I have to say, the World Baseball Classic has been fun so far, and I haven’t even been able to watch it on TV (minor rant about this down below). At the time I’m writing this, there have been several fiercely fought extra-inning games, two different comebacks from five-run deficits, and Israel is 4-0. Israel!
Since last fall I’ve been talking about doing a custom card set based on the WBC. A reader poll voted 1980 Topps in as the design I’ll be using for this set. I’ve taken this mandate seriously and tried to do what I can to make this set more interesting than a sort of “Topps Archives Lite”. I even came up with a 1980-esque wrapper.
So let’s rip it open and see what we’ve got.
You’ve probably never heard of Yoshitomo Tsutsugo – I know I hadn’t – but he was named the MVP of Pool B after batting .364 with 2 homers in three games.
His “daytime” job is as an outfielder for the Yokohama DeNA BayStars in Japan’s Central League. Tsutsugo had quite a year in 2016, batting .322 and leading the league with 44 homers and 110 RBI.
The Angels’ Andrelton Simmons hasn’t been lighting the WBC on fire, but he did hit a double.
More importantly, a good photo of him was available. For this set, that will play a bigger role than you might think.
As I’d mentioned, Team Israel is doing a good job of surprising people. The MVP of Pool A, in which Israel ran the table, was Ryan Lavarnway.
Like many of his teammates, Lavarnway is not on a 40-man roster. He’d signed a minor league contract with Oakland and has an invitation to big league camp. With Israel moving on to the second round, I think it’s safe to say that Lavarnway’s missing more time from A’s camp than anyone there had guessed. Lavarnway went 5-for-9 in the first round, walked four times, homered and drove in three runs during those three first-round games. His slash line was .556/.692/.889.
Speaking of Israel – this pack is admittedly heavy on Israel, but they’ve been my favorite team so far – here’s an insert based on one of the other card design candidates in last fall’s voting. This custom is in the style of the 1976 Wonder Bread Football set, and shows the Israel team’s unofficial mascot, “The Mensch On A Bench”.
The Mensch is a take on the creepy “Elf On A Shelf”, was featured on the TV show Shark Tank, and has become the team mascot. For those who aren’t familiar with the term, “Mensch” is used to describe a good, honorable person, someone of integrity.
Going into the WBC, I didn’t really expect to make any customs for the Chinese team… but that was before I found out that Bruce Chen, former Orioles, Mets, Royals, Braves, Phillies, Red Sox, Rangers, Indians, Reds, Astros and Expos pitcher, was on the team! Bruce has been a favorite since his bad jokes were featured on the scoreboard during his time in Baltimore. Q: What do you call a deer with no eyes? A: No-eye deer. (This joke works better when said out loud)
Bruce gets the honor of being part of one of my “innovations” in this custom set; he ges a horizontal player card! Woooo!
It didn’t affect the play of the game to any great degree, but one of the interesting moments in a first-round game came when 6’8″ Israel batter Nate Freiman (who played for the A’s several years ago) faced off against 7’1″ Netherlands pitcher Loek van Mil (who’s played in AAA the past few seasons).
It’s believed to be the tallest face-off in professional baseball history. Despite Freiman’s large strike zone, he drew a base on balls.
Australia didn’t accomplish as much as they would’ve liked to this time around, but I had to create a custom to show their nice unis paired with the natural fit of the Oakland A’s colors from 1980.
Travis Blackley is a reliever who has pitched for the Giants, A’s, Rangers and Astros.
The Mariner’s Nelson Cruz has batted .333 with a homer thus far…
…but he’s here because of the aforementioned “good photo” rule.
Chris Archer pitched 4 shutout innings against Colombia on Friday, but did not get the win.
The US team is currently 1-1 and would greatly improve their chances of advancing by beating Canada tonight.
Former Oriole and current Mariner Yovani Gallardo gave up four runs in four innings, but I wanted to get a card of a familiar Mexican player.
Here’s another card new to the set. 1980 Topps didn’t have a postseason subset, so I had to create one.
This is loosely based on the League Leader cards from that set.
That’s all the cards in this pack… Let’s see what the offer is on the wax pack wrapper…
That looks pretty cool, but I don’t have the money… Maybe after I get my allowance.
OK, up at the top I promised a minor rant.
I’ve been looking forward to the WBC for a while now, although I didn’t plan on watching entire games. I figured I’d watch a few innings here and there, maybe check in when I heard about a game that seemed exciting. That’s pretty much what I did during the last WBC in 2013.
But I forgot about one thing… back in 2013 the MLB Network was part of my cable tier. That’s no longer the case; it got taken away from us, and we didn’t watch it enough to shell out the money for the higher tier of channels.
I’d assumed that some of the games might be on another cable channel, but that’s not the case. I found out that it’s also on ESPN Deportes, and I can deal with the announcers speaking Spanish…
…But nope, I don’t get ESPN Deportes either.
OK, then what about MLB.TV? During the regular season they always have free low-demand games along the lines of Minnesota vs. Tampa Bay. A first round game airing early on a weekday morning isn’t exactly “Must See TV”, they should have free games like that, right?
Nope, struck out again. Well, poo.
I honestly don’t get this. The organizers (i.e. MLB) have said that the World Baseball Classic doesn’t get the attention in the U.S. that they would like it to get, but the cheapest option to watch ANY of it is $25 for a month of MLB.TV. No, thank you. I’ll stick with listening to the occasional game on satellite radio, and reading about the games afterwards.
End of rant.
By the way, I expect to have more virtual packs of WBC cards coming the next two Sundays.