Wednesday, January 31, 2018

Getting Back Into My Flea Market Groove

A few years back, I had been in a nice rhythm.  We were stopping at local flea markets pretty much every weekend, which was a great way to bolster the collection.  But since buying the house and moving closer to the city, weekends have been eaten up by yard work, house projects, and seeing friends.  I think we went to two flea markets last year, which was a total that we would occasionally match in a weekend in previous years. 

But as I've hopped back into collecting, I realized I'm woefully behind on 2016 and 2017 releases.  And there's no better place to fill in team sets than an indoor flea market about 25 minutes away.  It's an movie theater that opened in the early 2000's that closed a few years later and then was turned into a flea market.  In the summer, they have vendors set up in the back parking lot.  But year round, there are permanent stands in the atrium, hallways, and what used to be the theaters.  And there's a card guy there that can always be relied on to have some Pirates, Steelers, and Penguin dime boxes that have cards from recent releases.

And this trip was no exception.  McCutchen cards have always been hard to come by, so it's always a plus to knock some of those off my list.
I posted a custom rendition of these 1989 Very Fine Juice cards earlier in the month.  But I found a couple of the real deals in the boxes, which I'll hopefully be able to get signed at some point.

 While the dime boxes are mostly base cards, I occasionally come across some low end inserts and parallels.  Nothing earth shattering, but a nice surprise.  As Bowman has cranked up the print run and checklist, refractors have gone from cards I absolutely love to a real pain.  They're tough to find at shows in this area, but too darn common to justify spending $.50-.60 per card on COMC.

In past years, the flea market was where I would go to find the cards I didn't pull in a group break or fill in team sets.  This time, it was where I went to figure out what the heck was released over the last year.  I'm always a fan of Archives, but it's nice to see the '92 design getting some love.  It's an underrated design in that middle era where production was still relatively high but inserts and parallels were starting to gain the hobby's focus.

I was able to figure out what set most of the cards were from pretty easily, since Topps isn't known for their creativity in the design or naming department these days.  But this one threw me for a loop.  I at first figures it might be from Leaf or a similar offshoot.  I was a little surprised to see a Panini logo on the back when I got home.  I've been a big fan of Panini's releases since they jumped back into baseball a few years back.  But this design just looks amateur and uninspired to me.  I found the three common base cards as well as a blue parallel of Gerrit Cole, but it looks like there are some serial numbered rookies I still need to track down.

I was a little pressed for time, but I couldn't resist grabbing a few Steelers and Pens cards as well.

My haul wasn't as large as I might have expected, but I was still about to find about 80 new cards.  I buy from the dealer pretty regularly, and I'm probably the only customer his dime box gets so he always knocks a few bucks off.  So I could have been out the door at a cool $4.  

...but what fun would that be?

I was browsing some of his other stuff.  He usually has a decent collection of bobbleheads and other SGA's.  Most of them I have, but every once in a while I find a gem.  Or in this case...a bear.

You can't see it in the photo, but underneath the arm tag is a Jack Wilson signature.  And that was enough for me to make what might be one of my oddest purchases to date.  To I'd like to introduce you to Jack, who is apparently a Build a Bear that was put together in 2005 for what was probably a lot more than the $10 I paid for it.  The bear was still in its carrying box, and didn't look like it had been loved, displayed, or any of the other things you would expect to do with a really freaking expensive teddy bear since 2005.

I have a hunch that the bear might have been signed because Jack Wilson was signing autographs at the Build a Bear store, but I couldn't find any news articles online to back that up.  Either way, I now need to figure out what to do with a large stuffed bear wearing a Pirates uniform.  The struggles of being a player collector, I suppose.

It was a lot of fun getting back to uncovering some hidden gems at the flea market.  I'm excited for the weather to start to warm up and to make it a more regular outing again this summer.

Friday, January 26, 2018

What in the Hall?

The day Hall of Fame inductees are announced is always exciting.  As a baseball nerd, I always enjoy looking at the voting results and seeing who is trending up or running out of eligibility.  Gavin posted a great piece yesterday reflecting on when he might see another HoF inductee for the Padres, and it got me thinking.  As a Pirate fan, expecting less has sort of become a given.  The losing streak.  Getting number 1 draft picks in some of the weakest drafts.  Having one significant player in the Mitchell Report.  We can't even cheat properly!

I thought about the next time I might see a former Pirate in Cooperstown.  Bonds, if he eventually gets in.  But he left Pittsburgh when I was 4 years old.  Possibly McCutchen if he can continue to string together strong seasons through his 30's, but he doesn't rack up enough hits or homers to have a chance at any major milestones.

And then it hit me.  I haven't seen a single Hall of Famer play in black and gold on a baseball field.  Don't get me wrong.  I've gotten to see an embarrassment of riches play in Pittsburgh.  They've just always done it on ice or a football field. 

The last time a Hall of Famer suited up in a major league game for the Pittsburgh Pirates was October 3rd, 1982.  Willie Stargell had a pinch hit in the Pirates final game of the season.
That was 35 years ago.  A lot has changed.  In 1982, free agency was six years old.  Since then, we've had seemingly constant player movement between teams.  Seeing a Hall of Famer play for 5, 6 different teams in their career is commonplace.  Steroids helped players extend their peak playing years, playing longer and at a higher level that would keep them in demand to many teams. 

Whether it's a future Hall of Famer like Ichiro eeking out a few more seasons in Miami or a hired gun like John Smoltz hoping to put a playoff contender over the top, it seems like every team but the Bucs has seen a Hall of Famer in recent years.

So I did some digging.

And I was right.  The Pirates have the longest streak in the majors since a Hall of Fame player suited up in uniform for them.  And it's not even close.  Second place is a tie between the Royals, who last had George Brett in 1993 and the Rockies, who have haven't ever had a Hall of Famer play for them (though Larry Walker may change that in the next couple years).
So there you have it.  Insult to injury.  If I wasn't on board with Barry Bonds' Hall of Fame case before, I sure am now.

Thursday, January 25, 2018

Hall In

Time's a funny thing.  It changes you in ways you don't even realize.  Sure, there's gray hairs that weren't there when I was 19.  Or I get winded more easily than I did at 22.  But I'm still a kid at heart in many ways.  So yesterday was a bit of an eye opener.

I've always been fascinated with the baseball Hall of Fame.  As a teenager I was excited for the inductions of players whose tail end of the careers I had watched. Guys like Eck, Ozzie Smith and Ryne Sandberg.  And then slowly my favorites have been inducted - Junior, Cal, Alomar.  The players that defined my childhood.  But still, they were guys who were already established stars when I started watching baseball in late 1995.

But yesterday?  That was the big one.  For Vlad and Chipper, those are the first inductions where I can remember their career, start to finish.  From prospect to Hall.
 But this post isn't about me wallowing in oldness. 
 It's about the best player I ever had the chance to see play.  And I don't say that lightly.
 I remember first hearing about Vlad in one of those season preview magazines in 1997.  The outfielder in Montreal who could do it all.  But it wouldn't be until a few years later that I got to really understand what that meant.
 The first time I saw Vladimir Guerrero play, I was amazed.  It was 2000, and a friend's dad had gotten some amazing tickets from work.  We were seated right behind home plate, 2 or 3 rows back.  With the setup at Three Rivers, there was basically just some hockey glass between those seats and the dugouts.  I was sitting right next to the Expos dugout, probably staring like a wide eyed 11 year old.  There was just something about watching Vlad on the field.  This lanky guy who was still as thick as a tree trunk who could do it all.  Throw rockets from the outfield.  Hit a ball an inch off the dirt or a foot over his head.  Run like a man that size shouldn't be able to.
 He was the first player who I wanted to buy a ticket specifically to see him play baseball.  My dad said Guerrero reminded him of Roberto Clemente.
 And it all happened in Montreal.  A black hole of baseball obscurity.  It was like a running joke on Baseball Tonight.  But there was Vlad, doing things few players in the game would ever be able to do. 
I remember being excited when talk of contraction came up in the early 2000's.  The Pirates were primed to have a top pick, a shot at selecting Vlad.  And then being crushed when he signed with the Angels.  Even if the Expos would be no more, he *was* Montreal baseball for me.  And maybe I selfishly hoped he would go to a media market that would get more coverage, making up for some of the time he was so overlooked in Montreal.

 I still think Vlad had more good baseball left in him than the game would allow.  And there are some of those what if's I play - what if Montreal hadn't fallen into the abyss after the '94 strike, and he came up as the young horse on a contender.  Or if he had been in a bigger market.  Or if playing on turf didn't wreck his knees.   If, if, if.  But damn, what was was fascinating.
I'm thrilled one of my favorite players is headed to Cooperstown.  It's well deserved.

Saturday, January 20, 2018

Some New Customs

I've been plugging away at some new customs over the past couple weeks, and thought I'd show off a few of my favorites.  I'm slowly piecing together templates for all Topps designs.  One of the projects is my Topps Update Update sets, filling team sets for players who didn't make it into Flagship or Update in a given year.  The other is creating my own Jack Wilson Archives project for each year.  There are only so many high quality photos out there, so I try to mix it up with a unique jersey whenever I can.  The Pirates wore these black jerseys as Friday alternate jerseys for a few years in the late 90's and early 00's.  

I also finally tackled the 2005 Topps design.  It's one of my favorites, but took a while to get those color twists on the border just right.  I also played around with my foil technique a little bit, which I thinks looks a little more realistic than the style I've used in the past. 

But the best part about 2005 is that the Pirates didn't run through too many obscure players who don't have photos out there.  Nothing gives you a headache quite like trying to find a high quality photo from one of Ray Sadler's 3 games as a Pirate.

Fun fact: Rick White is one of only two Pirates ever to wear number 00.  I'm way more excited than any reasonable person should be about finding a photo of it to put on a baseball card.

And I also played around with some classic designs.  I love the 1960 design, and enjoy tinkering with it from time to time.
 I also wanted to put together a set of players in unfamiliar uniforms.  I started with the '84 Topps design, but wasn't crazy about the overall look.  I may keep experimenting, but it's a project I look forward to playing around with. 

Friday, January 19, 2018

COMC Haul a Year in the Making

I've been a longtime fan of COMC.  I first found about about the site around 2010, and since then the bulk of my non-dimebox buying has come on the site.

There have been quite a few developments over the last few years that have left me questioning the site's future and the decision making behind the scenes.  But when push comes to shove, scratch an itch for me.  My card buying had basically been in hibernation during 2017.  But I did occasionally pop onto COMC to see if there were any cheap cards I was interested in, and doing some buying during their Spring Cleaning sale.

Usually I wait for one of their free shipping promos to have my cards sent to me.  I can't remember if I didn't meet the buying threshold in the spring, or if they simply didn't offer free shipping.  Either way, cards had been building up in my account since the end of 2016.  I usually wait until I have a nice round 100 cards so I can also take advantage of their $5 credit for every 100 cards you ship in a month.  So there they sat and sat as cards drifted further to the back burner. 

After finding my collecting groove again over the holidays, I made out pretty well on COMC's Black Friday and Cyber Monday sales.  So when I finally got around to shipping my cards, I ended up with over 200 new cards at my doorstep.  So here are a few of my favorites from the bunch.

One nice thing about collecting the Pirates is how well gold borders add to their cards.  Gold refractors, Topps gold, Mirror Gold.  If it's gold, it works.  I've been trying to chase gold refractors of Pirates since the mid early 00's when the cards first showed up.  But with Topps' parallel-palooze in recent years and the rookie heavy focus, it's brought prices down on regular 'old gold refractors.  I added about half a dozen new ones, none of which cost more than $2. 

I also love COMC for filling in holes in my vintage collection.  I'm not too picky about condition, so it's great for bargain hunting.  This '74 Ken Griffey RC was the last card I needed for my '74 team set.  Even for a high number card, it's always been pretty tough to find even at vintage-heavy shows locally.  So I was more than happy to pull the trigger for a little under $1.

And COMC is always great for autographs.  I already had a Moises Alou IP auto in my collection, but couldn't pass on the chance to add this short-term Buc.  Maybe the mid 90's would have played out differently with Moises in the outfield.  Very Law was my dad's favorite Pirate.  He's another player I have plenty of autographs of already, but couldn't pass up this beauty.

I know some collectors won't touch Panini products because they don't have logos.  But I love the extra effort Panini goes to to get autographs from a range of players.  Sure beats the same 2-3 names Topps includes on every.single.checklist.

 And of course I couldn't go without adding a few non-Pirate cards to my collection.  I don't know much about the Upper Deck e-pack products.  But I know that I love adding some of the inserts and parallels from those products for dirt cheap.  With the two year Cup run the Pens have been on, I've had a good excuse to add some more hockey cards to my collection.
But you have to have some classic players as well.

While I wish Geno Smith's career was playing out a little differently than it has, at least his autographs have finally fallen to reasonable prices.  This is my first Geno graph in a WVU uniform.  I really liked the Fleer Retro products UD put out for a couple years.

 And of course what fun would it be if I didn't start collecting a new project?  While on my COMC buying spree, I grabbed a handful of 2000 Ultimate Victory parallels /250.  The cards look great with a foil border and refractor finish, it's a relatively small with a design I loved as a kid, and not so low numbered that they're impossibly rare.

I doubt I'll ever complete the set - star players are still a little pricey and they aren't terribly common cards.  But I should be able to complete the majority of the set on the cheap. 

Thursday, January 18, 2018

The Oddest Dime Box Find

If you're reading this post, you probably know I love dime boxes.  Maybe not quite enough to name a blog after them, but still...a lot.  You never know what you'll find in a box.  And while I've never found a Clemente rookie, I have found plenty of awesome cards while digging through dime boxes.

Most of the time I'm hunting for Pirate cards, and grabbing anything else that catches my eye.  And I've definitely come across some unique finds in dime boxes - magazine inserts, 80's oddball reprints, Starting Lineup cards.  Maybe even the occasional Pokemon, Magic the Gathering, or non-sport card.  Or even a Benchwarmer card.  Not your typical dimebox fare, but definitely not something that seems out of place.

But I was at a card show a few years ago, flipping through cards, when something a little unusual caught me off guard.  Not "hide the wife and kids" unusual, but still enough to get me to pause and stare.

It was a ticket stub.  But...a part part of a ticket stub.  About an inch wide and three inches long, just the right size to neatly fit in with a stack of baseball cards.  But there was a Pirates logo, so into my stack it went.  It is, after all, a dime.  But that was about as much thought as I gave the stub, and went back to flipping through the box.

When I got home, I was going through all of my new purchases.  As I flipped through the stack, I would lay each card face down in a pile.  When I got to the stub, I again thought "huh, that's odd."  It says Pac Bell Park, which, if you're keeping score at home, is not very close to Pittsburgh.  I had figured if it was a Pirates stub, it was from a home game.  And again, that was about as much brain power as I cared to exert on the stub.  I flipped it over, continuing through the stack.

And then I noticed something on the back of the ticket stub.

Business is about to pick up...

Off to Google I went.  And yep, August 9, 2002.  Barry Bonds hit his 600th home run in the 6th inning of Kip Wells.

Bonds was far from done hitting homers.  Still, it's a cool piece of baseball history to add to my collection.  But a lot of questions remain.

How did the card end up in a dimebox in Pittsburgh?  Was there a Bonds fan in the Burgh that wasn't jilted by his exit from Pittsburgh that flew out for the game?  Where the heck is the rest of the stub?  Was it torn off by an usher at the game (there's perforation marks on top), or separated later?  And a suite ticket?  That can't be a cheap seat.  Maybe if they revive Unsolved Mysteries I'll see if I can get them on the case.  In the mean time, it's a fun piece of baseball history for my collection.

Any odd or unique finds in your dime box digs? 

Wednesday, January 17, 2018

The Grand Tour

When we bought our first home in the spring of 2016, I had it all laid out.  The grand plan for my basement, which would become the permanent home to Mark's Pirate Museum and Other Assorted Stuff.  

And as anyone who has bought a house knows, it never quite works out that way.  Car repairs, re-landscaping the yard, and getting a tractor to cut the 3/4 of an acre of grass I get to deal with meant that the fun projects got moved to the back burner.

Our move coincided with my break from blogging.  So I'm back, and a year and a half later can say that I'm at least closer to being moved in.  So I wanted to give you a tour of my collection setup.  It's not what the finished product will look like, but it sure beats all the boxes most of this stuff has been living in for the better part of the past decade.

Probably the most exciting collection-related development of owning a house?  Space!  Card sorting had always been done in the worse places possible - on the floor, or a computer desk, or the kitchen table.  Somewhere that was going to be needed for something else sooner than later.  So with the added square footage came the chance to have a dedicated card sorting table. 

We do a lot of estate sale and flea market hunting.  One of the most useful pickups I've ever made was this set of library card catalogue drawers.  They're the perfect size for cards, and have an adjustable stop in the back that can be moved.  It's been great for dividing up cards - one drawer for Pirates that need logged in Excel, one for Steelers and Pens that need migrated to binders, one for future TTM autograph requests, and the others filled up as needed.

As for the sorting?  It's getting there.  I have roughly 18,000 unique Pirate cards.  That was a lot of 9 pocket pages!  It's been a long process, moving everything to binders that are organized by year and set.  But the light at the end of the tunnel is closing in.  I'm down to one row (one row!) of Pirate cards that still need to find their home in a binder.  That's a big improvement from the 3 or 4 four row boxes that I started with. 

Only the far left row is Pirate cards.  The stack at the back of the row are oversized early 50's cards - Topps and Bowman - that don't fit in the standard 9 pocket pages.  At some point I'll need to get some of the oversized pages for those.  The group in the front of the row are the last cards that need moved to paged.

Off to the right of my card sorting setup is my basement entertainment setup.  Or more accurately, where I watch football when the living room tv is already claimed.  Without drywall, most of my memorabilia and posters are still waiting patiently to be displayed.  But I was able to find space for a few of the pieces in my collection.  The tv is hooked up to a PS2, N64, and SNES.  I'm not a big video game person, but it's fun to play a classic game every once in a while or when we have friends over.  I also have my small vinyl collection down here as well.

I've migrated the majority of my PC to binders over the last few years, including my autograph collection, player collections, and random cards that caught my eye.  All that dime box digging adds up fast.

 I've built up a pretty sizable collection of McFarlane figures over the years.  While some players, like Cadillac Williams or Jason Giambi may not have quite the luster they did when I first bought their figures, I have most of the Steelers figures that were released and some of my all-time favorites.  A lot are still boxed up until drywall goes up, but I managed to find room for at least some of my favorites.

It's not perfect yet, but it's been great to have a space where I can enjoy most of my collection.  There are still boxes of bobbleheads, memorabilia, and plenty of posters that I haven't had the space to put out right now.  Nothing beats being able to come home and flip through cards for a while watching tv or putting a record on to wind down after a long day at work.