Wednesday, April 17, 2019

Sunday, April 14, 2019

Taking Matters Into My Own Hands

Yesterday, I posted a little bit of a rant about the revamp of Topps Total.  To recap - I loved the original run of the product but this new version of Total is an overpriced, on-line exclusive, bastardization that besmirches Total's good name.  In other words, I am not a fan.

Even with my disappointment, with first 100-card wave (of nine) having been made available through Topps' website yesterday, I couldn't help but flip through and see what Cubs made the checklist.  Daniel Descalso, the off-season free agent signing made to replace Tommy LaStella, was the only non-marquee North Sider to earn a bullet point, so far.  No images have been released of Daniel's card, so far, as the checklist only just went live and orders haven't been shipped yet.  So, I took it into my own hands to whip up an example for my "rave review" post from yesterday.

The template wasn't too hard to make and I was rather happy with the finished product.  At first, that made me even more mad that I wasn't going to be able to afford 2019 Total (unless I can find good deals on the secondary market).  However, upon further reflection, I decided that since I had a template all ready to go, I should just take matters into my own hands and create my own version.  It's all the fun of Total and it costs me exactly nothing.  What a deal!

So far, I've whipped up the following cards for all of those Cubs players who are currently on the 25-man roster who have not yet received a proper Cubs card in any product, as of today:

Honestly, the Randy Rosario card might be my favorite of the whole bunch - I love the image that I was able to find for the lefty.  These guys have both been in Chicago since last summer and were ignored by Update and all other pertinent releases.  No love for middle relievers.

The first two call-ups of 2019 were both covered by my mock Total.  Ryan made his Cubs debut last week and Webster only had a brief cameo at the very end of last season, so it's no surprise that they have no Cubs cards in their cardboard ledger yet.  Hopefully they pitch well enough to earn a real one some day.

Lastly, we have another off-season, free-agent signing in Brad Brach.  There are surprisingly few images of Brach in Cubbie Blue on the internet, so I had to go a little off-kilter with this photograph of him being removed from the mound.  Hopefully, I can find a happier snapshot in the future and update this bad boy.

Speaking of the future, fellow off-season, free-agent reliever signings, Tony Barnette and Xavier Cedeno, will both eventually be included in this virtual checklist.  However, both are currently residing on the injured list and have been out of action for most of spring training, as well.  Thus, they have ever fewer usable images to choose from; so, I will be holding off on those two until they make a few appearances off of the IL and on the mound at Wrigley Field.  I mean, the current iteration of Total is being released in waves; thus, it's only appropriate that so too will my copy cat version. 

Of course, my edition is free and not ten dollars a pack, so I still win.

Look for future editions of Wrigley Roster Jenga Total at this web address.  I will be making updates throughout the season as players come and go and/or when I feel like it.  Also, please feel free to critique my work in the comment section below.  In the meantime, I'm going to go sit and stew in my disappointment with Topps' treatment of Total for a little while longer.

Saturday, April 13, 2019

A Total Letdown

It was this cryptic tweet which sent a certain sector of the online card collecting community into an absolute tizzy Thursday night.  The implication that the cult-favorite Topps Total product would be returning to store shelves sometime this year is enough to make many a low budget collector dance for joy.  I, for one, was tempted to run down my street while joyfully announcing the news to my confused neighbors.

The basis of the original Total brand was to provide a broader look into the playing rosters for baseball, basketball, football, and - briefly - hockey teams in any given year.  When it comes to baseball, that meant an incredibly large, one-shot checklist of over 900 glorious cards, which featured the likes of backup catchers, utility infielders, middle relievers and Quad-A in-betweeners who are all-too-often ignored by Topps' Flagship and other numerous products.  This all-encompassing set featured a few inserts and parallels; but,  all in all, the focus was certainly on properly documenting each team's active playing roster as best as possible.  Running from 2002 through 2005, Topps Total may very well have been my favorite Topps product of all-time.

Why is that you might ask?  Well, if you've ever read Wrigley Roster Jenga, you know that my baseball card collection revolves around the Cubs' all-time roster.  My Cubs' All-Time Roster Collection, in which I attempt to obtain one card of every man to ever suit up in Cubbie Blue, has been my main focus for more than a decade, was what inspired me to start this blog in the first place (to document my progress), and is the most treasured binder on my shelf.  Therefore, with that collecting goal in mind, it shouldn't come as a surprise that such a product would be so important to me and my niche compilation of cardboard.

Total's original run produced rare Cubs cards (sometimes the only known examples) of several cameo Cubbies in my collection, including, but not limited to:

Alan Benes (2002-03)...

...Chad Fox (2005, 2008-09)...

...Jose Macias (2004-05)...

...and guys who I have yet to track down in the wild, like Kent Mercker (2004) and Pat Mahomes (2002) - the journeyman pitcher, not his star quarterbacking son.  Thanks to the Trading Card Database for the illustrative scans - if you have spares of these particular cards lying around, I'd love to talk trade.

In fact, in one case, Topps Total is responsible for the only known Big League cards WHATSOEVER of a 14-year MLB veteran.  Believe it or not, it's the god's honest truth.

Ron Mahay, who was born and raised almost next-door to me in Crestwood, IL, appeared in Major League games from 1997 through 2010, and yet he never appeared on a single non-Total pasteboard.  The 2004 piece and it's compatriot from 2005 are Ron's only Major League documentation to come in a traditional format (though there are some oddballs floating around).  Strange, right?

The reason for this slight is really quite simple, Ron Mahay was a scab - he served as a replacement player during the player's strike of 1994-95 and crossed the picket line to attend spring camp with the Red Sox.  As a result, Mahay was banned from the MLB Players' Union and thus kept out of all events and products associated with their licensing.  Of course this never changed for Mahay (or any of his fellow picket-crossers), so I don't know why the shun was lifted for two years of Total and only Total; however, I sure am glad that Topps gave a little bit.  After all, though it may be a Rangers card, with such an odd circumstance, I'm lucky to have any card of the 2001 Cubs reliever for my CATRC, let alone a Cubs one.

As you can see, Total may have only been around for a scant four years, but it has continued to be an invaluable resource for my most hallowed collection.  Needless to say, I was absolutely pumped up to see that the product was making a grand return.

Well... I was, anyway.  Then, Topps released the details...

I'll let Ryan Cracknell handle the overview - feel free to pause here and read his article about the "Total package."  If you don't want to take the time, I'll distill it down to the nitty gritty - they've turned Total into some quasi-high end BS.

The concept is still the same - a 900 card checklist which shines the spotlight on each team's roster, from top to bottom.  However, this is where the path begin to diverge from the source material.  This time around, it's only going to be baseball because, you know, license exclusivity.  The set has been broken down into waves (nine in all) of 100 cards each and will only be available for a set amount of time.  You know what that means:  you won't be finding these cards on the shelves of your LCS or the aisle-ways of Target and Walmart.  Total will only be available online.  In my eyes, this is a bit of a downer, but not a total deal-breaker.  I'd much rather be able to swing by a shop and pick up a few packs of my primo product; but, this is the 21st century and all.  Online shopping my preferred avenue, though it is not the main problem in this situation.

Here's the thing, the OG Total was a low-end, set-builder focused product with packs of ten cards selling for about $1.50, as I recall.  The revived version will also feature packs of ten cards - through the Topps website, of course - with a price tag of... wait for it.... $10.

That's right, ten bucks for just ten cards... a dollar per card.  That's insane!

While the price falls in line with most of Topps' other "on-line only" products like Now and the Living Set, in those cases, the buyer knows exactly what they are getting when that box shows up on their doorstep.  For Total, we have to slap down an Alexander Hamilton for a ten-card, lottery scratch off in the hopes that we end up with the cards that we desire.  If I not lucky enough to pull my Daniel Descalso (the only person making their Cubs debut, according to the 2019 Total Wave One Checklist), in the first overpriced pack, it could cost me upwards of $20 just to snag this base card?  No thank you.

Now if there were a way to purchase team sets or do some sort of subscription service for this bastardized version of Total, I might still consider partaking.  That said, ten dollars for a pack is a price point that is simply ludicrous.  Hopefully the singles show up for cheap on the secondary market, as investors and breakers are the only people ready to jump at that rate.

I guess I'll just have to make my own....

And so, what a roller-coaster of emotion this news turned out to be.  I started drafting this post just hours after the original tweet teased Total's return, basking in a warm glow of enthusiasm and anticipation.  In the end, I should have remembered that anything that sounds too good to be true, usually is. 

Anyway, those are my thoughts on the matter, what are yours?  I invite you to share how you feel about these developments in the comment section below.  Do you think that Topps is gauging collectors with this pricing?  Does the online exclusivity bother you more than it does I?  Do you find this all to be perfectly reasonable?  Do you even share the same warm-fuzzies about Total that I do?  I implore you to weigh-in on the matter on this post as I am quite curious how my fellow collectors feel about all of this.

In my humble opinion, this turned out to be a Total letdown.

Friday, April 12, 2019

R.I.P. Scott Sanderson

In the days before the Theo Epstein-lead Cubs revival, playoff appearances were a rare treat on the North Side of Chicago.  Much was made of the 108-year World Series win drought, but in that same time there was a 39-year long streak of not even making the postseason, from 1945-84.  Even after that, October baseball in Wrigley Field only happened about twice every decade, more or less.  As such, we Chicagoans held our Divisional winning and Wild Card earning squads on high esteem, much like most, more successful franchises do for their World Champions.  After all, we had to take what we could get.

When I was a kid, I used to take the cards out of my binders which featured players from these notable rosters and stack them accordingly - 1984, 1989, 1998, 2003, 2007, 2008 - and marvel at their glory.  With fall cameos occurring so infrequently, there was rarely much crossover between these piles of postseason Cubs.  In fact, until the Theo Era, Kerry Wood was the only player in the history of the franchise to see action in four different playoff years.  With that in mind, anyone who was lucky enough to appear for more than one was a truly special Cub, in my eyes.

Scott Sanderson was one of those special guys.  Sadly, last night we learned that the workhorse starter had passed away, suddenly and of undisclosed causes, at the far too young age of 62.

 The wear on these cards from my childhood collection suggests they might have been involved in this stacking.

Sanderson played a key role for two of the most well-loved Cubs teams in the sprawling history of the Chicago National League Ballclub - the 1984 Cubbies, that broke the long postseason drought and came within one game of the World Series, and the 1989 "Boys of Zimmer," who came out of nowhere to thrill fans with a roster full of young guys who played way above their head but didn't know any better.  For both teams, Scott was an unsung hero and took to the mound every fifth day as the fourth starter in the Cubs pitching rotation.  He was particularly effective during the '84 season, as he twirled to the tune of an 8-5 record with a 3.14 ERA in 24 starts.

All told, Mr. Sanderson spent six total years on the North Side of Chicago - bookended by those playoff appearances - posting a compiled record of 42-42 with a 3.81 ERA.  Mediocre, maybe, but serviceable and reliable.  The "Lovable Losers" could certainly count on Scott to put them in a position to win whenever he got the ball.

However, it wasn't just those years in Cubbie Blue which endeared him to the Windy City sporting faithful.  While Scott was born in Michigan, he came of age in Chicago and starred in the prep ranks for Glenbrook North High School in suburban Northbrook.  In fact, he first made himself known to the city as a key member of the 1974 Glenbrook North state-champion baseball team.  After being drafted in the third round of the 1977 draft, it took Sanderson only 28 minor league appearances before making his Big League debut with the Montreal Expos.  A few years later, the local product made his grand return to the Second City after a three-team trade with the Padres.

We sports fans sure do love when the prodigal sons return.

And if that wasn't enough Chi-Town for you, Scott also made a one-year cameo appearance with the White Sox and should've made the playoffs with the South Siders too.  Unfortunately, the single season he played with the Palehose, just so happened to be the strike-shortened 1994 campaign.  When the lockout officially began, Sanderson's Sox were sitting pretty with 67-46 record with an AL Central crown in their future.  Of course, sadly, that would never come to pass.

In the end, Sanderson also spent some time with the Yankees (where he made the All-Star team in 1990), Athletics, Giants, and wrapped up his 19-year career with the Angels.  It was during this time with the Halos that he encountered an young, aspiring coach by the name of Joe Maddon, who upon learning of Scott's passing, commented that he was “thoughtful, kind. Just a wonderful man.”

After he finally hung up his cleats upon the conclusion of the 1996 season, Sanderson returned to the Chicagoland are, settling down in nearby Lake Forest.  From there, he stayed involved in the game he so loved, operating as a player agent.  Such notable names as Josh Beckett, Todd Helton, Josh Hamilton, and Lance Berkman employed his services, as did former Sox teammate, Frank Thomas.  As you can see, the connections between Scott and Chicago are plentiful.

We're going to miss Scott Sanderson here in the "town that Billy Sunday could not shut down."  At this point, all I can say is R.I.P. to a Chicago sporting legend, a Cubs and Sox fan-favorite, and a truly special player in the early years of my fandom.  You'll always have a place in my special stacks.

Wednesday, April 10, 2019

Hocking a LOOGY

We're not even two full weeks into the 2019 Major League Baseball season and the Cubs have already been forced to make their second roster alteration on the year.  As we covered in yesterday's post, the North Siders' bullpen has been suspect at best and the starting rotation hasn't been much better.  The lone bright spot on the pitching staff has been Opening Day starter, Jon Lester - he and his 2.57 ERA has been the exception that proves the rule.   While the frameworks of a dynasty have crumbled around the Cubs' fan base in the early going, a "Big Jon" start still feels almost like an automatic win.

So, of course, Lester tweaked his hamstring while running the bases in the Wrigley Field opener and has landed on the injured list.  Groovy.  This is why we can't have nice things.

In all seriousness, it appears to be a minor issue, as an MRI didn't show anything alarming and Lester is only expected to miss one start... maybe two.  Fingers crossed that Jon feels better soon because anything beyond that might mean an extended stay in the rotation for the historically wild Tyler Chatwood.  That thought is enough to make any Cubs rooter shudder with dread.

With Chatty expected to step out of the pen and into the opening in the rotation during Jon's 10-day stint, that meant Theo and crew had a chance to call upon another reliever from AAA Iowa as part of the ongoing effort to extinguish that dumpster fire.  Enter, Tim Collins:

Tim was inked to a minor league deal - and allotted a 40-man roster spot - just as spring camp was being packed up in Arizona.  The lefty was looked upon as a depth piece with ample Major League experience who could step up on an as needed basis.  I don't think anyone in the front office expected Tim's phone to ring quite so early in the season; but, nevertheless, here we are.

Mr. Collins first ascended to the Big Leagues in 2011, as a member of the Royals after bouncing around the farm systems of a few clubs.  Though undersized (5'7"), the rare pure relief prospect was valued for his ability to miss bats and he ultimately he struck out 25% of the batters he faced while allowing a meager .220 average against during his four years as a key member of the Kansas City late innings relief corps.  Then, the wheels fell off midway through the 2014 season when Tim heard the words that every pitcher dreads:  Tommy John Surgery.  Even worse, he would have to go under the knife for the procedure twice before he could again take to a professional mound.

After years of rehab, Collins clawed his way back to the Majors with the Nationals last season, where he appeared in 38 games, without earning a decision.  While that may seem odd, the 22.2 innings count indicates that the Nats used today's subject as a pure LOOGY, a role in which he was merely okay in with Washington (.222/.314/.444 allowed against lefties).  Now, he'll get another chance to redeem himself in Chicago.  It would be fantastic for all parties involved if Collins were to rediscover his pre-injury form - everyone loves a comeback story and the Windy City bullpen could use an unexpected hero.

Collins (left) and Everett Teaford borrow a pair of Jonathon Broxton's pants in 2012

Like most relievers, Tim Collins doesn't have much of a cardboard footprint.  The lefty has a few Bowmans and twice made an appearance in Topps Update (2011 & 13).  Luckily for me, I was able to track down a cheap Collins card for my Cubs All-Time Roster Collection on Ebay - the 2011 Bowman Chrome Draft Picks and Prospects single that you see at the top of this post.  While I'm not  in love with the overly dark design of this product, which is made all the more drab by the nighttime picture used by the old bubblegum company, I do enjoy that fact that it puts the pitcher's unique windup on full display.  That characteristic and the free shipping were enough for me to click "buy it now."

Well, that and my overwhelming urge to plug the hole that instantly opened up in my binder upon Collins' call-up.

At any rate, welcome back to the Big Leagues, Mr. Collins.  Also, welcome to Chicago and to my treasured CATRC binder.  Here's hoping that "hocking a LOOGY" is enough to put out this pitching dumpster fire!

Tuesday, April 9, 2019

Within Adversity, Comes Opportunity

The Cubs pitching staff has opened the 2019 season in absolute shambles.  On five separate occasions, the offense has has exploded to post at least ten runs on the scoreboard and the team is, astoundingly, just 2-3 in those games.  This goes without saying, but a team should not be under .500 in such potent offensive conditions.  The bullpen has imploded late on several occasions and Cubs starters simply aren't lasting long enough - thus, exposing what has been an obvious weakness.

The club's overall record is a disappointing 3-7, largely caused by a pen that has the second worst ERA and given up the most walks in all of baseball.  I wish I could say that such a disaster was a surprise, but Cubs faithful worried about this very situation all winter.  With closer Brandon Morrow out until May due to off-season surgery, things were already stretched a bit thin.  Then, a spate of injuries befell many, if not most, of the Cubs' relief options in Spring Training, leading to a patchwork pen that has dug the team into an early hole. 

With that all of that in mind, the Cubs shuffled their deck a couple of days ago, demoting the struggling Carl Edwards, Jr. to AAA to work on his delivery and moving Mike Montgomery (who had been battling illness late in camp) to the Injured List.  Of course, this opened up two spots on the active roster for fresh relief arms... who could hopefully stop some of the bleeding.  One of the men called up was former top Dodger/Red Sox prospect, Allen Webster, who earned a brief September call-up last season and dazzled in Mesa.  Webster is already represented in my Cubs All-Time Roster Collection binder; however, the guy who flew from Des Moines to Chicago along with him is not. 

Within adversity comes opportunity... in this case, an opportunity for a Cubs debut:

Kyle Ryan has been in the Chicago system since January of 2018 and has plied his trade for the Iowa Cubs.  Theo and Co. were impressed enough with his performance in the Pacific Coast League last season, bouncing between the bullpen and starting rotation (2.86 ERA in 66 IP with 61K's), to ink Ryan to a Major League deal and dedicate a 40-man roster spot to the lefty this past winter.  Now, he'll be tossed into the fire to take Montgomery's role as a dual LOOGY/long reliever.  Hopefully, he's up to the challenge.

Now, as you can tell by the 2015 Donruss Diamond Kings card above, Kyle Ryan was not drafted by the Cubs.  In fact, when he first appeared in Cubbie Blue on Saturday, he wasn't even making his Major League debut.  The newest Cub had actually seen significant time in the Show with the Detroit Tigers from 2014-17 appearing in 88 games across that span.  It was bouts of wildness that cost him his job with the the Motown club (11.1 BB/9 in 2017).  If those issues bubble back up in the Windy City, they could quickly end the revival of his Big League career.  The current pen has enough issues, as it is.

As for the card itself, luckily for me, my local card shop just so happened to have Ryan's unlicensed rookie stuffed in a bin full of miscellaneous Tiger singles.  Although the current iteration of Diamond Kings is, unfortunately, sans Major League logos, I do quite enjoy the elegant, painting-like design of the product - each card even has the texture of art canvas.  If only Panini could only avoid airbrushing...  Oh well, I'm still pleased to add this pasteboard to my precious CATRC binder.  Bonus points for the story of Ryan's first career on the backside, which just so happened to come against his now Crosstown rivals.

Embed from Getty Images

Meanwhile, back on the mound, the 27-year old has made it into two games on the young season, so far, and he immediately fit right in by giving up a free pass and two earned runs in 2/3 of an inning in his debut.  That said, he bounced right back in an encouraging way the next day. twirling 1.1 frames of scoreless and walk-less baseball.  More of that please - if Kyle keeps pitching that way, it's going to be hard to send him back to the Hawkeye State!

Best of all, as of this writing, the hemorrhaging seems to have come to a merciful end, as the Cubs relief corps has posted 12 scoreless innings in a row.  This may seem like a modest achievement, but with the way things were going early on, Cubs pitchers had to feel a little like Charlie Brown out there on the bump:

Of course, at the same time, Jon Lester tweaked his hamstring in the Cubs' home opener and is expected to go on the Injured List himself, which could have ramifications in both the rotation and the pen.  Therefore, we may not be done with the bullpen shuffling this April.  Furthermore, if the starters can't get their act together and the bullpen can't stay in this groove, this could be a long season in Wrigleyville.

Hopefully this doesn't degrade into a situation like the old days at Wrigley Field, with a merry-go-round of faceless relievers cycling on and off the mound and giving up runs like candy at a parade.  Remember Kameron Loe as a Cub?  How about Manny Corpas?  Or Hisanori Takahashi?  Probably not and there's a pretty good reason for that.  Luckily, the Cubs offense looks to be stronger than ever, unlike those clubs from the dark days of the Cubs rebuild; so, I'm not overly concerned... yet.

At any rate, that's enough doom and gloom for one post.  Welcome to Chicago and to my CATRC binder, Kyle Ryan.  Here's hoping that the buck stops with you and Allen Webster!

Wednesday, April 3, 2019

The Cure For What Ales Ya


The first few days of the 2019 Major League Baseball season have been rather dreadful for us Cubs faithful. After handily winning the opening game on the road in Texas, the Chicagoans blew two winnable games due to a horrible performance from the bullpen and then proceeded to get slaughtered (8-0 with six errors) in Atlanta during the Braves home opener.  I know it's only the first week of the baseball calendar and everything seems worse in small samples... but, yikes.  So far, this year's club looks a lot more like the "Lovable Losers" of old than the Theo-cratic Cubs dynasty.

Hopefully, the wrinkles get ironed out soon; otherwise, the Brewers and the Cardinals are going to ensure that this be a long season on the North Side.  As we speak, I'm sure PECOTA is readying their "I told you so" articles.

On the plus side, should shit hit the fan, I now have the perfect beverage with which to wash down my sorrows.

That's right, it's a Cubs-themed, craft beer - what better product tie-in is there for a team who plays in a facility associated with day-drinking?

This wonderful concoction was brought into this world by a small brewery in Texas, Nine-Brand Brewing Company.  How they arrived at canning a Cubs beer in the middle of Astros and Rangers territory, I'll never know.  Heck - Ron Santo himself was from the Seattle area, so there's no tie-in there either.  Anyway, this is a mystery that will go on for a while, as there is no information about the brew on Nine-Brand's website and I'm not travelling all the way to Allen, TX for the answer.  Perhaps ownership originally hails from the Prairie State?

Anyway, I haven't cracked into this just yet, as I am saving it for a special occasion.  Ron Santo is my all-time favorite player after all - I simply cannot waste his namesake beer.  However, Roger Adamson (of Certified Cicerone) describes this Kolsch style brew as, "pouring brilliantly golden in color, this... ale features a fruity nose, with hints of honeydew melon and buttered biscuits. Soft and creamy across the palate, an initial touch of honeyed sweetness gives way to a refreshingly crisp and tangy finish."

That's much more elegant than I could have ever hoped to put it anyway.  Had I attempted to review this drink, it would have sounded more like, "beer taste good."  At any rate, I'm excited to crack into this can, as Mr. Adamson makes it seem positively delicious.

Should anyone else like to get their hands on the Hall of Fame third baseman's namesake suds, it's available at a handful of Binny's Beverage Depots scattered throughout the Chicagoland area.  However, it was not at one of these adult candy stores where I discovered that Ronnie had himself a beer.  Rather, it was a generous friend who enlightened me by mailing this can to my doorstep, which - when I finally empty this elixir - will look great on my knick-knack shelf, right next to my can of Kris Bryant edition Red Bull.

P-Town Tom, of Waiting Til Next Year fame,  absolutely blew me away a couple of weeks ago with what amounted to an absolutely stuffed Cubs Care Package.  Not only did my fellow Cubbie-backer mail me Santo beer, he managed to fit all of this excellent ephemera into one cardboard box:

Yup, he even included some special Javy Baez sunflower seeds to pair with my Cubbie Blue beverage.  If I chew these seeds, will I be able to work magic on the diamond like "El Mago?"

Besides the branded groceries, Tom also managed to insulate his mobile pantry with a bunch of baseball cards, as you can see above.  Let me just say, as awesome and eye-catching as the Santo beer and the Baez seeds were, the cards ended up stealing the show, in the end.  Just take a look at some of the primo cardboard that Tom included:

As one of the premier Ryne Sandberg PC'ers on the internet, Tom must certainly have his fair share of doubles.  Luckily for me, he decided to pass the savings down to me.  Fun fact, apparently a grouping of rhinoceros is actually called a crash... so, look at this crazy crash of "Rynos!"

I think my favorite of this bunch might have to be the oh-so-90's 1990 Classic oddball.  Something about that design just makes me feel like a kid again; of course, so to does a quality stash of baseball cards featuring one of my two favorite childhood Cubs players.

Boy oh boy, does Ryno look strange in a Phillie uniform.  However, as bizarre as this sight is, there are so few cards that show the powerful infielder in his first organization's colors, so anytime I can add a new one to my collection is a joyous occasion.  After all, the Phils are my wife's hometown and favorite team, so players who have donned both jerseys are extra special in this household.

Then there's this oddball that I had never seen nor heard of before I found it in Tom's mailing.  Apparently this was some sort of mini Strat-O-Matic-like baseball simulation score card found in packs of 1993 Donruss Triple Play.  This is certainly one of the most unique Sandbergs in my most little collection - I'm sure that Tom has all sorts of fascinating oddities like this in his sprawling Sandberg PC!

Speaking of player collections, everyone's favorite P-Town resident does more than just collect the Hall of Fame Cubs second baseman.  In fact, one might argue he is even better known for his all-encompassing collection of another notable name in Chicago baseball history:

I don't know about you, but it's gotten to the point that I think of Tom every time that I come across a "Kid K" card.  While this hurler might not have ultimately ended up in the Hall of Fame with Sandberg like we Windy City faithful initially thought he would, he sure did have himself a nice career.  After all, a 20 strikeout game and membership to the rosters of four different Cubs playoff rosters (when such appearances were rare treats) will create quite a bit of fan loyalty around here.

With that in mind, I - like any Cubs rooter - am quite please anytime I can add a new-to-me Woody card to my collection.  Of which, all six of these P-Town Tom doubles were as such.  I'm especially happy to add that pre-rookie Bowman to my stacks... man, we all thought that card was going to pay for our retirement when we were kids!

However, my favorite Kerry Wood card included in Tom's expansive gift was this mirror-like, reflective 1999 Topps New Breed insert that was originally found in packs of that year's Flagship release.  This gloriously garish piece of foil board is unusually flashy for Topps and almost looks more like a slightly more toned down piece of Pacific's work.  Perhaps this was inspired by the old bubblegum company's then crazy competitor?

Gosh... I miss when there was true competition on the trading card market.  Curse you exclusive licensing deals!!

*Ahem* Anyway, back to our regularly scheduled post content:

Tom also included a cache of partial team sets from recent products haven't so much as touched - not because I haven't wanted to dabble, but because I'm kinda cheap and lazy.  I'm glad he did so too because those Stadium Club singles are - as per usual - quite elegant and gorgeous.  I mean, how can you not look at that Ian Happ pasteboard and fall in love with his impassioned walk-off celebration.  The same goes for Jon Lester's surprisingly powerful batting stroke.  SC is just a wonderful collation of cards, year after year.

Also of note, that triple rookie from last year's Heritage release features Cubs third or fourth string catcher, Taylor Davis, on his first official MLB card.  He has since appeared in last year's edition of Topps Update; that said, I still don't have that single either, for the same reasons I didn't already have these bad boys.  Thus, this will serve as a nice Cubgrade to the minor league card that had previously represented the signal-caller in my Cubs All-Time Roster Collection.

There were also another pair of delightfully shiny pieces of cardboard which feature members of the current Cubs core.  What can I say?  I am a simple man who is not ashamed of how much he enjoys shiny objects.

And now, after all of those exquisite Cubs care package goodies, believe it or not, we still have not taken a gander at the "pi├Ęce de r├ęsistance."  Rather, I should say the pieces, as in plural:

Perhaps I am the only one on the blogosphere who, after all of that, would be most excited about a pair of autographs from forgotten flashes in the pan like these two fellows, but I am not ashamed of that potential fact.  Is there anyone else out there on the blogosphere who would rather pull these than an Acu├▒a or Betts Hancock?  If so, please weigh in below, in the comment section.

As a dedicated student of Cubs history and a collector of cards base around the franchise's all-time roster, these sorts of acquisitions are my absolute favorite.  The ultimate type of card that can be added to my CATRC binder is a Cubs autographs and - again, because I'm a cheap ass and shy as all hell - I rarely get the chance to do so.  Therefore, this certified auto of proto-Ohtani slugger/pitcher, Brooks Kieschnick, and IP-auto of strictly moundsman, Jim Bullinger, actually compelled me to get up and brag to my wife how awesome Tom is!  Both will easily supplant whatever cards were previously repping them in my most treasured tome.

Furthermore, the oft-forgotten innings eater that was Jim Bullinger is a sentimental favorite of mine and has been for many years.  First of all, Jimmy was on the very first Cubs card that can recall acquiring, a 1996 Fleer Ultra single that I was lucky enough to pull out of a vending machine at the local ice cream shop.  When I went to gloat and show off my newfound treasure to my hobby-funding and pained Cubs fan grandfather, the only words the normally jovial man could muster were "I hate Jim Bullinger" in a deadpan tone.  No doubt, Jim had just recently blown a game for the franchise with which he lived and died.  To this day, whenever I hear the name "Jim Bullinger" all I can think about is my grandfather, who loved both me and the Cubs to death.

The card in question is still in my possession... somewhere.  In the meantime, here's a Trading Card Database stand-in.

With that, we've finally reached the bottom of P-Town Tom's surprise Cubs care package, which couldn't have come at a better time.  With the way the Chicago baseball season has started, I've needed all of the care I can possibly get.  New baseball cards, Cubbie autographs, Javy sunflower seeds, and even Cubs suds... hot damn, what fun that box was to dig through - thanks buddy!  I'll be sure to try and repay the favor, I'm just not sure how I am going to be able to match this unbridled kindness.  However, I do have a few ideas...

At any rate, seeing as I'll actually be able to watch today's WGN telecast of the Cubs vs. Braves match-up in Atlanta, perhaps tonight is the night I will finally crack open that can of Ron Santo 10 Ale. After all, seeing as I don't have cable, rely exclusively on an antenna box for my live television needs, and my acount is basically useless because MLB STILL has ridiculously arcane blackout rules (let's fix this before pace of play, Mr. Manfred), such an occasion is a rare treat worth commemorating.  Plus, if the Cubs don't get their act together, I'll need a little alcohol to make watching tolerable.