Wednesday, October 7, 2015

2015 National League Wild Card

I know it's been about a month since I posted, and things will pick back up around here shortly. Unless the Cubs win tonight.

Tonight, the Cubs are in Pittsburgh to play the Pittsburgh Pirates in a one game playoff to see who gets to square off against the St. Louis Cardinals. And maybe I follow too many Cubs reporters, but I don't see anybody picking the Pirates to win. That makes me a little nervous...

I have seen the Cubs play seven times in person this year. They took three out of four from my local team, the Washington Nationals back in June when the Nats were still a playoff contender. I still have to do a writeup on that series. I saw tonight's starting pitcher, Jake Arrieta shut out the Pirates in Pittsburgh as part of my Epic Cubs Road Trip in August. On that same trip, I saw the Cubs defeat the defending World Series Champion San Francisco Giants in Wrigley, back when they were ahead of the Cubs for the second Wild Card spot. Most recently, I ventured back up to Pittsburgh a couple of weeks ago and saw the Cubs defeat these same Pirates again.

This year, the Cubs are 6-1 when I see them live.

They are 2-0 in Pittsburgh when I've made the trip.

Jake Arrieta is 2-0 in the two starts I've seen him make.

I kind of have to go, right?

I thought so, too!

I've never been to a postseason baseball game, Cubs or otherwise so I picked up a couple of overpriced Standing Room Only tickets over a week ago when it looked sure that the Wild Card game would be in Pittsburgh. Imagine my surprise/horror/delight when the Cubs ended the season on an 8-game winning streak and nearly brought the game back to Wrigley! As great as it would have been for the Cubs to have home field advantage, Pittsburgh is definitely more convenient! I'm bringing my dad and my older son.

By the time this posts, I'll be halfway to Pittsburgh with high hopes and low expectations. I know I shouldn't get too cocky but this year seems to be all gravy with the way the future looks for this team!


Friday, September 4, 2015

The Ivy Frankenset Begins

Last week, I talked about streamlining my two niche collections into Frankensets. As far as organization goes, the Ivy Collection seemed liked the easier of the two to tackle so during the masterful performance by Jake Arrieta in front of a national audience on Sunday evening, I was a scanning, cropping and cataloging machine.

While I know I still have a couple dozen, if not a hundred, more Ivy cards tucked away somewhere, I was able to get a good start towards my set. I still owe some people stuff from before my hiatus, so I won't be putting out a wantlist, or even my checklist until I get caught up with the outgoing mail. But thanks for the offers I've received already, they're appreciated!

In the meantime, I am a bit of a spreadsheet/statistics geek so I thought I'd share a few tidbits about the collection.

To start, I have cataloged 181 cards that feature the ivy of Wrigley Field in the background. No Cubs cards will be included in this set, although Cubs players can (and do) make cameos. National League teams will have an advantage but I will try to find as many American League teams as I can. As of this cataloging, the AL collection includes one card from the White Sox and one from the Orioles. The Houston Astros are the overall team leader with 23 cards, but they are all from their NL days. Likewise, the one Milwaukee Brewers card I have set aside from this collection is from their AL days.

The majority of the cards so far are from the junk wax era. The oldest card so far is from 1981 Donruss. The newest card is from 2014 Donruss. I don't have many 2015 cards and what I do are predominantly Cubs. And the way this Frankenset was culled together, many sets are over represented here in the beginning. I hope to diversify as much as possible, but a few of these sets had multiple nice cards.

Pitchers take the cake for the position tally with a count of 109. I was quite surprised to find cards with a catcher and a DH with ivy in the background.

The lowest card number was 1 and the highest in this small sample was 817. I'm not sure my set will go that high, but I'll try to fill as many holes as I can.

I know, I know. Enough with the numbers, show you some pictures. Of the 181 cards, 19 cards numbers were duplicated and one was triplicated. So let's duke it out and pit a few against each other to see who makes the set. Comment below to let me know which one you think should make the set. I'll say a few things about each one and why they interest me (or don't).

The Battle of #94:

1989 Upper Deck #94 Tim Leary vs. 1995 Donruss #94 Orlando Miller

Tale of the tape: The 1989 Upper Deck set is represented 4 times, while the 1995 Donruss set has 7 cards. The Dodgers have 18 cards. The Astros have 23. Leary is one of 109 pitchers while Miller is one of only 19 shortstops. The player photography is probably better on the Miller card, who is also a Rated Rookie, but the ivy is clearer on the Leary card.

Next up is the Battle of #112

1993 Fleer Ultra #112 Lee Smith vs. 1993 Upper Deck #112 Bip Roberts

Tale of the Tape: In one corner, we have a Hall of Fame-worthy former Cub. In the other, we have a blogosphere fan favorite with some flipped up shades. This is Fleer Ultra's lone representative so far while the 1993 Upper Deck set has seven cards on my spreadsheet. That 1993 Upper Deck set is one of the ones I mentioned earlier that has some great shots, in and out of Wrigley. Both are NL Central rivals so that's a strike against both. Lee Smith falls into the overused pitcher category, while Bip Roberts is one of eight in the collection with the infield designation.

And for our final matchup of the day, we have the Battle of #170

1993 Topps #170 David Justice vs. 1995 Donruss #170 John Hudek

Tale of the Tape: Like the first matchup, we have a similar set count of 4 vs. 7. And the 1995 Donruss card is another Rated Rookie Astros player. The Braves have 13 cards so far, compared with the Astros leading 23. David Justice is credited as an outfielder on the back of the card, one of 19 represented. I do have a soft spot for seeing nameplates and jersey numbers like the John Hudek card, but personally, I think Justice wins this matchup.

Let me know what you think. I'll post winners next Friday and come up with some more battles. The losers will stay in the collection, they just won't get the binder treatment.

Wednesday, September 2, 2015

Wroad to Wrigley Wednesday - 2015 Iowa Cubs Part 1

In this new series, I’m going to be showing off some of my minor league team set pickups. I was going to present the team set with minimal comments but thought it would be fun to talk about whether any of these players from the set had “made it” yet.

There was a checklist card but to build a little suspense, I'll save the back for the last post in this series. The coaching staff makes up the first couple of cards and I think I’ve got a full post just on these guys. So I’ll spread this out a bit.

Manager Marty Pevey played 13 career games for the Montreal Expos in 1990. One of those games was against the Cubs, but alas, not at Wrigley.

Pitching Coach Mike Cather pitched part of three seasons with the Atlanta Braves from 1997-99. He made 6 career appearances against the Cubs, the first of which was his only appearance at Wrigley Field. The result? Cather’s first Major League loss. After getting the final out of the 7th inning, check out the sequence of events.

Groundball to second, out, Groundball to second, out. Single to the left side. Error to the left side. Error to the left side. Ground ball to second, out. Get it together, left side! Tough way to take a loss!

Hitting Coach Brian Harper played from 1979-1995. His Wrigley debut came on September 20, 1982 as a member of the Pittsburgh Pirates. I’m a little confused by the boxscore on Baseball-reference…

Does that mean he was announced as a pinch hitter, the Cubs brought in a new pitcher and then the Pirates pulled Harper back for Dave Parker? Anyone?

Anyway, the next night, Harper struck out in a pinch hit appearance at Wrigley for an actual debut.

Assistant Hitting Coach Leo Perez is the first coach to have actually been a Cub at some point in his playing days. Well, a minor league Cub, making it as high as Advanced Single A Daytona. It looks like he may have been a catcher, but also tried his hand at pitching in a couple of game in the Arizona Fall League.

Finishing up the field staff is a dual card of Athletic Trainer Scott Baringer and Strength & Conditioning Coach Ryan Clausen. While its probably cool for these guys to have a baseball card, I’m not sure I see the point? Both had also previously worked together with the Cubs Double A organization, the Tennessee Smokies. Which means if the Smokies did the same thing, I might have multiple cards of these guys. I can't remember from when I scanned them.

The last card in the set is #36, Cubbie Bear, the mascot of the Iowa Cubs.

With 36 cards in the set, and 6 out of the way, that leaves 30 players that I’ll feature over the course of 2-3 more posts.

Monday, August 31, 2015

August 16, 2015 - Wilmington Blue Rocks @ Potomac Nationals

As if I hadn't seen enough baseball in early August, less than a week after we returned from our trip, my older son and I decided to take in a Potomac Nationals game, our nearest ballclub.

The main reason we were going was for the Ryan Zimmerman bobblehead giveaway. I don't particularly collect bobbleheads, especially non-Cubs, but pre-Bryce Harper and pre-Stephen Strasburg, Zimmerman was the face of the Nats franchise. I was easily able to flip one of the two that we got to cover the afternoon's tickets and food. Score!

Photo borrowed from eBay, too lazy to take my own
This would have been the first game of the season for me without Cubs ties but as an added bonus, when I went to the team website, I noticed former Cubs utility man Reed Johnson was making a rehab start. That didn't give me enough time to make an ATCRCS card, but luckily I had a binder of "favorite" Cubs cards that wasn't tucked away with the rest of my collection. I managed to find a pair of Johnson cards to try to get signed.

When we got there, it was crowded! I mean it was a Sunday game, with fireworks afterwards, and a bobblehead giveaway but one of my favorite things about this stadium is that it was rarely half capacity, let alone crowded. While waiting in line to get in, we figured it out. Along with Reed Johnson, it had also been announced that Denard Span was making a rehab start. He's a pretty big local fan favorite.

Once I saw how crowded it was, I put my cards away. Normally autographs are fairly easy to get at this level and in this stadium, but with crowds, all that goes out the window.

We walked around a bit, had a good conversation comparing this stadium to the ones we had just visited and noted the differences between the various levels. After player warmups, I saw Reed Johnson and Denard Span make their way from the outfield towards the dugout and they both stopped to sign autographs. I debated a good minute or so on whether I wanted to make the walk over to where they were and try to get in there.

With nothing to lose, I decided to head on over. I found a spot right between where Johnson was and where he had to go and waited. I would guess he signed 20-25 autographs before I had sidled up and he was about 4-5 people away from me. I can't believe how well I timed it, as I stood there for only a minute or two and got these two beauties:

This one is from my custom team set I made back in 2012, when the Cubs set a team record for players used in a season. I didn't notice until I scanned and cropped the cards, but he included his #4, which he wears with the Nationals. As you can see in the photo and on the card, he wore #5 on the Cubs. Oh well, no big deal. I've made some headway with that set over the years. I should figure out who I have and who I still need one of these days.

And this card from 2012 Topps is just a fantastic shot. I have no idea how close those gulls actually are to Johnson, but this card was already one of my favorites before it got signed. The unsigned version will definitely be one of the Cubs representatives in my horizontal frankenset!

Two weeks later, I couldn't tell you what the final score was, though I do know the home team lost. It just kind of reinforces to me that while I would like to visit other stadiums/teams in a similar fashion to my recent road trip, I just don't have as much of a vested interested in the game if the Cubs aren't playing. 

This marked the 8th stadium I visited this summer, for my 10th overall game. That reminds me, I went to three of the four games when the Cubs came to DC to play the big league Nats. I have some stories from that series to relay as well!

Saturday, August 29, 2015

My Frankenset(s)

It seems like most bloggers jumped on the Frankenset bandwagon while I was away. I’ll admit I had aspirations myself before taking my hiatus but I didn’t have much time to think about what I would do.

The first one I remember seeing when I started following blogs a couple of years ago was $30 a Week Habit's Serial Insanity, though I don't think the term Frankenset came around until a little later. If somebody could point me in the direction of its originator, I'd love to give someone credit.

In terms of Cubs bloggers, P-Town Tom of Waiting Til Next Year snagged a good one with making a giant Cubs set. Paul of Wrigley Wax decided to do uniform numbers, which also turned out pretty good.

So what’s a Cubs fan to do with two good ideas already off the board?  Well, I looked at the two mini collections I had going already and decided to make Frankensets out of both!

As a refresher, my two mini collections are posted in the right hand column under the “Niches” headline. The inventory under those links are a little out of date but they'll be updated shortly. The Horizontal Cards mini collection even resulted in a separate blog (that needs to be dusted off once I get the hang of this one again). The goal of that blog was to find the best horizontal card for each team by pitting two against each other every month and letting the readers decide.

For this particular Frankenset, I’ve decided to cap the set at 630 cards. That’s 30 cards for each of the 31 teams from my lifetime. I’m doubling down on the Expos and Nationals since I grew up with the Expos but at 10+ years now, the Nationals probably deserve their own spot, too. I’m hoping to find base set cards (though I may allow parallels) from as many different brands as possible.

I imagine it will be easy to get it started and then tough to fill in gaps. But that’s what makes this fun, right? Maybe once I get to that stage, that Horizontal Card Challenge blog will turn into a battle of making it into the Frankenset!

The second Frankenset will involve cards that feature the ivy covered walls of Wrigley Field in the background. This one won’t have a set number of cards from each team as it’ll be tough to find American League teams at Wrigley. As with the horizontal set, I will try to get as many different brands as possible. I don’t know if I’ll put a cap on this set as I have to go through what I already have.

I guess I have a reason to include some Cardinals cards in the collection. Ugh. I love this shot of Bill Sampen in the powder blues with his full nameplate and number showing. That ones a keeper!

Both of these Beltrans have a home for now but I'd like to bump one out eventually for variety sake.

I will always chase Cubs cards for my overall collection, but for the purposes of this set, unless I want some place fillers, I’m also going to try and avoid using Cubs cards like the Dave Smith below.

Upper Deck has some great ivy shots on the backs of cards but this one will probably be filler as well until something better comes along.

Before my hiatus, I had a box of cards that I’ll be going through shortly to scan and catalog so stay tuned. I’m excited to get to and figure out haves and needs. And hopefully putting it out there for the world to see keeps me accountable when I don’t feel like organizing…

And I'd like to give a big shout out to Jeff at 2x3 Heroes for the cards above that arrived in a PWE while I was away on my trip. He dropped some PWE's on me while I was away too and nudged me back in the direction of this blog on more than one occasion. Thanks for the support and cards, Jeff!

Jeff stunned me with his generosity with one final card in the envelope and since it doesn't fit this theme, it'll get its own post sometime next week.

Wednesday, August 26, 2015

Digging into the Past to Look into the Future

When I rather abruptly stopped posting here last August, I had 29 post ideas in my Draft folder here on Blogger. A year later, some of them aren’t real pertinent anymore, while others I would like to revisit.

One example is a feature I called “Where Are They Now?” which focused on Cubs’ minor leaguers that made appearances in the Topps Pro Debut set. Back in 2013 I followed up on the 2010 Cubs team set and last summer I started with the 2011 set before shutting it down.

My recent road trip has me on a big minor league kick and with the Cubs system ranked among the top (even with all the guys that have already been called up and aren't “prospects” anymore), it seems like as good a time as ever. In fact, I may do a quickie post that catches up with everybody from 2010 again too as there have been some MLB promotions within that group. And if you’ve read my trip recap, you’ll know that I have tons of minor leagues team sets I can delve into! 

I thought of starting a new blog to explore such a wide topic, but then I realized I was jumping back in with both feet too quickly. So I’ll take the weekly approach for now and see how it goes. I will probably continue to do the Where Are They Now posts on Sundays like I was before and work on these team sets posts on Wednesdays. I love alliteration so I’m thinking of calling this the Wroad to Wrigley Weekly Wednesday Wrapup. That's a little wordy. Maybe 5Dub for short? Decuple-U?

Here are the stacks of cards I picked up on my road trip that have now all been scanned, front and back. I’ll be working on the cropping and renaming in spurts. That's quit e a few Wednesday posts in my future.

Well over 600 cards!

On this trip I picked up the following team sets:
2015 South Bend Cubs
2015 Midwest League Tops Prospects
2015 Iowa Cubs
2015 Pacific Coast League Top Prospects
2015 Tennessee Smokies
2015 Southern League Top Prospects
2015 Myrtle Beach Pelicans
2015 Carolina League Top Prospects
2014 Daytona Cubs
2014 Kane County Cougars
2014 Tennessee Smokies
2013 Tennessee Smokies
2012 Tennessee Smokies
2011 Tennessee Smokies
2010 Tennessee Smokies
2009 Tennessee Smokies
2009 Pacific Coast League Top Prospects
2008 Tennessee Smokies
1997 Iowa Cubs
1996 Iowa Cubs
1995 Iowa Cubs
1992 Iowa Cubs
1991 Iowa Cubs
1989 Iowa Cubs
With South Bend and Myrtle Beach being first year affiliates, I now have a complete "run" on those team sets. I am only missing 2007 for the Smokies. And I am missing a ton of Iowa Cubs. I may try to fill in some gaps but I am pretty happy with the current runs I have going. I doubt I'll try to go for too many Daytona Cubs as they were the affiliate for a while, but the Kane County Cougars might be easier to track down as a short term team.

If I could just get into my collection to scan my Pro Debut, Heritage Minors, and Bowman Prospects team sets, I’ll have a lot of baseball card source material to work with. Not to mention a great pipeline of Cubs prospects to discuss!

Tuesday, August 25, 2015

Day 6 - Game 6 - August 9, 2015 Frederick Keys @ Myrtle Beach Pelicans

For those just tuning in, at the beginning of August, I embarked on a nearly 3000 mile, 6-day, 6-game Cubs themed vacation. The plan was to hit 2 big league Cubs games (home and away), a Triple A game, Double A game and games from two different Single A affiliates (low and high).

Alright. One more stop. So far, we’ve been to Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. We’ve been to South Bend, Indiana. We’ve been to Chicago,Illinois. We’ve been to Des Moines, Iowa. We’ve been to Kodak, TennesseeOur final stop will be Myrtle Beach, South Carolina to see the Cubs’ high Single A affiliate, the Myrtle Beach Pelicans.

Like the South Bend Cubs, this is the first season for the Pelicans with the Cubs. Most recently they had been associated with the Texas Rangers. The Cubs previous affiliate at this level had been the Daytona Cubs, who were part of the Cubs family since the team’s inception in 1993. Despite this long term relationship, I’m actually ok with the change. Why, you might ask? Because I’m selfish.  The Pelicans play in the Carolina League and the Potomac Nationals, also in that league, are my closest local minor league team. So now, I can see some Cubs minor league baseball fairly locally! In fact, the Pelicans are coming to my neck of the woods in early September. It’ll be midweek so I don’t know that I’ll make it to all three games in the series, but we’ll see what the schedule permits.

Anyway, back to the trip.

When we rolled into Myrtle Beach, we weren’t getting enough baseball so we were also following the big league Cubs on the MLBTV app on my phone. The reception wasn’t great while going through the Smokey Mountains but the further we got into South Carolina, the better it got. The Cubs were in the final game of the Giants series that we saw begin in person a few days before in Wrigley. While we were busy in Des Moines and Kodak, the Cubs had won games 2 and 3 and were looking to sweep the four game series against the defending World Champs while widening their wild card lead.

We pulled into the Pelicans stadium just as Hector Rondon came on in the 9th for the save. With a 2-0 lead, we watched on in horror as the wheels began to fall off. A single, a double and a walk loaded the bases with no outs. But Rondon somehow managed to channel Carlos Marmol and/or Mitch Williams and struck out the next three guys to complete the sweep.

We locked up the car and headed towards the stadium where we could hear a familiar tune. Apparently, somewhere in the stadium (maybe on the scoreboard?) they had been playing the Cubs game and were blasting Go Cubs Go over the loud speakers. I knew I was going to like this place…

After splurging on tickets in Tennessee the day before, I didn’t have that opportunity in Myrtle. I couldn’t get three together anywhere but in the outfield general admission bleachers but that was fine with us.

Featured on the ticket was current Cub Kyle Hendricks, who played for the Pelicans while he was still in the Rangers organization. He came over along with Christian Villanueva in return for the Cubs sending Ryan Dempster to the Rangers.

I find it very interesting that in Tennessee, Iowa and Chicago, we had to pay for programs. But in the two Class A ballparks, South Bend and Myrtle Beach, the programs were free. 

This was volume 9 and covered two series. Without looking at the schedule, I would guess that equates to a homestand. I asked at the customer service stand if they had any back issues available and after digging around, I received this volume 1 gem from the opening homestand:

Every time I went to the restroom or concession stand, I popped into the team store. I was having trouble coming to terms with adding anything with a Pelican on it to my predominantly bear themed collection. And their team colors aren't Cubby blue, but a light, powder blue. I didn't add a hat, but I did end up with a t-shirt that didn't look too silly. In addition to this year's Pelicans team set, they also had last year's Daytona Cubs set AND last year's Kane County Cougars set. I guess they figured the sets had a bunch of current Pelicans in them so why not sell them. Well, they certainly suckered me into picking up one of each.

Once the sun went down behind the water tower a bit, these seats were perfect. It definitely felt closer than this picture leads you to believe.

You may have to click to enlarge it, but I thought the Harry Caray caricature sign above the broadcast booth was a nice touch.

They were doing fireworks right behind us after the game so they kicked us out of our seats during the 8th inning and cleared the vicinity. Hmmm. I wasn’t real happy about that, but what can you do? During the bottom of the 8th and the top of the 9th, we ended up standing along the third base line in a main aisle.

The view was much better, but of course the Pelicans had themselves a late inning rally so we ended up standing around quite a bit. Already up 6-2, they added 4 more in the 8th to make this our 3rd double digit game of the trip!

I was trying to get a picture of the final score on the scoreboard when I noticed the video they were showing. What’s going on?

Oh, just the mascot Splash the Pelican hoisting the “W” flag out in left field. Nice! I really enjoyed all of the big league club traditions that have filtered down to the minors. Harry Caray. Go Cubs Go. The “W” flag. Winning. Well, that last one might not be a tradition just yet…

Oh yeah, I mentioned fireworks, right?

But wait…there’s more?

Well, that’s it for the Cubs part of the trip, but hey, we were in Myrtle Beach. I pricelined a hotel and got a pretty good deal. We slept in but hit the beach for a couple of hours on Monday morning before walking the boardwalk on the way back to the car. We had lunch, “wasted” some money in an arcade for an hour or two and then hit the road.

What a great way to end a fantastic trip!

To briefly recap the week:

The Cubs/affiliates went 6-0, outscoring their opponents 48-8! Three double digit scoring outputs, along with two shutouts thrown. We saw fireworks at two stadiums. Five of the six stadiums were new to us (all but Wrigley), The weather was beautiful each and every night. The drive wasn’t as bad as I thought. I didn't talk about it much but the food was amazing. There were giveaways. There were autographs. There were baseball cards. There was some great father/son bonding. If I knew it would turn out this way, I would have paid double!

I would do this every year for the rest of my life, but I don’t see how this trip could be topped. My sons and I talked about doing a similar trip with other ballparks, grouped geographically rather than by affiliation. I just don’t know that I would be as entertained without a vested interest in the teams playing. Spring Training and the Cubs Convention are on my bucket list but with both sons wrestling in the winter for the foreseeable future, those are both a good couple of years away. I did throw it out there that if the Cubs make it past the wild card round this year, I will definitely be on the hunt for playoff tickets…