Wednesday, January 30, 2019

In Praise of Pristine

Before I officially began my baseball blog, I thought about some topics to write about. One of my initial ideas was to discuss my favorite (and least favorite) card sets, based largely on design elements. Soon after launching my blog I discovered that other collectors had already done a better job of discussing card set designs than I could have, so I scrapped that plan.

More recently, I considered making a Top Ten list of my favorite card sets. That's been done before, too, and too often Topps or Upper Deck used the same design in the same year across multiple sports.

And so I settled on creating an unranked, semi-regular series featuring my favorite sports card brands....starting with Topps Pristine:

These aren't factory-sealed packs. I saved the wrappers, stuck a couple Uncirculated cards in each, and taped 'em up. At the end of this post I'll open each pack and reveal the contents. (It will be a surprise to me too; I've long forgotten which cards are in there.)

Topps produced Pristine basketball cards from 2001-02 to 2005-06. I wasn't interested in the NBA at the time and did not know that the first/last Pristine sets were basketball cards until researching this post.

The only place I knew that sold packs of Pristine was a little hole-in-the-wall card shop tucked inside a corner of the Connecticut Post Mall. Their selection of singles was weak, but they had a wide variety of higher-end products. 

That's where I got hooked on the joy of ripping a pack-within-a-pack-within-a-pack. Each Pristine pack contained 5 or 6 cards and another pack - which contained a relic (and possibly another card?) along with another pack - which contained an uncirculated card.

Here's a look at the base design. I've always been drawn to cards with big logos, and Topps does a great job with these. The logos are clearly visible without being intrusive. 

Refractor parallels (#d/349) really bring out the team colors. I'm not a big fan of the perforated edges on these Gold Refractors (#d/79), nor am I that thrilled with the checklist. There are only 50 veteran players in 2002 Topps Pristine football. The remaining 120 cards are three tiers of 40 different rookies including Julius Peppers, Clinton Portis, and.. Eric Crouch.

During the past COMC sale(s) I was shocked that base cards of Jerry Rice and Brett Favre were available for about 60 cents each. I nearly bought the Brett even though I already have one (ended up buying McNair and Smith instead.) Since I have Favre cards from three consecutive years of Topps Pristine, here's a side-by-side comparison. Which design is your favorite?

I bought at least one pack of 2003 Pristine football. Pulled a Brian St. Pierre RC and cursed myself for wasting my money. I also had a Kliff Kingsbury kard at some point.

I'm not sure if I bought any packs of 2002 Topps Pristine baseball. My interest in baseball was lukewarm at the time - the Yankees were still ruling over MLB with an iron fist - and my card collecting interests were heavily weighted towards hockey and football. But in the years that followed I often added any singles I could find to my Beckett marketplace orders.

Sellers would often have star players priced at $3-5 or more, so I would scrounge for "commons" listed at a buck or less. The checklist is much more balanced in baseball; the first 140 cards are veterans/young stars...

...while cards #141-150 feature baseball legends like Mays, Musial, Yaz, and more.

I'm only missing three of the ten legends in the set (Nolan Ryan, Mike Schmidt, and Reggie Jackson.) A Frank Robinson card arrived in my last COMC order - but it's heavily curled.

This was very strange to me. I've had dozens of Pristine cards in my collection. They all bend a tiny bit but not as severe as this Robinson. I stuck it between two decoy cards inside a thick top loader. That'll straight'n 'im out.

2002 Topps Pristine does have some rookies. The last 60 cards in the 210-card set are three tiers of 20 top prospects, including Joe Mauer and David Wright:

I had these cards on my want list for years, and I insisted on the refractor parallels of the base "common" tier. (What can I say? I'm a sucker for bold, shiny team logos.) Both cards were stubbornly priced at $100+ until about 2010. I waited for the market to cool on these and picked up the Wright for $32 in 2012. The Mauer cost me $29 a year later.

These rookies aren't nearly as valuable to the collecting world as they are to me. Jonny Gomes was a key contributor to Boston's 2013 World Series title. Earl Snyder was a beast in triple-A Pawtucket, but the Connecticut native couldn't stick it in the show.

Before I unseal the uncirculated cards I have a few "free-range" refractors to show you. All three of these are serial numbered to 149, including the Trevor Hoffman..which I cracked open in a prior post.

These are also serial numbered to 149 - including the same Hoffman from before. Which begs the question: are all the refractors initially uncirculated, and any singles found in the wild were broken out somewhere along the way? Or did Topps produce 149 sets of uncirculated refractors and 149 sets of circulated refractors? TCDB appears to indicate the former is more true than the latter.

Now let's see what's been hiding underneath those old wrappers damn, these packs were $30?!? How was I able to afford so many? wife/kids/mortgage in my early 20s.

An uncommon uncirculated rookie refractor (#d/199) of Yale alum Chris Higgins, and a common "" of former Avs defenseman John-Michael Liles. Higgins had some shitty things to say about the Devils so I'm a little surprised I didn't try to sell this. Perhaps I would have, had I known it was under there (under where? hahaha)

More hockey rookies in pack two - Matt Stajan and Jordin Tootoo. I thought there might have been a baseball card in one of the packs. Sorry if I oversold the surprise.

This post is already long so I'll save 2003-04 Topps Pristine hockey for another day. Maybe I'll make that Top Ten list after all...


Monday, January 28, 2019

An Oscar-worthy performance

I'm working on a massive and seemingly never-ending sports card organization project, and when I spend an extended amount of time in my sports card room, I like to have something to watch that doesn't demand my complete and undivided attention. Two weeks ago I watched a movie called Like Father with Kristen Bell and Kelsey Grammer. Last week I watched Nerve.. and yesterday I watched The Hunger Games quad-rilogy. 

I've seen the first two Hunger Games films at least five times, and Mockingjay parts 1 & 2 probably four times. Watching them again got me thinking about how the Oscars completely ignore anything that isn't a prestige flick. It's bullshit. 

I'm not saying that The Hunger Games films should have been nominated for Best Picture (and I'll give the Academy points for at least trying to include big-budget blockbusters since then) but I will say that upon my fifth viewing of this quad-rilogy, I was still emotional over Jennifer Lawrence's incredible performance as Katniss Everdeen.


Jennifer has been nominated for four Academy Awards, and she's the youngest actress ever to receive three Best Actress noms.
  • She was nominated for Winter's Bone when she was just 20 years old (and set the red carpet on fire)

  • She won her only statuette for Silver Linings Playbook...and proceeded to fall on her way up the stage.

  • She was nominated for Joy, but lost to Brie Larson..who also played a character named Joy.
  • She also received a Best Supporting Actress nom for American Hustle. I didn't think she was all that great in Hustle. She was okay. Not nearly good enough to beat Lupita Nyong'o.

She was not nominated for Red Sparrow. I haven't seen that yet, so I can't say if she should have been.

However, I can say with absolute certainty that the best performances of her career thus far were not recognized by the Academy.

I could have picked a dozen other clips from these films, but you get the idea. It's clear that the Academy recognizes Jennifer Lawrence as one of most talented performers of the decade. What's not at all clear to me is how the Academy could reward her talent in one film and willfully ignore it in another.

Anyway, that's my mini-rant for today. Back to baseball card topics next time. :-)


Sunday, January 27, 2019

The Mystery Mailer

I mentioned in my last post that three packages were waiting for me when I got home from work on Friday. One from Julie, one from Wes..and a third one I was not expecting.

The sender's name and return address were unreadable:

But the postage sticker narrowed it down considerably:

By my estimation there are only 2 or 3 Canadian collectors reading this blog. There was no note inside the mailer; the cards would have to provide clues.

O-Pee-Chee Devils! Lucky for me Brian Boyle was not included; it's the only one I have from '18-19.

More Devils, including Zach Parise, Brendan Shanahan, and Cup-winning Capital Devante Smith-Pelly. My Devils collection has been nearly dormant, since almost everyone on the blogs sends me Red Sox and I haven't been able to upload my hockey traders to TCDB (working on that this weekend.) These are most appreciated - but a Canadian sending hockey cards isn't helping me solve the mystery (although it rules out Mike Matson.)

A-ha! Now this is a clue. Three Khris Middleton cards, an Antoine Walker, a Delanie Walker, and a Chris Chambers card. Whoever sent these has an eye for special mini-collections of players who share one's birthday.


Which is what all these players have in common with me: August 12 birthdays. Ian Happ was born the day of the MLB players strike, in 1994. Rafael Araujo was born on my exact birthday. And Plaxico Burress was..a grade-A idiot who once shot himself in a nightclub and probably cost the Giants a Super Bowl. That said, an Ultimate Materials relic #d to 99 is a welcome addition to my collection. (had Plax shot someone else I'd feel differently, obvs.)

But who would know this? Who would have cards of all four sports, including a gold parallel from 2013-14 Score hockey and an obscure Raptor and be generous enough to send a care package of players who have a very specific birthday?

I'm going to go out on a limb has to be Douglas, author of Sports Cards From The Dollar Store, and collector of players who share his 2/14 birthday.

Doug, thank you very much for this surprise package! I'll be sure to send you some return fire as soon as I can.  

Have any of you received a surprise package from a fellow blogger/collector lately?


Saturday, January 26, 2019

First Day Mailday from Wes and Julie

I started my new job yesterday. There was someone using my desk and I don't have a computer set up yet, so the whole day was spent observing the other collector as she talked me through what she does/what I will be doing. I just hope I don't forget it all in the next six days, since I wont be going back for good until Friday.

In terms of actual work, it was the easiest day ever. The boss even buys his staff lunch on Fridays, so I got free pizza and a salad in exchange for doing nothing. However, the lighting in the office and/or the lack of sleep messed with my senses at times. And the day dragged on hardcore after about 2pm. I felt like a pitcher who's been coming out of the bullpen for six years and now the team is stretching him out to be a starter. Am I done yet? Why am I still here? I'm f*cking tired!

Anyway..when I finally got home I had stories to tell my family (they have cereal for everyone! The radio at my supervisor's desk played your favorite song!) I also had exactly as many comments on my First Day post as I had packages in the mail (three.) I'll show off two of them here. 

Julie sent me a surprise mailer just a couple weeks ago, and since I'm a greedy s.o.b. I requested more cards from her. She kindly obliged with this hand-picked PWE:

Moar Sox pls. There were a couple non-Sox in the PWE, including Brooks Robinson...

Jose Altuve and Chipper Jones. As indicated by Julie's sticky note, the Playoff Portraits Pedro is a parallel! Say that three times fast. (Playoff Portrait Pedro parallel. Playoff Portrait Pedro parallel. Playoff Portrait Pedro parallel.)

Also, my goodies from Wes's Area 40 Megabreak arrived. By the time I got in on the action all of my favorite teams were taken - except one. So I had to think outside the box a little.
  • I chose the Rockies in case Wes pulled some former New Haven Ravens. 
  • I chose the Tigers because they were my father in law's favorite team and I have at least three trading partners who are Tigers fans.
  • I chose the Dolphins in case Wes pulled any Dan Marino hits.
  • I chose the Devils because they were still available!
  • And then I chose a random NBA slot but then changed my choice when the NBA teams were getting picked off. Bad idea. Not only was "Random NBA" a good choice, I switched to the Nashville Predators for the chance to pull a P.K. Subban card..and I'm not sure Wes opened any post-lockout hockey cards. 

Wes showed off some of the hits ahead of time, so I knew I had at least four cards coming my way. These were the surprises:

No Marino in the Dolphins pile, but I got a Ricky Williams parallel #d to 56 and a Chris Chambers parallel #d to 275. There's some kind of lava effect that isn't showing up in the scan. As I mentioned in my birthday post Chris and I are both 8/12 babies. More on this in the next day or two...

Two Devils here, including a Petr Sykora parallel and a Patrik Sundstom auto. I've seen these on the blogs before but I know nothing about them. Are they packed out in blasters? At least Sundstrom is correctly identified on this Pro Set card; the year before he was mistaken for Peter Stastny

Also this is the only (surprise) auto I received and I'm thrilled that it's a Devils player who had a solid career and not some scrub from the Dolphins' practice squad.

Here are the Rockies Wes pulled:

Boom, baby! Todd Helton orange parallel #d to 25! (4 of 25 to be exact) Helton is the most notable of all former Ravens, and is also a player I recently wrote about

Wes also included some SI for Kids cards, possibly as filler (unless he had stacks of the magazines in his break?) These were the best of the bunch (i.e. athletes I've heard of):

A new Ohtani for my star player box, and lots of new additions to my Women on Cards binder. Two UConn greats, two gymnastic stars, and an all-time tennis legend. Very cool!

Here are the cards I knew about already. Wes pulled four Tigers hits - two relics and two autos:

Wes, thank you so much for allowing me to participate in the mother of all box breaks. The stories of your unrivaled generosity will be told for as long as people blog about baseball cards.

Julie, if you're reading this, please choose any two of these Tigers and I'll pack 'em in a PWE along with a few other cards you collect. Thanks for all the great cards you've sent me this month. I promise I wont request any more...for a while ;)


Friday, January 25, 2019

First Day


I've had anxiety all month. It started with the interview at the staffing agency, which I thought I stumbled through. Then I managed to schedule two interviews in one day, which led to four days of reminding myself that you cannot blow this. You have to get one of them. You have to get out!

So I was worried over nothing. Okay, got the job. Great! 

Now what? 

Well, now I have to tell the staffing agency that I am no longer in need of their services and tell my boss that I'm leaving. I put off the former and stumbled through the latter. 

I had dreamt of marching into my boss's office and having the "I quit" conversation for years. I really wanted it to come out a lot better than it did. But, whatever, it's done. And so is a week's worth of conversations with my co-workers about when I'm leaving and where I'm going and what's the job like and "He told us he doesn't have time to hire anyone." Which implies that "I'm already overworked and now I'll have to do your job, too. Thanks a lot, jerk."

Only one more week of this to go..and then I get to say all my awkward good-byes. I'm not good at good-byes. I'm not good at greetings, either. 

I met most of the people I'll be working with when I interviewed last week. They didn't know I'd been offered the job, and when the one guy said "Take care." or whatever, I paused. You'll see me again. I don't know that guy's name. I don't even know who to report to, or what will be expected of me other than writing collection letters.

In moments when I am not choking on anxiety, it feels like a dream. Is this actually happening? A picture of a prank formed in my mind, wherein I appear at the new place, ready to start my first day and no one recognizes me. Like they have no idea who I am or why I'm there, and they definitely did not hire me.

It's possible I've seen one too many Twilight Zone episodes.

For that reason, I e-mailed my contact at the new place before e-mailing the staffing agency. Hi there, just wanted to confirm that you remember me, and that I've actually been hired before I officially stop looking for work. Thanks!

If I sound especially neurotic, it's because I've been a tightly-wound ball of nerves all month and I wont be able to relax for another nine hours. Today will be the first day in nearly a decade that I will have to work a full 9-to-5 day. On a Friday, no less.

Also, I woke up at 6:30 a.m. (haven't been able to sleep nearly as much as I need to) and finished Anna Kendrick's memoir Scrappy Little Nobody. Some of her narrative may have crept into this post. "The crazy wants out." 

Sometimes celebrities try to appear as awkward and inept as the rest of us, but I'm not sure how many of them actually are. Anna is the real deal. 

I don't think I've seen any of her films, other than Trolls and a few out-of-sequence chunks of Pitch Perfect but I'm definitely a fan. In fact I think I'm developing an affinity for petite thirty-something actresses who are super chill, progressive, neurotic, and have voiced a princess in an animated blockbuster (haven't forgotten you, Kristen Bell.) 

See, this is what I do when I'm nervous. I distract myself to minimize the anxiety. The cards in this post are the only two First Day Issue parallels I was able to find in my collection. Thought I had a Whalers card, but apparently not. You can't even really tell that they're First Day parallels. I got the Nunez in a flat-rate box of cards I bought on eBay. Couldn't tell by the front that it was a parallel; the serial numbering on the back tipped me off.

Anyway...wish me luck, y'all. Have a great weekend!