Friday, June 29, 2018

A Time of Shuffling Rosters

It's getting to be that time of year - as the mercury rises, so does the likelihood of major transactions.  Come July, players will be trading uniforms like we do baseball cards as teams try to lock and re-load their rosters in order to boost their playoff chances.  Every summer, we fans wait with bated breath to see where the big names end up and find out if our favorite teams did enough to reinforce their rosters for the grueling schedule to come.

Of course, I'm talking about the official opening of the free-agent period in the NHL.  What - you thought I was referring to the MLB trade deadline?  Oopsy, my bad.

Anyway, while Theo Epstein and crew figure out whether they need to acquire a reliable reliever, an offensive boost, or a starting pitcher more for the dog days of summer, Stan Bowman has already reportedly plugged a hole on the Blackhawks' roster.  If Chris Johnston of Sportsnet is to be believe,  Cam Ward will be bring his mask and pads to Chicago to serve as Corey Crawford's back-up for the 2018-19 season.  The free-agent signing period doesn't actually open until July 1st, but it's believed that the one-year, $2.5 million contract is all but official.

The Hawks were a major disappointment last season, failing to make the playoffs for the first time in nine years.  After nearly a decade of being the dominant force in the Chicago sports market, the current dynastic window appears to be nearly closed.

While all phases of the game can be blamed for their rapid decline, their performance between the pipes was a major contributor.  Crawford's murky injury issues kept him off the ice for most of the campaign and his replacements simply could not fill his skates.  Anton Forsberg, Colin Delia, JF Berube, Jeff Glass, and literal guy off of the street, Scott Foster, posted a combined .902 save percentage and a 17-30-8 record.  This simply was not getting the job done and, with Crow's health still a big question mark, a reliable, veteran presence was needed in the net. 

Enter Cam Ward.

The longtime goalie of the Carolina Hurricanes is certainly no longer in his prime.  Far removed from his days as a playoff MVP and Stanley Cup winner in 2006, the 34-year old has been in something of a platoon, splitting time with former Blackhawk, Scott Darling, last year.  On the season, Ward contributed a 23-14-4 record with a 2.73 goals-against average and .906 save percentage in 43 games. 

Here's hoping that, at the very least, Ward can provide a steady presence on the roster and find a way to lock the revolving door that led to the net in 2017-18.  Ideally, a recovered Crawford will keep Ward from seeing too much time on the ice anyway.

Luckily for me, I had a pair of Cam cards stashed in my hockey trade box, which you can see above.  I'll wait until July 1st to add him to my Blackhawks All-Time Roster Collection, just in case the deal falls through before the official signing period begins, but it sure looks as though these previous bits of trade bait came in handy.  Perhaps I'll be able to mine that box for more cards once the free agents begin moving in earnest come Sunday?  The Hawks sure could use a forward and a defenseman or two and Bowman and company actually have some cap space to work with - Ward's modest deal did not change that.  We'll see what happens.

In the meantime, welcome to Chicago, Mr. Ward!  Oh... and Theo... maybe you can bring in a rotation arm to eat some innings or a bench bat?  That roster-shuffling period will be here before we know it.

Wednesday, June 27, 2018

The Great Smokies

As I alluded to in yesterday's post, last week I was on a desperately needed vacation.  The wife and I joined the rest of her side of the family and rented a large, rustic cabin in Gatlinburg, Tennessee, where we spent the whole of the weekend hiking, hanging out, grilling, sampling moonshine and whiskey, riding chair lifts, and drinking beer while doing our best to avoid bears.  Seriously though, a black bear did walk almost right up to our deck - you don't get that sort of nature in Chicago!

Speaking of which, that wasn't the only bear that we found on our trip - also encountered were some Cubs in the form of the Tennessee Smokies.

Being as big of a Cubs homer as I am, when I discovered that the team's AA affiliate was located just a half an hour from where we were staying, I knew there was no way that I'd miss making a quick visit.  Unfortunately, the club was not in town during the weekend we were in-town - of course, we were probably too busy to fit in a ballgame too - their souvenir shop was still open for business.  So, just like on our trip to Myrtle Beach, on our way back home, my amazingly patient wife and I swung by the stadium to pick me up a souvenir or two.

This actually isn't the first time that I've made a pilgrimage to Smokies Stadium:  back in 2010, some college friends and I also rented a cabin and stayed nearby for a few days.  That time, we were able to finagle a game into our itinerary.  However, I don't recall too much about the contest, and being the poor college kid that I was, I didn't have the scratch for gas home AND souvenirs, so I have nothing to commemorate that visit.  This time was going to be different.  In fact, I had a specific target or two in mind.

Spoiler alert:  they were all baseball cards.

Minor league team sets are notoriously marked-up on the secondhand market and I was hoping to add a few names for my Cubs All-Time Roster Collection straight from the source.  Sadly, the stadium shop didn't have any sets left on the shelves from before 2016 (so no Felix Pena) and, since the 2018 edition has not yet come out, last year's set has yet to be marked down; thus, my options were fairly limited, especially since I didn't feel like plopping down $15 just to get a David Bote single.

I was a tad bit frustrated, although I knew I wouldn't walk away completely empty-handed, thanks to the complimentary pocket schedule I grabbed on my way in.  I don't usually collect these card-like objects and I highly doubt I'll be back around for a game this year; but, I wanted to ensure that I had something to remember the Smokies by.

Luckily for me, the Smokies did something unique last summer.  Instead of offering up just a single, yearly team set in 2017, the Smokies also put out a secondary, update checklist later in the season.  Granted, I don't have a lot of experience with such things, but this seems like a pretty rare occurrence in MiLB baseball - teams usually seem to be content with their one, block issue, player movement be damned.  Being that this update set was smaller, so was it's price tag.  Even better, it included at least one player that I needed for my precious CATRC.

The recently recalled Dillon Maples was the cover card for the cello-wrapped, 2009 Topps-inspired set and I made sure to grab him and his friends for my official Tennessee trip souvenir.  There was not going to be a repeat of 2010!

Mr. Maples was not the only Major Leaguer to be found within these confines either.  In fact, this minor league issue had a surprising amount of star power in it's checklist:

A World Series MVP and the 2016 NL ERA leader?  You don't see that too often in such an issue!

In a move that I'm surprised that more minor league clubs don't pull, the Smokies decided to include rehabbing Major Leaguers in their amendment.  Both Ben Zobrist and Kyle Hendricks briefly blew through town while recovering from injuries last season and, therefore, ended up in the set.  These oddballs will look awesome in my "Nothing Major" binder, made up of minor league cards featuring Major League Cubs.

Oh... and so will Brett Anderson, but his appearance is far less exciting.  No offense Brett, but your stint in Chicago didn't go particularly well.

The final Major Leaguer found in the cellophane wrapper was actually the main target in this acquisition.  Unlike Zorilla, the Professor, or Brett, this guy was not an established Big League veteran visiting the Great Smokey Mountains.  In this case, at the time of this card's printing, he was a newly acquired, flier of a prospect, who had yet to put it all together as a professional.  Now, he's on the Cubs roster and looks to be a factor in the future of the MLB bullpen:

While it's nifty that Justin Hancock is sporting a Star Wars Night uniform, I wish a better picture was used for this reliever... maybe a little brighter and an actual view of his face.  That said, bush league teams can't exactly go to Getty for their photographs.

Hancock might be on the disabled list, but his fastball has him on track to be part of the pen for years to come.  Ever since the Cubs moved him to the bullpen, after they acquired him from San Diego in the Matt Szczur trade, Justin has done nothing but impress.  An uptick in velocity upon that switch (up to 97mph) is a major factor.

While Hancock was an intriguing lottery ticket, he was never seen as a blue chipper.  Thus, unfortunately, he never made it into a prospect-driven set like Bowman, Pro Debut, Contenders, etc.  This has made finding a card for my CATRC quite frustrating, with my only option being those aforementioned, marked-up team-issues.  While I did have to pay ten bucks for the privilege of tracking down Justin, I also got this whole update set with him.  Online, it probably would have been a ten spot just for the single card!

I suppose we might as well take this opportunity to examine the reverse - it's pretty standard with a vitals, a couple years of stats, and a quick blurb about the player spotlighted.    We also get the guy's jersey number, a head-shot, and a team logo too.  Grandstand and their rival company, Brandt, handle the vast majority of minor league card sets, so there's a fairly consistent look and format.

The rest of the set was made up of, big surprise, minor leaguers.  Hopefully, within the next few years, some of these prospects will be making the leap into my CATRC binder and, if they do so, I will be prepared for their arrival.  Jose Rosario and Craig Brooks are a pair of intriguing relievers and, owing to his 40-man roster spot, the former could appear in Chicago as soon as September.

Oh Adbert.... if it weren't for his season-ending lat injury he recently suffered, he'd likely have already taken a turn or two in the Cubs' starting rotation.  *Sigh* here's hoping the club's top prospect comes back completely healthy and raring to go for 2019.

Kevin Cornelius and Daniel Spingola represent the last of the player-portion of the update set.  Like I said, it's a small supplement.

It doesn't appear particularly likely that either of these men will be making the Major League roster anytime soon.  Spignola, a 31st round draft pick in 2015, was demoted back to A-ball for 2018 after a weak showing in the foothills.  Meanwhile, Cornelius, a Rule 5 selection from the Yankees chain, is no longer a member of the Cubs' farm system - for 2018, Kevin has been plying his talents north of the border for the Trois-Rivieres Aigles of the independent Canadian-American Association.

Anyway, like I said, that's it when it comes to players.  But, what's a minor league set without....


...broadcasters (with a nice Zobs cameo)...

...trainers and mascots?  I don't think it would even count as a "real" minor league set without these wide-reaching inclusions!

All in all, I was rather happy with my souvenir find - knocking off a major need for my CATRC, adding some marquee names to my "Nothing Major" binder, and stashing some big prospects for the future is nothing to sneeze at!  However, I'm not entirely materialistic and my visit wasn't solely about buying things to remember our vacation by.  Additionally, I wanted to see the ballpark itself and take in my surroundings - I mean, who knows, it might be another eight years before I get back again!

The park itself is oddly nestled among a shopping center, tucked just behind an expressway.  In fact, I thought it was a Bass Pro Shops or a strip mall before I realized we were approaching the Stadium.  That's not to say that I don't like the facade, it's just that it was a bit easy to miss.  Although, I love the fact that the official address of the ballpark is on Line Drive, *ba dum tiss*.

Like I said, the Smokies were actually out of town during the time of our visit.  However, baseball was still going on via a high school-level baseball tournament.  On the plus side, this meant that I got to see what the park looked like in action.  On the negative end, the paid admission meant that I did not get to walk around and explore the facility like I did in Myrtle Beach.  Although, the gift shop staff generously allowed me to step outside their door to get a glimpse and snap some photographs. 

From what I saw from that perch, it sure looked like an excellent place to play and spectate.

As much as I wanted to, we just did not have time to stick around and take in a game - we were already staring down an almost 10-hour drive back home to Illinois.  Just thinking about this 568 mile trek made us preemptively tired and sore.

So, after getting a few good pictures, my wife and I paid for our wares (she also grabbed a t-shirt for her troubles) and bid adieu to the Volunteer State.  I can't thank the Smokies staff enough for being so informative, helpful, and kind; even if our visit lasted only about a half an hour or so, their warm and welcoming attitude made it feel like we could have stayed for hours.  Maybe there is still such a thing as southern hospitality?

All in all, the entirety of our sojourn to the Great Smokey Mountains region was a massive success and I cannot wait to make a return trip.  I truly believe that we will be making that trek again in the not-so-distant future - we may have been there for four days, but I feel like we only got through a quarter of the things we wanted to do.  Next time, I want to do some hillbilly golf, go for a long trail run, and take in the tranquil waterfalls among other things on our lengthy laundry list.

And, heck, maybe I can swing an actual Smokies game this time!

Tuesday, June 26, 2018

We've Got (Under)wood!

It looks like I picked a good weekend to be out of town.

The past five days have been absolutely disastrous for the Cubs.  When I left for Gatlinburg on Thursday morning, the team was coming off of a pair series wins against the Dodgers and the Cardinals and were closing back in on first place in the division.  Then, while I was gone and headed towards Tennessee, things went south faster than I did.  A four-game sweep at the hands of the lowly Reds - which included three late collapses - left the club absolutely reeling.  Then, to compound matters, short starts by an already depleted rotation and impending fatherhood left the pitching staff in shambles.

Sorry, ya'll - I promise not to leave the state during baseball season anymore.  Clearly this causes some sort of jynx, or hex, or something.

In the midst of the chaos, Tyler Chatwood and his wife were expecting their first child, pulling him away from his scheduled start on Sunday.  This caused yet another shuffling of the starting rotation, allowing the opportunity for Duane Underwood to make his long-anticipated Major League debut on Monday night, as Chatty was placed on the paternity list.

Unfortunately, things didn't get any better for the Cubs in Los Angeles.  Underwood performed capably, showing swing-and-miss stuff and good poise on the mound, as he allowed just a single Dodger tally.  However, he was a bit nibbly, resulting in three walks and a bloated pitch count, which limited him to just four innings.  Worse yet, the Cubs offense neglected to show up and were shut out  until the ninth inning, where they staged a patented "fake rally" before losing, 2-1, and extending their losing streak to five contests.

On the bright side, I did have the 2016 Bowman Chrome card that you see above queued and ready to be inserted into my Cubs All-Time Roster Collection binder.  That's something to hang my hat on, I guess.

That's enough about the lately disappointing play of the Cubs - let's instead talk about the latest player to don a Cubbie Blue uniform, Duane Underwood.

Duane delivering a pitch in Dodger Stadium, image courtesy of the Chicago Tribune.

As far as stuff goes, Duane has a three-pitch arsenal, which keys off of his fastball that tops out at 97mph.  His secondary pitches include a curve and changeup that will get batters swinging and missing regularly when they're working.  However, they're not always working and control issues have plagued him since the earliest days of his career.

Underwood was drafted out of high school in the second round of the 2012 draft, as a promising but inconsistent hurler.  After an initial issue with work ethic, he eventually came into his own in 2014 with the low-A Kane County Cougars.  That year Underwood tossed 100.2 innings with a 2.50 ERA and 84 strikeouts against only 34 walks.  As a result, he earned a spot in Baseball America's prospect rankings, who named him the tenth best player in a loaded farm system.

As is all too common a tale for pitching prospects, it was here that injuries set in and further delayed his development.  Problems with forearm tightness limited and a sore elbow limited him on the mound in both 2015 and 2016.  Thankfully, Duane was fortunate enough to avoid going under the knife and he still performed well enough when healthy to be promoted to High-A and AA along the way.  That said, his strikeout totals started to drop and his walk rate began to rise, as well, as he battled control issues stemming from his complicated delivery.

Though he wasn't exactly dominant, he was challenged with a promotion to AAA to begin 2018.  The now 23-year old responded in a big way - improving both is strikeouts (7.5 SO9) and walks (2.5 BB9) while simultaneously going deeper into games and smoothing out his delivery.  Thus, when Chatwood was called away to more important duties, Underwood appeared more than ready to step up and take a turn.

Here's a custom Topps Now card I made to commemorate Duane's first big shot, since the event did end up being worthy of a genuine issue.

Though Duane did in fact fill-in in capably, the Cubs offense just did not offer any run support.  Furthermore, Underwood will likely have to wait a while for another shot, as Chatwood's stay on the paternity list will expire tomorrow.  Our newest Cub seems destined to return to Iowa once that happens; although, I would expect to seem him on the Major League roster again before the season is out.  At any rate, after a six-year wait, the rookie is now officially a Major Leaguer and is represented as such in my Cubs All-Time Roster Collection.

Welcome to Chicago and my CATRC, Duane!... and here's hoping that Jon Lester can stop the bleeding in LA tonight.  Panic (just or not) is beginning to set in here in the Windy City.

Wednesday, June 20, 2018

I Just Don't Understand

There are plenty of things in this world that I don't understand.  For instance, what is the meaning of life?  Who really killed John F. Kennedy?  What happened to Jimmy Hoffa?  What is the solution to peace in the middle east?  Who is Banksy, really?  If a tree falls in a forest and no one is around to hear it, does it make a sound?  What do Tigers dream of, when they take a little tiger snooze?  These are questions that truly baffle the mind.

However, this is a trading card blog, not a conspiracy theory or philosophy forum; thus, this is not the space for me to work through these conundrums.  That said, there is one specific, cardboard-related issue that recently came to the forefront of my mind that I simply do not comprehend... not in the slightest.  It's a situation that I'm sure you fellow collectors have encountered, as well, as it appears to be a fairly common one in today's hobby market.

Please, allow me to explain:

As you might recall, yesterday, I wrote about my first experience with the 2018 edition of Topps Series II.  While I was nonplussed, there were still a handful of cards that I desired from the checklist, including the Yu Darvish single that you see above.  This pasteboard represents the erstwhile ace's first traditional card in Cubbie Blue and thus a dire need for my Cubs All-Time Roster Collection.  Unfortunately, Yu did not fall out of the 72-card hanger box that I blogged about; however, it has thankfully made it into my grubby hands.

Quite the quick turnaround, eh?

Shortly after hitting post on yesterday's thoughts, I took an impromptu trip to my local card shop - Baseball Dreams and Memories.  While on my way home from work, I suddenly felt the urge to swing by, flip through some cardboard, and see if the owner had priced any singles from Series II yet.  Maybe the cards I was chasing would be right out in the open for me?

Not so.  At least, not initially.

Although, I wasn't too disappointed with the lack of Series II displayed, seeing as I was able to spot a pair of young Chicago hotshots for a couple of my other Windy City team-based roster collections.  Both DeBrincat and Cohen were surprising, breakout contributors to the Blackhawks and Bears (respectively) last season and were thus hot targets in the Chi-Town hobby scene.  However, patience is a virtue and waiting until the off-season allowed me to bring these rooks home for much more reasonable prices.

Here's hoping they can avoid the sophomore slump!

I was also able to dig another pair of Bears out of a plastic bin for my Monsters of the Midway All-Time Roster Collection.  Eddie Jackson emerged at safety in 2017, showing the potential to become a key member of the defense for years to come.  Meanwhile, Allen Robinson was signed during this off-season to hopefully provide a steady target for quarterback, Mitch Trubisky.  The Bears have had a whale of a time finding wide receivers over the last several years.

Then, just for good measure, I decided to grab this 2017 Heritage single out of a box of miscellaneous Cubs as I made my way up to the cash register.  What can I say?  Those pearly whites just drew me in.  This happy, retro card will happily represent Q in my CATRC binder - I like i much better than any of his 2018 cards that I have.

And that is where my shopping came to an end.... or at least that's where I thought it was going to end.

When I met the owner at the check out, I randomly and impulsively slipped out of my socially awkward shell and asked about his Series II stock.  Maybe he had busted a box and simply hadn't put the loot out on the shelves just yet?  Normally my debilitating shyness keeps me from any sort of inquiries.  But, something in the back of my mind told me I needed to get over it and just ask.

And it's a darn good thing that I did.

As it turns out, the shopkeeper hadn't yet busted a box of the newest product to hit the market; however, one of his customers had done so in-store.  Furthermore, that same customer busted his box, took the hits, and left EVERYTHING else behind.  I'm not just talking about the base cards either, but the inserts and parallels as well.... just as if they were crumpled wrappers, good for nothing but landfill stuffing.  This absolutely boggles my mind.

First of all, maybe this is my inner cheapskate talking, but why wouldn't you just take what you've already paid for instead of immediately discarding it?  Talk about a waste of hard-earned dinero!  I can't imagine being willing to drop over fifty bucks on a box, in the hopes of landing an Ohtani hit (or whatever), and immediately casting aside 99% of the purchase.  In my eye, you might as well just light those bills on fire.

His (or her's) frivolity was my benefit though, seeing as the above single represents the first true Cubs card of Dillon Maples to make it into my collection;  the Kane County Cougars single from Pro Debut, which had previously occupied his spot in my CATRC, will be kicked back to my minor league binder.

Furthermore, I just don't understand this mindset of "collecting."  Clearly, this mystery customer was only after the expensive and shiny hits of the hobby - like I said, they even left the inserts behind.  Simply chasing the latest and the greatest, only the high-end... where's the fun in that?   That sounds like and expensive, boring, and almost always disappointing way to collect something as fun and interesting as baseball cards.

This person clearly would not feel the joy that I did when I found Drew Smyly in a Cubs uniform.  Although he is still on the shelf, recovering from Tommy John Surgery, his rehab appears to be progressively rapidly and me might just see him take the field in 2018.  At any rate, his two-year deal basically guarantees that he'll receive an audition at some point, so this was a definite need for my CATRC.  As an added benefit, now I don't have to chase down Drew's 2018 Heritage Cubs debut, a dreaded short print.

Nope, this person just took their hit and ran... leaving the remnants behind for someone else to deal with.  As I was flipping through the abandoned loot, I assisted the shop owner with pulling out the Cubs and White Sox cards for pricing.  As a thank you,  he allowed me to add the Darvish, Maples, and Smyly to my purchase pile for pennies on the dollar.  I must admit, that left me feeling pretty "smyly" myself.

Has anyone else here on the blogosphere encountered this type of "just the hits, ma'am" collector?  How do you feel about this method of collecting.  If you are one of those who happens to collect this way, how do you keep the hobby from getting stale in your eyes?  I don't mean to judge, I'm just trying to understand.

Also, if someone could explain the concept of dark matter and the enduring popularity of Fortnite    those are a couple of other things that I just do not get.

Tuesday, June 19, 2018

Topps Series 2 - The Good and the Bad

Over the weekend, I finally convinced myself to sample the latest baseball product to hit the retail shelves - Series Two of Topps Flagship.  With a major vacation coming up at the end of this week, the wife and I have been spending a lot of time at the local big box retailers preparing for our eight hour trek down to Tennessee - car snacks and portable toiletries don't just buy themselves.  Anyway, being in and out of both Target and Walmart several times, it was simply a matter of time before my cheap ass caved and I purchased some of Series Two... a man can only walk past the card aisle and resist the siren song of temptation so many times, after all.

Additionally, the SII checklist actually offers a fairly healthy selection of cards I need for my Cubs All-Time Roster Collection.  With that rationalization in mind, on our last trip to the Bullseye, I added a hanger box to our shopping cart filled with potato chips, cheese balls, and mini tubes of toothpaste:

Not wanting to drop a twenty on a blaster, I figured a 72-card hanger box for a ten-spot gave me the best opportunity to grab a few cards that I wanted and protect my wallet.  I mean, I want to have some spending money for vacation.  Anyway, my initial daliance with the annual summer update to Topp's Flagship checklist was both good and bad... and I haven't quite decided how I feel about the product yet.  Please allow me to elaborate and come to a decision along the way.


Out of the 72 cards contained within the cardboard container, a surprisingly healthy amount featured my favorite team.  All told, from this hanger pack, I was able to walk away with one-third of the Cubs portion of the checklist, including the first Major League card of back-up catcher, Vic Caratini.  Not bad, considering my luck with retail purchasing often results in snake-eyes.


Yu Darvish was not one of the Cubs that I pulled, the card that I most want out of this particular product.  Series II marks the first appearance for the Chicago's big free agent signing in blue pinstripes in a traditional, pack-based product... although he does appear as a Cub in the premium, print-to-order Topps Now Road to Spring Training money grab.

Oh well.  Them's the breaks.


While I was not so fortunate as to pull Darvish's first Cubs card, I was lucky enough to come across Justin Wilson's maiden appearance.  I must admit, I was quite pleasantly surprised to see that a lefty reliever made the checklist.  So far, we've seen a back-up catcher and a LOOGY show up in this post - that's a good sign for a more inclusive future.


Factual errors. While Justin Wilson was acquired at last year's summer trade deadline, part of why he was brought in was that he came with a year and a half remaining on his contract. Thus, as underlined above, someone was not well-informed when they typed up the information for the backside. Justin was not a free agent over the winter.

Nit-picky? For sure, but fans notice these things.


In addition to the actual Cubs, there was a nice variety of former Cubs also included within. These old friends will make great additions to my Cubs of a Different Color binder. In fact, that "Straily Dan" might just make it into my CATRC binder on the strength of those glorious socks. After all, the short-term Cub never appeared on a true Cubs card.

Also, boy oh boy does Welly Castillo look weird as a White Sox... sock?


One of those former Cubs was the abusive Aroldis Chapman... blech.


I don't know that this is actually a good thing - more like a neutral to me - but, there was a good amount and a variety of inserts included within the 72-card hanger box. Luckily for me, while none of them were Cubs, most of them were of highly trade-able players. Also, perhaps that 1983-inspired, Bryce Harper insert will come in handy for my CATRC at some point this offseason...

Do we really need a whole insert set based around a player with one year of MLB experience?  
Look Topps, we know you got caught with your pants down when Bellinger broke out last year and you've been trying to make up for it since, but a whole set revolving around this guy is a bit much.  Inevitably, it's filled with generic fluff, seeing as the guy has only been around for one season. No matter how great that season was, you're going to run out of  legitimate things to talk about really quick.

I'm a Cubs fan and I thought the Kris Bryant-centric insert from last year's product was a bit premature... this is just ridiculous.

I hate to end this exercise on two bad things in a row; but, unfortunately, I've simply run out of nice things to say.  As you can see with Steven Wright above, factual errors weren't the only mistakes made with my hanger pack.  Right across Steve's forehead, you can see where the card was stamped by the machine intending to seal the inner cello pack.  Either that, or this is just a really weird idea for a rare parallel.

Wright was the very first card I pulled out of the pack and, sadly, he wasn't the only one who showed this damage:

The sealer was strong enough that it left it's mark on not one, not two, but the first FOUR cards in the hanger pack.  Luckily for me, these weren't any of the cards that I was chasing, but that's disappointing quality control.  I'm just grateful that my Justin Wilson was found more towards the middle of the pack and spared.

In conclusion, on the positive side, I ended up with more current and former Cubs than usual from a retail purchase, saw a deeper look at the roster than is normally expected, landed one of my main targets, and pulled a variety of inserts.  On the negative side,when it comes to legitimate gripes, there were factual and production errors that marred the pack and a wholly unnecessary insert set to boot.  All in all, I must say that my experience with Series Two was decidedly blah - not great, not terrible... just blah.

How do you feel about SII?  Have you opened any of the product yet?  If so, did you notice any of the issues that I had with the set?  Was my pack-ripping experience an aberration?  Please feel free to share your thoughts in the comment section below.