Monday, July 6, 2015

Another White Whale Hunted Down: 2015 Topps Jon Singleton Acetate + 4th of July Camping Recap

I've been trying to track down one of the clear acetate parallels ever since Topps started putting them in their base sets. I have been chasing less-popular players since they tend to be the cheapest, but the bidding always seems to go a little higher than I want to pay. A couple of weeks ago this Jon Singleton card from 2015 Topps Series 2 popped up in my feed with a fairly reasonable price. Singleton's stock has dropped quite a bit since he was sent down to AAA at the start of the season, so I was able to get it for the opening bid. This copy is numbered # 01 / 10.

Singleton got called back up to the Astros a little while ago, but hasn't done a whole lot yet with the opportunity. In theory George Springer's recent injury opens up a bunch of playing time for the next couple of months, but Singleton might have to start hitting the ball in order to get a share of it. They don't play the same position, so there isn't really a direct route to playing time for Singleton, but people are going to have to shuffle around to fill that spot.

I was watching a game between the Astros and Red Sox this weekend and tried to come up with a list of my favorite Astros to watch. I always try to watch Singleton's at-bats when he gets them, but my top three must-watch guys right now are probably Evan Gattis, Carlos Correa, and Jose Altuve, roughly in that order. Gattis is a big dude, and with the beard he's got he looks a lot like one of the guys I worked with at FedEx. He seems to usually have good at-bats, and it always feels like he's on the verge of a big hit. Correa doesn't quite have the stage presence that Gattis does, but it seems like he's had at least one huge hit in every game I've watched over the last couple of weeks. I don't think Altuve ever stops talking, and he is pretty electric on the basepaths.

We went on a multi-family camping trip Thursday-Saturday for the 4th of July holiday. It was supposed to go through Sunday morning, but by the time Saturday morning rolled around everyone had about had enough of the heat and the hard ground and wanted to sleep in their own beds Saturday night, so we all decided to take off a little early. My mom and brother were there, as were 3 of my 4 sisters and their families, making a total of 10 adults and 11 kids on one site. There was a little creek on one side of the campsite and a hillside separating us from the rest of the campers, so it was actually a pretty good setup. Each day had about the right mix of activities and sitting around.

Thursday evening was set aside for getting there and getting set up. The campground had an alligator for some reason, so we went and looked at that. It obliged us by getting up and swimming over to have a look at us, probably hoping that we were planning on feeding it. For some reason the chicken run was set up next to the alligator's pen, which brought to my mind The Far Side comic strip.

Friday we went to look at some fossil beds, only to realize once we were there that the fossil beds are essentially a very warm hillside full of rocks. Luckily a sign directed us to town, where the Fossil Beds Visitors' Center was located. There we got to look at various fossils of prehistoric horses, mammoths, sloths, and saber-tooth cats. There was also a display about the Japanese internment camps that were set up in the area during World War Two. I can't say that I am surprised that Japanese-Americans were rounded up and sent to camps at that time, but I do feel bad that it happened and that not many people are even aware of it. One of my coworkers has family who were sent to live in the camps, and because it happened locally we learned a little bit about it in middle school and high school. We also stopped at a fish hatchery and saw hundreds of thousands of little fish in big tanks. There was also a nice little park area with Rainbow Trout and Sturgeon in it. It was shallow enough that you could reach down and pet the Sturgeon. There were 4 or 5 of them and they were all probably between 4 and 8 feet long. Before and after the outing everyone had plenty of time to mess around in the creek and hang out together. I skipped a lot of rocks, even though I knew my arm would hurt for a couple of days afterward (and it sure does). I just can't stop myself when there is a nice flat rock in the area. I have to throw it. 

Saturday involved more playing in the creek and also two trips to the swimming pool before and after lunch. The pool was actually three pools fed by hot springs. Cooler water was mixed in to varying degrees, so each pool offered a different temperature. I think everyone had a good time, but it was obvious by the time we left that everyone was pretty ready to get out of there. When we got home (about a two hour drive) we decided it wouldn't be worth it to drag three tired kids out to watch fireworks. We had some sparklers and a couple of other small fireworks left over from last year, so the kids got to see those as well as whatever the neighbors were setting off. We also got to see a few airburst fireworks that were being sent up in the surrounding neighborhoods. The kids had a really good time, which was a nice reminder that sometimes you don't have to go all out on a bunch of fountains and projectiles to have a decent 4th of July celebration. As they get older that will probably change some, but for now sparklers and ground bloom flowers are good enough.

Sunday, July 5, 2015

Seeking Redemption 13: My 2015 Topps Babe Ruth Call Your Shot "Prize"

At some point in the past few months I won a Tier C autograph from the Babe Ruth Call Your Shot Game that serves as Topps' promotion for 2015 Topps Baseball. The 'Call Your Shot' part of the game consists of determining which of the three blocks you will scratch off on the game card. I have chosen to use the Autograph code on all of my contest cards. When you enter a winning code, you get a notification that you have won a prize along with a list of player names and a link to the longer list for that tier. There are three lists; labeled A, B, and C. A-listers are all the big names and hot prospects, B-listers are the every day guys, and C list is whatever is left over. There is not a specific set of cards made for this promotion. Instead, Topps seems to just send out whatever they have on-hand in the redemption center. I've seen Bowman stuff, base Topps stuff, and premium brands like Five Star and Museum Collection sent to people as prizes.

The main sticking point with this promotion is that you have to pay $4.95 in shipping to claim your prize. I contemplated just not claiming my C-list prize, but curiosity got the best of me and a couple of weeks ago I went ahead and paid up. A while later I got an envelope in the mail that looked like it had been run over 5 or 6 times by a truck. Inside was my 'prize:'

I won a Jeff Kobernus base autograph from 2014 Topps Chrome. Jeff Kobernus is currently in the San Francisco Giants system, having made it into 28 games with the Nationals during his career. He's already 27 years old, and is unlikely to ever make much of an impact at all in the major leagues. I estimate that $4.95 was 2-3 times more than I should have paid for this card. I still have a B-list autograph on the way, so maybe that one will turn out better for me than this one did.

Wednesday, July 1, 2015

2013 SEGA Card-Gen Extravaganza 12: Seattle Mariners

It's time for another installment of the 2013 SEGA Card-Gen set. This post features the Seattle Mariners. The Mariners' team contains 13 cards, which matches the 13 players per team average across the 390-card set.

The set jumps right over the catcher and first base positions to get to Dustin Ackley at second base. 2012 was the last season that Ackley played most of his games at second base, though, as in 2013-2015 most of his playing time has come in the outfield. Apparently now Seattle has got another guy at second base. His numbers in 2015 haven't been very good at all, but he was a valuable player from 2011-2014.

Kyle Seager is a pretty good player but that doesn't translate as well to the fantasy baseball world, so I was under the impression that he is doing much worse than he actually is. He must be a plus defender or something. I don't know. All of the Mariners' home games are blacked out on my subscription because they are the 'local' team, so I don't actually get to see much of them.

At shortstop is Brendan Ryan, who in this photo looks like he should be named Cletus. It's been a little while since he was very relevant. He is currently in the Yankees organization, and it looks like he has spent much of this season injured and/or in the minors. It was interesting to see that he was drafted out of Lewis-Clark State College, a little school in the northern part of my home state of Idaho.

Michael Morse got his first big-league playing time with Seattle, but was traded to the Washington Nationals for a few years before being traded back to the Mariners in 2013. He spent part of 2013 with the Mariners and then got traded to the Orioles. In a bit of perfect timing, he signed with the Giants for 2014 and won himself a Championship ring. He is currently in the Marlins organization.

Michael Saunders has put together some decent stretches of playing, but has some injury history and even had a spat with Mariners management in 2014 over his perceived (lack of) work ethic. That got him traded to the Blue Jays, where he injured his knee tripping on a sprinkler. He might make it back to the Blue Jays some time this season.

Eric Thames didn't even play Major League Baseball in 2013, which makes his inclusion in this set an interesting choice. After playing in the minors for Seattle and Baltimore in 2013, he found his niche as a superstar in Korea's top baseball league, where he is among the league leaders in many batting categories.

Seattle's Card-Gen roster gets two designated hitters, both shown on their cards wearing other teams' uniforms. Morales played with the Angels until he was traded to the Mariners before the 2013 season. After the season, the Mariners granted him his free agency and he signed with the Twins, only to be traded back to the Mariners partway through the year, This year he plays for the Royals. I saw him hit a home run this evening against my Astros, but it wasn't enough to keep the Astros from sweeping the 3-game series as they won the game 6-5. My eldest son has started taking some interest in watching baseball games with me, learning about outs, innings, and runs.

Ibanez bounced around quite a bit in his career, playing three different stints with the Mariners, the team that originally drafted him. His 2013 run with the team lasted just one year, and he spent parts of 2014 with the Angels and Royals before calling it a career. He finished with 2,034 hits and 305 home runs over 19 seasons, placing him somewhere in the Hall of Pretty Good.

King Felix is the one superstar on this otherwise pretty mediocre roster. He gets a full 8-star rating and plenty of big numbers on the back of his card. He is a perennial All-Star and Cy Young contender. It's a shame that he has to toil away on a Seattle team that never really puts it all together. I guess getting a pretty good photo on his 2013 SEGA Card-Gen card is an okay consolation prize.

Hisashi Iwakuma came into the league in 2012 as a 31-year old rookie after a successful career in Japan. He has been consistently pretty good for the Mariners, with a really good 2013 in which he was an All-Star and 3rd in the Cy Young vote. He started off 2015 pretty poorly, which pretty quickly turned into a DL stint. He has been making minor league rehab appearances lately, so he could be returning to the Mariners pretty soon. I hope that he does well on his return, as he is one of my fringe PC guys.

Lucas Luetge made 63 appearances for the Mariners in 2012, about half that with 35 appearances in 2013, and about a third of that number with 12 appearances in 2014. He pitched 2.1 innings in an April game for them in 2015, and he has spent the rest of the season in AAA. He fills a basic bullpen slot. I guess the Card-Gen game needed a few middle-of-the-road bullpen arms so players could go cheap on their relievers and spend their points on power hitters and ace pitchers.

Up next is a guy who owns the spot next to Rusty Kuntz in the Dirty Name Hall of Fame, Charlie Furbush. He has been a pretty good reliever for the Mariners, putting up decent numbers in the middle innings for the last few years. But his main contribution to the world of baseball is his name.

Tom Wilhelmsen spent much of 2012 and 2013 as the Mariners' closer before giving way to Fernando Rodney and returning to a role in the bullpen. He hasn't been all that great this year and he wasn't really a great closer either, but he filled the role for a while.

And that's it for the 2013 SEGA Card-Gen Seattle Mariners. The team is surprisingly short on star power for those of us who still associate superstars like Griffey Jr., A-Roid, and Randy Johnson with the team.

2013 SEGA Card-Gen Directory

Tuesday, June 30, 2015

Mary Bellamy Sketch Card Commission

Mary Bellamy is one of the artists that posts occasionally on the Blowout Cards forums. She has worked on many sketch card sets, self-published several comic books, and also has done work for publisher-owned comic book properties. Her most high-profile work is probably the covers she has done for the My Little Pony comic books.

A few months ago she posted a thread offering discounted sketches to help cover some unexpected car repairs she was getting done. I jumped at the chance to get a My Little Pony sketch card from her, featuring a situation from an episode of the Friendship is Magic animated series. In the episode, the character Fluttershy steals the Princess' sick bird, Philomena, in an attempt to restore it to health. After Fluttershy has tried many remedies the bird escapes and leads Fluttershy on a chase, which ends with the bird combusting and falling into a pile of ashes just as the Princess shows up. Fluttershy offers many apologies, and in the midst of the apology the bird comes back from the dead as a beautiful Phoenix. It's a pretty funny episode, and I asked Mary if she could draw Fluttershy and Philomena for me. It wasn't too long before I had this Personal Sketch Card in my mailbox:

I also selected three more cards from her sketch binder, featuring some of my favorite comic book characters. Before sending the cards off to me, Mary took some time and added extra details to the background of each card. I thought that was a nice addition.

The first sketch shows Cloak and Dagger, two relatively minor Spider-Man characters who became fan favorites and still pop up in books from time to time. For a while they even had their own series. 

In the middle is She-Hulk, Bruce Banner's cousin who received her powers after he gave her an emergency blood transfusion.

Last is Power Girl who, like most DC characters, has a complicated and ever-changing back story. She is Superman's cousin from an alternate universe, or basically another universe's Supergirl. She gets bounced back and forth between the different universes. I think that currently she is back on her original adopted home planet, Earth-2.

Monday, June 29, 2015

Pack of the Day 100: Two Retail Packs of 2015 Topps Stadium Club

My wife picked up two packs of 2015 Topps Stadium Club at Target for me. I've read about this stuff quite a bit on blogs, but I hadn't seen any of it in real life.

The cards are nice and thick, and they feel like the premium cards issued in the 90s. As someone else mentioned, they even smell like premium 90s cards. The first card out of the first pack was Daniel Norris, a guy who I almost began collecting. I bought a few of his cards and then realized that I don't have enough money to add another player to my player collections list. So I will take his cards when I can get them, but I can't be scouring eBay all the time. The photography is quite nice, and the design does a pretty good job of staying out of the way of the pictures. The first pack also contained a Gold Foil parallel, this one featuring Monte Irvin.

One thing I don't remember seeing is a scan of the card backs. Maybe someone posted one, but I didn't remember seeing one so I scanned the back of the cards, too. The backs feature a little bit of demographic information, a head shot photo, a snippet of biographical info, 2014 stats for current players, and a career stat line for everyone.

My packs didn't contain any of the really cool or oddball photos that get featured in most of the set review posts. About the closest I got to something non-standard is that Jay Bruce high five on the dugout stairs photo. It was kind of a disappointing pair of packs, to be honest.

The Lorenzo Cain horizontal shot is decent, but not extremely memorable like the Bip Roberts sombrero card. I would like to get the whole 2015 Stadium Club set, but I probably won't be able to build it through pack busting. Even with perfect collation it would take 3 Hobby boxes to build a set, and that just isn't in the cards for me this year. I am hoping that set prices on eBay come down enough that I am able to score one for less than the price of a box of cards. My pack busting and single purchasing have slowed down quite a bit in recent months.

My wife and I have been trying to get ourselves into a better position financially and that has meant doing things like closing credit accounts and tightening the budget quite a bit. I still haven't been able to pick up a base set of Archives and now I have Stadium Club on my want list, with Allen & Ginter's and Topps Update still on the way this year. I may be able to get those all as complete sets, but I won't be able to bust much wax like I have in previous years.

From reading other blogs I know that many collectors face the same sort of decisions from time to time as their collections move up and down on their life priority lists. With fewer new cards coming in, I will probably be reaching more into stuff that's already in my collection for blog material. That should be okay, as there is plenty of stuff that I didn't get around to scanning or posting as it came in.

Sunday, June 28, 2015

Danica Patrick Press Pass Power Picks Parallels

Here are the last three cards from the batch of Danica Patrick parallels I bought late in 2014. They hail from the 2012 Press Pass Power Picks set. They come in three varieties: Gold # 36 / 50, Blue # 19 / 50, and Holofoil # 02 / 10. The cards feature Danica's # 10 car from that year.

Danica has kind of been treading water for the last couple months of the 2015 racing season. Her average starting position for 2015 to date is 22.3, exactly the same as her mark for 2014, but her average finishing position is 20.3, which is 3.4 spots better than her 2014 mark of 23.7. That is a decent number and she has improved that number each year, but she will probably need a race win to make the Chase for the Cup playoff. She is currently 19th in the point standings, and there are some pretty strong racers ahead of her. Her starting position for today's Toyota / Save Mart 350 is 21, which is right in line with where she's been starting races all season. Hopefully she will have a good car and avoid accidents on the way to a good finish.

Saturday, June 27, 2015

Jon Singleton 2014 Topps Triple Threads Lot

Chad Qualls just went on the DL, and that opened the door for Jon Singleton to get called back up from AAA to get some playing time with the Astros. He made it as far as the on-deck circle last night in a crushing 3-2 loss where they led for much of the game. I watched the Yankees-Astros game today and he went 0 for 4 with 3 strikeouts and a pop-up. He had a chance to play hero in the 7th inning with the bases loaded, but racked up one of his strikeouts instead. Hopefully he can get something going over the next few games and keep his big-league roster spot. I have to admit that my hopes aren't very high, but a couple of home runs might help to fix that.

I can't read the serial numbers of these cards on the scans, but I believe they are numbered # / 325 and # / 125 respectively. They come from 2014 Topps Triple Threads. I got them back at the start of this year and they've been sitting in my draft queue since then.

In other news, my kids got into my NASCAR die-cast collection today and broke the hood off of one of my cars. They didn't bother with the cars that I had out in the open. They went and got the stuff hidden on a table in the back of the room. I don't think I am going to be able to replace that car as it's a fairly rare piece from way back in 2011. Just a friendly reminder that kids and collections don't mix.