Friday, May 31, 2019

Precious CarGo

In a move that seems more in-line with Cubs of previous generations, Theo Epstein and crew have signed the dotted line with an aging veteran on the downswing of their once lucrative career.  It's a transaction that calls to mind the days of Jim Edmonds patrolling center field at Wrigley Field in what felt like some sort of hallucinogenic fever dream to Cubs fans in the decidedly non-boring city of Chicago.  Or, if you're a little bit older, perhaps you might remember an August acquisition of Twin Cities icon, Gary "The Rat" Gaetti - a decade prior to Jimbo - playing out the twilight of his career in the wrong Midwestern locale.

Of course, both of those moves fueled playoff runs too - 2008 and 1998 - with both "fishes out of water" playing key roles in the clubs success.  With that in mind, maybe yesterday's signing of noted Cubs killer, Carlos Gonzalez, to a minor league contract will mark another notable step in a run through October.  "CarGo," the 2010 National Batting Champion and three-time All Star, was once one of the most feared bats in all of Major League Baseball; however, that was then.  Now, the slugger is but a shell of his former self in 2019, having just been released by the Cleveland Indians after posting an atrocious .210/.282/.286 batting in 117 at-bats.  Egad.

Why bother with somebody seemingly past his prime, you might ask.  Well, the Cubs have a glaring need in the outfield.  I mean, if you don't believe me, they started Jim Adducci in right field just a few games ago.  With Ben Zobrist's ongoing personal problems potentially bringing an early end to his illustrious career, there's a spare outfielder spot up for grabs in the Windy City.  This gap was exposed even further by the injures to Kris Bryant and Jason Heyward over the weekend, though both players seem to be on the mends.

Granted, Carlos' stats have steadily declined in recent years before falling off of the cliff known as 2019.  However, wouldn't you bet on a small renaissance in the midst of a heated playoff battle from "CarGo," who's still only 33, than count on a journeyman like Adducci?  Especially when the only required investment is a minor league contract?  That's a no-brainer upgrade, right there.

Although, Gonzalez won't be added to the Big League roster right away.  First, this weekend, he'll head to Iowa for a tune-up performance in the Pacific Coast League and a brief evaluation period.  If everything looks normal for the veteran, it seems like there's an expectation that he will get the bump up to Wrigley Field at some point during next week's homestand.  That's how the local beat writers are reporting the acquisition, anyway.... then again, you never know with baseball.

Oddly enough, in his corresponding article, Paul Sullivan, made the same correlation I did with the Gaetti and Edmonds moves of yore.  Parallel thinking at it's finest!

That said, barring a major disaster in Des Moines, it seems that the three-time Gold Glover will almost certainly be a Cub before too long.  With that in mind, shortly after hearing about the transaction, I took to my trade boxes to search out any cards I might have of the longtime Rockies star.

Luckily for me, I've never had the fortune of trading with a fervent fan of the Colorado National League Baseball team.  Combine that with the fact that Gonzalez was a marquee name and league-wide star for much of the current decade and it should come as no surprise that I had a bounty of precious "CarGo" in my boxes.

In fact, I came across so many Carlos Gonzalez singles during my dig, that I had a hard time deciding what card should eventually occupy his spot in my Cubs All-Time Roster Collection.  Again, it seems like his addition to the 25-man roster is just a formality, so I'm approaching this situation as if he already has been added.  That being the case, I think I might as well take this opportunity to show off my potential newfound Cubs cardboard - maybe you readers can help me decide which card is best?

A few were easy to weed out of contention.  For instance, I find the three cards which have appeared already in this post to be less than attractive.  While the first 85 games of his MLB career were spent in Oakland, he just looks weird in green and gold; so, it was easy to rule his 2008 Topps Update rookie card out right away.  Furthermore, the surfboard aesthetic of 2012 Topps - parroted in Opening Day, is simply blase and 2011 Topps Attax is too oddball both in designation and design for my premier collection.

This one is obviously disqualified because it forces Gonzalez to share the spotlight with two other, non-Cubs.  That being stated, I'll still gladly set it aside.

Sure, I don't mind being reminded that the Cubs have acquired a multiple time, former All-Star player.  On the other hand, both of these cards are *ahem* rather ugly and will not make the cut.  Okay, maybe ugly is too strong; but again, two sub-par designs and those All-Star jerseys that look like the host team's weird me out.  Regardless, I do not see them as potential inclusions.

On the flip side, these next two beauties are wonderful pieces of cardboard.  Buuuuuttttt, there's warts with each that bars them from the binder:

2011 Topps Kimball Champions are nearly pieces of art when compared to most contemporary products.  Seriously, I feel like I should blow this up and have it framed in my study.  In fact, if it were to be blown u, it would stand a much better chance at making it into my CATRC because, as it stands, it's too small for inclusion.  I'm far too OCD to allow cards that are smaller than standard-size (when avoidable) into my favorite tome.  If only it were a little bit bigger...

Speaking of OCD, those same tendencies prevent me from including a horizontal shot when I have perfectly acceptable vertical orientations available... even when the sideways card in question features Carlos showcasing his Gold Glove defense in a green grass frame.  Oh well - like I said, I have several appealing options at my disposal, so I'm not too broken up about it.  Thus, without any further adieu, let's take a look at the true contenders:

2016 Topps Update 500 Home Run Club Futures

With his sudden downturn, it's easy to forget that Gonzalez was once thought to have an outside chance at swatting 500 big flies.  Then, at age 30, he already had 201 on the back of his baseball card.  Here's hoping he can rediscover some of that magic as a Cub a few years later.

2018 Topps Gypsy Queen

When I first ripped a pack of the annual, faux-retro Gypsy Queen product last summer, I was not impressed with it's multi-color, busy layout.   Of course, as time has marched on, it's grown on me and, though GQ has long passed it's sell-by date as a product line, I think this might be my favorite iteration since 2011.  

2016 Topps Bunt (Physical)

At the risk of influencing the vote, I think this one here is my personal front-runner.

The surprise hit of the 2016 baseball card market was the emergence of the physical Bunt cards  With it's giant, floating team logos, minimalist design, and cheap price point, it charmed collectors all across the blogosphere and I was certainly no exception.  In fact, I felt that it's design should have been the Flagship template for that year.  Plus, as an added bonus, Carlos is wearing the Rock's purple alternate jersey, with a purple helmet and purple wrist bands.  That's a lot of purple and there's not nearly enough purple in baseball.

RIP Topps Bunt physical  😓

And there you have it, my newfound Carlos Gonzalez PC.  Like I said at the outset, I have plenty of options to choose from for my CATRC, if and when "CarGo" gets the call back up to the Show in Chicago.  Sure, there are no mega mojo hits - it's mostly just base cards and a couple of basic inserts that I've pulled while pack ripping over the decade plus - but that's good enough for me.   However, 'm still not entirely sure which card should get the honor of representing the outfielder in my favorite binder.  There are too many options!

With that, I turn to you, the readers of Wrigley Roster Jenga - which baseball card should represent Carlos Gonzalez in my Cubs All-Time Roster Collection?

Which CarGo is most precious?

2016 Bunt Physical
2017 Gypsy Queen
2016 Topps Update 500 Home Run Club Futures
One of those other ones, idiot
Created with QuizMaker

If you selected other, I ask that you please elaborate in the comment section below.  Am I stupid for eliminating the Kimball just because it's a touch too small or perhaps I am being too harsh on the All-Star jerseys?  Please make your thoughts known!

In the meantime, I'll be over here crossing my fingers, hoping that everything goes according to plan and Carlos is in Cubbie Blue within the next couple of weeks.  I don't need another Drew Smyly incident, so I guess I'll hold off on actually paging the new card until after he's officially added to the active roster and it can hang out with Kendall Graveman for now.  I hope that he is called up, not just so I can add his pasteboard to my collection - I truly believe that Gonzalez can help this team.  After all, he thoroughly enjoys hitting in Wrigley Field, as his eye-popping .299/.340/.588 slash against the Cubs attests.  Perhaps coming to the North Side is just the jump start the All-Star needs to get his game on and go play.

Welcome to the club, Carlos.  It's no secret that we need another outfielder - it's your spot to take!

Wednesday, May 29, 2019


I have two characteristics which truly get on my wife's nerves... okay, well to be honest, it's probably far more than two.  Let's start this over.  I have two characteristics that are related to today's topic which truly get on my wife's nerves.  What are they?

First, I am a scavenger and have been since that day in pre-school when the teacher taught us how to make pretty collages out of litter we found on the street.  Since then, I've constantly found myself picking up junk I find on the ground, be it football cards or the rest of the bric-a-brac which lines my junk drawer.  In fact, just the other day, my better half had to tell me to get out of the trash when she saw me eyeing a perfectly good printer in a nearby dumpster.

Second, my decorative style is more akin to TGI Friday's than it is to Ikea or a home goods magazine.  Rather than there be a cohesive theme or color scheme to my decor, my walls and shelves are plastered with disconnected bits of memorabilia and art.  Nirvana posters, pennants, photographs, 5k bib numbers, street signs old trophies, model cars, etc. are "strewn" about with little rhyme or reason.  Heck, there are even cheese trays nailed up on one wall.  In short, walk into your local Applebee's and you can see where I take my inspiration from.

These personality traits are polar opposite of my lovely wife and, god bless her soul, she has chosen to try and contain them rather than kill them.  Rather than forbid me from decorating any of our living spaces, she cordoned off my stuff to our mutual office space.  Instead of completely stopping me from lining my pockets with random junk, she has assisted me find better and classier ways to store and display my "treasures."  All in all, it makes for a happy and healthy compromise.

Out of this co-habitual harmony, Vaseball was born:

Throughout my years on this planet as a rabid fanatic of our nation's great pastime, I've slowly accumulated a girth of baseballs with which I had no idea what to do nor did I have any intention of getting rid of them.  Now, I'm not talking about my Hank Aaron signed sphere or my Thomas Ian Nicholas inked floater - those special balls are displayed in a proper location of their own.  Over time, this hoard of leather and cork has been building up on the shelves of my closet and spilling out onto shelves and desks throughout the household.  In all honesty, it was getting a touch out of hand.

Then, my wife stepped in and up. Thanks to this lovely vase that she purchased for me as a birthday gift, I now have a cozy (and contained) home for my misfits AND a way to properly display them in an almost Home Goods-like manner.  She's managed to turn part of my junk collection into a conversational display piece!

In case you were curious, here are some of the hardballs that are no longer in danger of being disposed of or stored away in the shadows:

First, some "game balls" from my Little League days that I re-discovered in a tote tucked away in my parents' storage shed.  They're silly; however, after all these years, it would feel wrong to simply toss out these little bits of my childhood.  Plus, I have to be able to prove that I had some good days on the diamond, rare though they might have been!

Next, we have a ball autographed by a few independent league players that I uncovered at one of my local thrift stores.  Sometimes I come across my junk in the gutter and other times I happen upon it while secondhand shopping.  I dedicated an in-depth post to this trinket a few months back, so I won't go into great detail here.  But, I was torn with this piece - no offense to these guys, but it didn't feel worthy of being displayed with the rest of my "John Hancocked" orbs.  Plus, I didn't obtain the autos myself, which makes them a little less special, in my eyes.

That being said, I didn't think I could jettison a ball signed by bonafide pros with which I actually had some minor connections to (details in that post), so this bit of memorabilia occupied a sort of purgatory in my collection.

No longer!

Furthermore, I've been sitting on a small "fortune" of foul balls from the local minor league stadium, occupied by the Windy City Thunderbolts of the indy Frontier League.  Having been to many contests at the park throughout the past two decades, I've managed to grab a few of these ovoids at sparsely attended games.  I don't care how old you are, there's a special thrill in nabbing a foul ball at the ol' ballpark... as long as you aren't depriving a child, after all.

Granted, individually, there is nothing unique or special about these souvenirs and the thrill has long since passed.  Again, this is what put them in danger of being on the chopping block.  Thankfully, this vase brought with it a desperately welcomed stay of execution!

This is certainly the most... let's say, weathered... ball in my possession.  A couple of years ago, our friends got married near the border of the Carolinas and we made our way down south for the festivities.  Let me just tout my wife again here - on our way back to the airport in Myrtle Beach, she suggested we stop by the home field of the Cubs-affiliated Pelicans ballclub.  Although it was the off-season, the facility just so happened to be open for tours and I stumbled (almost literally) across this battered orphan near the batting cages.  It may be hard to tell, but this is an authentic Carolina League baseball.  Knowing my scavenger tendencies, you best believe I scooped it up and stashed it in my hip pocket!

As you can plainly see, this is far from being a display worthy piece on it's own.  On the other hand, it holds a vast amount of sentimental value - a reminder of a beautiful wedding, a fantastic vacation, an unexpected side adventure, and a sign of how much my wife loves and cares about me.  Courtesy of another gift from her, I now know exactly what to do with it!

Finally, we'll close with another ball that I found abandoned nearby a baseball field.  I happened upon this Midwest Collegiate League spheroid in the parking lot of Oil City Stadium, the home of the Northwest Indiana Oilmen.  This college-level summer league team played right across the street from my former workplace and, as such, I have an affinity for the franchise.  While departing what was supposed to be a combination card show and doubleheader at the facility, I nearly tripped over this long foul ball on my way back to my car.

Again, I'm a scavenger.  There was no way this puppy wasn't coming home with me.  It was the unexpected highlight of the afternoon!

With that, we've reached the bottom of the vase.  There are a few filler balls that I have gathered from local parks, t-ball fields, and forest preserves, but nothing notable enough to showcase on Wrigley Roster Jenga... just balls left behind by kids when the streetlights came on.  But, thanks to the way I'm wired, I couldn't leave them stranded.  In the words of the great poet and wise philosopher, Popeye the Sailor Man:

And thank god my wife loves me for what I yam... errr.... am.  Although, she is also a fan of yams.

Is anyone else out there on the blogosphere a borderline hoarder like me?  Am I the only one in our community who can't help but pick up a shiny object or trinket when happened upon in the gutter or thrift shop?  Does anyone else find themselves looking at the walls of their local steakhouse and thinking, "gosh, this looks like my apartment."  Has anyone else discovered a clever means of storing their goodies like my wife's creation of vaseball?  Please feel free to discuss in the comment section below!

In the meantime, I might have to look into purchasing another one of those vases.  As you can see from the picture which leads off this post, I've already stuffed it to the gills and I don't plan on changing my ways anytime soon.

Tuesday, May 28, 2019

R.I.P. Billy Buck

Yesterday, just before the start of the Cubs' marquee series with the juggernaut Houston Astros, word began to trickle throughout social media that former All-Star first baseman, Bill Buckner, had suddenly passed away at the age of 69.  Apparently, the 22-year Major League veteran had been undergoing a previously unannounced battle with Lewy Body Dementia, a debilitating disease which attacks both the mind and the body at the same time.  It would have been nice for the Cubbies to go out and win one for one of their all-time great first-sackers; however, that was not meant to be.

Buckner's career was one of just a handful to span from the 1960's through the 1990's and thus made an impact on multiple generations of baseball fans.  To some, including our vaunted Night Owl, Buck will forever be the slow-footed, corner outfielder on some powerhouse Dodger teams, making a World Series appearance in 1974 and a futile attempt to climb the fence and catch Hank Aaron's 715th homer.  To other people, he'll be the poor, unfortunate soul who had a momentary lapse in concentration, which lead to perhaps the most famous misplay in the game's history, as a Red Sox.  To still others, he'll be remembered for his legendary plate discipline - the guy NEVER struck out three times in a single game.  How unfathomable is that, especially looking back today?  But, regardless, due to his ability and longevity, Bill left a mark on our favorite pastime's legacy that will never be forgotten.

To me, while I wasn't to enter into this realm of existence until half a decade after his being traded away, Mr. Buckner will always be a Cub.  After all, during his eight years in the Windy City, the man won himself the 1980 National League batting title (.324), made his only All-Star appearance (1981), hit an even .300 in blue pinstripes, and made a cameo appearance on the franchise's first playoff-bound club, as Steve Goodman once penned, "since we dropped the bomb on Japan."  Billy Buck was so tied to the team that during the press conference to announce his trade to Boston, the usually stoic ballplayer shed a few tears while speaking into the microphone.  As part of a franchise with a strong lineage of first baseman, from Cap Anson to Anthony Rizzo, Buckner was one of the all-time standouts at the position.

As part of this tribute, I originally planned to include a countdown of my favorite Bucky cards.  Unfortunately, except for those appearing in this post, I was unable to find any of them... which is quite odd because I know I have ton of his singles, owing to the fact that he was a semi-star who played throughout the "junk wax era."  That being said, at least the exception happens to be an exceptional car:

This 2012 Topps Archives  Fan Favorites autograph admirably serves as Bill's representation in my Cubs All-Time Roster Collection.  The clean and powerful follow through on what was likely a well-swatted double, the blue ink signature, the powder blue, "pajama" uniform kit, Buck's glorious mustache and the personal favorite 1982 Topps design are all factors that add up to an A+ grade in my eyes.  This is certainly a special card that I will now treasure all the more.

This piece of cardboard gold was a generous gift from Matthew, of the now sadly dormant Bob Walk The Plank blog, that blew me out of the water when I first found it in my mailbox in the summer of 2016 and continues to do so as we enter into the summer of 2019.  Thank you once again, Matthew, for what will now serve as a wonderful connection to the excellent Chicago Cubs first baseman.

Rest in peace, Bill Buckner.  Thank you for bringing joy to baseball fans for so many decades and for always being a classy professional, even when the waters were unjustly rough.

Monday, May 27, 2019

Long Time Coming

As if yesterday's 10-2 drubbing at the hands of the rival Cincinnati Reds wasn't painful enough, the Cubs lost two of their marquee names, for at least the next few days, due to an outfield collision.  Jason Heyward and Kris Bryant crashed into each other while tracking a fly ball and the latter was taken out of the game as a precaution.  There were concerns about a concussion for the Cubs' MVP; although, preliminary examinations have cleared him to travel with the team.  Meanwhile, Heyward has apparently suffered from some nasty bruising and hurt his hip, as both men have been held out of the lineup for this afternoon's series-opener in Houston.  As of yet, neither player has been added to the Injured List and fingers crossed that neither injury is bad enough to require such a stint.

Regardless, with both Bryant and Heyward not playing, a roster move needed to be made to fully fill out the line-up card.  Luckily, the Cubs had a glut of middle relievers and an open 40-man roster spot; thus, such a switch didn't require much finagling.  As such, longtime Cubs farmhand, Jim Adduci, has been called up from AAA to take LOOGY Tim Collins' spot on the roster:

Adduci has been with the Iowa Cubs since signing a minor league deal over the off-season and, prior to that, has seen haphazard time in the Majors with the Rangers and Tigers since 2013.  Additionally, he's also spent time in Korea, adding some international flavor to the back of his baseball card. Splitting his time between the outfield, DH and first base, the bench piece has been good for .235/.286/.340 slash line throughout his Major League career - not the kind of guy you want filling in long-term, that's for sure.  However, he is a warm body, with Major League experience... beggars can't be choosers, after all.  He's also slugging .478 in the Pacific Coast League this season, for what that's worth.

It sure would be nice if he could continue slugging like that in the National League:

Now, I hear what you're, no doubt, screaming at your monitor right now - "If Adduci was signed last winter, how can he possibly be a longtime Cubs farmhand?"  Well, that is an astute observation, imaginary blog reader, please allow me to elaborate.

Jim, the son of a Major Leaguer with the same name who is best remembered for his time with the Brewers in the 1980's, was drafted by the Marlins way back in 2003 - in the 42nd round.  The second-generation ballplayer was selected out of Evergreen Park High School, which is just down the road a piece from where I live.  The local product was then swapped to his hometown club, as part of a minor trade, a couple of years later and spent the rest of the decade as a trusted organizational guy, going up and down the Cubs chain as needed. 

The elder Adduci spent most of his MLB time with the Brew Crew

Adduci left the Cubbies as a minor league free agent after the 2012 season to find greener pastures and, now, after all this time, Jim will finally don a Cubs uniform in a bonafide, Major League ballgame.  That Cubs debut is going to come immediately, as he'll be starting in right field this afternoon in Houston:

Joe Maddon definitely likes to baptize his new guys by fire and the Cubs have a distinct lack of outfield options thanks to Bryant and Heyward playing bumper cars with their bodies yesterday afternoon.  While this situation is far from ideal, I must admit, it makes for a rather nice story to see a hometown guy make his long-awaited debut in the Cubbie Blue.  That being stated, I'm still hoping for a quick return from both Bryant and J-Hey.

Here's hoping that Jim does something Topps Now worthy with his opportunity - then, I can add a true Cubs card to my Cubs All-Time Roster Collection for the guy.  For now, the 2014 Topps single you see at the top of this post will have to do.  Luckily, for me and my CATRC, I had previously started up a binder that I called my "Coulda Been a Cub" collection, which featured cards of players who were once under contract with the Northsiders, but never appeared in an MLB contest for the club.  As such, I had myself a primo Adduci already set aside - now, much like the player it represents, this single will be "called up" to my most treasured collection.

Welcome to Chicago (finally) and to my CATRC binder, Mr. Adduci.  It's been a long time coming.

Saturday, May 25, 2019

Another Wave of Total

Just a few days ago, the third wave of Topps' reviled reboot of Total hit the web.  Without getting too deep into the weeds, the problem most of us collectors had with the return of the mid-00's, comprehensive beast had to do with the egregious price point ($10 a pack 😙) and it's online-only availability.  With all the clamoring certain segments of the blogosphere did for the return of Total, turning our beloved, bottom-shelf brand into a premium privilege felt like a crisp slap to the face.  Then, after the release, things managed to get even worse.

For as much as we are asked to spend on Total ($1 per card), it seems reasonable to expect a certain quality from the product.  The only thing is, when the cards started to show up in mailboxes, they've come with the QC one might expect from children's flash cards.  In verious openings, it became apparent the cards weren't very durable, with the gloss easily separating from the rest of the card. cards dinged up worse than a Vladdy Jr. autograph, and scuff marks dotting the surface of many pieces.  All in all, the whole thing quickly became a "Total" letdown.

However, I'm not going to lie and say I'm not a hypocrite - I'll certainly be tracking down soome singles on the secondhand market.  After all, within the first two waves, both Daniel Descalso and Allen Webster made it onto their very first Cubs cards thanks to this product.  I just wish I didn't have to depend on Ebay listings to come across them at reasonable prices and in a decent condition.  But, that's the way the cookie crumbles sometimes.

Anyway, the third wave of Total was recently announced and the Cubs quotient included three players who have already seen representation in other products - Jose Quintana, Mark Zagunis and Tyler Chatwood.  Sure, they're not overly common names to see in Topps products, but they are already covered in my Cubs All-Time Roster Collection.  That being said, coincidentally, the latest wave of my own version of Topps Total has just hit the market too and it's checklist digs a bit deeper.

As a reminder, I make these Total customs for each player who debuts in a Cubs uniform AND doesn't already have a Cubs card on the market - Bowman included.

First, we have a pair of LOOGY's who have made their Cubs debuts since I released my first wave of Wrigley Roster Jenga-edition Total.  So far, Collins has been good in very limited duty while riding the Iowa-to-Chicago shuttle (one run allowed in 3.1 innings of work).  In fact, his phone just rang again, as he comes up from AAA to provide a little more reinforcement to a beleaguered and ineffective bullpen.  Meanwhile, Xavier Cedeno, one of the few MLB signings made over the off-season to fix the crummy pen has been hurt, bad, and now hurt again.  Did I mention the relief corps is terrible?

Rowan Wick is yet another fungible reliever who has bounced between Des Moines and the Windy City.  Of course, his Big League action had been limited to a single game's worth of mop-up duty.  The catching convert has a live arm and minor league options remaining; so, it's almost certain that we'll be seeing him again in Wrigley Field this season.

Closing out this round is a retooling of a card released in my previous wave.  Brad Brach has been leaned on heavily so far in 2019, with his addition representing the only high-profile signing to the MLB pitching staff.  He's been fine... useful but unspectacular (1.734 WHIP).  However, I wasn't happy with the image that I used on his first card; thus, since I'm the grand poobah of this project, I decided to call for a mulligan.

The original is lined up on the left, while the updated copy sits on the right.  Which do you think is more appealing to the eye?

And with that, the Total project has been officially been brought up to date.  However, I sure wouldn't mind it if another roster move occurred at some point in the near future... maybe sign Craig Kimbrel to fix this dumpster fire of a bullpen?  Can we finally fire Addison Russell into the sun and call up Dixon Machado, who has been absolutely tearing up the Pacific Coast League?  I'd be more than happy to re-fire Photoshop and get going on Wave Four of WRJ Total.

Has anyone out there in the blogging world purchased any of the real stuff since it debuted earlier this spring?  Has the quality of your ripping experience been as poor as it's been made out to be on social media?  Have you bought total straight from Topps or did you do what I plan on doing and go through a third party?  Do you regret your purchase or are you pleased with your experience?  Please feel free to weigh-in on the topic in the comment section below.

In the meantime, at least Total is back, in some capacity.  That is certainly a positive, no matter what mitigating circumstances surround the return.

Monday, May 20, 2019

There Goes My Hero (Card)

This weekend marked my yearly pilgrimage to the famed Brickyard, the home of the greatest spectacle of speed this side of the Atlantic, aka Indianapolis Motor Speedway.  For the better part of the last two decades, my family and I have made the three-hour trek southeast from Chicago to Speedway, IN to take in the festivities surrounding the famed Indianapolis 500.   While we have never been able to make it town for the race itself, since 2003, we have made it our mission to see how the field is set for the Memorial Day tradition, coming to town to enjoy the Pole Day and/or Bump Day drama.

This year, despite the overly-rainy spring and the dreary weather forecast, was no different.  Although precipitation was anticipated throughout the late morning and afternoon, making the likelihood of on-track action a longshot, at best, we still loaded up the car and drove three hours down I-65.  The risk vs. reward potential was potent - the chance that we might get to see if Penske Racing could win yet another Pole Position and whether or not Formula One Champion and international superstar, Fernando Alonso, could actually get "bumped" from the starting grid of 33 cars provided a strong draw.

From the moment we parked, most of the day was spent under awnings and umbrellas, soaking up rain instead of intrigue.  Luckily, the Speedway has a sprawling museum within it's walls, which provided a welcome distraction from the gloom around us.

The facility is stuffed to the gills with historic vehicles and artifacts from the facility's 111-year past, including a special exhibit dedicated to the most famous name in American auto racing, Mario Andretti, celebrating the 50th anniversary of his only triumph in the Indianapolis 500.  However, that being said, despite coming face-to-face with the very Marmon Wasp which crossed the finish line first in the inaugural "500" in 1911 and the iconic Borg-Warner Trophy itself within the museum walls, it was actually something that I came across in the lobby that caused me the most wonder:

Nestled among the complimentary maps and spotter's guides scattered on the ticket counter, was this sole hero card.... and I took one of each.  For those who are not overly familiar with motorsports memorabilia, hero cards are basically over-sized trading cards that are used by drivers to fulfill autograph requests during appearances. Thus, coming across something like this at the country's most famous racing circuit, on the surface, isn't much of a surprise.  But, here's the thing...

Sarah Fisher is one of a select few women who has qualified for the "international 500-mile sweepstakes" and broke down barriers at the speedway as both a driver and owner throughout the 2000's.  This hero card showcases Fisher's racing team, Sarah Fisher Hartman Racing... which hasn't been to the track since, or any track at all, since 2014. Hmmmm....

A look at the reverse of this perplexing oddball indicates that our mystery card dates from the year 2012, a year in which she and her team provided future IndyCar Series Champion, Josef Newgarden with his first big break in the sport.

As cool as a find as this was, all I can think about is what in the world is a hero card from 2012 - a full seven years ago - doing here?  Was it left behind by a fan, who hoped to run across the famous driver and get her signature, while paying for their museum ticket?  Did a museum employee stumble across it in a stack of papers and tossed it out with the track maps to simply get rid of it?  Does Sarah Fisher sneak about the speedway and leave these hidden in secret places as a calling card?  The world may never know.

At any rate, this oddity is mine now.  Since Indy Car hasn't had a set of cards made since 2007 (and before that is spotty, at best), these hero cards are the closest thing to traditional trading cards the sport has.  I'm quite content adding this souvenir to my most "IndyCard" collection.  Maybe someday I'll even fulfill it's purpose and get Sarah to sign it in a future month of May.

Anyway, let me throw up a few pictures of what was found in the museum itself.  After all, I talked it up pretty heavily and then proceeded to blabber on and on about a random card I found in the lobby outside.

Ray Harroun piloted this appropriately-painted Wasp to victory in 1911, making use of the very first rearview mirror.

The most beautiful race car to ever hit the bricks - Al Unser's 1970 winning "Johnny Lightning Special."

Bill Vukovich piloted this roadster to victory in 1953 - he would tragically perish, while leading the race, two years later.

The Borg Warner Trophy awarded to the victor.

That's obviously a small sampling of what's to be found with the IMS Museum; however, I can't give away all their secrets in this silly blog post.  I will say, I've wandered around the museum many times and I am always awestruck by the incredible progress made in the automotive and racing industries.  Seeing all these eras of the race physically represented under one roof is an experience I can't recommend enough.  If you're ever in the area, I cannot recommend stopping by enough.  They're even open year round!

Luckily for us, a couple of hours after we wrapped up in the museum, the skies opened up and a little sunshine broke through.  Although, with more storms on the way, the window was going to be tight.  As such, the track-drying crews lept into action, fired up the fleet of jet-driers, and got the surface ready to go in just an hour and a half.  Lo and behold, there was racing, after all!

The drama was absolutely worth the wait, as well.  Lo and behold, the Goliath of Alonso and legendary Team McLaren were taken down by the David of Kyle Kaiser and his un-sponsored, single-car operation in the very last run of the qualifying session.  After witnessing that major upset, in person, made Simon Pagenaud winning Penske's 18th pole feel almost like a footnote.  The month of May began with Alonso's quest to win motorsports coveted "Triple Crown" - the Indy 500, 24 Hours of LeMans, and the Grand Prix of Monaco (the latter two of which he's already conquered) - as the dominating story line and, yet, he didn't even qualify for the race... beat by a team that didn't even know if they had enough money to make an attempt.  I do not think anyone could have possibly predicted such a shocking turn of events.

Team McLaren wheels their beaten racer back to Gasoline Alley shortly after being bumped.

Just a few minutes after the starting grid was officially set - we hadn't even made it back to the parking lot yet - the rain began to fall again.  Talk about perfect timing!  Considering the bleak outlook, the day could not have possibly gone better for us and our fellow spectators - everything worked out perfectly and we got a damn good show.

Now, the field of contenders is set.  All that's left to is to see who wins the 103rd running of the Indianapolis 500 this upcoming Sunday.  Rather than dodging raindrops, I will be watching the race comfortably from my couch, cheering on Graham Rahal and Sebastien Bourdais.

I'm glad I found that Sarah Fisher hero card hiding out at the museum, as it provided the perfect excuse to profess this on Wrigley Roster Jenga.  I have to wonder though, am I the only baseball card blogger who pays attentions to the goings-on of Indy?  Are there others on the blogosphere who enjoys the high-octane thrills of the greatest spectacle in racing?  Please feel free to revel with me in the comment section below.

This might come as some surprise, as I absolutely adore the Cubs and baseball (after all, I have this whole blog centered around the franchise); but, the Indianapolis 500 is my favorite annual sporting tradition!