29 February 2016

When Real-Life Stuff Sucks - Three BBM True Heart Autographs

I bought a couple of 2016 BBM True Heart Autographs off of an eBay seller who seems to have a lot of this stuff. The main thing I was after was this Command Bolshoi limited inscription autograph. These differ from the base autographs because they use different ink colors and most of them carry an inscription of some kind. They are also numbered # / 5 while most of the base autos are numbered around # / 100. I still don't have a copy of her base auto from the set, but I'm working on it. I've been working on gathering her autographs from every set I can, but I'm kind of at the mercy of the online marketplace. Luckily for me the Command Bolshoi cards that come to market tend to stay there until I buy them, so I'm not in a huge hurry to get them. I'm apparently the only Bolshoi super-collector. This one is different from some of her other cards in that she isn't wearing her giant coat. You can see that she's absolutely shredded. She competes as a bodybuilder in addition to the wrestling thing. This one is # 4 / 5 and saves me the trouble of importing more boxes in a futile search for a very limited card.

This one is a base autograph of Rika Tatsumi. It has pink ink for the autograph, but it's a base auto numbered # 49 / 81. I grabbed this one because it was cheap, especially after combined shipping, and because of the little cat picture and the fact that she wrote her Twitter handle ( @doratles ) as an inscription. I don't know anything else about her as a wrestler. You don't get autographs like this from ballplayers, that's for sure.

I picked up this 2015 autograph from the same seller a little while after I got the 2016 cards. This card features masked wrestler Ray, who also wrestles unmasked as Lin Byron. This cards is numbered # 21 / 90.

A little while ago the news broke on several wrestling sites and forums that Ray had gone in for concussion testing and doctors found an inoperable tumor on her brain. For whatever reason that news hit me pretty hard. I didn't flip out or cry or anything, but it's something I've been dwelling on from time to time over the last couple of weeks. It's just kind of weird when real-world troubles push their way into our little cardboard worlds.

Command Bolshoi posted a couple of photos of her and Ray on her Facebook page to help promote a wrestling show that JWP is doing as a benefit for medical expenses and moral support. It's pretty cool that the wrestling community in Japan is so close. It seems like any time a wrestler has some hardship come up in life they get together to do a benefit show in that person's honor. Ray has promised to continue seeking treatment options and make wrestling appearances when she can. A brain tumor is a pretty rough thing to get past, though. I am a pessimistic person by nature, but I hope she can find some non-surgical option that will work out for her.

28 February 2016

Just the Commons, Ma'am 10: John Kruk 1986 - 1992

After I picked up his 2015 Topps Archives Signature Series card I went a little crazy and ordered a whole John Kruk player collection from the Just Commons website. As usual there was a card that came up missing in their inventory, but they sent me a refund pretty quickly for it. Their prices on singles are pretty good and you get free shipping on orders over $15, but it takes a while to fill orders, there is usually at least one card missing from your order, and I am not a fan of their packaging methods. Just Commons fills a particular niche that I find valuable, so in spite of my complaints I will keep using them. This is a pretty nice bunch of cardboard, but there sure is a lot of it. I scanned it all grouped by year, and this first batch goes from 1986 to 1992.

I have a passing familiarity with all of these sets, but for the most part they predate my entry into collecting. I do vaguely remember having a giant stack of 1987 Topps that I got from somewhere. One of those Fleer cards is the glossy version.

I always thought of Kruk as a member of the Phillies, but he played over a third of his career games with the Padres. One endearing thing about Kruk is that he looks like a regular dude. There are a lot of athletes that you just can't identify with because they look like athletes.

That card in the center of the bottom row is the one that started this while project. Kruk's 1989 Topps Traded card is one of the ones that Topps selected to buy back for the 2015 Archives Signature Series product. It's just such a weird picture to choose for a card, with Kruk staring vacantly at the camera in a very shadowy room.

I had my first fantasy baseball draft for the 2016 season this week. I'd run quite a few mock drafts and I felt pretty ready for it, but of course my plans all fell apart within a couple of rounds. The season might be recoverable, but I'm thinking I might lose the $20 entry fee this year.

One of those 1990 Topps cards is an O-Pee-Chee. From the front they look the same, but the back has all the French on it. I like the picture they used on that card.

My draft started out pretty well. I got Manny Machado, A.J. Pollock, Edwin Encarnacion, and Corey Kluber to start things out in the first four rounds. I would have liked more home runs out of the first few picks, but I still think I did okay there.

There are some pretty nice photos in this bunch, with some good batting shots and a couple of action photos of Kruk working in the field. I especially like the 1991 Leaf in the left center, the 1991 Score card in the middle, the 1991 Topps card in the lower left, and the 1991 Upper Deck in the lower right with the ball visible in the shot.

In the fifth round things kind of fell apart for me. I didn't really like any of the available picks, so I chose Miguel Sano as the clock ran out. I just don't trust the younger players much on my fantasy rosters. I'm more of a high floor guy than a high ceiling guy. Then I picked Eric Hosmer. There were several runs on pitching and I grabbed Sonny Gray and Cole Hamels next. Picking three pitchers early meant that my stock of bats was lower than I like it to be. At this point in the draft any batter you pick is going to have a big hole or two in his game somewhere. I still had a couple of outfield spots to fill, but I had 12% of a plan for them. Filling out my infield was where my struggle was going to come. I also tried a new strategy of ignoring relief pitchers until the end of the draft. That was a bad move on my part.

The Donruss and Donruss Triple Play pictures look like they were taken in the same game, maybe even in the same at-bat or same swing. I'd have to inspect the crowd a little more closely to be sure. I'm not sure on the Fleer card, but that one looks pretty close, too.

So at this point in the draft I was hurting for a 2nd baseman, a catcher, two outfielders, and a utility guy. I wanted some power, but I didn't want to draft any guys with really low batting average to get there. It's incredibly hard to make up ground in the ratio-driven categories like batting average, ERA, and WHIP. Even strikeouts are basically a ratio because the leagues have innings limits and you need to maximize your K/9 if you want to be competitive. I got Roughned Odor at 2nd, Evan Longoria as my utility guy, and Billy Burns and Alex Gordon to fill out my outfield. They're all good enough players, but none of them really stand out as that guy who is going to put a roster over the top. I closed out this portion of the draft by grabbing Devin Mesoraco at catcher and Hisashi Iwakuma because I needed to bring down my ERA and WHIP.

There are some pretty nice gems here, although Kruk is doing some serious mean-mugging on that Studio card. I guess this is also when the card brands exploded so much that I needed two scans to fit all of the 1992 cards in.

By this time in the draft (Round 15) anyone who was an established closer was long gone as well as most of the high-end middle and late relievers. I wound up with a couple of guys who are battling for closer jobs (Carter Capps, David Hernandez) and a few guys who have traditionally good ratios or who might have a shot at some saves if the main guy goes down (Darren O'Day, Hunter Strickland, Koji Uehara). I also rounded out my bench and my starting rotation, again trying to balance counting stats against ratios. My final roster looks like this:

It's not the greatest assembly of talent I've ever seen. I used a fantasy website to look at my league and it churned this Position Analysis out for my team:

It's a 12-team league, so you can see that things aren't looking good for me outside of my starting rotation and my corner infielders. I think it's probably counting Manny Machado as a 3rd baseman rather than a shortstop where I will be using him, so maybe my middle infielders could get a bump there. But my relief pitching is weak, my outfield is shaky and low on power numbers, and my catcher is a big question mark. It could all pan out in the end, but right now I feel worse about my roster than I do most years.

I realize that telling someone about your fantasy roster is about as exciting for them as hearing about your Dungeons & Dragons character or the dream you had last night, but I like to capture my feelings about the fantasy baseball season for my own benefit from time to time. Hopefully there were enough cool John Kruk pictures to make it worth scrolling past all of my draft talk.

27 February 2016

2011 BBM True Heart Women's Pro Wrestling

Here is another BBM True Heart Japanese Women's Professional Wrestling set I picked up a while back on eBay. This is the 2011 edition, with 99 cards on the checklist and the usual assortment of autographs. You can see an example of the 2011 autograph set in my recent Command Bolshoi autograph timeline post.

I found this picture of the box art online. It looks like 2011's cards were inserted in packs rather than sold in box set form like the 2010 set, so I guess than is when the transition from box set to packs was made. I'm not sure why this set carries the Hall of Fame designation when other sets do not. The Hall of Fame subset in this checklist is much larger than in checklists from other years, so maybe that's the reason. 

This year's set has anglicized names on the front of the cards, something that would go away in 2013. I appreciate having the names somewhere on the cards in both formats, as it helps me to figure out who is who. Over time I've learned to identify many of the wrestlers by appearance, but it can be a struggle to identify new wrestlers or masked wrestlers that I'm not familiar with. I've mentioned this a few times, but Kana is now with the WWE's NXT promotion as Asuka.

The backs of the cards show the usual information. You get some demographic stuff and a small paragraph of descriptive text. Some day I will be able to read these, but today is not that day. Most of the card backs have a picture from some sort of in-ring action but others have posed shots or casual shots.

I try to scan the same group of wrestlers for each year because 1) they tend to be my favorite wrestlers and 2) it (hopefully) makes it a little easier to follow the design changes from year to year. Command Bolshoi is one of my favorites, but Io Shirai and Mio Shirai are pretty popular universally among the Facebook group and forum wrestling fans. Mio retired in 2015, so she got a Hall of Fame card in the 2016 base set.

At the time this set was released the wrestlers in this grouping kind of represented the old guard and the new upstarts. You can see that Command Bolshoi debuted in 1991 and Meiko Satomura debuted in 1995, while the Shirai sisters made their debuts in 2007. Now they are all veterans and there are plenty of newer wrestlers filling out the various promotions' rosters.

Dash Chisako's Super Bowl XXIX shirt makes another appearance, and I am still not certain of the significance behind her wearing it. I like cards with props on them, like Tomoka Nakagawa's torn-up folding chair. I also like cards with wrestlers displaying their championship belts. Everyone knows you're the champ when you've got a massive belt or two.

I've always wondered how wrestlers choose their ring gear and how they source more of it. Is there like a wrestling costume warehouse store? You see a lot of wrestlers who wear the same costume for a while. Do they just have one and get it cleaned (or not) for multiple years at a time? Do they buy four or five costumes all at once? What if they get bigger or smaller or tear their costume? Can they just go pick up something similar off the shelf? So many questions.

This set has a very large Hall of Fame subset at the end of the checklist. Most Hall of Fame subsets cover just the wrestlers who retired during the previous year, but this one seems to have everybody in it. Cards # 62 - 96 feature single wrestlers of note, while cards # 97 - 99 feature tag teams. It must be nice to have so many belts that you need attendants to carry them all.

There aren't any checklist cards in the product, so I assume the checklist was printed on the box somewhere. I haven't been able to find out why the Hall of Fame subset is so large in this set. I can't find any evidence in English of a Hall of Fame committee or building or anything coming into being. For now it's a mystery.

That does it for the 2011 BBM True Heart Women's Pro Wrestling card set. It's probably not my favorite of the True Heart sets, but it's still pretty cool.

26 February 2016

M.O.D.O.K. vs. Ant-Man Sketch by Matt Stewart

I picked up a sketch recently from the artist on eBay, this M.O.D.O.K. vs. Ant-Man done by Matt Stewart. It has the silver Artist Proof stamp on it but is otherwise identical in design to the sketches that could be pulled from packs of Upper Deck's Ant-Man movie card set. This is my second M.O.D.O.K. sketch, which probably doesn't quite qualify me as a super-collector. I do like the character, though, so I have a search set up just in case anything like this pops up at a decent price. I like the colors on this card as well as the multi-exposure shot of Ant-Man increasing his size as he attacks.

He included a business card with the sketch, and that Hulk on the left is an actual sketched headshot of the angry green guy. I thought that was a pretty cool inclusion in the package, although it must be a pain to sketch something on every business card you hand out.

Stewart is an archaeologist as well as an artist, and he did sketch cards for some of the recent dinosaur-themed releases from Upper Deck and Monsterwax. I may get to see some more of his artwork depending on which sketches come out of my Monsterwax Dinosaur Galaxy Kickstarter order. There's a sketch in every box, and I've got two boxes headed my way as well as an extra sketch for Kickstarter backers. One thing that helped me choose Monsterwax over the Upper Deck offering is that there isn't a whole pile of short-printed cards I have to chase.

25 February 2016

Pack of the Day 127: 2015 Topps UFC Chronicles

I bought a pack of the new UFC card product, 2015 Topps UFC Chronicles. It's a comprehensive set that explores the history of the UFC. Chronicles is packed out in a Jumbo-box format, with each box containing 10 packs of 40 cards each. A box contains 5 hits and various inserts, parallels, and stamped buyback cards. With 5 hits per box there is a 50/50 chance that a pack will contain an autograph or relic card. The checklist is 275 cards strong, so it's pretty big for a UFC product.

Here are the pack odds for those who are into that kind of thing. I don't see all of the parallels listed on the pack here. Sepia are # 1 / 1, Red are # / 8, Gold are # / 88, Black & White are # / 188, Green (unlisted) are # / 288, and Silver (unlisted) are unnumbered. Maybe it's assumed that you are going to get Silver and Green in each pack? I don't really know.

I didn't scan all the base cards in the pack, but I scanned a good number of them. One thing I noticed right away was that there are a huge number of repeat photos. One glaring example of this is that Shogun Rua card in the bottom row, as it was the first photo in the 2015 Champions product and sat on top of the stack on my desk while I was building that set.

The card backs are pretty typical of these products, with some demographic data at the top, the fighter's Twitter handle, and a biographical paragraph. I should have scanned some of them, but throughout the checklist there are cards highlighting landmark events in the UFC's history like their 1,000th fight, adding the Women's divisions, and the crowning of different champions.

There are a lot of horizontal shots in the checklist, which probably works better anyway for this sport. My one real complaint about the cards outside of the rampant reuse of photos is that it is sometimes unclear which fighter in the photo is the one named on the card. I guess a true fan would be able to see it right off, but someone learning about the UFC would have to look it up. I guess I did scan one of the 'event' cards, as that Hughes vs. Trigg II card features their fight from UFC 57. I pulled some pretty decent names among my base cards, like Conor McGregor, Jose Aldo, and Holly Holm.

I think I scanned that Ronda Rousey card thinking it was a Silver parallel. It's not, but it can sometimes be tricky to tell with these. The Rory MacDonald and John Dodson cards are Silver parallels, and the differences are minute. The borders on the Silver cards are just a little more silver and a little less transparent than the white borders on the base cards. The Black & White parallels are probably the best-looking cards in the product. It would be cool to build a whole set of them, but I can't be taking on projects like that.

I got two Black & White parallels in this pack, so I guess one of them bumped the Green parallel I might have gotten? I didn't pull a hit in the pack, but I did get three inserts. Victorious Debut is a set that celebrates fighters who won their initial fights. Most Topps UFC products have a fight poster insert set, and this one is no different. Finally there is a set that celebrates rising stars in the sport (by reusing photos from old inserts), Climbing the Ranks.

Here are the backs of the Victorious Debut and Climbing the Ranks inserts. The Victorious Debut set lists the date and circumstances of the fight and the Climbing the Ranks cards describe the fighter's career trajectory so far.

The Black & White parallels (and other numbered parallels) carry their serial numbers in foil on the back border and the Fight Posters discuss the results of the event pictured on the front.

There isn't a lot of new ground covered in this product. I guess the retrospective cards are a nice look at the history of the UFC, but this would have been so much better without all of the repeat photos. It might also be nice to have a little more differentiation between the base and the Silver parallels. 2015 Topps UFC Champions had a similar issue, with the difference between base and Silver parallels being a slightly darker patch in the border design. I guess I prefer flashy parallels over parallels I have to strain to see.

24 February 2016

Springer Singleton Back 2 Back Jacks

Here's a pretty cool card I picked up from eBay for my Jon Singleton player collection. I thought the presence of George Springer would drive the price up over my bid, but the other bidder gave up and the card went to me. It's a Back 2 Back Jacks Prime dual relic insert from the 2015 Panini Elite baseball set.

In looking at the card I thought maybe I already had a parallel of it, but I went back into my blog history and discovered that the card I was thinking of was a similar Classic Combos card from 2014 Panini Classics. With this being the Prime version of the card, it features some nice two-color swatches. If you look at the Singleton relic piece at just the right angle you can see a bit of white fabric along the bottom edge of the window, but calling it a three-color relic is a bit of a stretch. I feel a little silly typing so excitedly over a piece of fabric that has two colors on it as opposed to a piece of fabric with just one color. But I guess when you look at anything in the hobby (or really anything in most hobbies) with that kind of scrutiny they all seem a little silly. This card is numbered # 05 / 10.

The back of the card stretches the definition of back-to-back jacks, recounting a time when Carter and Singleton hit home runs in consecutive innings. I guess you do what you have to do to the narrative to match up the players you want on the front of the card.

23 February 2016

Star Wars Bikkuriman Episodes IV, V, VI

This is my third post about the Star Wars Bikkuriman stickers I've collected. I've already shown the Special Edition set that features the first six films and the set covering Episodes I, II, and III, so now it's time for the set covering the original films, Episodes IV, V, and VI.

Like the other sets, these stickers are about 1 inch x 1 inch in size and came packed with chocolate wafer cookies. For the Special Edition set I actually bought a box of cookies and built my own set, but getting the sets covering the original and prequel trilogies in boxed form was cost-prohibitive and I wound up grabbing them from eBay. The stickers feature shiny foil backgrounds with images of characters and scenes from the movies. The original Bikkuriman stickers featured fantasy characters and these Star Wars stickers borrow the art style from those stickers. They were produced and distributed in Japan. There are 24 stickers in each set. My favorites in this initial batch of 8 are Darth Vader, Yoda, and Leia.

I scanned the backs for the sake of completeness. Some day I'm sure this will be beneficial to someone seeking information about these sets. I can't read the backs of these, so I don't know exactly what is there outside of stuff like the sticker number, a title, legal stuff, set information, and probably a short description paragraph.

I think this set is my favorite of the group, as there really isn't a bad sticker in the bunch. I'm especially glad that Admiral Ackbar got a sticker. The Emperor's Force Lightning is a nice touch. Jabba the Hutt and Boba Fett are my other favorites from this batch.

I believe some of the stickers had variant backs announcing that the recipient was a winner. I read somewhere that you could mail in a winning sticker for a prize, but I never was able to verify the details or what the prize might have been.

The final batch of eight starts digging a little for characters, but there are some good ones here, like Lando Calrissian, Luke on a Tauntaun, and the lightsaber duel between Luke and Darth Vader.

I'm pretty happy that I was able to add these sets to my collection. I love Star Wars and I love getting stuff from Japan that isn't easy to find in the United States. I like the illustration style on these stickers. It would be neat to get some of the original Bikkuriman stickers, but I only have resources to support so many different collections. I'll probably just settle for these Star Wars stickers for the moment. Now if only I could find a good way to store them.

22 February 2016

Pack of the Day 126: 2010 Topps UFC

The dude who runs TeamBreaks.com does giveaways after his weekly breaks sometimes, and the odds of coming away with something are generally pretty good. Some prizes are better than others, but they make for decent additions to a break haul or a nice consolation prize for those nights when you don't pull anything in the breaks. I think that's how I got this Hobby pack of 2010 Topps UFC cards. He might have just added it to one of my packages because I'm a nice guy.

There's not a lot here that grabs my attention among the vertically-oriented base cards. I take note of Ryan Bader cards because Corky over at Pack War collects him. He unfortunately got knocked out in his most recent fight against Anthony Johnson at the end of January, breaking up his streak after 5 straight wins.

The notable card for me here is Matt Mitrione, who is a former professional football player and current UFC fighter. But what makes it notable to me is the eye injury he sustained last month in a January 17th fight against Travis Browne. Browne poked him in the eye a couple of times (which is something I hate), but the ref let the fight continue and Mitrione took a punch that fractured his eye socket. It swelled up like a golf ball and looked pretty gruesome. So every time I hear Mitrione's name I think of his grotesque swollen eye. I won't post a photo here because it's gross. Anyone who wants to see it can probably find it quite readily.

I am assuming that the James McSweeney card is a Gold parallel because it is unnumbered and also printed on very thick card stock. That creepy-looking Brock Lesnar card is some sort of tie-in to a UFC video game. The front features his digital avatar and the back shows his ratings in the game.

Nothing too exciting in that pack, but I can't complain too much about a free pack of cards.