Monthly Archives: March 2013

Player Spotlight: Brian Cole

Remembering a tragic loss

You can be forgiven if you’ve never heard of Brian Cole.  You won’t find him at Citi Field or in the Mets minor league system.  He isn’t among the ranks of failed Mets prospects working for a shot with another club or in another country.  He never hung up his spikes and left his playing career behind.  He never got the chance to.  On this day in 2001, Brian Cole lost his life in a car accident in Florida.  He was 22.

Drafted in the 18th round in 1998, Cole moved up through the system quickly, finishing the 2000 season in Binghamton, only about a year or so away from the majors.  His performance up to that point earned him a rookie card in 2000 Topps Traded along with an autograph card in the same product.  Cole was set to be a fixture in the prospect ranks in 2001.

The first I had heard of Brian Cole was after 2001 SPX was released shortly after his death.  This product contained his only game-used jersey card, something that I thought was important for my collection at the time.  And that was the last I had heard of him until this spring.

You won’t find many Brian Cole cards out there.  Including the SPX jersey/autograph, he has just seven autographs.  His memorabilia includes the SPX jersey and bat and bat/autograph cards in 2001 SP Top Prospects.  After his autographs in 2001 SP Top Prospects, SPX, eX, and Finest, Brian Cole’s time in the hobby spotlight was over.

Twelve years after his death, the world is finally hearing the story of Brian Cole.  Between a Sports Illustrated profile of him in their Baseball Preview issue and talk of a movie, it looks like Cole will not be forgotten.  It seems like there should be more to this story, but that’s really all I have.  I had never heard about how great Cole was until I read the stories over the last few days.  Back in 2001, the vast resources we now have to follow every detail of every aspect of baseball just did not exist.  Now though, we have no excuse.  And so I’m posting this, incomplete as it is, to make sure that my little corner of the world has a place to remember a prospect that never had a chance to make his mark in New York City.

Brian Cole wasn’t the first prospect to die in a tragic car accident and, sadly, will not be the last.  Some are struck down through no fault of their own, while others tempt fate through reckless actions.  After a spring when a prospect was arrested while driving 111mph while intoxicated, it seems like history is determined to repeat itself.  That one will get another chance, but there’s still a message that needs to be sent.  No matter how good you are, your future is never guaranteed.

Opening Day Graphics Warmup

GIFfin’ ain’t easy

After a long, dark winter and a (seemingly) longer spring training, it’s finally here. We finally get to see games that count with lineups loaded with backups and journeymen filling in for the injured and prospects held back to wait out the arbitration clock. Baseball’s back!

Yeah, these games might not matter that much if you’re a fan of a team that has its sights set on 2015. Or a payroll of $20,150,000 if you’re a fan of the Astros or Marlins. That doesn’t mean we can’t have fun, though you should really get warmed up before any game activity. Since most of us won’t be getting closer to a game than discussion threads on blogs, that means getting ready to jump in with appropriate imagery based on the situation. I’m never up on the latest memes, but I do have some handcrafted GIFs suitable for all occasions. While this is not the most comprehensive collection of baseball GIFs, they should play smoothly. Beyond that, I guarantee nothing.

Read on for many more.

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Product Spotlight: 2012 Panini Elite Extra Edition

Sharper cuts, fewer stickers, and a double dose of Koch

Still slightly chronologically challenged, Elite Extra Edition’s 2012 product is out with everything you would expect.  If you’re familiar with last year’s product, you already know what’s in here.  Lots of prospect autographs, die-cut parallels, and no team names or logos (except for the Under Armor logo for Cecchini).  That’s the price you pay when you go up against the Topps monopoly.


The autographs look just like the base cards, so let’s just skip the base cards and go straight to the autos. The base autographs are split into two subsets: the first 100 are Franchise Futures sticker autographs and the last 100 are Prospects on-card autographs.  Aside from the type of autograph, the only real difference between the two subsets is that the Prospects cards tend to feature earlier round draft picks.  Numbering on these varies between 299 and 795 copies.

Mets featured in the Franchse Futures subset include Matt Koch (3rd round), Branden Kaupe (4th round), and Logan Taylor (11th round).

Not shown: Kevin Plawecki (redemption)

Mets featured in the Prospects subset include Gavin Cecchini (1st round), Kevin Plawecki (1st round supplemental, redemption cards only), Matt Reynolds (2nd round), and, again, Matt Koch (3rd round).  That’s right, Matt Koch has both sticker and on-card autographs in this product for some reason.  I guess Panini just really likes Koch.  Redemptions for Plawecki is a bit disappointing, especially considering that Topps featured his autographs in Bowman Draft and Bowman Sterling (they did however resort to redemptions for Matt Reynolds, while Panini has his autos here on-card, the first of his pro career).


Once again, Panini has ink color and die-cut parallels of the base autographs.  Ink colors include red (#d/25) and green (#d/10).  Autographs are on stickers for Franchise Futures and are on-card for Prospects.

Not Shown: Aspirations, Black Status

Die-cuts include Aspirations (#d/100), Blue Status (#d/50), Green Status (#d/25), Orange Status (#d/10), Gold Status (#d/5), and Black Status (#d/1).  This year’s die-cuts are more interesting than last year’s and the on-card autos continue through all of the Prospects parallels (unlike last year, when stickers were used for some).  All Franchise Futures parallels continue to be sticker autos.


Two Mets prospects are featured on insert autographs, both on stickers.  Matt Reynolds is featured in the Elite Series (#d/199), while Logan Verrett returns as the only member of the 2011 draft class with an autograph in this product in the Back to the Future insert set (#d/48).


It’s hard to find much improvement here over last year’s EEE.  The die-cut pattern is a bit more dramatic and there are a lot more on-card autographs, but the rest of the product is more of the same.  It certainly gets points for featuring six members of the Mets’ 2012 draft class, particularly with on-card in-product autographs from Matt Reynolds and the first autographs from Matt Koch, Branden Kaupe, and Logan Taylor.  However, the first round picks were starting to get boring when Bowman Sterling was released in December, so the big names weren’t much of a draw by the time January came around.  Add in the lack of an MLB license and it’s hard to see this as anything but second-rate.  I love this product for its supply of cheap prospect autographs, but it doesn’t seem to aspire to be anything more.

Five Must-Have Mets Cards

Cornerstones of any Mets collection

You know, I’m not doing enough fluff pieces on here.  While I continue to scan cards for some more significant pieces, here’s a quick look at a few nice Mets cards.  If you want to berate me for not including any cards from Tom Seaver, Gary Carter, David Wright, or Victor Zambrano, feel free to leave a comment with your suggestions.  Maybe I’ll even throw another of these together to fill space sometime.

1997 Upper Deck Game Jersey Rey Ordonez GJ3

There are few more significant jersey cards in baseball card history than Ordonez’s 1997 Game Jersey insert.  Actually, there are two, number GJ1 and number GJ2 from this set.  Ordonez is the odd man out in the debut jersey card set behind Ken Griffey Jr. and Tony Gwynn.  Still, this is the first piece of Mets jersey issued in a baseball card and helped to usher in a new era of collecting.

2000 Upper Deck Game Jersey Patch Mike Piazza P-MP

While Rey Ordonez has the distinction of having the first Mets jersey card, Mike Piazza became the first Met with a patch card in 2000 (let’s not talk about 1998 and 1999, at least not until I finish the next Mets Game-Used History segment).  Nearly impossible to pull at the time, this card still commands a decent price despite the multitude of Piazza patch cards on the market.  There’s only one first and this one is it.  Piazza has gone on to have countless patch cards released and more than 60 other Mets players have joined him.

2001 Upper Deck Signed Game Jersey Nolan Ryan Mets H-NRm

Nolan Ryan may be one of the biggest stars to come up through the Mets system, but he didn’t really do much as a Met. That doesn’t stop the card companies from celebrating Ryan’s time on the team though. Pieces of one of Ryan’s Mets jerseys (flannel pinstripes) began showing up in cards as early as 2000, typically depicting him in a Rangers uniform. Upper Deck gave all of Ryan’s teams their proper respect in 2001’s Game Jersey inserts. Between the base jersey, signed jersey, and dual jersey inserts, Ryan was featured in every uniform with pieces from the appropriate jersey. This Mets version includes a large (by today’s standards) swatch of pinstriped jersey with an on-card autograph. Short of an autographed Mets patch card (see 2011 Topps), this is about as good as it gets for Ryan memorabilia.

2010 Upper Deck A Piece of History 500 Club Gary Sheffield 500HR-GS

Gary Sheffield became the first player to hit his 500th home run as a Met in 2009 and Upper Deck commemorated it in 2010 with the final entry (so far) in the A Piece of History 500 Club bat card insert set. As with the other cards in this product, the card features barely cropped and/or obscured logos, which Upper Deck was not allowed to use. The product may have doomed Upper Deck, but this card remains a key piece of Mets history.

2011 Topps Marquee Titanic Threads Jumbo Relics Carlos Beltran TTJR-69

Released after Beltran had been traded to the Giants, this card might seem a bit out of place.  Its significance however cannot be overstated.  The included jersey swatch, big enough to feature three pinstripes on some versions, isn’t notable just because Carlos Beltran wore it.  The Beltran jersey cards in this product are in fact the only cards to feature a piece of Mets pinstripe jersey worn between about 2009 and 2011.  All others are either from before the recessed mesh style Cool Base jerseys were adopted or after the Cool Base formula changed to a more standard weave for the 2012 season.

My Take on the 2013 Mets

Wait, someone wants to know what I think?

One of the perks of having a baseball blog is getting bloggers from other teams asking for your thoughts on your team.  Trust me, it’s a lot more exciting than it sounds.  While this blog isn’t getting much of any attention, I (along with probably every Mets blogger out there) did get a request from Daniel Shoptaw at C70 At The Bat for some thoughts on the Mets going into the 2013 season.  I am in no way qualified to provide expert analysis on the subject, but I have never let that stop me before, so why start now?

You can read the answers from six other Mets bloggers at Playing Pepper 2013: New York Mets.

1. How would you grade the offseason?

Based on expectations and the meager offerings on the market, a B- sounds fair, if a bit on the high side.  It’s tempting to grade them lower for not making any flashy moves, but it’s not like the flashy moves they’ve made in the past have worked out all that well.  They kept Wright, grabbed one of the top catching prospects in baseball, and picked up plenty of cheap options for the outfield and the bullpen.  Losing R.A. Dickey is tough, but the package the Blue Jays were offering was too good to pass up.  Not only did the Mets hang on to all of their hot young pitchers, but they picked up another one to add to the crowded single A ranks.  Most importantly, they didn’t throw big contracts at bit parts, going with plenty of non-roster invites (NRIs) over multi-year deals.  It’s not ideal, but it leaves the team in a good position to add pieces when better options become available.  It’s worth noting that this is the first offseason in which Sandy Alderson has not signed a reliever to a multi-year deal.  This is a huge improvement considering that the last two were D.J. Carrasco and Frank Francisco.  Travis d’Arnaud looks to be the catcher of the future while John Buck provides a legitimate veteran presence behind the plate.  The outfield still looks terrible, but did you see the amount of money that was getting thrown around for even moderately decent outfielders?  Now is not the time to be signing the next Jason Bay, the last one is still on the books.

What really matters though is how these guys look in cards.  Shaun Marcum has some nice Brewers jersey swatches, John Buck is a big win in terms of game-used memorabilia with pieces of jerseys from the Royals, the Astros, the 2002 Futures Game, and the 2010 All-Star Game on top of bat, glove, chest protector, and shin guard swatches, and d’Arnaud is a bit disappointing with only some red jersey swatches so far, but most of the NRIs aren’t any better.

The exception is Marlon Byrd, who has an astounding amount of game-used memorabilia to his name from his time with the Cubs and the Phillies.  I really hope he makes the team just so I justify having what I’ve already bought on speculation.

2. Will Johan Santana be back to his old form this season?

It doesn’t really matter.  The Mets aren’t expected to contend this year and this is the last year of his contract, plus he already gave us a no-hitter last year.  It’s been a good but not great run from Santana thus far, so it would be nice to see him finish strong.  Best case scenario, he comes back in top form and gets dealt in July for an outfield prospect, with the Mets eating most of his remaining salary and Zack Wheeler taking his spot in the rotation.  Worst case scenario, he has a setback early in the season and Jenrry Mejia/Collin McHugh/Jeremy Hefner fills in for him until Wheeler is ready.  Most likely, he’ll be good for 100 or so innings as long as he stays away from Reed Johnson.

3. What did it mean to you that the team signed David Wright to an extension?

More than it should.  This team has a terrible history when it comes to keeping star talent.  Even the Astros have had decent luck holding on to their stars for the duration.  You have to remember that the Mets lost The Franchise not once but twice and just last year let Jose Reyes (briefly) go to the Marlins without so much as making him an offer.  The only Mets star to spend an entire career with the team is Ed Kranepool; Wright is second on the list by games played, with current Mets Daniel Murphy and Ike Davis also in the top ten.  I love Kranepool, but that is just sad.  With almost no payroll committed past this season, there was simply no excuse for not locking Wright up for the rest of his quality years.

4. What rookie will make the biggest impact in 2013?

There are really only two options here, Zack Wheeler and Travis d’Arnaud.  d’Arnaud has the potential to be a star at a position that has been a problem area for the Mets since Mike Piazza’s departure, while Wheeler has the potential to be the ace in a rotation with some very underrated young pitchers.  The need is greater for d’Arnaud, but I see Wheeler having more impact on a team that is likely to be in pretty bad shape late in the season.

5. What will be the final record of the team and where will they finish in the division?

76-86, 4th in the NL East ahead of the Marlins.  3rd would be nice, but the Phillies don’t have enough experience with late-season collapses to out-collapse the Mets.  Last year they got it completely backwards, almost finishing with a winning record.  They’ve made some great moves this offseason to improve their ability to disappoint, but they’re still at least two or three years away from contending for last place.

Seriously though, the real test for this team isn’t going to be about their record or where they place in the division, it will be whether they can keep from dropping off like a rock after the All-Star game.  They were still in contention last year at the break, then they forgot how to win games and were a lost cause by the trade deadline.  This has been the trend for several years now and needs to stop before the Mets can ever be considered a contender, regardless of how many Wild Card teams are added.

6. What one thing from your team are you most looking forward to watching?

In abstract terms, the unexpected.  Last season brought us a no-hitter from Johan Santana and a 20-win season and Cy Young award from R.A. Dickey, not to mention the debut of Matt Harvey and David Wright getting back to being David Wright.  Even with so much going wrong, there were plenty of bright spots.  If you were at Citi Field for the final home game of the season when R.A. Dickey struck out 13 on the way to his 20th win, you wouldn’t have thought that this was a team wrapping up another lost season.

In more specific terms, I’m really looking forward to seeing a (hopefully) full healthy season from Ike Davis.  Looking at his final line from last year (.227/.308/.462, 32 HR), you don’t get a full appreciation for just how terrible he was from the start of the season until I posted this in June (.167/.248/.285, 5 HR in 206 PA).  His performance from that point on (.261/.341/.562, 27 HR in 378 PA) was enough to bring him up to mediocre on the year, but a full season at that level would be a real treat.  A hot start to the 2013 season could give David Wright some company at the All-Star Game at Citi Field this year.

And then there are the unanswered questions.  Can Jordany Valdespin make it as a big leaguer?  Is there a position for Wilmer Flores?  Will Jeurys Familia live up to his high expectations?  And will we ever settle on a pronunciation of “Jeurys?”  Who will settle into the closer role?  How quickly will the hot arms at single A make it up through the system?  Will playing in Las Vegas (AAA) cause any problems?  Will a major league outfield appear in Citi Field by the end of the season?  There’s a lot to look forward to, even if this season turns out like the last few.  It’s baseball, isn’t that enough?