Monthly Archives: April 2014

13 April 2014 – Binghamton Mets at New Hampshire Fisher Cats

He’s the walking man, born to walk, walk on walking man

Matt Clark watches one of 20 balls he saw on Sunday

Matt Clark is not the fastest runner on this team.  Twice this series, Clark grounded out on plays with less than stellar fielding.  He also had two home runs, so that brisk jog is working rather well for him.  In the series finale though, Clark proved that the eye is mightier than the leg with five straight walks, two of which eventually brought him around to score.  All that walking pushed the game time past the three hour mark despite a lack of offense on the opposing side as the Mets finished off the series with a 6-0 win over the Fisher Cats.

Box Score

Hansel Robles hasn’t seen his prospect status rise since his playoff run two years ago on the all-star Brooklyn Cyclones rotation.  He hasn’t gone bust either, but this outing illustrated why he’s in prospect limbo.  At times, he was lights out, with six strikeouts over five shutout innings, two of which saw the Fisher Cats go down in order.  It took him 81 pitches to get through those five innings though, two of which ended with the bases loaded.  It was a mixed bag of an outing that left the B-Mets bullpen on the hook for another four innings.

Travis Taijeron frequently looked lost on the basepaths

New Hampshire pitcher Aaron Sanchez had a few problems of his own, but fastball speed sure wasn’t one of them.  At 92-95, Sanchez’s fastball was easily the fastest of the series.  Speed alone wasn’t enough though; the Mets put runners in scoring position in each of the first two innings but failed to score because of double plays and baserunning blunders like Travis Taijeron getting a late read on the stop sign after rounding second and getting caught with nowhere to go.  Taijeron would find himself in a similar situation later in the game when he rounded second on a fly ball that was caught and couldn’t get all the way back to first base in time.  The lane from second to third claimed another victim in the 8th when Wilfredo Tovar saw the runner ahead of him hold up at third and turned around to see second base occupied.  Tovar held perfectly still between second and third and went unnoticed for a short time before someone realized that the count of runners vs. bases was off.  Looks like Binghamton will be working on some baserunning drills…

Dustin Lawley follows Matt Clark’s walk with a HBP

After going down in order in the third, the B-Mets got on the board in the fourth inning without putting a ball in play.  After Matt Clark took his customary walk, Aaron Sanchez hit the next two batters to load the bases and then used a 95mph fastball to walk in the game’s first run.  After giving up a sac fly and an RBI single, Sanchez struck out Darrell Ceciliani to end his outing on a high note.

Brad Glenn strikes out to end the 5th inning

Robles got into his biggest jam in the 5th when Mike Crouse hit a ground ball down the right field line that veered into the New Hampshire bullpen and settled under a tarp.  Crouse reached third by the time Travis Taijeron was able to dig the ball out from under the tarp but the ball was never ruled dead.  Binghamton Manager Pedro Lopez came out to argue, to no avail.  Robles, clearly flustered by the situation, got the next batter to ground out and then hit Kenny Wilson with a pitch, drawing words from the home plate umpire.  A strikeout, stolen base, and walk loaded the bases with two outs, but Robles struck Brad Glenn out to end the inning with a smile.

Cody Satterwhite took over to pitch the 6th and 7th innings, giving up just one hit in that span.  John Church struck out the side in the 8th and Jon Velasquez pitched a perfect 9th to secure the shutout victory.  That side of the game went quickly, but the top half of each inning slowed the pace considerably.

Dustin Lawley finds a less painful way to get on base

While the Fisher Cats only managed a lone single over the final third of the game, the B-Mets put runners on second and third in three straight innings.  Darrell Ceciliani scored on a passed ball in the 7th, but that was the only Mets run in the final third until Dustin Lawley doubled in a run with nobody out in the 9th.  Cory Vaughn drove in the game’s final run with a pop fly before the B-Mets stranded Lawley at third.

This lopsided story left me nothing to say about Jon Velasquez.  So here he is, presented without comment.

Mike Crouse strikes out to end the game

10 April 2014 – Binghamton Mets at New Hampshire Fisher Cats

The B-Mets go balls to the (center field) wall

The last time I saw Darin Gorski, the Fisher Cats jumped all over him for 9 runs in 4+ innings.  Two years later, Gorski is back in control despite a fastball that tops out around 88mph.  Like the pitcher in Big Windup though, He was able to use what he had effectively enough to strike out 10 while only giving up one unearned run in 6 innings of work.  That one run wasn’t enough to beat a B-Mets offense that seemed to have it out for the 400ft deep center field fence and produced 9 runs to give the Mets an easy win.

Box Score

The last time I saw Kevin Plawecki, he struck out looking (and swearing) to end the game in a Cyclones loss.  Plawecki was swinging away on Thursday night, though his first attempts weren’t pretty.  He then grounded out to third three times in a row before finally reaching base on an error in the 9th to cap an 0-5 night.  Defensively, he didn’t fare much better, producing the lone run for the Fisher Cats.

Binghamton started the center field assault in the top of the second when Jayce Boyd bounced one off the wall for a double.  Fisher Cats center fielder Kenny Wilson jumped into the wall after it but was unable to make the grab.  Dustin Lawley then put one over the left field wall to give the B-Mets a 2-0 lead.

Meanwhile, Darin Gorski was dealing, ending both the second and third innings on swinging strikeouts.  The only runner he allowed in the first three innings was on a ball that Darrell Ceciliani misplayed off the center field wall and very well could have turned into an inside-the-park home run.  The runner held up at third and then got to spend the next two at-bats watching Gorski do his thing.

The Fisher Cats offense came alive in the 4th when Jon Berti reached on a bunt single and then stole second on a strikeout.  Plawecki’s throw was on target but late, about what you would expect from a catcher known more for his bat than his arm.  Berti then quickly stole third on an inside pitch to the right-handed Brad Glenn.  The pitch pushed everyone into the worst possible position for Plawecki to make a throw, so it wasn’t much of a surprise to see the ball fly into left field, scoring Berti.  Gorski then issued two walks, putting runners on first and second with one out in what was now a 2-1 game before a double play ended the threat.

Binghamton resumed their assault on the center field wall in the 5th, but their attempts were weak and off target.  After giving Fisher Cats left fielder Mike Crouse a good workout, the B-Mets claimed victory when Brian Burgamy crushed one over the wall in the deepest part of the park.  With the wall slain and a healthy 5-1 lead, it was up to Gorski to return to form and keep the Fisher Cats in check.

Which he did, ending the next two innings on swinging strikeouts while allowing just a pair of singles before what would be his 10th and final strikeout of the night.  With his fastball sitting at 88, Gorski was getting a lot more contact putting balls in play instead of the foul balls that had been setting up his earlier strikeouts.  Still, it was a solid outing.

Both sides went to the bullpen in the 7th, which didn’t work out well for the Fisher Cats.  After a single, stolen base, single, and walk, the B-Mets had the bases loaded with no outs in the top of the 7th.  Brian Burgamy, not one to follow suit with this whole “everyone gets on base” thing, grounded into a double play to drive in a run.  Kevin Plawecki then grounded out to third for the third time to end the inning.

First up from the B-Mets pen was Jon Velasquez, who exited without incident after a 1-2-3 inning.  Adam Kolarek came in to finish things out, as he always seems to do around here when a big lead is involved.  Not closer material, I guess.  Brian Burgamy once again broke pattern when the Fisher Cats were helping the B-Mets with some fielding drills.  After ground outs to third and short, Burgamy bobbled the ground ball to second.  This guy really does not like patterns.

Kevin Plawecki doesn’t always ground out to third. Sometimes he reaches on error after grounding to second.

The Manchester air turned chilly by the 9th inning, so you would expect the Mets, already weary from an overnight bus trip and now 6 trips around the bases, to want to wrap things up quickly.  Cory Vaughn started things off right by sending the first pitch into Kenny Wilson’s glove (via a slick sliding catch), but the next three batters resumed the assault on center field with three consecutive doubles.  That brought up pattern-buster Brian Burgamy.  Burgamy walked.  After a pitching change, Kevin Plawecki changed up his pattern, grounding out to second instead of third.  Or at least he would have if the second baseman hadn’t thrown the ball away going for the force out at second and, likely, an inning-ending double play.  Plawecki ended the night karma-neutral on throwing errors and the run that scored on the play was the final one in this 9-1 B-Mets victory.

Baseball Ink Test Preliminary Results

A starting point for the big test

I started this line of testing almost a year ago with the goal of developing a better understanding of the factors that go into the degradation of signatures on baseballs.  This is a subject with lots of anecdotes but little in the way of scientific research.  I started with a simple question: what causes such drastic differences in how signatures age as can be seen in these baseballs signed more than 20 years ago?

Ed Kranepool Willie Randolph Mike Torrez Lee Mazzilli

The Kranepool looks like it was signed just a few months ago, but the Randolph has faded away to almost nothing.  The Torrez shows quite a bit of bleeding, but the Mazzilli is a complete disaster.  All four are on the same kind of baseball, so the only variables are the ink, exposure to light, and the pressure and movement used to make the signature.  I can’t do much with that last one, but the others are easy enough to test.  The first rounds of testing provided the following results that shaped the test that is just now starting.

1. Leaving a ball open to air appears to result in damage to the ball’s surface when placed in direct sunlight

Test Ball #1

31 July 2013 16 January 2014 17 January 2014 8 April 2014

The exact reason for this is not known and it isn’t clear from the preliminary tests whether the material of the enclosure or just the presence of an enclosure is what prevents it, but this type of damage only appeared in the unprotected ball. Surface damage is not the focus of our testing, so all future tests will include the use of a ball cube (or the box from the ball cube in the case of control balls not exposed to light). Preliminary testing has shown that a ball cube provides sufficient protection to prevent surface damage even in full direct sunlight, allowing for maximum sunlight exposure while limiting the damage to just the ink.

2. Most ink types will bleed on synthetic leather when not exposed to light even when no bleeding is seen in the light-exposed counterparts

Test Ball #3

31 July 2013 16 January 2014 17 January 2014 8 April 2014

Test Ball #3 was kept in the dark for the duration of this test and exhibited signaficant bleeding of even the blue ballpoint at the 7+ month mark.  The second test hasn’t been going for long enough to reach that level, but the no-name ink is already showing some bleeding.  This would seem to make the ideal storage solution a bit more complicated.  We could just say “use a blue ballpoint and keep the signature away from all light” and be done with it, but then bleeding would come into play. Based on preliminary testing, it takes several months for bleeding to become apparent. As confirmation of this phenomena, here are three baseballs of the same material signed in the same ink on the same day (July 23, 2013):

Gavin Cecchini L.J. Mazzilli Ricky Knapp

The difference was that the Cecchini and Mazzilli were on display in an area exposed to indirect natural light and artificial light while the Knapp was in a dark corner a few feet away. After about 4 to 6 months, bleeding was apparent. We’ll need to keep an eye on this (especially for the natural vs. synthetic leather comparison), but a separate test (not currently planned) will be required to identify the exact mechanisms at work.

3. Blue Sharpie, Black Bic, and Red Sharpie are not suitable for use on synthetic leather baseballs

7+ Months Later

No Protection Ball Cube Darkness

The amount of degradation seen with black Bic and red Sharpie was so severe that there does not seem to be any reason to include them in additional testing at this time. Blue Sharpie also seems to be a bad choice, but there will be a blue Sharpie Pen in this test (the previous tests used a Sharpie CD/DVD marker which may have used a different ink with different durability properties). The addition of natural leather balls will also be a factor here.

4. Ink brand matters

2+ Months Later

No Protection Ball Cube Darkness

It seems obvious, but the last preliminary test clearly demonstrated a difference in fading pattern between ink from different manufacturers. Most notable is Leeds ink, which faded into a darker blue and remained darker than any of the other ballpoint inks. The Parker also seemed to change very little, starting out lighter than the others and fading somewhat less. This validates the need for a wider test of ink brands.

5. Fine point does not seem to offer an advantage

If anything, the fine point pens appear to be less suitable than medium point because they do not put as much ink on the surface. Fine vs. medium vs. bold may still be a factor in the legibility of signatures, but that is beyond the scope of this test (and isn’t much of a factor with largely illegible signatures these days).

6. Gel ink is not suitable for autographs

The good news is that the gel inks tested resisted fading better than any of the ballpoints. The bad news is that this appears to be due to putting more ink onto the ball, which means longer drying times and pooling of the ink. The increased risk of smudging makes this type of pen unsuitable for our purposes. This may also apply to rollerballs but has not been tested.

7. The “UV Protected” Ultra PRO ball cube does not appear to offer any more protection than other Ultra PRO ball cubes

Lab testing in a controlled environment would be needed to confirm this, but the two models appear to be equivalent except for the hologram on the bottom of the UV protected model. I would show the side-by-side of the balls in each enclosure, but…

8. Dog slobber is the universal solvent

Test Ball #4

Before Dog After Dog

Just as I was wrapping this test up (and shortly after I had compared the two balls in ball cubes to check for any differences), the ball from the UV protected cube showed up in the condition shown on the right. Almost all of the markings are gone, including the gel ink and metallic Sharpie. The lesson: keep your autographs away from dogs. Incidentally, I found this ball while I was constructing enclosures to keep stray indoor light and prying noses out of the test area. It was too late to save Test Ball #4 though. It will be missed.

The Topps Spring Fever Promotion Leaves Collectors Cold

An April Fools’ joke two months early

I’m not trying to turn this blog completely negative. Really, I’m not. But when these stories present themselves, they get little attention from the big names in collecting news. That leaves it up to the little guys to capture these moments for posterity and make sure that they become part of the historical record. In this case, Topps has set a precedent that could completely undermine the entire hobby. It almost certainly won’t go that far, but the lack of any notable backlash seems to have demonstrated that there is no obligation to deliver what is promised in a pack of cards.

Last year, Topps introduced the Spring Fever promotion with 2013 Topps Series 1. This was the first of many promotions designed to get people to spend more time at their local hobby shops. Spring Fever redemption cards were inserted into packs at a rate of one per hobby box (regular or jumbo). If you had a participating hobby shop near you, you could redeem the card for a special 5-card pack of Spring Fever cards, which contained an assortment of cards from the 50-card set plus 32 different autograph cards randomly inserted. For those without local hobby shops, they could sell the redemption cards for about $2 each, a nice little bonus out of each box (something usually referred to as “added value”).

The Spring Fever cards themselves were quite nice. Even though the photographs were mostly just the same photographs used in the base Topps set, the metallic foil and new background design made them really stand out in a sea of colored border parallels. The cards look even better scanned, just like the 2012 Topps Archives gold parallels. For a Mets collector, having David Wright and Jeurys Familia in the base set wasn’t all that bad. The set itself was a mix of rookies, stars, and retired greats, making it a fun set to put together. On top of that, the autographs, while on stickers, were a nice bonus for the price. I bought 10 extra redemption cards and pulled the Markakis auto shown above, which sold for almost as much as I paid for the redemption cards (I probably could have gotten more if I had sold the unopened packs though…). It was hard not to like this new promotion.

2013 Topps Series 1 delivered considerable value beyond the cards in the packs. In addition to the Spring Fever redemptions, Topps also continued its tradition of wrapper redemptions in 2013 Series 1. Wrappers from a box of cards would get you a 5-card Silver Slate pack, which contained a mix of blue sparkle parallels, framed silver parallels numbered to 10, and autographs. Luck was on my side in these, delivering three of the cards above in the four packs I sent in for (I had to buy the Familia). The Machado and Kipnis each sold for about $30, not bad for a few bonus packs.

And that brings us to 2014 Topps Series 1. Like last year, Spring Fever redemption cards were back at the same insertion rate. No announcements were made about wrapper redemptions, which Topps seemed to be phasing out anyway. Then something strange happened when people started opening packs – they couldn’t find the Spring Fever redemption cards. Box after box, case after case, thousands of packs were opened on launch day without a single Spring Fever redemption card being pulled. Usually, this would be a sign of something being a retail exclusive, but that wouldn’t make sense for a hobby store promotion. Something was wrong. Then Topps confirmed it: Spring Fever redemption cards weren’t in packs of 2014 Topps Series 1.

With no wrapper redemption planned, switching the Spring Fever to a wrapper redemption would at least ensure that the people who were shorted the redemption cards could still get the packs (or get some money for the wrappers). Topps however also confirmed that there would be no wrapper redemption for 2014 Topps Series 1. No redemption cards, no wrapper redemption, how was Topps going to make things right? As it turned out, all would be made right for a price.

Spring Fever promotional flyer sent to hobby shops in early March of 2014

Topps would later reduce the cost of a Spring Fever promo pack from 18 packs to 16 packs. What a bargain! For only the cost of 16 hobby packs, or about $32, collectors could get something that was supposed to be in a box they already spent $70-100 on two months ago. I suppose you also get the cards in the packs for that price, but the value of a two month old product just isn’t what it used to be. And of course there’s the little bit about how collectors already bought a ton of this stuff two months ago with the promise of Spring Fever packs. But was it really a promise? Let’s take a look at the wrapper.

Odds from the wrapper of a 2014 Topps Series 1 hobby jumbo pack

If you read the fine print, near the end of the fourth line you’ll see the odds of a Spring Fever Redemption card in a hobby jumbo pack at 1:10, or one per hobby jumbo box on average (odds for regular hobby packs are 1:36 with 36 packs per box). That’s not a guarantee that one will be in any particular pack or even a sealed box. It could be argued that it isn’t any sort of guarantee at all. But if that is the case, what about all of the other cards with listed odds? Can Topps get away with leaving all of those out too and charging more later for the chance to get them? Either Topps is obligated to meet the insertion rates printed on their product or they are free to ignore them, there’s no middle ground. Since nothing has happened to Topps for their failure to deliver Spring Fever redemption cards, we are left to assume that pack odds are not in any way binding and can freely be ignored by manufacturers. That is a disturbing concept.

Luckily, while it seems that Topps is under no obligation to deliver what their product promises, hobby shops are under no obligation to follow the specific rules regarding the distribution of promo packs (well, they may technically have an obligation, but Topps has no way to enforce it unless the shops do something stupid like listing promotional items on eBay). Many shops are doing the right thing and are giving the packs to customers who they know deserve them or are at least making them available for more than just purchases of the now outdated 2014 Topps Series 1.

This may be the last we see of this problem. Or it could only be the beginning. In any case, it should not be ignored and forgotten. Major League Baseball may have sold out to Topps, but that doesn’t mean that we have to stand by silently and watch Topps disrespect collectors and the hobby. Topps is not and will never be the hobby, no matter what their arrogance leads them to believe.