Saturday, February 28, 2015

Pack of the Day 91: 2014 Topps Heritage High Numbers Box Set

The 2015 sets are rolling out now, but my mind has been on the past. Thinking about completing upcoming sets serves to remind me that each passing year adds a number of partially-completed sets to my card collection. One of the worst examples from 2014 was the Topps Heritage set, with cruddy collation and those damnable short-printed cards (SPs). I determined that since I am not extremely fond of this year's Heritage design, I would instead focus on finishing off my 2014 set. I ordered a bunch of the SPs I was missing from sellers on Check Out My Cards, but none of those appear in this post.

I had thus far avoided the Heritage High Numbers box set as an extraneous and irritating addition to an already frustrating set, but I kind of like some of the players included in the checklist. The set was packed out as a 101-card box set, with the 100 cards from 501-600 in the checklist and one autograph card. I shopped around and tried to decide whether I should order a sealed set or an opened set that had the autograph already removed. Eventually I decided to place a Best Offer with Dave & Adam's eBay store for a sealed set. It wasn't that much more than a set missing an autograph, and there was a chance I could pull something good.

As far as I know, you get the same 100 cards in every set. I don't think there are photo variations or anything tricky in the Heritage High Numbers set. I heard rumors of sets showing up with a lot of damage after the release last year, but mine arrived in great shape. I pulled a few cards and scanned them for this post. Tanaka was one of the Big 2 rookies last year, pitching extremely well prior to his arm injury. Dee Gordon had a good year for his fantasy baseball managers, stealing approximately ten thousand bases. Collin McHugh had a pretty good year for the Astros last year. Hopefully he can keep it up this year. Oscar Taveras had a promising career (and life) cut short by making a poor decision about alcohol and driving, and unfortunately also wound up killing his young girlfriend in the wreck, too. It's to bad, but it's hard to feel overly sorry for a guy who gets himself into that situation.

Doolittle had a pretty solid season in 2014, making the All-Star team, but he is injured and will miss some amount of time. The closer role is one that can be hard to reclaim if your injury replacement is lighting it up, so we'll see what role he gets this year. Billy Hamilton is the super-speedy prospect who is projected to steal approximately 5000 bases per year, but last year he got caught stealing a whole lot and had a hard time getting on base so that he could actually run wild on the basepaths. Neshek is a very good reliever who signed with the Astros and might even get a chance to close for them this year. He also is a card collector and a friend to hobbyists. Mike Morse just gets included because of his card photo, in which he is channeling the spirit of a sleepy Keanu Reeves.

George Springer is one of the Astros other hot young players, and hopefully this year the team will take some steps forward. Betances had ridiculous numbers last year, and will hopefully be able to keep it up this season. I think he is going to get a shot at the closer role with the Yankees now that Robertson has moved on. That should be a pretty good gig. Samardzija got into some sets as an Athletic after his mid-season move from the Cubs, but now he's with the White Sox. Hopefully he does well with his new team. Jose Abreu should provide plenty of run support for Samardzija's starts as he was last year's big story, mashing the ball all over the place on his way to an All-Star berth, a Rookie of the Year award, a Silver Slugger award, and a 4th-place finish in the MVP race. That's all the base cards I scanned, which leaves me with just the autograph. Unfortunately my autograph was a redemption card...

...but it was a pretty good one. I got a Real One Autograph of Jose Abreu. It's the base version rather than the photo variation or the short-printed Red Ink version, but this is one of the best cards I could have pulled from this set. It looks like there are some of these live at the moment, so I shouldn't have any trouble getting the card from Topps. I am pretty happy that my gamble to go with the sealed set paid off. I am not sure whether I will sell the card when it gets here. It might be kind of cool to keep it. I don't have an Abreu auto, and the Heritage autographs tend to look pretty nice.

That's it for my Heritage High numbers box set. I imagine I will do a post on the Abreu card whenever it arrives in the mail. Once my COMC order comes in I should be pretty close to finishing my 2014 Topps Heritage set, with just a couple more cards to locate.

Friday, February 27, 2015

Go Home, 90's; You're Drunk: Hakeem Olajuwon Gravity Denied

Sometimes you look at cards from a certain set or time period, and you say, "What the heck were they thinking?" Most of the time that period is the 90's, or the 70's, but each decade has its share of weird cards. I'd seen a few copies of today's card on eBay, and I decided I just needed to buy a copy to see what it was all about.

The thing that really intrigued me is that grommet in the upper right. Why was it there? What did it do? Was this intended to be hung on your keyring? So many questions. I don't think it looks quite that scratched up in real life, but I could be wrong. I guess I should mention that this card features my favorite basketball player, Hakeem Olajuwon. The insert set is called Gravity Denied, and comes from '97-'98 eX2001, probably a Skybox product.

Fleer was nice enough to list the set name on the back of the card. This is especially helpful for years I was away from card collecting and there were a million sets put out by thousands of brands, The back also contains the usual paragraph of text extolling the virtues of the featured player. But what is the grommet in the corner for?

Apparently it's for an acetate layer containing a color photo that swivels up to reveal a sepia-toned version of the same photo. Now that we know what it does, the question that remains unanswered is, "Why?"

Thursday, February 26, 2015

Workin' at the Card Shop 6: Another Year of Spring Fever

A week or so ago I went in to the local card shop to redeem the Spring Fever coupons I received when I purchased my Hobby box of 2015 Topps Series 1. When all was said and done I got 5 Spring Fever packs, each containing 5 cards. I didn't pull any autographs or anything out of the packs, but I also didn't pull any doubles. I chose nine notable cards to scan for this post, either PC guys or guys who are popular among the bloggers. I was surprised to find myself including two San Francisco Giants among the chosen, as I find that fans of San Francisco teams are largely insufferable. But I consider Bumgarner and Pence to be faces of baseball, as in 'guys who make amazing faces on their baseball cards.' Bumgarner's Ugly Pitching Face (UPF) is legendary, and Pence is an All-Out Effort Guy who sticks his tongue out and pops his eyes so you know he's turning it up to 11.

I don't like this year's Spring Fever set as much as I liked the 2014 incarnation, as that set was LOUD. The colors on the 2015 set are darker and more muted, and the foil isn't as rainbow-laced either. Maybe the Atlanta Braves called Topps and demanded a more reserved set that respected the traditions of the game. Or maybe Cal Ripken Jr. tore up the Topps employees' new suits and beat them up a bit to teach them respect for veteran players. Either way, the cards are subdued this year and that makes me like them a little bit less. I still grabbed a full set of them anyway. I do still want them in my collection.

While I was in the shop I decided I ought to actually purchase something. I had intended to try out a pack of Panini's Country Music release to see if I could pull a Joe Diffie auto/relic, but in a surprise development the stuff had sold out. I panicked and asked to instead grab a couple Jumbo packs of Series 1 Baseball. The box he had open had three packs remaining, so I grabbed them all. This Manny Machado MLB Silhouette Logo Pin manu-relic (Manny-relic?) was inside one of the packs. I believe all the manu-relics combine to fall one per box, so this qualifies as a box hit. It's a fairly sharp-looking card.

Here's the back of the card, with the usual praise of Machado's superstar potential. We'll see if he can live up to it and put up a few healthy and productive seasons.

One of the other packs contained this heavy card, a Silver-Framed Parallel of David Murphy, numbered # 17 / 20. The Silver-Framed cards are base cards with their edges cut off that are then pasted into thick metal frames. They are pretty hefty cards and make for a nice novelty item.

I believe the Silver-Framed cards are seeded about one per case, so it was pretty lucky to buy three packs and pull a box hit as well as a case hit. I hope that next year Topps brings back the wilder colors on their Spring Fever cards. I need that splash of color to help me get through February.

Wednesday, February 25, 2015

Pack of the Day 90: Topps Star Wars Masterwork Box Break: Pack 4 (of 4)

Here is the fourth and final pack of my box of Star Wars Masterwork trading cards, featuring five cards from Topps' super-premium Star Wars offering. So far the pulls have been decent but not spectacular, and while it's not the worst break of this stuff I've seen, it certainly hasn't blown me away with awesomeness. Let's see what Pack 4 does to that perception.

The base cards start things out well enough, with two of the more popular characters in the Star Wars canon, premiere bounty hunter Boba Fett and the swashbuckling smuggler / reluctant hero Han Solo. These are decent pulls, I suppose.

Next up is a Blue parallel of Wicket W. Warrick, one of the named Ewoks in the films. I've never really liked the Ewoks, but some people think they are cool / cute. I think they are creepy and their battle scenes make me think that the Empire should have put a little more effort into recruiting Stormtroopers.

Next up is a base Companions insert of Jango and Boba Fett. I like the daring choice to go with a purple border on this set. I could think of pairs from the films that I like more than Jango and Boba, but someone has to play the role of checklist-filler. With four cards out of the way, there's only one card left in the box, and it's... okay but not great sketch of a Stormtrooper by David Fabbri, who did a buttload of variations on this sketch for the set. So the market is flooded with Sandtroopers, Snowtroopers, Scout Troopers, and Stormtroopers in approximately this same pose. Oh well, at least it's a sketch. Most of the boxes in this product carry two sketches, so this didn't really come as a surprise to me.

Fabbri didn't sign the backs of his cards, so the Artist Signature block on the card is blank. And with that, my box break of Star Wars Masterwork reaches its conclusion. How do I feel? I did better than I could have, but overall the box was decidedly ordinary and didn't quite live up to the price tag. I probably got more value out of the anticipation and daydreaming I did while waiting for the box to get to my mailbox. I'll be able to recoup some of the money I spent by selling a few items I pulled, and maybe that will be enough to fill out a couple of the insert sets and get representative items from some of the relic sets. That way I can build a mini-master set of sorts. I'd love to build the full base set, but those short-printed cards are tough to find, and they carry a premium.

Tuesday, February 24, 2015

Pack of the Day 89: Topps Star Wars Masterwork Box Break: Pack 3 (of 4)

Here is Pack 3 of the Star Wars Masterwork box I opened. We are past the halfway point on the box now, having pulled a Luke Skywalker manu-relic and a Lee Lightfoot painted sketch card as the hits in the first two packs.

The two base cards in the pack are Sy Snootles, lead singer for Jabba's house band, and Captain Piett, who was promoted to Admiral after watching Darth Vader Force choke his predecessor to death for incompetence and later died in a space battle.

The 4-LOM card is a Blue parallel. The Blue cards are not serially-numbered and can easily be mistaken for base cards. The Tusken Raider is from the insert set Scum and Villainy, which highlights villains from the Star Wars universe. Like the other basic inserts in the product, this is a 10-card set.

And here is the hit for the box, a base autograph of Tim Rose as Admiral Ackbar. Being a base autograph of a middle-tier character makes this sort of a low-end hit. Ackbar is one of my personal favorite characters though, so if I wasn't going to pull a Carrie Fisher or Harrison Ford autograph this would be the one for me to get. With the promised autograph and sketch card out of the way, this box is pretty darn average. I like the cards well enough and I'm glad to pull an Ackbar PC hit, but nothing has blown me off my feet and so far I haven't seen any of the rarer parallels or variations, like acetate, wood, or metal-framed cards.

Monday, February 23, 2015

Pack of the Day 88: Topps Star Wars Masterwork Box Break: Pack 2 (of 4)

Here I am with Pack 2 of the box of Topps Star Wars Masterwork that I opened up. Again, each box has four packs and each pack has five cards, with one card in each pack being a hit (sketch, manu-relic, autograph, real relic).

Since I got the SP for the box in the first pack, the rest of the base cards from here on out are of the regular variety. This pack yielded the heroic Obi-Wan Kenobi and the villainous Count Dooku.

The Chief Chirpa is a Green Metallic parallel, numbered # 27 / 50. It's got a green background, holographic foil, and the textured accents around the edges are a bit different than on the base cards. The card on the right is a Defining Moments insert of Darth Vader. This set is a 10-card set featuring key moments in different characters' lives. The back of the card discusses the moment when Darth Vader turns against the Dark Side and throws the Emperor to his death in order to protect Luke.

The final card in the pack is the sketch card, a miniature painting by artist Lee Lightfoot featuring Luke Skywalker and Obi-Wan in the foreground and R2-D2 in the background. You kind of have to view the card at a distance in order to get the effect of the painting.I'm still not 100% sure what all the other noise in the background is. Maybe if I had watched the movies more recently I would recognize the scene. Given what I have seen pulled out of boxes this is probably an above-average sketch card, but not quite in the top tiers when it comes to sketches in the set.

edit: Corky from the blog Pack War has informed me in the comments exactly where this scene fits into the films. He says, "The sketch card, which is quite awesome, comes from a scene in Return of the Jedi when Luke returns to Dagobah right before Yoda dies. When he leaves Yoda's home he walks around his X-Wing (which is in the background of the sketch card with R2-D2) and he sees Obi-Wan's ghost who goes on to explain why he didn't tell Luke that Vader was Anakin Skywalker." I thought the scene was on Dagobah, but I couldn't remember a time when Obi-Wan had visited Dagobah. It turns out it was his ghost. Thanks, Corky!

Topps provided a signature block on the back for artists to sign their work. Some artists used the space, some artists didn't, and many of the signatures are still unreadable. I looked at a ton of breaks of this product, so I was familiar with Lightfoot's style and could make out the signature. I do wish that artists in these sketch card sets would print their names on the cards somewhere, though. It would make things easier.

And that's it for Pack 2 of the box. I'll probably post the last two packs fairly soon. So far the box shows a little promise, but it hasn't been eye-poppingly spectacular.

Sunday, February 22, 2015

Daytona 500, The Start of the NASCAR Season

It's been over a month since I last featured a NASCAR card on the blog, although I did show off a Josh Wise die-cast car a couple of weeks ago. The Daytona 500 race happened today, and Joey Logano came away with the win. I meant to watch at least part of the race, but I got caught up in other things and forgot about it until the race was nearly over. My kids were watching cartoons and I didn't want to deal with all the whining and complaining that would go on if I interrupted their show just so I could watch a few minutes of a car race.

Looking at the drivers I cheer for was a mixed bag of results. Josh Wise ran just one lap in his qualifying race due to electrical problems and did not make the field for the Daytona 500. Dale Earnhardt Jr. started 3rd and finished in 3rd, leading 32 laps during the race. Tony Stewart crashed out after 72 laps and finished in 42nd place after starting the race in 7th. Danica Patrick started the race in 20th, but had to move to the back of the pack because she switched cars during the week after two crashes with Denny Hamlin during practice and qualifying in the week prior to the race. She moved up briefly into the top 10 during the race, but turned in a middling 21st-place finish at the end.

The card featured in this post is part of a large lot I picked up on eBay several months ago when it appeared that two Danica collectors were clearing out their collections. I didn't get much from them, but I did manage to grab a host of parallels from various Press Pass base sets. Most of the cards I got were cards featuring Danica's car, crew, or hauler, but I did manage to get this card featuring the driver herself. It's from 2012 Press Pass and is the Purple parallel. This copy is numbered # 32 / 35.