16 January 2018

2015-2016 ud champs hockey (but actually fish)

The fish that started it all. 

I don't collect many oddballs or non-sports cards. Movies and TV shows don't interest me to the point of putting them on cardboard and looking at stills when I can just watch the show or movie when I feel like it. Outside of baseball and hockey, I'm not exactly adventurous when it comes to adding new genres to my collecting.

This is probably why I tend to despise Allen & Ginter's and Goodwin Champions. The magicians, Frisbee dogs and generals of the Crusades is extraneous in a set to me. Others enjoy it, though, which is fine. There's always a niche in the world to be filled.

One major exception to this, for me, is UD Champs. Modern Champs has always had a maple-flavoured flare to it, and 2015-2016 was when this set really peaked. Aside from the nice base cards, easy to land on-card autos and relics, the inserts were Canadian-themed and generally pretty fun, ranging from Canadian food to natural places and even FISH.

Champs in 2015-2016 had a 30-card insert of fish of Canada, and I pulled three from - regrettably - my only box of this product. I was hooked. I knew I needed the complete set, but chipping away at singles ($2-3/each) wasn't going to happen. So I loaded up the old Ebay machine and found myself the complete set of 30 for just $13 shipped, complete with penny sleeves for each card and secured in a team bag.

I love fish, and to fish. Fish have always been important to me, bringing me closer with my Grandfather, dad, brother, friends and nature. I've learned lessons from doing dumb things to catch them, and learned more about the wild from a stream bank than I ever learned in six years of college schooling.

What follows is not a normal review. Sure, the art work is beautiful. The cards are *just* rare enough to elicit a chase. But this review is more autobiographical than anything else. Enjoy this one. I enjoyed writing it.

1. Longnose Gar

Gar are super cool. I've never caught one, but I've tried. Since they don't get very big around here, or are very common, it's difficult to lure the sleek predators in with something you're using to land something like a northern pike. The lineage for these guys goes back almost 100 million years into the fossil record. They are survivors.

2. Black Crappie

Crappie, both black and yellow, are pretty common around here but tend to "sink" to the lower depths of our lakes in the summer, into the darker, cooler water. If you know where to get them you can certainly land a lot at once. My only memory of crappie fishing was nearly hooking my dad with a jig on Salmon River Reservoir back in high school. He wasn't too happy about that.

3. Steelhead

You'll see it here plenty of times: I'm not a salmon guy, but they are integral to the aquatic food systems and sportfishing industry in the United States and Canada.



4. Bowfin

Bowfin is probably the most misunderstood fish in the checklist, along with burbot. I caught one when I was younger, a surprisingly strong fight from a fish only coming in at about 14". These guys can breathe out of the water, which confuses a lot of sportsmen when they throw them on shore but they don't die. Unfortunately, this happened often as Bowfin were often viewed as a junk fish, but luckily, this stigma has changed of late. Bowfin are now prized for the fight they give, and some people enjoy the meat smoked.

5. Brown Trout

46 Corners is an assemblage of state forests in Oneida and Lewis Counties in New York's Tug Hill Country. Mostly managed softwoods, 46 corners is a place not unlike the settings of classical American folklore of the Lumberwoods. Brown trout are abundant there among the 55+ miles of trout stream we frequented - strictly in a lawful sense* - of these state forests, as are hillside gougers, squonk, hidebehinds, and even the elusive snipe.

*I say "lawful" in that 46 Corners and the maze of gridded dirt logging roads through the area is where it was pretty easy to have an underage drinking party in high school - of which I was rarely invited, as I was a good little honor student athlete, of course.

6. Flathead Catfish



7. Chinook Salmon

8. Coho Salmon

I'm not a big salmon guy, never have been. Working on Lake Ontario has taught me plenty about these beasts and their role in ecosystem destruction and recovery as it rages its vicious cycle on the Great Lakes and beyond. Part of me is annoyed by them, but the rest of me is impressed with the effect they can have on lake ecosystems.

9. Bull Trout

Bull trout are westerners, so I have no experience with them. They are, however, a handsome fish and it is quite difficult to maintain their populations as their habitat demands (plenty of cover, cold water, deep pools) are hurt by the ongoing destruction of our wilderness.

10. Bluegill

Bluegills are everyone's first fish, it seems. They're easy to catch with a hook and worm and sometimes a bobber if needed, and there's millions of the out there. There's no fight in these shallow water panfish, and some say they're quite tasty when fried or grilled, but beware of the little bones.

11. Cisco

Cisco, or lake herring, have been an incredibly important fish in American history, and very few people seem to know about it. The first are integral to the food chain in the Great Lakes, acting as one of the main food sources for walleye, lake trout, and other predatory fishes.

12. Brook Trout

Brookies are popular where I currently live, where anglers don't have boats for open water and where public fishing access points are common. The State has been great at providing these sites of late, using money from fishing licences and fines (in theory) to provide access to all, especially, in recent years, to handicapped fisherman. Despite being severely undermanned, they keep doing great stuff with the personnel they do have. I've only really targeted brookies once, and I ended up with No. 30 on this list instead.

13. Carp
14. Lake Trout

15. Burbot

Did you know the burbot is the only freshwater cod or cod-like fish? It's true. I remember catching one when I was pretty young, through the ice on Oneida Lake. My dad called it a "lawyer" which certainly confused me back then, and even now doesn't make a whole lot of sense. There's a lot of things he taught me the name of that weren't 100% correct, but he was right on with this one.

Even then, we didn't appreciate burbot as much as we should. They're hard to catch, and sometimes this makes sportsmen appreciate them less. Not like the following...









16. Muskie

Now we're rolling. Muskies are the apex predator of North American waters. Take a gander at YouTube and you'll find videos of anglers reeling in nice northern pike, only to have a muskie take the fish for itself. They're notoriously difficult to catch and at up to 40 pounds they are a monster to get out of the water.

Here in NY, they're often cross-bred with northern pike into a hybrid monster, the Tiger Muskie, which is sadly absent from this list. A true marvel of the fishmaker's art. They are, however, sterile, and cannot breed in the wild, and are bred by The State purely for sport fishing.

17. Northern Pike

Northern pike are my favorite fish. Every year on opening day of walleye season, I secretly target them instead. Most don't enjoy the meat and personally I've never tried it, there's just something primal about this incredible predator of our mostly unknown aquatic worlds. I think part of it comes from their aggressiveness in striking a lure, often breaking the water's surface in their own moment of predatory maximum.

But northerns also represent one of my favorite, and most recent, fishing memories. I think it was over one of my winter breaks from college when I was ice fishing with my dad and brother on Oneida. My brother hooked something big, but we didn't know what it was.

"Take off your gloves" he said. "and when you see its head, pull him out of the hole." I had no idea what to expect, but I knew that he knew more than me and it would be worth sticking my hands into the super-cooled lake to take whatever lies beneath, not long after, the head of a northern pike made it into the hole, and I grabbed it, and threw all 30" of the behemoth onto the ice before it could use its 1/2" teeth to rip through my arms. It was, by far, more exhilarating than any other take of my life.

18. Pacific Salmon

Again, I'm not a salmon guy. I just cannot give the time and effort at this juncture of my being. Someday? "Pacific Salmon" itself is misleading in this context, a trading card checklist, and it's the one thing about this insert set I am annoyed by. You see, Chinook, Coho and Sockeye are all represented in these thirty cards, but they're all Pacific Salmon, just in different life stages and habitats. Now, I don't expect perfect accuracy in the scientific fact here, but this overlook could have been corrected and other fish species, such as the Atlantic Sturgeon could have been featured.

I'm going to use this space here as a brief plug for sturgeon, which we are actively looking to restore in NY State. If you would like to learn more about New York's programs into helping reintroduce and invigorate sturgeon in the Northeast, please visit NY Sturgeon For Tomorrow.

19. Pumpkinseed

Pumpkinseeds, like bluegill, are mostly admired by youth and not seasoned anglers. Despite being easy to catch, they're beautiful fish and as I have heard. plenty good to eat.

20. Rainbow Trout

I used to work on Skaneateles Lake in the Finger Lakes, and rainbow trout were a huge commodity there and in the tributaries of the lake. Every year, the town I went to school in stocks a couple hundred of these in the 8-10" range and kids get a chance to fish for free, and the fishing is good in the small, man-made pond that they toss them in. It gets them hooked early, and the beautiful rainbow-like coloration goes a long way in making that happen.

21. Rock Bass

Rockies kind of fit in between the sunfish (bluegill and pumpkinseed) and crappie. They are always fun to catch and are super common, and often are a food source for refugees in Syracuse because of that. It's not super-evident in the card, but there's often some red coloring around the eye, which when you hook them on a bright day, stands out quite a bit in the water. One of my favorite fishing spots behind the house I grew up on has plenty of rock bass. In the spring and early summer they sit on their nests, and just by dragging a lure by they will attack defensively, making them an easy take.

22. Green Sunfish

23. Largemouth Bass

There exists a rivalry between walleye and bass fishermen on our local waters. Basically, the walleye fisherman are likened to technicians, silent stalkers of a ferocious predators, where bass fisherman are mostly regarded as lethargic, beer-bellied loudmouths with too-fast boats, destroying wake laws and scaring all the damn fish away. And the stigma, sadly, is deserved.

Still, largemouth bass are fun to catch on occasion where you don't really want a challenge and I always am brought back to fishing flooded timber of the Salmon River Reservoir as a teenager with my brother and cousin. When the waters rise it's generally harder to catch fish, that is until they spill into the surrounding forests into 6-10" of water and graze the bugs and such of early spring. That was certainly a fun day, but the snags were brutal.

24. Smallmouth Bass

Smallmouth are pretty common on the river which I grew up, but I don't really have any specific memories of them, other than watching them swin lazily through the crystal clear waters of a place called Green Pond as a kid. Green Pond was accessible only by floating through an 8' culvert in a canoe. If you approached by land, you were trespassing, but if you're just floating, you're on state property.


25. Sockeye Salmon
26. Brook Stickleback
27. Golden Shiner

Well, this is a rough patch for me. I'm not a salmon fisherman and shiners and sticklebacks aren't fish sportsmen target very often. Shiners, though, are common in pretty much all swift water here and I've caught more than a few. Some might say that shiners and sticklebacks have no value, but that reminds me of an Aldo Leopold quote:

“The last word in ignorance is the man who says of an animal or plant: 'What good is it?” 

That's right, I've unwittingly lulled you into a conversation of ecology in the guise of a trading cards post. Devilishly clever, I must say.

Okay, moving on...






28. Walleye

Walleye is the fish of our family. The State stocks an incredible amount in the waters nearby, and the annual beginning of the season is a holiday. As a Little Leaguer, walleye season always started the same day as Opening Day - the first Saturday in May. The parade in down town, which doesn't happen anymore, would be lined with moms and dads in fishing gear, fresh off the water to watch their kids walk down main street, still decked out in hip waders or camouflage muck boots.

The sport carries on into the spring and summer, and especially in the winter through the ice. Out on the ice, dawn-drinking is the norm, as is freezing yourself to the bone with intent on landing a limit of three "eyes" or "walldos."

29. Yellow Perch

I would almost always prefer landing a perch, a cousin of the walleye. They're better eating, manageable in size, and are in much stronger populations here. They tend to school up, and with a daily limit of 50 per person, you can stock your freezer in just a couple of hours with a pile rivaling that of the beer cans next to the ice shanty.


30. Yellow Bullhead

I'm glad bullhead is No. 30. I've caught more bullhead than anything. They're fun, they look cool, and they're delicious.

When a river meanders across a broad plain, eventually the meanders are cut off an separated into what we call oxbow lakes. Whatever was inside the channel at the time fills out the population of the meander in the future. In one such meander, we found only bullhead, growing fat off bugs and other benthic goodies. Sometimes a pickerel would move in during high water and if the channel reconnected to the main branch of the river, but never enough of them to drive the bullhead population down.

Anyways, we used to drag our canoes a few hundred feet through cow pasture to fish these oxbows, which formed around Fish Creek just before it drained into Oneida Lake. We would bring two five-gallon pails each, one to sit on and the other to fill our creel. We would come home, sometimes, with 200-300 bullhead, sunburned, stinking of cow shit and stale lager. It was The Best of Times.



08 January 2018

i checked out my cards: baby jays


This is what I have been staring at since Thursday afternoon. With the Nor'easter spinning off the Atlantic Coast, a bunch of veeeeery cold air north of the Great Lakes was pulled down from Canada, resulting in about sixty straight hours of lake-effect snow locally. 

So on Friday I worked for home (for real!) and watched the snow blanket the area, and once my tasks were accomplished I took sorting more of my recent COMC Black Friday order. Previous entries can be seen here, here and here.

For this installment, we'll take a look at some Baby Blues.


You won't see any of Toronto's No. 1 prospect Vladimir Guerrero Jr. here, but Bo Bichette, another son of a 1990s star is no slouch, leading us off in his Bowman Scout's Top 100 above.

Sticking with bloodlines, I also picked up some sky-blue refractors from this 2016 Bowman. The sky blues look great with Blue Jays on them.


Reese McGuire, surprisingly, doesn't have a dad that's an ex-All-Star. Still, he's a legit catching prospect that came to the Blue Jays last summer when the Jays traded Drew Hutchison to the Pittsburgh Pirate in a very lopsided trade.


Leaf 2013 brought back some memories of the very early 1990s, and boy does this card lend itself to a nice inking.

As does 2014 Bowman Inception:


This year wasn't my favorite as far as Inception goes, but 2016 was tremendous with the celestial theming. Unfortunately, the plain gray swatch relic comes with an unsatisfying sticker autograph.


Still, that's a pretty fantastic-looking card.


Sean Reid-Foley had a strong debut in 2014 and was solid in 2015, but he hasn't progressed past Double-A yet in 2017.  The recent slowing of his progress and rank loss in the Blue Jays top prospects list means his secondary card values have dropped as well.

The same goes for Conner Greene, who also struggled with Double-A New Hampshire this season.


I've got a purple one of these somewhere, too, and a base green "paper" parallel. Greene throws a hundred but like many others that do, has trouble placing it. He's also buds with Charlie Sheen, which, well, take that as you will.


Bringing back this design of Bowman's Best in 2016 was a great idea. See? Topps can still swing it sometimes, even if they're just rehashing old sets and an insert.

Another reminder to watch your COMC inventory closely: I ended up with two of these. And the same with this one:


Alford led me to pick up another sky-blue refractor from 2016 Bowman, and with Biggio and Alford already, I might as well see what other Jays from 2016 Bowman I can grab. 

Unlike some of the Jays pitchers, Alford had a real strong 2017, earning a call-up this summer before breaking the hamate bone in his wrist and finishing the season at Triple-A. He played in the Mexican League this winter and did extremely well.


From A...to Zeuch. TJ Zeuch was Toronto's first-rounder in 2016, and as a bit of a safe pick, he had a great debut season in 2017. 


Beyond leading the Blue Jays pitching prospects in 2017, he's also a leader in the chase for the most pitchery of pitcher faces as well.


Finally, we'll end with Max Pentecost, the Jays' top hitting catching prospect. Pentecost has been kicking around the org since 2014, battling various shoulder injuries. One of his first cards was this 2014 Bowman Sterling autograph on a sticker:


And yes, it's that hideous in person. But us prospectors have to prospect.

Of course, as bad as this Sterling auto looks, the following is the opposite. 


No sticker, no terrible photoshopping, no chrome board - well, no board at all. This "card" feels almost like a piece of glass, but is definitely a solid plastic from 2014 Leaf Trinity, and hand-numbered at just 23/25.

It's thick, around 1/8", crystal clear, and the blue is beautiful.

To give y'all a better look, here's a photo rather than a scan, coincidentally with some stats of Pentecost's that I was using to write up a post over at Jays From the Couch.


Hopefully that gives a better idea of of the Pure inserts from Leaf Trinity. If you've got a favorite player int he set, I recommend grabbing one of these.

05 January 2018

i checked out my cards: the oldest of friends


Right.

Back to it. This is the 3rd Edition of "i checked out my cards 2017" Black Friday binge, where I hit the core players in my collection: Roberto Alomar, Carlos Delgado, and Ivan Rodriguez. Previous entries here and here. It's an Alomar-heavy crop, so if you don't like Hall of Fame second baseman, just leave. No one will miss you.

On to the cards.


The original Bowman's Best (1994) was basically a cacophonous version of Topps Finest, which was a huge hit in 1993 and the original high-end set. I don't remember their releases, but I can imagine they were hyped up back then. Bowman's Best had kind of a granite countertop thing going on beneath the chrome, which as a (very) young geologist, I appreciated.


The original Topps Finest was solid, but the design certainly hasn't aged well. There were parallels back then, of course, like this blue one (1 of 5,000!) featuring Alomar in the white-paneled Jays cap. Superb.


Topps of 1993 is an important set to me, not so much because I like it now, but because its the first cards I remember opening. The Blue Jays had just one their first World Series in 1992, and Alomar was a star. Black Gold cards were the first insert I remember aside from regular old Topps Gold, but they were the first with the hologram-style foil. Nearly 25 years later, I still love the Black Golds.

This time through my COMC Black Friday binge, there was something I was searching for in my Alomar collection.

Headbands.

Topps is still producing Alomar headband cards, such as the Archives offering from 2016. Not my favorite Alomar, but I'll take any one of him in the headband.

Like this 1993 Fleer:


Or this much higher-end 1995 SP:


And my current favorite, this 1994 Collector's Choice Up Close & Personal.


I'm pretty sure I pulled this card as a kid, but I was about eight years old and those corners are going to straighten themselves. I've replaces a few gems from my childhood.

This isn't one of them:


Ewww, Orioles. Bowman's Best was much more cleaned up and impressive in 1995, and while it's hard to tell from the photo, the quad-player offering is actually a refractor. Desi Relaford didn't make much of himself, but on the back is Craig Biggio - another Hall of Fame second baseman and Luis Castillo, who did have a nice career.

Okay, one more Alomar for the road.


I would have to put Diamondbacks Alomar as my No. 2 to Blue Jays Alomar, as his cards with them are pretty rare and given his long career, seems almost ridiculous. I've had my eye on this one for a few years. I must have been the only one who wanted it. That's fine.

On to Carlos Delgado! You might want to put your sunglasses on now because it's about to get really shiny around here.


I've always wanted an International Refractor, and a 1998 Bowman Chrome of one of my favorite Jays is a great place to start. Delgado is easy to collect in that way: his cards are affordable, he never played in an era of low print runs, and there's not a whole lot of competition for him. It leads me to pick up cards I wouldn't normally jump on, ones I just admired in black and white from the pages of Beckett, like this 2000 PACIFIC Prism (with an "S", that's how you know its good) Drops Silver parallel.


And man, is it heckin' cool in-hand. Prism from 2000 was a pretty set regardless, but this background pattern is especially fun. Shall we taste the rainbow?


Upper Deck (UD if you were a cool kid) Ionix was a fun one-and-done brand in 2000. The bend of this card gave it a good scan, but in-hand kind of looks like how a card would look if you somehow turned SURGE into cardboard and printed baseball players on it. Which fits into the style at the time


LOUD. Delgado spent just one season with the Marlins, but it was a very good season in which he hit 33 HR and drove in 115. As a 1B, the analytics didn't love him, and he only put up an fWAR of 3.3.

Also that year, the Detroit Tigers were very bad, but they had a very good All-Star catcher that season in Ivan Rodriguez. There's no Tigers cards to show here, just Ranger - but they are magnificent. We'll start with this absolutely perfect 1994 Topps Stadium Club where he's deck out in the Tools of Ignorance:


It doesn't get much better than that. TSC 1994 is a set I will have to complete someday. It's not as artful as some other TSC offerings, but the photography remained outstanding and the plastic-personalization name labels was so fitting for 1995.


In 2001, Pudge won his 10th Gold Glove. Upper Deck was getting more interesting with the memorabilia cards by that time, and the price was right for me, 16 years later, to grab this game-used batting glove card. 

Okay. You've made it this far, and you deserve something great. I give you: 1994 Upper Deck Ivan Rodriguez - Electric Diamond parallel!


Pretty cool, right? Pudge was so popular by 1994 that he warranted one of the best-looking cards in the set. However...

It.

Gets.

Better.

Are you ready? Good.


...






BAM.


We're not worthy. 

31 December 2017

takeaways from the return: 2017 in cardboard



I'm seeing a lot of "year in review" and "top however many of 2017" posts rolling in. Part of me is reluctant to do anything too similar to other writers in this arena, but I feel we need to step back for a minute, take a look at our surroundings, and objectively evaluate what's coming in 2018 for sports card collecting. That's what I am hoping to do here. No real show-and-tell, and certainly no puff piece of how rewarding and fulfilling card collecting is.

While this site goes dark sometimes, I've never really walked away from the scene. And after getting back into it heavily these past couple months, it hasn't really been encouraging. I wouldn't call the current trends in collecting troubling, as it's just too hard for me to take anything, especially sport and corporate-related, too seriously. But it's not great right now. Topps has done nothing but resurrect old sets and bury faithful fans with parallels, and Panini is continually putting out flawed products with banged-up corners and bad checklists - and doing it without logos.

Right now, the strongest part of the hobby is Upper Deck Hockey, and there's not much of a challenge. This feels like the deepest rut collecting has been in since the 2000s, and there's a lot of work to do to get back to what collectors actually desire, if that ever happens again.

We have some time before that exclusive MLB license expires - and likely, is renewed - before anything is going to change. That being said, I've come up with some thoughts and takeaways from the past few months and how I see things shaking out in 2018 and deeper into the future.

5. Get ready for more yankees.

Sure, you can go ahead and chirp the official Topps account by demanding more Brewers and Padres in sets, but buddy - it's never going to happen. yankees bring in the dough, and putting a yankee on the front of a foil pack gets that kid in southern Iowa to beg his parents to buy it, not Wil Myers or Joey Votto. It's all about marketability now, and the Cubs, yankees, Red Sox and Dodgers are king, and you're going to pull them out of pack whether you like it or not, because they are what sells.

4. Prospecting is dead for collectors

This one hurts. I'm always looking for prospects to get cheap and flip, to offset some of the cost of the hobby - which if you haven't noticed, is getting kind of ridiculous. Only like fantasy sports, the little guys, the casual collectors, are being forced out.

I have two Vladimir Guerrero Jr. cards. This is why.

Prospecting for the common man is dead. Have you checked the price of a box of Bowman Draft lately? I'll do it for you:

Only $.37/card! And hey, those three autographs are guaranteed to be players you'll see in the bigs before you know it.


Perfect.

Not to mention to get any refractors or someone who will actually see the majors, you're going to have to fill your truck bed with cases of the product and send your kid's college savings account over to pay for it.

3. Zombie sets are here to stay.

Topps Rep: What do you, the collector soaked in our golden shower, want to see in 2017?
Collector: We would love to see a set designed for set collectors, without parallels and inserts. Emphasize a beautiful base card.
Topps Rep: Good news, Gallery is coming back!

Literally no one asked for a reboot of Gallery, and when it did come, no one cared. Hopefully this one was a stark wake-up for Topps, but they're so tone deaf at this point that it doesn't matter. You're going to get rebooted sets with piles of parallels and short prints and shitty inserts. If you want a clean, beautiful base card, minimal inserts and nonsense parallels, you have to leave baseball altogether and pick up some Upper Deck hockey.

2. The hobby will always be dominated by money.

Prices are going to go up. Maybe not right away, but with less folks than ever buying cards, producers will have to compensate. Maybe it means more high-end stuff that costs nothing to release but they can still charge $200 for 10 cards. Maybe it's the continual rehash of old sets and inserts for those they lost in the 90s and 00s. Maybe it's a set for set collectors. Unfortunately, vintage isn't going to get cheaper, and eventually that market will dry up, and we'll lose even more people, which worries me a bit.

The benefit of this, though, is the weak secondary market and places like Sport Lots and Check Out My Cards. A few weeks after release and it's pretty easy now to grab your favorite players from high-end sets (if they're even in it, GOTTA GET THAT AARON BOONE IN!).

1. 2017 Topps was the worst flagship set, ever - and 2018 looks worse.


I've seen this card a lot in the past couple months, and I think I know why. One - it's a pretty good looking card, aside from the...whatever design of the text; and two - it might be the only memorable card to come out of Topps' 2017 flagship.

And, yeah. It's going to get worse before it gets better. We've all seen the yankees on the sell sheet for 2018 product, and assuming Topps will put one of the other 29 teams in there means it'll probably sell well, because there's nothing else out there, and we'll complain and buy and complain and buy and support the snake swallowing its tail and it'll probably be worse in 2019 as well. But whatever.