Monday, April 10, 2017

Popping a Blister

The weather in the Chicagoland area was absolutely B-E-A-U-T-I-F-U-L this past weekend.  Temperatures in the sixties and seventies, crisp sunshine all throughout the daytime hours, the rain finally went away after what felt like 40 days and 40 nights... one really couldn't ask for better in Chicago during the early spring time.  So, what'd I do to make the most of this wonderful outdoor situation?  Why, I went to the mall of course - duh!

Oh... you thought I'd have some story revolving around being outside, didn't you?  Whoopsy daisy.
There's always next weekend.

While I may not have made the most of this unicorn of Chicago weather, I definitely do not feel like my weekend was a waste.  This Sunday, while at the Orland Square Mall in south suburban Orland Park, I came across an item that I've been hunting feverishly for several weeks now.  Thank goodness the wife decided that she wanted Cheesecake Factory for lunch!

After downing a large bowl of gumbo and a massive slice of strawberry cheesecake, the wife and I decided that we should probably try to work off some of those calories.  Being the responsible, American consumers that we are, a lap or two around the attached shopping mall seemed like the most appropriate way to do so.

While she found entertainment in stores like Lush, Francesca's and Charlotte Russe, I was content to meander through the Square's not one, not two, not three, but FOUR sports memorabilia stores.  Seems like over-saturating the market to me, but what do I know?  Gotta capitalize on those Cubbies, I suppose.

After perusing the newly-christened Clark Street Sports location, Plaque's Plus, and Brewery Collectibles, taking note of all the new Cubs knick-knacks, I found nothing that truly caught my eye.  After all, I'm a card-carrying card collector - I don't have much use for memorabilia that's not shaped into a 2.5" x 3.5" rectangle.  I have my Sandberg Cubs jersey that I'll never have to update (always buy a legend, kiddies) and I've sported the same now-dirty blue, Cubs hat for over ten years now.  I don't particularly need anymore swag, nor do I have use for such novelties as Cubs lawn gnomes or wooden trains.

The final stop in my sports-themed retail tour was Lid's Chicago Locker Room - aka, their place to peddle all of their non-hat items.  It was here that I somewhat surprisingly came across the item that I'd been frustrated in trying to track down for a few weeks:

No, not the key-chain; the piece of baseball ephemera that I'd be tracking like a hunter in the Serengeti was the 2017 Topps Factory Team Set for the Chicago Cubs.  Walking around a lot in five year old shoes oftentimes leads to blisters, but blister packs of baseball cards?  Hot dog!

This collated set of 17 cards includes all of the major players from the defending World Series Champion powerhouse and comes packaged in blister pack form.  The fairly unassuming and unheralded, souvenir-type issue is one of my most anticipated releases, year in and year out, which is why I've been stalking all of the local big box chains (Target and Walmart) since they first started popping up, sometime last moth.

These are the one kind of blister that this runner doesn't mind popping up.

Why do I care so much about these cards - they're just the Cubs Flagship cards from Series One, right?  Well, yes that is what makes up the bulk of the plastic bubble:

The only thing different here is that the Topps logo lacks foil and, honestly, I think that is a much better look and easier to read.  Furthermore, if you flip these "repeats" from Series One over, you'll notice something different about them:

Much like Opening Day, the social media handles have been replaced by a generic Topps hashtag.  Also, in the upper right corner, a discerning eye will notice that these cards are numbered with their own system, in order to indicate that these cards have different origins.  As an added bonus, just below that, they actually remove all shadow of a doubt and tell you outright that these cards hail from the sealed team sets, rather than the Flagship packs.

In summation, Topps appeals to the "gotta collect 'em all" nature of our hobby by tweaking a few things on their already established product and re-release them into the wild.  Just like retail/hobby exclusive parallels, Opening Day, and the inevitable torrent of reprints, Topps can collect an extra 8 bucks per pop with very little work.  From marketing and profiting standpoints, it's really quite genius; from a collecting standpoint, it's annoying and OCD-triggering.

Obviously, that's not much reason to be excited about a product and, if that's all these blisters were, I'd welcome them with the same temperament that I do those puss-filled pustules on the bottom of my running-thrashed feet.  In order to fully entice collectors, Topps has to offer a little extra incentive:

If you can read this blurry scan of the back packaging, you'll see there's more to these packs than what initially meets the eyes.  The three names that I have circled in red did not appear in Series One of Flagship and, in fact, are making their Cubs baseball card debut*.  Therefore, I needed these puppies for my Cubs All-Time Roster Collection.

With that, that's how these cards...

...ended up replacing these cards...

In my Cubs All-Time Roster Collection binder and my pages look infinitely better because of it.  Cubbie Blue just works so much more with this collection than Royal Blue, Oriole Orange, what should be Padres Brown.  Of course, I'm biased, but whatever.  The Photoshopping looks good too; not too unnatural.

So far in the young 2017 season, all three of these off-season additions have proven to be valuable  reinforcements.  Wade Davis has already racked up a pair of saves and Koji Uehara has yet to give up a run in three appearances setting the former up.  On the other side of the ball, platoon outfielder Jon Jay is batting a robust .364 thus far.  So far, so good.

While these Cubbie debuts were the main draw for me, that's not all that these factory-sealed packs uniquely provide to collectors.  Additionally, the consumer can find previews of what's to come in Series Two:

For instance, here's three key cogs who didn't make an appearance in the first series and now we now what their cards will most likely look like in the next wave.  As neat as that is, I think the most notable thing here though is that Getty managed to snap a picture of John Lackey on the mound where he doesn't look downright ornery.  Also, I love the follow-through picture chosen for the Javy Baez card, but I do wish that they zoomed out just a touch more - let us see the scene around him (and all of his hands)!

Here are four more guys who didn't make an appearance in Series One, at least not in the traditional sense.  All four of these men ranked with the league leaders in the categories of ERA (Lester, Hendricks), pitching wins (Lester, Arrieta) or RBI (Rizzo) and, thus, appeared on League Leader cards.  Since this is the first year that each of the top three for each stat has gotten their own, individual cards, one could be forgiven for thinking that these were their traditional base cards - I know I did, initially.

I imagine that this is the reason why Topps decided to save these heavy hitters for Series Two.

Lastly, one other thing that these blister packs oftentimes include is slightly different versions of the already released base cards, excepting the already discussed variations on the backsides.  Sometimes, they change up the front of the cards, as well:

As this Kris Bryant card exemplifies - card one in both Flagship and the Cubs set - it's not uncommon to find re-cropped images on the front.  In the spirit of Highlights Magazine, can you spot the difference here?

Okay, so that should have been pretty obvious - the layout has changed from horizontal in S1 to vertical in the factory pack.  As someone who has an unfair, inherent dislike for horizontally layed out cards, I am usually in favor of such a switch.  This case is no different, as the "lower third graphic" takes up much less space on the horizontally oriented piece.  Although, like the Baez card from earlier, it's still cropped way too tightly.

In conclusion, that's what these factory team set blister packs have to offer:  new card numbers for old cards, re-worked versions of previous cards, Series Two previews, and, most importantly, some franchise baseball card debuts.  On the latter point, without the cards of Davis, Uehara, and Jay, there's no way I'd be plopping down any money on this stuff - I'm a sucker for Cubs debuts and Cubgrading.

Anybody else plop down some dinero for a pack?  Who appears for the first time in their new duds for your favorite franchise?

I wish all blisters offered up new Cubs cards when popped.


* Wade Davis appears as a Cub in the concurrently released Gypsy Queen product.  If anyone has a copy of that card available for trade, I'd love to take it off of your hands!


  1. I look forward to these each year as well. Just plucked down $5 for a 2017 Red Sox set this past weekend myself. The big draws for me were the first cards to feature Mitch Moreland and Chris Sale in Red Sox garb!

  2. SPACELAND!!!!

    (As my kids used to call Orland when they had that Warner Brothers store near the food court with the space ship playset in the back of the store).

  3. I'm not a completist and I already bought a Series One team set so I'll pass. I will buy a Series Two set when they come out and all this only because these are the guys who made us Champs. Happy Home Opener night!

  4. I'm still on the fence as to whether I want to buy the Cubs team set.
    Oh, and is it bad that I've never heard of "Lush, Francesca's and Charlotte Russe"?

  5. UGH! That horrible Lids picture! BAD MEMORIES! MAKE IT STOP!!!

  6. I am a big fan of Jon Jay, really cool guy. I hope he does well with the Cubs.