A hot topic in the sports and parenting world for the past few years has been the participation trophy and how it is the cause of ruination for millennials (a favorite punching bag for all of America's problems) and the young, aspiring littler leaguers and flag-footballers of today. When I was a young, gangly, wannabe athlete, who looked better doing cartwheels in the outfield than at the plate, I got participation trophies every year from my t-ball league and I proudly displayed them on my mantle. When I was awkward elementary school kid, I got a participation ribbon every year for my science fair projects, that only proved that I enjoyed making a mess, and I proudly pinned them on my wall every time. As an adult who finally found his niche in sporting world, I've competed in several road races which handed out medals to all participants and I've kept every single one in my memory box. In short, I know a thing or two about participation "awards."
That's how I know that the package that I received from everyone's favorite Andrew McCutchen super-collector, Mr. Stryker (Collecting Cutch), was more than just a participation gift. You see, a little while back, this Cutch-obsessed blogger issued a challenge to the blogosphere - for everyone to name their absolute favorite player and show off their favorite card of said athlete, as well. I jumped at the chance, as I love blog "bat arounds" and challenges - their fantastic writing prompts!
As a child and Cubs fan of the 90's, Mark Grace holds a slight edge over Ryne Sandberg and Sammy Sosa in that department for me; so, I immediately whipped up a show-and-tell post all about my most treasured Gracies and threw my name into the contest hat. Sadly, I did not win - however, Mr. Stryker was so appreciative of everyone taking their time to participate, that he crafted a package for all those involved. What a generous fellow, right?
My participation award came in the mail yesterday and I quickly discovered that this was no mere placation - this bubble mailer was more than the cheesy trophies, flimsy ribbons, or "turn your chest green" medals that I usually associate with such awards. Far... very far... like lightyears away from that. See that wonderful, hearty Anthony Rizzo Jackie Robinson Day Commemorative Patch card (though it's really more like a coin), from this year's edition of Flagship, at the top of this post? THAT wasn't even the best card in the package!
Crazy right? But, I kid you not. Allow me to show you the rest of the contents of this "participation" award:
First, we kick things off with, of course, an Andrew McCutchen card. However, this isn't your ordinary, run-of-the-mill Cutch here - no way, this is some sort of oddball card put out by one or both of Pirates Charities and/or the Pittsburgh Police Department. As you can see, both logos appear on this very white, "less is more" oddity.
"Think first - because for every choice, there is a consequence." Seems like a slogan right out of the DARE playbook or some other after school program. Mr. Stryker - is this a reboot of the beloved police cards, which were so ubiquitous in the 1980's? I may not collect Pirates cards, but I love it!
Now into my collecting wheelhouse we go, again courtesy of Anthony Rizzo. I don't purchase much in the way of Gypsy Queen; so, any time I get a single or two from those sets, I'm always quite contented.
Meanwhile, the insert on the right may be intended to spotlight special jerseys (in this case, Spring Training duds... where the home pinstripes are exactly the same...); that said, the first thing that I notice is Rizz's Justin Timberlake-esque ramen noodle hairstyle. Anthony and I are about the same age and this was very much the style when we were in junior high; but, seeing those bleached blonde locks on a baseball card in fifteen years later seems out of place.
Who wore it better?
See? They're like twins - what a pair they would make. JT is obviously a immensely accomplished singer and songwriter and Anthony Rizzo isn't so bad on the piano.... how about a ramen-flavored collaboration, guys?
Speaking of dynamic duos - The Bryzzo Souvenir Company!
The muscle of the Chicago Cubs lineup look great both at the plate and in brushstrokes, as evidenced by this pair of 2016 Diamond Kings symbols. Also, it's a shame that Rizzo card didn't show up on my doorstep a few days earlier, as he is clearly sporting a Chicago Federals throwback jersey and would have worked perfectly for my post about the Windy City Federal League baseball club.
But, make no mistakes, I'm no less happy to see it now!
Next up, we have some more Gypsy Queen - this time, in the form of the coveted minis. The penny sleeve which contained this tiny Geovany Soto card from the 2011 edition was clearly marked with black sharpie, "black." Good thing Stryker took the time to make this little note, as overly anxious Tony Burbs was eagerly and quickly flipping through my new haul and would have missed this backside variation. Sometimes, the small things can mean everything.
What you see above is a Red Back Gypsy Queen (so THAT's what she looks like!) Mini, which had an insertion ratio of 1:6 in both retail and hobby. While they aren't uber rare, I'd never seen one before and it's always exciting to make a new discovery as part of a blogger mailing.
Everyone seems to love the First Pitch inserts that Topps started up as part of last season's Update release and I am no different. Of course, the one that was included in this mailing has since taken on a somber tone, as Craig Sager, the famed sports reporter, recently and tragically succumbed to leukemia, after long and tough battle with the disease. A little more than a year ago, the cubs honored the Northwestern alum and so I'll always have this insert to remember him by.
Meanwhile, "Sweet Swingin'" Billy Williams shows up too, courtesy of Panini's Cooperstown product (2012). I think we can all agree that this line would be a welcome sight, should it ever return to store shelves. Furthermore, Panini and their necessitated logo scrubbing look much better with retro-themed products with golden age players.
Okay - so, that was all pretty nice stuff, right? Then, of course, there was the Anthony Rizzo commemorative patch card, which would have made the perfect mic drop on this bubble mailer. However, Mr. Stryker was not content to just astound me with this participation award - he was going to knock me to ground and finish me, Mortal Kombat style:
I'm pretty sure the wind was actually knocked out of me when I got a glimpse of this bad boy:
Ooooooooh doctor! That right there is a beauty of an on-card autograph from the one and only Jason Heyward, numbered to /45, and from an uber high end product that I can say with certainty that I'll never, ever open myself. This is a truly stunning development!
As a low end collector, autographs are few and far between in my collection and when they turn up, they're usually roster-filler, pseudo-star types. Jason Heyward is certainly a notch or two above that status. It might date from his time with the Bravos, but I absolutely adore this card and, as an added bonus, I'm drawn to the fact that the "Tribute" logo is done in a similar art style to the famed Wrigley marquee. In short, everything about this hit is superb.
In fact, both the Rizz and the J-Hey Kid are too fantastic to keep hidden in a binder:
These are going to be the first cards displayed on my new workspace, which is a project still in development after my most recent move. For now, they'll rest up against my lava lamp and pencil cup so that I can gaze at them whenever I please.
As you can see, this participation award was so amazing that I actually shudder to imagine what the winner of Stryker's contest went home with. Perhaps said blogger had his actual favorite player mailed straight to him? That's about the only way this package could be topped. A million thanks go out to Mr. Stryker, both for holding this clever contest and for being so abundantly gracious to those who have participated. This padded mailer was truly a joy to sort through and contained some of my favorite cards to ever come through the mail.
In summation, many people across America think that giving out participation awards screwed up millennials, like me, and is messing up the next generation of young kids. At the same time, this participation award definitely screwed me up too; however, that's only because I wasn't expecting so much concentrated awesome in such a gifting. I could barely handle it!
Now, about that avocado toast though...