Friday, May 26, 2017

It's Al-wright in the End

Yesterday afternoon, the Bears made a roster move that generated some massive excitement in the city of Chicago...  if it was made in 2012, that is.  The Monsters of the Midway inked former New York Giants star, Victor Cruz, to a one-year contract to bring his talents to the Windy City.  The star wide reciever has won himself a Super Bowl title, made the Pro Bowl, twice been named second-team All-Pro, and is also tied for the record of the longest reception in NFL history (99 yards).  However, all of that occurred at least five years ago and, since 2013, he has battled a slew of injuries and age-related decline.

Big name - low expectations.  Truly, he serves as a stop-gap on a rebuilding team, essentially replacing the recently jettisoned Eddie Royal.

That said, the salsa-dancing, touchdown celebrating wide receiver will be a Bear and, thus, must be represented in my Bears All-Time Roster Collection.  So, I immediately looked to my football trade stash to see if I had any cards of the fading star player.  Being such a big name in a major market, I thought I must surely have at least one base card.

Spoiler alert - I do not.  However, the exercise was not a complete waste of time, as I happened to come across a card featuring another off-season acquisition by the Bears:

Kendall Wright will be battling with the aforementioned Cruz, oft-injured Kevin White, Markus Wheaton and a host of others for playing time during the upcoming season.  In five years chasing passes with the Tennessee Titans, Wright has made 280 receptions for 3,244 yards and 18 touchdowns as a mostly regular player.  We'll have to wait until training camp to see how the WR position fully develops, but these two names will be at the forefront.

It's funny that Wright should end up as a Chicago Bear and this card should be placed in my BATRC binder because this particular card was a source of confusion for me a few years ago.  In fact, it's not the first time it's snuck into said binder.  Allow me to explain.

 The story revolves around the back of this card:

A few years ago, on a lark, I purchased one of those football Fairfield repacks from the local corner pharmacy - they make great cheap entertainment when you're bored.  I was casually flipping through my stash of new cardboard when I came across Kendall's card, backside first.  I was thrilled because I thought I had just pulled a new Bears card for my collection.

Why did I think that Mr. Wright played for the Bears, you ask?  Well:

That stat-lines clearly say he did, duh.  So, I hurriedly filed through the rest of the cards so that I could add a coveted new name to my Bears roster collection.  I live for any addition to my All-Time Roster Collections - they are the pillars of my card collections, after all.

After I nestled my new find gently into it's respective pocket in the binder, I took to Microsoft Excel to giddily highlight his name on my All-Time Bears Roster.  As I scrolled through the alphabetically sorted list, I came to the "W" section, only to find that "Wright, Kendall" was not listed there at all.  Say what???  I was so very confused.

Thankfully, I was already at a computer, so I immediately opened an internet browser and entered into internet super-sleuth mode.  I was disappointed to find out that, according to Wikipedia and ProFootballReference, Kendall Wright had never played a down for the Chicago Bears, not even in in the pre-season.  What gives, right?

Clearly I need to pay closer attention when sorting cards.  While Kendall had never been a CHICAGO Bear, he did spend four years playing football for Baylor University, from 2008-11.  Of course, Baylor's sports teams just so happen to be the "Bears."  When I read this on Wright's Wikipedia entry, all I could muster was a disappointed...

I must admit, I'm not always the best Bears fan.  In the years between their most recent Superbowl appearance (2007) and the current clown show, my interest in the franchise has spiked and dipped at random.  That, combined with the fact that roster turnover on NFL teams is darn near impossible to keep up with, I just figured that Wright's name must have slipped past me.  I didn't bother to make note of the "college" written all around his stats or the fact that his statistics were that of a major starter.  Furthermore, I completely disregarded the fact that I was holding a notated "rookie card" in my hand - how could have he possibly spent four years with Chicago if he was a rook in 2012?  Silly, Tony.

Thus, the Kendall Wright was dejectedly kicked back into my trade fodder box, where it rested, forgotten, for the next few years as the Bears roster turnover got crazier and crazier during the Marc Trestman and then the Ryan Pace/John Fox administrations.  Now, in 2017, that rapid turnover has brought Kendall back out of my trade box and into a place of glory in my Bears All-Time Roster Collection.  Oh, happy days!

Anyway, since I basically treat this blog as my own, personal card diary, I thought I should share this little twist of fate on it's pages.  Let this be a lesson to all you young card collectors out there, don't let yourself slip into autopilot mode when sorting cards - it may not always work out in the end...

Or should I say, it may not always turn out Al-Wright in the end.

Tuesday, May 23, 2017

Back Home Again in Indiana

May is a special month in my family.  My sister and I were both born in the fifth month of the year.  May is the month in which our local districts finish up the school year - school districts for which my parents, my brother, and I all work for.  Most importantly, May is the month in which the Indianapolis 500 and all of it's festivities take place.

My parents started making an annual pilgrimage to the super speedway in the mid-70's to take in Pole Day qualifications, on a lark.  Forty years later, our much larger family is still making the three hour drive from Chicago to Speedway, IN each and every year to see who will win the pole for the most storied auto race in American sports.  The family outing is one of the few constants in my life, having survived middle school confusion, high school drama, college sporting schedules and professional scheduling hurdles.  Personally, I've been attending the event since 2003, which I'm just now realizing is actually 14 years ago and I'm starting to feel kind of old.

Naturally, along the way, I've developed a certain affinity for the International 500-Mile Sweepstakes.

Pole Day at the Brickyard was this past Sunday; so, despite not-so-promising weather reports, my father, sister, brother, and now my wife and I loaded up a car and headed out to the track.  Thankfully we ignored the Weather Channel because, though the morning was a touch damp, by the time we got to the track, it was a beautiful, sunny afternoon.

For several years now, my favorite driver has been Graham Rahal.  The Ohio native is a second-generation racer and has been competing at the speedway since the 2008 season.  He's never won, but he has been a perennial threat to "kiss the bricks" since that debut.  I believe the reason that I've gravitated to the younger Rahal is that my first exposure to the 500 was through an old program that my parents bought during their 1987 visit, which I discovered, forgotten, in a desk drawer when I was just a kid.  I must have read through that program a hundred times before finally getting to visit the hallowed grounds myself and the publication prominently featured a spotlight on the 1986 champion of the race:  Bobby Rahal. 

My guy did pretty well, though he wasn't part of the "fast-nine" eligible to start first on the grid.  All in all, Rahal will start 14th on the grid after posting a four-lap average speed of 230.253 mph in the Steak n' Shake machine.  For reference, Scott Dixon took the pole averaging 232.164, the fastest qualifying run seen at Indy in 21 years!

No doubt it was an exciting afternoon, jam-packed with sensational speeds, junk food, family bonding and sunshine.  However, this is a trading card blog and I'm sure you're wondering what any of this has to do with cards.  Well, allow me to "shift gears," as they say, and discuss the souvenir findings that I made while waiting for the festivities to begin.

Unfortunately, Indy Car does not current have a licensed (or unlicensed, for that matter) producer of standalone trading cards and hasn't for many years now.  Since most of the top talent in American motorsports has been filtered towards NASCAR for the past couple of decades, I guess there's just not a lot of money to be made off of the current crop of Indy stars, when it comes to cardboard rectangles.  However, thankfully, the market isn't completely devoid of Indianapolis-related trading cards:


As is common in the die-cast market, the official producer of 1:64 scale Indy Car models, Greenlight, includes trading cards with most of it's little race cars.  Although I don't do much die-cast collecting anymore (I have too much clutter as it is), my little brother still likes to purchase a couple each year we go, as a personal memento.  This guy isn't one of those "mint in package" types either AND he really has no use for racing-related cards either; thus, over the years, we've developed a nice partnership, where with every car he buys, he graciously allows me to have the accompanying trading card.  In turn, I help out with his concessions or provide future favors.

As you can see above, last year's Indy 500 champ, Alexander Rossi was among my brother's purchases in 2017:

Therefore, I'm super stoked to be adding this Rossi card to my small, but beloved collection of Indy 500 cards.  I love the photograph that was selected for the background of this card, of Rossi's blue and yellow NAPA ride in front of the iconic Pagoda and in-line with the famed yard of bricks and finish line.  The blue sky certainly doesn't hurt the imagery either.

Furthermore, I like the choice of blue for the borders, as well.  Turns out that this Cubs fan has a thing for the color blue - who would have guessed that?

The back of the card features a snapshot of the rookie winner with the traditional victor's wreath and a brief write-up about his surprise victory.  Rossi and his Andretti Herta Autosport team used fuel mileage strategy to stun the field and come away with the win in the 100th running of the prestigious event.  Not a bad way to make your debut in the sport, eh?

Alexander, in case your curious, will be starting his second Indy 500 from the front row, in third position.

Moving on, Alexander Rossi's ride wasn' the only die-cast car that my brother purchased that afternoon.  Unfortunately for me though, the cards that came with his other buys left a lot to be desired:


In what seems to be a pattern, Greenlight only puts their full effort into the cards for the defending Indy 500 winner and the Indy Car Series points champion from the previous season.  Otherwise, if you aren't wearing one of those crowns, you get one of the generic accompaniments that you see above.  

Will Power, driving for Roger Penske, fell just short of the series championship last year to his teammate Simon Pagenaud.  Sadly, my brother did not opt for Simon.  Perhaps this year a little concentrated Power of Will will earn the 17th Indianapolis victory for the Penske crew and find himself on a real trading card.  Helio Castroneves has thrice won the Indy 500, but not in 2015, when the card you see above was manufactured.  Will he become the fourth, four-time winner of the event in 2017?  It would make for a great card, I'm just saying...


At least the back's got some attention, with a fairly detailed career wrap-up on include on the reverse side.  I wish I could say that I was from Toowoomba, Australia... that just seems super fun to say!  However, as we turn back the pages of time even further, the cards included with official IndyCar Series die-casts get more and more blah:

In addition to current rides, my brother also picked up some older die-casts off of a clearance rack outside of the track.  As you can see, going back a few years to 2014, the blander trading cards were smaller than standard and peculiarly shaped.  Furthermore, instead of a write up on the back, we got a season schedule for the IndyCar Series:

These aren't exactly the most exciting things that I've ever seen.  That said, options are limited for Indy 500 card collectors and they still make for nice bits of memorabilia to be autographed.

Speaking of autographs, I always come prepared with a stack of cards, as race car drivers may very well be the most generous signers out of all professional athletes.  There are numerous opportunities to catch drivers along the fence of the garage area, crossing over from Gasoline Alley to the pit lane, free sessions organized throughout the racetrack, and even just walking around among the crowd.  On that latter note, just a few years ago, my brother and sister happened to bump into '90 & '97 Indy 500 winner, Arie Luyendyk, behind the front stretch grandstands.

Speaking of which, my brother truly has the golden touch when it comes to autographs and he manages to land a few big names every year.  However, I thought I was going to have him beat this year, as I was ever-so-close to nabbing Castroneves' signature behind pit road; but, he quit signing for the crowd right before he got to me and my trading card.  Minutes later, I legitimately walked right into eight-time starter, Oriol Servia, walking around on his own, only to discover that I had lost my pen.  It was a touch frustrating, but sometimes that's the way the cookie crumbles.

Meanwhile, as I was getting thwarted all over the track, Mike was having himself a banner day:

They may be hard to make out in the photograph above, but he was lucky enough to get both Marco and Mario Andretti to sign their names on his souvenir program.  Mario freakin' Andretti... outside of A.J. or maybe Al Unser, I don't think there's a bigger fish to land!  That lucky duck always seems to be in the right place at the right time.

I should have hung out with Michael, as I even brought a card of the most famous name in American motorsports along with me, just in case:

Wouldn't that 2013 Upper Deck Goodwin Champions single look just wonderful with an autograph on it?  Next year, I'm going to give Mike my cards and just have him go to town.  I don't know what he does or where he goes, but it's working out for him!

While I wasn't lucky enough to score any autographs while I was wandering about the Speedway grounds, I didn't walk away empty-handed.  In my wandering travels, I happened upon a folding table that was manned by some organization called "Ark Encounter."  I'd never heard of this biblical org, but they did have a few stacks of these oddball trading card/post card/hero card hybrids that I was all to happy to grab for the low, low price of free:

Apparently, they have some kind of sponsorship/partnership deal with hometown Indy veteran, Conor Daly.  Conor, like Graham Rahal, is also a second-gen racer, the son of Derek Daly, who competed at the Brickyard and in the Formula One ranks, contributing to his son's popularity.  All in all, not a bad name to attach yourself to for a little bit of local exposure.

These cards are about the size of a postcard, printed on thin cardstock, similar to that of the ubiquitous hero cards associated with the sport.  We get a checkered flag border around a white background, overlayed with a photograph of Daly's A.J. Foyt Enterprises road course car.  Also included is a photo of the young racer in his white fire-suit, which blends right into the color-less background.  Options are limited when it comes to Indy cards and free is always a worthwhile price, so I was thrilled to come across this oddball.

Flipping over to the backside, we get a brief bio for Conor.  Can I just mention that it seems a bit presumptious to list him as having already started the 2017 Indianapolis 500?  Granted, there are only 33 cars entered this year, meaning every team that shows up will make the grid; that said, injuries happen (just ask Sebastien Bourdais) and problems occur.  It seems like bad Juju McGumbo to me.

Additionally, we learn just what the "Ark Encounter" is all about.  Without getting to deep into the topic, all I can say is that I'm certain that I won't be visiting this place anytime soon... or ever.

That about did it for my trading card related finds; but, I did make one more souvenir purchase before I went back to find my seat for the qualifying sessions:

For the first time in all of my years of visiting the speedway, I noticed that the gift shop immediately next to the track museum (highly recommend, btw), which shares space with a concession stand, is an entire storefront full of "get rid of this stuff NOW" clearance-priced items from years past.  As a penny-pinching race fan and collector, this was a dream find.  My wife picked up a couple onesies for our friends with toddlers that are obsessed with anything that has wheels and I grabbed the above magnet of my guy Graham Rahal.  Our total for the three items was just under seven bucks... that won't even buy you a burger and a Coke at the neighboring concessions.

This trading card-sized magnet hails from the year 2014, when Graham and his Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing squad drove with the National Guard livery.  It wasn't the best of years, as Graham finished dead last (33rd) in the 98th running.  Still, this might be as close as I ever get to a Graham Rahal "card" and it was basically free with the extreme discounting.  Plus, it looks good on my fridge:

Nestled right next to my wife's 3D cat magnet and our wonderful engagement announcement.  I don't know why, but it seems like the perfect spot for my favorite race car driver.

After all of that souvenir and autograph hunting, it was about time for the qualification sessions to start, so we journeyed to our usual post in the upper grandstand of turn one to take in the festival of speed.  All in all, I can say that I was extremely enthused with my card-related findings during the downtime.  I fully expected to come home skunked, as I so often do when it comes to Indy cards, but I ended up with plenty to show off on the ol' blog.  That combined with seeing Scott Dixon win the pole with the fastest individual lap and complete qualifying run in 21 years, Graham running respectably, and getting to spend some quality time with my family in our most hallowed tradition certainly made for a wonderful afternoon.

Now, I'm counting down the days 'til Sunday, when the green flag will drop on the 101st running of the Indianapolis 500.  My fingers are crossed that this will be the year that Graham Rahal get his face engraved on the Borg Warner Trophy.

I love the month of May!

Monday, May 22, 2017

R.I.P. Bill White

Bill White played in 604 career regular season games in the National Hockey League as a defenseman. The former Blackhawk made his way to six consecutive All-Star games, as one of the most notable defenders across the league, during the 1970's. Sadly, the Chicago franchise has announced that the all-time great had passed away, at the age of 77, yesterday evening.

White first earned a shot at the big time with the expansion LA Kings, after the NHL grew from six to twelve teams going into the 1967-68 season.  Expansion couldn't have come at a more opportune time for the undiscovered star, as he'd been toiling at the AHL level since 1959.  During his time spent in Los Angeles, White blossomed into a premier, stay-at-home defenseman for the new club.  Even still, he managed to lead the Kings in scoring during his first two full years with the team, attracting attention across the league and opening some eyes.  Among the eyes who took notice were that of Blackhawks General Manager, Tommy Ivan.

 Stapleton and White were a defensive juggernaut

In February of 1970, the contending Blackhawks lost a key piece, Pat Stapleton, to injury, while in the thick of tight playoff race.  Ivan acted quickly, acquiring White from the Kings in a trade.  While the Blackhawks were eventually swept out of the Stanley Cup semi-finals by the Boston Bruins, Pat Stapleton eventually got healthy and combined with White to make up one of the most formidable blue-line tandems in team history.  This pair helped the Hawks reach the finals in both 1971 and 1973.

White spent the rest of his NHL career with the Chicago Blackhawks, retiring after the 1975-76 campaign due to a neck injury.  All told, he finished with 30 goals and 149 assists while wearing an Indianhead sweater and was among the team's top five defensive scorers of all time when he called it a career. Furthermore, he also won himself a gold medal with Team Canada at the 1972 Winter Olympics.  White eventually returned to the franchise to serve as the interim head coach for the final 46 games of the 1976-77 season, after the firing of longtime boss Billy Reay.  After that brief stint, White went on to coach his old junior team, the Toronto Marlboros of the OHL.

 White, in action, against Henri Richard and the Canadiens, courtesy of Getty Images

For now, there has been no official word as to the cause of death for the gruff, 77-year old hockey veteran.  That said, I think I can safely say that the city of Chicago and Blackhawks fans across the country will be keeping the family of Mr. White in their thoughts and prayers.

As for the Blackhawks themselves, here's the statement put out by the team, earlier today: "The Chicago Blackhawks organization extends its thoughts and heartfelt condolences to Bill White's family as we mourn his loss," the team said. "He will be remembered as a leader, generous teammate and tough player to play against. His energetic style helped the Blackhawks see great success during his tenure with the team."

R.I.P. Bill White.

Friday, May 19, 2017

A Generous Enterprise

In what is quickly becoming an annual tradition, A.J. - the author behind the ever-popular Yankees-centric blog, The Lost Collector - recently busted his second, yearly box of Topps Bunt.  For those who might not know, the low-end product, which made it's debut late last year, endeavors to provide a cheap tie-in between physical baseball cards and Topps' digital card trader app, also known as Bunt.  It's a concept which has proved wildly popular with their Star Wars products.

It looks as though A.J. had himself a thoroughly enjoyable experience ripping through the box, pulling some fun inserts and a healthy portion of the Yankee team set (including some guy named Aaron Judge, whoever that might be).  With 36 packs of cards and a 200 card checklist, it's inevitable that he pulled a fair amount of a lot of team sets.  So, since this Lost Collector is such a good guy, he's decided to spread the wealth with the blogosphere and forward some of these non-Yanks with other team bloggers.

Luckily for me, I was one of the lucky recipients of this generous "Enterprise."  Ba dum tiss.  I'm assuming that I made the cut as a pity gift to make up for the beat-down his Evil Empire layed down on my Cubs a couple of weeks ago.

I've made it abundantly clear throughout the course of writing Wrigley Roster Jenga that my wife is a minor Star Trek nerd, so I wouldn't be surprised if the use of this particular stamp was a calculated move on A.J.'s part.  If so, nice touch!  If not, just take the credit anyway.

Enclosed within this Starfleet decorated PWE, was a hefty sampling of the Bunt Cubs.  The checklist is comprised of eleven Cubs - eight of the regularly starting position players are included, plus a few starting pitchers.  Seeing as the Cubbies are coming off of a World Series win, perhaps it should come as no surprise that this one team should take up so much of the limited checklist.  One thing is for sure, this Cubs fan isn't complaining!

Among the base cards, the two that you see above are my favorite.  That's because the background features the unmistakable, rich Wrigley ivy in the background and the home pinstripes of the Chicago National League ball club.  When these traits are combined with the team color-coded, blue borders, Hendricks and Zobrist have never looked better.

As I observed in my Bunt pack rip a few days back, the design is very slick and TV graphic-esque, which I'm sure looks quite sharp on the screen of an iPhone.  Also, these cards are thin with a ton of gloss, almost to the point that Topps Ice would have been a better name for the set.

 Thanks to A.J., I now have all three Bunt Cubs rotation dwellers in my possession.

Maybe I'm just juvenile, but I think it's kind of giggle-worthy that Jon Lester appears in a set titled "Bunt," when he has such issues with fielding them and throwing to first base.  I believe that is what one might call ironic.

Here we have a pair of the young position players which power Chicago's potent line-up, in the vocal team leader, Rizzo, and a guy who Joe Maddon remarked "plays like his hair is on fire" in WILLSON!!! Contreras.  No, the "Castaway" reference still hasn't gotten old or stale, at least to me.

The Contreras card gets some extra cool points, seeing as the World Series sleeve patch and helmet decal are clearly visible in the photograph.  The idea of the Cubs being in the WS, let alone winning it, is still quite novel to me and any card which provides evidence of this incredible feat is a notch above, in my humble opinion.

Hey, Hey!  It's a pair of Jason Heywards - A.J. pulled both Jason's base card and it's blue parallel.

Parallels were quite rare in last year's edition of Bunt and much more subtle as well - all were serial numbered and featured just a splash of additional color.   This year, the blues fall at one per pack, so they are far easier to obtain and, I'd say, much more noticeable.  But, hey, you can never have too much blue on a Cubs card; as I mentioned in my 30-Day Challenge post, blue parallels of any sort are always my favorite parallels!

I wonder what Jon Lester's "perspective" on blue parallels is.  Non-existent, I'm sure.

In both the digital and physical realm, one of the main draws of Bunt is the fun, gimmicky inserts - it's the 90's all over again!  One of these sets is "Perspectives," which feature close-up, head-shots of baseball players who are deep in thought.  For instance, Jon Lester looks like he's contemplating just how he can effectively broker peace in the Middle East.  Either that, or he's wondering where the heck he is on the field... it's certainly not the mound.  Also, more bonus points for the World Series patch on the hat!

With that, we've reached the end of the Bunt portion of A.J.'s surprise PWE; however, that wasn't the last of the cards:

As an added bonus, The Lost Collector also tossed in this 2016 Topps Heritage single, featuring the now backup catcher for the Chicago Cubs, Miguel Montero.  Judging by the photograph used for this card, you'd think he wasn't too thrilled about the change.  With the emergence of Willson Contreras and Miggy's injury history, this transition had been anticipated for a while; nevertheless, Montero has adjusted to his new role well and without complaint, providing pop (3 homers) and a solid bat ( .315 avg) off of the bench.

With that, we've reached the end of "The Lost Collector's" Bunt-centric PWE.  All told, I ended up with seven of the eleven base cards, one parallel, and one insert - that's not a bad jump on the 2017 Bunt Cubs team set.  Seeing as the only pack of the product that I've opened so far included not a single Chicago base card, there's no doubt that A.J. really helped me out here. 

That's why the blogosphere is such an awesome place - one generous guy opens up a box of product and we all benefit.  Thanks, A.J.!  I'll be sure to gather up a nice assortment of Yankees to return the favor.

Thursday, May 18, 2017

Pierce the Big League Veil

The Theo Epstein Era of Chicago Cubs baseball has seen an unprecedented run of success when it comes to the development of top prospects.  The waves and waves of talent from the minor league ocean keep washing up the Major League shore, as constant and reliable as the tide.  Names like Bryant, Russell, Contreras, Baez, Almora, Schwarber and now Ian Happ have come up from the bushes and immediately contributed to the clubs Big League success, all without nary a prospective miss.  It's just not supposed to be that easy.

Although, you might note a conspicuous lack of homegrown pitching on the above list.  A stated mission of the current Cubs' FO has been to draft position players and trade from that depth to acquire starting pitching, as nothing is more volatile and harder to develop than young arms. To exemplify this dearth, it took until last year for the very first Epstein-drafted starter to be called up to the Majors in Rob Zastryzny. 

Now, joining Zaz on the all-time Cubs roster is the very first pitcher that Epstein and Co. drafted, period:

Pierce Johnson was drafted by Chicago in the supplemental first round (43rd overall) of the 2012 draft, out of Missouri State University.  The live-armed starter could hit the upper-90's with his fastball, with some crisp, late-breaking movement.  Furthermore, Pierce also used an outstanding curveball to keep opposing batters guessing and generate bunches of strikeouts.  Thus, despite their known aversion to drafting pitching, the Cubs just couldn't help but take a gamble on the young righty.

Unfortunately, as Pierce moved up the minor league ladder, his secondary pitches never truly developed into anything more than ordinary and he basically became a two-pitch pitcher.  Additionally, control began to be an issue in the upper rungs, as did his health.  Thus, during a dreadful, terrible, no-good 2016 season in AAA Iowa, in which lengthy DL-stints sidelined him for most of the year, the decision was made to convert him into a full-time reliever, where he could harness his peak velocity, solely on his two plus pitches and protect his durability.

After a rough Spring Training camp with the big club, Pierce has seemingly taken to the transition well so far during the 2017 baseball season.  In 14 innings with the Iowa Cubs, Johnson has posted an eye-popping 21 K's  and given up only one long ball.  On the other hand, his control still isn't fully harnessed, as he has also walked 11 batters in that same time.  However, the swing-and-miss stuff is clearly there.  With Ben Zobrist's back issues apparently healed, without a DL stint required, the decision was made to sacrifice an extra man on the bench in the name of bullpen depth.

With as overworked as the bullpen has been in 2017 (though things have stabilized somewhat in the last week), I can't say that I blame them.

And that, ladies and gentleman, is the story of how the very first pitcher that TheoJed drafted with the Cubs organization made his way to the Big Leagues.  It has been a longer and more bumpy road than anticipated for the former first round draft choice, but he made it just the same.  Here's hoping that his curveball will miss enough bats for him to stick around in the Wrigley bullpen - if so, he'd be a great replacement for the lately-listless and recently demoted Justin Grimm.

To make room for the newest dweller in the bullpens underneath the Wrigley bleachers, third base prospect Jeimer Candelatrio was returned to Iowa, after a brief, 8-game cuppacoffee.   In his second trial with the club, Jeimer again struggled with the bat, posting a .143 batting average, but he's never been given an extended trial to try and work through a cold streak.  In short, being that the corners of the infield are pretty well blocked for the foreseeable future, I'm hoping that the Cubs can flip him to a rebuilding club as part of the package for a starter - it would be best for both Jeimer and the Cubs.

Trading position prospects for pitchers, just like the plan was drawn up on the ol' white board.  Funny then that such a trade might have been facilitated by calling up the first pitcher Theo ever drafted with Chicago.

Good luck, Pierce, and welcome to the Cubs All-Time Roster Collection, binder.

Wednesday, May 17, 2017

Eating Cereal with a Star

Almost since the night that the Cubs ended the longest championship drought in professional sports and David Ross hung up his catcher's gear for good last November, the charismatic backstop has been on an almost non-stop, farewell victory lap.  Since David Ross became the oldest player to hit a home run in World Series play and that final out was recorded against the Cleveland Indians, "Grandpa Rossy" has been hired as a special assistant to Cubs GM, Theo Epstein, embarked on a broadcasting career with the "World Wide Leader in Sports," ESPN, has appeared on famed television talk-shows, like Ellen DeGeneres, sung the stretch and tossed out the first pitch at Wrigley, and written an autobiographical book about his time on the diamond, among other endeavors in the public limelight.

However, the stop on Rossy's retirement tour that has, no doubt, generated the most interest among baseball fans and television viewers is his unexpectedly long tenure on ABC's juggernaut reality show, Dancing with the Stars:

"G-pa" has been a major ratings generator for the show, even getting me to pay attention to the silly show for the first time in it's twenty-four seasons of existence.

Admittedly, I fully expected the aged catcher to be among the first of the B-list candidates to be voted off of the long-running contest.  After all, signal-caller knees aren't famous for being limber and David's have taken nearly 6,000 innings worth of abuse - they do call him "Grampa" for a reason.  Nevertheless, much like the Cubs being the perennial underdogs, "Gramps" danced his way all the way to the finals of the program, besting even an Olympic gymnast in Simone Biles.  There's simply no doubting that, in the immortal words of Jacobin Mugatu, Rossy "is so hot right now."

With that being the case, perhaps it shouldn't come as a surprise that the most popular backup catcher in the lengthy history of Chicago baseball now has his very own line of breakfast cereal.  First, Sammy Sosa started the tradition of Windy City baseball-themed cereal with his "Slammin' Sammy's Frosted Flakes" waaaaayyyyyy back in 1999.  Then, Anthony Rizzo muscled his way onto breakfast tables across the state of Illinois with his own "RizzO's" toasted oats, a touch over one year ago, with a revival of the brand coming just recently hitting Jewel-Osco shelves.

Now, striking while the iron is hot, we get "Grandpa Rossy Crunch," as part of a properly balanced breakfast:

Next to the RizzO's at your local, Chicagoland Jewel, you can now find the second of the "2016 Championship Edition" line of breakfast cereals.  Gracing the front of the box, we have a cartoon-ified version of the cult hero cracking his now-famous World Series long ball, superimposed over the capacity-filled Wrigley Field bleachers, with ivy and bunting abound.  The real thing might have occurred in Cleveland's Progressive Field, but I think we can all agree that the Friendly Confines make for a better setting.  The pennant-frame for the cereal name is also a nice, subtle touch.

Of course, like Anthony Rizzo's contribution to the Second City fans' diet, the day-starter is not actually licensed by Major League Baseball and thus requires the removal of all Cubs markings by airbrushing and Photoshopping.  That said, while the misplaced uniform number and blue "R" hat are rather noticeable, I wouldn't say that they detract too much from the artwork which graces the front of the box.

What about the back?

The entire back panel is used for what is basically an advertisement for the ol' catcher's aforementioned memoir, Teammate.  As a die-hard Cubs fan, this particular book obviously catches my interest, as anything with the logo of the Chicago National League Ballclub will do.  That said, I hear that there is plenty of information within these pages which will appeal to the general baseball fan, including how Rossy successfully made the transition from clubhouse problem to exceptional teammate, his character growth and rise to notoriety in Boston, and how a drunk-dialed phone call from Jon Lester helped convince him to sign on the dotted line with the Cubbies.

If any of that "catches" your fancy, the back panel would like to make it clear that you can pick up a copy this May (*checks calendar* that's now!).  Furthermore, you can also visit the official website for the piece of literary gold for a chance to win some Cubs tickets or an exclusive, autographed baseball cap from the man himself.

As I've mentioned in both of my posts about RizzO's, what these specially-branded boxes of cereal are missing is the inclusion of an oddball baseball card - the artwork just screams for the unlicensed baseball card treatment.  Unfortunately, the closest we come to such a thing on any of these boxes is the David Ross bio found on one of the side panels of Grandpa Rossy Crunch, where you get some of the veteran's vitals, plus career highlights and achievements.  Also - his Twitter handle, because we live in a social media-obsessed world.

It's still not a card, though.

On the opposite side, we have the nutrition facts, as required by the Food and Drug Administration.  Along with that, we have the markings of Jewel-Osco - the sole stocker of the new breakfast staple - and PLB Sports, the distributor for RizzO's, Grandpa Rossy Crunch, the full line of 2016 Championship Edition cereals (more on that in a minute), and many other athlete-branded lines of food throughout the country.

Because I can, allow me to present to you my full collection of Chicago Cubs breakfast cereal boxes, in all of their Northside glory.  In seeing all of these gems together and in one place, I've now noticed that, apparently, Cubs fans are only allowed to eat off-brand Frosted Flakes and Cheerios - who knew?

The collection that you see above is already guaranteed to expand by at least one before the year 2017 has expired.  You might be asking yourself. how can I be so sure?  Well, all it takes is one, quick visit to the official website for PLB Sports:

Looks like the World Series MVP will be joining his championship teammates, getting a spot in the most important meal of the day.  As of now, Zobs appears to be the last in the line of 2016 Championship Edition cereals.  I can't help but wonder what kind of cereal "Zorilla Crunch" will "ape."  Didn't Cocoa Krispies used to have a monkey as a mascot?

For now though, I'll just have to sit back and admire my Sosa, Rizzo, and now Grandpa Ross boxes, as part of my suddenly blossoming cereal box collection.  Heaven forbid someone like Kris Bryant or Jake Arrieta appear on a Wheaties box or something... forget family photos and the dog's ashes - I need shelf space!!!

I feel as though I should also mention that this is not Ross' only connection to the breakfast cereal industry either.  You see, he also has an endorsement deal with Kellogg's Raisin Bran; I guess his contract doesn't preclude from also throwing his face on another brand of cereal.  Furthermore, he sure does appear to like those flaky cereals, doesn't he?

In the end, you might say that he's attempting to "milk" the cereal market for all that it's worth!

That David Ross... he's so hot right now.