Monday, April 8, 2013

My first pack of 2013 baseball cards

With this post, I start a new annual tradition--well, new if you ignore the fact that hundreds of other bloggers probably write the same kind of post every year--in which I open up my first (maybe only?) pack of 2013 Topps baseball cards and write about what I find inside.

I used to be a hardcore collector but went cold turkey for years and have been down to a pack or two a year lately. I loved a lot more individual players back then and were eager to get their cards, plus as a collector, the task of assembling full sets meant there were always certain cards to hunt down. Today when I open a pack, I'm basically looking for 3 things, in this order: 1) Any Pittsburgh Pirates, 2) Superstar players, and/or 3) A $5 bill. Hey, it doesn't hurt to dream, does it? This inaugural pack delivered 1 out of 3, and a .333 batting average is enough to get a guy a whole lot of fins.

It concerns me that the pack says "Series 1" on the front. Do these things trickle out in multiple waves all through the season? Collecting these must be a nightmare, and a pricy one at that. Back in my day (he said, adopting his best Connie Mack voice), there would be an UPDATE or TRADED set here and there, but you saw 700-some cards thrown out there by Opening Day and went at it.

You used to get a stick of gum with a Topps pack, and maybe it didn't taste so good, but it did have a distinctive, somehow comforting flavor, and of course it could also double as a weapon if a bully tried to run off with your Darry Strawberry rookie card. Nowadays you get a white piece of cardboard with a security tag on it, and while it probably tastes about the same, it isn't nearly as handy a weapon unless you nick someone just right with one of the corners.

The first card I saw was Jason Kipnis, and it was a cool action shot of him turning a double play and looking right at the camera as he jumps to avoid someone's slide. You know, there is a huge difference between the cards of today and the cards of 25 years ago, and not just that they're about 4 times as expensive. The card stock is thicker and the photography is crisper, making pics like this one stand out so much more. Is it as cool as seeing a player sneak an obscenity onto his bat handle and face it to the camera? No. But it's pretty cool.

Easily the best player in my pack--apologies to Rafael Dolis and Logan Ondrusek--is Giants catcher Buster Posey, a perennial MVP candidate and arguably one of the top handful players in the game considering how valuable he is at that position. Yadier Molina, another fine backstop, also showed up in this one. The third catcher in this set of dozen cards, though, was the one who got a fancy green border and a shiny gloss. That man was...

Kurt Suzuki?

Kurt Suzuki hit .218 and .267 last year with the A's and Nationals, respectively, yet HE is the one who gets the gaudy treatment? I guess the hobby has changed even more than I can grasp. If this is some kind of golden ticket and I somehow won a million bucks (I've already moved past that puny 5-spot), please let me know in the comments and I'll send you my 2013 Topps Ryan Cook.

One feature of this year's Topps is the fun facts on the backs of many of the cards. Take Dodger Dee Gordon. He was mentored by Barry Larkin. Thanks, Topps! The only thing cooler than a fun fact on the back of a baseball card is a fun facts accompanied by a cartoony illustration on the back of a baseball card.

A 2013 World Series card spotlights Giants P Ryan Vogelsong. I wonder how far Topps digs into the expanded playoffs. This particular subset is a good idea, but 2013 Division Series One-Game Wild Card for a Berth in the Division Series doesn't have the same ring.

I got a Jon Rauch card. He's really, really tall, and that's not a fun fact. That's just something I KNEW, some knowledge I thought I'd drop on you. This might good be a place to talk about the design of the 2013 set.  The front features a white background with a border that matches the team primary color (for example, Blue Jay Luis Perez's front has a blue trim around his photo), plus a logo--aw, I'm no graphic designer. Let's just say they look solid but not spectacular.

What stands out to me is more the back of the card. In addition to the fun facts, most players get a "Career Chase" item with their stat lines. For example, this blurb on Dodgers left-hander Paco Rodriguez's #99 in series 1:

"With 6 strikeouts, Rodriguez is 5,708 away from Nolan Ryan's all-time record of 5,714."

I may imitate Topps and put my own Career Chase totals at the top of my blog posts. Myself, I'm only 5,714 strikeouts away from Nolan Ryan's all-time record of 5,714.

Clearly someone at Topps has a sense of humor, and I for one appreciate it.

So there are the dozen cards I got. Was it worth the 2 bucks? Well, I got a mix of stars and not-stars, but the experience of opening that first pack and checking out the year's format for the first time can't be beat.

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