Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Greetings from 1997 (Happy New Year!)

So it's New Year's Eve, and the last day of 2013 is upon us.  A time for reflection, a time for hope, and even a time for a little sadness for time gone by.  For your's truly, put me down for the first two.  Normally, I'm a little somber on NYE, but with a new little life on its way to our family, I've got no time for the sadness or looking back.  I'm excited and anxious for the new year and all of its little joys, as well as its many challenges.

But, we as baseball card collectors, one of our favorite pastimes is looking back.  Whether that involves browsing through a binder of cards from a vintage era or trying to complete a 10+ year old set, it's part of the hobby's pulse for most of us.

One older set I'm still working on is 1997 Topps Stadium Club.  Not exactly what you'd call a "vintage" set, but its one that caught my favor back in my teenage years and still has its hooks in me today.  I didn't have the dough to realistically work on the set back then and, truth be told, I wasn't much of a set collector in those days anyhow. Nowadays, I'm happily hunting down the at-large cards at shows and online in hopes of eventually completing '97 TSC at some point.

Over the weekend, I was able to slip out to a local card show for a little while and was pleasantly surprised to actually come across three cards I needed towards the set.  They were in one of those big monster boxes mixed in with a bunch of other base cards from the mid '90s.

I'm creeping my way towards finishing Series 1, as the three pictured in this post leave me just two cards shy of turning the trick (Nos.172 and 187, to be exact).  Series 2 cards seem tougher to come across and, as a result, I'm still considerable number short.

So, this is another quest among many that will spill over into a brand new calendar year, and I'll enjoy the thrill of the hunt just as I did this year all years prior.  The journey is the fun part anyhow, right?

For those that have been kind enough to follow this silly little blog throughout the year, I humbly thank you. Here's hoping all of your sports card pursuits, both vintage and recent, bring you much happiness into the new year.  And, of course, good health and prosperity to you and your families.

God bless, and we'll see ya in 2014!


Sunday, December 29, 2013

Buffalo Gameday, Dec. 29, 2013

It's the final football Sunday of the regular NFL season, so how about a little pop quiz:  Who was Buffalo's quarterback the last time the Bills won a game at Gillette Stadium?

If you said Doug Flutie...you'd be incorrect.

Okay, I admit, this one was kind of a trick question.  The truth of the matter is that the Buffalo Bills have never won a game at New England's Gillette Stadium, a facility that opened for business for the 2002 season.

The Bills have lost all 11 games they've played at Gillette, and have dropped 12 straight away contests overall versus the Patriots, which includes the final game they played at old Foxboro Stadium.

Not since November 5, 2000, when Steve Christie booted a 32-yarder five minutes into overtime, have the Bills defeated the Pats in the state of Massachusetts.  And, yes, former Patriot Doug Flutie was the Buffalo QB on that day.

Since then?  Well, New England's football franchise has completely and utterly owned the Buffalo Bills at home and on the road.  Take on these facts:

-- The Patriots have won 24 of the last 26 overall meetings.

-- From 2003 to 2010, the Patriots won 15 straight in the series.

-- Nine times during the course of this 26-game stretch, the Bills were either shut out or held to single-digit point outputs.

-- Tom Brady is 21-2 against Buffalo for this career with 53 TDs and a QBR of 101.1  His touchdown total is the most vs. any opponent.

So you see a big reason why the last decade and a half of Bills football has been so miserable.  You might be interested to know that I was actually 'in the house' for Buffalo's two wins over the Pats since 2000:  September 7, 2003 (31-0) and September 25, 2011 (34-31), both in Orchard Park.  Pretty impressive for someone who lives in Delaware and only goes to one game per season.  Sadly, my lucky streak dried up earlier this year when my friends and I attended the home opener against the Patriots, a 23-21 killer.

The last two starting quarterbacks to lead Buffalo to victory over Belichick:

In addition to slaying the beast that is Gillette Stadium, the Bills also have a chance to accomplish a couple other significant things today.  With a victory, the Bills will have won three straight games for the first time since the beginning of the 2011 season.  Also, a win would give Buffalo a 4-2 division mark, which would be their first winning record in the AFC East since 2007.

Hey, when you're in the process of missing the playoffs for the 14th straight season, you've gotta find something that qualifies as progress.  And these three things would do quite nicely and at least send Bills fans into the offseason with some happy thoughts.

However, the Pats are a 7-point favorite and they have a chance at the top overall seed in the conference and a first-round bye at the very least.  I don't think Brady and Co. will squander this chance, not at home and not against the Bills.  Expect a game effort by Thad Lewis and Buffalo, but the drought will most likely bleed into the 2014 season.  Sigh...

My Week 17 Picks:  It's do or die time!  Let me get the Bears (+3) to beat the Packers; the Niners (-1) to edge the Cards; and the Eagles (-7) to rout the Cowboys.

For those of us who won't have a team advancing to the postseason, breathe it all in, folks.  This is the last time you'll see your favorite club til the training fields of next July.

And, thanks for bearing with me through all these Buffalo Bills posts throughout the season.



Friday, December 27, 2013

We Couldn't Get Much Higher: A Tour of 2013 Heritage High Number

I kept my word: I waited til Christmas morning to bust open the little treasure box otherwise known as 2013 Topps Heritage High Number.

Before taking you on the grand tour of the product, I figured I'd just spoil the suspense and show you the prized "Real One" autograph that was inserted one per box.  Didi Gregorious wouldn't exactly be my first choice (read: Wheeler, Fernandez or Puig), but it's still a sharp looking card and nice enough signature.  

I will say this much for this year's autograph checklist: some of the players chosen for autos (Didi included) did not have regular non-auto cards in the 100-card base set.  That includes Manny Machado, Jurickson Profar and Mike Olt, to name a few.  Pretty interesting, and somewhat maddening, if I may say so.

I'm not sure if I did better or worse or perhaps the same as last year when I hit a Brian Dozier auto.  Oh well, it matters little since the autographed card wasn't what drew me to this collection in the first place.

Rather, I'm in it for the base cards, which include oodles of fantastic rookies and familiar vets who were not featured in the 500-card regular set.  This is the type of stuff set collectors and OCD cardboard completists like myself live for.

So let's you and me take a journey through all 100 cards and see what this year's edition of High Number Heritage has offered those of us who needed to scratch that itch...


Wow, what a start to the High Number set!  Impact rookies up the wazoo, including L.A.'s Ryu, San Diego's Gyorko and Washington's Rendon.  And, hey, they got the numbering correct this year, too!  [Ed. Note: In case you missed it, last year's High set oddly began with card number H576 and continued from there.]


For me, this is the real highlight of the first page.  The NL's Rookie of the Year and a true superstar in the making, Jose Fernandez and his cardboard stock are on the rise.  Aside from a certain Dodgers outfielder who we'll encounter a bit later, I was most excited to own this card of the young Cuban righthander.


A peculiar and especially annoying trend begins to permeate the second page: that is the random grouping of players from the same team in succession.  Two Sox, two Tigers and two Twinkies on this page.  Stuff like this has been happening with way more regularity in the past decade or so with many of the Topps sets.  I don't know why this bothers me so much, but I appreciate not having duplication of teams on the same page.  [Ed. Note: A reason I've shied away from completing Fleer sets from the '80s and '90s, but that's a story for another day.]


My pick for the best of the page is Boston's Jackie Bradley, Jr.  It wasn't the most auspicious debut in the bigs for Bradley, but with Jacoby Ellsbury out of the way the youngster may finally get to show his goods for an extended period of time.  He's got the tools to be a star, especially with the glove.


Chavez, De La Rosa and Uribe are familiar veteran names.  They're players who could have easily been candidates for the regular 2013 Heritage set.


The showstopper of the lot is most certainly Arenado.  The Rockies rookie arrived to the Majors in late April and did more than hold his own.  A Gold Glove at third base and almost nightly appearances on the Web Gems portion of Baseball Tonight are just the tip of the iceberg for Arenado, who also batted .267 with 52 RBIs in 2013.


An NL East party broke out on this page and nobody told Henderson and Zunino.  Too many Marlins and Phillies on one page for my liking, though Yelich could be a future star.  Atlanta's Teheran isn't a slouch, either.


He's not even a Met anymore, but I had to highlight at least one of the two Mets cards included in this set.  The other, as you will see in short order, will kinda get overshadowed on his page.  Buck was a popular Met and a good teammate during his time in Queens.  He was shipped to the Bucs in August along with Marlon Byrd, who I'm surprised didn't make this set, by the way.


An infestation of Orioles on this page, which clearly gets high-jacked by Brett Cecil's trendy spectacles.  Also, can you believe that Hank Conger is the lone Halo representative in this set?  Shoutout to Marcus' Padres, as well, because that's a pretty neat Kyle Blanks card.


How in blazes did Chris Davis not get into the regular 500-card Heritage set?!  I didn't even realize he was left off the guest list til I was browsing through these cards.  That makes two years straight that "Crush" was relegated to the High Number population.  I'm going to make a bold prediction and say that Davis not only gets into 2014 Heritage, but is knighted with SP status.


This marks the second straight page bereft of rookies.  That streak will come to an end soon, I think, so don't freak out.  A quad of White Sox overtakes the page, but All-Star Delabar and the ageless Ibanez get fair attention, too.  Interesting that Iglesias' July 30th trade to the Tigers isn't reflected on this card.


Koji-mania!  The star of the Boston bullpen and the MVP of the ALCS, Uehara certainly deserves his own spotlight.  And, yes, there is that very famous chain link fence that graces the background of virtually every Red Sox card from the past couple years of Heritage.


Four little Indians...or something.  Melancon and Dirks were in last year's regular Heritage set, but got bounced into High Number heaven this year.  By the way, a third consecutive page without rookies.  Eek!


Somebody please correct me here, but is this not Giambi's first Heritage base card since 2009?!  He had a subset, flashback-y thing in 2010 Heritage, but not since his appearance in the 2009 High Number set as a Colorado Rockie have we seen the ol' Giambino.  A pretty cool pick to be in this year's High set, if you ask me.


Rookie cards make a comback in a big way on this page, especially my man Zack Wheeler who gets center square treatment on this page.  Super-veteran Tejada and Oakland up-and-comer Donaldson make pretty neat bookends to the Mets phenom.


We've already given props to the ROY of the Senior Circuit, so we've gotta do the same to AL's best boy, Wil Myers.  It's only fair...and it just goes to show you that I'm not a total homer fanboy of the Mets.  Myers swatted 13 round-trippers to the tune of a .293 batting average for the Rays in 2013.  He figures to be a big part of the Tampa Bay lineup for years to come.


Oakland and New York Yankee sensory overload here.  Boone Logan and Austin Romine, really?  Though, the Hafner card is great and the Colon card, too, especially since he's now on the Mets. Atlanta might have a future ace in tow with Wood, so that's a keeper in the center square.


It was a coin flip between Wood and Franklin for this spot, but the camo hat really put the young Seattle infielder over the top.  It will be interesting to see where Franklin plays ball this year, as the addition of Cano along with a few other factors may make him expendable.  Potential 20/20 status at shortstop could create some interesting trade demand.


Young Rays, veteran Rays, Rays with weird facial hair.  You've got 'em all right here.  Harang became a Met late in the 2013 season, while Asche showed Phillies fans some flashes at third.


Did you think I'd choose another?  Last year's had-to-have card from High Number was Bryce Harper and this year's is Puig.  I think we've probably seen this photo of the flashy young Cuban in some of the other Topps products, but I don't mind because I think it fits the Heritage vibe rather well.


A trio of Rangers rings in the final full page of 2013 Heritage High.  This page also brings us the rookie card of Pittsburgh's young ace-to-be, Cole, as well as the lone San Francisco Giant in the set.  Kinda surprised that neither Happ or Ziegler made the regular set.


Some analysts called Wacha the game's best pitcher down the stretch of the season and into the postseason. Pretty heady stuff for a guy who began the year in Triple-A.  It's pretty cool to have Cole and Wacha sharing a page, considering these two guys could be going head to head in the NL Central for many years to come.


And here was have the final card of the set, and the last Heritage card of 2013.  Gausman was the fourth overall pick of the 2012 draft, and Baltimore moved him through their farm system at the speed of FedEx overnight delivery.  He made his big league debut for the O's in late May.  The LSU product has a bright future and is a fitting subject to grace the final card of the collection.

So, there you have it.  At this point, it's tough to say which High Number edition I favor more: this year's or last. Of course, 2012's set gave us rookies of Harper, Darvish, Cespedes, and Middlebrooks among others.  This year we've got Puig, Fernandez, Wacha and Myers.  I suppose only time will which of the two ultimately wins out on star power.

In terms of execution, visual presentation and the overall checklist, I think I'd give the nod to 2013.  While I loved last year's cards, the photography had a mostly drab, gray feel to it.  This year we've got plenty of blue sky in the background.  I will, however, hand out a few demerits to the '13 set because there are only two Mets cards, as opposed to four from last year.  A minor note, but, hey, I'm a Mets fan.

I hope you've enjoyed the look at the cards.  If this is your first look, lemme know what you think.  If you did buy the cards and have already checked 'em out, lemme know what you think!


Thursday, December 26, 2013

Stocking Stuffers, Pt. 2: Ginter 'n Chipz

In addition to the three Mets beauties featured in Part 1 of this post, Ol' Santa also dropped off a bunch of 2013 Allen & Ginter packs.  As I've mentioned in the past, Ginter isn't a brand I actively collect, mostly because I'm not keen on all the odd non-baseball insert sets.  Also, I don't like my baseball card sets to have the likes of Wolfgang Puck or Desmond Tutu mixed into the regular checklist among the ballplayers.

However, I've always admired Ginter from afar based on the beautifully composed portraits framed within a very tasteful border.  If A&G didn't have Erin Andrews, the Pope, or Adam Richman as part of its checklist, I'd probably be a perennial devotee to the brand.  As it is, I've kept my distance.

But, that doesn't mean I wasn't anxious as heck to rip into the packs to see what all the fuss has been about.

I certainly wasn't disappointed in the actual baseball player cards.  As a matter of fact, I'm so taken by them that I'd actually toy with the idea of trying to complete the set.  Then again, with a baby on the way and my hobby funds primarily devoted to Topps flagship, Update, Heritage and Archives on a year-to-year basis -- plus a few other random insert and parallel sets -- can I really be expected to chase yet another set?    And, do I really want to be held hostage by that pesky Torquemada or Panama Canal card to finish the set?

As I already touched on, Ginter is famous for a bevy of strange insert sets which most collectors accept with an ease that baffles me.  A couple of the packs I opened had one actual baseball card, while the remaining cards were, for instance, Fort Knox or the planet Mercury.

But, the one A&G insert set that hit the sweet spot was the "Across the Years" entry.  You get a fancily framed ballplayer on the front and info about the player's birthdate on the back, including other famous folks who also share that birthday.  It's off the beaten path, yes, but at least it's still baseball.

If there's one thing that puts Ginter collectors on Cloud 9 it's the mini parallels.  And, I'll admit they're pretty cool. I find all the variations for each somewhat maddening, however, and couldn't imagine trying to keep track of it all. Plus, I very much dislike the horizontal minis; they just don't work.  I'm not a huge nut for minis, but I wouldn't mind having a page or two of them just because.

All in all, I did enjoy my first-ever Ginter ripping experience.  It's nice to deviate from the norm once in a while, and I can freely admit that I have a new appreciation for the brand after getting to see them in an up-close manner.

And, speaking of deviating from the norm...


I also found a few of the Topps Chipz packs nestled into my Christmas stocking.  I've seen these in Target, etc. the past few months but haven't had the impulse to explore them much previously.

But, keeping with the exploratory theme set forth by the A&G packs, it was refreshing to dip into something new within the hobby sphere.

Kinda like the Topps Coins of the past, but much bulkier in weight, these Chipz are something fun for kids and likewise interesting for player/team collectors.  For the most part, the player photos are different from the same one or two that Topps recycles each year for all their other offerings.  Each Chip has gold and silver variations -- and even magnetic parallels.  My one gripe would be the lack of numbering for each chip, making set building and organizing a difficult task.  Otherwise, they are what they are: Chipz.

Whether it was Allen & Ginter cards or Topps Chipz, I had a good time sorting through all my new goodies on Christmas morning.

And, as Mrs. K is fond of saying anytime she gets me cards, "At least it'll give you something to blog about."

Right she is!


Stocking Stuffers, Pt. 1: Threads, Wood and Ink

With the help of Mrs. K, jolly ol' Saint Nick hit a home run with some baseball card stocking stuffers this Christmas.  I probably sounded like a nine-year-old kid when I opened this one particular package, containing three very special cards.

First up, and pictured above, the downright amazing Doc Gooden auto/GU card from 2012 Triple Threads. Numbered 18/75, this dynamic piece of cardboard joy celebrates Gooden's 1984 NL Rookie of the Year award. Doc's signature is a little sloppy, but I can live with that.  Also, I'm surprised that he signs his name "Doc" instead of "Dwight."  And, can we talk about the great-looking jersey swatch?  It's always a bonus to get a pinstripe mixed in.

On a scale of 1-10, this Gooden card is a 16!

Next up, we've got a real jaw-dropper from 2002 Bowman's Best.  Not only is it a rookie card of beloved Mets captain David Wright, but it's a bat relic, too!  I couldn't believe my eyes when I saw this thing.  Truly one of the most beautiful pieces to my Wright collection.  And, quite possibly, the new centerpiece of it.

Finally, a handsome card from 2012 Heritage's "Clubhouse Collection" featuring a piece of David's game jersey. I'd like to eventually track down all of Wright's jersey/relic cards from the Heritage line, and this is definitely a nice start.

The wife certainly outdid herself with this impressive mix of Mets legends, past and present...


Tuesday, December 24, 2013

Christmas Come Early!

As I've mentioned, Mrs. K and I are expecting our first little bundle of joy any day now.  As a result, we've decided to scrap our normal Christmas travel plans.  In other words, instead of driving around the entire Garden State visiting family and friends on the 24th and 25th, we've dropped anchor and will remain here at Kaz Manor through the holiday season.  After all, we live literally five minutes from the hospital where we plan to welcome the newest edition of the Kaz clan.  Thus, no need to stray an hour or two from home base.

While I must admit it's a tad bit sad not to visit all the normal holiday haunts, staying put has its advantages. Namely, all your family and friends come to you!  What a novel idea!

That also means, in some cases, a little touch of Christmas giving/receiving before the jolly fat man in the red suit makes his rounds.

Yesterday, the in-laws paid a visit for dinner and brought with them some goodies for the wife and me (and for Future Kaz, too!).  To my delight, the above little box of cheer made its way into the fold.  I can't wait to bust into this bad boy and check out all the great cards and, of course, the autograph.  I don't feel right breaking into it prior to the actual holiday, though, so I've decided to be a patient lad for another day.

Mother Kaz also made the trip down to Delaware over the weekend.  She was excited to present me with this 2013 Topps Football set because of the special EJ Manuel patch card displayed on the front of the box.  It's very rare to find anything that remotely resembles Buffalo Bills gifts or apparel 'round these parts, so she took this as a sign from God that this should be my gift.  Hey, I'm O.K. with that!  Though, I feel bad for Mrs. K, because I think she probably found the same item at our local Target and bought it for me, as well.  [Ed. Note: Fine, for the purposes of full disclosure, I may or may not have thrown a hissy fit and begged her to buy it for me a month ago when I first saw it.]

I hope everyone out there is having a fun and festive Christmastime so far.  Enjoy the season and remember to tell your family and friends you love 'em!

Merry Christmas to all!


Sunday, December 22, 2013

Ain't That Odd: Happy Birthday, Steve Garvey!

I thought I was having early warning signs of a stroke a few minutes ago when my blogroll was littered with "Happy Birthday, Steve Garvey" posts.

But, after poking around for a few minutes I traced the epicenter of this phenomenon to a quasi-contest post on the GCRL blog.  Indeed, it is Garvey's birthday, and the former Dodger and Padre is one of Jim's boyhood heroes.  So, I figured I'd help feed the disease and have a little fun by posting a Garvey card of my own.  But, the rebel I am, I chose one from his San Diego days.

I've got a little one due any day now myself, and I'm all about helping celebrate Christmastime birthdays.

So, raise a mug to Mr. Garvey, and may the blog takeover in his name continue all day long...


Buffalo Gameday, Dec. 22, 2013

No playoffs, no EJ Manuel, no Stevie Johnson.

With the team officially eliminated from the postseason chase, the short-handed Buffalo Bills (5-9) will close down their home schedule against their AFC East rivals, the Miami Dolphins (8-6).  Kick-off from Ralph Wilson Stadium is 1 p.m. with television coverage on CBS

Once again, Buffalo will be without Manuel, the lone quarterback selected in this past year's draft.  It's the third time the former Florida State Seminole will miss action this season due to a knee injury.  The Bills will also be lacking the services of Johnson, their top wide receiver, as he will be away from the team due to a death in the family.

The Bills will look to Thad Lewis to spell Manuel behind center.  It'll be the fourth starting nod this season for the Duke product, as Lewis guided Buffalo to a 1-2 mark in three October contests.  The lone victory was in Miami on October 20, a 23-21 Bills triumph.  Ex-Dolphins kicked Dan Carpenter played hero for Buffalo that day, booting three FGs including the game-winner with half a minute to play.

The Dolphins are winners of three straight and are still very much alive for the AFC's final playoff spot.  In fact, a win today paired with losses by the Ravens and Bengals would punch Miami's postseason ticket.

Thus, the Bills will be looking to play the role of spoiler this afternoon in rainy Orchard Park.  They'll also attempt to win back-to-back games for the first time this season.

Could this be a trap game for Miami?  They follow up a huge emotional win over the first-place Pats with a trip to Buffalo to play the lowly Bills.  With so much to play for and bigger things on the horizon, might they take a Bills team without their top QB and WR too lightly?  Heck, the game isn't even a sellout, meaning a local television blackout in Wester NY.

But, the Dolphins should be wary of a Bills defense that created three turnovers in their last meeting, including a pick-six.  Miami was also unable to contain defensive end Mario Williams, who channeled his inner Bruce Smith to register two big sacks and a forced fumble that set up the game-winning points.

That being said, I have to like Miami's chances today.  A three-point road favorite, they are playing their best football at the right time.  Thad Lewis is a nice player, but he's prone to fumbles and a few rattles from the Dolphins pass rush in wet conditions could be lethal.

My Week 16 Picks:  Gimme the Rams (-3.5) to roll over the Bucs; the Colts (+7) to cover against the Chiefs; and the Panthers (-3) to handle the Saints.

Ho Ho Ho, enjoy the games!


Saturday, December 21, 2013

Four Topps, #308

So, I'm sitting here dreaming of the baseball cards that Santa might bring me in a few days and I decided to funnel that hopeful spirit into a new installment of Four Topps.  Sadly, the elves at Random.org felt like doling out a hot, steaming spoonful of Bah Humbug! when they came up with today's card number.  Oh well, maybe it won't all be coal.

Wellp, let's go back to the magical picture card era of 1987-90 and check to see if we've been naughty or nice with card No. 308, shall we?


Ooh, off to a good start with the hunched batting stance of longtime backstop Don Slaught.  You know you've got a top-shelf card design coupled with a decent photo when a Don Slaught card gets you excited.  Slaught batted .264 with one homer and 13 RBIs in 95 games for Texas in 1986.  Is this card Naughty or Nice:  Nice, of course.  It would take a devious creature to get on Santa's naughty list when you're wearing the wood grain border of an '87 Topps card.


Brooklyn's very own Lee Mazzilli.  Your standard spring training facility snapshot of the handsome Italian-American lad.  In a limited role, Mazzilli contributed three homers and 24 RBIs to the '87 Mets.  Naughty or Nice:  A Mets card from '88 Topps, what do you think?  Nice!


Let's have a little BP action with Ron Karkovice!  Everything works out rather well on this card: It's a fantastic action shot, framed and centered well, and the color elements of the '89 Topps design accent it harmoniously. Kark appeared in 46 games for the ChiSox in 1988, cracking three homers with nine RBIs.  Naughty or Nice:  No 1989 Topps card has ever been naughty, and don't let anybody tell your differently.


Oh jeez.  Naughty, I say, naughty!  Naughty or Nice:  Umm... NAUGHTY!

And the Winner Is:  In Santa's eyes, we're all winners (even you, Jose).  But, for the sake of this exercise, there can only be one true champion.  It came down to the two catchers, but I'll give the candy cane to the '87 Slaught, with the '89 Karkovice getting the second-place fruit cake.