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.

Another Trenton Homestand

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Trenton’s back after a roadtrip and so we’re back at ball games. The first one was a Sunday game against Erie. The boys opted to stay in the stands rather than partake in the pre-game activity this time. Despite the rain on the drive over, the weather cleared up by game time and stayed hot and sunny until after the last pitch, at which point it got cold and overcast and threatening again.

Not the best game but we got to see a few new players. Rony Garcia got his first AA start and put together a nice-looking line of 5IP, 0R, 0ER, 1H, 4BB, 8K. He wasn’t quite that good but gutted through a bunch of deep counts to get some clutch strikeouts and defensive help. And Brooke Kriske picked up the 2-inning save as the Thunder swept the series with a 4–2 win.

The boys are enjoying the game and they’re enjoying the autograph hunting. With Erie we were looking for the three coaches since they all played in the majors.

Mark Johnson pitched in 9 games for Detroit in 2000. We got him before the game. Nice guy. Went in to the dugout but told us he’d be back. And he came back out and headed right for us. Everyone else on the railing was trying to get the just-called-up Casey Mize (who’d go on to pitch a no hitter the following day) but we weren’t ready for that. Heck we weren’t even ready for Taylor Motter who has cards in the 2017 and 2018 sets.

I don’t have the headspace to stay on top of Eastern League players and transactions. Thunder players, maybe since it’s a consistent team and after seeing a few games you get to know the guys.

Coaches are about the most I can handle. And definitely getting cards for the coaches is way way easier. If the boys want to go nust prospecting they can start acquiring their own cards. So far they seem happy getting coaches and they’re polite and quiet enough on the railing that one of the Erie players gave them each a ball without them having to ask.

The main guy we wanted to get was Brian Harper. He put together a nice 16-year Major League career and, like Joe Oliver, was featured in my son’s 1991 Topps set. Harper also was super nice. Asked us to wait until he got his stuff on the bus and then came back down and signed for everyone. I almost feel like he provided cover for his players to get on the bus (over a half dozen got on unbothered by autograph seekers).

Harper confused the boys by having the Bible inscriptions (this is actually the first autograph I’ve gotten with these as well). I was surprised to see that he changes the inscription for each signature. My two are John 3:16* and John 14:6.** My sons have John 1:12*** and John 14:6. Okay so maybe he just rotates through three.

*For God so loved the world, as to give his only begotten Son; that whosoever believeth in him, may not perish, but may have life everlasting.

**Jesus saith to him: I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No man cometh to the Father, but by me.

***But as many as received him, he gave them power to be made the sons of God, to them that believe in his name.

Anyway it’s provided a decent entree into a discussion about proselytizing and being comfortable stating your faith. Harper’s signing was super gracious and patient. There were a lot of us there who’d brought his cards (this pleased me since it suggests that the prospectors also appreciate his career) and Harper took his time with a nice signature for everyone. Each of these verses works as a succinct summary of his faith and, on the first Sunday of Easter, felt kind of appropriately timed.

And Mike Rabelo, the manager who appeared in 86 games over three seasons in the mid 1990s, was clearly rushing to get on the bus. The boys have better-looking signatures than I do.

Start of the season

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Last Christmas Santa gave the boys each a membership to Boomer’s Kids Club. Is a good deal, $45 total for three tickets to 11 games this season. Trenton’s a great minor league experience* but the kids club is a ridiculously good deal even if we miss some of the games.

*As I’ve mentioned previously it’s done a good job at seducing local kids into becoming Yankees fans.

The first game was on Sunday a week ago. We arrived at the ballpark early so we could pick up our stuff—tshirt, membership card, tickets, giveaway pennant—without getting caught in any lines. After that we wandered around the ballpark until it was time to get in line for the ceremonial first pitch with Boomer.

We didn’t know what to expect (although I wasn’t expecting it to be a real first pitch where you keep the ball) but it turned out to be pretty funny. All the kids got a tennis ball and went to the mound. Boomer then got ready to catch and ALL the kids threw at the same time.

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The game was good too. Not great—lots of walks and deep counts which meant that the game went an hour longer than the usual Eastern League game and clocked in at three and a half hours—but Trenton beat Portland 10–0 and the hometown fans went home happy.

Was an odd blowout. Trenton just kept stringing a few hits and walks together, scoring a run or two in four of the first six innings to go up 6–0. Meanwhile the Trenton pitcher kept getting himself into jams (6 walks, 4 hits, 1 HBP in 5 innings) and then somehow getting out of them. The game picked up once we got into the bullpens and Trenton blew it open with a four-run 7th.

My sons had expressed interest in staying after the game for some autographs. So I figured we may as well kill the entire day at the ballpark. My eldest realized a few months ago that a few of the guys in his 1991 Topps set were now coaches in the Eastern League. I helped him do some of the homework in terms of figuring out who to look for. In the case of this game, Portland’s managers was former Reds catcher Joe Oliver.

So my eldest pulled his card and I pulled a 1991 Donruss dupe for his little brother and we camped out by the visitor’s clubhouse. Looking for coaches is a lot easier than looking for players and while I understand the allure of prospecting, getting an autograph from a World Series winner who had a 13-year Major League career is a pretty safe bet. He won’t become a star, but he had a good career.

They were good. Nice and patient and when Oliver signed for them they held the cards all the way home until they could put them in their binders.

I brought a few cards for myself as well. The Upper Deck is the one I wanted but he was nice and signed the 1992 Topps as well.

The Portland pitching coach is Paul Abbott. Unfortunately he’s not in the 1991 Topps set nor did I have enough duplicates and extras to give the boys each a card (though they’ll obviously be splitting up my collection at some point anyway).

This didn’t turn out to be a problem. The boys were still kind of enthralled by their one autograph that they weren’t ready to get another. They haven’t done the in-person card thing yet but I think they’ll get there this season.

I also managed to get the two Thunder players who are currently on the Yankees 40-man roster. Since neither of these guys made it to the Open House I’m happy I got them so early in the season.

Domingo Acevedo is a tough signer but he was in a good mood on Sunday, hanging out by the dugout after closing out the game. I wasn’t expecting or planning to go after him but I saw an opportunity and moved fast.

Albert Abreu is a good signer and I got him after the Wednesday 10:30 game. I love the Wednesday morning starts. Nothing like watching a game and getting it over before the day really begins. The Thunder lost this one but it was a crisp two and a half hour game which would’ve been even faster had there not been some sloppy fielding.

A very nice way to start the baseball season properly. Two games. A bunch of autographs. Two happy kids with fan club merchandise who are pumped for the season. Between this and Little League there’s been a lot of baseball going on in the house and this spring feels like it will turn into a good summer.

First TTM roundup

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

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

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

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

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

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

Stanford

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Former Giants

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

2018 Giants

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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