Friday, May 27, 2016

Bumping Off My Want-List

I survived.

Graduation went off without a hitch last night and I can finally resume my life.  After several weeks of doing nothing but putting together multimedia presentations, designing and printing programs and award certificates, setting up the sound system and, additionally, trying to tend to all of my other daily responsibilities, I was getting absolutely swamped.  The past few days, I haven't even had time to eat breakfast or lunch, let alone formulate thoughts for blogging.

I've come to the conclusion that graduation ceremonies are infinitely more stressful for faculty (specifically, the IT guys/media specialists) than they are for the participating students.

However, thankfully, some pretty cool stuff came in the mail during all the chaos that truly helped me settle down and decompress.  A trade package from a new connection in Trevor from Bump and Run Football Cards was especially successful in distracting me from my stress, causing me to get all giddy over the amount of needed cards he "bumped" off of my Bears All-Time Roster Collection want-list:

Dave Krieg on the Bears and my first card of 1985 Bear Keith Van Horne.  Krieg, one of the many shuffled through, no-good quarterbacks used up by the Bears in the last 30 years, was previously depicted as a Cardinal in my collection.  Meanwhile, Van Horne was one of the last big names from the only Superbowl-winning Chicago football team left unrepresented in my collection.  Injustice = rectified.

Here we have a couple of Upper Deck, mid-90's Bears who were here for a few years, but didn't do a whole lot (much like the team, as a whole).  However, in 1995 Keith did have the most touchdowns by a Bears tight end (6) since Mike Ditka finished with 8 in 1963 - so, he'll always have that.

While the previous two men didn't do a whole heckuva lot on the gridiron for the Bears, Nathan Enderle never actually took the field at all during the regular season.  As a third-string quarterback, the 2011 5th round pick spent some time on the 53-man roster, but never took a snap.  He was waived after the 2011 season and has since bounced around the league as a depth option; he was last seen as a member of the Portland Thunder of the AFL.

Nathan backed in his own end-zone with Portland, image courtesy of Pamplin Media Group/Parker Lee

That about does it for the "actual" Bears cards, Trevor threw in a bunch more guys who briefly played for the Bears, who likely don't have any cards issued in blue and orange.  These are very much welcome to my binders, seeing as I'm trying to accumulate as many players as possible.

Nate Lewis spent a couple of seasons with the Bears in 1994-95, wrapping up his six-year NFL career in Chicago.  Meanwhile, I had completely forgotten about Jason Campbell and his brief reign as the starting QB during the 2012 season.  Jay Cutler went down with a concussion (likely because of an inept offensive line) and Campbell got the next start against the 49ers, getting murdered 32-7.

Oh hey, look, another short-term, past-their-prime quarterback.  Seriously, the history of the Bears is littered with such names as Jeff Blake.  The third-stringer ended his football career in the fourth quarter of the last game of the 2005 season, spelling Kyle Orton.  To his credit, he did complete 8 of 9 passes in his swan song.

Also, I just want to take second to appreciate Action Packed cards.  They may be gimmicky, but the "3D" effect sure is fun.

Marv Cook was a Pro Bowl tight end with the Patriots who also came to Chicago all used up and near the end.

Percy Snow says don't ride scooters.  The all-time great college star out of Michigan State was a first round pick and had a successful rookie campaign before injuring his knee in a scooter accident during training camp in 1991.  He lost the next full season and never fully recovered from the injury.  The Bears took a flier on him in 1993, but in his 10 games on the roster, he never started or  recorded a stat.

Also, remember when Pacific wasn't crazy?

Meanwhile, it's rare to see a punter get a card, let alone a journeyman punter like Barnhardt; so, that's pretty cool.  Tommy began his career with one season in Chicago in 1987 kept right on punting in the NFL through the year 2000.  How's that for longevity?

Craig Adams is truly a tragic tale.  The Bears acquired the defensive end from Tampa Bay in 2009 and in 10 games for the Bears, Adams had 7 combined tackles, 1 pass deflection and 1 forced fumble.

Unfortunately, he never had a chance to build off of those numbers - that next January, the 26 year old Adams suddenly died of cardiac arrest due to enlarged heart, something he and his family had been unaware of.

On a more positive note, I've officially acquired my first card of the Bears' 2016 first round draft selection and it's only been a month since Draft Day.  In contrast, I didn't pick up my first card of last year's first choice, Kevin White, until a couple of weeks ago.  Here's hoping Leonard Floyd, at the very least, plays this season!

So, as you can see, Trevor really did do a number on my football want list.  However, the football-loving Cubs fan also decided to throw in a few baseball goodies as well:

Geo tracking a foul ball on an Archives card and a shiny Jon Lester - both winners in my book!

That's a pretty swell shot of Sammy breaking a bat, pre-home run race fame.  Not to mention, it's actually my first card from 1997 Pinnacle.  Double-win!

Here we have a couple of Cubs farmhands.  Paul Hoilman (on the left, Lord knows you can't read that foil) is no longer in the system (or organized baseball).  The 19th rounder played two seasons (2011-12) and made it as high as A-ball before he was released.

Meanwhile, Jeimer Candelario is still around and a guy to keep an eye on.  The Candy Man had an excellent 2016 split between A and AA and then opened 2016 with a monster spring.  However, he's struggled in his return trip to AA thus far.  Nevertheless, I might need this card for my Cubs All-Time Roster Collection before I know it.

With that, I've finally reached the end of Trevor's phenomenal package.  Seriously, this mailed was more than just a "bump and run," absolutely blew me away.  Thirteen new and obscure names for my Bears roster collection AND some quality Cubs cardboard?  That's a whole lot of awesome!

So, thank you Trevor for providing a bright spot in my graduation-fueled period of endless stress - it was certainly needed.  Here's to the start of a wonderful new trading partership!

Monday, May 23, 2016

Scavenging the Brickyard

As is my siblings and mine yearly tradition, this weekend was spent at the historic Indianapolis Motor Speedway, taking in the pageantry of speed that is Indy 500 Pole Day.  What started as a one-off lark back in 2003 has become a highly anticipated weekend circled on the calendar every single year.   As a lover of Motorsports and history, there are few things more exciting than a visit to the most historic racing circuit in North America.

As an added bonus, my fiancee even joined in on the fun during this go-round; she wanted to see what all of the fuss was about.  Aside from a ridiculous sunburn, I think she had a pretty good time in the process.

It was quite an exciting day of action, as Alex Tagliani wrecked violently, Scott Dixon's crew changed out an engine in record time and James Hinchcliffe stole away the pole position from Josef Newgarden in the very last run of the day.

Of course, since I am an avid, card-collecting fiend, it's natural for all of my sporting interests to bleed into my world of cardboard.  In every gift shop we ventured into, I was scanning every shelf, rack, display case, etc. for some kind of commemorative trading card set - it is the 100th running of the legendary event, after all.  Sadly, it wasn't meant to be.

However, not all hope was lost.  Luckily, my brother is to die-cast cars as I am to trading cards and a trip to Indy is pretty much the mecca for that hobby.  As a token of his appreciation for covering a couple of his charges, he gifted me with the cards that came packaged with his newly acquired Indy Cars (luckily for me, he's not one of those "mint in package" types), produced by Greenlight.

One of the 1:64 scale mini models he picked up was a replica of last year's Indy 500 champion, Juan Pablo Montoya.  Juan won the race as a rookie way back in the year 2000, but spent the next several years away from the track, gallivanting in the Formula One and NASCAR ranks before returning to Indy Cars in 2014.  Obviously, he didn't didn't need too much time to get back up to speed at the Brickyard.

This is a particularly nice card, in my humble opinion, with a simple, unobtrusive design, the proper race logo and a shot of the very moment he won the 2015 contest.  Not to mention, the inset photo manages to capture him with the victor's milk, wreath and the iconic Borg-Warner Trophy.  

The back is a little heavy on the text, but having a detailed wrap-up of last year's 500 Mile Sweepstakes makes this a nifty little artifact.  Furthermore, the quality photography choices continue with this snapshot of Juan Pablo holding the next day's paper.

Over all, this is an exceptionally well-done card for something that's included with the die-cast, pretty much as an afterthought.

Unfortunately, as good as this bonus was, the second one was just as disappointing:

This card is allegedly for Marco Andretti; however, instead of a photo of the Indy veteran with a transcendentally iconic last name, we get a generic action shot.  I mean, I guess Marco's car is in there SOMEWHERE.

Marco, of course, is the son of Michael and the grandson of Mario.  The Andretti name is famous for it's snake-bitten heartbreaks and close calls, not to mention the sheer amount of family members who have been a part of the track's history (uncles Jeff and John have also tried and failed to win).

The back provides a nice little bit of biography on the youngest member of the Andretti racing clan.  I have to say, the information found on these cards is very much up-to-date, so I assume a late deadline was put in place to get these products on shelf before the May festivities.  However, Marco has been around for 10 years now, couldn't we at least get a stock head-shot?

Anyway, I really shouldn't complain about gifted cards - that's poor taste, right?

Oh, in case you were curious, here are the die-cast models that the cards came with, before my brother freed them from their plastic, clam-shell prison:

I was really hoping to find a set of cards during my gift shop travails and while exploring the paddock area.  In years past, I believe it was a local radio station who produced and distributed a set of cards that came in perforated sheets and featured that year's entrants.  That said, the last time I noticed these thin card-stock oddballs was in 2008 and I'm guessing licensing issues have since gotten in the way.

Despite my brief card-collecting hiatus and subsequent purging of racing cards during my college years, a few of those radio stations handouts did survive:



I like the set from 2008 particularly, with it's pop-art/comic book style layout and background it's a refreshingly inspired take for a giveaway set.

While I wasn't able to find anything like you see above at the track, that doesn't mean I was completely unable to find ANY cards while searching the grounds.  By searching the grounds, I mean LITERALLY searching the grounds because I stumbled upon this post-card sized oddity underneath a picnic table in the outdoor food court area:

These "hero cards" are printed by race teams for use at autograph sessions and public appearances as a way of pimping their name and driver.  I have a large folder full of signed hero cards somewhere in my shed.  Again, it got stuffed there as part of my great racing memorabilia purge in my college years; luckily, they were spared from the recycling since I couldn't bare to part with perfectly good autographs.

Like I said, these are generally used to promote drivers and teams; thus, in addition to the large, digitally-rendered photo of the KV Racing Technology car...

...we get a detailed write-up on the back, along with a potpourri of sponsorship logos.  Stefan Wilson is a rookie to the Indianapolis 500 and is notable for being the younger brother of Justin Wilson, a yearly competitor who tragically lost his life in a wreck at Pocono Raceway last summer.  RIP Justin.

Also - I know you're thinking it - no, I'm not above half-crawling underneath a food and sun-stained picnic table to claim a discarded promo item.  I'm a scavenger at heart.

That about covers my cardboard-related experiences from my Indianapolis 500 Pole Day adventure.  It was one helluva show and the card finds that you see above only further enhanced an always awesome experience.  If you enjoy racing, of any sort really, I highly recommend that you find the time to make at least one pilgrimage to Indianapolis.

On that note, I think it's about time I lather myself with another layer of aloe vera (I did not escape the suns rays).  Since I don't want to get lotion on my keyboard, I'm going to call this post complete.

(Get your mind out of the gutter)

Sunday, May 22, 2016

Sacrificing a Card to the Spirits

*If all goes as planned, you should be reading this scheduled post while I'm taking in the spectacle of speed that is the Indy 500 time trials.  In the meantime, I thought you might find the ghostly story of my Saturday afternoon sorta interesting... it even has a cardboard tie-in!*

So, my fiancee and I rarely have weekends off together - such is the nature of one of us working a retail schedule and the other being a salaried employee.  Therefore, whenever we are blessed with this "nothing on the schedule" overlap, we feel obligated to do something fun and make the most of it.

While munching on our lunch, the lovely lady randomly exclaimed, "let's go to Bachelor's Grove!"  This was something quite unexpected and, frankly, it made my blood run cold for a second. 

You see, my hometown doesn't have much notable about it, it's pretty well blended into the blur of suburbia.  The only thing that might perk up a stranger's ear about the village is the fact that we play host to one of the most haunted cemeteries in North America:  Bachelor's Grove.

As you can see from the picture above, my initial fear did not prevent us from making our way to the quiet, secluded spot.  The little cemetery was first used in the 1840's, when the first settlers started moving through the area, gained heavy use during the building of the I&M Canal and saw active burials through the middle half of the previous century.  

In the year since, it's become a bustling hive of paranormal activity (and teenage mischief).  Some of it's most famous phenomena have included the disappearing caretaker's house, the moving headstone, the nearby lagoon being used by Al Capone as a body-dumping site, and the ghostly Model-T.  If you want more on the haunted history of the site, I highly recommend checking this link out.

Perhaps you've seen this famous ghostly image before?

The Model-T legend stems from the fact that the path that leads from the main road, into the woods and past the cemetery gate used to be the Midlothian Turnpike, but was bypassed at about the same time the cemetery ceased being active.

Seeing as we were walking down the former turnpike in the middle of the afternoon, I wasn't too scared to be paying a visit - I mean, it's a well-know fact that ghosts don't come out during the day time, right?  Although, once I remembered that last time I'd been there that my camera began behaving erratically, I did feel myself paying an awful lot of attention to my surroundings.

As a direct result of this, I noticed a rectangular, shiny object cast aside on the cracked blacktop being reclaimed by mother nature.  In the middle of a thatch of weeds, I found this little guy staring back at me:

Okay - this wasn't such a ghostly encounter.  I mean, it's not even a ghost-type Pokemon like Haunter or Ghastly.  In fact, this a Pokemon that I don't recognize at all - it clearly dates from after I stopped paying attention (which was shortly after the release of Gold and Silver for Gameboy Color).

Anyway, like I said, while it is a famous haunted location, it's notoriety makes it a breeding ground for teenage mischief.  Looks like one of those little hooligans left this game card behind... as they were running away from a ghastly ghoul or something, I'm sure.

Being the scavenger I am, I picked it up and carried it with me as a souvenir through the cemetery gates:

The fellow in the red shirt isn't a ghost... I don't think...

Much like the roadway, nature has reclaimed a lot of the grounds and what mother earth hasn't taken back, vandals have destroyed.  Beyond the legends and all that stuff, it's truly a shame that human beings' final resting places are being treated with such disrespect.

However, not all of the grove has been eroded away in this manner.  In fact, one headstone, in particular, has actually been treated with great reverence:

The unidentified infant daughter buried in this family plot has been largely left alone by the trouble-makers who frequent these parts.  As you can see from the picture above, the child has even been left a great many gifts from curious adventurers in search of thrills and chills.

Accordingly to local lore, anybody who leaves a gift for the infant daughter will be bestowed with good luck in the near future.  Therefore, baseballs, children's sunglasses, pens, beaded necklaces, etc. decorate this child's final resting place.  There was even a lucky penny key-chain that made it here all the way from Las Vegas, clearly placed there by someone trying to double-down on their good fortune.

I too felt compelled to leave something behind in honor of this forgotten child, not to mention the fact that I could always use some good luck.  After all, my future mother in law has described me as a real-life Charlie Brown.  Thinking I had nothing to offer besides pocket lint, I suddenly remembered my trading card discovery from minutes prior:

Kids dig Pokemon right?  Of course, this child passed long before they were in the target demographic and decades before the pocket monsters were dreamed up, but whatever.  It was all I had to offer up and I didn't want to be a jerk to a ghost; that's bad juju mcgumbo.

After wandering around the cemetery and the surrounding woods for another 45 minutes or so, I pleased (and slightly disappointed) to experience nothing out of the ordinary.  That is, except for the scraggy old man who had been leading a group through the grounds who, when finished approached me asking if I was looking for ghosts and then disappeared back through the now-empty location alone.  That was a tad weird.  Also, if you notice a mysterious figure or ghostly orbs in any of the above pictures, please point it out immediately.

Anyway, that's the story of how I sacrificed a Pokemon card to the spirit of an infant child in a haunted cemetery located in the backwoods of Midlothian.  How was your Saturday?

Friday, May 20, 2016

A Kindly Curmudgeon

The generosity of "strangers" on the internet never ceases to amaze me.

Before I started this blog, I had a hard time picturing anyone purchasing and then giving items away to someone they hardly knew, with no strings attached, in person, let alone on through the postal service and internet.  That kind of pure generosity seemed reserved for charities and senior citizen's fond remembrances of the 1940's.

One of my greatest qualities is cynicism... I also offer sarcasm and pessimism at no extra charge.

Thus, I'm constantly amazed and tickled pink when I see unsolicited PWE's full of baseball cards tailored to my collecting wants stuffed into my mailbox.  Especially so when a blogger specifically purchases something for me, just because.

Ironically, it was a "curmudgeon" behind this latest random act of kindness - Cardboard Curmudgeon, proprietor of the recently re-christened Baseball Picture Cards.  As it turns out, as our favorite curmudgeon was perusing the isles of his latest card show, he stumbled upon an oddball card that he thought I should have:

What you see here is a Red Lobster-sponsored, SGA card set that was given away in 1982.  Just as the cardboard world was rapidly expanding and escalating into the junk wax era, the Cubs decided to dip their toes in the water with an annual giveaway set.  The cards themselves were the standard 3.5 inches tall, but were slightly narrower than a traditional baseball card, as you may or not be able to tell from the Jerry Morales above.

The simple, border-less design really let the pictures do the talking on these sets (more on that in a minute).  What we get on the front is a facsimile signature jersey number, name and position, but no underlay under any of that information, which sometimes makes it hard to read the text.  Very bare-bones here.

However, on the flip side, we get a highly detailed account of each players professional statistics - both minor and major league.  Heck, we even get a briefing on Jerry's All-Star Game record (yes, the Cubs were so blah at this time that Jerry Morales was their All-Star in 1977).  Not to be forgotten, since they sponsored this particular release, Red Lobster gets their logo on there, as well.

Sidebar - Red Lobster is an acceptable destination for decent seafood, their biscuits are especially addictive.  However, after having spent a week on the east coast, right on the coast (a couple summers ago) my standards for seafood are now impossibly high for a Midwesterner.

Mr. Morales isn't my first card from this seafoodie set, though I don't have very many:

I picked up Al Ripley and Bob Molinaro from a discount box in my Indiana LCS many moons ago because you rarely see them turn up in Cubs uniforms.  After all, Ripley was only a Cub for that single season in 1982 (believe it or not) and Molinaro was only there for half of that season before being purchased by the Phillies.

That's why SGA sets (and a lot of oddball sets in general) are so awesome, you get to see players who otherwise wouldn't likely be deemed worthy of a baseball card by the likes of Topps/Fleer/Donruss etc.  Often times, these sort of roster-fillers and short-termers never get cards with the Cubs, otherwise.

Now, while I now only have three from the 1982 Red Lobster giveaway set (Ryne Sandberg is the key piece of that puzzle, being one of his first cards ever released), I do have a few more cards that look exceptionally similar.

As I hinted at earlier, the Cubs gave away two more successive SGA sets that were almost identical:

As you can see with this lovely shot of a young Joe Carter against the ivy at Wrigley, the card is pretty much a carbon copy, excepting the removal of the facsimile signature, which I thought was hard to see and distracting anyway.

Red Lobster chose not be a part of the successive releases.  For 1983, Thorn Apple Valley decided to step in and lend their name to the SGA set:

Apparently, Thorn Apple Valley was a meat packing company who, around the turn of the last century, suffered some severe financial issues after a tainted meat scandal and was bought out by IBP, Inc.  Silly me - I'd always thought that they had something to do with produce; in actuality, they had nothing to do with apples at all.  Shows what I know.

You know what they say - when you assume, you make an "ass" out of "u" and "me."

Thorn Apple Valley didn't stick around for long either though.  The very next year, with the card format completely identical, things got a little bit more "bubbly":

Here we have Ryno up at the dish from the 1984 Cubs SGA set .  Sandberg makes an appropriate example, seeing as how 1984 was his breakout season where he won the MVP, made his first All-Star game and led the Cubs to break their 39-year postseason appearance drought.

Now, while all that success certainly made the fans a bit more "bubbly" than usual, so too did the drink of choice for this set:

Make 7up yours!  (If you don't get the joke, read that line outloud.)

While the 1984 set wasn't the Cubs last SGA release, it was the last time that this bare-bones design with bizarre dimensions was used.  Come 1985, 7up stuck around; however, the dimensions were slightly widened to standard size:

I don't know about you, but the OCD monster in me loves the change to standard size.  Cards of odd shapes and sizes, while I love them dearly still, screw with my sense of organization.

However, clearly the Cubs didn't take my weirdness into consideration when they moved on to 1986 because after that, for the next ten years or so, their team-issued SGA sets were inflated to an over-sized, almost post-card sized set (with various different sponsors) that really messes up my storage system:

                                     1986                                                                      1994

 After that, the SGA set phenomenon kind of died down and, while there have been various themed sets and giveaways, there haven't been yearly team sets available in Wrigley Field in the traditional sense in a long time.  It's a shame - if the Cubs produced a yearly set, similar to the Phillies, I would totally throw my money at it time and time again.

Anywho, I've gone way off on a tangent and it's time to bring this thing around.  Thank you for thinking of me Mr. Cardboard Curmudgeon - your generosity is truly appreciated.  I'll have to dig up a couple of nice pieces to send back your way, though I know you're rather disillusioned with the Bravos right now.  I can't say I blame you either; it sure was tough to watch the Cubs from 2011 through 2014.

However, as bleak as the baseball landscape might seem, random acts of kindness and generosity always shine through, like a beacon of hope on the murkiest and blackest of nights.  Before I get even more prose-y, I'm going to go ahead and sign off.  Thanks again, Cardboard Curmudgeon!