Friday, March 31, 2023

Opening Day is Opening Day

Happy Baseball everyone!

I can no longer open Opening Day on Opening Day, so I settled for the next best thing, I guess — opening some more Series One.

The cards I most want to see on Opening Day are of course, cards from My Team, and Topps came through:

Now here was a nice burst of optimism - a bright sunny baseball card for the player Tigers fans hope will win the Comeback Player of the Year award after a straight up disintegration last year as Bad Luck seemed to attack Meadows from every direction.

Usually I figure pulling a player's brand new baseball card on Opening Day is going to be an excellent omen both on Opening Day and going forward. And today that did not disappoint: Meadows went 3-for-4 with a Double and two Singles.

Tigers cards this year are going to occasionally fool people into wondering: what the heck happened to Kris Bryant? And how did he end up in Detroit before whatever happened? The "KB" shoulder patch the Tigers wore for the 2022 season was a memorial tribute for Kimera Bartee, who died unexpectedly during the off-season some 15 months ago, shortly after being named the Tigers new regular First Base Coach. Bartee played Center Field for the Tigers for most of one season in the mid-90s; a season which mostly eluded my baseball card collecting efforts.

For today's festivities I purchased 2 36-card "fat" / "value" packs but I doubt that second appellation will be used much any more. This type of packaging has been absent from retail baseball cards for a few years now and I am happy to see it return, for use in stores that decline to offer the regular single/loose pack of 16 cards. These "value" packs now cost $9.99 where I live and are actually one of the more expensive ways to purchase cards, on a per-card basis. Blasters have a slightly higher per-card cost, but the $4 16-card pack is a better deal (added one of those to the menu today as well) and the 72-card "hanger" box is still the best deal overall, though hangers hand up the duplicate strings of cards at a much faster clip.

One Detroit Tigers card isn't enough for Opening Day however; there had to be more amidst 88 cards and 30 teams, I hope -

Did I pull today's starting Pitcher? Nope. Brieske had to open the season on the IL after seemingly earning a bullpen spot as a "swingman" ready to jump in the rotation as soon as necessary (presumably quite soon given how MLB Pitching works in the 2020s) after an accelerated Rookie season as a starter last year, made necessary by how MLB Pitching works these days. Naturally, given the workings of Pitching lately, his Rookie year was shortened by injury as well. At least I have another nice sunny Tigers card to enjoy while he joins most every other recent young Tigers starter working through the rehab process to try Pitching again, someday.

2-for-2 on bright sunny baseball cards though, could Topps keep this bright motif going?
womp womp womp

This has got to be the most Sad Trombone card I have pulled in a while. This is my first Tigers duplicate this year after I pulled it on a different Opening Day - the Opening Day of 2023 Baseball Card season back in February. As I mentioned then, the head shot on these cards can really swoop in and rescue a mediocre baseball card like this one. And maybe this poor Rookie Card image will work reverse magic - Greene had a great Spring and could well be primed for a great Sophomore campaign and will hopefully anchor Center Field in Detroit for many seasons to come.

Going 3-for-88 on Tigers cards on Opening Day seemed just exactly perfect in a 30 team League and would actually be a BC+ score of somewhere  a bitover 100, a composite stat I just made up. Given some of the 86 cards being inserts, I beat the odds finding Tigers for a change — a rare thing in Topps checklists for quite a while now.

But I do always hope to see some cards of the opponents on this momentous baseball Day, and there Topps let me down as I found no Tampa Bay Rays to absorb, a BC+ of precisely 0 I guess. Thus the Tigers shoulda won today, 3-0 in true magic baseball card fashion? Nope. The ever-solid Rays beat My Team in workman like fashion with the same number of Hits as the boys from Motown, but 2 of theirs were Home Runs. Sigh.

Now the other thing I love to do on Opening Day with all my brand new baseball cards is figure out how accurate the cards are - does the card in my hand have a matching line in a Box Score today? Who plays this game, anyway? That's why I buy the baseball cards. 

Given that so many brand new baseball cards are Rookie Card cards these days, I decided to siphon those off my nice little 88 card pile of baseball information and see what's happening with the New Guys. That idea was prompted by this outstanding baseball card:

Did he make the Box Score? Yes. However that was neither as an SS or a 3B but rather at DH. I have no idea who played those 2 positions for the Orioles so clearly I will need some more brand new baseball cards. The O's are a young team and it can take me a few years of reading baseball cards to get a good handle on such clubs.

I'm still only lukewarm on these 2023 Topps Baseball Cards with all the odd geometry but the clear view of each player's face down there in the bottom left corner sure does make for excellent Rookie Cards. Like all Topps designs, the picture of the baseball player is the most significant element of the card, ultimately. It will take me a while yet to decide on collecting or not collecting this set in it's entirety. I do like to know what the players look like, and Topps comes through on that point this year in a very well-done way. 

For the rest of these 'rooks, I will go with a purely fair alphabetical order:

Did he make the Box Score? Yes. I am still a little shaky on Red Sox players since last year on the Opening Day wrapper there were 2 Red Sox that I still can't identify with certainty. Casas was a first round draft pick for Boston & in general the back of the card paints a bright future ahead here. This card again shows off the value of the bonus head-shot given the way the new 2020s batting helmets reduce face visibility in live action photos. Overall a solid find in a pack of brand new baseball cards. Unlike this next Red Sox card...

Did he make the Box Score? Nope. Nor for his new team. There was no way Topps was going to pass up their opportunity to finally make this baseball card, given Downs' first name. Even though the Red Sox DFA'd him before Christmas. Maybe, and that is a weak maybe, we will see him in Update sporting a Nationals uniform. You can't win 'em all and in the Rookie Card card era, some checklist spots are just a Sac Fly so the RC logo can appear in every pack and everyone can feel like they "got something" worth money, somehow. Topps is keeping the sun shine going at least -

Did he make the Box Score? No. A bit of a surprise to me, given what the back of this card tells me: 2.1 WAR in a little more than half a season's worth of Rookie Year games last year. I had to choose carefully tonight; rather than checking in with Tom Hamilton on the Cleveland radio broadcast I selected the A's broadcast instead. I like that radio crew a lot, too — plus Topps advertises on A's broadcasts regularly. Some other day with a Guardians game on the radio or some future set of baseball cards might tell me more about this cheerful looking baseball player I have never seen before. Another solid new baseball card, which kept right on appearing today:

Did he make the Box Score? Yes. This player I was familiar with in the more regular way - from following games. Given KC's co-habitation with Detroit in the AL Central cellar lately, I probably pay more attention to Tigers-Royals games, given that the Tigers have a better chance to win those. If memory serves, the Royals basically fielded their 2023 squad routinely last September; in general an optimistic set of names. This does fail to explain why I didn't know who Oscar Gonzalez was however. 

And there are plenty of "divisional" games, or were, as those have been dropped from 18-19 to 13-14 such games this year. This will make baseball cards even more important to me in helping me follow the teams in my own division given two less series against each this year. I like how this card mixes up the photo style on the head shot; I hope there are more of these. I'm ready for more boys of summer, always frequently seen on Chicago cards -

Did he make the Box Score? No. I do know most of the Cubs players, courtesy mostly of Topps baseball cards, but an "OF" has room for 3, so - this was a could-go-either-way prediction, based on what the back of this card tells me. I expect I will see this player on more baseball cards and it is now a given that My Team will automatically play the Cubs, whenever that is, so maybe by that time he will be in a game I catch. I am ready, now, when his name is called. Meanwhile that lucky old sun just keeps rolling around in my "value" packs...

Did he make the Box Score? Not surprisingly at all, Nope. Another duplicate from my First Pack of 2023, I made that prediction with ease as soon as I saw this card 6 weeks ago, given how many Pirates middle infielder Rookie Card cards Topps handed me last year. I also couldn't check in with Bob Walk and Joe Black on the radio today for some Pirates news but that also wasn't necessary. The Pirates seem as doomed as ever to have large quantities of Rookie Card cards in my packs of baseball cards but despite that same-as-it-ever-was conclusion I still don't understand this particular baseball card. Three At Bats in a previous season should not a Rookie Card make, in my opine. It can't stay sunny every day of the baseball season I guess:

Did he make the Box Score? No. Although my 2023 First Card, A's Rookie Card card Catcher Shea Langeliers, is playing as I type, I didn't expect another RC Logo Catcher would appear today. The Rockies are near impossible for me to follow; I don't even have a clue who calls their games as if I am awake for a West Coast game I'm going to go with Jon Miller on the Giants game or the A's crew I am listening to right now. Baseball cards gave me just enough Rockies knowledge to know that Serven is likely the back-up Catcher, though he certainly earned a Rookie Card card after 62 games in The Bigs last year. I'm guessing this photo was taken early in a game, when the usual just-after-lunch set of clouds tends to drift across the Front Range — this card awakens some fond memories of life in Colorado though that flows also from another card in these packs. The West is so big, and baseball is more mysterious out there. I am always more grounded back in the Middle West -

Did he make the Box Score? That's a negatory. 9 At Bats last year so, you do the math. This is a great baseball picture card with the perfect photo truncation of Swaggerty's last name on his uniform and the excellent flowing lines that made me instantly turn it over to see how many Home Runs this player hit last year. Sigh; the answer was: zero. This is only a so-so baseball card, to my taste, given that pointlessly squished capital "P" there and all that weird geometry going all dizzy around it. Is that the secondary team color there around the home plate "OF" positional designation? Why can't that just be regular Pirate Yellow? Topps sure seems to love these unknown Pirates, considering they are enshrining them in baseball card history by giving them a checklist spot in The Topps Baseball set, my Gold Standard of baseball information, though I find myself ever more often wondering about that concept.

Not all Rookie Card cards can be Home Runs, even when they sorta come close like that last card. I have been slightly stacking this little deck of cards by showing all the hitters, which is because even the most rock solid young Pitchers can make an Opening Day starting rotation but not today's Box Score. So let's move on to the guys who start each & every "play" in the game of Baseball:

Did he make the team? Yes. I already knew from my numerous Rookie Card inserts last year who would be starting for Cincinnati today: Hunter Greene, recipient of much Topps love in 2022. I cheated and went to non-baseball card resources to confirm what this card suggests; 19 starts last year for Ashcraft, a very solid total for a Rookie. And quite a solid Reds Rookie Card card with Mr. Redlegs making an appearance, the requisite blurry red seats in Cincinnati, and a straight fantastic look at their official Team Socks. This one is likely to make the page I have showing off the best examples of each. Great set of lines on this card and a nice photograph obviously catching the live baseball game focus of Ashcraft. Who was that guy that was just complaining about this 2023 Topps Baseball design a paragraph back? I do love those empty seat cards Pitchers tend to get, and all the surreality that can go on behind them:

Did he make the team? Sort of - 40 Man roster. I like several things about this card. The uniform. The multi-color pastiche behind Hughes. The bright green grass and more horizontal-than-vertical lighting telling me this is a Night Card. Which is more intriguing because I have no idea what this Cubs uniform is. A Night Card from Wrigley? Throwback? New? Home? Away? The cap is obliterated by the stadium lights. Such a mystery. I will need more baseball cards to see something new (or old) for the Cubs, a very old baseball club. I will be watching.

I also like that this card exists - Hughes pitched 57 Innings out of the bullpen last year, and that is an accomplishment definitely worth a Rookie Card. Something I fret about when I pull Rookie Card cards like those very marginal Pirates cards. Relievers are baseball players too, even though they are far and away the most unpopular position on the roster. Only the Closer gets much appreciation from the fans, and only the near perfectly successful Closers on the level of Mariano get unrequited love. All other relievers can only lose the game for Their Team, in the minds of most fans. The Manager should have never changed the Pitcher, so obvious. Managers are always so dumb. They change the Pitcher and the team loses the game. No one wants Manager cards either.

I also like that Hughes is a Michigan born player. This will give me something to follow when the Cubs<>Tigers games appear sometime this year. The head shot on this one also appears not-posed, which is a good thing in this set. The Cubs routinely get great baseball cards. All that red, white, and blue - man I'm ready for some Apple Pie now. 

However I still have no idea why Hughes didn't make the 26 Man roster; baseball cards can't explain all baseball news of course. I still need those basic who-are-these-guys deets, particularly down on the South Side -

Did he make the team? Sort of - 40 Man roster. I count that as a quasi-yes because I feel sure there will be some Rookie Card cards in my packs this year featuring a player no longer on a 40 Man roster, if I were to investigate each one. Martin is a young work-in-progress Starter for the White Sox; I suppose 14 games last year, mostly Starts, is every bit as Rookie Card worthy as the Beau Briskie card for the Tigers. Both of their careers could go either way right now. 

I would note that this card also features a non-posed image for the head shot, but that doesn't work on this card as it seems to clearly use a live game image with a classic bit of "Pitcher's Face" so familiar from action image Topps Baseball Cards for decades now. These are not always complimentary for the subject. A strong image line flow from the glove to the baseball fortunately keeps one's gaze away from the weird mess that the bottom of 2023 Topps can distract the viewer into sometimes. The image reminds me of a Quarterback about to launch a Bomb way downfield though, which is weird. The dirt on the mound also adds to the weirdness here. Sorry, Davis, Rookies deserve better. Let's see if the Sun might come back out -

Did he make the team? Yes. And the Box Score. Although the back of the card seems to indicate Winckowski came up as a not-all-that-succesful-Rookie-Starter last year (probably more of those workings of modern Pitching for the Red Sox last year, too, I guess), today he threw a respectable inning out of the bullpen in Boston. But since the home team was already behind and indeed lost the game, few will remember that and my hunch is Josh Winckowski will pitch a good amount this year, but likely won't be seen on baseball cards again until 2024 Update, maybe.

I do always like the cards with the solid color Alternate Uniforms though I will never understand Topps strange desire to use just bits and pieces of team logos. This is another one where the solid photo selection and cheerful head shot create a nifty baseball card for me to follow the game of baseball with. I know well I will be soaking up another stack of these things, soon...