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.

Getting Zapped in time for the Thunder Open House

As I, and my son, have gotten more and more into Trenton Thunder games I’ve started paying more and more attention to Kenny’s Twitter feed and blog. In addition to being a prolific trader whose Zippy Zappings are somewhat legendary, he’s a big-time Yankees prospector and autograph seeker. While the prospecting life isn’t for me, knowing who to expect to see in Trenton and who the likely big deals are is good information. At some point I suspect my kids will take over this knowledge base but for now Kenny’s my go-to.

Since Kenny is located in New York City he has access to the Staten Island Yankees (also the Brooklyn Cyclones but we don’t talk about the Mets) and sees Yankees prospects fresh out of the draft. When he realized that the Trenton Thunder were having their open house last Tuesday he put together a package of Staten Island extras and sent them to me and my boys so we could start prospecting on our own.

I suspect he’s also trying to convert them into being Yankees fans. Many of the local kids around here have turned their backs on their parents’ teams and have instead begun to support the Yankees. It would be infuriating if it weren’t so pure. Trenton is a good experience and the past couple years with Aaron Judge, Gary Sanchez, Miguel Andujar, and Gleyber Torres all making the jump from Trenton to New York City means that the kids are really just following the players’ careers and being excited about them making The Show.

This would be super concerning to me if the Andrew McCutchen trade hadn’t gone down the way it did last year. But seeing Abiatal Avelino in Trenton and then seeing him play in San Francisco later that same season? Super cool. We also got to see Billy McKinney, Brandon Drury, and Justus Sheffield last season and none of those guys are with the Yankees anymore either. My kids have already learned that the Yankees like to trade for players during the season and that minor leaguers at the Trenton level are frequently exactly who gets sent the other way.

Anyway I got my first Zippy Zapping on Monday. Just in time. Inside were three piles of cards—one each for me and the boys.* Plus a bunch of other ephemera from Staten Island. Like I said, I think he’s trying to convert us.

*Yes plural. The youngest is old enough to go to games now and has been jonesing to go for a while. He’s super pumped for the season and is more than ready to join his big brother.

One thing the Trenton is great at is giving away the program at every game. It’s fantastic and welcoming. I thought perhaps this was just a Trenton thing but since Staten Island appears to also do it maybe it’s a Yankee thing. I’d be impressed if it were.

I think this is a complete run of monthly programs from 2016. The first one has an embarrassingly low-resolution cover image but it’s really interesting to see how much roster turnover there is form the first program to the last one.

Also two ticket stubs from last season. I may as well link to Kenny’s post about these games. I’m kind of shocked at the prices. Trenton isn’t cheap but is cheaper than this (San José meanwhile papers the house so everyone feels like they can afford to buy BBQ and churros). I hope the food at Staten Island is affordable since this seems like it would be tough to take families to.

On to the loose cards. Two of the Chromes are for me. The Abreu is for getting signed at Trenton. And the other three Minor League cards are to be divided among the three of us.

Kyle Crick is the guy the Giants sent to Pittsburgh (with cash) for Andrew McCutchen; who then turned into Abiatal Avelino and Juan De Paula. De Paula meanwhile just got shipped to Toronto with Alen Hanson and Derek Law for Kevin Pillar. So in a sense the Giants got rid of Crick, Hanson, and Law and received Avelino and Pillar in exchange.

Kyle Holder is currently with Trenton with Albert Abreu. David Sosebee is with the Yankees’ AAA club in Scranton. And Josh Roeder is now in the Marlins organization. Travis Phelps meanwhile played a couple years in the Majors for Tampa Bay.

Like the Abreu, the rest of the cards were intended for autograph hunting. I didn’t have time to scan anything before the Open House so instead I’m scanning what got signed  and moving into a rundown of the event.

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DSC_0157I took the boys directly from school. The event started at 3:00. We got there around 3:45 and just wandered around the stadium before grabbing our $1 hot dogs once batting practice started. They loved just watching the players hit.

One of my favorite things as a kid was to get to the park early and watch the teams practice too. There’s something very calming about it and it warms my heart that the boys share my mindset. I’m glad we can all watch together.

Around 5:00 we went up to the autograph line. They were excited—a little too excited—so I gave them each a Thunder baseball and told them we’d try the cards another day. Juggling everything was going to be tough. Which meant I was the only one getting cards signed. I gave the notebook method a shot this time and it’s pretty nifty. Definitely a timesaver if you have a lot of cards you’re managing.

The autographs were managed so well that everyone finished signing like 20 minutes early. Finished in this case means that all the fans in attendance had gotten everyone’s signature. This is just as well since it was pretty chilly and as much as I like minor league ball, the way the players get treated (and not paid) is making me feel really guilty about enjoying it.

Anyway, to the autographs. Two non-team-set cards are of Jorge Saez and Trevor Stephan. Saez has been stuck in AA for too long. He’s better than this and is a perfect example of many of the things wrong with the way Major League Baseball treats minor leaguers. He enjoyed the blast from the past with this card featuring him with the Blue Jays though.

Stephan was the only top prospect to show up (Albert Abreu was on the list but ended up not being in town) and sort of carries himself like he knows it. Still nice enough but definitely someone who’s already been asked to sign a ton of autographs.

Kenny sent us three 2015 Staten Island Yankees team sets. A lot of the players in this set are with Trenton. I don’t normally go for minor league sets but I figured, what the hey, if I have the cards I may as well try and get them signed. Jeff Hendrix, Jhalan Jackson, and James Reeves are ones I recognize from last season. Kyle Holder and Brandon Wagner are new to me but joined Trenton after I’d stopped going to games in June.

Of note here is how different Holder’s signature looks from the certified one Kenny sent.

He also sent us three 2016 Staten Island Yankees sets. Only a couple of these guys are with Trenton. For now. Ben Ruta was on the team last year and Angel Aguilar was a late late promotion. Kenny suggests that a lot more of the guys in this set will make their way to Trenton before the year is up.

I like the way they signed in the white space on these cards. A marked difference compared to the the signed cards that Kenny sent me.

I’ll sit on my copies of the team sets for additional autograph purposes. The boys are already making noise about putting theirs in the binder. Yes they also want to get them signed. I’m going to have to talk to them about how it’s one or the other for now.

That finishes up my Zippy Zapping. Thanks Kenny for getting the new season off on the right foot!

I’m not sone with this post though because I also brought a few of my own cards as well. Jason Phillips is the Trenton bullpen coach but played catcher for the Mets for a few years. And I’d grabbed some 2018 Topps Heritage Minors cards from Tampa since that’s the lazy method of prospecting that appeals to my lower attention span. Unfortunately only Stephan showed up at this event.

The main autograph thing I was planning on working on was a team ball. I had one and I gave each of the boys one as well. I’m not planning on a compleat comprehensive ball but it’s nice to get one with 25 signatures on it. They’re good reminders of the event and the boys are both in love with theirs.

My ball is is an Official Eastern League ball. Supposedly they’re switching to the generic Official Minor League balls this year but I like having things being as specific as possible.

Image 2 is manager Patrick Osborn #13 who signed last but all the players left him the sweet spot.

Image 3: Brody Koerner #24, Trevor Stephan, Raul Dominguez #23, Jhalan Jackson #30, Mandy Alvarez #3, and Chris Gittens #34.

Image 4: Angel Aguilar #7, Kaleb Ort #29, Jeff Hendrix, Kyle Holder #6 and Bullpen Coach Jason Phillips.

Image 5: Pitching Coach Tim Norton #40, Jorge Saez #18, Francisco Diaz #8, Will Carter #11, Daniel Alvarez #31, and Trey Amburgey #15.

Image 6: Brandon Wagner #10, James Reeves #26, Ben Ruta, Wendell Rijo #12,
Nick Green #45, Trevor Lane #9, and Bat Boy Tommy Smith #48.

I like having the signed cards. I also like having the single ball as a memento. Small enough to store and display easily but also represents a memory, and set of memories much more than a card can.

I’m not going to run down the boy’s baseballs the same way since we all have the same signatures. I gave them the cheaper fake-leather balls since they have the Thunder branding and I was (correctly) expecting these to get beat up a little. Kids love their treasures but also tend to love them to death.

It’s a lot of fun to watch but also a serious marker into observing when they‘ll be ready for nicer things. They can graduate to real leather balls once they can buy them themselves and handle them better.

At least they’re happy having these in cubes and displayed in a place of honor on their desks. Could be worse. They could’ve been chucked into the big box of athletic equipment with all the other balls.

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All in all a very successful afternoon. Worst part of the day was getting them to calm down after we got home. They’re both amped and ready to go to their first game and are even asking to go early so we can watch BP. April 14 can’t come soon enough for them. Good thing they’re part of Boomer’s Kids Club. It’s going to be a fun spring.

The Autograph Bug

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Last Friday was our Little League’s night at the Trenton Thunder. It’s fun, the kids get to walk around the field and stand by the players for the national anthem. Then we all get to sit together in the stands and watch the kids get hopped up on cotton candy and staying up too long past their bedtime.

It’s a wonderful benchmark for me to see how my son’s perspective on the game has changed. Two years ago he was overawed by the field and couldn’t pay attention to the game. the highlight for him was when I surprised him with his very own Thunder cap. Last year he was getting into the action a bit and discovered the stats on the scoreboard. His interest in the stats and what they meant is partially what led me toward baseball cards again. This year? He’s keeping score, really paying attention to what’s going on, and has expressed an interest in getting autographs.

Yeah.

My mother is totally laughing at me now.

The big buzz from the kids in the know was that Greg Bird was rehabbing.* So a bunch of the kids had high hopes for getting his signature. Unfortunately for them Bird signed while all the kids were in the outfield preparing for the anthem.

*Not being a Yankees fan I’m not in the loop with who’s rehabbing where.

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I missed out on Bird as well (was going to have to use my ticket stub like I did with Matsui) but did grab a photo. He was great though. Signed everything (sadly moving away from me). Posed for photos. Super-accomodating with the fans in a way that I’ve not seen from many players at any level of baseball. It was refreshing to see.

The game itself was great. Minor league ball can be bad at times but this one was fast-paced with good pitching. Brian Keller only had one run of support but it was enough as he took a no-hitter into the 6th and finished with a nice line of eight innings pitched allowing no runs, one hit, and striking out four while throwing just over 100 pitches. Bird gave the fans a nice show with a solo homer for the insurance run in the 8th and the game was over in just over two hours.

My son meanwhile had decided that he wanted to get his program autographed by Jay Bell. He’d seen my card earlier and since Bell is on the cover of the program this was a logical first step. Plus he sort of wanted to test himself to see if he’d even have the courage to ask.

So we headed over to the dugout after the game to see if we could catch Bell. No luck. Instead, since it was only 9:00 I figured we could hang around the locker room door for a while. We ended up being there for an hour and I got to watch him transform. He was indeed too shy and let the first handful of players go.* Eventually though he gathered enough courage to ask Jhalen Jackson for a signature. And after that it was all easy and each success just made him happier and happier.

*Including Dillon Tate who I would’ve chased down had he not been wearing headphones and giving off a clear “don’t bother me” vibe.

It was a joy to watch and I understand why my mom was willing to wait so long for me during my autograph hunts decades ago. It’s nice to see kids just having fun being fans and appreciating all the players as part of the team. No focusing on the stars or prospects, instead all that mattered was whether they wore the uniform.

Having him there put a smile on the players’ faces. Most of them hung around to make sure they signed for the three kids (who were all sharing my son’s pen) and the energy of the little crowd was extremely positive. There was so much excitement whenever the door opened (except the one time they were distracted and someone scared them) that it rubbed off on everyone else. The other, more-seasoned autograph collectors all had smiles on their faces too and it ended up being a fun hour despite the cold.

By the end of the night my son had no qualms about talking to the players and had quite a collection on his program. 17 autographs: 15 players plus 2 coaches including Jay Bell the ex-Major Leaguer.

Signature IDs from top to bottom, left to right:
Matt Frawley #13
Ben Ruta, Tim Norton (pitching coach), Ryan Lidge #36
Trey Amburgey #14, James Reeves #61
Mandy Alvarez (upside down)
Jay Bell (manager), Brian Keller #31
Chris Gittens #34
Jhalen Jackson #25, Gosuke Katoh, Ryan Bollinger #28
Jeff Hendrix, Bruce Caldwell #12 (upside down)
Jordan Foley #30, Jorge Saez #18

I’m just glad that most of the guys put their uniform numbers by their names so I could ID them.

The highlights on this—aside from Jhalen Jackson who’s now sort of a permanent hero for my son the way Mike Aldrete is for me—are:

  • Brian Keller—that night’s starting pitcher who deserved all the congratulations we gave him.
  • Jeff Hendrix—that night’s starting center fielder who drove in the go-ahead run.
  • Mandy Alvarez—the 3rd baseman who my son was by for the anthem and who told all the kids asking him for autographs that he’d sign after the game.
  • Chris Gittens—who drove in the winning run in extra innings in the previous game we attended this season.

Of course I also had my card from Peter that I wanted to try and get signed. When Bell did finally emerge from the clubhouse, my son was super chatty and told him, “my dad brought a card of you with a c0w!”

So yeah a success on all fronts. The card did get a bit of a chuckle from Bell and he commented, “that was a long time ago,” when he signed it.

I also got Bell’s 1994 Pacific card signed. I would never have attempted a glossy card like this when I was a kid but I wanted to see what happened if you rub it with a dryer sheet first. Looks like a decent tip. I’m not a huge fan of this set/design since it runs a bit low-contrast in its photo processing. That low-contrast look though really makes a signature pop so I’m pleased with this as well.

It was a good night for both of us. My son was extremely excited and happy and is already planning his next autograph adventure. Despite being two-hours past his bedtime he was all hopped up and took a while before he went to bed. Needless to say he has the bug.