun. It’s weird to see him looking so clean cut as an Astro and I’m glad he regained some form with the Rangers.

Moving to Stanford guys. I don’t actively collect relics but this is one where I can see why people do. Not just a half-inch square of material, this is instead a big swatch which shows off how well-done Stanford’s ink/fabric color matching is. The photo is small but legible. The autograph is on-card. I don’t like the red uniforms but the color really pops here.

I’m not super-collecting Quantrill but he’s the one guy who debuted this year who got a bunch of cards from Topps. As a result I’ve picked up a lot of them and this is arguably the nicest of them all.

Three more Stanford guys in the mix. Bleich is also a former Trenton player and I’m not sure Kenny realized Ramos and Osuna were Stanford. that Osuna card is fantastic though.

Girardi on the other hand is a Spanish-language card and so fits with another of my mini collections. I’ve written about this set before and while I only have a handful of these total it’s always great to add a new one.

Speaking of non-English cards, Kenny sent me a couple Japanese cards as well. From what I can tell on his blog, Kenny visits his family in Japan and comes back with all kinds merchandise, much of which he’s generous enough to send out to other people.

God help us all if he starts bringing back mid-70s Calbee cards since these Kanebo and Card Gens are cool enough as it is. The Kanebo Bonds card is a massive improvement over the regular 2003 Topps design* because it’s deleted the Topps logo. The logo is often intrusive as it is but in 2003 it’s doubly annoying because it’s bright red instead of being reversed, black or, as is the case today, foil stamped.

*Also it uses the Opening Day photo.

Sega Card Gen is something that really intrigues me because it’s part of a video game that really has to be seen to be believed.  The card itself is pretty neat too: stiffer than a regular card and rounded corners. I actually have one on my Stanford Wantlist because San Fuld’s only 2012 card is a one of these but never expected to actually get one. Very very cool to have a sample in my collection.

Looking at the back of the Kanebo card is pretty wild. I appreciate that they translated his height and weight into metric. I also recognize that the team name is listed as “Jaiantsu” instead of “Kyojin” and am noticing the connection in voiced and unvoiced katakana syllabic pairs (in this case the BA in “Barry” and PI in “Pirates”).

Sticking with Japanese issues, There was a huge stack of close to 80 Japanese Panini Soccer cards. Even better, many of them were from 2010 to 2012 and so cover the years in which I was most interested in the game.*

*I’m still a fan but ever since Suárez came to Barcelona I’ve found myself less interested. Plus the inequality in the game itself has gotten worse and it’s become increasingly difficult to actually follow what’s going on as even highlights are going behind paywalls.

The biggest highlight in this batch is a Messi card from 2005–2006. Not technically a rookie card but pretty damn close. Messi debuted in 2004 and so probably only shows up on commemorative Campions Lliga type sets from that seasn. 2005–2006 would be the first time he’d be included from the beginning and what a season that was. A good time to be a Barça fan.

Two early-career Cristiano Ronaldo cards are also very nice. I also like seeing Keisuke Honda and Guiseppe Rossi. And even the Real Madrid and Atletico Madrid guys bring back good memories of that period of time.

More Soccer. Another Rossi. Diego Forlan. Bojan Krkic. Gianluigi Buffon, Shinji Kagawa. So many players who I watched play in Europe and int he World Cup. They won’t all make it into my album but it’s going to be difficult to cut things down to a couple pages.

Last bit of soccer takes us into current-year cards and stickers. These don’t resonate as much although Mathieu and Vidal are both players who’ve played at Barça. Rodrigo Taddei is also a former AS Siena player. I used to follow Siena when they were in Serie A but after going out of business and restarting in Serie D it’s been much harder for me to follow them. I do know they’re in Serie C now and doing well while not competing for promotion.

Also it‘s worth nothing that these cards are all mini-card sized and feel like the B5 equivalent to regular cards A4/letter size. I haven’t compared them to the classic Calbee size yet but it’s close and feels similarly satisfying to handle. Like the Card Gen cards these are part of a game and have backs that detail each player’s strength number within the game.

Okay now we’re getting into Kenny’s wheelhouse. Mostly Yankees. Mostly minor leaguers. These are from nationally-released minor league sets and as such I don’t really recognize many of the names. Jim Walewander may be the only one actually since the Melky Cabrera and Mike Stanton are part of the Major League side of Bowman.

A few more-modern Minor League issues with some Major Leaguers mixed in. Not much to say here except to note that while I like these Bowman designs they’re also some of the designs that I have the hardest time telling apart.

I also need to comment on whatever Topps did in that 2013 Heritage 1962 design. Design looks good but the photo processing looks like the black plate just didn’t print. At first I thought some of these were blackless variations but they all have the same look. It really weirds me out.

Sticking with minor league releases, Kenny included a dozen cards of guys I might see in Trenton at some point.* Most of these guys were in Tampa last year and can reasonably be expected to be in Trenton this year. The big name is Florial who I’m hoping won’t jump Trenton after a couple years in Tampa.

*Assuming there’s even minor league baseball in 2021 and beyond.

Another dozen or so cards related to Trenton. A handful shows guys who pre-date my time as a fan including three more which show the weird photo processing. Always fun to expand the Thunder collection though.

The rest show guys who I saw last season. Kyle Holder might be back though I expect him to move up to AAA.* It would’ve been nice to have had that Bowman card last year though. Same with the Jeff Hendrix although the fact that Hendrix was released early last season means I didn’t miss out much. Jhalan Jackson is another guy who didn’t make it through the season. And Casey Mize isn’t a Thunder player but was part of Erie’s excellent pitching staff which was impressive whenever I saw them play.

*Unlike Trevor Stephan who struggled with injuries last year and so I wouldn’t be surprised to see him at least start the season at Trenton.

It wouldn’t be a proper zapping from Kenny if there weren’t a bunch of Yankees minor league team set cards. I never properly appreciated how long he’s been Yankees prospecting but the first cards here are from 1992. I don’t like these cards individually but there’s something about seeing the progression of designs and the increased production quality which I find fascinating.

The 1992s are full bleed but the typesetting is an afterthought and the paper is super thin. By the time we get into the 2000s the cards feel and look like proper cards. I don’t know if the designs are used across all the different minor league teams the way that TCMA designs were consistent across all the teams in the 1980s but they increasingly look like national releases.

These show the 2000s and 2010s designs which are much less loving-hands customs and much more professional looking. They still don’t pass as Major League cards in part due to the print quality but they’re not bad. The stock and finish is much much better now though.

The last items in the box were three mini-binders. I’ve been intrigued by these for my Mothers Cookies sets since the four-pocket pages are perfect for 28-card sets. Unfortunately Ultra Pro seemed to have discontinued these right when I started looking. This is also probably part of why Kenny decided to dump these. I know he’s trying to condense his collection but these are a nice way to have some things on display without taking up too much space.

These came with pages inside too so that makes them perfect for me to give to the boys. They have plenty of big binders but I can see the small ones being great for the cards they want to show off the most.

It’s a good thing I opened the binders too since there were a dozen autographs in there. Bobby Brown is the big one and now forces me to make a decision about my Stanford Project. To-date I’ve not included him because he was only at Stanford for a year before enlisting in the Navy and finishing his education at UCLA and Tulane. Part of this is me preferring guys who ended finished off their collegiate careers with Stanford* and part of this is me not wanting to pay the Yankees tax on Brown’s cards.

*Or, in the case with Bill Wakefield, Stanford graduates who didn’t play college ball.

At the same time he’s in the Stanford Athletics Hall of Fame so it’s clear that he kind of should be part of the project at some level and I’ve added this to the binder to reflect that.

The rest of the autographs are all guys from the 2004 Battle Creek Yankees. I’m going to assume these were TTMs and, since none of these guys made it to the majors, Kenny’s willing to include them in his clean-out. Battle Creek was a low-A level team in the Midwest League and so demonstrates how hard it is to predict who’ll make it to the majors at that level. Only seven guys on the entire team made it al the way with Melky Cabrera the only real success story.*

*For my interests Stanford-wise, Jason van Meetren was also on this team but I’m not intentionally going into Minor League team issues for this project unless it’s the only way to get a card of a guy who eventually played in the majors.

Wow. That was a lot of stuff to get through and a lot of fun to look at. Thanks Kenny! I’m going to have to touch base after Spring Training as I prep for the Trenton season.

My 2010s

I’ve only been blogging for nine years but ending the decade feels like a good time to look back on where this blog has been and how it’s changed from being about photography, museums, and sports to a lot more card collecting.

I still like photography and museums, I’ve just been in a bit of a rut ever since I moved to New Jersey. I need to get out more but I also need to be back in time to pick up the kids from school and I honestly just haven’t been inspired by my surroundings despite being here for six years.

Anyhoo, highlights from the past nine years of blogging. I made it to WordPress’s Discover (previously known as Freshly Pressed) twice. The first time was for a 2013 post about looking at photography which is really about dealing with the proliferation of any media. The second time was for a post about Atlee Hammaker and how, as a kid, I didn’t realize that he shared the same multicultural background I did.

I also had a moment of semi-virality in 2013 when I dashed off a quick (it’s always the quick posts that get you in trouble) post about “white guy photography” which took on a life of its own. I had to follow that up with some clarifications. That was an interesting ride and I’m not sure how people deal with that level of scrutiny and seething anger on a daily basis. I also shudder to think about what would’ve happened if that post had gone viral in the last half of this decade.

Another popular post was in 2014 and forshadowed my return to the hobby when I recognized that my childhood autograph collecting and current photography practices had a bit in common in terms of that push/pull between the process and the result. That reminder to enjoy the process rather than fixating on the result is possibly the single most important thread in my blogging. I don’t seek viewers or an audience, this is for my enjoyment and I just like the writing. That I only average, at most, one view an hour is still a lot more viewers than I ever expect to get.

For a blog where I wrote about sports a lot, I don’t have many sports posts listed on here and that’s because while I started out writing a bit about sports and fandom, the general theme on this blog has involved me drifting away from The Olympicsfootball, and Barcelona. Yes there are some posts in there which I liked but it’s been weird to chronicle and revist my abandonment of a lot of things I used to be a fan of.

The flip side of this is that I’ve also been able to write about my sons’ discover of baseball, especially minor league baseball. Over the past couple years I’ve been able to enjoy going to games with them and collecting cards and autographs with them and it’s been wonderful. I’ve rediscovered how baseball cards are one of the formative items in my childhood photography and design education and not only started blogging for SABR, I’m now the co-chair of the Baseball Card Committee.

This has meant that some of my favorite posts over the past couple years are actually on the SABR blog where I still write about photography and museums with posts about people like Mike Mandel, Cady Noland, and Jean-Michel Basquiat. I’ve also particularly liked writing about the mental exercise of thinking about what it means to restore a baseball card as well taking a deep dive into R G Knowles and discovering the state of baseball in turn of the 20th century England.

Where will this blog go in the next ten years? Who knows. It’s been a fun ride so far and I owe everyone who’s read any of my posts a big thank you.

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.

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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.