Friday, June 30, 2017

I'll Ace Any Trivia Quiz You Bring On

Whenever I stop in one of my local thrift stores or secondhand shops, I'm always on the prowl for something "new" and unique to add to my collections - be it baseball cards, records, jerseys, et al.  One of the sections of said stores that I always make sure to stop by is the board game shelves, for a few reasons:

  1. My wife and I love board games and are always on the look out for a different one to torture our friends with at our gatherings.
  2. A lot of board games use cards and, if these board games are sports related, there's a good chance that some oddball cards will be up for grabs.
  3. A lot of card games get stuck with the board games and, if these card games are sports related, there's a good chance that some oddball cards will be up for grabs.

I'm a cardboard fiend and I have a problem.

A few days ago, I strolled into Pass It On in nearby Crestwood, IL, in search of some cheap, used furniture to help furnish our new apartment (our bookshelves broke on transit and we could use another couple tables).  Unfortunately, I didn't have any luck with my true motivation - though there were enough dining room table to furnish Windsor Castle.  To assuage my disappointment, I convinced myself that it wouldn't hurt to take a gander and see if there was anything else that caught my fancy - I did drive all the way there, after all.

Spoiler alert - there was (I mean, there almost always is) and it came from that aforementioned board game section:

A trivia challenge, eh?  My main is chock full o' useless knowledge - accept your challenge!

Honestly, I picked it up because of the picture of the football player on the front (any idea as to who that might be?).  Flickback Media, Inc., the company behind this plastic clam shell of "trivialized" playing cards, produces this series of these graphically enhanced cards and has an deck for just about each and every year since 1935.  The consumer can use these cards to show off their big brains or for use in Blackjack, War, or what have you.  Apparently, Flickback also has a series of books, DVD's, and all sort of other media built around this concept, as this advertisement card found within touts:

Sooooo... sports figure on the deck, pictures on the cards.... perhaps I could find myself a neat oddball for my Cubs/Bears/Blackhawks/Bulls collections?  That was the hope.

For a dollar I was willing to take that risk. Worst case scenario, I end up with a plastic holder for future storage considerations and an opportunity to show off my useless knowledge in front of friends.  Unfortunately for me, the sports content for the 1955 edition of Flickback's Trivia Challenge was lacking.

A baseball card pictured on a "baseball card" - we have some full-blown cardboard inception going on here!  Someone call Leo.

At any rate, this was the only card which featured any one specific baseball player or personality.  Do you know the answer?

Seeing as they are still a deck of playing cards, good for any game of Poker, Texas Hold'em, Egyptian Ratscrew, or Go Fish, all of the backs are the same.  The image chosen for the back was the same as the compilation image that stared back at me through the plastic.  "Davy, Davy Crockett, king of the wild frontier!..."  Although, thanks to Harry Caray, I can't help but hear the lyrics to that tune as "Jody, Jody Davis, catcher without fear!"

While Cy Young (oops, I spilled the beans) was the only specific baseball player who made an appearance, there were a couple of other cameos from our nation's pastime:

"The Boys of Summer" stunned the nation as they triumphed over the dynastic New York Yankees in the World Series.  Seeing as that may very well have been the biggest sports story in the nation in 1955, it's no surprise that "Dem Bums" show up in Flickback.  Although, it would have been nice to see more than a hat; but, I suppose MLB guards their image licensing rights like Fort Knox.

Also, the face cards in a playing card deck don't leave a lot of extra room; therefore, the questions on these cards go unadorned, without a visual cue.  Sticking with that  historic baseball championship, do you know "What is unique about the televised World Series this year?"

It was the very first World Series to be broadcast in full color!  Did you answer correctly?

That did it for the baseball content, but there was still some more "sportsing" to be done:

Pierre Levegh was a European Formula One and sports car racer and one of the many lives lost in the tragic crash at the 24 Hours of Le Mans, an incident which single-handedly changed motorsport safety and which caused AAA to drop out of sanctioning races altogether.  I won't post them here, but a quick Google image search will show you just how terrifying this accident truly was.

Meanwhile, I've never been a big fan of boxing and I don't know much about the sport beyond the Rocky movies; however, I do know that the answer to the question found on the two of diamonds is none other than Rocky Marciano.  Why do I know that?  I honestly could not tell you.

There were no more sporting references after those two, but there were some questions about notable rock and roll acts too, which is music to the ears of this record collector.  These two should be fairly easy answers to come up with, so I'll let you figure these out for yourselves.

With that, the rest of these trivia cards were filled up with references to actor/actress birthdays, notable movies, political occurrences, and other pop culture trends from 1955.  If Marty McFly had this deck of cards in his pocket when he traveled back to that same year in his DeLorean, he would have had a much easier time fitting in - they'd make an excellent reference source!

Oh hey - they covered that!

So, no useful furniture and no cards which obviously fit into my collection - however, this Flickback Trivia Challenge still made for a unique and fun "rip" anyway.  It was certainly something different, after all.  Perhaps one of our countless Dodger collectors would be interested in the cards which make reference to the '55 Series?  Do we have a Cy Young super collector on the blogosphere?  Let me know and I'll make sure to forward the respective cards in those directions.

I'll take a coffee table in trade (just kidding... a little bit).

Thursday, June 29, 2017

R.I.P. Anthony Young, aka the Original Bad Luck Brian

A couple of days ago, a bit of tragic news involving a former Cub rolled through my Twitter feed.  Seeing as this is a Cubs-centric blog built around the franchise's rich history of players and personalities, I felt compelled to cover it here.  However, after yesterday's much ballyhooed Miguel Montero, bus-tossing incident, subsequent DFA, and the call up of Victor Caratini, I must admit that I forgot about that original bit of news and was swept up in the roster swirling hubbub.  Now, with all of that behind us, it's time that I rectify this oversight.

This past Tuesday, it was announced that former Major League pitcher, Anthony Young, had passed away at the far too young age of 51.  Earlier in the year, we had found out that Mr. Young had been diagnosed with an inoperable brain tumor.  While the always resilient Major Leaguer remained hopeful and optimistic, the prognosis was bleak.

Anthony pitched in the Big Leagues for six years, two of which were spent on the Northside of Chicago:  1994-95.  Those were some lean years for the Cubbies,with some especially thin pitching, but Young provided some quality innings out of both the starting rotation and the bullpen, as evidenced by his 3.87 ERA over the course of his Wrigley-dwelling stint.  That said, he still posted a hard luck record of 7-10 over that same time... more on that subject later.

After the '95 campaign, the Cubs decided to let Young walk as a free agent and he signed with the Astros.  He would finish out his career with Houston after just one more season.  Injuries limited his time and effectiveness on the diamond.

However, if the name Anthony Young rings a bell in your subconscious, I can almost guarantee you that it has nothing to do with his brief stints in the Windy City or the Magnolia City.  Instead we have to travel all the way to the City That Never Sleeps to hear about how Anthony Young achieved notoriety in baseball.  Unfortunately, it wasn't exactly for the best of reasons.

You see, before Young was traded to Chicago for Jose Vizcaino, he earned a fair amount of infamy for setting the record for most consecutive losses in Major League baseball history, an "achievement" he reached while hurling for the New York Mets from May of 1992 through July of 1993.  That amounted to 27 losing decisions, in a row, taking down a mark which had stood for 84 years.  Yikes.

Young initially came up with the Mets in 1991, winning two games against eight losses in ten appearances during his initial trial.  The next year, the swingman got off to a hot start by winning two of his first three appearances; who knew that those would be his last pitching wins for well over a year?

In all actuality, A.Y. is the poster boy for why pitching wins are an almost superfluous statistic, a holdover from the days of yore.  After all, despite coming out on the losing side of 27 straight tilts, it's not like Young was a bad pitcher.  In fact, over the course of the streak, Young had an ERA of 4.36 during that improbable span - hardly Cy Young worthy, but certainly not inflated enough to justify such dismal results.  In fact, Anthony even posted 15 saves along the way, subbing for an injured John Franco.  Not to mention, there was a 23 2/3 scoreless inning streak sandwiched in there, as well. Clearly, there was some bad luck afoot, which Young later recalled, "Everything that could happen, happened. It was just destiny, I guess." The fact that the Mets were lousy at that time and were especially egregious defenders didn't help either.

This bad luck earned Young quite a bit of national notoriety - he even appeared on the David Letterman show to discuss his "futility."  A lesser man would have broken down from all of the negative publicity and infamy; however, Young always maintained a positive spirit and his self-confined never faltered. The pressure of the Big Leagues is enough, without that monkey hanging heavily on your back, after all.  Nevertheless, he kept on chugging along, providing quality innings for the Metropolitans.

Eventually, on July 28, 1993, everything finally came together for Young and the Mets.   At Shea Stadium, they broke the skid in style by pulling off a 5-4 walk-off victory in the bottom of the ninth against the Florida Marlins.  Young had pitched a scoreless top of the ninth in order to earn his first "W" in 448 days.

You can see the pure, joyful elation on the field and in the stands - what a way to kill a drought, huh?
Obviously, cards printed on demand weren't a thing back in 1993; that said, surely if something like this were to occur today, Topps would seize the moment and include it in their polarizing and ever-growing "Now" checklist.  With that in mind, I've taken the liberty of creating my own sort of "what if?" on-demand card.  Instead of a Now, I've whipped up a Topps "Then" card to retroactively celebrate Young's redeeming victory:

I figured it would make for a nice tribute to a guy who never let the negativity or pressure get him down.

Although, it should be noted that the bad luck didn't stop there.  In fact, Young might be among the most jinxed pitchers in baseball history - despite posting an above average 3.89 ERA for his career, he finished with 15-48, overall, with a winning percentage of .238.  I guess pitching for the Mets and the Cubs throughout the lean 1990's will do that to your stat line.

In the end, Young deserves to be remembered for much more than his streak of bad breaks - he was a productive arm and a good teammate in a couple of major markets.  However, at least he will always have a spot marked out for him in the sprawling history of Major League Baseball and he turned that possibly toxic notoriety and turned it into an opportunity for personal growth.  I could only hope that I would deal with such frustration as well as Mr. Young did.

R.I.P. Anthony Young - Met, Cub, Astro, and role model for dealing with strife.

Wednesday, June 28, 2017

Open Mouth, Insert Foot

All good things must come to an end... unfortunately, sometimes it's an unceremonious end.

Miguel Montero should be remembered for the epic grand slam he launched in Game One of the NLCS against the Dodgers, a moonshot which got Wrigley rocking so much that it might have registered on the Richter scale.  In an instant, what seemed like a deflating, choking loss turned into a moment for the ages.

Miggy should be remembered for driving in a key insurance run in the top of the 11th of Game 7 of the World Series.  This bases-loaded single seemed almost superfluous in that moment; but, it was that insurance run which turned out to be the margin of victory in the Cubs' historic, drought-ending win.  Without Miggy Montero's bat, perhaps the Indians take the Cubs into extra, extra innings and flip the script - Chicago would still be in mourning.

Monty should be remembered for being a steady veteran influence on a young, hungry team which quickly and unexpectedly shifted from rebuild to "win it all" mode.  Along the way, he embodied this newfound Cubbie swagger with his extremely marketable, hash-taggable slogan, "#WeAreGood."  Heck, he should even be remembered for his fun and sporadic, damage control pitching appearances. These are all significant moments in franchise history for which we Cubs fans should remember the name Miguel Montero fondly.

Instead, at least for now, the only reason Northside fans will remember his name is for running his mouth a bit too much.

Last night, after Trea Turner tied his own franchise record for stolen bases in a single game (with seven swipes), Miggy unloaded his frustrations on the covering media.  Instead of taking even some responsibility for the National's track meet on the base paths, Montero angrily unloaded on his pitcher, Jake Arrieta, and the rest of the staff for their slow deliveries to the plate.  While Jake is not the quickest to deliver, it should be noted that Miggy his 0-fer the season when it comes to throwing out runners and has one of the slowest "pop" times in baseball.  In short, while there is some truth to the statement, to unload the blame (through the media, at that) on the pitching staff while shrugging off his own role did not sit well with the team.  Even the unofficial team captain, Anthony Rizzo, admonished him, via a radio interview.

It should be made clear that this isn't the first instance of Miggy going to the press to vent his frustrations.  In the midst of a celebration for the ages, the Cubs World Series parade, Montero complained to reporters that manager Joe Maddon was dishonest and didn't properly communicate with him about his usage down the stretch.  Again, while there may be nuggets of truth in that statement, during the world's seventh largest gathering of people and through the press corps was probably not the best avenue through which to communicate it.

As such, Theo and Co. and their hammer struck quickly and designated the veteran back-up for assignment - all but assuring the end of his Cubs tenure.  I must admit, while I was sure that Montero's days were numbered after those comments, I did expect such swift justice.  Hopefully, time heals all wounds, because Montero will always be one of the men who helped to end the longest championship drought in Chicago history.  For his part, Miggy doesn't appear to have taken the move too personally:

Of course, we know that Miggy's issues lie not with the fans or media, but with his own teammates.

At any rate, with the DFA, the Cubs suddenly found themselves in need of a new backup catcher.  Obviously, Willson Contreras, one of the best young and energetic catchers in the game, will sop up most of the time behind the dish; but he cannot do it alone.  The answer as to who would fill this newfound vaccum was found in Iowa - as in, the Iowa Cubs.

Victor Caratini was acquired from the Atlanta Braves org by the Theo Epstein administration on July 31, 2014, in the waning hours before the trading deadline.  I can forgive if you do not remember the deal, as those were some pretty dark times for Cubs fans and the names on the move were anything but sexy:  Emilio Bonifacio and James Russell.  The young catcher was only halfway through his second professional season, after being drafted in the second round of the 2013 draft.  Full of potential, he was still only in A-level ball and was something of a lottery ticket prospect - I mean, what more could you possibly get for these spare-parts?

Shortly thereafter, I found myself in one of my local card shops (the Joliet location of the Baseball Card King, if you're curious) in search of new additions to my Cubs All-Time Roster Collection binder.  On the top level, they had a bunch of recent sets in boxes on the top shelves and I found myself absent-mindlessly picking through them.  One of the sets for which most of the cards were there was the 2013 edition of Panini's Elite Extra Edition, one of their challengers to Topps' Bowman products.  While flipping through, I noticed a newly familiar name, Victor Caratini, on his first (albeit logo-less) professional baseball card.  For spare change, I decided to take a flier myself and hang onto it, just in case he should develop properly and make it all the way to Wrigley Field.

Well, as of the morning of June 28, 2017, approximately three years later, that gamble proved to be a smart one.  Into the CATRC this long queued card will now go.

Of course, since that time, Caratini has blossomed into a blue chipper in an already talented prospect pool.  After stints at AA and the Arizona Fall League, Victor has exploded into Cubs fans' consciousness with a true breakout performance at AAA.  With the Iowa Cubs, the catcher has posted an eye-popping .343/.384/.539 slash line, coupled with 8 home runs and 20 walks in 68 contests.  At this point, even Iowa manager, Marty Pevey, recently acknowledged that Victor was MLB-ready.  On the heels of a .291/.375/.405 campaign with the AA Tennessee Smokies, even Topps knew he was was close:

They made sure to include him their 2015 crop of Bowman Chrome, thus making his first baseball card appearance as a Chicago Cub.  The moral of this story is that while I may have rolled the dice and won on my low-cost flier, my Panini Caratini is going to need to be upgraded in the near future, either with the super shiny prospect card that you see above or perhaps by his MLB rookie card, if he should stick around the Bigs long enough to earn one in Update.  So, if you have a spare on one these for trade, please keep me in mind.

On that latter point though, I do not think Victor will be with the Cubs through the end of the season or long enough to earn a rookie card.  While they have certainly not played up to their potential so far in 2017, the Cubbies still find themselves in the thick of the NL Central race and will definitely be buying at the trade deadline.  Furthermore, while his bat is definitely ready for a trial at the top rung, scouting reports on his work behind the plate leave something to be desired.  In all actuality, he may not be much of an upgrade on Montero (for now), in that regard.  Honestly, if Montero had just kept his thoughts to himself, Victor likely wouldn't be here until September, at the earliest.

With that in mind, I fully expect to be adding a veteran backup catcher to my CATRC binder before the July 31st trading deadline.  In fact, Detroit's Alex Avila has already been floated as a possible target by MLB Network's Jon Morosi and Derek Norris just recently cleared waivers after his own DFA.

 Will I have to track down an Alex Avila or a Derek Norris for my collection?  Only time will tell.

With that in mind, it is still my hope that Victor Caratini comes up and takes the backup catcher role with authority - allowing the Cubs brass to focus on other needs, namely a starting pitcher or two who can actually provide some quality innings.  First inning runs and short starts are constantly putting the erratic offense in a hole, right off the bat.

On the other side of the coin, I wish nothing but the best of luck to Miguel Montero in whatever Major League city he might end up.  Maybe the Cubs will be able to extract someone of value or a lottery ticket from a similarly catching-strapped team, although the seven million dollars left on Miggy's contract may keep teams waiting until he makes it all the way through waivers - we shall see.  At any rate, I hope this World Series hero lands on his feet... and also learns not to throw his teammates under the bus - remember the golden rule, Mr. Montero.  It is my hope that the decidedly unpleasant end of his Cubs tenure will be nothing but a footnote in franchise history.  Again, we shall see how this plays out.

In conclusion, thanks for the memories Miguel and good luck Victor!  Here's hoping this roster shake up is the jolt of energy that this lately listless Windy City lineup needed.

Tuesday, June 27, 2017

This Post's So Bright, I Gotta Wear Shades

It truly does seem like there is a "National Day of *Insert Random Object or Cause" here every single day now.  I suppose the encroachment of social media upon our everyday lives has made these usually trivial "celebrations" more into the mainstream, as people grasp onto anything for attention on Twitter, Facebook, Snap Chat, etc.  However, for the most part, it's harmless fun and draws our focus away from the stresses of life and the often all out disgust and vitriol which usually populates the timelines, walls, feeds, etc.  

Today's "National Day of Whatever" happens to be National Sunglasses Day.  For the most part, I've had the same pair of cheap sunglasses for darn near ten years now... seriously cheap too, as they actually came from a Halloween costume store; however, that's not important right now.  What is important, is that I'm not really clear on how one is supposed to celebrate this occasion.  That said, at least (from where I reside) it's a bright sunny day and the weather is perfectly appropriate for breaking out the stunner shades.  So, without any further ado, it's time to comb through my CATRC binder and see which Cubs decided to rock their UV protection on their baseball cards:

As if Javy Baez needs to look any cooler.  Of course, these sweet shades could be entirely necessary, seeing as this die-cut, Top Prospects insert from Bowman Platinum from a few years back is so shiny that it actually might be capable of burning corneas if viewed unprotected.

Here we have a pair of outfielders who know that while playing in the confines of Wrigley Field, the sun can be anything but friendly.  That being said, Brian McRae is obviously playing in some other park on this UD Collector's Choice single, but my statement still stands.

Jonathan Herrera, I assume, is sliding back into first on a pick off attempt and, though that's not the protection his glasses are designed for, I can only hope that his shades helped to deflect some of that dirt and dust from his eye balls.  That can be downright painful, am I right?

A lot of catchers throw shade at the umpire, especially when strike calls are blown - not Tim Federowicz.  No, no - the short-term Cubs catcher (who didn't stick around long enough for a Cubs card) is showing off the shade instead on his 2012 Topps rookie card.  No word on if the signal caller was impressed, but you have to try everything to curry the blue's favor.

Surprisingly, there weren't too many examples of sunglasses on Cubs baseball cards, at least in this particular binder.  I guess the manufacturers like to focus on photographs that actually allow you to see the player's face and allow the collector to identify the athlete, most of the time - go figure.  That said, I did come across one final sunglasses card and, boy oh boy, is it a doozy:

To be fair, I'm not entirely sure that Mr. Earley isn't just sporting his regular eye-ware on his vintage 1967 Topps card.  However, the yellowish tint on those vaguely aviator-like, artifacts of their time glasses is so dark that I have to believe that they at least helped somewhat with the glare from the sun.  At any rate, I will take any excuse I could come up with to show off this card because... I mean... just look at it!

As an added bonus, this is the veteran reliever's only mainstream baseball card and, thus, his only Chicago Cubs card.  Therefore, this glorious piece of vintage won't ever be knocked out of my CATRC.  Strange though, that the eight-year MLB starter would only receive one card from Topps, especially since 7 of his 8 years in the Bigs were spent with the Red Sox, whose jersey you can clearly see he is sporting on the card in question.

So, there you have it, a handful of shaded Cubs in celebration of National Sunglasses Day.  Now, in order to continue properly celebrating this momentous holiday, I highly encourage you to go out and enjoy what's left of this beautiful, summer day... with proper UV protection, of course!

Monday, June 26, 2017

If I Can't Play With My Food, Can I At Least Display It?

Retail exclusives are far from new in our hobby.  For many years now, certain insert sets and parallel colors have been divided up among in certain big box retail locations; you had your Target reds, your Walmart blues, etc.  Furthermore, products like the snowy Holiday set were made available only at Wally World and several well-loved lines (like Finest or just about any flashy, high-end stuff) are only found in hobby shops.  Like I said, having certain things only available to the public in certain locations is a concept that is far from new.

Additionally, while we're on that topic, retail exclusivity does not always refer to baseball cards - in fact, you can find examples of this all throughout the sports memorabilia market.  Recently, in the Chicagoland area, local grocery chain, Jewel-Osco, has partnered with the Anthony Rizzo Foundation and a longtime Chicago Cubs sponsor to entice the attention of local North Side baseball fans:

Reynolds Wrap aluminum foil has long been a staple of kitchens across America ("trusted since 1947," after all) and, for the past several seasons, have sponsored the rain tarp at Wrigley Field.  For the record, I think that this is one of the most ingenious and "pun-eriffic" sponsorships in the history of professional sports.  What company would make a better sponsor for the protective covering of the Wrigley infield, keeping it safe from moisture and other, outside elements.  Plus, tarps are typically a deep blue, the same color sported by the ubiquitous Reynolds Wrap box.

Anyway, back to the promotion.  For a limited time, Reynolds Wrap is changing their industry standard moniker to honor the heart and soul of the Cubs lineup, first baseman Anthony Rizzo, a development which was announced via "press conference" back on April 1st:

Apparently, this name change came about as the result of a bet between Rizzo and the Reynolds Wrap people, which dictated that if the Cubs should win the World Series in 2016, the company would have to change the name of their marquee product to honor the prodigious slugger.  Well, as Rizz says in the video above, "we all know how THAT ended."

Seeing as the announcement hit the internet on April Fools Day, many took this news to be an April Fools  prank.  I can't say that I'd blame anyone who assumed such, seeing as anything you read or see on the internet on that day should be taken with a whole shaker of salt.  However, I can personally verify that "Rizzo Wrap" is no mere prank:

Nope - this is a real deal and you better believe that I stopped by the neighborhood Jewel to pick one of these bad boys up.  First of all, my wife and I have issues with cooking proper portions, so aluminum foil is absolutely always useful in our borderline gluttonous household.  Second of all, though it may be gimmicky and an obvious ploy to get Cubs fans to shell out money for their product, but it certainly makes for an interesting, offbeat addition to my Chicago Cubs shrine.

Now, it's natural that the Reynolds Wrap people would choose Anthony Rizzo to make this bet with; after all, the middle of the order presence has been part of the nucleus of the Cubs powerhouse since 2012 and his acquisition has since been seen as one of the turning points of the then-listless franchise.  All of that important detail aside, there's an even bigger reason why Reynolds Wrap should choose Rizzo to emblazon on their aluminum foil - he gets them a lot of extra exposure.

You see, Anthony Rizzo has a history of making fantastic catches at the tarp.  The two above are highlight reel worthy themselves, with the former even earning it's own bobblehead tribute via stadium giveaway.  That said, I know of at least one or two more that I could not readily find on YouTube.  In summation, as Rizzo sees it, the Reynolds Wrap tarp is as normal a part of Wrigley Field as first base or the batter's box.

If you live in Chicago or the surrounding suburbs, you can pick up your own box of Rizzo Wrap from your nearest Jewel-Osco all throughout the summer, while supplies last.  Although, it's too bad that this product wasn't available during the winter months - maybe if the Cubs had safely wrapped their bats in Rizzo Wrap during the offseason, the offense would be a little more fresh.  Zing!

*Sigh* Story of the season, boys.

Meanwhile, speaking of Jewel, Rizzo Wrap isn't the only Cubs promotional product stocked on their store shelves.  In fact, the retailer has a whole shelving unit dedicated to nothing but "Cub-ified" items, near the produce section.  One can buy everything from Rizzo Wrap, to World Champion Fannie May s'mores candy, to the latest Cubs-endorsed breakfast cereal.  First, we started this trend with a couple editions of "RizzOs."  Then, we hopped on board the David Ross love-train with "Grandpa Rossy Crunch."  Now, roaring into Jewels everywhere, we have...

..."Zorilla Crunch!"  Like Ben Zobrist, this breakfast cereal is an underrated and versatile part of the Chicago sports fan's healthy, balanced breakfast.  Hopefully, seeing as the man has been injured for most of 2017, Zobrist will make use of his "good source of 12 vitamins and minerals" to maintain proper nutrition and nurse himself back to health.

Anthony Rizzo is well on his way to being an all-time franchise great, Grandpa Rossy is a baseball folk hero, and Ben Zobrist took home the MVP honors for the Cubs' first World Series title in 108 years.  All in all, not a bad selection of players to have represent your team on kitchen tables as the sun rises each morning.

The box is basically a carbon copy of the RizzOs box from earlier in the year, except, of course, with "cartoon-ized," logo-scrubbed images of Zobs replacing that of Rizzo.  For frame of reference, here's a side-by-side comparison:

I have a feeling that the cereal line will be stopping at "Zorilla," as they've clearly run out of creative inspiration, at this point.  I mean, even for Rossy's box, the only thing they really changed was the color and, especially frustrating for OCD collectors, shrink the size:

On the other hand, maybe the decision to stick with a mostly uniform design is actually a plus for the OCD crowd.

As for the inside of the box, the cereal contained within is a knock-off brand of Lucky Charms.  I'm not really sure what the connection between "Zorilla" and Lucky Charms is... maybe it was the only kind of cereal lying around the warehouse at the time? At any rate, any cereal with marshmallows is almost certainly a winner, so I'll let this one slide.

Moving on, we've covered the front of and the inside of the box - what do we have on the back?  Any kid will tell you that the rear panel is the most interesting panel of a cereal box.

Any self-respecting cereal has a puzzle, word scramble, story, coloring panel, etc. on the back to keep the attention of toasted oat-spooning children (eyes on the box means eyes on the brand, y'know). This brand is no exception, as the minds behind this Cubs promotional item made sure to include an engaging maze for Windy City kids to work through while they consume their Lucky Char.... I mean "Zorilla Crunch."

Apparently, BenZo needs your help to hit another home run and win the game.  For god's sake people, get to work!  The Cubs have been hovering around .500 all season and need every win they can get to keep pace with the surprising Brewers... even if it's a fictional, maze game on the back of the cereal.  EVERY game counts! (BTW, the answer will be included at the end of this post, if you're a Brew Crew fan or would otherwise not be inclined to help out)

As I've mentioned in both of my posts about "RizzO's" and my musing on "Grandpa Rossy Flakes" (which really should have been knock-off raisin bran, if you think about it) 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.  C'mon - a set of these just NEEDS to be produced, right?

Unfortunately, the closest we come to such a glorious thing on or in any of these boxes is the Ben Zobrist bio found on one of the side panels, where you get some of the now-injured veteran's vitals, plus career highlights and achievements.  Personally, I always forget that Zobrist is a back-to-back World Series champ; surely his brief stint on the Royals will go down in the annals of short-term stop history.

Plus, there's also Ben's Twitter handle, in case you have your smart phone out at the breakfast table (if so, rude) and the solution to the maze we covered on the back panel.  However, I've taken the liberty of blurring it out here - no spoilers!

On the opposite side of the vitals, we have  nutrition facts, as required by the Food and Drug Administration.  Just underneath that and the ingredient list, we have the markings of Jewel-Osco and PLB Sports, the distributor for the full line of 2016 Championship Edition cereals.  In addition, the Pennsylvania-based, food marketing company is behind an assortment of other athlete-branded and endorsed lines of food throughout the country.  Their resume includes work with not only Major League Baseball, but also the NFL, NBA, and NHL, as well.

On that latter note...

PLB and Jewel got me to bite (figuratively and literally) on yet another box of cereal, this past winter; though, Keith Krunch clearly did not turn out to be "the breakfast of champions" for the Blackhawks.

As you can plainly see, the Chicago sports, food-based memorabilia market has exploded in the last year plus.  Accordingly, so too has my knick-knack display area, which is the top of my ancient dresser:

Sharing real estate with my new Rizzo Wrap, Zorilla Crunch and all of the rest of my branded cereal boxes are my autographed baseball collection, a brick from the original Wrigley Field bleachers a few NASCAR die-casts, and a pair of stuffed bears.  I'm sure all of these items will appear at some point on the blog in the future for further explanation and dissection; but, for now, they're too busy battling for coveted space.

Speaking of which, sadly, I had to boot my box of "Slammin' Sammy's Frosted Flakes" until I can get a shelf set up in my new office/hobby hidy hole.  Seeing as the wife and I just moved about a week ago, I've got a long way to go in the unpacking and setting up process before that becomes a priority.

On that note, I was hoping to get a nice chunk of that done today, while the wife is at work and I'm enjoying my summer hours, which include Mondays off (yay for working for a school district).  In order to do so, I'm going to need my energy, so I better make sure that I start my day off right with a proper breakfast.  I think I know just the thing:

And, come lunch time, I know I'm set for refueling, because I made sure to "Rizzo Wrap" my pizza leftovers from last night:

See?  This stuff isn't just fun, it's functional too!  Thank you to the Chicago Cubs, Jewel-Osco, PLB Sports, The Anthony Rizzo Foundation, Anthony Rizzo himself, Reynolds Wrap, and Ben Zobrist for helping me figure out two of my three meals on this fine summer day.

For now though, I hope this is the end of this retail exclusive, food-based, Chicago sports collectible explosion.  Don't get me wrong, it gives me great pleasure to sit back and admire my Rizzo, Rossy, Zobrist, and Keith boxes, as part of my suddenly exploding food tie-in collection. However, storage and display space are becoming an issue... they take up a little more space than the 2.5" x 3.5" cardboard rectangles that I normally focus on.  Heck, poor ol' Sammy already got booted due to lack of space and I don't think my wife would be too happy if I started replacing the family photos with another round of cereal boxes.

At any rate, it's time to "Rizzo Wrap" this post up.  Before I go, I have to ask, does anyone else out there on the blogosphere collect these sort of non-card oddities?  Wheaties boxes have a notably strong market, that's for sure; but has your team ever put out anything like "Rizzo Wrap" or these custom-branded cereals?  If so, do you see them as a fun distraction or an annoyance?  Do you actually acquire them or do you just admire them from afar?  Please feel free to leave your answers to in the comments section below.  Oh and speaking of answers, allow me to reveal the answer to the maze found on the back of the "Zorilla Crunch" box.  I think BenZo deviated from the base paths, just a tad bit; so, I don't think the run is going to count.  Thanks for playing though!

Thursday, June 22, 2017

Roster Collecting and Roster Movement

First of all, I'm back to the keyboard after a week-plus, mini-hiatus.  Not that I need one, but I think that I have a pretty decent excuse:  recently, the wife and I moved into a new apartment a few miles down the road from our previous location.  This new joint is much larger than our last living space and, thus, we can now bring home our treasured possessions that had been gathering dust in a storage unit.  That unit, by the way, was in a third town; therefore, it took several days, countless trips, significant man power, and bribes of pizza and beer.  However, we are now resting comfortably in our new, humble abode and couldn't be happier.

In the interim, my cards had been living in a set of cardboard boxes, which were pirated from a local retailer.  Sidebar - thank goodness my wife worked retail for so long, as those connections saved us a ton on moving supplies.  That said, aside from all of my free time being sucked up by moving, unpacking, and redecorating, it's pretty darn tough to blog about baseball cards when all of your goodies are hidden away.

Of course, one of the first things I did when we got settled was to set up the spare bedroom for use as an office and - get this - dedicated card space!  For the first time in my collecting life, my cards and collectibles aren't banished to the corner of a closet or tucked away underneath the bed.  The space still needs some TLC, but I have my computer all set up, the internet turned on and my card boxes and binders all unpacked.  So, it's time to resuscitate Wrigley Roster Jenga.

Speaking of computers, one of the first things I saw on the web when I fired up the ol' Hewlett Packard machine was this Tweet:

Shane, from the fantastic, Red Sox-centric blog titled Off the Wall, decided to show off the massive binder which houses the pride and joy of his "Sawx" accumulations - his All-Time Red Sox Calbum.  Contained within this behemoth is a comprehensive collation of every man who has ever donned a Red Sox uniform - well, those of which he has a card for, anyway.  Does any of this sound familiar to you, at all?  Well, if you've been reading my blog for any particular length of time, it sure should set something off in your brain.  This is the very same concept around which my personal collection and blog are built around; however, my Cubs All-Time Roster Collection (CATRC) revolves around Chicago's north side baseball club, of course.

For years, I assumed that I was the only one in the card collecting community who accumulated baseball cards in this manner; I thought I was a lone weirdo.  I was always content to acquire one Sandberg, one Sosa, one Maddux, etc. etc. and found the challenge of getting as many different players as possible to be a rewarding and even natural endeavor.  Unfortunately, never did I ever, in all of my years of visiting card shops, collecting with friends, attending card shows, or in my early days of blogging, encounter another like-minded individual.  That is, until not so long ago, when Shane and I made acquaintance on the Twitter-sphere.

This blew my mind and I was overjoyed to discover that others like me exist in the collecting landscape.  It was just great to find out that I wasn't the only person in community who's brain was wired this way.  Fast forward back to this morning, just as Shane decided to give us a sneak peak at this companion compendium, my brain's wiring darn near short-circuited... the concept may, in fact, be spreading!

Hot damn!  Grand Cards (of the sadly, long dormant Grand Cards blog) and Kin (of Bean's Ballcard Blog & I Feel Like a Collector Again), welcome to the club!  Maybe we should all get matching vests or something...

All in all, I was also surprised that there weren't more dedicated team collectors out there giving this concept a shot. I have always found this pursuit to be a fun and different way to collect, especially for a club with as rich of a history as the Cubs.  It builds a certain familiarity with the rich history of the team and keeps me engaged with the day-to-day roster maneuvering and operations which occur.  I believe that the Red Sox, Tigers, and the Mountaineers would be just as fun to collect in this same manner.

At any rate, it's funny that these revelations should occur today.  After all, just a couple hours after I excitedly discovered that the "roster collection movement" may be expanding, I scrolled across another Tweet which provided some related news:

I may have been the only Cubs fan in the greater Chicagoland area whose biggest takeaway from this major roster shakeup was that Mark Zagunis would be making his Major League debut.  Sure, Kyle Schwarber has gone from World Series folk hero to regular season zero and Jason Heyward represents a major loss for an already reeling offense... but, NEW CUB ALERT!!!!

Luckily, I just so happened to have a pair of Mark Zagunis cards, queued up and ready to go in my prospect stock, as it seemed likely that he'd be getting the call at some point in 2017.

Hmmmmm.... sure looks like Panini and Topps bough the license for the same photograph in their 2014 prospect-laden products, doesn't it?

Zagunis was drafted as a catcher, but made the move to the outfield shortly after his selection in the draft.  This year. the 2014 third round draft pick has followed up a strong 2016 campaign with a .249/.399/.474 slash through 268 plate appearances at Triple-A Iowa this season, to go along with 11 home runs.  He was easily the most MLB-ready, corner outfielder in the system, making him a natural replacement on the roster for the "J-Hey Kid" and "Schwarbino."

Now the question is which one of these cards should I chose to represent Zagunis in my CATRC binder?  Bowman is the industry standard when it comes to pre-rookie cards and this 2014 Bowman is the very first card of his to hit the market.  On the other hand, the 2014 Panini Prizm Perennial Draft Picks offers a better look at his face and is quite shiny.

But, wait - what's this?

Wild card!

In the process of drafting this post, I discovered a third Zagunis card that had slipped my mind - I'm pretty sure this one came to me very recently, by way of Dime Box Nick.  But, I could be wrong, as my records and already tenuous memories have been jostled about by the big move.  This card is the most recent of the trio, hailing from last year's edition of Bowman, a design which I definitely prefer over the plain white borders of 2014.  Furthermore, it lists Zags in the position which he will actually play in Chicago - the outfield.

So, do I go with the milestone card, the shiny object, or the most accurate depiction?  Decisions, decisions....

In the meantime, Joe Maddon and the Cubs sure didn't take long to make a decision about Mark, as he's already being inserted in the starting lineup:

Maddon and Co. have long had a track record for "baptism by fire" or throwing a rookie call-up into the lineup right away so that jitters don't even have time to develop.  Here's hoping that Zagunis announces his presence with authority against the Marlins tonight!

In all seriousness though, I do hope that Schwarber can work through his issues at AAA quickly and that the nasty cut on Jason Heyward's hand heals rapidly - both of their bats, if healthy and effective, would go a long way towards fixing the defending World Series Champions' current offensive woes.  However, while it comes with a steep cost, I can't help but be excited about adding another new name to the Cubs All-Time Roster and my corresponding collection.  I'm sure that this conflicted feeling is something that Shane is all too familiar with, when it comes to his Red Sox.

At any rate, into my binder one of those Zagunis cards will go.  As you can see, my gargantuan three-ringer is about the same size as Shane and weighs about as much as a small child.  Maybe it's time that I follow in Shane's footsteps and take some time to flip through the binder itself on Twitter or on the blog and show it off, page by page.  It is the pride and joy of my cardboard collection and something that I have been working on for more than a decade, so why not show it off, right?  If that's something that interests you, keep an eye open.

In conclusion, overall, I'd say that today was a pretty big day for my roster collecting habits.  Not only did I get a chance to add a new name to my marquee binder, but I also discovered that the concept might not be as odd and off the beaten path as I once thought.   There are others like me out there!

Reason 7,000,001 as to why starting a baseball card blog was a good decision.