Friday, January 31, 2014


We all have special moments in our hobby lives that are unforgettable.  The year of your first pack.  Or first big pull.  Or first time you could afford a whole box of cards.

In the spring of 2004, I started actively visiting the Beckett Message Boards.  I had an account on the site for a couple years, but as my collecting interest started expanding and my all-consuming quest for Jack Wilson cards intensifying, it was time to venture into the wild world of the internet in search of new cards and the chance to share my passion with other collectors.

I can honestly say I have never seen a more knowledgeable group of collectors on an internet message board, and the group atmosphere was great.  It's a shame that Beckett has managed to repeatedly rebrand itself into irrelevance and chase off the most intelligent and well-versed collectors years ago to a hollow shell surviving on grading fees and brand recognition alone.

But during that spring, one magical thing happened.  I clicked on a thread about getting cards autographs through the mail.  Inside the thread were a list of spring training addresses for each club, and posters reporting about the players that had signed for them as ST started up.

This was heaven.  Instead of spending $50 to open a box and hope to pull some no name autograph...I could just mail a card to a player, and for the cost of two stamps have my very own autograph?

I spent a few days reading through that thread and all the previous ones on the site about TTM autographs, intent on knowing all the basics before I tried my hand. 

And then to work I went.  Crafting what my 16 year old self thought were beautiful letter, addressing envelopes, properly applying baby powder to glossy cards.  And into the mail that first batch went.

Suddenly getting the mail after school each day became an exercise in wonder and excitement, rather than a tedious chore.  It was like opening a pack of cards, but with each return (hopefully) containing a "hit." 

And I checked and checked.  Waiting each day impatiently for that first return.   And then it arrived.

I carefully tore into the envelope, anxious to see what signed goodness awaited me.  And there it was - a signed 2003 Donruss Team Heroes card of Duke Snider.  Yep, my first return was a Hall of Famer.  Not a bad start, eh?

It's been nearly a decade since I sent out my first TTM requests.  They aren't something I blog about very often.  Part of that is because the requests go out far less frequently than they used to.  Part of that is because I still address every single envelope to my parents' house, just like when I was 16.  After all, you never know when it might be years before a card is signed and returned - and with the frequency I've been bouncing between states over the last few years I would have for any autographs to get lost in the shuffle.

The daily excitement of checking the mailbox after getting off the school bus is gone.  Over the last decade I have sent out thousands of requests, and had thousands of cards come back signed.  And as I've already written this week about that nostalgic feeling. it is again.

A decade ago my life was very simple and very different.  Girls and cards (and never the two shall meet).  The extent of my stress was a chemistry test, or math homework.  There's a little more on my plate these days.  And a little less time to write letters to baseball players.  And instead of writing to my heroes, I'm sometimes writing to players the same age or younger than me.  That's a bit strange still.

But it's hard to believe I've been writing letters asking for autographs for a decade.  That thrill of opening the mailbox, waiting for a small white envelope in my admittedly terrible handwriting to be sitting on top of the stack of bills and junk mail is just as fresh now as it was when I received my first return.

A Long Time Comin'

Any team or player collector can undoubtedly tell you a story of a card that just seems to have disappeared from the collecting universe.  That rare card - not due to its low serial number or high desirability - that just...doesn't seem to exist on the vast reaches of the internet.  Some have a very good explanation - tons of unopened 2006 UD Special F/X.  Sealed factory sets and set builders putting together those obnoxious Topps Factory Set orange and red parallel sets from the past few years.  Or retail only products like 2007 Fleer Gold Mini's that just never make it into hobby circulation.

Other times, it simply defies logic.  Why does nobody own 2002 Fleer Mini's.  How did it take me 12 years to find a 2001 Jack Wilson Studio /700?  Who keeps paying $5 for Ryan Doumit 2002 Bowman Chrome autos?

But you have your shot at a card, and fail to take it.  And sometimes...most of the don't get another.

And that is our story today, folks.  The shot not taken. 

I've written about how much I love Pirate gold refractors.  But the one most desired had eluded me for quite some time.  2002 Bowman Chrome Gold Refractor #61.  Jack Wilson. 

It was the first year the golds were numbered to 50, Jack Wilson's sophomore year, and predated my first ebay purchase by a solid 3 years. 

Out of the 50 copies, I'm sure many traded hands as the product went live.  But my limited avenues of circulation - the local card shop, some small shows in the area - never yielded any gold.

As my funds and card-finding resources expanded my Jack Wilson collection grew into a super collection.  And most of the needs from that 2002 year were filled through shows, trades, or ebay.

But that 02 Gold Ref?  Never was it seen or heard from.

And then one popped up on ebay a few weeks before I finished grad school.  I wanted the card.  I needed the card.  But I was watching money, awaiting the inevitable "what do I do with a Master's degree" lull.  I bid, but not high enough.  The card went for $5 or $6.  Not much, but the principled idiot in me wouldn't go over my "internal value" for the card. 

Hell, there are 50 copies.  Another one has to show up someday.  Right?



After years of waiting, another copy popped up on ebay last week.  This time there was no max bid.  No spending cap.  That card was going to be mine, no matter the price.  And home it came for under $5.

The Gold puts me at 80% completion for Jack's 2002 cards, and 72% for the entire Wilson collection.  But I guess that's the easy one, right?  Everybody knows you can sell a gold refractor.  It might be another 10 years before I see a 2002 Victory Gold listed.  I assume every single copy of that card ended up in the shoebox of some kid who stopped collecting in 2004. 

And so the hunt continues.

Thursday, January 30, 2014

Trade Time

After finally unleashing the queue of overdue trade packages that I needed to send out, it only seemed fitting to get hit with another trade package.  Duff at Bleedin' Brown and Gold dropped a wonderful package on me after I expressed interest in the Bucs from his Prizm break. 

But it wasn't just faux chrome goodness.

In all I added about 30 new Bucco cards to the collection, which I think is the single largest addition to the collection so far this year.  Coming off of a year that saw my Pirates collection grow by leaps and bounds (a few thousand of them), additions have been slow this year.  But then again my needs list is also slowly shrinking.

But one area I always have a ton of needs from?
 Those obnoxious one per pack parallels.  Ultra Gold Medallion.  Score Gold Rush.  Collector's Choice Silver Signature.  Bazooka Blue Fortune.  The list goes on.  They're great cards.  And I imagine somewhere is a basement with 4 row boxes full of the things.  But they never show up around here.  Ever.  For how relatively "common" they should be, the things prove quite elusive in my dime box searches.
 But hey, trades are about the big and small additions alike.  And Duff's package wasn't without some hitty goodness.  A copy of this Iwamura Orange had been sitting in my COMC card for quite some time, though I wasn't quite ready to commit to the $.50 price tag.  I'm sure glad I waited.
 This Gorzelanny auto is another one I had recently almost purchased, but passed on.  For whatever reason some of these Topps Highlights are tough to find, while others are seemingly quite common.  This is the more common version, though Gorzo has another in the set that is a little tougher to come by.
 Gypsy Queen was the lone set that Topps put out last year that I really enjoyed.  I have been working on the black mini parallel team set with relative luck.  The Maz is one of the cards I'm missing, but I won't complain about adding the rarer green mini.  It's a sharp looking set, and may be my next project if I ever finish the black.

And coming full circle some more Prizm.  I may be in the minority, but I like the Panini knockoff chrome cards better than the actual Chrome stuff Topps is releasing these days.  Nice thick cardstock, true chrome color, and a nice shine and etching that Topps has become too lazy to include.  It's a damn shame that these cards are seemingly impossible to find.

A great package with some nice surprise additions.  And better yet, I get to empty out the large pile of Padres that had been building up.

Wednesday, January 29, 2014

Topps Break

I am, admittedly, quite behind with the times here.  I still use a flip phone, after all.  And I'm breaking 2013 Topps like it's all the rage.

These packs were actually a Christmas gift - my mom always manages to slip a few packs into my stocking.  But I've been so terrible about blogging over the past month that I'm just getting the chance to show off the cards now.

And while they might not set the world on fire, they are certainly show-off worthy in my book.  Though my scanner did manage to auto crop the hell out of them.
 It's always a little weird seeing longtime Bucs in a different uni.  For years I collected "Pirate but not a Pirate" cards of Pirate players before they hit the Burgh.  But it might be time to branch out to post-Pittsburgh cards as well.  Freddy Sanchez Giant cards and Jason Bay's post Pirate travels are sorely lacking in my collection.

 Topps has admittedly done a solid job of upping the action photos in recent years.  And I can never turn down a nice card of a player flashing the leather.

 The lone Pirate from the break was this Justin Wilson parallel.  But it is one I actually didn't already have.  Not too shabby, if you ask me.

 Even though I haven't really been a fan of product coming out over the last few years, it's time to start cycling unique cards like these into the binder rotation.  After all, as much as I love the 90's it doesn't hurt to have a little more variety.

 And when it comes to variety, Topps made a great call bringing back die cut cards.  Better yet, this is the first Mike Trout card in my collection.  Being an east coast guy I haven't had a chance to see him play much at all, but the numbers don't lie. 
 And to top it all off?  This is a really cool shot capturing a Pirate/Cards game.  Something about the out of focus foreground makes me think of some of the early 70's Topps action photos for whatever reason.

And there you have it.  Mom didn't do too shabby, even if I was majorly slacking in actually showing off these fun new additions.

To the Dime Boxes!

I've been bemoaning the lack of anything vaguely resembling  a card show in the Pittsburgh area for months.  For an area that has such a large base of collectors its mind blowing that there are so few shows around here.

But the drought was broken this past weekend when there was finally a mall show out near my parents' house. 

I know most of the dealers in the area, but this show is always special for me.  The mall is about 20 mins from where I grew up, and most of the guys set up were regulars at the local card shop.  My mom and I used to stop in the lcs every week after music lessons to rip some packs, so I have known a lot of these dealers since i was 11 or 12.

 Back before college, my world and collecting world seemed much smaller.  Ebay was reserved for special occasions or birthday money.  And back before I was willing to drive half way across states to hit a card show, nothing beat the excitement of a mall show.  In high school, I remember trying to hit the show at the oddest possible hours to avoid the chance of anyone I knew spotting me rummaging through boxes of baseball cards in the middle of the mall.

So I ducked out of work a bit early on Friday drove to my parents' and headed up to the mall for a healthy dose of nostalgia and hopefully some new additions to my collection.
 And boy was there a wonderful stack of dime boxes waiting for me.  One of the aforementioned card shop locals who I have known for years if one of the big money gambler types.  He buys up large collections, but only cares about the big money cards.  The rest get split of into dollar and fifty cent boxes.  The rest becomes dimes.

The result are loaded dime boxes full of numbered cards, parallels, and anything he didn't feel like looking through.  Everything in this post was a dime, and considering this was the third show he did with these boxes, I imagine they were even more loaded a month or two ago.
 At a dime a pop, I was able to grab some nicer cards and fun commons alike.  The Hometown Heroes set was possibly my favorite release of 2013, and I took home a hefty stack from the set.
 There was some rookies gold in the boxes as well.    The luster has worn off the superstars of the early 00's forth most part, but how could you possibly pass up a 92 Traded Gold Giambi for a dime?  I also grabbed a Charles Johnson from the set.  Sadly the prized Nomar was nowhere to be found.
 But it wasn't all baseball.  These split refractors are among my favorite 90's inserts.  And the Bucs backfield tandem was a Madden powerhouse as a kid.  Better yet with the peel still attached the card won't be scratched to hell.
 But the gem of the dime's?  A Wilt Chamberlin card for a dime?  I don't have much interest in basketball these days, and the card certainly isn't worth a fortune.  But boy was I happy.
 Seriously...did Panini insist on turning the color scheme on every single photoshopped jersey to black and white? 

Keep in mind fellow bloggers - if I ever start a serious non-Pirate player collection, Jeff Bagwell will be the guy.  I don't think I've ever appreciated an opposing player so much.
 Negro League goodess?  Yes please.
 As I kept digging the finds got better and better.  My collection is sorely lacking in Pete Rose representation. Add in Mike Schmidt and power blue unis and we have a winner. 

And I didn't even realize Mark McGwire had a sunset card in 2002 Topps.  That alone was plenty to get me excited.  But the Gold version?  We have ourselves a Big Mac Attack here.
 Alfonso Soriano's 2014 Topps card is one of the top wants to add to my "boomerang" collection.  It will pair nicely with this RC, back when people actually thought Soriano had the glove to stick at SS.
 And then other times you buy a card for reasons you'll never fully understand.  Wrigley, ivy, and emerald foil = yes.  Cheesy Topps gimmicks of people who don't actually exist? No thank you.

Err, wait.  I bought the card anyway, didn't I? 
 In all I came away with about 100 non-Pirate cards to add to the binders and a few goodies for blogger piles.  Had an impending snowstorm not cut my visit home short, I probably would have gone back again Saturday.

But for an evening it felt like a timewarp.  Driving up to the mall to get to the card show, hoping I don't run into anyone I know.  Ignoring incessant calls from my parents asking when I'll be home for dinner, because I don't want to interrupt my dime box dig.  Driving home for a quiet dinner with my parents. 

Sometimes things change a lot.  Sometimes they don't change much at all.  I don't have much contact with most of my friends from high school - some people I lost touch with,others stopped talking for one reason or another, and many others moved away for school and haven't looked back - not unlike myself.  In the years since I went away to college drug issues have taken the suburbs in a vice grip.  Heroin related deaths hit alarming records last year in the county.  But being back felt so familiar - the faces, the cards, the dusk drive home to have meatloaf with my parents.  I think it's the first meal we've had on a Friday night that was just the three of us in a long time - Kate went out with some friends to watch roller derby match.

I guess cardboard has a way of making time stand still, immortalizing hurried motion in a single moment.  Because a lot has changed in my life- married, job I love, living in a bunch of new places, a wonderful beard that I never would have dared to grow as a teenager, and a few extra pounds courtesy of college and grad school that just won't seem to go away.  But for a couple hours digging through a couple dime boxes I could have been 17 again, getting ready to go meet my friends at Denny's in an hour or two.

Home Field Advantage

I have slowly been building a mini collection of photos of opposing players that feature PNC Park in the background.  The unique skyline and thousands of hours I have spent staring at the field make it pretty easy to spot them, but it appears far fewer PNC photos exist than from parks like Wrigley or Pac Bell (or whatever the hell it's named now). 

Still, my latest dime box adventure yielded two new additions to the collection, and in my opinion the two best I have seen thus far.

I don't know what I can say about this card other than the photo simply blew me away when I flipped past it.  I can't think of any card, Pirate or not, that features the city and Clemente Bridge so prominently in the background.  The photo is farmed so well, and captures a great action photo.  Grabbing the blue bordered parallel for just a dime?  Icing on the cake.

This card is a little more typical, though still great.  Pirate players have been featured in similar shots on a couple different occasions.  But this is the first time I have seen an opposing player photographed backing up against the Clemente Wall.  The 4th of July cap makes this one a contender for my Unique Unis collection as well, should I ever come across a second copy.

But these dime boxes had much more to offer, and the best is yet to come.  I should have the rest of my non-Pirate haul posted tonight.

Tuesday, January 28, 2014

Hardware and Software

I'll freely admit I'm a bit of a technophobe.  I do after all proudly own a flip phone.  And Kate and the rest of the people I know in our mid 20's are glued to their phones, I am blissfully aware of my surroundings.

But sometimes technology isn't all bad.  At least part of my blogging lull to begin the year had to do with scanner access.  You see our scanner is attached to Kate's computer. And the Mrs. didn't take all to kindly to being kicked off her Mac so I could blog about baseball cards.  Who'dathunk? 

But thanks to the advent of modern technology and the wireless printer, I'm able to scan while Kate is blissfully doing whatever it is that normal, non card blogging types do on computers.  And to think that it only took me 4 months to install the remote scanning software on my laptop.

Ah, but what good is software without hardware. 

I hit my first (real) card show since leaving Ohio in June over the weekend.  And boy was it worth the wait.  Dime box heaven.

I'll try not to break it into too many different posts, but some of these guys deserve special attention.

I've always been a sucker for cards that commemorate a special occasion or accomplishment, and these dime boxes were loaded with some good ones.  I was never much of a fan of the Yankees championship teams, but this WS MVP shot is a unique one. 
But if it's excitement you want, the A' are the place to be.  Is it just  or are only some of the players or coaches wearing the famed white hats?  The 70's uniforms are a confusing puzzle.
 I'm typically one to shy away from low grade vintage unless it's of the Pirate variety.  But for a dime?  This badly crease league leaders card needed a good home.  My Rose cards are relatively few and far between and almost exclusively from his latter days.  So it's a nice addition to bring in one from his prime.
 And the record breaker cards always seemed like a set highlight to me.  Sure it lacks the action photo of the great Rickey Henderson cards from when he broke the SB record, but this Lou Brock is a nice piece of history.

But any student of history knows it's all good.  I never expected an ARod Yankees card to have any place in my binders.  But for a mere dime it was too hard to resist this Cognac issue commemorating the least liked player to ever hit 600 HR's. It makes me cringe a bit to have this one in the collection.  But I'm sure there's a lesson to be learned somewhere in all of that.

Monday, January 27, 2014

Do It For the Kids

I don't think it's any secret that this hobby isn't exactly for the kids these days.  As hits continue to replace....actual cards, and boxes of product holds more fabric and ink than cardboard, it shouldn't really shock anyone that this isn't a hobby specifically designed for and marketed towards kids.  But card companies continue to make the faintest of efforts to reach out to that kid demographic.  And for good reason.

But it's sort of hard to me to take any of that at face value when those same companies are dropping $400 boxes like they're Hersey kisses.  The result?  Something that's more laughable than anything.  And while I don't claim to be an expert on what would or wouldn't market toward kids today, I can safely say that a good shiny insert or some foil would always win out over a design that looks like it came from the shattered skull of Bozo the Clown.

So in the "what the hell are you doing?" file, cards.  For kids.

The SI for Kids insert set from 2006 Opening Day may be the hands down winner.  Caption your own photo?  Sure, a staple of kids magazines for decades.  Caption the photo in a text bubble large enough for only professional calligraphers?  Not so kid friendly.

This card?  It may simultaneously be everything right and wrong about trying to market cards to kids.  You have a stunning action shot at a relatively unique angle.  A card of one of the more popular Pirate players at the time, and one who had a ton of appeal to younger fans.  And you even have a nice little SI for Kids graphic at the top, just to keep your cross promotion going. 

And then you have to go all "I just discovered MS Paint" on it.  What's up with the eraser action at the bottom?  And why in the world is Max Action scrawled in blood?  Did Sid from Toy Story grow up to become a statanist who also collected cards? 

But it's just Topps, right?  Hell, they've been finding good ways to screw up cards since 1951. 

No my friends. 

In the early 1990's Triple Play was indeed a very fun and kid friendly brand.  And while I do find a horror film-esque shot of Andy Van Slyke a bit creepy in retrospect, it didn't seem thaaaat creepy at the time.

But today's Triple Play? 
Somebody call Mulder and Scully.  We just found our little green men.  And apparently they play baseball.  I'm not sure how exactly this vaguely representative caricature is supposed to represent Pedro Alvarez.  Or baseball (by the way, what's up with the whole "turning every single uniform black since we've been blackballed out of an MLB license" thing?).  This little critter could just as easily be the dude who rang me up at Target Saturday or the new look for a new line of Chucky movies. 

But perhaps if we cover every square centimeter with text, graphics, and disturbing art the kids will just gobble it up.  After all, they've been on media overload their whole lives anyway, right?

If and when Kate and I ever have kids, I'll start 'em on the good stuff.  A wax box of 1993 Donruss, and ABPA baseball.  The kids will thank me some day, after years of intensive therapy.

Two days in a row!

I'm trying to work my way out of this winter chill as the temperatures dip into the negative double digits tonight.  First up: blogging two consecutive days.  And since I'm feeling really feisty, I'll be packing up some much overdue packages to get out in the mail tomorrow.  Step three?  Warmth.

Well, two out of three ain't bad, right?

I put in a recent order with my buddy Mike at Tromp's Sports Cards.  His prices are tough to beat, and he always stocks a nice range of baseball.  And any regular reader of Battlin' Bucs knows I do love me some autographs.  I have had my eye on adding a Nick Johnson signature to the collection for some time.  And while I would normally opt for a major league issue, at $.50, this one was too good to pass up.  My only complaint?  I do wish you could see a bit more of the jersey and logo.  But it does show some nice crowd interaction, and a guy with some super cheesy 90's sunglasses.

Keith Ginter was a pretty forgettable player.  So forgettable that I apparently remember him for all the wrong reasons.  I remembered Ginter being a decent player for the Astros who had a couple seasons with decent pop before fading back into obscurity.

And I was half right.  But his three seasons with the Astros were less than impressive, totaling a whopping 19 plate appearances.  Apparently his two breakout years came for the Brewers, putting up 34 HR's in '03 and '04.  I guess all those NL Central teams kind of ran together in the mid 00's. 

They may not be the prettiest of autographed cards, but for less than a dollar for the pair, I'm happy to give them a place in my collection.  As more of those one time stat/top prospect types from the late 90's and early 00's fade from the collector's mind, I'm hoping steals of this kind might become a little more common for me.

Sunday, January 26, 2014

All the Small Things

My collecting has been slacking quite a bit lately, as has my blogging.  Lots of snow and cold around here has put a chill over my hobbies.  But it wasn't all for not - I have been getting my collection in order and adding a few select gems to keep the backlog from piling up too much higher.

When I had my eye on some Tiffany cards that were listed on justcommons, I figured it was time to round up $10 worth of goodies and put in an order.  I filled some low end Pirate team set needs, including most of the 87 Tiffany team set and the ever annoying 2002 Fleer gold backs.  But my non-Pirate binders got some love too. 

A couple of these cards had been ones I had my eyes on for a while.  But I'm not ashamed to admit I took some guidance from a quick study of some of Dime Box Nick's fine archive of work.  I know a few of these cards are common fare for the blog world, and old news to most of you.  But they were exciting additions to my binders, particularly since the last few years have seen me become woefully negligent of my oddball collecting habits.

Perhaps the highlight of the package was this pair of Manny cards.  The late 00's saw quite a few sluggers of 90's and 00's fame find work bouncing around on one year contracts.  I still need to add Frank Thomas Blue Jay and A's cards, and have found a few nice Griffey cards from his White Sox days.  These Manny cards though?  Manny being Manny.  Or in the Topps case, Manny photoshopped into being Manny.  Now to add a Manny's White Sox card.
And  continuing the PED theme...   I'm a big too young to have experience the Canseco mania of the late 80's, but I can appreciate a good Expos card as much as anybody out there.  The Expos uni switch in the mid 00's is one of the few times a team replaced a uniform I love with...another uniform I love.  Perhaps some day we'll see another team north of the border.

This Kerry Wood hits one of my mini collection sweet spots - a boomerang card of Wood back where he belongs.  There were few things as exciting during my summer afternoons growing up as watching a Wood start during an afternoon game.

And on the opposite end of the spectrum:

Justcommons was out of stock of Moyer's Update card from last year, so this Bowman Chrome card will have to be the representative Father Time card in my collection.  This beauty will be heading out in the mail to get signed sometime soon.

While Kerry Wood made it back to the ivy of Wrigley, his rotation mate wasn't so lucky.  I've always had a bit of an affinity for players named Mark.  It's a shame to see such a bright career completely derailed by injury.  Brandon Webb agrees.
And last but certainly not least, a double dipper of true throwback unis.  And a card that I honestly would never have known existed if not for blogs.

Two old school throwbacks?  A homeplate collision?  And a card from the early days of interleague play?  It's just too much for the brain to handle.  It may technically be a Ray Durham card, but Scott Servais is clearly the star of the show here.  Because for whatever reason 8 year old me thought Servais was the coolest player on the Cubs - but maybe I've just been a fan of alliteration from an early age.  Either way, the runner is clearly out.