Tuesday, August 30, 2016

Keeping the Cubs Fans at Bay

Fresh out of Cubs cards, thanks to @TwitchWasHere (not that I mind.)

I can complain about pulling Cubs all I want, but I will never run out of fiends clawing at my door, ready to get their sweet, sweet fix of the blue stuff. Sheesh. Twitch sent over a bunch of nice Cardinals and Blazers goodies and all he got was a lousy PWE to keep him at bay until next month when I can hopefully get back to picking up cards again.

Kid Reyes has arrived on the scene, a bit earlier than expected, thanks to some maladies in the starting rotation and his initial success in the Cardinals pen. He throws hard and fast (aren't those the same things?) and has crazy talent.

This is my first card of the mighty Nut Oven, who toiled in the minors in obscurity for a bit before getting the early season call to the big league roster. This is also a Donruss Chrome card (aka Panini Donruss Optic) which is just confusing, but it looks alright so I'm going to allow it.

I was really happy to get my hands on this, as these retail only All-Star Game inserts seem to be a bit hard to come by, at least when I look.

The big baller card of the lot was this low numbered card of the Wizard. Nice!

Twitch hooked me up with some Blazers as well, because that's my jam. Pat Connaughton was drafted as a major league pitcher but is giving hoops a chance. Sure, why not? He's infinitely less likely to have Tommy John surgery this way, at least. That doesn't sound like a pleasant one.

Rookie year Sabas going up against rookie year Ben Wallace. This is great.

Biggie Smalls himself, the Mighty Mouse... Damon Stoudamire.

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.