Wednesday, December 31, 2014

2014: The Year in Review

I was watching the Twilight Zone earlier today, because that's what people normally do on New Year's, other than drink, eat fatty foods, and reminisce. I was watching the one with Art Carney as the drunk Santa Claus.

I remember thinking "damn, wasn't I just watching one of these marathons?" They do them every New Years' and every July 4th. So the year went by so fast that I can clearly remember the last time I was watching a Twilight Zone marathon.

2014 flew by so fast that I didn't always have time to post about it. This was one of my worst years in terms of consistency, and I'm saying that up front. However, this was one of my best years in terms of customizing. I made more customs this year than I've ever made in a year before. I just sucked at actually posting them. There are probably a ton of football customs I never got to post.

Still, it's at times like these that I like to remember some of the best parts of this year, starting with the phrase "this was the year that..." So let's get on with it.

This was the year that no Philadelphia sports team made it to the playoffs. Thanks a bunch, Mark Sanchez.

This was the year that the Topps Flagship set did a bunch of things right, but ended up pissing off collectors for doing the same twenty things wrong.

This was the year that I kept getting numerous boxes of Stadium Club and Collectors Choice from the 90's off of I pulled a lot of cards of Tim Salmon. Man, people really liked that guy in the 90's.

This was the year that somebody other than Mariano Rivera closed games for the Yankees. Next year, somebody else is going to play shortstop, and that's going to kill me.

This was the year that everybody got excited when Panini announced they were reviving the Donruss brand...and then everybody ripped them a new one when they got 2014 Donruss instead. I bought a couple packs of the product, and it was bland. Like, even blander than Topps.

This was the year that a gay man was drafted by the NFL. This was also the year that a gay man was released by the Dallas Cowboys. Insert Tony Romo joke here. In all seriousness, I appreciate Michael Sam, and I appreciate his determination. I wish he would have played a game for somebody, because he's a great player, and deserves more than being a trivia question twenty years down the road. I hope somebody picks him up next year and realizes how much potential he has.

This was the year that the Royals made it to the World Series, and the Orioles almost made it to the World Series. Yet in the NL, the same two damn teams that always won it faced off again, and the Giants made it to the World Series for the third time in five years.

This was the year that Guardians of the Galaxy used music better than any movie had since Tarantino started in the biz. I swear, the scene where they land the ship landing on a murky planet, set to David Bowie's 'Moonage Daydream', gave me definite chills.

This was the year that John Rocker made me hate Survivor. And that's saying something, because Jeff Kent was on a few years ago, and he wasn't that bad.

This was the year that Topps came out with the best Heritage set in years, and the best Allen & Ginter set since 2009. So even if we bash them, they are improving.

This was the year that I didn't even go to a single baseball game. Sad, isn't it?

This was the year that I was close enough to be driven to the Super Bowl, rather than taking a flight, and watched the Seahawks play some really good football against the Broncos. From the way it's looking, they'll be back there in Arizona next year.

This was the year that neither of my two baseball teams made it to the playoffs, which is funny, because exactly five years ago they were playing in the World Series against each other.

This was the year that Topps released a Stadium Club set that made practically everyone happy, and brought faith back to this collector that Topps still had original ideas left in them.

This was the year that I went to college, in a little arts school near White Plains, NY, and started working towards my dream of being a screenwriter, all the while having a few packs of cards in my drawer on top of my dorm, ready to be opened at the end of the semester, as instructed in Sharpie marker.

This was the year that Topps released a sell sheet for next year's flagship issue...and from the looks of thing, we might be getting a pretty cool set. Only time will tell, though.

So those are the highlights of my 2014. Will next year be even better? Will I post more, or less, than I did in 2014?

I guess we're all about to find out.

Saturday, December 27, 2014

Uncustomed Heroes of Baseball: Reds

Look at Johnny Cueto. Even though his Reds ended the season in fourth place in the NL Central, which is essentially last in the division (because the Cubs were going to end up in last anyway), he had an amazing season, and continued his reign as one of the best pitchers in the NL.

Heck, a lot of people on the Reds had a really nice season this year.

For instance, Devin Mesoraco started the season as Brayan Pena's backup, and ended it as an All Star catcher, and one of the best hitters on the Reds. He's hoping to have another nice season in 2015.

Alfredo Simon was one of the Reds' other all stars, having a spectacular season, and getting enough acclaim for the Tigers to end up claiming him for next season, where he'll be part of the reigning mega-rotation.

And Jay Bruce had another nice season as one of the cornerstones in Cincinnati, hitting well despite an injury.

Coming Tomorrow- The Rockies were awful this year, but had a few highlights.

Thursday, December 25, 2014

Customs for Christmas: Red Sox

The Red Sox won the World Series last year, and celebrated by giving a lot of their best players to other teams. By September, you had a dilapidated, struggling roster in place of a pennant-defending team.

Xander Bogaerts is one of the young stars that will matter next year if the Red Sox want to compete. Sure, nabbing Sandoval and Han-Ram sure is nice, but homegrown talent that performs well is nicer.

And Koji Uehara is one of the best closers in baseball, and continues to be strong and consistent in the ninth.

Coming Tomorrow- Eventually I'll post the Reds' customs.

Customs for Christmas: Rays

The Rays lost their best pitcher this year, which was sad, but on the bright side they still had another great pitcher, Chris Archer, in their repertoire. Archer will likely step up and have a big season next year for the Rays.

Meanwhile, James Loney recovered from landing in Tampa last year by having another nice season, especially as a hitter.

Coming Later: Two of the few impressive Red Sox this year.

Customs for Christmas: Rangers

When you pick up two of the biggest stars on the market prior to the season, you don't go in expecting to finish in last in the league. Yet, that is exactly what the Arlington Rangers did.

I'd say it was sad, as it kind of was, but this team was the Yankees' real postseason nemesis the past few years. I don't think anything's justifiable, but it was a bit relaxing that the Rangers had a down season while teams like the Orioles and Royals did well. Of course, the Yankees had a down season as well, but still.

Elvis Andrus, now that every run producer on his team is gone, save for Adrian Beltre, has become one of the more impressive players on the team. He's a nice shortstop, and hits pretty well.

Rougned Odor, aside from having a fantastic baseball name, was one of the roughly three billion mid-season call ups the Rangers relied upon this season. Odor was one of the slightly more reliable ones, becoming a fixture at 2nd base by the end of the season.

Coming Later: The Rays had an alright season, but lost a lot of their huge stars. Their highlights are on the way.

Customs for Christmas: Pirates

I made a McCutchen custom earlier this year, but I figured since that one was an action shot, I might as well include a cool static shot, and this one is pretty damn cool.

The Pirates had a pretty nice year that was cut a little too short for my tastes. If I ran the world, they would have gotten past the Giants at the Wild Card level, but unfortunately that didn't really happen.

Cutch had a pretty nice season as well, even if it wasn't as awesome as his 2013 season. Still, it's McCutchen. How do you not love him?

Gerrit Cole had an impressive sophomore season, even if it was marred by a brief minor league stint. He was great for my fantasy team.

Pedro Alvarez is consistently great, so I wasn't shocked that he had another nice season in 2014. He's one of the more underrated stars in the league, as he's a pretty nice third baseman too.

I may be the only Vance Worley super fan, but I can still appreciate him as much as the Pirates fans can for his efforts this fall. He was a mid-season pickup that turned into a nice grab around August and September.

Neil Walker, seen here in one of the few batting practice shots this season, had another nice defensive season.

Finally, here's Mark Melancon, whose name I know for certain is not pronounced that simply, stepped into the closer role this year after Jason Grilli flew the coop. Nice job of it, too.

Coming Later: The few Rangers that didn't make Rangers fans want to turn on the Cowboys games this year.

Customs For Christmas: Phillies

It's been ten years since I've really said this, so I can polish this off: "man, the Phillies sucked this season."

It pains me that the team's gone downhill the way they have, and it pains me that Howard and Rollins aren't performing at their highest levels.

The good news is we always have Jonathan Papelbon to argue with umpires and occasionally nab saves.

Grady Sizemore as a Phillie was a sight I was hoping for about six years ago, but it's still nice to see the former Indian as an outfielder for the Phils this year. He's already been re-signed for 2015, which is nice, I guess.

Coming Later: A few standouts from the Pirates.

Customs for Christmas: Padres

This was, as expected, a down season for the Padres, but the future seems bright for the team, with the onslaught of rookies and the surge of offseason deals making sure that people will, in one way or another, be talking about the Padres next season.

Ian Kennedy was a strong, if serviceable, starter for the team this year.

Yangervis Solarte was a Yankees prospect shipped to San Diego in the Chase Headley deal, where he had a decent end of the season.

Odrisamer Despaigne was the August call-up that had a bunch of nice starts, and is being poised for a bigger season in 2015.

Cory Spangenberg will be dueling with Will Middlebrooks for the third baseman spot next year. Spangenberg is a highly praised prospect, so I'm pulling for him to take it.

Later on today, I'll be posting a ton of other teams' customs, so keep a lookout for them while you're waiting for your family to get here, or while you're waiting for the Chinese food to arrive.

Wednesday, December 24, 2014

Uncustomed Heroes of Baseball: Orioles

It was a hell of a year to be an Orioles fan, wasn't it?

These guys were inches away from a World Series, and I was pulling for them to make it. I guess the Royals were playing a little better at the end there, but that doesn't detract from the fact that the O's had a kickass year.

The guy above will be playing for the Mariners next year, but he was the O's' best offensive producer in 2014.

The reigning champion of Baltimore's First Annual game of Musical Catchers, Caleb Joseph was a nice replacement at backstop for an injured Matt Wieters, and while he didn't produce as much as Wieters usually does, he was still a nice enough addition to the roster.

Alejandro De Aza was a late-season roster addition, plucked from the depths of the White Sox lineup. De Aza was a really nice defensive and offensive outfielder, and will likely be a nice player next season, now that Nick Markakis is gone.

Zach Britton was the Orioles' closer this season, and had a nice season of it, making me forget about how awful Jim Johnson was.

David Lough was a nice utilityman addition to the lineup, and did well in the DH spot occasionally.

Wei-Yin Chen had another nice season, and is still one of the better starters on the Orioles.

After being less-than-perfect in 2013, Bud Norris had a nice comeback with the Orioles, pitching nicely into the postseason.

Ryan Flaherty was one of the two guys they tried at 2nd base, and he did pretty well for himself.

In my opinion, Jonathan Schoop was the better of the two, because he played the most games, and made some nice strides during his rookie season. I hope I see him a lot next season.

Coming Tomorrow- I might post a bunch, as it's Christmas and all, but look for the Padres to start it off.

A Christmas Eve Box of 2014 Topps Stadium Club

When a set comes out that you've spent most of the year clamoring about its golden days, and when that same set gets some of the most glowing reviews you've seen in a while, the only logical step is to get a box of it yourself.

Unfortunately, 2014 Topps High Tek was a bit too pricey for me. So instead I got a box of 2014 Topps Stadium Club.

Let it be known that I was super-excited to break this box, ever since I ordered it from Amazon. I'd seen most of the blogosphere break numerous boxes of the stuff, and share their favorite bits of photography from it. And I saw how outstanding this product looked, and got even more excited.

I broke this mini-box two days ago, and I'll say, without spoiling anything, that it outdid my expectations.

Let it be known that this was the very first card I pulled out of Pack One. So, already, they're throwing a New York Yankee at me, and it's a pretty nice New York Yankee too.

It's also a really nice photo of him. Sure, it falls into the category of 'subdued action', like a lot of current Topps, but making it full bleed, as Stadium Club was intended for, certainly helps the action.

Here are the other three base cards that came out of the first pack, of three solid stars, two of which have already been traded this offseason, one of which should be sticking around. Again, the photography is so crisp, so refined, that it makes you forget about flagship Topps.

One of the few basic inserts this year is 'Field Access', which reminds me of 'Best Seat in the House' from the '95 set. If the regular set has enough great photos, than this insert set has even more. This Verlander is not only shot well, but filtered well. Plus, it looks like he's having a great time.

Pack 2's first card, and most intense, was of Julio Teheran, one of the best starters on the Braves right now. I think the filters make the details on Teheran's face deeper.

This is a very nice base card. Not only does it feature great lighting and coloring on the yellows and greens, but it features a really nice throwback uniform. Plus, Starling Marte's a great young player.

I'm a bit confused as to why the border color is red, rather than black or yellow, but I'll let it slide.

Two base cards of two borderline hall of famers. Beltran's looks nice, as it's one of the few instances this season where he wasn't injured. Verlander's is cropped nice enough that it captures the full tension of the pitch.

Now...brace yourselves, folks. What I'm about to show you is one of the biggest pulls I've ever gotten out of a pack. It's not even the box's guaranteed autograph. No, it's better. Bigger, even.

This is a base variation of Sandy Koufax. It's a lot shinier than the base version of his card. This is, apparently, what's called a Foilboard Parallel. But that's not what makes this card amazing.

This card is numbered to twenty-five. This is a low-numbered card of one of the greatest Dodgers of all time, and one of the greatest pitchers of all time. This is an outstanding pull, and it made me gasp when I pulled it.

So yeah...two packs in, I've already got a nice hit, and I still haven't gotten to my auto. I'm in a great mood.

Pack 3 started with these two guys. I like the alternate uniform that Trumbo has on.

Now, these two had the photography that I'm used to in Stadium Club. Carpenter's is cropped closely enough to get our attention, and Desmond's is captured at the exact right moment. Really good stuff all around.

Our insert here is a Beam Team one of Andrew McCutchen, one of the best players in baseball right now, in a sweet throwback uniform. Again, Stadium Club is doing everything right here.

Pack Four started on a nice note, with these two AL West guys. I like Andrus' because it gets his motion in the right moment, and his smile counteracts the run. Cron's is a posed shot, but he's standing in front of a mountain, so it's all good.

This is a nice card of Adam Wainwright. The filters on this one are making it just dramatic enough.

I like the emphasis on retired stars as well as current stars in this set, and I like how the black and white cards have as much action as the color ones. This Duke Snider is a perfect example.

And cap the pack off with one of the greatest catchers of all time, Johnny Bench, in a Legends Die-Cut card that's pretty damn cool. I love this inserts in this set.

Pack 5 began with a sole current player, knuckleballer R.A. Dickey, and this shot is indeed pretty awesome, complete with a Canada Day alternate uniform.

But the other four cards in the pack would be all legends.

Four Hall of Famers in one pack. Sandy Koufax, Bob Feller, Babe Ruth and Willie Mays. All four of these cards are excellent. The Babe's is nice, especially considering that it's a photo that Topps hasn't used before.

The pack didn't have an insert, but the Babe is a one-per-minibox rainbow foil parallel, which isn't numbered, but still pretty nice.

Pack 6 started with one of the best defensive shortstops in the game right now, Andrelton Simmons.

Both of these shots are really good. The Crawford is a nice outfield catch shot, set against a background of Dodgers fans. The Maddux is a great, wider pitching shot, set against a well-colored background. Again, well done Topps on the photography.

Joe DiMaggio is our last base card of the box, and it's a pretty nice one, with a great black and white photo. Also, I can't not love a card of Joe DiMaggio. It's a law.

I wish I had done better on this auto, as I had to look up who Chase Anderson was. Evidently he had a nice rookie season, but compared to what other guys are pulling, this isn't great.

I'm still not complaining though. This was a fantastic box, a fun one to pull, complete with an amazing hit and really nice base cards.

I might be getting another box of Stadium Club, in some capacity, soon enough.