Monday, October 31, 2016

Keith Krunch


The Cubs live again to fight another day.  Thank goodness the Cubs were finally able to scratch up a little bit of offense last night and Aroldis Chapman was able to channel his inner Goose Gossage with an eight-out save.  With a travel day, this Cubs fan can catch his breath a little bit today before Game Six kicks off tomorrow.  Even though Josh Tomlin blanked the Cubs last time around, I like our chances with Arrieta on the mound.

These are nerve-wracking times.

I must admit, I wasn't feeling nearly as optimistic when the day began yesterday.  Pessimism has always been one of my finer qualities.  However, I did feel a little bit better after taking in a hardy breakfast - it is the most important meal of the day, after all.

The Cubs are playing later into the year than ever before, but that hasn't stopped the Blackhawks from trying to steal back a little bit of the spotlight.  You may remember that Anthony Rizzo had his own personally-licensed cereal this spring (RizzO's); well, those same folks are back again for winter with Duncan Keith and "Keith Krunch."  It makes a great part of the Chicago sports fan's balanced breakfast, as exemplified with my protein bar and some Advocare Spark (a vitamin-based energy supplement).

RizzO's were a rip-roaring hit, so why not try again with the team that had heretofore been the toast of the town?  Not to mention, it's for a good cause, as a sizable portion of the proceeds will be going to Duncan's off-ice charity - Keith Relief.

The Blackhawks' defenceman and alternate captain often gets lost in the spotlight shuffle behind names like Kane, Toews and Hossa; nevertheless, he's been a steady contributor to all three of the Stanley Cup Champion teams.  Thus, it's only appropriate that he should get his own breakfast cereal - a meal that is often forgotten, but critically important!

By the way, the cereal is just Frosted Flakes repackaged in a hockey-themed box.  If you eat too much of this sugary treat, you'll lost a tooth or two just like a real hockey player.

Traditionally, cereal boxes offer some sort of puzzle or game on the back panel of their box as entertaiment.  "Keith Krunch" is no different, as the back side of the souvenir packaging includes a rink-themed maze, allowing the literal consumer to assist the two-way defender in scoring a goal, in between spoonfuls.  Alongside, some fun facts about the longtime Blackhawk are offered, as well.

**SPOILER ALERT**  If you're dead-set on figuring out the maze by yourself, the next panel is going to ruin that experience for you.

On one side, we get the backstory on Keith Relief, so we breakfast patrons can know what our purchase went towards funding.  As you can read above, the cause is quite noble, helping young children and their families alleviate the financial and emotional burdens of medical crises.   Furthermore, there's that spoiler I was warning you about a minute ago.

On the opposite side, you get the nutrition information for Keith Krunch, as is mandated by the FDA.  I wouldn't exactly call this stuff health food.

So, there you have it - Keith Krunch is a real thing and is sitting on the shelves of your local Jewel right now (if you live near Chicago).  Like I said in my post about RizzO's, I sure would have liked to find an oddball trading card on one of these side-panels.  Oh well, it was still a pretty fun item to come across while grocery shopping.  This box will look quite nice perched on my TV stand, in between my RizzO's and my Slammin' Sammy's.

Please disregard my fiancee's rubber duck collection, which is also displayed prominently in said location.

Oh and speaking of sugary treats, happy Halloween!  I'll tell you what, there's nothing scarier to me than a Monday morning...

...well, except for the Cubs precarious World Series situation.  I don't know if my nerves can handle all this suspense!

Thursday, October 27, 2016

Breakdown, Go Ahead and Give it to Me

Last night, we had the opportunity to witness something that most people on this planet had never, ever seen - the Chicago Cubs winning a game in the World Series.  Not to mention, they were in command for pretty much the entire contest, from Rizzo's RBI double in the top of the first through Chapman's shut down bottom of the ninth.  Plus, with Kyle Schwarber's batting eye appearing to be as sharp as ever, I'm feeling pretty good about this club's chances through the rest of this series.

In short, I'm a pretty happy baseball fan right now.

However, as grand as that Cubs win in game two of the World Series (I just love typing World Series in reference to the Cubs) was, it wasn't the only baseball-related event that brought me joy that day.  As an added bonus, I also received a generous PWE from Gavin of Baseball Card Breakdown.

Gavin always weaves a great amount of thought into each and every one of his mailings, so I was shaking with antici.......... pation (I just finally watched that Rocky Horror remake... woof) when I sat down at my card-desk to open up his envelope.  I have to say, I was not disappointed with what I found inside, either.

Of course, Gavin is one of the most skilled and prodigious custom card makers on the blogosphere today, so it wouldn't be the full BCB experience without finding at least one of his expert creations within the trade package.  This Kris Bryant, stylized as a 1933 Goudey, is amongst the best of his works, in my humble opinion.

After all, it truly feels like and has the weight of an authentic card in your hands, it has a detailed write-up on the back (which I forgot to document) and who doesn't love the Goudey design?  The only way it could feel any more like the real McCoy is if it were properly aged...

Well, would you look at that - he was one step ahead of the curve.

As you can plainly see, the purveyor of Baseball Card Breakdown thinks of just about everything when it comes to making his cards and spares no effort in the process.  I tip my cap to you, Gavin.

That said, there was still yet one more custom creation to be found within the plain white envelope:

I'm a die-hard Cubs fan, through and through, and my loyalties run quite deep.  However, what baseball fan doesn't admire and respect the golden voice of Vin Scully?  He just sounds like baseball!  While I have always been partial to Pat Hughes, Ron Santo and Harry Caray when it comes to broadcast work, there is definitely room in my heart for the Voice of the Dodgers.

That said, I do find this inclusion to be a bit odd.  Was this a bit of taunting by Gavin, left over from the tightly-fought NLCS against the Trolley Dodgers?  No matter, I still quite enjoy this tobacco-like original.

While the rest of the package was sans-customs, Gavin certainly did a great job customizing the package to my likes and needs:

Believe it or not, this is actually my very first Cubs sticker by Fleer, from any set.  Isn't it amazing that even though sets from the "junk wax" era were more over-produced than a Michael Bay film and yet, we collectors still have needs from this time period?

Accompanying the sticker, was a 2008 Topps Chrome rookie card of the eventual Rookie of the Year Geovany Soto.  Furthermore, the card definitely has a "refractor-y" feel to it, but my non-expert eyes can't be entirely sure.  Like the Fleer sticker, this is my first Chrome card from that set, so I have no base of comparison.  In the future, I'll have to do some more research.

Speaking of the future, it was at this point that this trade mailing took a distinctly prospective turn:

Ahhh - Cubs prospects from the turn of the millenium... nothing makes me more grateful for the team and farm system currently on the field than Cubs "blue-chippers" from that time period.  It's especially evident as to why when you look at that top card from 2000 Opening Day - who needs Lance Berkman when you've got Corey Patterson and... gulp... Roosevelt Brown.

Obviously, the Cubs farm system is much stronger now, as evidenced by the fact that all five of the club's top prospects from 2014 are currently on the World Series roster.  However, it took a long time and a lot of change.


As you can tell from these 2010 Pro Debut singles, things weren't much better a decade later.  Josh Vitters was another in a long line of high-profile, first round draft busts by the club.  That said, he did crack the Big League roster in 2012 and, thus, this minor league card will slot nicely into my "Nothing Major" collection.  Also, Mr. Vitters is still trying to right his ship, playing with Bridgeport in the indy Atlantic League in 2016.

As for James Leverton, he never got any higher than AA in the Cubs chain.  The former 8th round pick in 2008 and Peoria Chief eventually got as close as AAA in 2013 within the Marlins organization; however, he was out of professional baseball by the end of 2014.

With these 2014 Pro Debut singles, you can see that things were starting to look a little better for the Cubs, two years into the reign of Theo Epstein.  Jeimer Candelario remains a top prospect (with power and trade value) who made his Major League debut this summer (he'll join Vitters in that "Nothing Major" binder).  Meanwhile, Dillon Maples is still an intriguing arm, but can't seem to stay healthy and is starting to run out of time.  But, there's still a chance the high-upside arm pays off.

Unfortunately, for our next 2014 Pro Debut guest, the clock has already struck midnight:

Chadd Krist was drafted in the 9th round of the 2012 draft and never made it past backup catcher status in any level of the Cubs chain and topped out with the high-A Daytona Cubs in 2014, as seen in this card.  He eventually found his way over to the Marlins org and then, briefly, the White Sox, but was cut by the latter after Spring Training.  According to LinkedIn, Chad has now joined the ranks of the rest of us working stiffs.

Regardless of how their careers turned out, I quite enjoy flipping through minor league cards.  The unfamiliar team names and uniforms, seeing MLB'ers before they made it, the opportunity to research obscure names... they're just fun.  Gavin obviously did his research on me when crafting this collation.

Of course, if looking at those Pro Debut cards made anything clear, it's that prospecting is an inherently risky business.  One never knows how a minor leaguer's career is going to turn out, no matter how talented or high-profile they are.  Thus, I'm only into minor cards for the novelty, not the investment factor.

On the opposite end of the spectrum, tried and true vintage will always be a safe bet.  After all, rarely do I get a card as old as 1960 in a PWE trade - this "original" Frank Thomas beauty was both a surprise and a welcome sight!  Even if it pictures him with the Cincinnati Reds; I mean, how can anyone not enjoy seeing that old school, cuddly Cubs logo in the corner?

With that, we've reached the conclusion of Gavin's trade envelope and what a PWE it was.  All in all, I walked away with three expertly-crafted customs, two additions to my "Nothing Major" collection, a vintage semi-star, and every single card contained within was new to me.  What more can a collector ask for?  Gavin - I hope what I sent your way came at least close to matching the fun I had opening your mailing.

The only thing that's more fun that rifling through an awesome trade package would be a few more World Series wins by the Cubs.  Here's hoping Kyle Hendricks can continue the fun at Wrigley on Thursday.

Go Cubs!

Wednesday, October 26, 2016

The Poster Boy

Okay - so yesterday didn't go exactly as we Chicagoans hoped.  That said, it's only one game and anything can happen over the next six.  On the plus side, at least Andrew Miller seemed human and was forced to throw a lot of pitches.  Also, Kyle Scwarber looked dialed in at the plate with a double and a walk, while working deep counts every time up.  Plus, we all won a free taco; so, that's pretty cool too.

Anyway, in the lead-up to this historic match-up,  it seems like everyone in the Chicago area wanted a piece of the action.  Chipotle offered buy one get one free burrito bowls to anyone wearing Cubs gear, businesses across Chicagoland have flown the W in their storefront windows and, heck, my hometown even set up Harry Caray and Ryan Sandberg scarecrows in the new community garden.  In the words of Mugatu from Zoolander, the Cubs are so hot right now.

Even the newspapers want a cut of the action:

Here we have your standard, normal Sunday edition of the Post Tribune, the Northwest Indiana affiliate of the Chicago Tribune.  While it might be a different state, the NW portion of Indiana identifies heavily with Chicago.  Over the weekend, after recovering from the pennant-winning celebration, my family held an impromptu get-together at my aunt and uncle's house in Crown Point and this newspaper was handed to me as a gift.

Why?  Well, let's take a closer look at the top of the cover page:

Ooooooooooooo... a poster of Kris Bryant, you say?  Color me intrigued.

Apparently, this is part of a continuous series that the publication has been publishing throughout the playoffs, as a away of attaching their name to the big blue hype train.  However, since I do not have a newspaper subscription (and honestly, if I did, it would be for the Sun Times), I had no idea that this was currently ongoing.  Oh well.

But enough of my yakking, let's take a looksie at the goodie:

Okay - it's nothing all that special, to be completely honest.  It's just a big, color picture pullout printed on newspaper stock; although, while it's tough to see here, they do get some bonus points for including his 2016 slash line right under his name.  As our favorite journalistic blogger, Night Owl, has mentioned before, printing newspaper inserts on special stock isn't usually a cheap process, so it really comes as no surprise that this poster is on the same stock as the latest Jerry Davich column or Peanuts cartoon.  Nevertheless, it still makes for a neat, unexpected oddball find.

Furthermore, isn't it appropriate that the Cubs poster boy should appear on a poster?

I haven't yet decided whether I should treat this "poster" as a true collectible or use it to make my workstation feel a little bit more homey.  After all, anything Kris Bryant is gold around these parts; but, then again, I've never been in collecting for the money or investment angle either and I doubt that this would truly hold any value on the secondary market.  What would you do, loyal readers?

Outside of my W flag, my work space is awfully bland.

After also finding a full set of Cubs/White Sox trading cards in a recent edition of the Chicago Tribune and their ongoing Fathead promotion with the Chicago Bears, newspapers have been a surprisingly stout source for card-like collectibles this year.  This is a trend that I sure wouldn't mind continuing on into 2017 and beyond, that's for sure.

But, first thing's first - fingers crossed that the Cubs can right the ship tonight in game two of the 2016 World Series against Cleveland.  I think this pitching match-up, Jake "the Snake" Arrieta vs. Trevor "the amateur drone wrecker" Bauer, so I am cautiously optimistic.

Here's hoping that "the poster boy" can re-jump start this potent Cubs offense.

Tuesday, October 25, 2016

71 Years in the Making

Tonight is the first World Series game featuring the Chicago Cubs as participants since 1945.  For those of you who are bad at math, that is a looooooooooong time ago.  As the excitement builds and builds towards tonight's contest in Cleveland, I thought it might be prudent to take a look at the starting lineup of the last Cubs team to take the field during World Series play.

On Wednesday, October 10th, 1945, the Chicago Cubs took the field at Wrigley against their frequent World Series foe, the Detroit Tigers, for Game 7 of baseball's championship series.  Here are the names that were written onto that day's lineup card by manager Charlie Grimm:

Hitting lead-off and playing third base - Stan Hack
(1992 Old Style SGA)

Batting second and manning second base - Don Johnson
(1947 Tip Top Bread reprint)

Due up third and playing left field - Harry "Peanuts" Lowrey
(1949 Bowman)

In the cleanup spot and manning first base - Phil Cavaretta
(1989 Pacific Baseball Legends)

Batting fifth and playing center field - "Handy Andy" Pafko
(1992 Old Style SGA)

Due up sixth and manning right field - Bill "Swish" Nicholson
(2004 Hero Decks)

In the seventh spot and catching - Mickey Livingston
(1947 Tip Top Bread reprint)

Batting eighth and playing short stop - Roy "Jeep" Hughes
(1992 TSN Conlon Collection)

 And last, but not least, the pitcher - Hank Borowy
(1951 Bowman CCC reprint)

Of course, as history tells us, this team lost to the Tigers that day in blowout fashion:  9-3.   Hank Borowy, the ace acquired mid-season in a salary dump trade by the New York Yankees, got the start despite being severely over-worked.  After starting game one and game five, as well as making a multiple inning relief appearance in game six, Hank was running on fumes.  Despite this, Charlie Grimm did not trust the rest of the arms available to him and Borowy was able to convice the skip that he was good to go.

Needless to say, he was not.  This situation reminds me somewhat of the gassed Clayton Kershaw we saw in game six of this year's NLCS.

After giving up 3 runs in the first without ever recording an out, Hank was lifted for a calvacade of relievers who just could not stop the bleeding:

                                    1940 Play Ball reprint                                      1943 Cubs Photocard Team Issue
                                                                                                                 (scan swiped from the internet)

                                     1976 Chicago's Greats                                       1947 Tip Top Bread reprint

In the end, the Cubs went on to lose the game and lose the World Series.  Of course, no one realized it would take more than 70 years for the Cubs to get another crack at the crown.  Here's hoping that the Cubs' first World Series game in 71 years goes a little bit better than their last one!

This time around, we have a fresh Jon Lester ready to deal zeroes, a deep offensive lineup lead by the first African-american Cub in World Series play (Dexter Fowler) and the much-anticipated return of the prodigal son (Kyle Schwarber) at DH - a position which wasn't even dreamed up yet in 1945.It's been a while.

Let's go Cubs!

Monday, October 24, 2016

A Secret Surprise Mailing

To begin with - HOLY CRAP!  The Cubs are going to the World Series for the first time in 71 years!!  What a time to be alive!!!  Now, we Cubs fans can finally put the Durham error and the Bartman game behind us - they're finally going to the big dance!

All things considered, it was one heckuva weekend... and not just because of that bit of baseball history either.  In addition to the Cubs claiming the National League pennant, I also had the good fortune to attend a enthusiastic early Halloween party, a long-overdue family get together and receive a PWE from Shoebox Legends.  What more does one need out of a weekend?

And he used a nifty stamp too - I might have to locate some of those beauties for myself.

Now, despite what the title of this post might lead you to believe, I completely expected this envelope.  In my post detailing my first experience with this year's edition of Heritage High Numbers, Mr. Shoebox was generous enough to offer the card that I  swung and missed on.  So, the envelope itself was not "a secret surprise mailing;" rather, it was something about the contents of the trade package that caught me off guard.

There's the Munenori Kawasaki I was "jonesing" for from HHN, along with a bonus rookie card of the first-year sensation known as Willson Contreras.  As I detailed in my previous post, this is Kawasaki's first card appearance as a Chicago Cub and it's a fairly surprising inclusion for the set's checklist.  After all, Mune had only appeared in a couple of games before this set went to print.  Anyway, I'm super excited to "Cubgrade" my Kawasaki, since I didn't expect him to ever appear on a card wearing Cubbie blue.

Also, Willson is greatly appreciated too.  Needless to say, his card prices are inflated heavily around the Chicagoland area.  Hitting a home run in the pennant-clinching game will do that, I suppose.

Of course, that wasn't all there was to be found in this PWE.  Also included were these singles from another fairly recent Topps release - BUNT.

With this pair of key contributors to the biggest series win since 1908 - in fact, Lester was co-MVP of the NLCS along with Javy Baez - I must be nearing completion of the BUNT team set.  Perhaps I should sit down and actually put together a want-list... but, then again, that would require some work and effort.

Furthermore, there was this trio of 80's gems to be found as well.

One does not see Carmelo Martinez in a Cubs uniform very often, so that is always a nice treat.  Also, I think I've made it abundantly clear on this blog that Mark Grace is a-ok in my book and any card of his is a welcome addition to my collection, especially a glossy rookie card!  Meanwhile, Broder cards are always welcome too; they may not be "real" cards, but they make for some fascinating oddballs,e specially when they depict a Hall of Famer such as "the Hawk."

Now, while these were all new and welcome additions to my Cubs collections, we still haven't seen the "secret surprise" that blew me away.  Before curiosity gets the best of you, please allow me to unveil the card that caught me off guard:

A certified auto of former Cubs uber-prospect Felix Pie from one of my favorite sets of all-time (Topps Cracker Jack)!

Okay - so maybe I'm the only person on the blogosphere who would be so excited about getting an autograph of a busted prospect from ten years ago.  But, I don't care - autographs rarely fall into my super-tight budget, so anytime I can add a new one to my CATRC binder, I do a little happy dance.  Even for Felix Pie.

And yet, Mr. Shoebox Legends still wasn't done.  As an extra bonus, he also threw in a few Blackhawks cards for my burgeoning hockey collection:

Vintage hockey is rare in my Blackhawks All-Time Roster Collection; so, adding that "super action" Tony Esposito to my binder was pretty sweet.  So too was adding that Gary Suter Topps Finest beauty.  What can I say?  I have a thing for shiny objects!

Kane and Toews are also constant victims of hometown inflation around these parts; thus, anytime I can acquire nice cards of them via trade I'm a happy camper.  I especially love that canvas UD single showing the Hawks' captain touting the Stanley Cup - it truly feels like a little piece of art.

And so, we've reached the end of the Shoebox Legends PWE.  It made for the perfect exclamation point to finish off and already otherworldly excellent weekend.  I'll make sure to get a nice return package in the mail ASAP - I've been working on acquiring some nice Red Sox and Bruins cards for a proper thank you gift.

What a whirlwind weekend!

Saturday, October 22, 2016

An Urgent Update

First, let's address the elephant in the room.  The Cubs are one win away from going to their first World Series since 1945 and the seemingly inhuman Clayton Kershaw is guarding the gate. However, they're at Wrigley, this their second time seeing Kershaw and there's still another shot tomorrow if they don't figure him out.  I'm cautiously optimistic... and extremely nervous.

Okay - back to cards.  Although Halloween is still nine days away, I had to kick my procrastinating butt into gear this afternoon in order to get my costume finished up.  Turns out, we were invited to a costume party tonight and I still had yet to finish my outfit when I woke up this morning.  So, I threw on some clothes and rushed out to Walmart to get my finishing touches.

Of course, once I was able to successfully locate my feather-duster and English driving cap (I'll let you guess how those work together), I couldn't help but swing through the card aisle and see if Update had made it to their store shelves yet:

It did :)

There are two specific cards (both base) that I am chasing in this years Flagship add-on - Trevor Cahill and Aroldis Chapman.  In both instances, this is each pitcher's first appearance in a mainstream set while sporting the Cubbie blue.  Chapman has a couple of Topps Now issues, but I barely tolerate his inclusion on the team, so I'm not about to drop ten bucks on one of those.

Anyway, I was hoping that the good luck I had in claiming the first parking spot in the first row at Walmart on a Saturday afternoon would transfer over to any card purchases that I made.  Let's find out if it did:

Well, I did pull a couple of Cubs base cards; unfortunately, neither one of the guys I was after were featured.  That said, pulling a couple of hot rookies playing key roles on this year's potentially legendary squad make for pretty nice consolation prizes.  Both of these cards will slot into my CATRC as their representation.

There was also one more Cubs base to be found:

A "rookie debut" for Kyle Schwarber... this seems like an odd inclusion for the product checklist.

After all, Kyle debuted last season and lost his entire 2016 campaign to injury in just the second game of the schedule.  Why then do we get a commemorative card of the debut of a guy who barely appeared in 2016 in the Update series?  Well, I know why (Schwarbs sells), but nevertheless...

Onto the inserts:

One Cub insert fell out of this value box - it features a guy who suited up for exactly two less games than Kyle Schwarber in 2016, Warren G.  I'm not much of a 90's rap guy, but apparently whoever is in charge of booking the celebrity first pitch/stretch performers at Wrigley Field is.

As for the rest of the inserts:

Those are some artsy-farstsy and trippy pieces of cardboard.

Since Topps lost it's football license, it makes sense to see them try out their popular "Fire" design in baseball.  It's soooo damn busy and it looks more like splatter paint than fire (at least in my opinion), but I think I like it.  As for the "3,000 Hits Club" Ichiro - meh.

Ichiro hot pack!  Hey - did you hear that Ichiro was in the 3,000 hits club?

I truly do consider Ichiro one of my favorite non-Cub players, but does anyone really need a card-by-card chronicle of the man's hits?  If you're chasing this set down, I envy your commitment.

Here we have a very nice snapshot of a jubilant David Ortiz, presumably watching the home run derby.  With this being his final season and all, you knew Topps was going to cram him down our throats; but, this is one card that I didn't mind pulling.  

Meanwhile, Aaron Nola appears on a "birth year" insert - the concept being that a player is depicted on the design used for flagship during the year said player was born.  Hmmmm.... where have I heard of this idea before?....

CarGo is a fairly prodigious slugger; however, with 201 homers through his nine seasons in the Majors so far, I'd say the odds are stacked against him for ever reaching the 500 home run club.  He'd have to hang around for an awfully long time and see a significant power surge.  Apparently, this is the gold parallel version of the insert set only available at Target.

Speaking of gold parallels, here's the base card shimmery parallel of Jonathan Lucroy.  The golds are numbered /2016, if you were wondering.

That does it for the inserts and "fancy" cards.  The rest of the hanger  box provided a good sampling of what Update is all about:


There were plenty of a guys sporting their new uniforms after in-season trades...

... a vast assortment of the latest rookies to earn a call-up during the 2016 season.  My favorite here is Tony Barnette, the 32-year old rookie who couldn't quite cut it over here, went to Japan and dominated as a closer and carried turned that success into a key bullpen role on a playoff club.

Of course, it wouldn't be Update without a large selection of All-Star cards, would it?  These seem pretty polarizing on the blogosphere, as people either love them or hate them.  That said, I have a sense of cool indifference.  Although, I think Max Scherzer would have rathered that this card had not seen the light of day.

Also of note, is this the first time that Home Run Derby cards have gotten their own special badge? Will Myers has a majestic swing on this card; but, the first thing I noticed was the little trophy on the bottom right.

 Finally, just because, here are a couple of excellent photo selections; these almost seem more like Stadium Club-worthy photographs!

All in all, while I wasn't lucky enough to walk away with the cards I was hoping for, I did end up with some nice consolation prizes and a good stock to add to my trade-bait piles.  Not to mention, I did what I went to Walmart for in the first place and was able to finish my Halloween costume.  I guess that's an acceptable shopping experience.

Now, I just have to convince the host of this party to have the ballgame on in the background.  There's no way in hell I'm missing a game where the Cubs could potentially clinch their first World Series berth since the year we dropped the atomic bomb.

No way.