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.

An Arduously Painful Box of Bowman Chrome, Part III

This is starting to get a little laughable.

Pack 9:
Fausto Carmona (who, technically speaking, is not even a person anymore
Raul Ibanez refractor (retired, but nostalgia!)
Jordan Norberto
Brandon Laird

Pack 10:
Jacoby Ellsbury (he plays baseball! [when healthy])
Adam Jones (he plays baseball and is healthy!)
Justin Cassel
Jason Delaney (a Pirate!)

Pack 11:
Hunter Pence (who I wish would stop playing baseball)
Randy Johnson, wearing a jersey that is supposedly the Diamondbacks' but is neither purple nor pinstriped.  It's all a lie.
Two other guys whose mothers are certainly very proud they made it on a baseball card.

Pack 12:
Jeff (retired) Francis
Lance (I don't play baseball anymore) Berkman
some guy named Jevne...I have no idea how to pronounce that.
A guy named Snyder who presumably does not make potato chips

I'm only opening the remaining packs out of some sick, twisted sense of obligation.

2008 BC Live Break Part 2

Well, that was anti-climactic...

Pack 5:
Vernon Wells
Jason Varitek (continuing the "former all stars who don't play anymore" theme)
Ryan Zink autograph
Kai Liu

Well...there's the auto for the box.  Does anybody collect autos of players with the same name as elements on the periodic table?  Cause that's about the only place I can see this fitting in a collection.

Zink was a 17th round pick of the Yankees.  He had two not entirely bad seasons in A-ball coming straight out of college before getting shelled at high A in 2009.  He continued playing in independent ball for a few years in the Frontier League.  But he didn't play for the local Washington Wild Things, which would have at least given me a good excuse to keep this card in my collection.  Luckily the team collector who sent me the box is also a Yankees fan, so at least I can repay the favor and give this card a good home in one fell swoop.

Pack 6:
German Duran
John Bowker refractor (another short term Buc)
Chris Huseby
Chris Pettit

Pack 7:
A.J. Burnett
Oliver Perez
Hector Correa
Deibinson Romero least we have a duo of my favorite Pirate pitchers.

Pack 8:
Jeremy Guthrie
Jeff Niemann
Will Kline
Ryan Royster

Seriously, did Topps actively try to avoid including actual prospects in this release?

Back on the Wagon: 2008 Bowman Chrome Live Break Part 1

I've been horrible about posting regularly.  Again.  But I'm back until I'm not, and this time I come with a box of shiny baseball cards to track open.  One of my team collector buddies had a contest recently, and a box of 2008 Bowman Chrome showed up in my mailbox today as the prize.

2008 Chrome was pretty rough, but a free box is a free box.  There weren't many Pirate cards in the set, and I think I have the most common refractors of the few Bucs that were.  But that won't deter me.  Who knows - maybe there's a superfractor hiding inside one of the packs.

I'll post the results 4 packs at a time.

Pack 1:
Gary Sheffield
Jeff Gerbe
Juan Francisco (hey, a prospect card I've actually heard of - that's probably going to be a rarity in this break)

Pack 2:
Carlos Guillen
Aaron Harang
Tony Barnette
Joaw Ortegano

Pack 3:
Chone Figgins
Brian McCann Refractor
Brett Cecil
Mike Dejesus

Pack 4:
Barry Zito
John Lackey
Dan Berlind
Vin Mazzaro (former Bucco at least...)

We're off to a roaring start.  I'm pretty surprised that only McCann and Lackey are still active (that I'm aware of, at least) out of the vets.  2008 doesn't feeeeel like it was all that long ago.  Then again, that's also the year Kate and I met.  So maybe it is ages ago.

Sunday, March 20, 2016

Catching Up on the Mail

Life has been hectic lately, but that hasn't stopped a steady stream of some mail coming in the door.  By far the best of the bunch was a 200 card order from COMC.  Unlike most of my COMC orders that are 80% Pirates with a sprinkling of Steelers, Penguins, college teams, and assorted shiny things, this order was actually mostly non-Pirate cards.

Having been a buyer on COMC since 2011, it's gotten tough to find cards I don't already have at a price I want to pay.  Many COMC users take the "set it and forget it" method, listing cards at a price that's a little ambitious, and not giving two shits if the card actually sells.  For the sellers that do run sales or discount cards that have been sitting in their inventory for years, too often those are cards that I already have.  So the end result is finding other cards to scratch my itch for new cardboard.

Not that I'm complaining.

 As much as I don't miiiiiiind adding my 15th Starling Marte auto, or 9th variation of a Jason Bay parallel with a different color foil, I like adding some variety.  I like it a lot, in fact.
 And since I've unofficially adopted the Marlins as my second team collection, it gives me just cause to pick up cool, cheap parallels.  I love the 2006 Special F/X parallels, but boy are they tough to come by.
 Sometimes, my impulsive streak has even less rhyme or reason.  But how can you pass up a rare 90's insert for a dollar or two?  Eventually these two may get rehomed.  But they were just too cool to pass on, especially at the prices they were marked at.
 But it's always sweeter when you can pick up an awesome card of a player you actually collect.  Charles Johnson was the first autograph in my collection.  My dad came home one day with a signed photo - one of his clients that ran a car dealership had had CJ in the store for a signing while my dad had stopped in.  I've been a fan ever since.
 And shifting the focus away from baseball has allowed me to find cards from sets that never made it over the the baseball side of the hobby.
 Or to pick up Pirate cameo cards.
 And of course to add some sweet cards of players I followed growing up.  I've been slowly working to add an autograph of the players whose Starting Lineup figures I played with for hours and hours as a kid.  Clarence Weatherspoon was one of my first basketball SLU's, and I was more than happy to add an auto for about $1.50.
 Or a jersey card of Jeff Bagwell, one of my favorites growing up back when I actually liked rather than hated the players that clobbered the Pirates.
Sure, there were some great Pirate cards in the package as well.  But it's nice to see a little break from the black and gold in my collection every so often.  And adding cards like these makes things a little more special, a little more enjoyable from where I sit.

Saturday, March 19, 2016

Mailday, A Shiny Mailday

I almost had a good reason for my extended blogging absence.  Almost.  I'm quickly learning that house hunting is a funny thing.  We saw a place we loved, we're lining up everything to put in an offer only to be told that there were some issues with getting the disclosure from a previous real estate agent.  So we waited, wanting to see if there were any issues that we couldn't see with the naked eye before moving forward.  So it wasn't fun to see that the house had gone contingent...apparently somebody else was able to get the mysterious missing disclosure form.  But live and learn, right?  The search goes on!

Meanwhile, I received a couple awesome cards in the mail from Jay at Cards My Mother Didn't Throw Out.  He graciously dug up a couple 2000 refractors toward my set (I'm still trying to dig up some worthy return fire).

Better yet, Jay included a note with a very cool story.  He attended school with Kevin Young's kids, but never quite worked up the nerve to ask Young for an autograph.

Ironically enough, the subject of the other card actually lives right up the road from me.  Matt Clement coaches the boys high school basketball team.  Kate interviewed him a couple times when she was covering education for the newspaper, and I could never quite talk her into putting aside those pesky things like journalistic ethics and dignity to ask for an autograph for her dear husband.

A tale of two unfulfilled autographs, I suppose.  Either way, I'm thrilled to knock out two more needs for my refractor set.  I've actually made some good progress on the set recently, though that just means I'm closed to 80% incomplete instead of 90%.  But they sure are great looking cards.

Sunday, March 6, 2016

A Rare Mailday

Mail days have sort of become a rare thing around here.  As we go into full househunting mode, my buying has been scaled back almost to zero.  After all, there are more than enough cards to pack up here when the big move comes as it is.  But I was treated to a pleasant surprise by one of my team collector buddies, who sent along a nice array of Pirates goodies.  

This is easily the biggest single addition to my collection so far this year, and the package was jam packed full of serial numbered cards and inserts.  Better yet, every single card was brand new to me.

Panini's entry into into the prospect game is never quite as well received as the Bowman sets, but I've always been a fan of Elite Extra Edition.  Elite was one of my favorite releases when Donrss was still around, though the Extra Edition was a bit misleading for quite a few years when the standard Elite was MIA.
 It's been almost a year since I've been to a card show, and it's definitely having an impact on my collection.  My 2015 binder is super thin, and aside from the base sets I only have a scattering of parallels here and there.  I've always sworn that one of these days I will complete an entire team set of Topps Gold cards.  And since I'm now at exactly 1 2015 Gold after this package, my bet is that if that ever does happen it won't be with 2015.
 I always love a good oddball card, and this Drabek takes the cake.  It screams Desert Storm.
 My team collector buddies have also been passing along some Marlins cards my way, which have quickly grown to needing their own box.  I have no idea why Jeff Conine has a tennis racked.  But I'm glad he does.
 Getting a package in the mail is always a bit of a reality check for me.  I have north of 16,000 different Pirate cards.  As the mess surrounding me will attest, it's a crapload of cards.  So I'm always taken back a little bit when I see how many cards - parallels, oddballs, and even sometimes entire sets - that I had no idea even existed.  This Pro Sigs card?  Never seen it before.
 Same goes for these two Cutch parallels.  Even though they aren't particularly low numbered, finding almost any McCutchen cards is mission impossible around here.  Add in the fact that these blue framed parallels look awesome and it's just icing on the cake.
While I'm sure it will still be a good while before the mail is regularly flowing into my collection again, it's always great to add a wave of new cards.  Now the cataloging, sorting, and adding to binders?  That part is a little less fun.