Friday, February 7, 2020

It was hard, and I largely failed

Baseball carding in the 21st century is sometimes a little challenging for me. One key thing I truly desire from baseball cards is to not know what the new ones look like, -before- I open the pack.

But I can't resist wandering the internet, gobbling up baseball information and baseball card stuff, too.

I have learned how to mostly avoid seeing the new design in the four months or so that it is publicly available as an image, before it is available as a card one can hold in your hand. But you never know where you might stumble across it, accidentally.

This year, the most damage was done while I was trying to read some salacious new details on the Astros cheating scandal, a whole week after the main announcement of the penalties by MLB. More specifically, I was considering the beyond-the-banging charges that Altuve and Bregman had worn buzzers for pitch information. Amidst all that chatter, someone had posted a newly made, digital-only 'custom' of Bregman wearing-a-wire, as it were, in the design of the brand new Topps 2020 Series One baseball cards.

So my first, deepest glance at these cards was - on a fake card!

How will I fail at this simple small dream next? I still can't get over how one recent year, what wrecked this basic baseball card aspiration was the classic baseball card catalog from Fritsch cards of all places.

Ahh well. Finally on Friday of release week, a full week after I almost saw some posted card images from one of the earliest retail 'finds' (I had fingers over my eyes, just in case) - the new baseball cards arrived in my little ole home town:

My first thought on my First Card was: hmmm, maybe I have another MLB look-alike doppelgänger following me around along with Ian Kennedy.

2nd thought: that big-ole frown.

3rd thought: Grey? That much grey?

4th thought: Red socks. I like those.

5th thought: Blue? Those tiny bits of blue are accomplishing what, exactly?

6th thought: OK, so I am pretty sure this guy is a Pitcher. He is Pitching, after all. But, ya never know, the amount of, ummm, 'other' players being called in to pitch here in the Rubber Ball Era of Major League Baseball is said to be trending upward steadily. And I really like those cards of a non-Pitcher now Pitching; I recently finished a small collecting project of those to share with y'all some day. But I do still really really want that Willians Astudillo "Pitching" SP from last year. So I had better check the card carefully to see what this baseball player's true position really is. I'm looking and I'm looking, and finally I notice the tiniest element of the whole design - a diminutive capital letter "P" there just before the all-caps team name in white letters. But the official positional designation is made with yet more of that grey color that makes it fairly well disappear on this 'red team' card.

7th thought: Lines, lines, everywhere lines, overlaying the scenery, tricking my mind. Sometimes, those will be good, I suspect. Other times, they will be busy.

Sum of all thoughts: this card doesn't quite make me want to own 999 others almost just quite like it. I am contemplating moving to one of those "tiny houses" that everyone on the Internet thinks are so cute - an extensive library of a few score thousand baseball cards won't be making the cut if I do that. But, it's a Topps Baseball card. Anything can happen, to me, with these. Particularly since, for most of my life, Yeah, I Read the Backs:

There's all those lines again, and all those rhombusessses? No, not quite. A rhombus is something precise. These are just parallelograms. At first my Topps design memory was whispering "2014 File Folder Set" but that's not really apropos, either. I am sure all those little shapes scattered around the player name bar are parallelograms. The Parallelogram Set. In my mind, at least.

Wouldna noticed, with the vertical player name bar on the front. But on the back, yup, Parallelograms.

Unfortunately of course on this card, there is nothing to read. I do like pulling a League Leader In Italics card, usually. But a Pitcher does absolutely not want to Lead his League in Runs.

The back of the card once again has some blue to the design, for a 'red' team, but is in even tinier, why? type amounts. Then the MLB LogoMan appears to tease you with some nice colors and a oh-what-might-have-been thought.

Meanwhile, the overall Greyness dominates, with a vengeance. Even worse, there is a shading to all that greyness, getting darker and darker towards the bottom of the card, for the stats you most want to read - last year's stats, and the career totals. That, I can do without.

Not just Parallelograms. The Grey Parallelograms. Blah.

So much for the First Card. It's way past time to check out the 2nd card:
Another Pitcher Pitching, but when a Cy Young award winner jumps out of the baseball card frame atchya on a nice sunny day like this, you start to think, ahhh, baseball cards. This card, by the way, is #332, so I guess "Hero" #s will be basically scarce in these cards.

Though it is nice to see the Metropolitans' orange show up - this will definitely be a team colors affair. A proper, two team colors affair:
I can tell now that it is time to fully explore a perpetual Topps Baseball card design element - which team icon/graphics do they actually pick to be the main icon/graphic on the baseball card? A future post.

I always like a good Sunglasses card. For some reason, the main red parallelogram after the name bar seems bigger than the blue one on the first two cards. Tricky little parallelograms, sneaking around these cards.
Allll right, alternate uniform to the rescue! A rarely seen, quadruple team logo card, thanks to Archer's T-shirt there. You won't soon forget which team Chris Archer plays for now. I also like how the blurred out bit of stadium architecture there in the background is starting to interact with the card design.

Sometimes, I think Topps really tries to use as many photos featuring players in their solid color "Alternate" uniforms as they can. It would totally fascinate me to count up how many Alternates vs. normal Home/Road uni pictures they use, across a whole set, and in comparison to other sets. I suspect that the more Alternates are used on cards, the more fond the memories collectors have of a given set.

This Archer card has an impressive card back in that the Topps composers didn't run away from saying something nice about a 2018 trade that was so bad, the Pirates front office was replaced afterwards. This card does have a text, one that starts out "The Pirates are optimistic..." Which is how I always am, whenever I am opening a pack of Topps Baseball cards:
Though baseball players busy playing live baseball rarely look all that optimistic. Maybe Jose is worried that his team is so far behind, again, that he is going to have to take to the mound once again, after this At Bat. Which is something I learned about from reading the back of his card. But I like how Jose is trying to take a little bit of the load off by resting his elbow on that convenient Grey Parallelogram there, and the way the probable Throwback uniform here gives Topps a signal on how to pick a second team color for a team that otherwise only uses white, after the color in their name.

One team that has been going through some icon changes appears on this next card:
Every New Year that I pull a new Cleveland card, the appearance of that block red "C" there re-assures me that the Chief Wahoo icon really is gone from baseball. I live and routinely work near several Native American communities, and I wouldn't be stopping over to the casino for a beer and a burger and maybe a baseball game on the big TV with anyone wearing certain Cleveland gear.

This card seemed very familiar to seemed like I saw it right around this time, last year....I pulled it in my first pack last year, too, as I did for Jacob DeGrom. That worked out pretty well, for both of them.

This particular Grey Parallelogram card though, is the first to feature a road grey uniform, and the dearth of color is telling, even with a pleasingly faded color background that is a touch hard to imagine in an MLB stadium. Oh well, on this card I did learn a new, totally useless fact: Cleveland puts the player's uniform #s on their belts. The more you know...
One thing I didn't know, as I opened this pack this afternoon, is whatever happened to Billy Hamilton lately. I was kind of looking forward to seeing him tear up the playoff basepaths last October, before St. Louis so completely demolished his latest team. 

I think all baseball fans kind of secretly root for Billy Hamilton in this age of the "the data says..." So I wasn't totally surprised to see this brand new Atlanta Braves card for Billy. Except this isn't a brand new card, at all - it is the same card as pretty much the last Topps Baseball card set to be released before this one, the Topps Holiday set, which uses this exact same image. I know image re-use is inevitable amongst the 59 different sets Topps sells every year, but two in a row...

The bigger bummer of that card is the white "A" there for the Atlanta team logo. A terrible choice to use with the Grey Parallelograms, even if it that is technically their main, on-cap logo these days. The problem is when that white logo is removed from the blue field on their caps, as on this design. Blech.

The up-side, good news of this card is a little bit of pack opening mojo for Billy. Your faithful baseball card cranky pants wouldn't leave you hanging, wondering whatever happened to Billy Hamilton, now would I? Turns out, in between me opening this pack and starting to babble about the contents here a few hours later, the Giants announced they signed our favorite next-U.L. Washington (four years to go, Billy, you can make it) to a 'minor league deal' at least. With some thought that with 26 Man rosters this year but new rules on using too many LOOGYs on the mound, this might give an exciting late innings speedster replacement a little better chance to make it onto a few more Topps Baseball cards. See you in Update, Billy.

Now we have another Alternate uni to the rescue. With some green, green grass of the baseball diamond, some blurred out yellow advertising, and that cool red glove you finally notice, all that grey design stuff is totally forgotten. And I am starting to like how these cards run head-to-toe, more often than not, like this one:
Boo-Yah! Now we're cooking with gas! The grey team appears on the grey cards, wearing their road greys even, but still: we have a winner! How many days till Pitchers and Catchers report? I'm ready. 

For a new kind of card in this pack? Yep -
It's time to go horizontal, and start the pondering all over again.

1st thought: less Grey! Even with a road grey uni on the card.

2nd thought: I knew those parallelograms would start complementing the image elements eventually.

3rd thought: check out my nifty shoes - no Swoosh - and an extra touch of that weird, we-miss-water-in-the-desert-vibe I get from that weird, aqueous vibe to the uni # on Arizona road unis these days (well, most days; other days, their road unis have black #s, so weird). 

But yeah, a horizontal card the way they are supposed to be - a complete baseball player, inside a baseball stadium, playing baseball, not just another baseball player torso with no baseball context. Nice.

Horizontal cards always appear together in packs, probably because they appear together on the printing sheets. Can Topps keep this nice-ness together? Let's shuffle the pack along:
Double Boo Yah! Grey? Snoozer design? What? This card leads the eye up to the fly ball in the sky so well it is a little jolting to see the baseball has already arrived. Things happen fast on Topps Baseball cards sometimes.

Plus, Bullpen Prisoners! And - new Milwaukee logo, have been looking forward to seeing that on the cards. But, major-minor demerit for Topps feeling the need to spell M-i-l-w-a-u-k-e-e.... and the team name, like any baseball fan would otherwise not understand the classic m, b, ball-in-glove Brewers logo that no one has ever disliked. I mean, they didn't write B-o-s-t-o-n around those Red socks on that Cashner card now, did they? So close, Topps, so close.

Third time's another charm on the horizontals?
As usual, one can count on the Pirates to supply us with good baseball cards, at least. I do hope Cherington can right that ship, for a fan base that really deserves more. An ironic thought right here, gazing on a card for yet another very good baseball player that had to be traded away in the interests of trying to re-re-build, yet again, all over again.

Be that as it may I mostly like another pretty good Starling Marte baseball card with those great batting gloves and strong image lines every which way. All those flying digital dust pixels are even better in the scan than on the card though, I must admit. The down-side bad news of this card is that in the past, we probably could have had a good time checking out the sartorial choices of major league baseball fans, circa 2019. Sigh.

OK, quick now - it's the year 2025. You are pawing through a box of nickel cards at a baseball card show. Why is the following card in that nickel box?
Is it because Marco Gonzales has matured into being not just the Mariners "Ace" (as declared on the back of this card?) but a League Leading perennial All-Star hurler?

Could be, could be; this blog can cheer for the Mariners fans just as much as it can cheer for the Pirates fans.

Or is it in the nickel box because every card from this long-time Topps special card creation is always worth keeping separate from the regular base cards, as it is a Topps Gold card, #1088/2020 in this case.

As a member of the classic Gold lineage, I am underwhelmed. As a better looking card than all that grey space we have been staring at, oh, yes. Some collectors do annually complete a Topps Gold set. Although these cards might not be as classic as many such efforts, such a set could also quite well look better with this gold half-frame than without. Though I don't see myself truly going for a complete set this year, there are many portions of this set I will be completing. I am starting to think about just doing that with the Gold cards this year, perhaps.

This card had one other down-side unrelated to it's "gold"-ness, or the card in general. I figured to pull one parallel or insert in this pack. So when I reached this card, I figured checking out my first 2020 insert would have to wait. Such was not the case:
Money. Your American League Rookie of the Year on his special new retail-only "Turkey Red" insert, not available to all those fancy case breakers ripping open a million Topps Baseball cards the other day down in Texas. Only to us marks who collect Topps Baseball cards by buying them at the grocery store like a bunch of kids or something. One of _the_ chase players in this set, for the $ obsessed collectors.

I don't have a particular opinion on Turkey Red cards. I already chase way too many sets so though I was around for the last year or two of the Turkey Red stand-alone Topps product, I didn't add it to an already busy menu. I like the fine detail of the shading of the faux recessed frame for the card, being in shadow on one half and lit up on the other.

But this card will soon be on it's way to the great warehouse cemetery of old baseball cards, also known as COMC. I was so moderately pleased to probably almost pay for the cost of this pack of cards that I forgot all about which team Yordan Alvarez plays for, though the Turkey Red design doesn't exactly make a big deal about that, either. I could not forget all that on the next card in the pack:
I have never liked this player and don't really want his cards in my pack, even though I like base-running cards, or a 'candid' card, or whatever the heck is happening on this card. I used to like seeing what the Astros did with their love of 70s color, color, color on their uniforms, too. Now though, all that is an asterisk.

Moving on, we reach the last card in the pack:
No, that's not some hard-to-discern new stealth parallel like Snow Camo or something, that is just how the Grey Parallelogram interacts with a Night Card. And no, that is not some Bowman Draft-esque photoshop of a player in a new team's uniform; Baez is an international signing for the Padres who has stayed in their organization for his complete career so far, and already debuted in MLB in the 2019 season. So that is an authentic live action MLB photograph; it's just that after Topps has used so many road greys to cover their Photoshop sins, sometimes, a road grey uni on a card just looks fishy. 

But this year, with a road grey uni and an overall base grey card design and then a bleached out white team logo, some of these cards just aren't gonna make it, for me, and one of my ever more precious binder page slots. Even an attempt to use the classic Padres mustard&brown for the team colors can't save this one.

So there you have it, my first 16 2020s. Seems like a pack has a different # of cards in it every year now; I think my First Pack last year had 14 cards in it. Over the years it wasn't always easy for me to buy just one pack of cards to absorb the coming year of collecting Topps Baseball; it has only been recently that Wal•Marts where I live have begun putting out loose packs to purchase at all. Before that happened, I would have to detour quite some distance to find a Target to buy one of those.

But now, I have a Meijer's store in my home town, and they picked up the classic Topps retail exclusive product from Toys R Us: the purple parallel. So to buy just one pack, I purchase a blister pack that has 2 purple cards included. Let's take a look:
I quite like these. I look forward to seeing what a Tigers card might look like on this parallel. As always on modern Topps cards, a solid color Alternate uni does more for the card than whatever Topps does for the card. I was also happy to find a card with the parallelograms on the right side of the card. I knew they existed, but I didn't pull any in my first pack. Seeing the design elements move from side to side in a stack of cards will be a nice aid to enjoying this set.
Another happy baseball card result. Right up there with the Garcia card in triumphant baseball carding. I always like a nice bright sunny day card, and I can't recall any hovering Catcher's masks on cards in my collection, though I wouldn't be surprised to find an older one.

I especially like a certain star of this particular card: the live action baseball there at the bottom.

In past years, some of the prettiest purples were created by the nifty combination with the teal that is the Mariners' second team color. This year, ehh, not so much, as there is so little teal to start with.

What I like most about these two parallels is the old standby about baseball, which also applies to baseball cards: "There's always next year." As with the 1/2 border 2019 cards, and now a 1/4 border design, they hold a bit of promise that a nice clean full border design will return to Topps Baseball, some day.

No comments:

Post a Comment