Sunday, February 26, 2017

Topps Now

Hey everyone, Drew back here. So last season, Topps introduced "Topps Now", which basically recaps all of the big moments over the course of the season. Essentially, a MUCH better version of Upper Deck Documentary; if you remember that monstrosity back from 2008. However, there was definitely one flaw. Every card in the set costs $10 from Topps' website; which is a bit high for my liking.

Yet... I couldn't resist. I was working really hard last summer and making a lot of the money I spent abroad back, and I allowed myself to spend a certain amount of my weekly paychecks on cards in order to keep myself motivated to save up. While this was happening, the Baby Bombers came to town, and I had several opportunities to capture some of their most exciting moments on cardboard. I couldn't pass up.

I resisted Topps Now all season. Until August 13th. Just after A-Rod played his final game, the kids got their chance to prove themselves. 

Tyler Austin kicked off the festivities by hitting a home run in his first at bat just inside the right field foul pole. It probably wasn't a home run in any other stadium, but who cares?

Aaron Judge followed up with what would have been a home run in EVERY stadium, a center field blast that flew 457 feet and probably still hasn't landed yet. He hit 3 more home runs in 2016, but struck out in literally half of his at bats. Hopefully he can correct those issues, because his power is scary, as we saw Friday in the Yankees spring debut. Grant Brisbee put it best.

Austin and Judge's moment was special, but Gary Sanchez stole the show shortly after for the remainder of the season. In fact, he was good enough to almost win the Rookie of the Year award despite only playing in 53 games! This card highlights his torrid 8 home run start in 19 games. Little did Topps know, there would be more to come.

On September 8th, the Rays and Yankees traded blasts all game, but Tyler Austin had the last laugh in the bottom of the 9th to win it! Austin has been through a lot of ups and downs on his way to the big leagues, so he's an easy guy to root for. Unfortunately, he was in line to be somewhat of a utility man this year but fractured his foot after fouling a ball off of it.

But back to El Gary, because, duh. My last Topps Now from the season recognized Sanchez's record home run pace. No matter how good Gary turns out, I don't think he or frankly anyone will ever be able to replicate the start he had. I don't know if there was ever a time in the regular season that I was more excited to turn on a Yankees game than I was during Gary's tear last September. It was a great sign of things to come, that's for sure.

But there was a surprise perk to spending as much money as I did from Topps. I; as well as others who bought into Topps Now, were sent a Christmas card from Topps that included a baseball card (front & back):

This card was quite the reminder of just how fun the 2016 season was for baseball fans. The Cubs won the World Series... does it get any better than that (besides a Yankees title)? Ichiro collected his 3,000th hit in this country, and Big Papi had a farewell tour after criticizing Jeter and Rivera for having farewell tours! Good times.

Sometime last week, Topps sent me yet another surprise celebrating the beginning of the 2017 baseball season!

To be fair, this Mike Trout card is more of a promotion than anything else, but it was definitely cool to get a first look at the new design. I saw people receiving the Christmas card on Twitter before I got mine, but this time I didn't expect it at all. Trout is a special player, and his career statistical comparisons to Mickey Mantle really blow me away. We need to realize what we're watching now and enjoy it for what it is. Now if only we could find a way to get him in pinstripes...

So, I like Topps Now. It's a neat concept, and I think Topps executed it really well! Unfortunately, I probably can't keep spending money on them in 2017 if they're going to be $10 a card. Even for $5, I would consider buying more of them.

What do you think of Topps Now, and how much are you willing to pay for one? Leave their thoughts in the comment section below.

Sunday, February 19, 2017

Cracking Reggie

Hey everyone, Drew back here! If you haven't already noticed, I've taken some strides over the past few months to upgrade my collection to something more high end. I've been talking about doing this for a long time, but over the past year I've made a significant effort to make more of less. I had a few certified Reggie Jackson autographs, but I didn't value any of them all that much. So I decided to flip them towards getting some cards I could value, and this was one of the results:

As I hinted a few posts ago, I love the gold frames Topps has been using lately, particularly with Museum Collection. I mean, is there any way to make a player look more like baseball royalty? If anyone deserves a royal presentation in my collection, it would be Reggie. His personality was filled with bravado and swagger, and this card really seems to exploit that.

When I purchased the card, it was graded a BGS 9, which isn't much of a concern to me. In fact, what I've noticed is that anything below a 9.5 seems to almost sell for less than an ungraded card in good condition. I've taken advantage of this a few times now and have been able to add some nice cards in result. But if the scan didn't show it enough, I hated having this card slabbed. 

So I decided to crack it. This was the first time I ever cracked a card before, so I decided to make an event of it live on Instagram with some of my buddies. They laughed hysterically at my poor efforts using a hammer to free the card. Luckily, this card is practically a gold brick, so it was able to fully sustain any of my stupidity, and by the time it finally escaped the BGS prison, it was still in mint condition.

I'm a sucker for silver ink. It's my cardboard weakness, I won't lie. Everything about this card just made sense for my collection, and I have to admit it looks way better in a magnetic (especially with the gold magnet matching the frame color) than it ever did in that slab. I personally only really like seeing vintage/rookie cards in PSA slabs and Bowman/rookie autographs in BGS slabs. I'm picky, what can I say?

Did I make the right call? Let me know in the comments below how you like your graded cards.

Wednesday, February 15, 2017

The Aroldis Chapman Conundrum

Hey everyone! So pitchers and catchers have reported, and that is awesome. The worst part of the year is finally over. Ever since I was knocked out of my fantasy football playoffs and watched the Patriots perform miracles in the Super Bowl, I've been geared up for baseball season. While the Yankees are in the midst of a "don't call it a rebuild" rebuild period, I actually am anxious to get the season underway and see what the kids can do.

It was a pretty quiet offseason for Cashman and crew, if you consider spending over $100 million quiet. However, a bulk of that money was put towards our brand old southpaw closer, Aroldis Chapman. I've made it pretty clear that I don't support what Chapman has done (nobody should). But regardless, what's done is done and technology hasn't yet allowed for time travel to reverse mistakes.

I picked up one of Chapman's better cards on eBay before the signing, in anticipation that the card's price would rise when he inevitably became a Yankee again:

The 2010 Bowman refractors scan awfully, I must say. Nevertheless, this is Chapman's rookie refractor autograph, a card I had always wanted but never been able to afford. In light of his domestic violence incident, his card prices have generally fallen as you would expect. I wouldn't consider the price I paid a victory because of the circumstances (much like how I was able to add the Jose Fernandez Bowman auto after his death), but I was satisfied with its cost.

Now that Chapman has a lot of guaranteed money to work with, we'll see his true colors. Of course, if he didn't behave in his contract year, he wouldn't have been awarded a record contract for closers. I get that. 

But I've always been willing to give athletes second chances after coming to grips with what they had done, as long as they seemed to learn from it. Michael Vick is a prime example of this. My friend shared a video of Vick's career highlights recently on facebook, and I realized how great it was to be able to watch him do what he did best: play football. He paid the price for what he did, and he genuinely seems to want to make a difference off the field by speaking to kids constantly about how to treat animals. So now, when I watch old footage of Vick scrambling downfield, I can enjoy it without any feelings of guilt.

Because Chapman isn't a native of this country, it may be more difficult for him to express himself to the media and fans. But I hope over the next 3-5 years I'll be able to feel similarly about Chapman as I now do about Vick. If this is the case, I'll have this beautiful, shiny autographed card of his to enjoy.

Sunday, February 12, 2017

Christmas Gifts in February: Andrew's Edition

Hey everyone, Drew back here. Alright, so maybe the comeback was a little bit of a tease. What more could you have expected from perhaps the most consistently inconsistent blogger in the community? 

Anyway, I'm going to at least shoot for one post a week, and this week I'm going to start catching up on some of the mail I've received from some of my friends. We begin with a Christmas gift I received from Andrew, of the now pretty much extinct Everyday Holliday blog. Andrew is finishing up high school now and; while he's still involved heavily through his Instagram (@everyday_holliday7), he's seemed to move away from the blogs. If he ever does make his way back here like I did, he would most certainly be welcomed back.

His package contained a bunch of various odds and ends I really didn't expect. To begin, here were a couple really nice parallels of some of the Yankees high end pitching prospects. 

Domingo Acevedo put together a strong 2016 season and fits the mold of "tall Yankees right hander who throws gas" (a la Dellin Betances). It will be interesting to see if he can string together another excellent year; because if it weren't for the year Chance Adams had (not to mention all the new young acquisitions), he would be all the talk. 

Speaking of which, Justus Sheffield was acquired from the Indians last July in the Andrew Miller deal. The lefty found success in his brief stint for the Yankees following the trade, and projects as our second best pitching prospect behind James Kaprielian.

Tyler Wade is going to have to work really hard if he wants to play for the Yankees going forward. Wade does a lot of things well, but nothing exceptionally. He currently ranks as our tenth best prospect according to River Ave Blues, but with Didi Gregorius, Gleyber Torres, and Jorge Mateo also listed under shortstop on the organizational depth chart, he may need to find a new position. Last fall, he tried playing outfield in the Arizona Fall League, which could open up an opportunity for him to supplant Ronald Torreyes or Rob Refsnyder as the utility man in the long run.

Wade was certainly one of the top Yankees prospects I needed a refractor autograph of for my collection, and Andrew was able to knock him off my list as my main gift. However, he went overboard and spoiled me with some other stuff...

Ah, arguably the Yankees two best pitchers, Masahiro Tanaka and Aroldis Chapman. You can definitely add Dellin Betances in this upper tier, but after that there are endless questions about the rest of the pitching staff. Can Michael Pineda be a little consistent? Can CC Sabathia repeat his bounceback year? And most importantly, is Luis Severino more of the 2015 or 2016 version? These questions are paramount to the team's success this year and to the future teams.

I absolutely love the Gypsy Queen relic of Tanaka. The card design just works for me. Also, the Chapman relic is an instance where a gray relic actually looks good aesthetically!

Wait, wait, wait. Hold up. Why are there Matt Holliday cards in a package from "Everyday Holliday"? Well, Andrew is a Cardinals fan and had two PC's: Matt Holliday and Aroldis Chapman. And as of now, both of those players are now on the Yankees roster, which is not exactly something he was envisioning. So, he's decided to cut bait with some of the lower end cards of those collections (hence the Chapman above, as well as the next few Holliday's).

2008 Upper Deck A Piece of History was one of the first products I really got into when I took the next step in my early collecting years. Holliday was a heck of a player in his Rockies days.

In a deal Andrew and I made early last summer, I sent him a parallel of this autograph from 2007 Bowman's Best. Now, I've got the base version of that card back in my collection. In 2007, Holliday batted .340 with 36 home runs and 137 RBI's. If he can do half of that pinstripes, I'd be satisfied.

I actually knew I was getting this card, because I bought it off of him before he mailed out my Christmas gift. I really am not a fan of sticker autographs at this point, but most of Holliday's affordable autographs are on sticker. He really doesn't sign much, actually. I love this card from 2008 Topps Triple Threads, one of the first high end products I remember watching box breaks for. This one is numbered 5/18.

Lastly, Andrew threw in an autograph of the aforementioned Severino and a really nice Joe Panik out of Topps High Tek numbered to 99. I probably am of the minority when it comes to Topps High Tek: I'm not really much of a fan in most cases. I think the clear acetate style cards are sort of a gimmick, and my opinion varies from a card to card basis. I won't even try to figure out what version the Panik is, but it is a good looking card and I appreciate the kind gesture!

Andrew is a heck of a good dude, and I think more people need to know that. If you have an Instagram, be sure to check out his if you haven't already. Thanks for the awesome stuff!

Sunday, February 5, 2017

America vs. The Patriots

Okay, so I took a couple days off, but don't worry I'm still here! It is Super Bowl Sunday, America's most widely celebrated holiday as far as I can tell. A year ago, I spent my Super Bowl at a bar in Florence explaining the rules of the game to a kid from South Korea. I was out until 4:30 in the morning because of the time difference, and had up to be up by 8:00 for class. Good times.

Since the topic of the day is football, I figured I would catch you up on a few really sweet Jets cards I've picked up in recent months. Now, I know, the words "sweet" and "Jets" shouldn't usually be used in the same sentence, but take my word for this please.

2013 Topps Five Star Curtis Martin Auto 15/25
First, I was able to finally add my all time favorite football player, Curtis Martin, to my autograph collection. Martin was the star of the first Jets team I payed any attention to, and I immediately gravitated towards him. Thomas Jones, Leon Washington, new Hall of Famer LaDainian Tomlinson, the late Joe McKnight, Chris Ivory, Bilal Powell, and Matt Forte have since shared the backfield, but nobody has done it for me quite like Curtis did.

Last summer at a card show I debated whether to buy myself a full sized signed helmet of his, and ended up coming up just short on the funds necessary to do that. Several months later, I bought this beautiful card for a fraction of the price.

2015 Topps Chrome Leonard Williams Auto /99
There was something really appealing about this camo parallel rookie autograph of our lone Pro Bowler, Leonard Williams. The "Big Cat" delivered on his 6th overall draft selection this year and picked up the slack left behind by Muhammad Wilkerson and Sheldon Richardson. The defense this year was so disappointing, with Williams being the only true exception.

2014 Panini Flawless Eric Decker Auto 14/25
Ryan Fitzpatrick really missed Eric Decker this year. He only played in 3 games in 2016 before being placed on IR for hip and shoulder injuries that both required surgery. It sounds like he should be ready to go by the start of next season, which hopefully can help regain some of the magic he and Brandon Marshall shared the season prior.

Regardless of how the rest of his Jets career plays out, I'll never forget him for my all time favorite in person memory. Dad and I finally got to see a Jets vs. Patriots game in 2015, and Decker hauled in the game winning touchdown reception in the corner of the end zone that kept us in the playoff hunt. While I don't like talking about what happened in Buffalo the next week, in that moment I was so proud to be a Jets fan.

2015 Panini Luxe Darrelle Revis Patch Auto 4/5
We'll close this up with the man famous for shutting down this generation's best wide receivers in the game, Darrelle Revis. It was not a good year for "Revis Island". But, as a Jet fan I've gotten used to trying to find some form of a silver lining for everything so I keep from losing my sanity. We only have 3 more years to go!

Now I don't mean to sound like a downer, but man has this guy put us through a lot over the years. I feel like his entire career has been a contract negotiation. He left us and went to the Bucs, and then won a Super Bowl with the devil! It was extremely painful seeing him hoist the Lombardi Trophy with Tom Brady by his side, but I guess in a weird way I'm glad he got the chance to win after quite possibly being the greatest defensive player in franchise history.

So while he may continue to bug me for 3 more years as he gets old and wears down, he'll always be a Jet legend and down the road I'll be even happier to own this card. Also, I'm starting to grow very fond of these framed autographs. They're very aesthetically pleasing.

Alright, so that'll have it. No Joe Namath auto yet, apologies.

Go Falcons!