Saturday, August 31, 2013

The Wal•Mart Blues

Here's a fun game you can play the next time you are in Wal•Mart. And I know you will be in Wal•Mart, because you buy baseball cards.

Sure, you can try and pretend you never go in there. You can tell me you only and always shop at Target, which would be wise, 'cuz the wimmins in there are way prettier. But I know you would be lying, because you buy baseball cards.

And my little game has nothing to do with the so-called "People of Wal•Mart" that you might be unfortunately picturing in your head right now. I'm not a fan of that website; I can have fun mocking baseball picture cards, but taking pictures of ordinary people to then publicly mock them on the internet is kinda mean really. Karma will find the people who take such pictures, I sincerely believe.

No, my game is one you can simply play in your head the next time you visit Wally World; and it is a simple one that is just simply a question: Is anyone happy in Wal•Mart?

Seriously. Just look around whenever you are in there. The customers? The employees? You?

I am happy at Wal•Mart - I am almost always only there to buy baseball cards. The fact that I can pick up a few groceries or some motor oil or a fishing lure or a pair of work gloves at the same time is kind of a time-saving bonus. No baseball cards, no Wal•Mart for me. Even though I know the other box stores I go to  instead are selling essentially the same junk manufactured by exploited workers in foreign countries.

But hardly anyone besides me ever is happy in there, despite all those smiley faces plastered everywhere. Mi amigos de Mexico y puntas sur, si. If you are in a Wal•Mart near much of an Hispanic immigrant population, you might notice they do seem to enjoy the place and their new American levels of purchasing power. So let me rephrase the question. Are any Americans happy to be in Wal•Mart? Perhaps small children being pacified with a purchase I guess. So one final rephrase - Are any adult Americans happy to be in Wal•Mart?

You be the judge next time. The results ... might surprise you. Or might not.

So I was mentioning that I pulled up to a Wal•Mart a week or so back now in the throes of baseball picture products withdrawal. And then the blog went dark for a few more days.

There is a heat wave gripping the area where I live this week, a rather northerly locale, so we don't really need central air conditioning save for a few miserable weeks a year, like this one, and it isn't built in to my house. And the room with my scanner and baseball cards was more intolerable than my enjoyment of writing this blog for y'all. Especially since the post I had lined up in my mind needs lots of scans. Because you want to see some baseball cards, not just read more wordy words on the internet. Right?

So, finally, let's look at a baseball card:

That's not a Wal•Mart Blue, man. Don't worry, I won't cheat yas, those were in the pack too. Along with my fix of Topps stickers, I picked up a 'fat' pack of Series 2 while I was visiting with Wally. Though this one didn't at first seem quite as 'fat' without Prince Fielder on the cover now.

Mr. Diamond here just seems to say America. Baseball. Wal•Mart. There's a diamond on his card and he's named Diamond. Lots of blue on there, like the store's signs. Minnesota. Is there a state more American than Minnesota? Seemed appropriate to get a Twins card when I had watched a Minnesota TV station to get my weather forecast the day before, despite being a couple state lines away from all those lakes.

I am more than a little burnt on the pitcher's torso framing so prevalent in 2013 Topps - this one lost some potential composition points by cropping off most of Scott's leg there, but gained a few back by leaving his uniform's leg stripe on the card.

I like this card anyway, because it is another one shot at Detroit's Comerica Park. That fuzzy white stuff behind him is part of the #5, retired by the Tigers in honor of Hank Greenberg, as noted on the center field wall. Where are all his vintage repros, Topps? Heck, his life story is so amazing there could be a whole set of picture cards about him. Topps, though, seems to think the only old-timey Detroit Tigers worthy of new cardboard are named Kaline and occasionally Cobb.

I also wonder if we have Tatooine cards, what can we call brick-walled cards? Not many of those around, I'm sure. That's all solid brick there behind Mr. Diamond.

And the Topps collating machine didn't let me down on my all-American box-store trip, with more red-white-and-blue, though I just can't scan and blog the whole pack. I thought about it. If I did that, I might as well just launch a whole straight-up Sea Turtle blog, which I have also thought about. But I just don't have that kind of time - you wouldn't see card #990, aka #US330, until sometime in the year 2019 perhaps - and I like to blabber about lots of different baseball cards than just these neat little turtles, like this one:
Who would vote against the idea of more head-first third-base slide cards? This one might appear on some best-of lists; especially since the slightly better card of Everth Cabrera was suspended for the rest of the season. Which coincidentally, seems to have tanked the prices on that Superman-like card, making it rather easy to rainbow if you wanted to. I briefly considered doing just that before launching head-first into my Parallel Project instead.

Usually sliding cards in the digital century feature a little dust going airborne as well, the absence of which makes the Florimon card that much more striking I think. I did quickly find a somewhat analogous card:

I always like the I'm-gonna-catch-that-ball, I'm-gonna-catch-that-ball, I'm-gonna-catch-that-ball baseball cards. The viewer is as entranced with the probability as the baseball player immortalized in time. On this one, Mayberry has run to make this catch so hard that the turf divots are still going airborne behind him. In action, indeed. Topps saluted Mayberry's father with a somewhat unexpected checklist entry in Archives this year.....I think it's time Topps busted out those nice Father/Son cards in a little subset next year. But they probably won't, cuz the 19 year old card dealers dealing cards of 19 year old minor leaguers could care less about major league parents.

I did escape from all-America colors for a few selections in the pack, courtesy of the New York Mets, who generally fare well riding the Sea Turtle:

Especially when the opposing player supplies plenty of their complementary base color, blue. This card did lead me to a bit of extra typing on this 'puter thing in front of me - just who is this mysterious Amarista player in the striking blue uniform? I knew he wasn't among the hallowed 660 in 2013 Topps; which turned out to be because he is a pedestrian infielder for San Diego. No room in the base set for them, unlike near-similar players in major media markets. Though I have to stick up for 1 Whitehall St. here in that no one expected Tejada to disappear from The Game this year after a promising first couple seasons in the bigs.

Though the Mets have that excellent Orange in their color scheme, their cards still scream America! Baseball! as much as the flag-color teams, such as this one:

A classic. Great Sox - old school, good supply of Met-blue. Wright has already taken his left foot-step forward - he's committing to swing at the pitch just about to enter the frame. The fully extended left arm further adds to the not-tense but excellent anticipatory tension of the shot. The Met's 50th anniversary shoulder patch is featured nicely. Just an outstanding baseball picture card; even though there have already been, who knows, a million different baseball cards produced (2 million?), and there is nothing new under the beautiful sunny skies at the ballpark that day, I can still enjoy a base set baseball card like this one. It also marks a return to "hero numbers" in Series 2 here, as this is card #400. I liked Topps' experiment with matching card #s to uniform #s in Series 1. I thought it was a nice way to honor more players than the limited amount of "hero" card #s in a set. I hope the tradition can continue right along with the new-fangled-ness next season.

And if you look real close at Wright's face (I won't crop it and blow it up for you - get your own card, it's a good 'un) you will notice that he has his tongue sticking out, like a happy cat or something. I think he is gonna smack that incoming pitch right over the outfield wall.

Of course baseball fans love sluggers, and generally love their baseball cards. But soon enough in this pack I got back to primary baseball colors, and a rather amusing card:

I don't think I've ever seen a slugger with a case of guitar face before -

It must have been a foul ball. Not sure I would hand Jay that card to sign, though he has a few other similar post-contact cards.

Sticking to an also more-common-than-I-totally-wish meme in Series 2 (as in Series 1) - showing a player's "unhappy" face (granted, an inescapable result of 'action' photography) - we find this card:

Normally these are found on the pitcher's cards of course, but Yunel there doesn't appear to be throwing from much of a stretch position, so we have to check the back of the card. Yep, an infielder. A basically unremarkable card really (too, too much blue), until another Tampa Bay Ray wandered into the pack a few cards later:

Another unhappy action shot. Both of these make you think the player is thinking, hey, the runner is already safe, but I have to throw the ball over there anyway. But you can't blame Kelly for being disgruntled at being photoshopped into a Tampa uniform despite being a Series 2 release this year. That's right Topps, a big fat Zero for this one, you graded it yourself there. The overly shiny uni and the too-bright hat are always a dead giveaway for a dead baseball card. I only had to look back a few cards in the pack to confirm I was being manipulated so you could have more time and production budget to put redemption cards in your expensive products.

Fortunately, Series 2 rarely disappoints for long:

My first thought on my first copy of this card a few months back now was that it could be a possible entry in the shoulder patch binder for that intricate Orioles patch. Or maybe an addition to the Shades page. Just today I noticed it's a second card with a touch of slugger face perhaps.

But eventually what really makes this card jump off the stack of baseball cards is the partially flattened baseball jumping off the end of the bat there. Even with the cutting edge camera equipment Topps gets in action these days, such intense motion can't be completely frozen and the ball seems to be departing the bat as if McLouth ignited the rocket fuel in the core. A pity such a great image capture is weakened by the way the ball hides in the white of the uniform. And the unfortunate way the lines of the composition lead the eye away from the baseball to such a degree that it took me 2 months of playing with Series 2 cards to even notice the incredibly rapidly accelerating baseball on it. So close, Topps, so close; much like hitting off the end of the bat like that is not just exactly perfect.

Did I just type 'perfect'? Yep. Like this card:

Yes we have made it to the Wal•Mart Blues at last. Though if you still have the blues after seeing this card, well, baseball cards just won't help. I featured this card before Series 2 even came out, I like it so much, though I did discover what happened to the ball on that card. Hint: don't hit the baseball off the end of the bat. This card is giving me the blues a little though, as I have realized that the best possible parallel edition of it would be the /62 black bordered version, which is basically true of all the Pirate cards. The black-border Alvarez card has been up on eBay twice in the last few weeks and gone for a little more than $25 and $20 w/shipping and I just don't want to spend that much on a single card. But oh how I desire to have it (and the McCutchen card) in that parallel. Donations always accepted. I think, though, that I will probably settle for tracking down a /2013 gold border version, like a few other classy cards this year. The gold always seems to work out nicely with any team colors.

The Wal•Mart parallels also bring me down a little with their pastel washed-out-ness. The basic, nearly-dark blue of the standard Wal•Mart logo would look quite a bit more striking on a baseball card. There was probably no way around that, given the nature of the colored Sea Turtle - i.e., to make a blue parallel either the border or the graphic frame has to be washed out compared to the other.

One of the blues in this pack -
- got me wondering about the colors of the Turtle, vs. the colors of the team logo. The "A's" there is a dark, dark green. It looks great on most cards, matching the tint of the Athletics' unis. And the Turtle is decently dark enough, but still not a match. Ahh, the mysteries of Topps sometimes. And the mystery of Brandon Moss and his little baby blue fore-arm bands, and how he cutely destroys Tiger pitching, and the mystery of how good Billy Beane is at reading the waiver wire all the time.

Which are frequently only matched by the mysteries of the Cubs:

Another probably safe-at-first fielding card, the nearly official meme for light-hitting infielders. You can't hardly put a bat in their hands on the front of their baseball cards when they hit all of .121 last year but are still expected to be part of the starting 9 come Opening Day. Perhaps the card farthest below the Mendoza line this year. And similarly indicative of Topps' luck with printing baseball cards with Cubs logos on them of players that actually end up taking the field for Chicago. There's always next year, when I expect we'll see more Vitters cardboard after an injury-plagued but healthy stat year in the minors. Maybe Topps should just wait and issue all Cubs cards in the Update set until Epstein somehow gets together more of a regular line-up around Castro and Rizzo. Maybe he should call Billy Beane, Epstein's original employer's first choice for the job.

Now of course once the Wal•Mart Blues roll out of the pack, we're due for even more excitement.

What could be more exciting than that Alvarez card up there? Why the generally pretty good crop of inserts this year, usually led off in the 'fat' packs by a '72 mini:

Can't beat a '72 mini of a player who actually played in 1972. I like the '72 design; despite my affinity for harmoniously synchronized team colors on a baseball card, I also like how back in '72 Topps just refused to use the color red on a Redlegs card. Lost in the trippy stars I guess. An added bonus was despite a more than passing familiarity with all the vintage Johnny Bench cards I have or still desire to acquire, and Topps' penchant for ridiculous amounts of photo repeats, this was a new image for me. Now there's an upside to avoiding all those gimmicky "high-end" ego cards. Just don't put this sweet new Johnny Bench card anywhere too close to his entry on the faux-high-end insert set in hobby boxes called "The Greats" or "The Elites" so clearly designed to entice you on to those surely extra-valuable "high-end" sets, or the spell of acquiring a brand new Johnny Bench card might fade a little.

After the minis appear the regular size inserts, such as Chasing History:

Though I have thought there is little more pointless than a card designed to hold autographs or "relics" that then hold neither and just take up space in the packs of the base cards I actually do want, the Chasing History set broke that sad mold this year. The card pictured there is right up there with the excellent Lou Brock edition on the checklist, and a few others. Another great, arm-fully-extended, I'm-ahh-gonna-hit-that-pitch batting card. Great light and shadows interplay and a sweet MLB shoulder patch. I'll need an extra copy of this one for the patch binder. I hope the Jr. Junkie might swing by and enlighten us on what year this great shot is from.

But much like the base cards in this pack, I decided against scanning all the inserts. Normally in a Series 1 or 2 'fat' pack, I like just 1 or 2 of 'em enough to want to comment on them. But this pack just kept on packin':

I've never had any die-cut cards before this year, I don't believe. I skipped those crazy 90s cards and most of those other card companies too. But I sure do like these Cut to the Chase cards, and I need to convince you to send me all of yours somehow. And no collector can have too many Mike Trout cards, now can they? I in no way would ever want to start a Player Collection of him, though I have been starting to think Topps just won't issue a card of him with his mouth closed. It's like he is always breathing like a fish or something.

By this point in the pack I was fairly satisfied by Topps' team-up with the Walton clan. But this Wal•Mart was so far off the beaten path I think, that those two corporations had a reward for me for loyally tracking them down at the very end of the distribution chain:

It's a hit. A retail hit. Aww, thanks Wally. Even though the back of the card has to remind me even more explicitly of a Series I'd just as soon forget even more than the 2006 edition. That's a trip to Wal•Mart for ya, always giving everyone the Blues.

1 comment:

  1. My Griffey sense was tingling....

    1994. That's the gold 125th Anniversary MLB patch. You can see that uniform on a lot of 1995 cards.

    I still have zero copies of that card. I'm a bad Griffey fan.