Thursday, August 13, 2015

Nacional de Feria

It wasn't that long ago that we card bloggers were basking in the glow of the National Sports Collectors Convention.  I wasn't able to make it, even though it was pretty much in my backyard; however, I was able to live vicariously through several blogs as they showed off their exceptional hauls.

What, with the overwhelming amount of memorabilia, deals to be had and exclusive releases, it was almost impossible not to be jealous.  Unfortunately, adult life has a tendency to get in the way.
But, that doesn't mean that I wasn't able to secure some new cards recently from a national convention - just not THAT national convention.

In fact, not even that nation:

OK - Puerto Rico may be a U.S. territory; but they are a commonwealth and still not a state.

Anyway, I was able to dig up some cards that were issued to promote Nacional de Feria - Toleteros y Juntacosas - which translates, roughly, to National Fair of Sluggers & Things Together (hooray high school spanish!) -  Puerto Rico's own trading card convention.

This is a big deal and has been held annually for 21 years now.  I was able to secure an assortment of promotional cards from both the 2007 and 2009 editions of the Nacional on the cheap for my own amusement.  Apparently, a set of cards is released each year and they are used as admission passes for the event.  How cool is that?

On the back of these standard-size cards, which you see above, is an advertisement for the convention - here's the back of the 2009 edition:

Very little changes year-to-year, it seems.  Meanwhile, the front of these promotional pieces features famous toleteros of the Liga de Béisbol Profesional de Puerto Rico, the top-rung, pro baseball league on the island since 1938.  It's also quite commonly used for U.S. players as a winter league for continued development during the off-season.

Now, you may be asking yourself, why would I, a strict Cubs collector, be interested in a set that would obviously not include any Cub uniforms?  Well, one of the players to found in the lot actually managed to break into the U.S. Major Leagues, with none other than the Northsiders:

Hiram "Hi" Bithorn is a legend in Puerto Rico.  After pitching for the Leones de Ponce in PR from 1936-41, Bithorn became the first player born in Puerto Rico to play in Major League Baseball when he debuted for the Cubs in 1942.

He hit the ground running; after a solid rookie year, Hiram quickly became the ace of the Cubs in 1943, going 18-12 with a 2.60 ERA.  At age 27, he appeared to be part of the franchise's future.

But, Uncle Sam came a-calling and Hiram went off to serve in the Navy during WWII.  When he returned to baseball in 1946 - he had gained weight and was no longer in playing shape.  he stuck around for one last mediocre season in Wrigley before bouncing through Pittsburgh and then to the White Sox through waivers.

Hi's promising career ended with 2 innings pitched for the White Sox in 1947.  After the rigors of war, Hiram was no longer physically capable to continue playing at an elite level.

Hiram beams for the camera.
Image courtesy of Ron Moody

Bithorn wasn't going to go down without a fight though; he attempted a comeback in the Mexican winter league a few years later.  However, tragically, it was here that his life was cut short when he was shot and killed by a police officer who claimed Bithorn had admitted to being part of a communist cell and was being violent; both accusations were easily debunked and the officer recieved 8 years in an actual cell.

Now, if you're like me, you recognize Bithorn's name; but, it's not because of his exploits on the diamond.  Rather, it's because of an actual diamond in Puerto Rico, Hi Bithorn Stadium, which has served as host of WBC games and a temporary home field for the Montreal Expos in 2003.

I had never realized that the namesake of that stadium had been a Cubs ace, until a few years ago.  How about that?

Hi Bithorn Stadium during it's time as the Expos temporary home in 2003
Image courtesy of Paul's Ballparks

I felt compelled to grab this set when I saw it because, to my knowledge, this is the only baseball card to have been produced for Bithorn.  This is a fact that I find strange, seeing as he does in fact hold some significance for the sport in being the first Puerto Rican to play and due to his tragic end.  Can anyone prove me wrong?

Meanwhile, while the Bithorn card was really the only reason I made this purchase, it also came with several others of which I am not familiar with their subjects:


These are available for trade, if anyone would like them.  Like I said, I don;t know much about these guys.  Some played in Puerto Rico their whole careers, some spent some time in the Negro Leagues and a couple even had cameos in MLB - however, I don't remember who did what.

Anyway, turns out that not going to the National wasn't such a bad thing.  Instead, I was able to stay home, sleep in, not work and locate some cheap, exotic cards on the internet - one of which was even a player that I'd been seeking.

I'll take that deal every day.

1 comment:

  1. Those cards are awesome! I had no idea Puerto Rico hosted a trading card convention.