Pack Animal: 2017 Topps Major League Soccer

Last week I was in Target looking for 2017 Bowman. I didn’t find it during that trip (and when I did find it, it proved just a bit too uninteresting to bother posting about), but did find packs of 2017 Topps Major League Soccer.

The pack is only 6 cards, but it’s also only $1.99, so I pulled the trigger. I don’t follow MLS, so this will be a one-and-done situation.

Before I get to the cards… Is it wrong that I feel bad for MLS?  I think the American mindset is to want the best of the best, but in the case of soccer, that’s the English Premier League, the German Bundesliga, etc. And honestly, if you’re watching the game on a TV or other electronic device, does it make a huge difference if the game is in a nearby city or on another continent?

MLS would like for you to not answer that question.

Anyway, on to the pack.

First card:  Jelle Van Damme, Los Angeles Galaxy

Not a bad design, but I’d like to see more of the background in an unblurred, uncloudy state. In other words, less of the typical recent Topps behavior.

Next up Juan Gaudelo, New England Revolution.

Because of the different border with numbers running down the side, I’d wondered if this might be a parallel, but it’s actually a subset:  “24 under 24”, which is an annual ranking of the top MLS players who are 23 years old and younger. Mr. Gaudelo is #17 on the current ranking.

Atiba Harris, FC Dallas

Chris Pontius, Back Of The Net insert.

Graham Zusi, Sporting Kansas City

I’m going to play the Grumpy Old Man card… specifically my 1992 Star Pics Saturday Night Live Grumpy Old Man card…

…And say that “Sporting Kansas City” is a dumb-ass name for a team.

In my day, teams had names like Expos, SuperSonics and Barons! That’s the way it was, and we liked it!

Finally, David Villa, NYC FC

David Villa recently threw out the first pitch at a Yankees game. NYC FC is part-owned by the Yankees, so it follows that they cross-promote.

I have to say, I’m glad I’m not a soccer fan in NYC: One team has Yankee ownership, the other is named for an energy drink.

I’m of the opinion that NYC FC is another stupid (and awkward) team name, but given the ownership situation, I suppose we should be happy that they’re not called “Yankee United”.

A Compulsive Fool And Three Packs Of 2017 Opening Day

Well, “Compulsive Fool” might be a little harsh.  I like bits of Opening Day, just not enough to justify going into a nearby Target for three straight days looking for packs.

But there I was…. and I found some packs on Friday.  Given that they’re a buck a pack, I bought three.  I’m not sure I will buy more, but I’m not sure I won’t.

So anyway, it’s the same deal it’s been for a while.  The base set is largely a parallel of the flagship set, but it’s the inserts and the base cards which differ from flagship which interest me.

I’ll tell you up front that, much to my disappointment, I didn’t get any mascot inserts.  Those are among my favorite Opening Day inserts, and I rarely get mascots… and I NEVER get Mr. Met.

So we’ll start off the festivities with a Matt Kemp card (Update:  I had said that this card was photoshopped, but I was reminded in the comments that he was traded last July in a deadline deal.)

I like the way they incorporated the Opening Day logo into the design…

…but not so much on the horizontal cards.

Hanley Ramirez is another player who’s in Series 2; I’m guessing the card will look like this one.

In the first pack, I got a Jose Altuve Opening Day Stars insert.

Not a bad card, but I long for the day when the “Opening Day Stars” inserts were 3-D.

Adam Eaton Superstar Celebrations… You can just barely see Eaton in the mob.

Here’s a fairly interesting card….

Not only is Cameron Maybin photoshopped into an Angels uni… it’s a different photo than the Series 1 Maybin card. Most excellent.

Second pack… Another photoshop!  Adam Eaton (again!) with the Nationals…

And once again, a different photo.

Here we have an “Incredible Eats” insert, a foot-long hot dog from Coors Field.

Um, yeah. Can’t say I “get” this insert set. I can’t even get interested in watching cooking shows, I’m certainly not going to chase down cards of food.

Moving on to the third pack, we’ve got another Superstar Celebrations!
OK, I know which one is Giancarlo Stanton… but do I want to know what’s going on here?

So those are the highlights of my three packs. Yay.

…But I was at least happy to pull a few photoshop jobs, so I got some value for my $3.

I’ll wrap up with a list that someone will hopefully find useful… I bumped the Opening Day checklist against the Series 1 checklist and made a list of players who are listed with different teams in the two sets, plus those players who aren’t in Series 1 but have changed teams over the winter, indicating that the Opening Day cards might be different from the flagship equivalent:

# name team note
2 Reynaldo Lopez Chicago White Sox Diff. team from S1
7 Drew Smyly Seattle Mariners Diff. team from S1
22 Lucas Giolito Chicago White Sox Probably photoshopped
25 Adam Eaton Washington Nationals Different Photo and photoshopped
29 Wilson Ramos Tampa Bay Rays Diff. team from S1
46 Kendrys Morales Toronto Blue Jays Diff. team from S1
74 Yoan Moncada Chicago White Sox Diff. team from S1
81 Jean Segura Seattle Mariners Diff. team from S1
116 Chris Sale Boston Red Sox Diff. team from S1
119 Cameron Maybin Angels Different Photo and photoshopped
161 Brian McCann Houston Astros Diff. team from S1
173 Edwin Encarnacion Cleveland Indians Diff. team from S1



Pack Animal: 2017 Topps Heritage (Two 20-Card Hanger Packs)

Yesterday I ran over to Target during my lunch break, expecting it to be the first of many wasted trips… but much to my surprise, they had wax packs and hanging 20-card packs.
As the hangers were a slightly better value, I shelled out $12 for two of those …and another $2.50 for a box of Trix.  With cards and Trix in hand, I silently thanked Target for their new self-checkout lane.

When I was a kid on Long Island in the mid 1970’s, there weren’t many avenues for obtaining cards and the oldest cards I was able to get my hand on was 1968 Topps. Because of that, 1968 had a certain “cool because it’s almost as old as I am” appeal to me which is somewhat above and beyond what is deserved for an admittedly middling design.

So the question for me this year is whether my own fondness for the small handful of dogeared 68T cards I’ve had since childhood will carry over to this year’s Heritage.

And I also have to apologize for my scanner washing out some of these images… I admittedly rushed this post out, so I didn’t have time to try to compensate for the washout.

First card:  Giants team.
ZZZZZZZZZZZZZZ. I’d rather have managers, who are absent from the checklist this year.  Boo, Topps!  Can you at least include managers in the High Numbers update set?

For a player card, here’s Danny Valencia… with the M’s?
I’ve gotta say, that’s some pretty nice photoshopping.

The backs seem excessively yellow… or maybe I’m just used to time-faded ink.

This answers one question I had:  fine-weave and course-weave in the same pack.

Ha!  Richie Shaffer, one of the guys who did the “Grand Tour” this winter.
You might remember my talking about Shaffer in one of my Hot Stove posts.  This offseason he went from the Rays to the M’s to the Phillies to the Reds to the Indians before passing through waivers and getting outrighted to the Indians AAA team.  He was in the Reds organization (on paper) from 12/23 to 1/26, so the photoshopping happened (or at least started) during this window.

Strikeout Leaders. They need to crop these portraits tighter.

Aaron Nola!  He’s a player I collect after being impressed with him in a minor league outing.

Then and Now.
I like the design a lot more than I like the theme.

I do like these All-star cards… Sorry, All-Topps Selections

And there’s a Mike Trout puzzle on the back!  Sweet!
(I know it’s Trout because I pulled another piece later on).

Hatless Herman Perez. Seems like we need at least some hatless guys.

I wasn’t going to open the second pack right away, but what the hell. I want a Game card!  And Mets and Orioles!

World Series cards. Oh, sure, Cleveland gets a card while the Mets got shut out last year.
Topps is just working towards annoying me now.

Got a SP in the second pack in the form of Mr. Kyle Schwarber.

And those are the highlights of my two packs.

Now that I’ve gone through 40 cards, I’m a bit mixed about this set. The cards are generally pretty well done, but as they would say at my place of employment, I’m not sure the “Return On Investment” is there. For $12 I got one of 100 SP’s, 38 base cards, 1 uninteresting insert, no Mets, no Orioles, no Game cards – which I was really hoping for after recently completing the original set. Not even any parallels or variations (admittedly, these would likely get traded or sold on COMC).

I understand it’s a small sample size, but this was a mildly disappointing first time through.

And yet I find myself thinking “Maybe if I bought a third pack…”

Pack Animal: 2017 Topps Series 1 Hanger (Target)

Yesterday on the way home from work, I was greatly relieved to find hanger boxes of 2017 Topps in my local Target.  The past couple of years, I’d be checking in stores for at least a week before finding them;  this time it was just three days.

When I pulled the cello-wrapped brick of cards out of the box, this is what I saw first:
Kind of an odd flashback…  I turned 22 in 1987, so I fully remember seeing backs like this on the bottom of cello packs.

This is the first base card I saw.  (Every time I see Homer Bailey, in my head I hear Marge Simpson disapprovingly say “Oh, Homer…”)
I have to say, I kind of like these cards, the slanted perspective on the border and the logo is an interesting touch. I wish the player’s position on the left were more legible, and the team name below the player’s name is almost completely useless… In terms of uselessness, it reminds me of the little colored “folder tab” along the right vertical edge of 2014 Topps.

First card back… Unfortunately it’s one with no twitter or Instagram handles on it.
I’m very happy about the legible card number; If the hobby is truly aging as some say it is, then the card companies have to remember that us middle-aged people can’t see as well as we used to.

There is also the much talked about and Donruss-like 5 years of stats. I honestly don’t have a problem with that. I rarely look at the stats anyway.

The team logo is kind of awkwardly placed on the right, I’d rather see more of the write-up filling that space.

Woo! The Yankee Clippard!

First Met: Jacob deGrom
Time will tell if we’ll ever again have a deGrom card that doesn’t have him in motion… The hair flying everywhere is apparently too much for card makers to resist.

I’m torn on these league leader cards.
On one hand, it’s better than the recent leader cards which cram three action shots of players on to the card.  But on the other hand, this is an entire subset of players who already have other cards… And how many people are clamoring for an extra Matt Kemp card because he finished third in the NL in RBI?  I guess as a set collector I don’t care for it, but as a team/player collector it would be a lot more appealing to have a single Mark Trumbo HR Leader card than to have him squished on a card with Nelson Cruz and 3 other guys who had tied for third.

Yaay! Marcus Stroman!  (He’s a player I collect)
Boo, Canada Day uniform!  (Apologies to our great neighbors to the north, I have nothing against you, I just don’t like the Jays’ Canada Day Unis).

This card from the “5 Tool” insert set is really… Ecch.  No, you know what they are?  They’re 1995 Fleer-like.  Topps, in case you didn’t know, that’s a very bad thing to be like.
Hmmm… “5 Tool”… Maybe I should send all of my “5 Tool” cards to The Five Tool Collector

Just kidding, I would never do that, I like him too much.

First Pitch card! Do I come across as old if I have no clue who Chris Lane is?
OK, he’s a Country singer.  I’ll write my ignorance off as a cultural difference rather than an age difference.

The question on everyone’s lips:  Is there, anywhere in this world, an intersection of Chris Lane and Houston Street?

I *almost* like these Awards cards… They would be really sharp if the design didn’t dominate the entire card.  This one is a Target exclusive.
You know what’s odd?  The checklist downloaded from says “Gold Glove Award”, the card is numbered GG-6… But the card and the “Only At Target” banner on the box say “Fielding Award”.  Do Topps, Target and Rawlings not want to play nice when it comes to the undoubtedly-copyrighted phrase “Gold Glove”?

I guess I should be happy that a “Fielding Award” card shows Anthony Rizzo actually fielding… or at least out in the field.

Just after the inserts in my pack are a whole bunch of horizontal cards. I guess they’re somehow processed separately.
I just read that Mark Reynolds turned down an offer to be the highest-paid baseball player in Korea. He could have made $3M guaranteed with the KBO, instead he signed a minor league contract with the Rockies with $2M plus incentives if he makes the team.  Funny how buyer-friendly the market was for 1B/DH types this winter.

“Thor And The Dark Knight”.  As 21st Century combo cards go, this isn’t too bad.
The comic nerd in me objects to this pairing, as Thor is Marvel and Batman is DC.  Of course, the comic snob in me is not happy with the direction either publisher has taken over the past decade and declares “A pox on both your houses!”

When I started to go through this pack, I decided to look at everyone’s Twitter handle and pick out the one that I liked best.  The winner is… @moosetacos8

Wrapping up the pack, here’s the front of that Alex Reyes card.  My scanner washed out the wood grain on the border.

My brain was telling me that the Cardinals logo looked wrong and somewhat plain, and sure enough, in the 1987 set the Cardinals had a different logo;  a different bird on a bat in front of a baseball and surrounded by a red ring.

I get that it’s the 30th anniversary of 1987 Topps… and it’s kinda depressing to me that it’s the 30th anniversary of that set… But 1987 Topps?  It’s not that great of a set, especially given all the minis and various other inserts which have already been thrown our way. I guess I should count my blessings that they didn’t do a 20th anniversary insert for 1997 Topps (one of my all-time worst Topps sets).

All this is well and good, but how do these cards look in a binder?  Let’s stick two into my current Mets binder and see…
Not too shabby.  I like these cards better than a lot of bloggers do, and nobody will argue that they’re not better than 2016 Topps.  I don’t see myself chasing the whole set, but I’ll happily buy packs throughout the year (and open packs which come in repacks a year or three down the road, just because those things always have Topps packs).

Let’s see how the base set breaks down by team:

20 cards – Chicago Cubs
16 – Boston Red Sox
15 – Colorado Rockies, Houston Astros, Toronto Blue Jays
14 – New York Mets
13 – Los Angeles Dodgers, New York Yankees, Pittsburgh Pirates, Washington Nationals
12 – Baltimore Orioles, Cleveland Indians, St. Louis Cardinals
11 – Detroit Tigers, Milwaukee Brewers, San Diego Padres
10 – Angels, Arizona Diamondbacks, Chicago White Sox, Cincinnati Reds, Kansas City Royals, Miami Marlins, Oakland Athletics, San Francisco Giants
9 – Atlanta Braves, Minnesota Twins, Philadelphia Phillies, Seattle Mariners, Tampa Bay Rays, Texas Rangers

Don’t It Just Figure: Out of 72 cards in my hanger, only two teams were not represented: The Marlins (no big loss) and my other favorite team, the Orioles.

Pack Animal: 2000 Topps Gallery

This pack came from a purchase of about 50 packs, all discounted and mostly from 10-15 years ago.  I didn’t buy any Topps Gallery cards back then, because the cost-to-fun ratio wasn’t there for me.
The tag line for Topps Gallery was “The Art Of Collecting”, and when I saw these packs of 2000 Gallery, I thought “Woo-hoo! Cards made from paintings!”

Unfortunately, I’d forgotten that the first year of Gallery didn’t use paintings for the base set, the cards featured photos. Nicely printed and glossy, but still photos. Oh, well. I would’ve bought these packs anyway.

If you’ve never seen one of these before, the card stock isn’t particularly thick, but the glossy photo is further set apart from the white border by the border being textured and with gold foil stamping for the name and team.  The photo scans well, the gold stamping… not so much.  The letters look almost ghostly in the scans.

Here’s the back of the Biggio.  Biggio is from near where I grew up on Long Island, and yet I don’t collect him.  Don’t ask me, I don’t understand it either.

I guess Carlos Delgado is doing some sort of post-homer celebration, but it looks more like he’s throwing his bat at something that scared him.

Jason Kendall and Mark Grudzielanek tangle at 2nd base.
A great picture and one i’ll keep even though it doesn’t really fit into any of my numerous collections.

Kevin Brown… Not a terribly interesting card that’s supposed to be “The Art Of Collecting”.  The card is saved by pronounced Dodger blue and grass green.

Larry Bigbie! One of my favorite Orioles from the early 21st century. He came up to the bigs with several other players, including Brian Roberts and Jay Gibbons.
Bigbie was the 21st overall pick in the 1999 draft, but never quite lived up to the first round expectations. He peaked in 2004 when he batted .280 with 15 homers, 76 runs, 68 RBI and 23 doubles. He tailed off in 2005 and before the July deadline he was traded to the Rockies for Eric “Captain America” Byrnes… A deal which didn’t work out for either team.

Wrapping things up with a Yankee.  Booo!
Under a previous collecting mindset, I would’ve held on to this card given that El Duque pitched for the Mets at the end of his career and I was hanging on to anybody who’d played for the Mets, regardless of which team he is pictured with on the card.  Now, I realize I have way too many cards and can’t be hanging on to cards just because the player was one I’d cheered on at one point.

Even though wasn’t quite what I expected, but it was still a fun pack to open… and, like I said,  it was relatively cheap, so it’s all good.

Japanese Pack Animal: 2004 BBM 1st Version

I’ve had a time the last couple of weeks… Not really bad, but not always doing what I wanted to do.  I decided I was going to reward myself by opening one of my Japanese packs I keep in reserve for semi-special occasions.

As you may have guessed by the subject line, this pack is from 2004 BBM 1st Version. Here’s the wrapper, all shiny and Japanese.

…And here’s the back of the wrapper, full of all kinds of information I don’t understand.  Insert odds?

As always with these packs, I consider a “hit” to be a card of someone I know, or a card with a cool photo.

So let’s get started!  First card…
I don’t know Osamu Hamanaka, but I like this card.  We’re off to a promising start.

Here’s the back, taunting me (as usual) by asking “Did you know?” and elaborating in Japanese.

Next up, Hiroshi Narahara.
Another pretty nice card.  Hate the Fighter’s uniforms, though.

Hiroyuki Watanabe.  There’s a Japanese actor with the same name, but he’s much older.

Hiroyuki Ohshima.  This is a pack for guys whose name starts with “Hiro”.

This next card is an insert where the player is glossy and everything else is matte.  Not a bad effect.
Stupid me, I saw “Asian Championship”, said “I wonder what’s up with that?”, flipped the card over and…
…I forgot which set I was looking at.  I can’t read it, other than more “Did you know?”

Satoshi Nakajima played in 29 different seasons in NPB… Twenty-Nine!
Granted, the last 7-8 years of his career he was a player/coach who only appeared in a handful of games each year.

Here’s a hit by my definition.
Hisanori Takahashi was a decent pitcher for the Mets in 2010, and also played for the Angels, Pirates and Cubs, as well as in the Rockies organization, before going back to Japan.  Here’s his 2010 Topps Chrome card:
2010 Topps Chrome Hisanori Takahashi

Takashi Toritani… The name is familiar, but it took me a while to figure out why.
Back between the 2014 and 2015 seasons, Toritani looked into coming over to the Majors, and the Mets were one of the teams which expressed interest.  He decided not to come over to America, and remains active with the Hanshin Tigers.

And that’s the pack!  Not bad, certainly fun to open.

You know what occurred to me after I opened the pack?  The cards have “glowy” top right and bottom left corners, and not much background.  Where have we seen something like that before?  Maybe if we change the “glowy” effect to something else, like a dust cloud…?

2016 Topps Opening Day Michael Conforto

I have to say, I like BBM’s design much better, even if the font BBM used is kind of hard to read.

2016 Heritage Hi #’s: A Hot Pack, Shlabotnik Style

Friday night was an fairly exciting night by my low standards… I discovered that the Target store near my house had put in self-serve checkout lanes (meaning I can buy nothing but a pack of cards while not feeling self-conscious), and 2016 Topps Heritage High Number packs were in. For the record, I also bought some soap, but that’s because that’s what I was there for in the first place.

I’ve gotten to the point where I like High Numbers a bit more than the regular Heritage set, and that’s mainly because the player selection is a bit more wide-ranging.

As it turns out, the hanger pack I bought was something of “hot pack” in the way it had been when I started in the hobby. The biggest conventional “hit” I got was a Tanner Roark refractor (#’ed to 567), but the pack was loaded with base cards which made me happy.

I’ll start off with the card that got the biggest “OOH!”
Right off the bat, I got Matt Wieters’ Topps wax debut!  You can see the Orioles logos!  He’s not wearing full catching gear which covers the logos but also covers his face!  He’s not listed as being a member of “BALTIMORE BASEBALL CLUB”!  O frabjous day! Callooh! Callay!

He’ll be a free agent this winter and I suspect that I’ll be photoshopping him into another uniform for this Winter’s “Hot Stove” custom set – A hand-collated 1990 Donruss set says he ends up in Atlanta – but we shall see.  After 2015 I fully expected him to be elsewhere in 2016, but he surprised a number of people by accepting the Orioles qualifying offer.

Brad Brach was an All-Star this year!  I’ll bet a lot of you don’t even know who Brad Brach is, much less that he was an All-Star.
Brach is having as good a season as you’ll see from a pitcher who isn’t a starter or closer.  He’s 10-3 with 2 saves, but more significantly he has a 1.67 ERA and a 0.991 WHIP.

I did get a Met in this pack;  I’ve gotten to appreciate James Loney, but I expect he’ll be elsewhere next year.
Even if Loney weren’t a Met, I’d like this card because of the in-game shot. The posed shots are fun, but they can be a bit much after a while.

MUNI!!!!!!!! Everybody loves Muni!
By the way, a quick way to identify this year’s High Numbers cards without looking at the card number:  There’s that dot between the player’s name and position.  In the original 1967 set, the dot appeared between Series 1 and 2, but for 2016 Heritage they decided that High Numbers was Series 2 for dot purposes.

Mychal Givens is one of those guys I was talking about when I mentioned the more diverse checklist.
Givens was drafted as a shortstop but was still in A-ball after three seasons. He converted to pitching and his path to the Majors lead to the O’s bullpen.

Like me, Marcus Stroman is 5’8″ and from Long Island.  Sometimes that’s all I need to become a player collector.
At first it seemed surprising that he wasn’t in the regular Heritage set, given that he was the Jays’ opening day starter, but I’d forgotten about how he lost most of 2015 to a knee injury.

We’ll finish up with Tommy Joseph, who is a guy I collect after having seen him play in the minors.
Joseph was a big catching prospect when the Giants traded him to Philadelphia in the Hunter Pence deal, but concussions and other injuries led to a position change and a major drop in his stock.  After 2015 he was left off the Phillies 40-man roster and he went unclaimed in the Rule V draft.  This year he got his chance after Darin Ruf got injured, and Joseph went on a tear.  He’s currently got 21 homers, 47 runs and 47 RBI after making his debut in mid-May.

In someone else’s hands this pack may not have made much of an impact, but for me it was a lot of fun to open.