Thursday, June 30, 2016

2016 Topps Throwback Thursday Set 1

I haven't purchased too many cards this year as I'm really trying to focus on organizing what I already have while simultaneously going through a major life transition. But a quick check of the Topps website during my lunch break has become part of my daily routine to see if the Cubs have been blessed with a new Topps Now card.

A couple of weeks back, they started a variation of the Topps Now program that they are calling Throwback Thursday. In a nutshell, every Thursday they release a new 6-card set featuring one of their old designs. Its similar in that the print runs are limited to the number of sets they pre-sell and will be announced shortly after the sale closes. But unlike the Topps Now program, these sets are available for a whole week instead of just a day.

What can I say other than I am a sucker. I bit on the first set as I was already buying the Albert Almora card I showed off on Monday. It didn't hurt that this inaugural set also included Kris Bryant. After a little hemming and hawing, I picked up the "3 sets for $50" deal (otherwise they are $20 apiece) with free shipping. I'm kinda, sorta, maybe interested in building the set for myself, but really I just want the Cubs singles.

#1 Bryce Harper
#2 Mike Trout
#3 Clayton Kershaw
#4 Kris Bryant
#5 Trevor Story
#6 Cory Seager

This first run of cards has a print run of 1,665 sets. That's higher than your standard Topps Now card runs but lower than I would have expected for this inaugural set.

The cards themselves feel thicker than the Topps Now cards which are already pretty sturdy too. They aren't as glossy as those, so I'd compare it to an early Gypsy Queen or Heritage. I don't have any of those from recent releases so can't compare quality.

Each week will sport a different theme. According to the back of the cards, the first week was "Players to Watch." Seems appropriate enough for use with the 1955 Bowman TV set design.

It'll be interesting to see what themes they come up with without reusing a lot of the same players. Spoiler alert, Bryce Harper already has another card in the second set and Clayton Kershaw has another in the third.

And actually, as I type this, I'm starting to doubt I'll continue to build this complete set. Throwing a Ulysses S. Grant out there every week is going to get expensive real quick. If I could find the time and motivation to flip the extras, it would definitely help alleviate the financial strain and possibly end up lucrative, but I'm a realist.

We'll see how it goes. The Week Two cards are already in transit to me so next Thursday I'll showcase those. And I did bite the bullet and order a Week Three set as well since another Cub was featured.

In the meantime, since I'm breaking a set up for the Bryant, if anybody is interested in one of the other five singles, let me know. Otherwise, I'm probably going to list them up on eBay over the weekend.

Tuesday, June 28, 2016

2016 Topps #212 Starlin Castro

Today's card has the only player from the 2016 Topps Series One Cubs team set that is no longer with the team (now that Chris Coghlan is back). Three time All-Star Starlin Castro was the reigning longest tenured Cub until he was traded to the New York Yankees in December 2015. 

2016 Topps #212 Starlin Castro

Castro's card is also the only horizontally oriented one in the Series One Cubs team set. Everybody knows what a fan I am of those types of cards, however, this one doesn't wow me. I'm ok with the design in general but here, the cloudy corners are a distraction from an otherwise nice photo and the name plate covers the sliding opponent. I definitely prefer the parallels to the base cards for this set design. Using a nice honeycomb design to differentiate the colored parallels instead of the smoky/cloudy corners is a definite improvement.

I am intrigued by the play though. It appears that Castro is in the midst of turning a double play but you don't often see a head first slide by the lead runner. With the runner that close, Castro firmly on the ground with the ball still in hand, did he successfully turn two? Or is this not a DP and there's more to the play than meets the eye? Enquiring minds want to know!

A possible clue to finding the source photo is the baserunner's name on the back of his helmet, Belt. That would be Brandon Belt of the San Francisco Giants. I did see the Cubs play the Giants last August at Wrigley Field, but with the giant Yahoo! billboard/sign in the background, this definitely isn't the Friendly Confines.

Photo by Ezra Shaw
This was actually one of the easier source photos to find with so much information already known. In fact, over at Getty Images, the search "2015 Starlin Castro Brandon Belt" only yielded two results with the only other option taken just a split second later in this sequence.

According to the caption:
 "SAN FRANCISCO, CA - AUGUST 26: Starlin Castro #13 of the Chicago Cubs turns a double play as Brandon Belt #9 of the San Francisco Giants slides into second base on a ball hit by Buster Posey #28 in the third inning at AT&T Park on August 26, 2015 in San Francisco, California."
That's much more specific than the blurb from last week's Miguel Montero photo. We have the date of the game, the inning and it lets us know that it was indeed a double play. The only important (to me) information left out was the final score.

So after heading over to Baseball Reference, I see from the box score that like the Montero card, this was a loss for the Cubs. This one by the score of 4-2. That makes it 0-2 in the record books and 0-2 on me attending the game featured.

But wait, there's more! With the specific play known, I did a little digging and found the video. You do have to sit through a short ad, but it truly was a highlight reel twin killing started by Addison Russell.

I'm not sure how to imbed the video so here's the link to it.

Even though Castro played far more games at shortstop in 2015, by this point in the season, he had been supplanted by the rookie Russell and slid over to second base. Surprisingly, Topps got that little detail right and has Castro listed as a second baseman on the card.

After watching the double play video, I got caught in one of those internet black holes and watched several more videos on the MLB website. I know I watched a lot of games last year after subscribing to the MLB.TV service, but a play from this game was instantly recognizable. Take a look at Kyle Schwarber's infield double. Yeah, you read that right, an infield double. Schwarber would eventually come around to score on a Kris Bryant single. Respect 90 folks, or in this case 180.

Monday, June 27, 2016

More Topps Now

Just a quick post today, showing off my newest pickups from the Topps Now collection. The Cubs are on a bad run recently so getting these in the mail was a nice reminder that this is just a phase and the Cubs are good.

Card #129, Print Run: 1278
Following the win on June 6, the Cubs sat at a record of 40-16, becoming the fastest team to 40 Wins since the 2001 Mariners. Since then, they have gone 8-10 to fall way off any record setting pace. They still have the best winning percentage in the Majors but two teams have surpassed their win total of 48. The Giants and the Rangers both have 49.

This was the first dual-sided card issued in the Topps Now set. Until this card, the backs had a blurb about whatever feat was briefly noted on the front caption. This format makes sense for card depicting a team achievement but I'm not sure I'm a fan of the execution. I'd have to double check but I think this might also be the first card that features photos of current players from different games (some career milestone cards have featured the player being passed). I smell a deeper breakdown coming to find out how many different games are shown. At least two, based on the uniforms.

Card #136, Print Run: 766

We Cubs fans have been able to rationalize and come up with all kinds of curses excuses over the years. The dip in production over the past three weeks or so is being blamed on a combination of the injury bug and because of some early season weather situations, playing a stretch of 24 games in 24 days leading up to the All-Star game. But at the same time, their young guys are stepping up.

I don't know that I would have given Albert Almora Jr. a Topps Now card for his first MLB start performance. A few times since then maybe, but not this one. If it was any other player on any other team in any other game, it would have been a blip on the box score. And the photo they went with is a little odd to boot.

I can think of a half dozen moments more deserving of a Topps Now card that have been overlooked but this isn't the only questionable rookie inclusion. I'm looking at you Julio Urias.

These two cards mark #8 & #9 into my Topps Now Cubs team set, with two more on the way. The tab at the top is updated with front and back photos of all of them, a checklist and their print runs.

Saturday, June 25, 2016

Signature Saturday - Not Our Rookie of the Year

The Cubs have had their share of Rookies of the Year, including the reigning NL winner with Kris Bryant. They also aren't afraid of picking up other teams' good rookies if given the opportunity. Most notable would be guys I've shown off before in Andre Dawson and just last week, Rick Sutcliffe. They even currently have former winner Chris Coghlan (2009, Marlins) back for a second go with the Cubs.

In 1998, Kerry Wood pitched his way to the award with a 13-6 record and an very impressive 233 strikeouts. Some of you may be familiar with his 20 strikeout performance over the 102-win Houston Astros. You know, the game regarded as the best game ever pitched if you go by Game Score.

His American League counterpart that year was a young outfielder in Oakland. Ben Grieve came from a baseball family, his dad having played, GM'ed and broadcast for the Rangers. Tom Grieve was the Rangers GM involved in the the Rafael Palmeiro/Jamie Moyer for Mitch Williams trade between the Cubs and Rangers in 1988. Tom and Ben were the first father-son combo to both be first round draft picks. Tom was 6th overall by the Senators in 1966 and Ben was 2nd overall the A's in 1994.

Ben had some success early on in Oakland. After winning the ROY award, his numbers kept improving. Oakland managed to trade him at his peak to the Tampa Bay Devil Rays prior to the 2001 season when he was coming off a career year. He spent two and a half seasons in Tampa before signing as a free agent with the Brewers. The Cubs traded for him in late August 2004 and Grieve played in 15 September games. The Cubs re-signed him to a minor league deal for the 2005 season but couldn't find room in the Major Legaue outfield playing in just 23 more MLB games that season.

That 2005 Cubs team had 5 players that at some point were Rookie of the Year winners and I have ATCRCS cards from at least one other that I'll show off next time I do an ATCRCS post.

Thursday, June 23, 2016

2016 Topps #36 Miguel Montero

Last week, Albert Almora garnered a Topps Now card from events that occurred during a game I attended. I said in a recap post that as far as I know, I had never been to a game featured on a baseball card. I'm still waiting on delivery of said card, but with all the Cubs games I went to last year (8), I thought it would be fun to look deeper into the Cubs cards from 2016 Topps to see if any of them were from games I attended.

It's been a while since I broke down cards, tracking down the Getty source photo and cross referencing the game date with the box score over at Baseball Reference. In fact, I still have 2013 Topps Update cards in my draft folder from when I was working through that edition before my hiatus, which means I completely missed 2014 and 2015. Not to mention a couple of dozen drafts in my dormant 2014 Topps Blog. Maybe this will renew interest for me over there too, but for now, I'm going to skip ahead directly to 2016.

No spoilers, I'm not looking ahead. I'm just going to start randomly with Series 1 and post these when I get a chance. With a self imposed budget restriction due to my upcoming trip, there won't be too many new additions to my collection in the near future anyway.

The first Cubs card in the set is #36 Miguel Montero.

The first thing I noticed about the card is that Montero is not wearing the home pinstripe uniform. That can really help me narrow down the Getty search when I can add Wrigley to the search terms. Using "Cubs Miguel Montero 2015" generated 393 potential matches. As an example, if I was able to add Wrigley as a search term, that would have whittled it down by about half to 196 matches.

Luckily, I can rule out a ton of photos of Montero in his catcher's gear at first glance and just scan for batting images. Going back just over a year ago, I came across the image.

Photo by Brace Hemmelgarn
Dated June 19, 2015, the caption reads, "Miguel Montero #47 of the Chicago Cubs bats against the Minnesota Twins on June 19, 2015 at Target Field in Minneapolis, Minnesota. The Twins defeated the Cubs 7-2."

I've been to Target Field once but that was in 2014 and the Twins played the Chicago White Sox that day. So I can safely rule out having attended this game.

As noted, the Cubs lost to the Twins 7-2. I headed over to Baseball Reference anyway to take a look at the box score. Both Cubs runs came on solo home runs by Anthony Rizzo. This was the first of a 3-game series in Minnesota with the Cubs winning the other two games.

With nothing specific in the caption to go on, I can't narrow it any further than one of Montero's three plate appearances. He singled to the left field, lined out to left field and struck out over the course of seeing 8 total pitches.

Wednesday, June 22, 2016

Wroad to Wrigley - Achievement Unlocked

Ok, so once again I'm delaying in showing the next team set in the series but this time its for good reason. Within the past two weeks, three different players have made their Cubs/MLB debuts, thereby unlocking the Wrigley Field achievement on their career goals.

These three cards are from last year's Tennessee Smokies team issued set that I picked up on my road trip in August. They join Carl Edwards and Kyle Schwarber as members of this set to play for the big league club.

I don't have anything really insightful to add but it has been fun watching this Cubs team grow from within and see these young guys get their due. All three have made an immediate impact and even if they are returned to Triple-A at some point to further their growth, they'll be back with the confidence they have what it takes to compete at the highest level.

Albert Almora and Willson Contreras both earned Topps Now cards when they hit the ground running so we'll have to see if Gerardo Concepcion will follow suit. In his debut last night, he struck out two Cardinals and retired all four batters he faced. Not necessarily groundbreaking but Topps has overlooked more and commemorated less so....

I have other major card issues from Almora and Contreras through Topps and Bowman but this is the only other Concepcion card in my collection. Last season, when I visited the Myrtle Beach Pelicans, they had previous season team sets for sale in their team shop for the Daytona Cubs and Kane County Cougars. They were replaced by the Pelicans and the Sound Bend Cubs, respectively as the Cubs Single A affiliates so I thought it was a nice touch on their part since so many of the players were still in the system. I didn't hesitate to pick them up.

Cubs announcers Len & JD commented how nice it was for Concepcion to have a familiar face in Contreras behind the plate for his debut. The photo above captured a nice moment between the two after Concepcion struck out his first batter. Contreras acted like a seasoned veteran, congratulating Concepcion and giving him the strikeout ball. What a moment!

Tuesday, June 21, 2016

2016 Wacky Packages - Cubs

I'll be honest, I don't know a whole lot about the Wacky Packages series. I've seen some here and there on other blogs but never really thought much about them other than maybe a quick chuckle at a bad pun. They seem to be in the same vein as Garbage Pail Kids, humorous (often times crude) stickers, but with a focus on products rather than people's names. But I guess the MLB tie-in is new this year?

When I was searching for Myrtle Beach Pelicans Pro Debut stuff a few weeks backs, the following sticker kept showing up:

A quick search led me to a checklist showing a 90 sticker base set with each MLB team getting two. The remaining 30 stickers are made up of subsets that include MLB Events (x5), select Minor League teams (x15), and ballpark foods (x10). The Pelicans sticker obviously falls under the selection of Minor League teams.

There are also relics (stadium seats and ticket stubs), a few autographs (x5 players and x5 mascots), sketch cards and of course, numerous parallels of the base cards.

The stickers also appear to form a 9-piece puzzle with the backs that depicts some of the base cards. With a 90-sticker set, I'm guessing there are 10 different puzzle designs? Can anybody corroborate that?

As luck would have it, I was looking to maximize shipping a couple of weeks ago with a Sportslot seller that happened to have a bunch of these Wacky Packages stickers. So for 18¢ apiece and no extra shipping, I went ahead and picked up the Pelicans card and the two Cubs cards.

Unfortunately, these two sticker backs are part of the dreaded Cardinals puzzle (card #13 Cardinals Eggs).

I did see a couple of full Cubs puzzles for sale on eBay but did not pick them up. Its not high on my list of priorities but it would look good in a binder if I do eventually pull the trigger. I borrowed the image below form one of the auction listings.

The Cubs also have a Clark (Mascot) autograph and a ticket stub relic. Seeing as I already have the Clark autograph from Opening Day and the ticket stub relics and sketch cards are currently $50+, I won't be adding either of those for quite some time, if at all.

Sunday, June 19, 2016

Blaster Sunday (2015 Stadium Club)

We interrupt your regularly scheduled Repack Sunday to open up an actual blaster. It's been awhile since I've ripped one as I usually don't feel like I get my money's worth. I enjoyed busting packs but almost immediately have buyer's remorse. Meanwhile, I've had an absolute crush on Stadium Club since it reemerged in 2014.

So when an unrelated Target run turns up a discounted blaster from last year, what's a guy to do?

Especially when they slap the sale sticker right over the face of dumb ol' Clayton Kershaw. Really, I have nothing against the guy except that he's trying to steal the spotlight again from Jake Arrieta.

Speaking of which, that's what this South Sider is trying to do too! He's off to a hot start himself.

Eight packs, 40 cards. Oops, sorry. 7 packs and 1 Bonus pack.

I pulled two of the Gold Foil Parallels but nothing else insert-wise. You know your set is beautiful when that doesn't even matter to me. I ended up scanning more than half of the cards. I'd love the whole set but a hobby box doesn't even get you anywhere near that and prices haven't significantly dropped. Guess I'm not the only one who likes it.

They scan nicely. The photo selection is some of the best I've seen, although the cropping on some could use some tweaking. That El Duque card is darn near perfect, but Mo lost part of his glove.

Lots of horizontal love too.

Max Scherzer did a number on the Cubs last week but that still doesn't make me hate this card! A signature would really pop.

I wouldn't say I'm a Joe Panik fan or have a PC of him or anything, but I always notice when I pull his cards ever since my Panik hot box of Pro Debut a few years back. Good to see he's panned out.

Along with that horizontal Paul Molitor and Whitey Ford, there were a couple of other quirky Hall of Fame photos, these of the vertical variety.

A pair of future Cubs. It usually takes a bit for me to warm up to the free agent acquisitions but Ben Zobrist has really grown on me. He kind of got lost on me over in the American League but wow, what a pick up. Jason Heyward's bat hasn't had as much of an impact as his glove yet but I'm looking forward to it catching up.

Ryne Sandberg was the only card I already owned because I had picked one up in a Sportslot order a little while back trying to maximize shipping. But I'm not going to complain about extras from this set, especially of my favorite player!

As I mentioned, I pulled two of the Gold Foil parallels. The reigning AL Cy Young Award winner and a horizontal card of Edwin Encarnacion signing autographs. Pretty snazzy.

This will probably be my last card purchase for a few weeks as I'm trying to save for the upcoming road trip, but what away to go out. Simple, easy on the eyes set.

Happy Father's Day!

Also, I think I found where P-Town Tom has been releasing his chipmunks!