19 February 2017

No Stats on the Backs of These Cards

I try not to get sucked in by these, but every so often I wind up giving in and buying Topps Vault blank backs, encased cards usually distributed through the Topps eBay store. The fronts are the same as the base cards you pull from packs, the backs are generally blank, maybe containing a Topps Vault 1 / 1 hologram sticker with a serial number.

This Randa Markos card hails from the 2015 Topps UFC Champions set. Markos is one of the fighters I collect, but I have started to seek out other fighters more heavily, as I don't think she has any relics or autos out, and her recent record doesn't place her on most high-end card release checklists. She will be fighting Carla Esparza in a couple of hours at UFC Fight Night: Lewis vs. Browne. Esparza is the #3-ranked Women's Strawweight contender, and is rumored to be taking the fight because she in financial distress and wants to avoid another top contender for now. Markos is not ranked in the top 15, so she's facing quite a challenge in this one.She really needs a win, as her recent record hasn't been all that impressive. The two do not like each other, so hopefully they put on a good show this evening.

Here's the back of the card. You can see the sticker. I think I got the corresponding certificate of authenticity in the package with the item. Apparently there isn't a database of serial numbers with item descriptions, so it's hard to validate these things. I don't think anyone is going to forge a Randa Markos card, though, but that could be a consideration if you're in the market for superstar items.

I thought maybe Topps had updated all of the blank back cards to these Beckett Grading Services holders, but it looks like the 2017 Topps Series 1 cards are in the same holder style as the Randa Markos card. All of the 2016 Topps Mini Baseball cards are in the Beckett holders. I guess maybe Topps didn't have a bunch of holders in the mini size, and made some agreement with Beckett to use their holders and labels for this set.

Jon Singleton is a player I collect pretty heavily, but his star has lost a lot of shine over the last couple of years, and he really needs to have a great Spring Training if he wants to continue with the Astros in any capacity, or make himself attractive to a team that is looking for a 1B/DH guy. It's hard to remember that he's still only 25 years old.

18 February 2017

Leia Sketch Card Commission by Frank A. Kadar

This is the second of three weekends in a row that I am stuck at work. It kind of sucks, but I chose to do it because it opens up a little more money for us to use at the Salt Lake Comic Con FanX next month.

Every time we go to a convention, I go through a weird cycle of emotions. I get excited, make up a plan, and purchase the tickets. Then I go through a period where I think of all the things that could go wrong, feel bad about the expense of it all, and worry that we won't be getting the best value out the experience. I consider cutting my losses by not attending at all. Sometimes these bad feelings extend into the early parts of the event itself. Then my wife talks me out of going home early and we come up with a decent plan for seeing the things we want to see. Once I get over that hump, I generally have a good time and remember the event fondly. But even though I know this roller coaster happens every time, I feel powerless to stop it from happening. Right now I'm going through the phase where I wonder if we should even go. I am trying to get through it without driving my wife over the edge of sanity with all of my wishy-washy worries.

I would like it if there were a little more information on the website about exhibitors and booths in the Artist Alley. They've announced a handful of high-profile comic book artists as guests, but events like the Emerald City Comic Con have lists of artists and vendors already posted, with many of the artists outlining commission prices and policies in their listings. The Salt Lake Comic Con crowd seems to enjoy rolling out the lists bit by bit over what feels like forever. I prefer to have as much notice as possible on everything, so their methods just cause me anxiety and frustration. I'm sure I'll feel better once there is a list.

About a month ago, I showed off a Power Girl sketch I commissioned from artist Frank A. Kadar. I liked it so much that I went back to his online shop and ordered another sketch for my collection.

This one features the subject of my other main sketch card collection, Leia from Star Wars. Kadar does some great work and seems to get commissions done in a timely manner. This sketch jumps right up there on the list of favorite Leia sketches in my collection. I like all the detail in the art, especially Leia's face and hair, and I enjoy the colorful backgrounds he does on his cards. I like browsing eBay for sketch card bargains, but I also enjoy being able to get exactly what I want by commissioning sketches from artists whose work I follow.

16 February 2017

I Got a Spring Training Invitation: 2017 Topps NOW Baseball

I came home today to find an envelope with Topps branding on my desk. It looked similar in size and shape to the one they sent out during the holidays.

Inside was a Topps NOW greeting card with a Spring Training 2017 logo.

Inside the greeting card was a mention of my status as a member of the 2016 Topps Now family, and some information about the roll-out of the 2017 Topps Now program, starting with the release of Topps Now Opening Day team sets, which are currently for sale on the Topps website. There was also a trading card in the envelope, which previews the 2017 Topps Now card design.

And here it is. It features MLB superstar Mike Trout, and carries a code on the back good for 25% off of one Opening Day team set per customer. I assume that since it's not a scratch-off code or anything, I am free to share it with the world. I think the 15-card sets are selling for $49.99, and your team can get bonus cards in its set by reaching certain milestones, like having a pitcher throw a perfect game, a player who hits for the cycle, or being in first place at the All-Star break. The card design is pretty slick. I think it looks all right, although I think I'd prefer the wedge along the bottom to be a little more transparent. I wasn't really planning on getting an Astros Opening Day set, but I might think about it at 25% off. I think the team sets are on sale until April 4th.

Although Topps is clearly trying to keep 2016 customers in the fold as 2017 buyers, this was a pretty cool way to do it. It would be hard to find someone who would say no to a free Mike Trout card, and the packaging and presentation on this package is very nice. Although they rolled out the design earlier today on Facebook, people who live to the East of me probably actually did get their preview of the 2017 set before everyone else. Thanks, Topps!

15 February 2017

2014 BBM P★League Fairies on the Lane

In December I showed off a boxed set of Japanese women's bowling cards produced by BBM, 2016 BBM P★League All Stars. P★League is a particular bowling tournament that usually also appears on a DVD boxed set, involving a group of professional bowlers who compete on a rotational basis. Sometimes amateur bowlers can qualify to be in the tournaments. I could have the details wrong, as things are a little fuzzy for me when it comes to the Wikipedia articles and other references I've found so far. The important thing here is that there are trading cards, which have been released as boxed sets for most of the years between 2009 and 2016 (they skipped 2011). I picked up a couple more of them, and I'm going to show off the 2014 set here. The 2016 set was called All-Stars, the 2015 set is called Very Merry Xmas, and today's set is 2014 BBM P★League Fairies on the Lane. 

Here is the box lid. It features photos of all the bowlers, as well as a little information about the contents of the box. My translation abilities are limited to scanning the box with Google Translate on my phone, so I can give a rough idea of what the box says. Along the top it tells us that the 24 bowlers who competed in Season 3 can be found in this set of cards. There is a Season 3 DVD set, so you could probably buy it and find these bowlers competing.

The part in the middle, underneath the photos, I couldn't really figure out. I don't even really want to try for fear of accidentally being culturally insensitive. The part under the P★League banner says Fairies on the Lane. The white box at the bottom says that a box costs ¥4,000 and that 3,000 sets were made. Just above that is a description of the contents, 50 cards including a regular set and one of each kind of insert card.

The bottom of the box features a checklist and pictures of some of the cards in the set. There are 48 cards in the base set, with each of the 24 bowlers getting a base card and a 'My Happy Moment' subset card. There is a 12-card die-cut insert set, and each bowler gets autograph cards. There is a paragraph mentioning that most autographs will be regular black ink signatures, but there are also parallels.

Here is the underside of the box lid. It's got a group picture of all the bowlers, as well as the serial number for the box (# 1986 / 3000) and several paragraphs which seem to explain the format and rules of the P★League tournament. I could figure out bits and pieces, but not enough to be doing any explaining here.

And finally, here is what the cards look like nestled in the box. I've scanned some of each type to show below.

This is the base card design, which makes up the first 24 cards in the set. The fronts of the cards are in English, while the backs are in Japanese. The card backs have quite a bit of information. Up at the top is stuff like birthdate, home/birthplace?, height, which hand they bowl with, and their bowling license number. In the middle is a little biography. I think this one even mentions that Hiromi Matsunaga wears glasses, but I could be reading it wrong. Down at the bottom are some statistics. I think they might be related to Season 1 and Season 2 of the tournament, but I am not sure on that.

The next 24 cards in the set are a subset called 'My Happy Moment.' Each one features a different writing style, and some have little pictures and whatnot. My translation app can't process much for these, but my guess is that the cards feature hobbies or memories that make each bowler happy.

Here are a few more of the base cards. Most of these bowlers appear in the 2016 set as well, so there doesn't seem to be a whole lot of turnover across the seasons. I imagine that bowling is like any other sport. There's not a lot of room for new blood at the top. In the background of the photos you can see all some of the set for the show. They just set it up in the middle of a bowling alley, and in the DVD set I have you can see workers putting up the walls and everything around a couple of bowling lanes. They don't have a dedicated bowling alley just for this event.

Here are some more card backs. These have the same format as the previous card I showed.

While the base cards have action photos, the 'My Happy Moment' cards have posed shots of the competitors with their balls.

You can see the variety on these card backs. Some of the women wrote long paragraphs, while others fill the space with doodles and pictures.

This was the die-cut insert I pulled, featuring Mitsuki Nakamura and Hitomi Andoh. Again, I am exactly the opposite of an expert at this, but I think the backs feature little word bubbles with the bowler's good luck charm. I am pretty sure that Misuki Nakamura's is a necklace and Hitomi Andoh's is a small unicorn. The text down at the bottom is a repeat of their base card backs, with name, birth date, hometown, and probably some other stuff.

The last card in my box was this autograph of Shoko Furuta. It's a sticker autograph and I believe it is the base version, numbered # 056 / 100. The PBA 506 on the right side is her bowling license number. It's a pretty decent card design, and the bowlers appear to get just as creative with their signatures as the wrestlers do in the True Heart sets. Looking at my autographs from other sets, it looks like most/all of them incorporate their license numbers into their signatures.

That does it for this set. These are fun cards, and definitely something a little out of the ordinary to inject a bit of variety into my card collection. I will probably be trying to add some of the older sets to my collection, as well as looking forward to what the 2017 set will look like. I haven't chosen a favorite bowler or anything, but I might do that and try to collect an autograph timeline for them.

14 February 2017

Pack of the Day 156: A Box of Panini Prizm NASCAR from Steel City Collectibles

Happy Valentine's Day! I don't like Valentine's Day, but I know there are probably some people out there who like it. To me it just seems like a way for marketing folks to extract money from people's wallets. In spite of those feelings, I picked up a couple of things for my wife. I try to show my appreciation for her every day, but you kind of have to do something on Valentine's Day because everyone else is doing something on Valentine's Day. It's a social expectations thing, even if you oppose the commercial aspect of the thing.

We took our kids to see The LEGO Batman Movie this evening. It was a pretty good film, although there were some slow parts to it. I think the kids liked it, and we enjoyed it as well. I ate too much popcorn, and that hasn't settled well. I do that every time I go to the movies.

A couple of months ago, I bought several boxes of old WNBA cards from the Steel City Collectibles website. I haven't sorted, scanned, or posted about those cards yet, but I'll get around to it. Included in the package was a scratch-off card that got me $10 off my next order. I debated for a while on what to get, and eventually settled on a box of 2016 Panini Prizm NASCAR.

This stuff is prototypical Prizm, although if you're used to the baseball version you might be shocked by all the logos that appear on the NASCAR cards. So many logos! A logo-less NASCAR set would be pretty silly. Just a bunch of folks standing around in onesie pajamas, and pictures of brightly-colored cars. I don't even know if they could leave the numbers on the cars, as many of them seem to have a particular font or style to them. Anyway, Panini has the NASCAR license, so we don't have to worry about that. I think I got around 55 base cards in the box, which leaves around 25 inserts, parallels, and my three promised hits. Much of the base set is your basic driver card, as illustrated by fan-favorite Dale Earnhardt Jr. up there.

There are also a few pictures of actual cars in the set. Danica Patrick announced today that Aspen Dental is taking on more races and becoming the primary sponsor of her # 10 car after the legal dispute with Nature's Bakery over payments owed to Stewart-Haas Racing. Kind of a messy ending to what seemed like a pretty good pairing of driver and sponsor. Unfortunately, money ruined that relationship and it looks like it isn't something that can be repaired.

The Daytona 500 car looks all right. I do wonder how far ahead Panini is in the planning cycle, and how long it will take them to make the sponsor switch on Danica's cards. I'll be keeping an eye out for that.

The Champions subset appropriately celebrates people who have won the NASCAR Championship. Pretty self-explanatory. I think most of the photos in this subset are similar celebration shots.

Driver Introductions is the subset that shows off waving, high-fives, and low-fives, as exhibited by Tony Stewart here. It's also an excuse to get popular drivers into another card on the checklist.

The final subset in the checklist features some NASCAR Hall of Famers, like Terry Labonte here. The final card in the set features all of the 2015 Chase drivers and the final standings, but I don't think I pulled that card in this box.

I pulled ten basic Prizm parallels. I scanned them all individually, probably with the intention of eventually filling in any hole I found in the Trading Card Database photos. I may have even uploaded some of them, but I can't remember at the moment if that is the case.

These are your pretty standard holofoil parallels. They are shiny and prone to picking up visible fingerprints when you handle them. I hate fingerprints on my cards, but it seems like any time I handle a shiny card I wind up getting at least a fingertip somewhere on the surface. I'm not going to wear cotton cloves while handling my cards, though. I'll leave that to other folks who are more uptight than I am.

I am running out of stuff to say, and there are still like three more rows of these things. This is where I begin to question some of my decisions. I could just delete a few photos (I deleted the scans of the card backs a few minutes ago - they look like the regular base cards, except they say PRIZM in that little box under the Panini name), but that feels like wasting the effort it took to scan and crop them. And what if there is someone out there just aching to see what a Matt DiBenedetto Prizm looks like? I have to please that person, because there probably aren't a lot of folks who are going to pull any of these cards and run them through the scanner for all the internet to enjoy, They are too busy looking for sick mojo hits and looking at pricing on bulk cotton gloves.

I do like it when card makers actually feature the cars on their cardboard. Ideally, the set would be a little bigger (or I guess Donruss NASCAR could do this) and feature cards for all the drivers and all the cars. They could even do the triptych idea from like 2011 Press Pass Stealth, where there are three cards for each team, featuring driver, car, and crew on the fronts and a puzzle that shows the team hauler on the back.

Here are the last two base Prizms. Ricky Stenhouse Jr. is not waving, high-fiving, or low-fiving anybody in his Driver Introductions photo. That's not gonna win the hearts of the fans, Ricky. You've got to know what to do with your hands if you're going to be a race car driver. Darrell Waltrip closes this section out. He looks relieved that I'm done talking about these things.

Darrell Waltrip hot box! In addition to the regular base cards, there are these SP base cards featuring famous racers of the past. Darrell Waltrip shares the number 17 in the checklist with Ricky Stenhouse Jr. There are also parallels of the SP base cards.

There are various colorful parallels in the set, like this Blue Flag Prizm of Tony Stewart. It is numbered # 20 / 99. It's nice when one of your better parallels in a box happens to be a person you collect. My Tony Stewart collection isn't something I really work on actively, but I am happy to hold on to any of his cards that I come across.

I also pulled this Gold parallel of Richard Petty's SP base card. It is pretty rare, numbered # 03 / 10. I'm not a huge Petty fan, but there's no mistaking his fame and his results on the track. It's pretty cool to get such a low-numbered card, though. It could have been like a # / 199 card of Keselowski or something.

I got two regular Competitors inserts and one Prizm parallel. Danica Patrick was one of them. I think this is probably a double or triple of this card. I don't know for sure, though.

Denny Hamlin was the other I got. I have a love/hate relationship with FedEx. I worked for them for a couple of years in between my first overseas deployment and being hired on in the building where I currently work. I liked working there for the most part, but when the economic downturn happened things changed a lot and it seemed like the company did a 180, and not in a good way. So that comes up when I see Hamlin's cards.

Logano was the Prizm parallel. I don't really have an opinion on Logano.

I got two Qualifying Times inserts in the box, one regular and one Prizm. Jimmie Johnson was the regular one. This insert features drivers who have won the pole position at some point. I like that these cards feature the driver and the car, and I kind of like the diagonal slashes in the design.

Danica Patrick makes another appearance here, with about the thousandth card to bring up her 2013 Daytona pole. It was a pretty big deal, but you'd like it if your highlight reel featured something more recent.

Winner's Circle is an insert that features every race winner from 2015. This is a good idea for an insert set in a NASCAR product. I hope it continues from year to year. 

I got two regular and two Prizm cards from this insert. I got one of each with Joey Logano on the front, although they are not duplicates. They highlight different victories. This one is for a victory at Talladega.

Here is a Jimmie Johnson Prizm. He figures pretty heavily in the checklist for the year as well, with a handful of race wins to his name for the year.

Finally, the last non-hit card of the post is the other Logano I mentioned above, this one for a win at Watkins Glen in August.

My first hit is a basic race-used tire relic from Kasey Kahne. It is not numbered or anything. The back of the card describes his performance in one particular race from 2015, but doesn't really mention whether the tire comes from that race. So maybe it did and maybe Panini just selected a race from 2015 to recap so that there would be something interesting to read on the back of the card.

The second hit of the box is a Matt Kenseth tire relic. This time it's a Red Flag parallel, numbered # 23 / 25. It's a pretty shiny card, and has a nice low print run. Too bad it's a driver that I don't have any feelings about either way.

The final hit of the box continues the Matt Kenseth trend. It's an autograph card, and again it is a parallel. This is the Green Flag version, numbered # 35 / 75. It's a pretty nice card, but again, it suffers in my book by featuring a driver that doesn't do much for me.

Overall this was a pretty solid box. I got a couple of PC cards, including a Danica Patrick Prizm insert and a numbered Tony Stewart parallel. Two of my hits had print runs under # / 100, and I also pulled a # / 10 parallel of Richard Petty. That's a pretty good bunch of pulls. I enjoy this product in spite of the relatively boring 'Wall of Silver' Prizm-ness of the base set. It's even better when I can get a discounted box.