Thursday, August 25, 2016

Allen & Ginter: Surprisingly Good

Topps redeems itself with one of its best efforts in years. 

I've been bored with Topps at best this year, and at worst... well, I'll save the grumbling for another night. The latest edition of Allen & Ginter (the more favored moniker over "Allen & Ginter's"), the eleventh since Topps revived the old tobacco brand, is threatening to be one of my favorites. Just look at that wrapper! It's almost perfect. The cards I found inside the blaster I bought earlier this month weren't too shabby, either.

The base design is fairly solid. I liked the older, more minimalist approach, but Topps did a nice job with an old timey font, reminding me of a sign you might see hanging above a store in a dusty old Western town. Trayce Thompson is the son of former Blazer Mychal Thompson, his brothers being basketball players Mychel and slightly more famous Klay. What crazy names this family has!

Okay, okay, calm down Cubs fans. You don't get this card, a black bordered mini of your "All-Star" shortstop. I was hesitant to even show it, but you probably don't want it anyway because the pack sealer got ahold of the corner of it. It's got those dreaded wavy lines all over it. I swear there are 99 fans of the Cubs for every 1 fan of every other team in MLB right now, and they all email me after I post Cubs cards on this blog all of a sudden. Sheesh!

Yay!!!! That's all I have to say. Yayyyy!!!!! I wish we had these tiny, pissed off looking birds in the wild in my neck of the woods, but sadly we do not. Lots of pigeons and giant noisy crows, though.

The Numbers Game is this year's common baseball player related insert concept. The backs of each has lists of achievements and other players who wore the same number, which is fun. Speaking of fun, Jacob DeGrom did not look like he was having fun last night against the Cardinals. Maybe he needs a haircut.

Please tell me that Portland's mayor is not in this set. Our local government is a disaster.

Eck! I always appreciate cards of Dennis Eckersley, even when he's not wearing red like he did late in his career.

Pretty much the most important number in baseball.

Ha! Marlins guy is in this set. I wonder if Deadspin has anything to do with this.

I complained (? - maybe not the right word) that we already had mini cat inserts in a past A&G set ("Little Lions") but I was told by the female of the household that these are different kinds of cats. And yet, she hasn't opened any Allen & Ginter packs this year. Hmm.

Two different Willie Mays cards were in the blaster, fortunately showing off two different photos. Again, this is something that Topps seldom gets right anymore, so it's happy news!

So the card stock is noticeably different this year. I kind of like it. It's hard to describe, but it almost seems more like one of Panini's more recent heritage-focused designs, like maybe the 2013 Hometown Heroes set or something similar. Anyway, it's a nice change without being too much of a change. The cards have a bit more of a grainy quality.

Any Silver Jews fans out there?

Well, you knew there had to be other reasons that I was excited about this box. Here's a good one of them.

Hmm, black sand... nothing I've ever seen before. Must be nice!

And finally, this full-sized Kolten Wong relic also fell out, completing my run of luck with this first Allen & Ginter blaster of the year. This card is soft and bright and doesn't seem to share much in common with the regular cards of this set, but I'm not complaining. Wong played himself out of regular playing time this season, so it will be interesting to see what his future holds. I'm guessing my near future doesn't hold many more Cardinals hits from randomly selected blasters, so I'm just going to call this a huge win.

Tuesday, August 23, 2016

Dog Days of the Timbers

An impulse buy nets me an official team set of last year's MLS Cup champions. 

In hindsight, this was probably an overpay by a few dollars, but for $4.99 I picked up a current year Topps Portland Timbers team set. I was expecting, foolishly, that this would be like MLB team sets where each set is a self-contained unit and not actually part of the flagship complete set, but that was not the case. Instead, I ended up with copies of the 12 Timbers cards from of the larger MLS set. I've been meaning to pull the trigger on a Timbers team set every season since they joined the top US league, but locally popular things are always going to be overpriced.

The design reminds me of the 2016 baseball design in that it sucks and would probably only look halfway decent in Chrome. Most (and in some cases all) of the backgrounds have been cropped or faded out, leaving the players to be playing in front of blurs and lines and patterns and that sort of thing. Almost every player is pictured with a ball, in hopes of reminding you that there aren't 20 players or so standing around on the field without an actual ball at their foot. MLS Soccer is an ACTION sport, and Topps won't have you thinking any differently.

I'll comment on each card individually, but I will point out that this has been a lackluster season for the Timbers. They've hung around in or near playoff contention for the entire season, but injuries have taken their toll and there has seemed to be a general malaise that's followed the team for quite some time now. I don't think MLS Cup Hangover is officially a thing, but last season's team caught fire at exactly the right time (late) and in exactly the right way (with a bit of luck). I'm a fan of what Caleb Porter has done in his time with this team, but what follows might not make it sound like I'm the most optimistic fan.

Fanendo Adi has been a goal scoring machine in his time with the Timbers, but he's been a bit off this season as rumors swirled that he'd rather be elsewhere. By most accounts, US pro soccer is on a slow steady climb, but it's still not the most ideal place for a player to show his talents. Topps, for their part, shows their talents by putting a few words on the back and some green polygons.

Alvas Powell is young. Topps really wants you to know how young he is. I get that there's a big push for youth teams and under-23 teams in this sport, but this gets a little more specific than slapping some "Future Stars" label on baseball players.

Borchers has the beard, the big goal against RSL last year and a torn ACL. He's one of the key members of the backline who has gone missing this season, currently replaced by Under 24 Powell and a guy who looks like a Karate Kid villain.

Ben Polk, the only player that I had to actually Google in this lot (good sign, actually!), was a Timbers Superdraft pick (note: not really more super than any league's draft) and has been playing for their second tier team, which I won't dare call a farm club.

Diego Chara was around from the start of the Timbers inaugural MLS season and currently leads the league in yellow cards. I assume he draws the ire of the other fanbases.

Jewsbury, the former Captain Jack (currently just Old Man Jack?) is one of the active MLS leaders in games played. (Borchers, for his part, is one of the active MLS leaders in games started.) Jewsbury was the captain of the inaugural team and continues to seem useful when called upon.

Kwarasey will forever be enshrined in Timbers lore for being a huge part of one of the most bonkers shootouts you'll ever see. An injury derailed his 2016 season, and longtime backup Jake Gleeson impressed well enough in his absence that Kwarasey left the team after regaining his health.

Lucas Melano is another young, but he gets a lot of playing time.

Nagbe was the Timbers top SUPERdraft pick in their inaugural year, selected 2nd overall, and has remained one of their stars throughout. He started riding the bench this year for the US national team. He doesn't score a lot, which can be a bit frustrating.

Ridgewell is probably the team's best overall defender, but he's also been among the injured.

Okay, fine, this one was probably worth the $4.99 by itself. Portlanders don't get to celebrate many championships.

Valeri has been a bit banged up himself the past couple of seasons, but when he's on, it's scary. Lately, no one has been on, and the Timbers are starting to see their playoff hopes slip away from them a bit. Hopefully they will get back on track on Sunday as they face the hated Sounders for the second straight weekend.

Wednesday, August 17, 2016

Topps Chrome Makes Me a Hypocrite

Last winter's bad ideas become this summer's shiny wonders. 

I was harshly critical of this year's Topps flagship set, to the point where I made sure I wouldn't buy a single pack of the stuff. I still don't like it. I have to admit, sadly, that it looks really good in a Chromium suit. I will probably buy more of these, even though this value pack was full of dirty rotten Cubs.

As is usual with these things, I dug straight into the bonus pack first, which gives you three retail-only pink refractors. People made a big deal out of "REFRACTOR" being on the back of the cards again like it used to be with Topps Chrome, but people were wrong. The refractor designation on the back seems to only exist on the plain old refractors and not the myriad color/prism/whatever parallels of parallels that Topps comes up with. Of course, it's really only difficult to tell with a quick glance if something is a plain refractor versus a base card, so Topps must have considered this helpful if not quite keeping with tradition.

Last year, Sepia was the retail color du jour. This year, it's pink.

More Cubs. An injured Cub.

I ended up with back-to-back Goldschmidt cards in the same pack, both his base version and this prism refractor.

Cub or no, I still don't like these inserts at all. In Chrome, it appears that they are refractor-ed by default.

Hey, a Cardinal! Sure, it's a lousy base card... but... hey, a Cardinal!

Refsnyder is a rookie and a (plain) refractor. His was the only card with the designation on the back.

This was my hit. I really have no comment. Any fans of the socio-political pop-country music artist (and son of a former pitcher) out there?

I Got the Blues, and I Can't Be Satisfied

It's not quite hockey season just yet. 

Longtime trade partner and hockey enthusiast Sportscards From The Dollar Store reacted to something I said on the internet during the NHL Playoffs about supporting the Blues by sending a starter collection that way. I think I was actually forewarned in some threatening terms that this might happen. I'm afraid I know more about the sport of hockey and the rules and so forth than I actually do about players and strengths and weaknesses of teams, but at this point in my life it was probably time to choose an alliance and I'm going with the St. Louis Blues. There was probably some part of me that was holding out hope that Portland would someday get an NHL team, having an NHL-ready arena now for more than 20 years. But there seems to be little to no local interest here among the elite folks with the huge bank accounts or the billionaire that owns the NBA team, so here we are. I will show off some of these cards in due time, but I figured I would wait until hockey season before I get into it, so I can help myself get more familiar with some of these players.

A few other non-hockey cards landed in my mailbox, like this Classic Alan Benes card. I'd never seen or heard of this "Images" set, which seems to be an attempt at more of an upscale release for the '90s games and cards manufacturer.

These early '90s Leaf Black Gold parallels always looked nice. This probably would have set me back a couple of bucks back in the day.

I usually reserve most of my Oregon Ducks cards for my Good Luck Ducks posts, but there are only so many Saturdays in the fall. Jordan Kent was at one point one of the most athletic players on the basketball team coached by his father, a Swiss army knife that was a key cog at both ends of the floor. During his junior year, he decided to give football a shot and ended up starting all 12 games of his senior season at WR. He's now a local sports broadcaster on Portland-based CSN NW.

Wednesday, August 10, 2016

Why Do I Collect Steve Garrabrants?

It's more of a rhetorical question. 

Nothing against Steve Garrabrants, who I'm sure is a wonderful person, but when I win auctions on cards like this it really makes me wonder what I'm doing with my time. Garrabrants was a career minor league who spent 4 years in the Diamondbacks system. Like some of the players I mentioned in last night's post, he's more of an unknown. He's not from my hometown and I have no personal connection to him. He's not even pictured wearing the garb of my baseball team of choice. He's just a thing to collect, because I decided I wanted all of the things in the 2006 Bowman Heritage set.

I have a choice in these matters, but this is another reminder of how silly all this is. I never saw Mr. Garrabrants play, and I won't be able to tell anyone any stories about him one day. At least I will probably remember, at some point down the road, that Ruben Tejada got into a handful of games with the Cardinals back in the mid-2010s and couldn't do much to rejuvenate a sputtering defense or hit his way out of a wet paper bag. But Garrabrants? Maybe the Google overlords will spare Blogger for another decade or so and we'll have this blog post to remember.

The Knowns and the Unknowns

Some guys I've never heard of and some guys you've probably heard of. 

Nary a week goes by here at Cards on Cards that I don't talk about Wainwright this and Ozzie Smith that. I should probably give a little time to some of the players who didn't get much time themselves, and I found plenty of the cards sent to me recently by The Angels, In Order to be of the unknown or under-known variety.

Donovan Graves was... [quick Google search] a late draft pick of the Cardinals back in 1999. He spent 5 years in the Cardinals system primarily as a starting pitcher, but he couldn't breakthrough past A-ball.

You know this guy. Here's a gold parallel of his 2011 Bowman Platinum card. Holliday is in the final season of his deal signed with the Cardinals after he was traded in 2009. The team has an option for next season, but it's an expensive one.

A stray football player found his way into the stack, but it's okay - Huff is both a Duck and an Eagle, even if he's not all that well known.

Mendez spent 7 seasons in the Cardinals organization, but didn't hit for much as positions (OF and 1B) typically known for hitting.

Keith Johns, whose Baseball-Reference photo comes from this very card, got into 2 games and logged 1 PA in the big leagues, back in 1998 with Boston.

Martini currently plays for AAA Memphis. This blue Bowman Chrome refractor probably isn't going to buy me lunch anywhere, but I'm a sucker for blue refractors!

Stephen Piscotty is veering into more of a known territory. After his hot start to the season, his numbers have regressed to the mean a little bit, but he's having a nice season in his first full one in the majors.

Kolten Wong has had his ups and downs, and not a lot in-betweens. He was demoted this season, briefly, and came back as an outfielder. That was weird. I think he could benefit from either a regular role on this team or a regular role on another team, if the Cardinals were able to get something of value for him.

Tom was also kind enough to gift me a copy of this Stan Musial book, which was a great surprise. It came complete with a vintage newspaper clipping and another story cut out of a magazine, tucked in the folds. Great stuff. I will save it for a rainy afternoon, of which there are many in Portland.