Thursday, June 19, 2014

Please Read This Post. Thanks.

Here's the short version:

Please don't send me any cards until further notice because 1) I won't be able to send anything out myself until late in the fall at the earliest, 2) even at that point, I won't be getting any new cards in order to accumulate trade material, and 3) I won't be at my current address for more than a few more weeks.

The slightly expanded version:

You may have noticed my little "vacation" here at Playing With My Cards. It's something that I'd hoped wouldn't last as long as it has, or as long as it yet will last. Long story short, bankruptcy, foreclosure, and all of those things you read about happening to other people have hit my family. All is going to be well. To a large extent, we're all looking forward to a fresh start. So, this isn't a woe is me kind of thing.

But it does mean an unexpected and undesirable break from blogging and trading at least until the later part of this year. And when I can resume trading, it's going to have to be on a small scale, as I'm not going to be able to add to my collection appreciably for perhaps a few years. I do very much look forward to resuming the fun on this blog when we're settled into whatever our new living situation may be.

And I'll still be here as an avid reader of what's happening with all of you throughout the summer. Thanks in advance for the well-wishes. I'll be back when I can. In the meantime, see you in the comments section.

Oh, and I would be remiss if I were to fail to mention the way in which baseball once again proved why it's something that transcends wins and losses, statistics and contracts. The day in which I learned that I was going to lose my house ended with a giant smile on my face thanks to having the opportunity to listen to Vin Scully call a Clayton Kershaw no-hitter. You just can't script this stuff.

Have a great summer. Be well, and I'll see you all here again soon. Thanks.


Thursday, May 15, 2014

Blogging Dodger Blues (or, "Warning: There Are Better Ways to Spend Your Time")

Here's the thing: I'm boring myself. I can only imagine what that means to the handful of people who stop by to read this blog. I think they come here because, on very rare occasions, I have something interesting to say. But not very often. People stop by mainly because I've traded with them, maybe shared a connection thanks to our collective interest in cardboard, and because I have some nifty pictures of cards to look at, and we all love cards.

But, let's be honest. As much as I enjoy writing, I've failed to really find a niche here. There are many people out there with card blogs, writing far more interesting things. I know that's true because I regularly stop by to see what they have to say. And, if I'm being honest with myself, I'm pretty sure that Playing With My Cards, if it were some other dude's blog, would not be on my must-read list. It might be if reality matched up with the way I imagine things could be. But it doesn't. And I'm beginning to realize that it probably never will.

1995 Topps Traded Mark Gubicza KCR #94T

The thing is, though, I don't want to lose my place in this community. I've enjoyed being a part of it too much. I don't want to lose my connection with y'all. So, here I am, an uninspired blogger, churning out meaningless posts ("look what I got... look what I got..."), when I am able to motivate myself to even do that, simply as a way to hold on to my place in the community. As a result, I'm pretty much wasting everyone's time, including my own. Hell, I feel sorry for anyone who's reading this right now.

2005 Donruss Team Heroes Billy Wagner PHI #234
2004 Topps Total Kelvim Escobar ANA #115

I feel especially sorry for Alex, of Chavez Ravining, who was kind enough to send these spiffy cards my way. He deserves at least the words that I'd planned to write about them, explaining that I dig the Grips, that some (like the Leskanic and Schilling below) have me thinking about what should really be considered a Grips card, that I dig getting Topps Total cards from him, that I enjoyed all of the other great cards of pitchers that he sent (such as the Finley further down the page), etc., etc., etc. But, frankly, even that would have been boring... even to me.

2004 Topps Total Curtis Leskanic KCR #614
2004 Topps Total Curt Schilling BOS #230

I feel sorry for Nick, and Harry/Mark, and Chris and Gavin and the handful of others who have stopped by and supported me since I first imposed myself on the bloggin' world. I feel sorry for those I didn't just mention, who deserved to be named. I feel sorry for the people who have sent me cards and haven't yet received their due. I feel sorry for Bo and Al, who probably aren't reading after waiting nearly a year to find out which one of them has won a contest that was supposed to end last year.

2001 Upper Deck Chuck Finley CLE #80

I feel like having this blog and engaging in trades with you awesome card-bloggin' people out there entails making a promise that I am having a very hard time keeping. But, then again, feeling this way means that I'm being way too self-important. And if I'd just shut up about my neuroses, try to just come up with the occasionally interesting post, and enjoy the experience of blogging, reading, and trading, everything would be fine.

1995 Upper Deck SP Wilson Alvarez CHW #143
1995 Upper Deck SP Mo Vaughn BOS #125

I hope very few people wasted their time reading this post. Alex probably did, hoping and expecting something better for his generous efforts. Sorry, Alex.

So, what's the answer? Do any of you go through this? When you have bad days, or weeks, maybe even months, and you have trade posts backed up, and ideas you don't have the time or inspiration to properly implement, or have nothing particularly interesting to say, what do you do? How do you remain a part of things while you're not feeling like you're a part of them? Or do you even have these kinds of problems, or worry about them if you do?

I guess I hope these are rhetorical questions, since I hope nobody's reading this.

Thanks for the cards, Alex. I dig the cards, and I enjoy having them. Whether I have an interesting or inspired way of saying that, it needs to be said. Thanks, Alex!

(To be continued...)

Saturday, May 10, 2014

John Killed It! (or, "The Law of Unintended Consequences")

One thing that can bring the joy of card blogging to a grinding halt for me is a misplaced sense of obligation to stay on the paths that I've established. Take Top of the Topps, for example. I really enjoyed the concept that of that blog. I still dig it, and I have every intention of picking it back up someday when the muse strikes. But I had established such narrow parameters for what I could do on that blog that I eventually had to create this one in order to branch out in other directions.

Inevitably, though, I've managed to dig a few grooves in this path that have made it difficult at times to enjoy a little offroading. If I come to this blog thing on a given day and think I need to post about this or that, it turns me off to the whole process. This isn't about obligation. There's enough of that in life, already. It's what I'm looking to escape from with this hobby.

That's why I'm grateful to John of Johnny's Trading Spot. He destroyed one of my mini-collections.

1991 Bowman Omar Vizquel SEA #245
1991 Bowman Joe Mesa BAL #91

This is a good thing. A very good thing. Mini-collections are a lot of fun. In fact, I have a few that I've been keeping under wraps that I'll be going public with sometime later this year. And I'm still very excited about Getting a Grip. I think that particular mini-collection is one of the defining features of this blog, and of my enjoyment of it.

But mini-collections can also be onerous, especially the way I deal with them. My collection is sorted alphabetically, by the player's last name (with multi-player cards kept together by year/set). No exceptions. So my mini-collections are virtual. Those pages linked over there on the sidebar are my mini-collections. Those scans are the only place that I'm going to see the cards together in one place. Which, of course, means a lot of scanning and cropping. And with my OCD issues, I'm overly fastidious about my card scans, spending way too much time making sure things are straight and the contrast looks good.

1991 Bowman Todd Van Poppel OAK #218
1991 Bowman Jack McDowell CHW #352

Based on John's performance at spotting even the most subtle of turtlenecks, not to mention his ability to interpret shadows, and his impressively disciplined blog posting schedule, I would venture to guess he's one who can relate to this kind of overactive eye for detail.

And nothing can be more frustrating for someone with these particular character traits than a mini-collection with parameters that are impossible to define. The card that planted the seed for this collection was the '98 Donruss Joe Carter to be found at the top of the Turtleneck Collection page. (The link on the sidebar will disappear in a few days.) Carter's Turtleneck is blatant. It's almost hypnotic. Then when I saw what Luis Gonzalez was wearing on his 1991 Topps Traded card, I thought it would be cool to collect similar cards.

1991 Bowman Ben McDonald BAL #86
1991 Bowman Curt Schilling HOU #560

What I didn't realize was that, depending upon where you draw the line, there are about a gazillion cards out there that could go into this collection. John has sent about a half-a-gazillion of them to me over the past few months. And in the process he's shown me that, due to the law of unintended consequences, this one was a bad idea. I'm glad to have the cards. I'm always glad to have any card. But the Turtleneck Collection is dead. John killed it like a skilled assassin. Nice shootin', John!

1994 Bowman's Best Mo Vaughn BOS #80

But, lest ye be tempted to view the man as a destructive force, let the record show that John also managed to give birth to a large segment of another of my mini-collections. That's because he can spot a 42 as easily as he can a turtleneck. I'm not going to expand the 42 Collection to include everyone who's ever worn the number, but John did prompt me to add the Grandfathers Gallery, featuring more cards of the thirteen players who were allowed to keep wearing 42 after it had been retired to honor Jackie Robinson. Two guys who go by Mo get the most exposure here, including the Great Rivera.

1992 Upper Deck Minors Jared Baker High Desert Mavericks #22

John hasn't ignored the Big Kahuna of mini-collections, either, which will be even more evident when I post about his latest trade package. (No, this isn't the most recent stuff from the man. I told you he's relentless!)

1994 Upper Deck Albert Belle CLE #131

John is so good at spotting stuff that this deceptively jovial Albert Belle is the second hit that he's sent me for a mini-collection that I haven't even announced yet!

2000 Fleer Skybox Tony Armas, Jr. MON #224
2000 Fleer Focus Vinny Castilla TBD #211
1999 Upper Deck Sandy Alomar, Jr. Foreign Focus CLE #244
1998 Upper Deck Special F/X Tony Clark DET #55

The best thing about getting cards from the Trading Spot, though, is the fact that John has a free-flowing supply of cardboard from my collecting dead period (from about 1997-2006). These may have been intended for the Turtleneck Collection (see how subtle and subjective it can get?), but I love getting 'em no matter the reason that he sent 'em.

1997 Fleer Moises Alou FLA #647
1997 Fleer Ryne Sandberg Team Checklist CHC #725
1997 Fleer Ryne Sandberg Encore CHC #716

I'm particularly excited to receive '97 Fleer cards. I was a big fan of their first matte finish set from the previous year, of which I have a good amount. But I think I may like the '97 version even better, and I have virtually none of these yet.

2000 Fleer Greats of the Game Clete Boyer NYY #88
2001 Topps Archives 1963 Topps 1962 World Series Game #1: Yanks' Ford Wins Series Opener #221
1979 Topps Burger King Yankees Ed Figueroa NYY #11
1995 Upper Deck SP Championship Wade Boggs NYY #172
1998 Fleer Tradition Homer Bush NYY #219

Probably the most interesting and unexpected thing that I've received from John lately (before his most recent package, that is) was an envelope filled with Yankees. I'm a Dodgers guy, but having lived in NYC for the heart of the Jeter-led Yankee dynasty, not to mention being one to appreciate the history of the game, I dig Yankee cards. Except in cases where I've requested them, nobody has sent me a gaggle of Yankee cards out of the blue. No one except John, a true force of nature in the blogging community. Thanks, again, John. And again, and again, and again... (The man is relentless!)

Friday, May 9, 2014

We Interrupt Your Regularly Scheduled Programming... bring you an update on programming from around the world of card blogging. First, I want to bring something to your attention that should be right up your proverbial alley (and I'm not talking about things that only your proctologist should know).

Sports fans are no strangers to call-in talk radio shows. Well, it turns out that even baseball cards get such shows. And, in this marvelously modern world, radio shows take place on the internet. I had the good fortune last night (to be the only listener) to tune in to the first episode of Baseball Card Nostalgia, hosted by Chris of View From the Skybox.

Last night Chris's guest host was Marcus of All the Way to the Backstop. They talked about introducing kids to the hobby, the best Cal Ripken cards and whether he was The Man when it comes to '90s cardboard, and how the Padres really should have found a better fitting uniform for Tony Gwynn in his later years, among other things. It was a lot of fun. I was going to call in, but the show ended before I'd finished my dinner. Maybe next time. If you missed it (and I know you did), you can listen to the archive at the show's site, where you can also go to tune in live for the next episode, which is scheduled to air on Tuesday at 11 pm EST.

Next (for admittedly selfish reasons), I'm going to pimp a couple of contests from around the interwebs. Coincidentally, the prizes for the two contests consist of 2014 Bowman, which is great because I can't afford to be spending money on everything (despite the fact that I want everything), and Bowman is going to be one of the sets that I will only be enjoying in hand-me-down form in 2014.

First of all, over at Dodger Penguin, you can win the Bowman Dodgers team set. If you Twitter or Tweet or Twit, or whatever that thing is, you can earn beaucoup entries. But other opportunities abound, including commenting on his contest post and, of course, pimping the contest. That's why I'm wearing my lime green pimpin' suit with the matching hat, complete with feather, and platform boots. (In my imagination, anyway...)

If you'd rather venture beyond Dodger Blue, an entire hobby box of 2014 Bowman, apparently provided free of cost by Topps (props!), is on offer over at Play at the Plate in celebration of Post #2000. Congrats! So range on over there (where you can see Mike Piazza in what looks to be a painfully compromising position) and get in on the opportunity. Thanks for the contests, guys. And good luck to all.

Lots of us collectors have churned out our own custom cards. We always think we can do it better than the big boys. Which reminds me that (in my patented half-assed fashion) I began (but didn't finish) making custom Dodgers cards last year. And I began (but didn't finish) showing them off on this blog. So, in utterly Random fashion, here are a couple more of my 2013 custom Dodgers...

2013 TBall Virtual Yasiel Puig LAD #66
2013 TBall Virtual Hyun-jin Ryu LAD #99

I know... that is so last year.

The reason I bring this up is that I'd like to point out something that I think is pretty damned cool. In my opinion, one of us really has managed to come up with something that achieves truly professional quality. I know I'd be buying a lot more packs of these things than Donruss or Bowman or Gypsy Queen if they were on the shelves this year. You have probably seen his work already, but if not you should really go check out what Joe of The Shlabotnik Report is up to with his 2014 TSR customs. Really top-notch stuff.

We will return you to your regularly scheduled programming (me yapping about me) tomorrow. Thanks for tuning in, and have a good weekend, peops.

Thursday, May 8, 2014

When It's All Mixed Up, Better Break It Down (or, "A Glowing Review for Gavin")

The 1990s were a strange time of transition. The '80s, love 'em or hate 'em, had a distinct personality that was more than ready to be discarded for something new by the end of the decade. But a whole new century was just around the corner, and that was going to be the time for reinvention. So we had this entire decade to live with a kind of unformed cultural identity in waiting. And when it wasn't boring, it was a minor disaster.

Those of us who watched the game of baseball, and especially the card collectors among us, are keenly aware of this. The decade saw, among other things, cardboard overproduction that nearly crippled the hobby, the dawn of what's come to be known as the steroid era, and a strike that gave us the first season without a World Series since John McGraw refused to allow his Giants to participate in 1904.

The 1990s also saw the beginning of a run of World Series broadcasting duties by this guy that continues to this day.

2004 Topps All-Time Fan Favorites Refractors Joe Buck Broadcaster #141 (91/299)

I got this card from Gavin at Baseball Card Breakdown. It didn't take much prying. Gavin hated this card so much that he wrote a post about it, where you can see it shine in all of its patented Baseball Card Breakdown Refractin' Action glory! I don't hate Joe Buck (or Tim McCarver, for that matter). But even if I did, I would absolutely want this card because of the type of collector that I am. I see my collection as something that should reflect as much of the history of the game, good and bad, as possible.

Since I was born in 1970, my life breaks up nicely into decades. What was for the the world the 1990s, was for me my twenties. Yup, the decade of transition from childhood to adulthood. Which for many people is the time that they essentially abandon play for the drudgery of work. And if you've been reading lately what I've loosely termed a "series," in which I contemplate how this blog fits into my life and my collecting habits, you'll know that the work/play dichotomy is very much on my mind.

Few blogs elicit the joy of play like Gavin's. Among other things, Gavin recently combined his love of baseball cards with his enjoyment of Legos to make some pretty nifty Lego display stands. He has a creative way of looking at this baseball card thing. He has an eye for the interesting. Gavin is the type to appreciate something as Random as finding more similarities than differences between these two very different cards that I requested from a recent trade bait post of his.

2014 Topps Heritage News Flashbacks The Autobiography of Malcolm X #NF-MX
2009 Upper Deck O-Pee-Chee Roy Oswalt HOU #170

That Oswalt is sweet! He's just the kind of player I dig. He's not going to the Hall of Fame, but he shouldn't be forgotten as one of the game's best pitchers for several years. Speaking of the game's best...

2008 Upper Deck Yankee Stadium Legacy Joe DiMaggio NYY #YSL-2230
2012 Topps Golden Greats Willie Mays NYG #GG-12

I couldn't pass up on these, either. The Yankee Stadium Legacy thing can get a bit tedious. But this Joe D in action is some sweet glossy cardboard-substitute. And, as I've mentioned, I missed out on 2012 Topps inserts by buying the factory set rather than busting packs. So, Say Hey, this one makes my day.

When it comes to Gavin, and his love of play, there's nothing to compare with his very own GAV (Glowing Altered Variation) cards. Gavin took his love of glow in the dark cards into his own hands, turning existing cards into custom night lights, which he's happily shared with the blogging community. I had long been anxious to get my hands on one, and Gavin surprised me by fulfilling that wish.

1988 Donruss Lloyd Moseby TOR #367 GAV (Glowing Altered Variation) (1/1)

I don't have the technical chops to show the glow, but if you cruise by Gavin's site you can get an eyeful for yourself. Baseball Card Breakdown is definitely one of the must-read blogs out there, so do yourself a favor and make it regular reading if you don't already. In fact, if you stop by today, you'll note that Gavin would appreciate a '52 Mantle if you happen to have a spare. Hope that works out for you, man. Meanwhile, thanks for spreadin' the fun, Gavin!

This selection of cards from Gavin perfectly reflects the deep transition that my worldview undertook in my 20s. At the dawn of the '90s, I tended to see things in terms of black & white. I was offended by chaos. By the turn of the century, I had embraced the beauty (and inevitability) of the Random nature of existence. In fact, I remember the moment (though I couldn't tell you exactly when it occurred). I was in a plane, traveling alone, on a nighttime approach into LAX. Looking down at life happening below me, in all of it's chaotic glory, I was suddenly at peace with not knowing what was around every corner. Whereas I used to fear getting lost, I would begin to do so on purpose, in order to discover new and exciting surprises. And that change in attitude has radically redefined who I am as a baseball card collector.

Then again, there's one aspect of my habits that hasn't changed, and may never do so. But we're going to have to wait a few days before we get into that.

(To be continued...)

By the way, bonus points for those of you who recognized the lyrics in the title borrowed from the '90s version of Tears for Fears. It really was a strange decade.

Wednesday, May 7, 2014

Finding Flowers in the Dustbin (or, "Survive in Peace")

1996 Upper Deck Ripken Collection Cal Ripken, Jr. BAL #11

Would you miss a day of work if you had this man's job? No, me neither...

Time. That's the single biggest impediment to my ability to blog consistently. Some days, twenty four hours is enough. Most days, it is not. Some of the things that take time away from blogging land in the column marked "positives." The past several weeks, for example, I've had the pleasure of watching my two youngest daughters play high school JV softball, usually three times a week. I haven't missed a game.

Time to brag a little. My youngest, Jana, is the starting shortstop, also a pitcher, and she's her team's cleanup hitter. She recently hit the only over-the-fence home run I've seen in two years of watching JV softball. Her older sister, Kitkat, plays second base. Yup, a family keystone combo, just like Cal and Billy. Yesterday, Kitkat was the hero of the game, driving in the only run of the game's first five innings. (Jana would later drive in the second run, starting a rally that would open up a big lead that they would never relinquish.) Kitkat also made two of the best defensive plays I've seen all year. She did a toe-dance to hold the bag, covering first on a high throw from third on a bunt. On the very next play, she ranged far into foul territory along the first base line to snag a popup with a spectacular running catch. Needless to say, I've got the proud dad thing going.

Watching them takes time, though. So does watching my Dodgers. You can count what I've missed so far this year in pitches, or maybe innings, but not games. Then there's chores. I've started doing the meal planning, shopping, and occasional cooking, while my wife works full time and goes to nursing school. Then, of course, there's work. The vast majority of us spend upwards of forty hours a week in a place we'd rather not be, doing things we'd never choose to spend our time doing. Forty hours. That's a lot of time. Give me a few weeks were I don't have to surrender forty hours of my life to work, and I'll have my cards in order, I'll be sending out packages left and right, and I'll post every day.

I can't really complain too much about my job. My gripe is really with the two thousand hours a year that I'll never get back before I die. But I know that there are plenty of people out there who would really appreciate having my job, or any job. So I do have some perspective on this. I proofread audiobooks for a living. I'm not a surgeon, with the weight of life-and-death responsibility. Or a construction worker, busting my ass in the hot sun all day. I've got it easy. I get that. In fact, I'm writing this post (as with most) on the clock. I just don't want to be here. I want to be home, where there are baseball cards...

Which is why I was so excited a few weeks ago when, wandering aimlessly away from my desk, I looked down at the desk of one of our audio engineers, Ben, and saw... baseball cards! At work! Now we're talking!

1996 Upper Deck Collector's Choice Pedro J. Martinez MON #610

And it wasn't current stuff, either. He had three opened packs of '96 Collector's Choice sitting there. The answer to my excited "WTF!?" was that he'd picked up a whole box of the things at a local gas station a while back. He's not an avid collector, but he did collect as a kid and picked the things up for a little ride down nostalgia lane. Seeing my obvious excitement, he told me to just go ahead and take any of the cards I wanted.

1996 Upper Deck Collector's Choice Mike Mussina BAL #465
1996 Upper Deck Collector's Choice Tom Glavine ATL #455

Turns out it was a pretty loaded triumvirate o' packs. I grabbed these beauties, and a few more, to boot. I didn't leave Ben hanging. I asked him who his favorite players were, and the list he gave me was Roberto Alomar, Don Mattingly, Randy Johnson, Roger Clemens and Babe Ruth. So I hooked him up. Fun all around.

1996 Upper Deck Collector's Choice Greg Maddux Team Checklist ATL #396
1996 Upper Deck Collector's Choice Mike Piazza Team Checklist LAD #406
1996 Upper Deck Collector's Choice Silver Signature Gary Sheffield Team Checklist FLA #399

This is what this baseball card thing is all about. No matter how little time work leaves for the things that matter to us, we owe it to ourselves to enjoy life. Otherwise, what's the point? And Ben is a perfect example of this. When he's not stuck in this office, he's a standup comedian and a drummer for a rock band that's really starting to take off. The name of the band is Survive in Peace (S.I.P.). Perfect. You can check out his comedy and his music on his YouTube channel if you're interested.

Oh, and it also turns out that his cousin, Courtney, is the leadoff hitter on my girls' softball team. Nice.

Well, it's almost time to leave work. Which means my day is really just beginning.

Thanks for the most unexpected of trades, Ben. Nice to have something fun happen during our endless hours of captivity.