Thursday, September 15, 2016

Last Month at Fenway...

Tonight, the Yankees open the most important series of their season in Boston. New York is below the Red Sox in the AL East standings by 4 games, but is only down 2 in the Wildcard race. Masahiro Tanaka takes the ball for the Bombers against Eduardo Rodriguez in a battle that has the potential to reinvigorate their dead rivalry.

A little over a month ago, the Yankees traveled to Boston with much lower stakes. They had just traded their best hitter and two best relief pitchers, and were working on building towards the future. Their biggest headline at the time was that Alex Rodriguez had just announced that the upcoming Friday night game in Yankee Stadium against Tampa Bay would be his last. In retrospect, that news feels ancient after the youth movement extravaganza that has taken place since.

But leading up to that Fenway series, one Yankee fan was arguably more excited than the others (hint: me). My family had planned our annual summer vacation around this series and getting to go to Fenway Park for the first time! The trip consisted of two nights in Boston and the remaining 4 in Cape Cod before we eventually headed home. I had never been to Beantown in my life, so getting to explore parts of the city during those few days was really exciting. I might hate their teams with a fiery passion, but I have nothing against the city itself.

On Tuesday, August 9th, we began our Fenway Park experience by joining in one of the stadium tours. We had tried to sign up for the pre-game tour, but since that was already filled we instead opted for the hourly tour. While it was disappointing not to be able to go on the warning track, we were more than content with what we were given on this adventure. 

As we strolled past all of the empty red seats, I could've sworn I traded glances with Red Sox president Dave Dombrowski. He probably didn't like that I was decked out in my road Yankees uniform, but I frankly couldn't care less. 

I had made it a life's goal to go to Fenway sporting nothing but blue and navy. I'm not even technically an adult yet, and that mission has been accomplished.

Here's a pretty neat shot I took of the famous seat marked red after Ted William's 502 foot home run in 1946. The tape measure shot was the longest ever recorded in Fenway's history, so it's only fair that every fan can clearly see where it landed.

We also got to take in the view from the Green Monster. I can't say I ever really thought the view would be worth paying an exorbitant amount of money to sit atop the enormous left field wall, but I was surprised by how picturesque it was. The above picture is my attempt to share this with you.

On the lower level, fans are greeted by this plaque and jersey honoring Boston after the horrific bombing at the Boston Marathon in 2013. You would be hard pressed to ever catch me rooting for anything Boston-related, but it was hard not to sympathize with their community after the tragedy.

Before long, game-time was approaching and the teams started taking batting practice. In between the tour and the game, we had to leave and re-enter the stadium. We stayed for 2 nights at the Buckminster Hotel, which is less than a 5 minute walk from the stadium and is known for several historic events; mostly for being the building where the Black Sox scandal was originally organized in 1919.

The lines outside Fenway were crazy long, but we met a bunch of pleasant people during that time. A majority of them were wearing Red Sox apparel, but only a couple we talked to were actually fans of the team. It wasn't casual fans either. We even met Blue Jays fans wearing red and navy... I didn't get that.

A-Rod didn't play in our game, but I was glad we got to watch him take batting practice and some grounders at the hot corner. I've loved Rodriguez and hated him over the years, but in the end I felt bad for how he was pushed out. I think he's done a lot of good things in the clubhouse since his season long suspension, and a lot of the fanbase was beginning to see that. 

The view from our seats was really phenomenal, outside of the big obstruction in the way. It didn't end up getting in the way of things that much, but it would've been nicer without it.

Boy, a lot has changed since this picture was taken of Larry Rothschild, Gary Sanchez, and Luis Severino. Sanchez had just been called up at this point and did not yet begin mashing like he eventually would. Luis Severino had just come off some excellent relief outings, and was set to return to the rotation.

It wasn't a good one for Sevy. Rick Porcello dominated Yankee bats for eight innings, but Severino couldn't outlast the 5th inning. He was tagged for 5 runs on 7 hits, and it was tough to watch. So tough, in fact, that I had to get up and get ice cream to relief the pain. 

In the 9th inning, the Yankees were down 3 runs and were able to walk in a run against Craig Kimbrel with 2 outs. The score was 5-3 when Mark Teixeira struck out to end the game. The final was 5-3, Boston. I went to three Yankee games this season, and they lost all three. Next year.

Despite the loss and the tough performance from one of my favorite pitchers, it was so much fun getting to go to perhaps the most famous baseball stadium in the world. It was a change of pace from the modernistic Yankee Stadium. In Fenway, you can be uncomfortable with obstructions in your way and still find ways to have a great time. That's what baseball is all about.

With that said, go Yankees. Let's take this series and snatch up a Wild Card, once and for all.

Tuesday, September 6, 2016

Zippy Zapped Back Into the Blogosphere!

In my blogging return last week, I cited the fact that school was underway and having less on my plate as the main reasons I've been able to come back. But I still lacked that final burst of energy to push me back into the blogosphere, until I met the Zippy-Zapper himself

Kenny has been "Cervin' Up Cards" for quite some time now, but I hadn't really gotten to know him until we started talking Yankee baseball on Twitter. In my time away from Blogger, I've been a part of collecting communities on Twitter and Instagram, and have gotten to know some great people in the process. Before leaving to go to the East Coast National (which you will hear about in due time), we made plans to meet up at some point throughout the day. 

The storm had settled in Westchester's County Center as dealers began to start packing up, but we were able to meet and spend some time observing the tables and talking about all things baseball. I was fascinated by his wealth of knowledge towards the Yankees farm system and towards prospects in general. But what blew me away over anything else was the kindness and generosity in his heart. He unloaded his backpack filled with goodies for me, and I couldn't believe it. It was hard for me to accept it all at once, but he insisted upon it. I felt better knowing that I was prepared to get him back for his madness, and took a look at what was now mine.

The two Staten Island booklets feature team sets of the 2000 Low-A Champion Staten Island Yankees. I can't say I'm all that familiar with most of the players on the team, outside of Chien-Ming Wang. These cards have perforated edges so they can easily be separated, reminiscent to the days I was subscribed to Sports Illustrated Kids way back in the day. 

Kenny also gave me 3 SI Yankees 'PlayBall Magazine' souvenir programs from 2014, 2015, and 2016! I have seen the Staten Island team play plenty in the past, but never actually at their home stadium. I am more familiar with Dutchess Stadium, where the Hudson Valley Renegades play; and have seen them play there in the past. We discussed having a future summer night spent at each stadium graphing, and I hope we can work that out next year.

These two Choice 2014 team sets were really neat toss-ins too. The set to the left features some of the best players from the New York-Penn League in 2014, which included Amed Rosario (Mets), A.J. Reed (Astros), Bradley Zimmer (Indians), and the god himself, Luis Torrens (Yankees). After speaking to Kenny, I can now say I believe Torrens will be a combination of Ted Williams and Johnny Bench! Speaking of which, Torrens was also featured in the SI Yankees set. That set had some surprisingly intriguing names such as Jordan Montgomery, Jonathan Holder, Ty Hensley, and Thairo Estrada to go along with the heir apparent to Babe Ruth (first time readers must be really confused).

He also threw in a bunch of cards of scrub Yankees (in comparison to the future first ballot Hall of Famer) Betances, Refsnyder, and numerous others. I'm starting to wonder how much longer Refsnyder will be a part of the team. It wouldn't shock me if he is an added piece in an offseason trade, because no matter what he does, it's never enough to earn a full time spot on the team.

You can never go wrong with Luis Severino, unless of course you're Joe Girardi naming him as an upcoming starter. I have slowed down collecting Sevy ever since his downward spiral, even though his card prices have tanked. I've invested far too much money already to keep buying his stuff in good conscience. However, I didn't have any of the 3 cards above, and really love the autograph in particular! 

I think it's sort of funny seeing Sano and Severino on the same card considering how mis-managed I believe they both have been thus far into their careers. Sano, to me, should not be in the field even though today's American League game tends not to employ full time DH's anymore. He can be an exception to that rule because he appears to have legit 40-50 home run pop in his bat. Meanwhile, Severino's poor performances in the starting rotation (while dominating in the late innings) have bounced him back and forth faster than you can say "Joba Chamberlain". Keep him in the bullpen for a prolonged period of time until he builds up enough confidence to be the starting pitcher we Yankee fans expected him to be. Rant over.

One of my favorite cards Kenny bestowed upon me is this 2014 Bowman Asia Exclusive Aaron Judge parallel. Judge hasn't quite followed up his explosive start to his career, and is striking out in over half of his at bats. We knew from the day he was drafted that plate discipline was going to be an issue, so this should be expected. He doesn't see fastballs often because he is known to crush them, so adjusting to major league caliber offspeed pitches will take time. Don't give up on this Baby Bomber though, because the future is still bright.

When it comes to Yankees prospects, Kenny knows more than most. I have seen these autographed cards before, but I don't know much about the players on them. Encinas is the only active player in 2016, pitching in High A for the Yankees. He has struggled mightily, but the former 6th rounder could get it together. Both Lewis and Stevenson were taken in the later rounds in the 2010 Draft, while Bautista appears to have been an International signing.

I never had much of Austin Romine, so this card is now my favorite of his. The Yankees have been able to churn out quality catchers for some time now, and he's just another example of a big league backstop. He handles his own, and probably will serve as a backup for years to come; whether he's with the Yankees still or not.

Dellin has really stepped into the closer role well ever since the deadline deals of Aroldis Chapman and Andrew Miller. I can't say I'm all that surprised by this news, though. He has been so dominant for now three years, and his stuff would translate well in any bullpen role. I'm not an enormous fan of the Panini designs, but I'll take a spare autograph of his to pair with my Bowman Chrome auto any day.

Kenny, thank you so much for the much needed zippy-zappying. It was a pleasure meeting you, and here's to hoping my revenge package will come close to matching all of this.

If you haven't already, please go check out Kenny's blog, Torren' Up Cards. If you have any cards of baseball jesus (Luis Torrens, duh), be sure to hit him up!

Friday, September 2, 2016

Three at Third for the Hot Corner!

Hey everyone! This is my attempt at trying to get back into routine blogging. I've picked up a lot of higher end cards this summer, including a bunch of the Bowman Chrome refractor autographs you've seen lately. Though I have fallen for the shine of the refractor, I've acquired some other big cards as well. And no card represents the Hot Corner more than this one...

2013 Topps Triple Threads Wright/Longoria/Machado Triple Autograph Relic 11/36

If you scroll back up to the top of my blog, you should come across two poorly Photoshopped photos of David Wright and Evan Longoria on the right side of the blog banner. Early on in high school, I learned to play third base and I tried to follow in both of their footsteps. Both had been proven leaders and strong players offensively and defensively at that time. 

In 2016, Wright hardly played thanks to a nagging neck injury that eventually required surgery. It will be interesting to see if he can rebound, but if he doesn't I can see him retiring and being considered the Mets equivalent of Don Mattingly (both excellent players and leaders whose careers ended abruptly thanks to long term health issues). He is a lifetime .296 hitter with almost 1,800 hits and 250 home runs, and of course was named the 4th team captain in Mets history. 

However, while Wright has taken some steps back; Evan Longoria is close to completing his best season since 2013, when he finished 6th in AL MVP voting. Despite his Rays playing last place baseball and hitting in one of the weakest lineups in the American League, Longo is batting .285 with 31 home runs and 83 RBI. He is on a similar career path as Wright's, but is 30 years old with no signs of slowing down. There were talks during the Trade Deadline that he could potentially be traded to a contender such as the Dodgers, and for his sake I sort of hope it happens. He may be a division rival and a lifetime Yankee killer, but it's hard to root against a guy that plays for such a miserable team.

Longoria has continued to build on a successful career, but another reason he does not get much attention is because of the recent changing of the guard at the third base position. Perhaps the finest of them all is Baltimore's Manny Machado. I have been a huge fan of Machado's ever since his call up, but especially after I acquired him as a throw in piece in a blockbuster trade in my main fantasy baseball league. The league is a keeper league, so I have been able to retain him this season and plan to for the foreseeable future as long as he keeps playing excellent baseball.

Third base is such a deep position these days. You could make a valid case for Machado, Josh Donaldson, Nolan Arenado, or Kris Bryant as the best in the game. If I had to have one, I'd take Manny in a slight edge over Arenado, but at that point it's really splitting hairs. This is my first autograph of the Orioles star, who I believe could one day suit up in pinstripes if he isn't awarded a record breaking contract extension before 2018. Fingers crossed.

Thursday, September 1, 2016

I Am Gary...

Hey everyone, long time no talk, again. I'm going to quit making excuses for whenever I lack the motivation to blog. In all honesty, I've lost a lot of the drive I once had for writing posts and being especially involved in the blogging community. It's not you guys, it's me; I swear. Things have been busier than ever since I returned from Florence at the end of May, and the time I would usually spend writing posts is now allotted towards resting up for another day's work.

I've done a lot of things outside of work this summer though too. I went to 3 Yankees games, one of which was at Fenway Park against Boston. I saw Coldplay at Metlife Center and The Lumineers at a local festival. I added several new records to my growing vinyl collection, went to a card show, rode some rollercoasters at Six Flags, and spent a lot of quality time with friends and family. A good portion of this will be covered sooner or later.

On top of it all, I've watched a lot of baseball. The Yankees have been invigorated with energy ever since the Trade Deadline and the release of Alex Rodriguez, and it has almost become must-see TV. I normally keep tabs on most games while watching shows on Netflix religiously, but these past two months have gone the opposite direction. The difference maker, as most of you appear to know by now; has been Gary Sánchez. "The Kraken", as famously dubbed by Brian Cashman; has been a lethal weapon of mass destruction since being called up for the third (and final) time on August 2nd.

2010 Bowman Gary Sanchez Refractor Auto /500
Sánchez has been a Baby Bomber for seven years now, and was regarded as a Top 100 Prospect by Baseball America for five of those seven. He succeeded in the shadow of former top prospect Jesus Montero until the Michael Pineda trade officially made him the future of Yankee backstops.

I've been collecting all throughout that time, and I didn't own an autograph of Sánchez's... until August 6th, 4 days after the call up. A dealer had listed four or five of his Bowman refractor autographs to try and make a profit. He may have profited, but he has to be kicking himself after the tear "El Gary" has been on. This card currently sells between $250 and $300, but I had it for $40 shipped. Essentially, I played the long con for seven years and made one of the greatest eBay snipes of all time (yeah, I said it).

Sure, I hear all you nay-sayers who think this is all a hoax. Obviously, yes, the guy won't be hitting a Ted Williams-esque .400 for his entire career. But we as Yankee fans have every right and reason to be thrilled with the prospect of having an All Star caliber catcher for the first time since Jorge Posada was in his prime. Not only has his bat played a vocal part in this late bid for a Wild Card spot, but he already seems to be emerging as a leader in the clubhouse. He wants to win, and win now. And he is doing everything in his power to help the team do just that.

I love it.

For once, you're right about something John Sterling. Gary is scary.

PS: This card just recently was sent out (along with a few others) as part of a BGS Group Submission. I will be sure to share the results when they come back, unless of course they all grade terribly. I don't want you all to think I'm as blind as a bat.