12 February 2016

Wrapped in Plastic, It's Fantastic! 3

I hadn't planned on picking up anything from the 2015 Topps Archives Signature Series product, but as the cards started popping up on eBay I found that there were some items on the checklist that appealed to me. For this product Topps added foil stamps to buyback cards, had the baseball players autograph them, and then encased them in plastic slabs to sell in one-card boxes. I've already shown off a 1990 Topps Jim Abbott and a 1989 Topps Traded John Kruk card from the set, but there was one other name on the checklist that I wanted to chase down: Rollie Fingers.

My main problem was deciding which Rollie Fingers card to chase. I wanted one that showed his iconic mustache and I eventually settled on this 1981 Topps example. There is something odd going on with the 1981 Topps Rollie Fingers buybacks in this set. There are two different print runs, and I can't tell what differentiates them from each other. There are examples numbered # / 44 and examples # / 11. As far as I can tell they are the same cards, not reprints or O-Pee-Chee variations or anything like that. They are just the same card with different print runs. I put a lot of bids in on both types and eventually came away with one from the # / 11 print run, with this copy being # 06 / 11.

With the addition of this card I have acquired all the cards I set out to get from the 2015 Topps Archives Signature Series product. They make great additions to various parts of my collection. I think this was pretty neat as a one-shot product, but it has the potential to get stale unless each year has an entirely different checklist of players. I think that would be difficult to manage and it probably wouldn't be more than a couple of years before the pool of Hall of Famers and fan favorites got depleted to the point that Topps would be sorely tempted to reuse players. So I hope that Topps doesn't run this thing into the ground.

11 February 2016

Breaking It Down 29: 2011 Topps UFC Finest

I've still been participating in UFC and WWE breaks over at TeamBreaks.com, although at this point I am so far ahead on posts that I am posting cards that were opened up weeks ago. I think I mentioned in my last Breaking It Down post that for a couple of weeks in a row I won some break credit in the post-break giveaways, so I was playing with house money. One of the breaks I bought into with my credit was a box of 2011 Topps Finest UFC cards. To keep break slots cheap they do one-box breaks, and each slot gets a certain number of names from the checklist. Any relics, autos, or cards serially-numbered to # / 25 or lower go to the person who drew that fighter's name. There are usually separate slots for base, parallels, and inserts.

One of my names for the Finest break was Dustin Poirier, and I got two hits featuring him out of the six hits in the box. The first was a base Finest Fighters autograph and the second was a Jumbo Finest Threads Relic Card with a giant octagonal swatch of yellow fabric. Not too bad for a free break slot. His most recent fight was on January 2nd in the Preliminaries of UFC 195, a win by decision over Joseph Duffy.

10 February 2016

Pack of the Day 123: 2013 Topps Heritage Baseball

Before these posts about the retail and repacked cards I bought in January were interrupted by the release of 2016 Topps Series 1, I opened a pack of 2014 Topps Update from the repack box and didn't have much to say about those cards. Well, I have even less to say about today's pack, a 9-card pack of 2013 Topps Heritage. I got back into card collecting in late 2013, and this is one set that I never really got into. I went all-in on 2014 and 2015 Heritage, but the 2013 and earlier releases never grabbed my attention.

Carlos Gomez has been making frequent appearances in this repack. I really hope that he and the Astros can keep up the momentum they built last season and do well again this year. A deeper run in the playoffs would be ideal, but every fan base out there is hoping for the same thing.

I don't even know what to say about these cards. This is the kind of pack that reminds me why I have turned to just buying hand-collated sets for the most part. I know that Heritage is all about the set-building and less about the inserts and flashy junk, but buying a one-off pack of Heritage is about the least exciting thing I can imagine outside of maybe something from the junk wax era or Panini Triple Play, which I don't even open half the time anymore.

This is the 9th card that makes trouble when I try to break things up into even scans. I could have done a full 9-card page, I suppose, but that gets to be too many cards in one picture and I can't handle that. I am not a Giants fan at all and for the most part I find fans of the Giants and 49ers to be irritating. It must be something in the water down there. I have a couple of friends who are fans of those teams and I tolerate them because they have other redeeming qualities, but whenever they start going off about their teams I have to walk away for a while.

09 February 2016

2016 BBM True Heart Japanese Women's Pro Wrestling

Although 2016 Topps Baseball Series 1 is a pretty exciting release at this time of year, the set I was really looking forward to was the latest installment of BBM True Heart Women's Pro Wrestling cards. They came out right at the end of January and it took a few days for my three-box order to cross the Pacific Ocean and move through customs, but they arrived mostly intact (the outer box was split along the sides and it caused a little damage to one box of cards which meant that some of the cards had little dings on their edges.

This first photo is the box lid, featuring the usual assortment of stars from the various wrestling promotions represented in the card set. It also gives some information along the bottom, telling you that there are 20 packs with seven cards each per box, along with what I'm assuming are suggested prices of 8,000 JPY (about $68.50 as of this writing) per box and 400 JPY (about $3.42 right now) per pack. The currencies move around relative to each other every day, so it's hard to nail down an exact price unless you pay with Paypal. I had a coupon and paid a lower initial price per box for mine, but shipping brought it back up to about $60 per box for the overall transaction. I did earn some points for my next purchase, too, which will be good for a few dollars when I use them.

I folded out the rest of the box here. The sides of the box contain what you'd expect to see, with more pictures of wrestlers along the sides, set name on the front, and company information on the back. The bottom of the box contains the checklist. There are 126 base cards in the set this year, with a couple of small subsets at the end of the checklist. Most of the wrestlers have autographs in the product, with print runs in the 85-100 range for each autograph. There are a couple of wrestlers with smaller print runs. There are a couple of additional types of hit, with inscription autos (special colored ink, more elaborate signatures, and a print run of # / 5) and Polaroid photos (candid shots on instant-camera photos, autographed with a print run of # / 7). Collectors in Japan can also attend special card shop events and get autographs that are unnumbered but usually have different ink and inscriptions.

The pack design replicates the design of the box. Again, each pack contains 7 cards. the back of the pack shows a small breakdown of the checklist, with 113 base wrestlers, 4 wrestling teams, 5 Hall of Fame cards, and 4 candid/casual photos. I scanned a lot of cards for this post, so at some point I might run out of words.

Aja Kong - 朱崇花 / Cassandra Miyagi - カサンドラ宮城 / Haruka Kato - 加藤 悠
Kyoko Kimura - 木村響子 / Kuroneko (Moeka Haruhi) - クロネコ / Command Bolshoi - コマンド・ボリショイ
The collation was pretty consistent, if somewhat frustrating, across my three boxes. There are 140 cards per box. Box 1 contained 5 special cards, 110 / 126 base cards, and 25 duplicates. Box 2 contained 5 special cards, 110 / 126 base cards, and 25 duplicates. Box 3 contained 6 special cards, 110 / 126 base cards, and 24 duplicates. Because of the way the duplicates fell I have a couple cards in the checklist where I have 1 copy and others where I have 5 copies. So I have enough cards for three base sets but I only have one complete base set.

The cards don't deviate too much from the established format for these sets. As I was opening the cards I actually thought that I was seeing repeat photos throughout the set, but I went back and checked them against the 2015 cards and found that the pictures on the card fronts in many cases were from the same photo shoot but at least featured slightly different poses. The photos on the backs mostly show in-ring action.

Meiko Satomura - 里村明衣子 / Sawako Shimono - 下野佐和子 / Dash Chisako - DASH・チサコ
Dump Matsumoto - ダンプ松本 / Maki Narumiya - 成宮真希 / Hyper Misao - ハイパーミサヲ
I tried to scan wrestlers with interesting gimmicks or props for this post to keep interest up, as well as some of my personal favorites. The problem with that approach is that I sometimes scan in a wrestler whose name I can't track down easily. That makes these posts pretty labor-intensive at times. A good example is Kuroneko from the previous batch of cards. She is a masked alter-ego for Moeka Haruhi, but when you input the Japanese text into a search engine you get a bunch of pictures of black cats. Other times I'll put in a name and it will turn out to be a common name or the name of a popular anime/manga character and the search results will be flooded with all of that stuff. It seems inevitable that I will misidentify someone at some point, so if any readers out there have corrections or insight into something I've missed I am receptive to that sort of thing. 

I think this is about the point where I run out of steam when it comes to writing words in between the pictures. Luckily I've got some scans coming up with points I want to hit, so I just have to get through this paragraph and hopefully the writing process will pick back up.

Hibiscus Mii (Apple Miyuki) - ハイビスカスみぃ / Chihiro Hashimoto - 橋下千紘 / Ayako Hamada - 浜田文子
Bambi - バンビ / Akane Fujita - 藤田あかね / Hiroyo Matsumoto - 松本浩代
There's quite a bit going on in this group of pictures. The main thing I noticed was the A&W logo on Hibiscus Mii's uniform. After a little searching I found a Tweet on her Twitter account saying that she is sponsored by A&W through the Higa Distillery. Bambi is another one of those wrestlers who was difficult to find because searching her name brought up a million cartoon deer. The baseball that Akane Fujita is holding in her photo clearly shows Chunichi Dragons branding. I'm not 100% sure if there is a connection there. I am also not certain why Hiroyo Matsumoto is sporting a Godzilla hand puppet.

Ayako Hamada has a bit of a following in the blogosphere because of Sportscards From The Dollar Store's 2/14 collection, featuring cards of people who share his Valentine's Day birth date. There are actually a few other wrestlers who have that birth date. I've had a small stack of cards set aside to send to him for a long time now, probably well over a year. One of these days I will find it again and ship it out.

Aoi Kizuki - 希月あおい / Tsukasa Fujimoto - 藤本つかさ
Makoto - 真琴 / Mochi Miyagi - 宮城もち
There aren't a lot of horizontal cards in the set, but there are a few. I guess for the most part they feature the sitting / lying down poses.

The card backs on these cards are horizontal, too, which is something you don't usually see in a sports card set. I guess it works out. I'm not sure why Tsukasa Fujimoto gets a full banner across the top and the others don't. It's probably just because she has that horizontal photo while the others have vertically-formatted photos.

Ryo Mizunami - 水波 綾 / Yapper-Man No. 3 (Misaki Ohata) - ヤッペーマン3号 / Megumi Yabushita - 藪下めぐみ
Kaori Yoneyama - 米山香織 / Rabbit Miu - ラビット美兎 / Ray (Lin Byron)  - Ray
I wasn't even going to do this scan, but I ran into a bunch of favorite wrestlers at the end of the checklist and had to grab a couple more to do the full scan of six cards. There are a lot of wrestlers who wrestle both as themselves and under one or more masked identities. I guess that allows them to participate in comedy matches or explore other characters and personalities without throwing off the story lines of their main identities.

One thing the new set has done is make me want to watch some more matches. I've kind of gotten away from that over the last little while as there is a lot of other stuff competing for my attention. But with the NFL season being over (I am writing this last Saturday, so I don't know the result of the Super Bowl yet) and some other things settling down I should be able to work in some time to watch at least some wrestling.

Best Friends - ベストフレンズ / Mio Shirai - 紫雷美央 / Neko Nitta - 新田猫子
Sendai Sachiko - 仙台幸子 / Fairy Nihonbashi - フェアリー日本橋 / Yuka - 優華
I'll close out the base set with a look at the subsets. The first one features wrestling team-ups. Here the subset is represented by the Best Friends tag team made up of Arisa Nakajima and Tsukasa Fujimoto. The next subset is Hall of Fame, which is made up of notable wrestlers who had their retirement matches in 2015. There are some pretty big names there. The final subset name translates to Plainclothes Appearance and features a handful of wrestlers in their street clothes. I always think it's interesting to see the masked wrestlers wearing regular clothes.

The backs of most of the retirement cards show scenes from the wrestler's actual retirement event, so there's a lot of stuff like being carried around by other wrestlers and tons of ribbon being thrown into the ring. The backs of the casual photo cards feature facsimile autographs and additional photos.

Yuka Sakazaki - 坂崎ユカ / Riho - 里歩
Shoko Nakajima - 中島翔子 / Misaki Ohata - 大畠美咲
Police Woman - ポリスウ~メン
These are the autographs from the first box I opened. They are all base autographs, but you can see that the wrestlers put a lot of extra stuff into their autographs, like doodles, hearts, and inscriptions. All of these are serially-numbered to # / 85 except Police Woman, which is serially-numbered to # / 100.

Makoto - 真琴
The second box of cards had a Polaroid as one of the hits. You can see that it's got an autograph and inscription from Makoto, as well as a couple of hearts. These are pretty cool hits and they are pretty rare, too. This one is numbered # 3 / 7.

Sumire Natsu - 夏 すみれ / Miyako Matsumoto - 松本 都
Sareee - Sareee / Kagetsu - 花月
Box 2 also contained a decent selection of four base autographs for a total of 5 hits in the box, which seems to be the average for these boxes. The print runs again are all right around # / 85, with Sumire Natsu being # 14 / 84, Miyako Matsumoto being # 47 / 85, Sareee is # 72 / 82, and Kagestu is # 10 / 85.

Aoi Kizuki - 希月あおい / Tomoko Watanabe - 渡辺智子
Yapper-Man No. 3 (Misaki Ohata) - ヤッペーマン3号 / Moeka Haruhi - 春日萌花
Dynamite Kansai - ダイナマイト・関西 / ShuTakashihana (Asuka) - 朱崇花
The final box had an extra hit, for a total of 6 autographs. They are all base autographs, but I got some pretty good ones. Aoi Kizuki has a nice colorful signature on her card with some blue sparkles thrown in. At first I thought it might be one of the special limited inscription autographs, but it wasn't. I'm a fan of Misaki Ohata's Yapper-Man No. 3 character, so it was cool to pull that card from a pack. ShuTakashihana (Asuka) is the first transgender joshi. Asuka's base autograph has a lower print run than all but one other wrestler in the set, with my copy being numbered # 38 / 43. The rest fall in the normal print range, with between 83 and 99 copies in a given print run.

That does it for my rundown of the 2016 BBM True Heart Japanese Women's Wrestling card set. I pulled some pretty good stuff from my boxes and I'll probably be trying to get more as the year goes on. I'd like to track down one of the # / 5 inscription autographs, but we'll see how it goes. I'd also like to build up my collection of base cards so that I don't have just the one base set. There were some base sets on eBay for about $30 shipped recently, but I don't know if the seller is going to relist them. I like opening the boxes, though, because you get so many autographs per box and those generally sell for more than I want to pay on eBay or as singles from websites. I'd say the average price including shipping is probably around $10 with more for bigger stars, so it makes sense to get your $50-60 worth of autographs in a box and get all the base, too.

08 February 2016

At Long Last, the Downton Abbey Master Set is Complete*

For the last couple of years my wife and I have been working hard at erasing the financial mistakes of our 20's and early 30's, when we built up a sizable amount of debt by buying silly things. In early 2015 we really got down to business and our balances began to shrink. It's been pretty slow at times but we've been chipping away at it and we've made consistent progress for the first time, paying down about 20% of our credit card balances since we began our program. It is really tough but every time we pay off another account it frees up that monthly payment for other things, so our standard of living gets better and we are able to pay down more of our balances every month. It's still embarrassing how much we pay in interest every month, but at least now we are taking productive measures to improve our position.

This brings us to a windfall we came into recently. After talking about it some we decided that most of the money would go straight to our worst debt, a credit card that has plagued us since the early days of our marriage. We should be able to pay off the balance on that card and be done with it forever with this money and our tax return. It's a pretty big deal, as cutting that balance will reduce our credit balance by another 15% or so. The other part of the plan was to set aside some spending money for each of us to celebrate the progress we've made and help us get through another year of paying down balances. My wife is having trouble deciding what she wants, but I have a whole list ready at all times for just such an occasion. Today's card is the first arrival from my list:

I believe it was in late 2014 that I purchased a whole case of Cryptozoic's Downton Abbey trading cards (probably one of the crazy expenditures that led to the start of our debt elimination program), hoping to put together a master set of the product. I came close, but I was still missing a few things. I picked up a couple of missing autographs from eBay and Blowout forum sellers; I was able to source the last singles from the mini parallel set from another Blowout forum member and some British sellers; I got the special binder with the exclusive wardrobe card from an online card shop; I ordered the special Non-Sport Update magazine issue with the standard promo card; and I waited a long time and spent way too much money to get the limited edition metal promo card that was only distributed at a card show in Britain.

The one thing that eluded me was a sketch card. The sketches came in two varieties; full-size sketch cards and tobacco-sized mini sketches. They are quite uncommon, falling at less than one per case. The ones that have been sitting on eBay forever are all pretty pricey. This mini-sized sketch card was the cheapest of the lot and luckily it features my favorite character from the show, Mr. Carson, the butler of Downton Abbey. The sketch was done by Gabby Untermayerova, who doesn't seem to have much of a web presence at the moment. I've had it saved in my eBay want list for what seems like years, always worrying that it would be sold before I got around to hitting the Buy It Now button. Now it's mine.

*At this point I am pretty much calling my set complete, although in theory I would still need a full-size sketch from the set to have a representation of everything available. That's going to carry a pretty big price tag, though, even for the cheapest full-size sketch available. I'll probably have to think for another year or so on that. Most of the sketches out there have already been posted for that long or more, so they'll probably still be around then. Someday I need to scan and photograph everything I've gathered and do a nice comprehensive post on the set. That's a lot of work, though, so it's going to be a while before I get around to it.

07 February 2016

The Denver Broncos are the Super Bowl 50 Champions!

I came into today's Super Bowl with very low expectations. Visions of 2014 danced in my head, when the Denver Broncos were destroyed by the Seattle Seahawks from the very first snap of Super Bowl XLVIII. This year's team is a very different squad, but Peyton Manning isn't as good as he once was and I wasn't sure if the defense could keep up with Cam Newton and the Carolina Panthers. I'd been able to play it cool since the Broncos held on to beat New England in the AFC Championship game, but about 30 minutes before kickoff my anxiety level went through the roof and stayed that way until late in the 4th quarter when the Broncos had the game won.

Denver's offense and defense played as advertised, with the defense putting in a dominant, crushing effort and the offense limping along just enough to keep the score out of reach for the Panthers. Cam Newton was knocked around all game and when he wasn't giving up the ball then Mike Tolbert was there to drop it on the ground. It wasn't a pretty game (at least from an offensive perspective), but it was nice and tense and featured some good moments, like Eli Manning's deadpan reaction to his brother Peyton locking up a 2nd Super Bowl ring:

After so much playoff disappointment since Peyton Manning was brought into Denver, it is nice to see it pay off in a huge way with another Championship to add to the two that John Elway won under center. I was happy to see C.J. Anderson break open some really good runs, as he never seems to get enough carries to really get going. About the only thing that would have made this game better for me would have been to have Peyton Manning throw for a touchdown, but that just wasn't in the cards. I wasn't a big fan of Aqib Talib getting penalized a billion times for being a cocky jerk, but in the end it didn't cost Denver the game so I guess I can live with it.

I haven't gathered nearly enough Manning cardboard, but football cards haven't ever been my top sport of choice for collecting. It'd be nice to build up that PC some more, but there are so many other collections I have going that it's hard to allocate time and resources to another one. Regardless of all that I am pretty excited about the Broncos bringing home another Championship.

Pink Press Pass Patrick Parallel

I keep expecting that I will run out of NASCAR cards to post about, but I keep finding cards in my price range to post about on Sundays, my customary day for posting racing cards. This time I've got a Magenta Proof parallel of Danica Patrick from 2013 Press Pass Racing. I believe these were a retail-only parallel and are unnumbered. The seller had two other Magenta Danica cards from this set up for sale, but other buyers bid more than the opening bid on them and I wound up winning just the one with my initial bid.

NASCAR doesn't start back up for another couple of weeks, so my focus lately has been on other things. The Super Bowl is the main thing right now, and I am just hoping against hope that the Broncos don't put up another game like their terrible showing a couple of years ago versus the Seahawks. I would like them to win, of course, but even a good competitive game would (kinda) be okay.

I've been watching the Houston Rockets fumble their way through the NBA season. They will probably make the playoffs as a 7 or 8 seed, but I can't see them winning a series against any of the teams ahead of them in the standings. The re-acquisition of Josh Smith shows that they are trying, but I just don't think the James Harden - Dwight Howard pairing is enough to compete with the big dogs in the Western Conference.

Yahoo! recently opened up their Fantasy Baseball game for registration, so I am looking forward to setting up some teams and studying projections for the upcoming baseball season. The Astros signed Doug Fister to a deal, news which will be a couple of weeks in the past by the time this post goes live. I hope he can be 2011-2014 Doug Fister more than 2015 Doug Fister. All of the free agency news and the anticipation of a new season have had me toying with the idea of re-opening up my copy of Out of the Park 16, the super-detailed baseball front office simulator. I am hesitant to do so, though, because that game sucks me in for weeks at a time. Last year I created a league based in the Pacific Northwest that randomly added historical MLB players to the drafts, then I played through many many seasons, chasing those elusive playoff spots and championship trophies. I would recommend against playing OOTP if you have anything else going on in your life, because the quest for just one more winning season will cause you to neglect school, work, sleep, family, and basic personal hygiene routines. With that being said I am sure that OOTP 17 will be releasing fairly soon, and I can't wait to see what it has in store!