Wednesday, February 27, 2019

The Early Bird Gets The Worm

This never happens.

Normally, when a new baseball card product is scheduled to hit store shelves, I won't see it for a week or longer.  The local Target and their assigned vendor are dreadfully slow when it comes to bringing out the new stuff.  For example, the first time I saw the 2019 edition of Topps Flagship in the card aisle at this location was last night. I don't know why this is other than the fact that I'm probably the only pasteboard obsessed nut who pays any attention; thus the priority isn't there.  At any rate, I've resigned myself to having to wait a couple of weeks before I get the chance to sample the latest and greatest product from Topps or Panini. 

Last night, my wife and I made a quick pit stop at the red bullseye to pick up some essentials for our upcoming, weekend road trip to Kentucky to visit some family.  Of course, I am quite easily distracted and soon pealed off to take a quick peek in the cardboard aisle.  I was pleased to see that Series One had finally made it's way out onto the racks and thought about maybe grabbing my second pack of the product, as a treat.  But, then I noticed something strange... the Heritage packs that I saw underneath of Flagship didn't look like last year's edition...  could it possibly be? 

Yes, it could.  Despite the fact that they weren't supposed to officially drop until today, my notoriously slothy Target had actually put out 2019 Heritage a full day early.  Huzzah!

Talk about a sudden turnaround - I didn't expect to see this rehash of 1970 Topps on Target shelves until at least March.  There's simply no way that I could let this sudden timeliness go unrewarded, so I excitedly grabbed a pack and made my way back to road trip prepping.  I would have loved to grab a rack pack or even a blaster because it was all out there, but, unfortunately, I cannot trade extra baseball cards for gasoline.  At least, I don't think I can... I've never tried to do so.

Anyway, after filling up our cart with the proper car snacks and travel-sized toiletries, the wife and I made our way back to the homestead, where I gleefully tore into the wax wrapper that you see above.  Sure - I could have been packing; however, that's not nearly as fun as ripping into surprise baseball cards, is it?

Even better, this unexpected purchase yielded my first Cubs card on the young season:

And it's a wonderfully-composed photograph of Jose Quintana that gets the honor.  The home pinstripes will always be the best of the Cubs' wardrobe and I will never sway from that opinion.  And, maybe just because it's finally spring training after a long winter, but the obvious Cactus League facility in which Jose is posed, framed with a beautiful blue sky, truly warms my cockles.  This card is the perfect reminder that baseball is back!

Of course, this year's version of Heritage pays tribute to the 1970 release of Topps Baseball - so, let's compare and see how the old bubblegum company did in recreating their previous work:

Please excuse the ratty condition of my Jimmie Hall card - it was the only '70 single I could dig up in a timely manner.

The first thing that jumps out at me is the difference in color between the team designations on the two.  That said, this is a characteristic that changed from card to card and wasn't even consistent within team ranks.  Yellow, red, black, and white are all used, seemingly without any rhyme or reason, throughout the checklist.  So, can't knock them there.  Plus, all of the fonts look right on the money (maybe the position listing is a touch bolder in 2019) - hell, in fact, the script for the name plate looks like a perfect match.  Overall, I'd say that Topps did a phenomenal job in bringing 1970 back to life!

The backs are pretty much the same too, although I forgot to scan an original for comparison, except with the now necessary "legal-ese" found added at the bottom.    Again, they seem pretty faithful to the original design.

Here's hoping that Jose can rediscover the form that allowed him to striek out 12 men in his Cubs debut, as spotlighted in the comic.  Although, he's be a decent mid-rotation contributor since his July 2017 acquisition, the Cubbies paid a premium price to add the lefty to the fold and, no doubt, expected him to perform at a top-of-the-rotation level.  If he can up his game in 2019, that would go a long way towards the Cubs making another World Series run and alleviating the pain that Cubs fans will feel whenever Eloy Jimenez and Dylan Cease debut across town.

Oh... and as for the other 8 cards that I found within the pack:

A Ray that I know little about and Ryan Braun... swing and a miss.

A pair of exceptionally similar looking cards of AL players.   Seriously, they're almost posed exactly the same!

Padres hot-pack!  Does that Lucchesi look Photoshopped to you or am I losing my mind?  Speaking of Joey, he was the first pitcher of the 2016 draft to reach the Majors and has one of the most interesting windups in baseball:

Whatever works for you, I guess.

We cap things off with a Postseason highlights subset single, honoring Jack Bradley, Jr.'s dramatic grandslam against the Astros in Game 2 of the ALCS, and a "Then & Now" insert which draws a comparison between Minnesota's Jim Perry and Tampa Bay's Blake Snell, the Cy Young winners in 1970 and 2018, respectively.

I love cards that showcase pitcher grips like Snell does on his half of the latter card.  It screams, "you couldn't hit this pitch even if you knew what was coming!"

With that, we've reached the end of my first pack of 2019 Heritage, technically opened a day before they were even supposed to have been released.  Any pack in which I pull a Cub is a definitive success, especially so when I wasn't even expecting to buy cards upon leaving my apartment.  Although, before I wrap this up, I want to point out one more thing about the Q card that I pulled:

I don't know if that's purposeful, artificial aging or a printing defect found on the right portion of the white border which frames the player picture, but that line is definitely runny.  I noticed this on one other card found within my pack; however, the rest of the cards had crisp, clean frames all the way around.  I know how Topps loves their subtle variations, like fake gum stains and sparkles.  Does anyone know if this is some sort of variation, parallel, or maybe even some how a subtle tribute to the original set?  Or, is that wonkiness just a legitimate defect?  Now that I've noticed, I cannot get my mind off of this oddity.

At any rate, I'm happy to have my first Cubs card of the year in just my second sampling of 2019 packs.  That Q card will likely be swapped into my Cubs All-Time Roster Collection as his representation in my marquee collection.  Thus, I can safely declare this purchase to be a win.  Additionally, I am optimistic that my local Target will now be a little more timely with future stocking.  Perhaps that was their New Year's Resolution this year?  Of course, I'll find out on March 6th, with the release of Panini's Donruss.  We shall see.

In the meantime, I should probably get back to prepping for our upcoming weekend getaway.  I wonder if the clerks at Speedway or Mobil would take my Profar or Braun for $20 worth of unleaded?

Tuesday, February 26, 2019

Cheetahs Never Prosper

One of my favorite things to do when I have free time is to go thrift shopping.  As a cheapskate who loves a sense of adventure, second hand shopping is the perfect intersection of these two characteristics.  You never know what you are going to find - in the past, I've been lucky enough to find an original pressing of Sgt. Pepper on vinyl, baseballs autographed by legit Major Leaguers, Taiwanese baseball cards, etc., all for chump change.  As such, I rarely miss an opportunity to stop in a Goodwill, Savers, Unique, or any other thrift shop location when the opportunity presents itself.

In the past, I've had a surprising amount of success finding minor league uniforms and ephemera on such shelves.  In fact, I've happened to come across and purchase several game-used jerseys of local teams, past and present, including the Gary SouthShore RailCats, the Schaumburg Flyers, and - most notably to me - the Cook County Cheetahs.

The Cheetahs were a previous incarnation of the nearby Windy City Thunderbolts, the closest thing I have to a hometown baseball team.  They play ball right next door to where I currently work and less than three miles from where I grew up.  The club had already transformed into their current T-Bolt moniker by the time I started truly paying attention, but as a history buff, I've long been fascinated by the previous era.

That's why I was absolutely thrilled when I discovered this item in my most recent trip to Goodwill:

A Cook County Cheetahs hat!  I'm fairly certain that it's game-used too because:

  1. It was covered with a thick layer of light brown-colored dirt and dust that looked suspiciously like that used on the infield of a baseball diamond.
  2. The Cheetahs were an independent team that was constantly on the move and, likely didn't have the capability to market much in the way of souvenirs. 
  3. It's a fitted hat (in my size, which is a phenomenal coincidence) and even if they did have souvenirs to sell, I highly doubt they had it in the budget to push a multitude of different sized caps.   I imagine they'd be of the adjustable snapback or Velcro variety.
  4. Heck, a quick glimpse of their 2003 website (their last year of existence) doesn't even indicate the existence of a team store. 

Thanks, Internet Wayback Machine!  That is a very early aughts lookin' website.  Was it hosted by Geocities??

All of these factors considered, I would find it exceptionally surprising to know that the Cheetahs were hawking such wears during this time.  In fact, I know for certain that the physical team store at their park wasn't even built until after the club was re-branded into the Windy City Thunderbolts.  Thus, I feel pretty safe in saying that this Cook County Cheetahs cap is most likely a game-used piece.

It will pair quite nicely with the game-used jersey I found at a local Savers location a few years previous:

Now, if they weren't selling hats, there's absolutely no way that the Cheetahs were selling replica jersey tops.  This certainly saw game action.

Ever since I gleefully came across this red uniform, I've been hoping to come across a hat to match.  I've already got a couple of GU T-Bolt jerseys and hats (again, I have ridiculously good luck with finding minor league stuff), so it brings me great joy to now have a complete Cheetah kit.  Well, except for the pants, I guess.

The hat, like the screen grab of their website, dates from 2003, as indicated by the Frontier League's nifty 10-year anniversary patch stitched onto the right hand side.  The independent league has been the steadiest such circuit over it's now 26-year history and is, in fact, the oldest indy still operating today.  My, my... how time flies...

The Cheetahs/Thunderbolts haven't been around for that entire time.  In fact, when this hat was still resting on the head of a hungry, young ballplayer, they hadn't even been around for most of it.  Perhaps I should take this opportunity to dive into the history of my hometown ballclub.

The franchise was originally formed as the Will County Claws in 1995, called Romeoville, IL home, and entered into doomed North Central League during it's maiden season.  The league was never very financially stable and folded before it could complete the 1996 season, a fate that is all too common when it comes to indy leagues.  In a move straight out of the David Bowie playbook, the former Claws changed their name, look, and pivoted to the Heartland League as the Will County Cheetahs.

 The Will County Cheetahs, logo courtesy of Logo Server.

Even after that, change was still in the air.  After one season of play in their new league, the club abandoned Romeoville for the greener pastures of Crestwood - a suburb on the south side of Chicago and next door to my hometown.  There were no literal pastures, but there was the lure of a brand new, publicly-funded stadium of their very own.  Crestwood's mayor had played bush league ball himself in the 1950's and wanted to bring in a team to revitalize his sleepy suburb.  For an independent team that had been borrowing Lewis University's collegiate baseball field, this offer was simply impossible to refuse.

Of course, this 20-mile relocation shuttled them from Will County to Cook County, necessitating another name change.  Thus, the iteration of the team that wore this cap was officially born into existence.

Crestwood and it's powers that be assured that the winter of 1997-98 would be more than enough time to finish construction on the state-of-the-art, partially double-decked Hawkinson Ford Field and the Cheetahs would be able to start their second season in the Heartland League within it's confines.  Of course, those that live in Illinois know that construction projects in this area almost never go as planned - especially when accounting for unpredictable Midwestern winter weather.  Delays not only kept them from opening at their new facility, it keep them from playing a single game at all there in 1998.

Time for yet another quick pivot.

My hometown of Midlothian (like I said, just down the road), just so happened to have a baseball diamond in it's northeast corner.  Howie Minas Field had been the longtime home of the semi-pro Midlothian White Sox (a topic for another day).  They had been around since the corn was plowed under to create the park in the 1950's and even won the National Baseball Congress title in 1992.  Unfortunately, the club soon folded thereafter and Howie Minas Field was relegated to the occasional Little League and high school ball duty.

Howie Minas Field, 2004. Image courtesy of Charlie's Big Baseball Parks.

A deal was hammered out to allow the Cheetahs to play the entirety of the 1998 season in this temporary home and temporary bleachers and stands were built to bring the facility up to professional caliber. Despite the fact that the season began with seeming disaster, the Cook County Cheetahs went on to have the best season they ever would under the Cheetah moniker, posting 37–29 record and winning the Heartland League pennant. With the ballpark nearly complete at this point, things were looking great in Cheetah land!

Then the Heartland League folded.

I tell ya, the Cook County Cheetahs simply could not catch a break.  This could have been a total disaster, with a publicly-funded stadium nearing completion, potentially without a tenant to take over.  Luckily, the largely Midwest-based Frontier League was looking to edge into the Chicagoland market and offered the defending champs a spot as an expansion franchise in time for the 1999 campaign.

At this point in the team's history, it seems as though the Cheetahs were constantly cheating certain doom.  Of course, you can only cheat the devil so many times before it catches up with you.

Despite finally settling into a semblance of stability, over the next five seasons, the Cheetahs never once finished above the .500 mark and did not once make the Frontier League playoffs.  Accordingly, attendance struggled, as it's tough enough getting people to come out and watch independent baseball, let alone BAD independent baseball.  Hell, they only produced one All-Star during that stretch.  One.  They consistently ranked near the bottom of the league in attendance and bottomed out in 2003, placing 8th in attendance (60,481) in the 12-team league.  That's pretty abysmal for a team meant to edge into the Chicagoland market.

As such, the mayor essentially forced an ownership change (again, they're playing in an expensive stadium that was built on the backs' of the taxpayers, his butt was on the line) and death was knocking at the doorstep.

With new owners came an expansive re-brand; after all, Crestwood was trying to disassociate themselves from years of lackluster baseball.  Thus, the Windy City Thunderbolts were born out of a name the team contest (what even is a "thunderbolt?") and the Cheetahs were officially no more.  While the 'Bolts do claim their feline ancestor's history as their own, it certainly felt like a different team, with such widespread changes.

 Former 'Bolt manager, Haines, and hurler, Nance, have since spent time in the Cubs chain.

Back to the product on the field, the new ownership group apparently knew what they were doing, as the Thunderbolts would soon go on to win two consecutive Frontier League flags in 2007 and 2008, to go along with five playoff appearances.  Although, as I bang out this post, the 'Bolts haven't been to the postseason since 2011.  That seems ominously Cheetah-like.

Meanwhile, the club still plays in that same park, on the corner of Kenton Ave. and Midlothian Tpk.  Very little about the facility has changed, other than a switch to turf in 2015.  The main difference is in the name, which has gone through a few corporate sponsorship since the Cheetahs fizzled out.  Beginning this year, the place will be known as Ozinga Stadium through at least 2023, which really just flows right off the tongue...  Ozinga, in case you were curious is a building materials company based in upper Midwest.

As for the Cheetah's previous home, Howie Minas Field lost it's extra seating and reverted back to Park District duty after it's one glorious season of hosting professional baseball.  It's the only field on which I've played that has also hosted pro ball, as I got to play a few in Pony League games there back in my junior high days.  Although, HMF was eventually able to find another regular tenant and, since 2017, it has served as home to the Crestwood Panthers, of the Midwest Collegiate League, a summer, wooden bat circuit.  Funny, Midlothian is again hosting Crestwood baseball...

A Crestwood Panther pitcher warms up at Howie Minas Field during a game I attended in 2018.

As far as notable Cheetah alumni, Chris Oxspring was the only player to don the black, red and yellow and then eventually make it all the way up to the Majors, The Australia native made his first stateside pro appearance with the Cheetahs in 2000 before eventually making five appearances out the San Diego Padres bullpen in 2005.  He'd also have the honor of throwing the first official pitch in Australian Baseball League history (2010) and the even won a silver medal with his home country's nine in the 2004 Olympics.  His number has since been retired by the Windy City franchise.

Beyond Chris... ummmm... there was a guy named Paul Molitor who played for the team briefly in 2003.  He had nothing to do with the Brewers' Hall of Famer, but that was interesting enough to make me look him up.  They were also managed by former Cub Big Leaguers, Brian Dayett and Chico Walker, at various points.  So, there's that.

And so, there you have it - the history of the Cook County Cheetahs.  Their's is a story of constantly treading water in the choppy waters that are life outside of organized baseball.  However, they are a cherished part of the local identity and provided the base upon which the much more successful Thunderbolts were built.

The Cheetahs/Thunderbolts franchise will be celebrating their 20th year of Frontier League play throughout the upcoming season.  While I haven't seen anything yet, I'm desperately hoping that they will be doing a special promotion night where the club dons uniforms that throwback to the Cheetah days.  After all, throwback jerseys have become "bread and butter" staples of both major and minor league baseball and make for effective lures to attract nostalgic fans and their families.  In fact, the Bolts have done several special uniform promos in years past, although I don't remember any retro-themed events.

Should they choose to revisit the days of the Cheetah, you know that I'll be there.  Plus, courtesy of this thrift store find, I'll be completely ready to dress the part myself!

(Even that bat is a game-used piece from the Cheetahs/Bolts!)

Monday, February 25, 2019

Trying To Keep My Blogging License

Baseball is back, baby!

Well... exhibition baseball, anyway.  Spring Training is well under way and Cactus League games have begun for my beloved Cubs...  a welcome distraction from the decidedly un-spring like whether currently plaguing the Midwest.  As things stand now, the Cubbies are currently undefeated, sporting a record of 2-0, which obviously means they'll be winning the World Series in five this year.  While the franchise may have disappointed six ways to Sunday this winter, it's just nice to know that real baseball is just around the corner.

Luckily, these first two Cactus League contests have been covered by the terrestrial radio crew; so, I was able to "turn on, tune in, and drop out" out of the real world for a couple of hours this past Saturday.  As I was getting lost in Arizona baseball, by way of the soothing voice of Pat Hughes, I took the opportunity to open my very first pack of 2019 Topps cards. 

Wait a minute... the FIRST pack of 2019? 

Flagship has been out for weeks now and is even about to be lapped by Heritage.  What gives?  What kind of baseball card writer hasn't already opened boxes of the stuff by now?  Don't they take away your blogging license for that?

See, here's the thing - I collect in waves and, lately, it's been low tide.  The winter months are usually the doldrums of both card collecting and blogging, seeing as my favorite sport is in deep hibernation.  Additionally, the lax free agent market over the past couple off-seasons has only made this disinterest worse.  Furthermore, I wasn't particularly high on the design of Topps' 2019 Flagship product when it was unveiled last fall.  All of these factors combined have kept my enthusiasm in check for the release of new cards.

However, now that Anthony Rizzo, Kris Bryant, and the boys are back on the diamond - albeit at Sloan Park instead of Wrigley - my interest is beginning to rise.  Watch that shoreline... the tide is coming in!

Thus, when I made my way to the local card shops in the area for National Hockey Card Day this weekend, I decided to grab a pack of the newest edition of our hobby's flagship while I was out and about.  Then, I came home, turned on 670 the Score, and let baseball wash over me as I flipped through the cardboard.  The pairing of the Cactus League opener and new cards made for the perfect way to officially kick off the baseball calendar.

But enough exposition, how'd the pack ripping go?  As the Cubs were whipping the Brewers 8-4 (I know it means jack, but winning is never a bad thing), here's what fell out of my first foil-wrapped packet of 2019 Topps Flagship:

A whole lotta meh in there.  Although, I kind of like the photograph of Kyle Tucker rounding the bases - it's a touch more interesting than the standard, generic batting pose.  Also, I definitely got the wrong mustachioed Athletics hurler.

Next, here's the horizontal heroes portion of the pack:

Nice double play shot of Brandon Lowe there.  I guess it's a good thing I like this picture, seeing as it's a Rays card and I'll, therefore, probably have it forever.  Plus, it's funny that my ballpark card should be Minute Maid Park, seeing as my wife was actually in Texas as I was flipping through these cards.  Of course, she was in the Fort Worth area for a work event, so it's the wrong Lone Star State team; but, I'm grasping at straws for intrigue here.

As far as the best of the base, these two above cards were certainly the best of the bunch.  I'm not a staunch traditionalist in life, let alone in something as (relatively) trivial as baseball.  I say, bring on the Segura-like home run celebrations!  Why shouldn't Jean fly around the bases like an airplane when taking a pitcher deep into the bleachers?  Don't like it?  Pitch better.  Clearly these displays of passion and emotion bring smiles to the faces of fans, smiles as big and beaming as Mookie and Prince Albert here!  After all, isn't reinvigorating fan interest (especially with the youth) the stated number one goal of Major League Baseball?

Thank you for coming to my impromptu Ted Talk.

To close things out, I also found a parallel and an insert nestled in the middle of my 14-card hobby pack.  Former Cubs farmhand, Josh Donaldson, was the closest thing to a Cubs card found within.  
The third baseman is pictured on a Rainbow Foil parallel, which fall at a rate of 1:10 packs.  The most interesting aspect of this card is that, in a few years, we will have all forgotten entirely about the former All-Star's brief, month long tenure in Cleveland.  For what it's worth, Josh already looks confused himself.  #ShortTermStop

As for the retro-themed insert, thank god Topps decided to go with something other than the wood grain borders of 1987.  Quite the opposite actually, as (correct me if I'm wrong) I feel like the 1984 design doesn't get much love from the old bubblegum company.  I'll have to check and see if any Cubbies are available in this insert checklist, as I quite like this resurfacing.

And, with that, we've reached the end of my first pack of baseball cards in 2019.  No Cubs, no particularly eye-catching cards... overall, it was a bowl of "meh."  Oh well, that's the way the cookie crumbles sometimes.  Oh, and before I go, here's what the backs look like, in case you're like me and hadn't seen any of these in person yet:

Yay for the return of full career stats and, unlike a lot of people, I also enjoy the fact that they've kept the social media handles around.  After all, we live in the 21st century and this part of the pop culture landscape now.  While social media services like Twitter and Instagram are often credited with downfall of modern society, they also help our heroes engage with their adoring audiences like never before.  Like I said during my unexpected rant about home run celebrations, aren't we trying to generate new interest in our favorite sport?  At the end of the day, this can only help attract the younger audience.

With that, I have to say that I don't hate the 2019 edition of Flagship.  I like the color-coding on the "borders" and the backside.  However, I don't particularly like the last name being above the first name, it jumbles my delicate brain. That said, I'm still mostly indifferent to it,; but, I'm a little bit more left of center than I had been before holding it in hand.  Plus, I decidedly did NOT like the "waterslide" set of 2018; thus, "meh" is a decided upgrade. 

Toothpaste > Waterslide.  That's what we're calling this year's set, right?  It's not only me that is reminded of big ol' tube of Colgate when they look at these cards, right?

Again, I know that I'm really late on this and I'm sure you've made your opinions known at this point, but, I'm going to ask anyway.  How do you feel about the 2019 edition of Topps Flagship?  Do you find it clean and refreshing, like a freshly brushed set of teeth?  On the other hand, do you find it to be just another disappointing design in a decade full of almost nothing but disappointing designs (2015 💓)?  Or, are you like me and can't offer much more than a shrug, just grateful for something new to flip through while listening to the ballgame?  

Please feel free to share your thoughts in the comment section below.

In the meantime, the Cubs are undefeated in games during which I open packs of baseball cards.  Perhaps this is just the magic mojo they need to go all the way this year?!  Forget Bryce Harper or making any acquisitions of consequence to patch up the offense that died halfway through 2018, this major market franchise with a lucrative, new TV deal operating like a cash-strapped college student needs me to open baseball cards during every single game this year!

This could get expensive...

Sunday, February 24, 2019

National Hockey Card Day

Do you like hockey?  Do you collect hockey-related cardboard?  Do you enjoy getting stuff for free?  If you answered "yes" to any of these three questions, boy oh boy, yesterday was the day for you:  National Hockey Card Day.

For almost ten years now, Upper Deck has sponsored this annual holiday.  Since 2010, collector's have circled this day on their calendars because not only does it celebrate one of north america's most popular sports, many local card shops are giving away FREE packs of hockey cards!  Each year, UD creates a special, exclusive set of cards to commemorate the occasion, which are then made available, in pack form, and handed out in hobby shops throughout the United States in Canada.  When I say "free," I don't mean with a qualifying purchase or some other qualifier either - these promos are completely free with no strings attached.  Walk in the door and the vendor will hand you a pretty blue foil pack!

Or two.

The whole idea behind this promotion is to drive-up interest in Upper Deck's rink-related products, one of only two sports leagues for which the industry big-wig still has an official license.  Additionally, it's hard to increase sales without getting more people in the door; as such, increasing foot traffic for participating local card shops (y'know, the people that hawk their goods) is the other major goal.  And what gets people more motivated to go somewhere or do something besides giving them free swag?

In my opinion, nothing - the marketing campaign certainly worked on me... and has consistently done so since I started hoarding hockey cards in 2015.  Each year, I make the rounds and stop into both of the card vendors nearest to me, both because the holiday offers the perfect excuse to check out what's new in each store and because two free packs are better than one.  Is that kind of greedy?  Maybe, but I reaaaaallllllly want to end up with at least one Blackhawks card.  

Each gratis pack comes with a checklist outlining the parameters of the product, plus five player cards.  Of course, there is both a Canadian and US version of this special set and obviously I've ended up with samples of the latter.  The base set for the ol' stars and stripes is 16 cards deep and is made up of a trio of subsets - America's Rookies, Stars in Stripes, and American Icons.  Furthermore, not reflected on the checklist you see above, there are also a pair of special insert sets, Victory Black Rookies and NHL Global Series, plus a smattering of autograph subjects because every set in the world has to have hits to chase now.

Enough babbling, let's see the cards!  Remember, I collect my hometown Blackhawks and, honestly, those are the only cards I care about.  If I just pull one Indian head sweater, I'll consider this "endeavor" to be a massive success.

Here's pack one, which came from my first stop - the Baseball Card King in Oak Lawn, IL:

Not Blackhawks.  Although, I do like the appearance of the NHL All-Star sweater on Auston's entry - that's kind of unique.

Yay!  A Blackhawk, in the former of Tony Amonte, one of the most reliable scorers in franchise history!  The right winger posted at least 30 goals six times and at least 40 three times, during his time in the Windy City.  Plus, he did not miss a single game for five straight seasons.  Amonte is an American Icon, indeed.

This pack-ripping experience is already triumph.  For frame of reference, it took me until the last card of my fourth pack (yea, I really burned up some gasoline that year) in 2016 to uncover a Blackhawk.  Now, the nerves and anxiety are gone and anything past this point is simply gravy.

That's a good thing too, seeing as the last two cards in pack one were not Blackhawks either.  Although, my wife originally hails from the Philadelphia area, so maybe I'll slip her that Voracek.  Hockey is her favorite sport, after all.

While we're in between packs, let's take a minute to talk about the design.  It's a little busy, especially with that "lower third graphic" - it takes up way too much of the space as it goes obtuse and intrudes upon the photo.  On the positive side, I like the depth created by blurring the background of each photo and adding a drop shadow behind the player pictured.  Plus, it's pretty neat that the skaters "pop out" of the design and aren't completely constrained by the borders, as best illustrated by Buffalo's Mittelstadt.  Overall, despite it's flaws, I find the look of the 2019 UD National Hockey Card Day set to be quite pleasing to the eyes.

Meanwhile, back at the rink, let's take a look at the contents of pack #2, this one coming from Baseball Dreams & Memories in Crestwood, IL:

Not Blackhawks and my first double.  I'd be a lot more disappointed if I didn't already pull Amonte.

In the words of one Ariana Grande - "thank you, next:"

ZOMG!!!!!!1!!!!!!1!!!!!  We have a bonafide Blackhawks hot pack!

Falling two in a row, we have two of the greatest players to ever don a black and red sweater.  Chelios played in the NHL forever, 26 seasons to be exact, including spending the entirety of the 1990's with Chicago.  The Captain was a reliable scorer and led the Hawks to the Stanley Cup Finals in 1992 and was thrice first-team All-Star.  Although, as much as an offensive presence as Chelios was, he was nothing compared to Patrick Kane, who is simply one of the best to ever pick up a hockey stick and continues to work magic on the ice.  He is almost single-handedly keeping the 2018-19 edition of the Hawks in contention, perhaps the most hot and cold team in franchise history.

With these pulls and my earlier Amonte score, I've now pulled the entire Blackhawks master team set from 2019 Upper Deck National Hockey Card Day and it only took my two packs.  I could never have reasonably expected this pack-bust to go so incredibly well - what luck!

To be completely frank, I don't even care what the final card is anymore.  I've got what I came for... and then some!

But, I'll include it anyway, just to be complete.  Sorry Andrei, but your star as been far outshone.

As you can plainly see, National Hockey Card Day was a rousing success for me this year.  That said, I'm extremely curious about your experiences with the day of free hockey cardboard.  Did you partake in the day's festivities?  If so, what did you pull and were you satisfied with what you found?  What was your experience like?  Did you even know this was a thing?  Please feel free to leave your thoughts in the comment section below!

In the meantime, if you need me, I'll be giddily sorting my new promo cards into my Blackhawks All-Time Roster Collection; I'm fairly certain that all three of these oddballs will be usurping the players' previous representation.

Oh and how much longer until National Baseball Card Day?