Friday, August 26, 2016

Blaster Break: When Computers Come to Life

Maybe I'm just an old soul.  Maybe I just watched too much Battlestar Galactica, and have very legitimate concerns about the machines taking over.  Either way, I'm decidedly behind the tech curve.  
As digital cards have become...a recent years, I tried to wrap my head around it.  I've even bought "packs" on and off over the last few years with the free coins you can earn by logging into Topps Bunt.  Still not seeing the appeal.

But when I saw that Bunt had been released as a tangible product, I was pretty excited.  The one thing missing from my collecting calendar (aside from multiple manufacturers who can use logos and Topps Total) has been another low end release.

We have super duper high end products out the wazoo.  We get the more throwback sets than James K. Polk would care to see.  But for the low end collectors, the only crack at a fun, cheap product comes before the first game is played, and the excitement wears off while superstars are still hitting below the Mendoza line.

 So the timing seems perfect for a mid-year low end release.  And while I have absolutely despised the Flagship releases over the last couple years, the design for Bunt actually really struck a chord with me.
 It's been a rough week work-wise, finding out that we lost a contract with a school that we had been told "was on the way" for months two days before the start of the year.
 So a little retail therapy was very welcomed.
 I enjoyed the break for the most part.  The inserts in my blaster box looked great, even if the player selection wasn't my favorite.  I'm a sucker for throwback uniforms, and the trippy Lightforce inserts are some of my favorites in years.  Add in a nice, clean base design that doesn't feel over-engineered despite the fact that there really is a lot going on, you we have a winner.
 My biggest complaint was the lack of inserts.  Unlike Opening Day, which has often yielded multiple inserts in the same pack, over half the packs I opened either had no insert or a coupon for a free pack of Topps Bunt (the online one).  I get the latter - after all, I assume the product was largely created to drive traffic to their digital platform, where they can rake in the cash without that pesky step of actually...producing...anything.

Still, it would have been nice to see more inserts out of the packs.  But given how stale and formulaic Opening Day has started to feel for me, this was a great change of pace for $10.

Thursday, August 25, 2016

Going for the Gold

There's just something magnetic about colored refractors that match a team's colors.  And while it certainly feels like Topps has spanned the entire rainbow in recent years, the standard for the refractor has always been the gold refractor in my eyes.  The gold standard, if you will. 

And there's just something about the gold mixed with the Pirates traditional black-dominated uniform that really pops.

I've tried to shy away from prospect cards in recent years.  Since finishing college, I just don't have the time to closely follow the minor league system the way I did, and with the chaos that has become the Bowman brand it's just more hassle for me than it's worth in my eyes.

But as with most cards, the price of gold refractors seems to creep lower and lower.  I remember when I was thrilled to buy one for $4 shipped.  Then $3.  And now...well, there's a certain point where willpower goes out the window.

I added both these cards for just a hair over $2 each.  Delivered.

Setting the world on fire?  Not exactly.

But both are great additions.  Schwartzbauer is an alum of my alma mater, Duquesne University, and graduated a couple years before I got to campus.  Considering only a handful of players were drafted (including ex-Bucco Joe Beimel) before the baseball program was scrapped in 2010, it hasn't been tough to chase down cards of the few players that have them.  So this was a big pickup in my book.

And Supak was a 2nd round pick out of high school in 2014, who the Bucs traded away this offseason for Jason Rogers (he of 14 major league at bats this year).  Supak hasn't pitched great, but he's still very young with a strong pedigree.  And for the's shiny!

Monday, August 15, 2016

Worth the Wait

I'm still unearthing my card collection.  And it's great to have everything in the same place, but that also means...there are a lot of cards.

I recently dug into the stack of TTM returns that date back to late October of last year.  While I haven't sent out that many requests, the ones that did come back got quickly opened and piled up until I had the time to go through everything.

While there are some great returns that I'm excited to show off, nothing can top this bad boy.

I sent the request during Spring Training 2015, and it popped up in my parents' mailbox this spring.  Tack on another 5 months until I really took the time to appreciate the return, and it was still well worth the wait.

The consensus seems to be the returns are legit, and the signature certainly matches up well with certified issues, without any signs of being an autopen or stamp.

It's amazing that a star of Kershaw's magnitude takes the time to sign fan mail, in an era where there are A ball players who don't have time for the fans.  And it's an autograph I'm thrilled to add to my collection.

Thursday, August 4, 2016

Custom Ink

There are a lot of nice things about moving (aside from the actual moving...that was terrible).  Going from driving an hour each way to being 10 minutes from the office is nice.  Not tossing a rent check into a financial black hole every month is great too.  But the best part?  Being able to stretch out a bit.  Our is a cape cod with about 1,400 sq. ft.  It's not huge, but after living in apartments or dorms since starting college, the idea of not having to store all your extra stuff in the same spot where you're also trying to live is a real nice change of pace.  And from a collecting standpoint, it's nice to be able to actually have my entire collection (well, mostly.  I still need to unload a few more boxes from my parents' house) in one place.

It had gotten to the point where new cards that came in were just getting tossed into boxes to be dealt with later.  There was no space to sort through them in our apartment.  Well, later has finally come.  There are probably 6 months + worth of mail that had just been added into boxes.  Cards that, for the most part, I had taken a quick glance at and then into the box they went.

In with that group were come customs that my collecting pal got signed for me during Spring Training this year.  She lives right near the White Sox camp, and I was able to whip up customs for lesser known players who didn't have many cards.  And she was gracious enough to get a few signed for me as well.

These two are by far my favorite.  It's almost impossible to find a photo of the LaRoche brothers together from their time in Pittsburgh.  This shot was the best I could do, even though I'd have liked to have both guys facing forward.  Andy signed this last year when he was in Sox camp as a non-roster invitee, and Adam apparently finished it up before he left the team this spring.

And the Zach Duke card is one of my new favorites, custom or otherwise.  Though they only wore them for 2 seasons and across a couple dozen games, it's amazing that no photo of the Pirates "McDonald's" vest made it onto cardboard.  Heck, even finding photo evidence that the jersey existed is tough.

Saturday, July 30, 2016

The Other Side of the Move

It's been a little over two months since we signed on the dotted line and bought our first house.  There's certainly been plenty going on to keep us busy, between working on the house, summer fun, and work.  Cards have been on the back burner, and that was probably long overdue.

For the better part of the past year, collecting had started to feel more like a chore than a hobby.  In 25 years of collecting, I don't know that I've ever had such a prolonged period of disinterest.  But it got to the point where my collection had become so spread out and disorganized that it was tough to enjoy the cards I had, and tracking down new cards just exacerbated the problem.

But one of the great parts of moving from a string of apartments to our very own house is the extra space.  While getting the basement fully finished may wait a little longer than I had originally planned, I've carved out a nice little card sorting area.  I have the space to sprawl out, get things sorted into binders and boxes just the way I want, and not worry about having it cluttering up the bedroom or living room like it did in the past.  I'll try to get a post up in the near future with my setup.  It's nothing fancy, but it's made a world of difference in making a dent in my collection.

I can't say I have the full blown bug again.  I was part of a group break of 2016 boxes with my team collector buddies, and snagged a couple dozen cards at flea markets this summer.  But I'm going to make sure I get myself better organized before I consider diving head first into adding new cards on a regular basis.

But that can't stop me from doing things with the cards I already have, right?  With all the house stuff going on, I've been pretty checked out of baseball in general.  But when I saw a Gregory Polanco signing on twitter that was right around the corner from my office, I couldn't pass that up.  After a 45 minute wait outside in direct sun on one of the hottest days we've had so far this year, I was able to get Polanco's Chrome rookie signed.  While I would have preferred a blue signature, I'm just happy to have one of my favorite recent Pirates cards signed.

Now that the unpacking is (mostly) done and my cards are a little more manageable, I'm hoping posting will fit back into my schedule.  I probably won't get back to my post-per-day rate that I once held to, but I'm planning on getting at least 2-3 posts up each week.

I'm looking forward to catching up on reading all of my favorite blogs from the past couple months and getting back into the swing of things.

Monday, May 9, 2016

Movin' On Up (and Out)

I guess it's time to post about not posting.  It's been over a month since my last post here.  And as the gaps between posts have grown longer and longer while my content has grown shorter and shorter, I've had to give a lot of thought to whether I should continue blogging at all.  

But more on that later.  At least this time I had a good excuse not to be posting.  For the past month, Kate and I have been in the process of buying a house.  We don't have any horror stories (knock on wood) to report; the entire process has actually been really smooth.  But I'd be lying if I didn't say that I had been stressed out waiting for something bad to happen.  After all, it seems like the house buying horror stories are far more plentiful than the "we found a house, bought it, and lived happily ever after" stories.

It was frustrating at times.  Pittsburgh property values have jumped a lot over the last few years.  And while houses are still very affordable here compared to other areas of the country, where 5 years ago we would have had our pick of the litter, a lot of houses have been bought up by flippers who are happy to sit and wait for top dollar.  

 So now that it looks like everything should go through, we're set to close no later than May 25th.  The house is a nice cape cod with a good chunk of property, plenty of room for cookouts, and the home inspector said the house was in amazing shape.  Better yet, there's a nice sized basement that will become home to my collection.  It's unfinished right now, so I'll have to be patient for a little longer.  But we're hoping by Christmas to have the basement finished.
I've been accumulating memorabilia, signed photos, lithography, McFarlane figures, and just about anything else under the sun since high school without having the space to display it.  In our last couple apartments Kate let me do as I pleased with the office, but even then I only put a few select things up.  The rest has been sitting in boxes stores at my parents' house waiting for the day when I would finally have the space to display it all.

 And quite honestly, it's been so long I have trouble remembering what all I have.  After a decade of collecting in hopes of eventually displaying them, my guess is that there is far more than I'll be able to actually display without it looking horribly tacky.  But that's part of the fun I suppose.

Which brings us to the elephant in the room.  This ole thing.
 I'm still collecting as actively as ever.  The cards in this post are just some of the spring goodies I've already picked up.  All the autographs came from a flea market vendor who had them priced at $.50 each.  I picked up about 50 cards, all signed vintage or semi-stars.  The Yount and Murphy were a little more, but even those were only a couple bucks each.
 And a little further down are some 90's inserts from a flea market the next weekend that were 5/$1.

I still love collecting as much as ever.  I think it's just become a question of what I love to collect.  When I started this blog, I was eager to track down every new release.  The ten million different Topps parallels were a fun challenge, and I looked forward to digging through dime and quarter boxes at shows looking to complete my team sets of them (which I still haven't!).

But I've found it damn near impossible to care about what's out today.  My group of team collectors broke a few boxes of Topps and Donruss, which yielded my first and only cards of 2016.  I don't care about camo and pink parallels, or adding yet another Starling Marte autograph.  The sets feel too formulaic and redundant.  I hate hate hate the Photoshopping on base cards, and I get more excited for a dime card than a hit from a $200/box, 2 card product.
 It's not that I don't love collecting.  It's just that writing about my collection feels less fulfilling when it seems like I'm swimming upstream from the direction of the hobby.

And to paraphrase a line from High Fidelity, I'm not sure if I've stopped following baseball because I lost interest in new cardboard, or if I lost interest in new cards because I stopped following baseball.
 But last year I went to 2 Pirate games.  This year that total my go lower.  I've found it harder and harder to find myself invested in Pirate games the past couple years, even as the team has improved by leaps and bounds.  Maybe that's just a part of growing older, maybe it's just me.
 Either way, kind of funny coming from a guy who's about to plaster his basement from floor to ceiling with sports memorabilia, huh?
 I'm still adding Pirate cards, just with more focus on 90's and 00's cards.  I still love me some 90's inserts and autographs, obviously.  But I've been feeling like I've been going through the motions with this blog for the better part of last year and this year.
 There was a point where I felt negligent if I forgot to post for a day or two.  I went a month without posting, and while the thought of this very post has been kicking around in my head for two weeks, I just got around to writing today.
 And life has changed a lot for me.  When I started this blog, we were stranded in the cornfields of Ohio, 5 hours from friends, family, and the city I'm happy to call home.  It was nice to connect with a community, any community, and I've met some fantastic people through this blog.

But between the hour commute each way to work (which will be cut down to about 10 minutes when we move!), work, and day to day life it's been hard to pull together the motivation to sit down and write something with any substance.
 So what does this mean?  Honestly, I'm not sure.
 I'm going to give the blog a continued rest for the next month or two.  With packing up our apartment, the move, and then unpacking in the house there is going to be plenty to keep us occupied into June.

After years of brainstorming, dreaming, and scheming I definitely want to share the progress of my man cave as it develops.  And with the big Robert Morris show coming up later this month, I can't pass up Cardboard Christmas.  And maybe with some more time, a shorter commute, and some more exciting things going on I'll find the spark to regularly post again.
 This isn't goodbye, just I'll be back.  I'm just not sure when.  In the mean time, I have some packages that have been meaning to go out that I'll have out the door before the move.  No way I'm carrying any more weight into the UHaul than I have to!  But I can't thank everyone who has read, commented, and written over the past few years.  From sharing thoughts on the hobby to finding a renewed passion for custom cards to drooling over your pickups, it's been such a great chance to meet some fantastic collectors from across the country.

Talk to you all soon,


Wednesday, March 30, 2016

2008 Bowman Chrome Box Break: The Suffering Comes to an End

Apparently this year of Chrome only had 18 packs, instead of the 24 I assumed were inside the box.  Normally I'd be a little peeved.  But with how painful this break has been, it's a merciful reprieve.

For sanity's sake, below are the highlights from the final 6 packs:

Chipper (does not play baseball in exchange for money) Jones refractor - the hit of the box right here, folks
Jeff Manship - he's a man.  and a ship.  Brilliant.
Manny Ramirez played for the Red Sox
Russell Martin held two baseball bats
the Rockies used to wear black vests with black undershirts, thus entirely defeating the purpose of a vest
Austin Kearns, somewhere between being a hotshot prospect for the Reds and not playing baseball anymore, played for the Nationals
Chris Nash has a baseball card.  This is not the same person that is my cousin.  I may still try to get the card autographed at the next family function.
Joba Chamberlin was on the front of the box.  He was also inside a pack in the box.  Mind = blown.  As does Joba's career.
Adrian Gonzalez refractor, without any snide remarks
Brandon Webb used to play baseball
Mark Teixeira played for the Braves for a hot minute.  This card is proof.  But hell, at least he's still active.
Adrian Beltre, who will probably still be playing long past when ever other player and prospect in this set is retired
Paul Winterling, who wins the award for nicest facsimile signature on a card, and gets a runner up award for coolest name.

There you go, folks.  No color.  An auto of a guy who got shelled in the Frontier League.  A lot of guys who don't play baseball anymore, but not in the "cool retro product of Hall of Famers" kind of way.

And just think: this is what Topps put out when they still had competition.