Monday, May 20, 2019

There Goes My Hero (Card)

This weekend marked my yearly pilgrimage to the famed Brickyard, the home of the greatest spectacle of speed this side of the Atlantic, aka Indianapolis Motor Speedway.  For the better part of the last two decades, my family and I have made the three-hour trek southeast from Chicago to Speedway, IN to take in the festivities surrounding the famed Indianapolis 500.   While we have never been able to make it town for the race itself, since 2003, we have made it our mission to see how the field is set for the Memorial Day tradition, coming to town to enjoy the Pole Day and/or Bump Day drama.

This year, despite the overly-rainy spring and the dreary weather forecast, was no different.  Although precipitation was anticipated throughout the late morning and afternoon, making the likelihood of on-track action a longshot, at best, we still loaded up the car and drove three hours down I-65.  The risk vs. reward potential was potent - the chance that we might get to see if Penske Racing could win yet another Pole Position and whether or not Formula One Champion and international superstar, Fernando Alonso, could actually get "bumped" from the starting grid of 33 cars provided a strong draw.

From the moment we parked, most of the day was spent under awnings and umbrellas, soaking up rain instead of intrigue.  Luckily, the Speedway has a sprawling museum within it's walls, which provided a welcome distraction from the gloom around us.

The facility is stuffed to the gills with historic vehicles and artifacts from the facility's 111-year past, including a special exhibit dedicated to the most famous name in American auto racing, Mario Andretti, celebrating the 50th anniversary of his only triumph in the Indianapolis 500.  However, that being said, despite coming face-to-face with the very Marmon Wasp which crossed the finish line first in the inaugural "500" in 1911 and the iconic Borg-Warner Trophy itself within the museum walls, it was actually something that I came across in the lobby that caused me the most wonder:

Nestled among the complimentary maps and spotter's guides scattered on the ticket counter, was this sole hero card.... and I took one of each.  For those who are not overly familiar with motorsports memorabilia, hero cards are basically over-sized trading cards that are used by drivers to fulfill autograph requests during appearances. Thus, coming across something like this at the country's most famous racing circuit, on the surface, isn't much of a surprise.  But, here's the thing...

Sarah Fisher is one of a select few women who has qualified for the "international 500-mile sweepstakes" and broke down barriers at the speedway as both a driver and owner throughout the 2000's.  This hero card showcases Fisher's racing team, Sarah Fisher Hartman Racing... which hasn't been to the track since, or any track at all, since 2014. Hmmmm....

A look at the reverse of this perplexing oddball indicates that our mystery card dates from the year 2012, a year in which she and her team provided future IndyCar Series Champion, Josef Newgarden with his first big break in the sport.

As cool as a find as this was, all I can think about is what in the world is a hero card from 2012 - a full seven years ago - doing here?  Was it left behind by a fan, who hoped to run across the famous driver and get her signature, while paying for their museum ticket?  Did a museum employee stumble across it in a stack of papers and tossed it out with the track maps to simply get rid of it?  Does Sarah Fisher sneak about the speedway and leave these hidden in secret places as a calling card?  The world may never know.

At any rate, this oddity is mine now.  Since Indy Car hasn't had a set of cards made since 2007 (and before that is spotty, at best), these hero cards are the closest thing to traditional trading cards the sport has.  I'm quite content adding this souvenir to my most "IndyCard" collection.  Maybe someday I'll even fulfill it's purpose and get Sarah to sign it in a future month of May.

Anyway, let me throw up a few pictures of what was found in the museum itself.  After all, I talked it up pretty heavily and then proceeded to blabber on and on about a random card I found in the lobby outside.

Ray Harroun piloted this appropriately-painted Wasp to victory in 1911, making use of the very first rearview mirror.

The most beautiful race car to ever hit the bricks - Al Unser's 1970 winning "Johnny Lightning Special."

Bill Vukovich piloted this roadster to victory in 1953 - he would tragically perish, while leading the race, two years later.

The Borg Warner Trophy awarded to the victor.

That's obviously a small sampling of what's to be found with the IMS Museum; however, I can't give away all their secrets in this silly blog post.  I will say, I've wandered around the museum many times and I am always awestruck by the incredible progress made in the automotive and racing industries.  Seeing all these eras of the race physically represented under one roof is an experience I can't recommend enough.  If you're ever in the area, I cannot recommend stopping by enough.  They're even open year round!

Luckily for us, a couple of hours after we wrapped up in the museum, the skies opened up and a little sunshine broke through.  Although, with more storms on the way, the window was going to be tight.  As such, the track-drying crews lept into action, fired up the fleet of jet-driers, and got the surface ready to go in just an hour and a half.  Lo and behold, there was racing, after all!

The drama was absolutely worth the wait, as well.  Lo and behold, the Goliath of Alonso and legendary Team McLaren were taken down by the David of Kyle Kaiser and his un-sponsored, single-car operation in the very last run of the qualifying session.  After witnessing that major upset, in person, made Simon Pagenaud winning Penske's 18th pole feel almost like a footnote.  The month of May began with Alonso's quest to win motorsports coveted "Triple Crown" - the Indy 500, 24 Hours of LeMans, and the Grand Prix of Monaco (the latter two of which he's already conquered) - as the dominating story line and, yet, he didn't even qualify for the race... beat by a team that didn't even know if they had enough money to make an attempt.  I do not think anyone could have possibly predicted such a shocking turn of events.

Team McLaren wheels their beaten racer back to Gasoline Alley shortly after being bumped.

Just a few minutes after the starting grid was officially set - we hadn't even made it back to the parking lot yet - the rain began to fall again.  Talk about perfect timing!  Considering the bleak outlook, the day could not have possibly gone better for us and our fellow spectators - everything worked out perfectly and we got a damn good show.

Now, the field of contenders is set.  All that's left to is to see who wins the 103rd running of the Indianapolis 500 this upcoming Sunday.  Rather than dodging raindrops, I will be watching the race comfortably from my couch, cheering on Graham Rahal and Sebastien Bourdais.

I'm glad I found that Sarah Fisher hero card hiding out at the museum, as it provided the perfect excuse to profess this on Wrigley Roster Jenga.  I have to wonder though, am I the only baseball card blogger who pays attentions to the goings-on of Indy?  Are there others on the blogosphere who enjoys the high-octane thrills of the greatest spectacle in racing?  Please feel free to revel with me in the comment section below.

This might come as some surprise, as I absolutely adore the Cubs and baseball (after all, I have this whole blog centered around the franchise); but, the Indianapolis 500 is my favorite annual sporting tradition!

Wednesday, April 17, 2019

Sunday, April 14, 2019

Taking Matters Into My Own Hands

Yesterday, I posted a little bit of a rant about the revamp of Topps Total.  To recap - I loved the original run of the product but this new version of Total is an overpriced, on-line exclusive, bastardization that besmirches Total's good name.  In other words, I am not a fan.

Even with my disappointment, with first 100-card wave (of nine) having been made available through Topps' website yesterday, I couldn't help but flip through and see what Cubs made the checklist.  Daniel Descalso, the off-season free agent signing made to replace Tommy LaStella, was the only non-marquee North Sider to earn a bullet point, so far.  No images have been released of Daniel's card, so far, as the checklist only just went live and orders haven't been shipped yet.  So, I took it into my own hands to whip up an example for my "rave review" post from yesterday.

The template wasn't too hard to make and I was rather happy with the finished product.  At first, that made me even more mad that I wasn't going to be able to afford 2019 Total (unless I can find good deals on the secondary market).  However, upon further reflection, I decided that since I had a template all ready to go, I should just take matters into my own hands and create my own version.  It's all the fun of Total and it costs me exactly nothing.  What a deal!

So far, I've whipped up the following cards for all of those Cubs players who are currently on the 25-man roster who have not yet received a proper Cubs card in any product, as of today:

Honestly, the Randy Rosario card might be my favorite of the whole bunch - I love the image that I was able to find for the lefty.  These guys have both been in Chicago since last summer and were ignored by Update and all other pertinent releases.  No love for middle relievers.

The first two call-ups of 2019 were both covered by my mock Total.  Ryan made his Cubs debut last week and Webster only had a brief cameo at the very end of last season, so it's no surprise that they have no Cubs cards in their cardboard ledger yet.  Hopefully they pitch well enough to earn a real one some day.

Lastly, we have another off-season, free-agent signing in Brad Brach.  There are surprisingly few images of Brach in Cubbie Blue on the internet, so I had to go a little off-kilter with this photograph of him being removed from the mound.  Hopefully, I can find a happier snapshot in the future and update this bad boy.

Speaking of the future, fellow off-season, free-agent reliever signings, Tony Barnette and Xavier Cedeno, will both eventually be included in this virtual checklist.  However, both are currently residing on the injured list and have been out of action for most of spring training, as well.  Thus, they have ever fewer usable images to choose from; so, I will be holding off on those two until they make a few appearances off of the IL and on the mound at Wrigley Field.  I mean, the current iteration of Total is being released in waves; thus, it's only appropriate that so too will my copy cat version. 

Of course, my edition is free and not ten dollars a pack, so I still win.

Look for future editions of Wrigley Roster Jenga Total at this web address.  I will be making updates throughout the season as players come and go and/or when I feel like it.  Also, please feel free to critique my work in the comment section below.  In the meantime, I'm going to go sit and stew in my disappointment with Topps' treatment of Total for a little while longer.

Saturday, April 13, 2019

A Total Letdown

It was this cryptic tweet which sent a certain sector of the online card collecting community into an absolute tizzy Thursday night.  The implication that the cult-favorite Topps Total product would be returning to store shelves sometime this year is enough to make many a low budget collector dance for joy.  I, for one, was tempted to run down my street while joyfully announcing the news to my confused neighbors.

The basis of the original Total brand was to provide a broader look into the playing rosters for baseball, basketball, football, and - briefly - hockey teams in any given year.  When it comes to baseball, that meant an incredibly large, one-shot checklist of over 900 glorious cards, which featured the likes of backup catchers, utility infielders, middle relievers and Quad-A in-betweeners who are all-too-often ignored by Topps' Flagship and other numerous products.  This all-encompassing set featured a few inserts and parallels; but,  all in all, the focus was certainly on properly documenting each team's active playing roster as best as possible.  Running from 2002 through 2005, Topps Total may very well have been my favorite Topps product of all-time.

Why is that you might ask?  Well, if you've ever read Wrigley Roster Jenga, you know that my baseball card collection revolves around the Cubs' all-time roster.  My Cubs' All-Time Roster Collection, in which I attempt to obtain one card of every man to ever suit up in Cubbie Blue, has been my main focus for more than a decade, was what inspired me to start this blog in the first place (to document my progress), and is the most treasured binder on my shelf.  Therefore, with that collecting goal in mind, it shouldn't come as a surprise that such a product would be so important to me and my niche compilation of cardboard.

Total's original run produced rare Cubs cards (sometimes the only known examples) of several cameo Cubbies in my collection, including, but not limited to:

Alan Benes (2002-03)...

...Chad Fox (2005, 2008-09)...

...Jose Macias (2004-05)...

...and guys who I have yet to track down in the wild, like Kent Mercker (2004) and Pat Mahomes (2002) - the journeyman pitcher, not his star quarterbacking son.  Thanks to the Trading Card Database for the illustrative scans - if you have spares of these particular cards lying around, I'd love to talk trade.

In fact, in one case, Topps Total is responsible for the only known Big League cards WHATSOEVER of a 14-year MLB veteran.  Believe it or not, it's the god's honest truth.

Ron Mahay, who was born and raised almost next-door to me in Crestwood, IL, appeared in Major League games from 1997 through 2010, and yet he never appeared on a single non-Total pasteboard.  The 2004 piece and it's compatriot from 2005 are Ron's only Major League documentation to come in a traditional format (though there are some oddballs floating around).  Strange, right?

The reason for this slight is really quite simple, Ron Mahay was a scab - he served as a replacement player during the player's strike of 1994-95 and crossed the picket line to attend spring camp with the Red Sox.  As a result, Mahay was banned from the MLB Players' Union and thus kept out of all events and products associated with their licensing.  Of course this never changed for Mahay (or any of his fellow picket-crossers), so I don't know why the shun was lifted for two years of Total and only Total; however, I sure am glad that Topps gave a little bit.  After all, though it may be a Rangers card, with such an odd circumstance, I'm lucky to have any card of the 2001 Cubs reliever for my CATRC, let alone a Cubs one.

As you can see, Total may have only been around for a scant four years, but it has continued to be an invaluable resource for my most hallowed collection.  Needless to say, I was absolutely pumped up to see that the product was making a grand return.

Well... I was, anyway.  Then, Topps released the details...

I'll let Ryan Cracknell handle the overview - feel free to pause here and read his article about the "Total package."  If you don't want to take the time, I'll distill it down to the nitty gritty - they've turned Total into some quasi-high end BS.

The concept is still the same - a 900 card checklist which shines the spotlight on each team's roster, from top to bottom.  However, this is where the path begin to diverge from the source material.  This time around, it's only going to be baseball because, you know, license exclusivity.  The set has been broken down into waves (nine in all) of 100 cards each and will only be available for a set amount of time.  You know what that means:  you won't be finding these cards on the shelves of your LCS or the aisle-ways of Target and Walmart.  Total will only be available online.  In my eyes, this is a bit of a downer, but not a total deal-breaker.  I'd much rather be able to swing by a shop and pick up a few packs of my primo product; but, this is the 21st century and all.  Online shopping my preferred avenue, though it is not the main problem in this situation.

Here's the thing, the OG Total was a low-end, set-builder focused product with packs of ten cards selling for about $1.50, as I recall.  The revived version will also feature packs of ten cards - through the Topps website, of course - with a price tag of... wait for it.... $10.

That's right, ten bucks for just ten cards... a dollar per card.  That's insane!

While the price falls in line with most of Topps' other "on-line only" products like Now and the Living Set, in those cases, the buyer knows exactly what they are getting when that box shows up on their doorstep.  For Total, we have to slap down an Alexander Hamilton for a ten-card, lottery scratch off in the hopes that we end up with the cards that we desire.  If I not lucky enough to pull my Daniel Descalso (the only person making their Cubs debut, according to the 2019 Total Wave One Checklist), in the first overpriced pack, it could cost me upwards of $20 just to snag this base card?  No thank you.

Now if there were a way to purchase team sets or do some sort of subscription service for this bastardized version of Total, I might still consider partaking.  That said, ten dollars for a pack is a price point that is simply ludicrous.  Hopefully the singles show up for cheap on the secondary market, as investors and breakers are the only people ready to jump at that rate.

I guess I'll just have to make my own....

And so, what a roller-coaster of emotion this news turned out to be.  I started drafting this post just hours after the original tweet teased Total's return, basking in a warm glow of enthusiasm and anticipation.  In the end, I should have remembered that anything that sounds too good to be true, usually is. 

Anyway, those are my thoughts on the matter, what are yours?  I invite you to share how you feel about these developments in the comment section below.  Do you think that Topps is gauging collectors with this pricing?  Does the online exclusivity bother you more than it does I?  Do you find this all to be perfectly reasonable?  Do you even share the same warm-fuzzies about Total that I do?  I implore you to weigh-in on the matter on this post as I am quite curious how my fellow collectors feel about all of this.

In my humble opinion, this turned out to be a Total letdown.

Friday, April 12, 2019

R.I.P. Scott Sanderson

In the days before the Theo Epstein-lead Cubs revival, playoff appearances were a rare treat on the North Side of Chicago.  Much was made of the 108-year World Series win drought, but in that same time there was a 39-year long streak of not even making the postseason, from 1945-84.  Even after that, October baseball in Wrigley Field only happened about twice every decade, more or less.  As such, we Chicagoans held our Divisional winning and Wild Card earning squads on high esteem, much like most, more successful franchises do for their World Champions.  After all, we had to take what we could get.

When I was a kid, I used to take the cards out of my binders which featured players from these notable rosters and stack them accordingly - 1984, 1989, 1998, 2003, 2007, 2008 - and marvel at their glory.  With fall cameos occurring so infrequently, there was rarely much crossover between these piles of postseason Cubs.  In fact, until the Theo Era, Kerry Wood was the only player in the history of the franchise to see action in four different playoff years.  With that in mind, anyone who was lucky enough to appear for more than one was a truly special Cub, in my eyes.

Scott Sanderson was one of those special guys.  Sadly, last night we learned that the workhorse starter had passed away, suddenly and of undisclosed causes, at the far too young age of 62.

 The wear on these cards from my childhood collection suggests they might have been involved in this stacking.

Sanderson played a key role for two of the most well-loved Cubs teams in the sprawling history of the Chicago National League Ballclub - the 1984 Cubbies, that broke the long postseason drought and came within one game of the World Series, and the 1989 "Boys of Zimmer," who came out of nowhere to thrill fans with a roster full of young guys who played way above their head but didn't know any better.  For both teams, Scott was an unsung hero and took to the mound every fifth day as the fourth starter in the Cubs pitching rotation.  He was particularly effective during the '84 season, as he twirled to the tune of an 8-5 record with a 3.14 ERA in 24 starts.

All told, Mr. Sanderson spent six total years on the North Side of Chicago - bookended by those playoff appearances - posting a compiled record of 42-42 with a 3.81 ERA.  Mediocre, maybe, but serviceable and reliable.  The "Lovable Losers" could certainly count on Scott to put them in a position to win whenever he got the ball.

However, it wasn't just those years in Cubbie Blue which endeared him to the Windy City sporting faithful.  While Scott was born in Michigan, he came of age in Chicago and starred in the prep ranks for Glenbrook North High School in suburban Northbrook.  In fact, he first made himself known to the city as a key member of the 1974 Glenbrook North state-champion baseball team.  After being drafted in the third round of the 1977 draft, it took Sanderson only 28 minor league appearances before making his Big League debut with the Montreal Expos.  A few years later, the local product made his grand return to the Second City after a three-team trade with the Padres.

We sports fans sure do love when the prodigal sons return.

And if that wasn't enough Chi-Town for you, Scott also made a one-year cameo appearance with the White Sox and should've made the playoffs with the South Siders too.  Unfortunately, the single season he played with the Palehose, just so happened to be the strike-shortened 1994 campaign.  When the lockout officially began, Sanderson's Sox were sitting pretty with 67-46 record with an AL Central crown in their future.  Of course, sadly, that would never come to pass.

In the end, Sanderson also spent some time with the Yankees (where he made the All-Star team in 1990), Athletics, Giants, and wrapped up his 19-year career with the Angels.  It was during this time with the Halos that he encountered an young, aspiring coach by the name of Joe Maddon, who upon learning of Scott's passing, commented that he was “thoughtful, kind. Just a wonderful man.”

After he finally hung up his cleats upon the conclusion of the 1996 season, Sanderson returned to the Chicagoland are, settling down in nearby Lake Forest.  From there, he stayed involved in the game he so loved, operating as a player agent.  Such notable names as Josh Beckett, Todd Helton, Josh Hamilton, and Lance Berkman employed his services, as did former Sox teammate, Frank Thomas.  As you can see, the connections between Scott and Chicago are plentiful.

We're going to miss Scott Sanderson here in the "town that Billy Sunday could not shut down."  At this point, all I can say is R.I.P. to a Chicago sporting legend, a Cubs and Sox fan-favorite, and a truly special player in the early years of my fandom.  You'll always have a place in my special stacks.

Wednesday, April 10, 2019

Hocking a LOOGY

We're not even two full weeks into the 2019 Major League Baseball season and the Cubs have already been forced to make their second roster alteration on the year.  As we covered in yesterday's post, the North Siders' bullpen has been suspect at best and the starting rotation hasn't been much better.  The lone bright spot on the pitching staff has been Opening Day starter, Jon Lester - he and his 2.57 ERA has been the exception that proves the rule.   While the frameworks of a dynasty have crumbled around the Cubs' fan base in the early going, a "Big Jon" start still feels almost like an automatic win.

So, of course, Lester tweaked his hamstring while running the bases in the Wrigley Field opener and has landed on the injured list.  Groovy.  This is why we can't have nice things.

In all seriousness, it appears to be a minor issue, as an MRI didn't show anything alarming and Lester is only expected to miss one start... maybe two.  Fingers crossed that Jon feels better soon because anything beyond that might mean an extended stay in the rotation for the historically wild Tyler Chatwood.  That thought is enough to make any Cubs rooter shudder with dread.

With Chatty expected to step out of the pen and into the opening in the rotation during Jon's 10-day stint, that meant Theo and crew had a chance to call upon another reliever from AAA Iowa as part of the ongoing effort to extinguish that dumpster fire.  Enter, Tim Collins:

Tim was inked to a minor league deal - and allotted a 40-man roster spot - just as spring camp was being packed up in Arizona.  The lefty was looked upon as a depth piece with ample Major League experience who could step up on an as needed basis.  I don't think anyone in the front office expected Tim's phone to ring quite so early in the season; but, nevertheless, here we are.

Mr. Collins first ascended to the Big Leagues in 2011, as a member of the Royals after bouncing around the farm systems of a few clubs.  Though undersized (5'7"), the rare pure relief prospect was valued for his ability to miss bats and he ultimately he struck out 25% of the batters he faced while allowing a meager .220 average against during his four years as a key member of the Kansas City late innings relief corps.  Then, the wheels fell off midway through the 2014 season when Tim heard the words that every pitcher dreads:  Tommy John Surgery.  Even worse, he would have to go under the knife for the procedure twice before he could again take to a professional mound.

After years of rehab, Collins clawed his way back to the Majors with the Nationals last season, where he appeared in 38 games, without earning a decision.  While that may seem odd, the 22.2 innings count indicates that the Nats used today's subject as a pure LOOGY, a role in which he was merely okay in with Washington (.222/.314/.444 allowed against lefties).  Now, he'll get another chance to redeem himself in Chicago.  It would be fantastic for all parties involved if Collins were to rediscover his pre-injury form - everyone loves a comeback story and the Windy City bullpen could use an unexpected hero.

Collins (left) and Everett Teaford borrow a pair of Jonathon Broxton's pants in 2012

Like most relievers, Tim Collins doesn't have much of a cardboard footprint.  The lefty has a few Bowmans and twice made an appearance in Topps Update (2011 & 13).  Luckily for me, I was able to track down a cheap Collins card for my Cubs All-Time Roster Collection on Ebay - the 2011 Bowman Chrome Draft Picks and Prospects single that you see at the top of this post.  While I'm not  in love with the overly dark design of this product, which is made all the more drab by the nighttime picture used by the old bubblegum company, I do enjoy that fact that it puts the pitcher's unique windup on full display.  That characteristic and the free shipping were enough for me to click "buy it now."

Well, that and my overwhelming urge to plug the hole that instantly opened up in my binder upon Collins' call-up.

At any rate, welcome back to the Big Leagues, Mr. Collins.  Also, welcome to Chicago and to my treasured CATRC binder.  Here's hoping that "hocking a LOOGY" is enough to put out this pitching dumpster fire!

Tuesday, April 9, 2019

Within Adversity, Comes Opportunity

The Cubs pitching staff has opened the 2019 season in absolute shambles.  On five separate occasions, the offense has has exploded to post at least ten runs on the scoreboard and the team is, astoundingly, just 2-3 in those games.  This goes without saying, but a team should not be under .500 in such potent offensive conditions.  The bullpen has imploded late on several occasions and Cubs starters simply aren't lasting long enough - thus, exposing what has been an obvious weakness.

The club's overall record is a disappointing 3-7, largely caused by a pen that has the second worst ERA and given up the most walks in all of baseball.  I wish I could say that such a disaster was a surprise, but Cubs faithful worried about this very situation all winter.  With closer Brandon Morrow out until May due to off-season surgery, things were already stretched a bit thin.  Then, a spate of injuries befell many, if not most, of the Cubs' relief options in Spring Training, leading to a patchwork pen that has dug the team into an early hole. 

With that all of that in mind, the Cubs shuffled their deck a couple of days ago, demoting the struggling Carl Edwards, Jr. to AAA to work on his delivery and moving Mike Montgomery (who had been battling illness late in camp) to the Injured List.  Of course, this opened up two spots on the active roster for fresh relief arms... who could hopefully stop some of the bleeding.  One of the men called up was former top Dodger/Red Sox prospect, Allen Webster, who earned a brief September call-up last season and dazzled in Mesa.  Webster is already represented in my Cubs All-Time Roster Collection binder; however, the guy who flew from Des Moines to Chicago along with him is not. 

Within adversity comes opportunity... in this case, an opportunity for a Cubs debut:

Kyle Ryan has been in the Chicago system since January of 2018 and has plied his trade for the Iowa Cubs.  Theo and Co. were impressed enough with his performance in the Pacific Coast League last season, bouncing between the bullpen and starting rotation (2.86 ERA in 66 IP with 61K's), to ink Ryan to a Major League deal and dedicate a 40-man roster spot to the lefty this past winter.  Now, he'll be tossed into the fire to take Montgomery's role as a dual LOOGY/long reliever.  Hopefully, he's up to the challenge.

Now, as you can tell by the 2015 Donruss Diamond Kings card above, Kyle Ryan was not drafted by the Cubs.  In fact, when he first appeared in Cubbie Blue on Saturday, he wasn't even making his Major League debut.  The newest Cub had actually seen significant time in the Show with the Detroit Tigers from 2014-17 appearing in 88 games across that span.  It was bouts of wildness that cost him his job with the the Motown club (11.1 BB/9 in 2017).  If those issues bubble back up in the Windy City, they could quickly end the revival of his Big League career.  The current pen has enough issues, as it is.

As for the card itself, luckily for me, my local card shop just so happened to have Ryan's unlicensed rookie stuffed in a bin full of miscellaneous Tiger singles.  Although the current iteration of Diamond Kings is, unfortunately, sans Major League logos, I do quite enjoy the elegant, painting-like design of the product - each card even has the texture of art canvas.  If only Panini could only avoid airbrushing...  Oh well, I'm still pleased to add this pasteboard to my precious CATRC binder.  Bonus points for the story of Ryan's first career on the backside, which just so happened to come against his now Crosstown rivals.

Embed from Getty Images

Meanwhile, back on the mound, the 27-year old has made it into two games on the young season, so far, and he immediately fit right in by giving up a free pass and two earned runs in 2/3 of an inning in his debut.  That said, he bounced right back in an encouraging way the next day. twirling 1.1 frames of scoreless and walk-less baseball.  More of that please - if Kyle keeps pitching that way, it's going to be hard to send him back to the Hawkeye State!

Best of all, as of this writing, the hemorrhaging seems to have come to a merciful end, as the Cubs relief corps has posted 12 scoreless innings in a row.  This may seem like a modest achievement, but with the way things were going early on, Cubs pitchers had to feel a little like Charlie Brown out there on the bump:

Of course, at the same time, Jon Lester tweaked his hamstring in the Cubs' home opener and is expected to go on the Injured List himself, which could have ramifications in both the rotation and the pen.  Therefore, we may not be done with the bullpen shuffling this April.  Furthermore, if the starters can't get their act together and the bullpen can't stay in this groove, this could be a long season in Wrigleyville.

Hopefully this doesn't degrade into a situation like the old days at Wrigley Field, with a merry-go-round of faceless relievers cycling on and off the mound and giving up runs like candy at a parade.  Remember Kameron Loe as a Cub?  How about Manny Corpas?  Or Hisanori Takahashi?  Probably not and there's a pretty good reason for that.  Luckily, the Cubs offense looks to be stronger than ever, unlike those clubs from the dark days of the Cubs rebuild; so, I'm not overly concerned... yet.

At any rate, that's enough doom and gloom for one post.  Welcome to Chicago and to my CATRC binder, Kyle Ryan.  Here's hoping that the buck stops with you and Allen Webster!