Saturday, May 30, 2009

A New Minor League Baseball Team in My Backyard: The Lake County Fielders

Although it is slightly off topic for a blog about baseball cards, I have to share my enthusiasm for the new Northern League baseball team that is starting next summer in Zion, Illinois. As a resident of the north suburbs, this is my closest team.

Lake County Baseball held a "name the team" contest in recent weeks, and just announced that Fielders was the winner. This name is appropriate, given that the owner of the team is none other than Kevin Costner. The team's logo certainly evokes thoughts of the Field of Dreams.

As a baseball fanatic, I'm excited for any type of baseball, but independent leagues such as the Northern League are baseball purity at its best. The games are fun for fans of all ages, and the players give their best every game. Also, the addition of the Fielders gives the Schaumburg Flyers a natural rival, which should make for compelling ball games.

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Topps Insert Set Review: 2009 World Baseball Classic Box Set

I picked up the 55-card insert set (not to be confused with the Topps Series 2 WBC set) featuring players from the recently completed WBC. The cards were obviously selected prior to the actual WBC, as noted by the card featuring A-Rod. For Hall of Fame collectors, there are cards featuring Derek Jeter, Ichiro, David Wright, Miguel Cabrera, Pedro Martinez, Chipper Jones, and Carlos Beltran. There are also several cards of potential HOF players including Adrian Gonzalez, Ryan Braun, Evan Longoria, Hanley Ramirez, Justin Morneau, Joey Votto, and Dustin Pedroia. For Cubs collectors, there are cards featuring Kosuke Fukudome and Geovany Soto. There are also several prospects featured, most notably Yu Darvish.

The set looks good, although some of the same images are used in the Series 2 inserts (such as the Darvish cards), thus negating to some extent the desire to collect both sets. The good part of the Series 2 insert set is that those 25 players actually played in the WBC, thus ensuring a satisfying insert set. But I have no complaints about this set. It's rare that you'll find an insert set featuring this many stars at such a reasonable price.

Monday, May 25, 2009

Memorial Day Special: 1991 Score American Flag

The 1991 Score set featured nearly 1000 cards, many of which were unique at the time (Jose Canseco shirtless, for instance). But one of my favorites was this beauty, which requires no description. Happy Memorial Day to all.

Thursday, May 21, 2009

Hall of Fame Tracker: Phillies Edition

Among the many National League hitters who are on a Hall of Fame career track, the Philadelphia Phillies are lucky enough to have three, if not four, potential candidates at the early to mid stages of their careers. With an infield consisting of Ryan Howard, Chase Utley, and Jimmy Rollins, the Fightin' Phils have plenty of talent to back up last year's World Series championship.

Of the three infielders, Utley probably has the best chance of making the Hall, based on his position and the stats he has put as a second baseman. Utley is hands down the best offensive second baseman in baseball today, with all due respect to Ian Kinsler. He may not finish his career with more than 2000 hits, but he stands a solid chance of setting the all-time record for most home runs by a second baseman. His most notable rookie card is a 2001 Bowman Draft Picks.

The biggest knock on Ryan Howard's Hall of Fame resume is that he had a relatively late start to his career and may not accumulate the key power stats. In many ways, his career may parallel David Ortiz, who was also a late bloomer and unfortunately appears to be on the downside now. But Howard is a huge force for the Phils, and there is no reason to believe he will be on the downside anytime soon. Howard's most recognized rookie card is the 2001 Upper Deck Prospect Premieres #62.

Jimmy Rollins is already on the verge of collecting his 1500th hit, so he is well on his way to a stellar career. Rollins was the 2007 NL MVP but seems to have taken a step back the past year and a half, due in part to injury. Rollins is still only 30 years old, but he will likely be overlooked as an NL SS the remainder of his career, assuming that Hanley Ramirez remains a shortstop (and a Marlin). Rollins' most notable rookie card is a 1998 Bowman Chrome #181.

Finally, an honorable mention goes to Cole Hamels. Hamels' postseason performance proved that he has true ace material, but it remains too early in his career to see if he will meet his potential. Injuries have derailed him this year, but he is only 25 years old. His most notable RC is a 2002 Bowman Draft.

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Latest Cubs Subset Additions: Donruss, Fleer, and Stadium Club

I've nearly completed my quest to own all Cubs cards from the basic Topps sets since 1978. But recently there was a deal on the Bay too good to pass up--8 Cubs subsets for essentially $2 plus shipping. Here are some highlights:

Fleer: I picked up the two early sets, 1981 and 1982. While neither has a noteworthy design (or players), it was good to see the plethora of powder blue pinstriped jerseys in the 1982 set. While the 1982 set may be better known for the Lee Smith rookie card, I particularly like the Jody Davis rookie. From the 1981 set, the most fascinating card is that of current Cubs coach Ivan De Jesus. He looks exactly the same now, almost thirty years later.

Other Fleer sets that I picked up include the 1989 and 1991 Cubs sets. The '89 set is pretty bland with a gray pinstripes background. It did include a Maddux card that I didn't have before. I feel that the '91 set is underrated. I really like the yellow design on the front, and this card is classic Dawson (even with those short lived road jerseys with the small Chicago font).

Donruss: while I am not a huge fan of Donruss cards in general, I did pick up the Cubs cards from the 1989 and 1990 sets. Neither design is particularly inspiring, and the backs of both years' cards are nearly identical. But many of my favorite players are featuring in these sets, including of course Grace and Sandberg.

Stadium Club: Finally, the 1991 Stadium Club set was one of my all-time favorites. These cards blew the competition away in 1991 with their glossy stock and full color photos. Stadium Club and Fleer Ultra should receive a ton of credit for the evolution of card quality and design in the 1990s. My favorite feature of the 91 Stadium Club cards is that the card backs feature a picture of the Topps rookie card of the player. For example, Shawon Dunston's card features his 1985 Topps card. Of marginal note, the only player whose rookie card was the actual 1991 Stadium Club card was Gary Scott (and I think we know how that turned out).

Tuesday, May 5, 2009

Latest Sandberg Additions: 2009 Goudey

While the 2009 Goudey design has been panned by many a blogger in recent days, I found the two Sandberg cards to be collection-worthy. One card is a "Sports Royalty" SP card. There is also an Ernie Banks Sports Royalty card that I picked up.

But my favorite is this card, which shows Ryno in his signature stance.

Sandberg is also featured in two 4 in 1 cards, one with fellow Cubs (Santo, Ramirez, Lee) and one with fellow second basemen (Utley, Kinser, and Uggla). I will probably have to pick up each of those as well.

Saturday, May 2, 2009

Retiring #31 Tomorrow

I am happy to say that I will be in attendance at tomorrow's Cubs game, and more importantly I'll be there for the retirement of #31 for Ferguson Jenkins and Greg Maddux.  Each of these pitchers is deserving of this honor, particularly Jenkins for his multiple 20-win seasons with the Cubs.  Seeing Maddux honored is always bittersweet, thinking what could have been if Larry Himes hadn't low-balled him with a contract offer in 1992.  But tomorrow is about a celebration, and I look forward to the festivities (not to mention a third straight Cubs win).