Category Archives: Biography

A Major Thanks to the Minor Leaguers

Bringing my autographs into the 21st century

One of the things I missed as a kid, not having attended any Mets games except that one time with my brother’s Scout troop, was the chance to meet the players and get autographs before the games.  It never even occurred to me that this was a possibility, it always seemed like something only the lucky few up front got to experience.  The first time I was able to see such things firsthand was at Yankee Stadium in 2000, where it was only kids getting autographs and the general atmosphere made anyone without baby teeth feel like a selfish monster for wanting to interact with the players.  Stars like Derek Jeter, Bernie Williams, Alex Rodriguez, and Edgar Martinez were right there just a few feet away, but my place was taking pictures from the other side of the screen.  I was too old now to take part in the things I missed out on as a kid.

Screw that, I’ll do whatever I damn well please, age-appropriate or not.  I watch cartoons, collect action figures and baseball cards, and ask baseball players for autographs before games.  It beats getting drunk and passing out naked on the side of the road, that’s for sure.

My autographed baseball collection began back in the ’90s when autograph signings were plentiful at every card show or random event (or non-event).  Even with over 1,000 certified autographs on baseball cards now in my collection, it’s the ones that I got in person that mean the most.  I’ve got a pile of Gary Carter 1/1 autographs, but how about this Lee Mazzilli autographed ball, with the ink faded and bleeding into the cover?  I never met Carter, but I did meet Mazzilli in Filene’s in the Galleria at Crystal Run in Middletown, NY.

Almost 20 years later, that stack of signed balls was looking a bit outdated.  Ed Kranepool is still the longest-tenured Met, but he hasn’t played since the ’70s.  Tommie Agee, Catfish Hunter, Enos Slaughter, Bob Feller, and Bobby Thomson have passed on.  It was time to do something to breathe new life into this collection and this year’s minor league games looked like the perfect opportunity.

Let me just say that doing this sort of thing does not come easy to me.  I would prefer it if there were some designated off-field spot to get autographs, like a holding pen for the players to mill around in before being let onto the field.  I think there are laws against that sort of thing though, so the only window of opportunity is from the time the players enter the dugout until they are done with warmups.  Even this wouldn’t be so bad if there were a place set aside for autographs, but in most cases there isn’t.  I hate to get in anyone’s way, but the only place to wait for autographs is either in front of someone’s seats or in the aisle that people use to get to their seats.  Some people are polite and understanding when they ask to get by, but others react to any perceived wrongdoing with outright hostility.  And if that weren’t enough, you have to make a spectacle of yourself to get the players’ attention to ask for an autograph when they’re trying to warm up for a game.  If I had tried to do this as a kid, I probably would have run off to hide in a dark corner out of embarrassment.

Binghamton Mets, 11-13 May 2012, Northeast Delta Dental Stadium, Manchester, NH

11 May 2012 Game Recap
12 May 2012 Game Recap
13 May 2012 Game Recap

This would be my first test and the early results weren’t very positive.  After arriving too late for autographs to the first of the three games I had tickets to, I only managed to get the autograph of Juan Centeno before the second game (and even then only after someone else called him over to the edge of the dugout).  I did get the lay of the land though and arrived on day three ready to ambush the players as they entered the dugout from the clubhouse.  My approach worked and I got Mark Cohoon, Matt den Dekker, Reese Havens, Jefry Marte, and Raul Reyes to sign the remainder of the six baseballs I had brought to this series.

Brooklyn Cyclones, 7-8 August 2012, Lelacheur Park, Lowell, MA

7 August 2012 Game Recap
8 August 2012 Game Recap

My next chance for autographs was three months later when the Brooklyn Cyclones came to town.  This team was loaded with recent draft picks and day one went about as well as coud be expected – Brandon Nimmo, Phillip Evans, and Kevin Plawecki all spent plenty of time signing on the field next tot he dugout.  With all of the big signing bonus picks out of the way, I had plenty of options for the last three balls I had with me on day 2 (should have brought more…).  Jayce Boyd’s solo home run provided all of the offense the night before, so he was an obvious choice.  Boyd’s 2012 draft classmate Stefan Sabol is also a promising prospect, but I was more interested in the autograph itself – just look at it.  Never pass up a chance to get Stefan Sabol’s autograph, it’s a thing of beauty.  Julio Concepcion rounded out the day’s autographs.

Buffalo Bisons, 18 August 2012, Fenway Park, Boston, MA

18 August 2012 Game Recap

Down to my last chance for autographs this summer, I brought 12 baseballs to Fenway when the Bisons came for Futures at Fenway.  With so many future and/or former Mets on the team, it was impossible to prioritize who I was after.  And, based on my experiences to date, opportunity would dictate wh I would be able to have sign for me.  When Wally Backman appeared in the dugout, my first target became clear.  I absolutely was not leaving without Backman’s autograph; this was just the third time I had met someone from the 1986 team.  Unfortunately, getting to him was a problem, as was the person in front of me who started a long conversation with Backman when I finally got within arm’s reach.  After waiting politely for a while, I forced my way in for the autograph.  I hated to do it, but nobody seemed to mind.  Mike Nickeas, Val Pascucci, and a few other players were nearby at that end of the dugout, but the crowd around them was just too thick to get through.  Reluctantly, I left that area to take my chances in the outfield.

Things started out slowly at the edge of the outfield, but eventually Lucas May, C.J. Nitkowski, and Robert Carson came over for autographs, while many other players passed by in one direction or another.  With the outfield emptying out, I went back to my seat behind the dugout in pursuit of one final player – Josh Satin.  When I got there, several players were milling around in the dugout, but few were visible enough to identify.  Lucas Duda, too tall to miss even in a dugout, didn’t hear when I called to him.  Neither did Satin a few moments later.  Rather than stand there like an idiot shouting his name over and over, I chose to stand there like an idiot holding up a ball and a pen until he looked in my direction while scanning the crowd and motioned for me to throw the ball and pen over.  Hey, whatever works.  After that, I probably could have shouted random player names and gotten someone’s attention, but I decided to just be satisfied with the five autographs I was able to get.  And then I saw this directly in front of me as the player introductions began:

Jeurys Familia had been right in front of me all along!

And so ended my first season of hunting for autographs at baseball games.  The final tally of 17 autographs in 6 games was better than I would have expected, but less than I could have gotten knowing how everything works.  Still, it was enough to fill a shelf up with 32 autographs, all but three of which were obtained in person (which three should be obvious).  With the top two rows filled with prospects, there are bound to be a few changes in the years to come, with some of this year’s autographs inevitably getting shuffled off to another shelf with guys like Dave Telgheder, Mike Torrez, Willie Randolph, and Lou Piniella.  Hopefully some of the ones who stick around will start a second championship row above the players from 1969 and 1986.

Oh, and a note to the 17: check your mail.  A small token of my appreciation was mailed out at the end of August, I don’t know if it made it there in time for some of you.

I Have Been a Terrible Mets Fan

Atoning for two decades of fan neglect

As I’ve said before (or at least thought many times), I have been a terrible Mets fan.  I can blame part of that on my upbringing, which was devoid of any die-hard Mets fan role models.  Aside from some Mets merchandise and trips to two Mets games (only one of which was at Shea), we were largely content with watching an afternoon game on television on the weekend or listening to a game on the radio; I listened to more than a few late games on my non-Sony walkman-equivalent in the summer of ’88.  We had no Mets t-shirts, jerseys (replica or authentic), jackets, or other such luxuries.  The Mets sundae helmet was used to scoop rabbit food.  We enjoyed the things we enjoyed without anything outwardly visible to show it and without any big effort to seek out opportunities to engage in fan activities.

Another big chunk of the blame has to go to the timing of the team’s fortunes taking a nosedive as I gained the means and opportunity to better express myself (i.e., have money, will spend).  The success of the ’80s left many of us unprepared for what the ’90s held in store.  It was hard to get behind those early ’90s teams, especially when they added Bobby Bonilla of the much-hated Pirates.  There was no heart to these teams and their record reflected it.  Mets fans, who weren’t all that visible to begin with, went underground with their fandom.  The low point for me came in 1994, when one of the items on the packing list for my hiking trip at Philmont Scout Ranch was a hat.  Such a simple item, but I was at a loss to come up with anything.  A Mets hat would be the logical choice, but I no longer had one and didn’t think it would go over so well anyway.  I briefly considered getting a hat from some other New York sports team, but I didn’t follow any other sports and knew that only ridicule could follow being found out as an impostor.  I went hat-less and bought a hat in the Philmont base camp shop, choosing to be that guy wearing the hat of the place he’s hiking in over representing a Mets team I no longer felt connected to.

With the present Mets filled with nothing but disappointment and shame, the ’90s were a time for looking back at a team that went from laughingstock to World Series champion twice in less than 25 years.  Many of the heroes from those championship teams regularly appeared at random events in nearby towns to sign autographs.  Back then, I got the chance to meet familiar players like Howard Johnson and Lee Mazzilli as well as ’69 Mets like Ed Kranepool, Tommie Agee, Jerry Grote, and Cleon Jones.  It was a great time to be a Mets fan, or it would have been if I had actually known who any of those guys were at the time.  Like I said, I was a terrible Mets fan.

When the Mets started winning again, I started paying attention, finally watching Mets games when they made the postseason in 1999 and a young player by the name of Melvin Mora came through in high pressure situations against a fearsome Atlanta Braves team.  When Mora was shipped to Baltimore for a disappointing Mike Bordick rental a few months later, it was like the early ’90s were clawing their way back into the picture.  Within two years, the transformation was complete and I was no longer watching.

We all know what happened in 2006, 2007, and, 2008.  This time though, I held my ground.  It was easier than ever to follow the team through commercial sports web sites and fan blogs, so I kept at it through the collapses and the misery that followed.  I even got a Mets hat, my first in 20 years.  That hat traveled with me around the world, through good times and bad.  I wasn’t going to let this slip away again.

By this point, I had a lot of catching up to do.  So many washed-up stars and terrible players made their way through the Mets over the previous two decades and I set about collecting autograph and game-used baseball cards of all of them.  How did I never notice that Orel Hershiser had been on the Mets?  Who the heck was this Yusmeiro Petit guy?  The depth of my ignorance was without end.  Finally though, I had caught up on everything I had missed by 2011, largely with the help of blogs like Amazin’ Avenue and Mets Today.  Now I was ready to set my grand plan in motion.  A Mets-themed Twitter account to keep up on all of the news, a new blog to begin the process of documenting the history of Mets in game-used and autograph cards – I was finally building and contributing to the fan community.

One thing was missing though – actual baseball games.  Citi Field was out of range for me and Fenway wasn’t hosting the Mets this year, but I could probably make do with some minor league games, no matter who was playing.  They’ve had a team up in Manchester for a few years, let’s see who they play…  The Binghamton Mets???  All this time, the Mets’ AA team has been playing away games right up in Manchester!  How did I not know this?  OK, no need to beat yourself up too much, just get some tickets when they go on sale and we can start making up for years of neglect.  How about the Lowell Spinners, they play in the same league as the Hudson Valley Renegades, right?  It would be nice to see the Renegades again, so…  The Brooklyn Cyclones are in the same league???  When did THAT happen?  What’s next, the Buffalo Bisons playing nearby?  No, only as close as Rhode Island, too far for me.  Well, except for when they play at Fenway in August.  Hey, I caught that one as it was announced!  I just might be digging myself out from being the World’s Worst Mets Fan after all.

Next: A Major Thanks to the Minor Leaguers

The Play at Third

The end of my (three year Little League) baseball career

With the way things have been going lately for the Mets, a lot of fans are throwing in the towel and looking forward to next year.  While that’s understandable, there are still a few dozen games left to play and the team can’t just forfeit them all.  Even the Astros, with nearly twice as many losses as wins, have to pull it together and try to scrape out a win day after day, knowing full well that what few wins they are able to come up with won’t get them any closer to a trip to the World Series than a Visa card would.  Things look almost as bleak right now for the Mets, but it’s not really that bad.  And this is how things felt for me when I walked away from baseball more than twenty years ago.

I should start by stressing that I was not a good baseball player.  Even for my age, I was painfully below average at throwing a baseball, catching a baseball, hitting a baseball, or even just being in the same room as a baseball.  Little League tryouts (meant to ensure that good, mediocre, and bad players were evenly distributed across all teams) were always embarrassing for me as they showed just what I wasn’t capable of doing (which, as I said, was everything).  Inevitably, each season would start and end with a mediocre performance around a prolonged slump in the middle.  I was terrible and my team always sucked (one may have had something to do with the other).

Or at least that’s how it seemed at the time.  I very rarely spent an inning without playing in the field, which must have put me ahead of the players who only fielded for half of the game.  My teams never had a losing record, going 8-8 in my first season and, as I recall, improving in each of the two following seasons, which would put us at 10-5 going into the final game of my final season.  We must have been doing something right to be winning two thirds of our games, but it still felt like we weren’t good enough because there were teams that almost never lost.  It was always the best teams that we measured ourselves against and we always came up short.

Never was that more apparent than in a game against the Twins.  Inning after inning, run after run, we were so completely outmatched that we were putting anyone who could get a ball to the plate on the mound in the hopes of getting one out closer to going home.  I stood useless in right field contemplating sitting down or taking a nap.  By the time the final out was recorded, the scoreboard read 35 to 5.  We should have been crushed.  We should have walked away from the sport right there.  We should have been ashamed to set foot on a baseball field ever again.  But we brushed it off and went into practice as usual, the only change being an emphasis on expanding our pitching capabilities.  We lost by 30 runs and the only result was a mandatory pitching evaluation for the everyone on the team.

With that experience behind us, we went into our final game of the season against the dreaded A’s.  While the Twins were good, the A’s were on a whole other level.  Everything about that team just screamed that they were better than we were and the result was a foregone conclusion.  Eight and a half innings later, our loss was all but assured.  I don’t remember the score, but we were down by several runs, something on the order of 8 to 4 – not a shutout, not a blowout, but still well out of reach by the bottom of the ninth.  I had an at-bat coming up, now well clear of my annual mid-season slump.  I knew that I couldn’t win the game.  I knew that we probably wouldn’t win the game.  But I also knew that I had to try to start something to give us a chance.  We had been down worse before without giving up, we could still make these three outs count.

I was standing on second base.  I’m not sure how I got there.  I remember someone telling me to choke up, but I don’t think I knew what that meant at the time.  Maybe it was a double or maybe it was a single and a passed ball (those were a given at that level), but I was standing in scoring position in a game we had no business winning.  A lot more would have to go right even if I managed to score, but we weren’t done yet.  And then the ball got past the catcher.

In the movie version, this is where the throw to third bounces into the outfield and I head home to start the rally that wins the game.  In my version, this is where the low light, my mediocre vision, and the poor view from second base combine to make me uncertain of what to do.  I started toward third, looked at the third base coach, and stopped when there was no sign.  No run, no stop, so acknowledgement that there was even a game going on.  Just a guy standing on the grass minding his own business.  Was it a given that I shouldn’t be running here?  Was it obvious that I could make it to third easily?  I couldn’t see what was happening with the ball behind the plate, but by now I had probably wasted too much time for it to matter, I had to commit to an action.  So I ran.

It wasn’t even close.  I watched the ball go into the glove and dove headfirst into the bag.  Out.  I got up, uniform dirty and hands bloody, and walked back to the dugout.  I don’t know what out it was, but it didn’t matter; the game was over for me.  I was upset, I was angry, not at the outcome but at how it happened.  Why did I hesitate?  Why didn’t the third base coach do anything?  I didn’t want to talk to anyone, I just wanted to go home.  I had failed, but at least I tried.  When I needed help, it wasn’t there.  Was I wrong to expect that help?  Should I have been expected to be able to do everything myself?  I wanted to blame the third base coach for everything, but maybe I just wasn’t willing to take the blame myself.  Either way, this wasn’t the game I wanted to play.  I may have played the game poorly, but I did everything I could to help the team until the final out.  I had thought that’s how everyone felt, but now I wasn’t sure.

As I walked back to the parking lot in a daze, I passed the A’s celebrating their season at some picnic tables on the side of the path.  Their manager was reading off the players’ batting averages and other stats and everyone was cheering.  Batting average?  Our team didn’t keep track of such things, probably for the best.  I really didn’t need to know if I was batting .095, though I would guess that the actual number could be even lower.  It had never even occurred to me that any of us could have stats that were good, and there was a team filled with them.  I was clearly in the wrong place, I didn’t belong here.

The uniform was washed and returned, the wounds on my hands healed.  When summer came around again, I didn’t have any games or practices on my schedule.  Whenever anyone asked why I didn’t play anymore, I just said that I wasn’t any good at it.  My reasons went deeper than that, but it was too much trouble explaining how I couldn’t trust anyone else to be treating the games seriously.  And maybe that part was my fault anyway.  I wasn’t any good so I just stopped playing, that was the story I stuck with.

I would like to say that at least I had my memories of three years of Little League, but I remember so little from those years.  From my first two years in Instructional League (good players advance after one year, bad players stay for two and are bumped up by default afterward), I remember my first hit (which came to rest about a foot in front of me and only wasn’t an out because the catcher was slow to react), I remember taking so many pitches that I wore out the pitcher (there were no called balls or strikes and the pitchers were all adults), and I remember wearing catching equipment and being terrible at catching the ball (I’m not sure how I wound up as a catcher that year).  From my one season in Minor League, I remember the above and little else.  I was hit by a pitch once or twice (it hurt) and I played half a game in the infield twice (once at second and once at third) but remember nothing from the games themselves.  Maybe it’s for the best that I walked away.

So what does this have to do with the Mets?  Nothing really, except we’ve entered the phase of the season where everything seems hopeless.  But is it really?  We tend to be most critical of things we follow the most closely.  The Mets have a losing record, wasting a great start.  The bullpen still sucks and the starting rotation is breaking down.  Duda is slumming it in AAA, Nickeas has only just been demoted, and Batista has only just been released.  Even bright spots are easy to dismiss as mirages; Harvey looked great in his first start, but will he still be dominant once teams have seen him a few times?  The long season is growing shorter and the postseason doesn’t look to be in the Mets’ future.

That doesn’t mean we can’t enjoy what’s left and hope for things to turn around.  They probably won’t.  The end could be embarrassing.  But if things break just right, or even only a little bit right, it could be interesting.  This team has seen all sorts of highs and lows so far this season and keeps on playing hard.  And that’s all I can ask of them.

Upper Deck: A Love Story (Part 2)

The 1990s, decade of despair

This is the middle act in a three-part series documenting my 20+ year on-again/off-again relationship as a procurer of cardboard rectangles from The Upper Deck Company, LLC.  When we left off in Upper Deck: A Love Story (Part 1), a chance encounter brought Upper Deck into my life just as the card collecting hobby went mainstream in a big way.  Now our relationship would be put to the test.

By 1990, card shops were fading and card shows were the new fad.  Collectors would pack malls, event halls, or any available open space in the hopes of scoring the next big thing.  The hobby was in full swing and I was finally invited to the party; it was a great time to collect cards.

At the time, I was heavily invested in Donruss, working on a set that somehow never got finished.  While this was the first product that I had opened an entire box of (my entire life up to this point had been pack-to-pack), my brother had graduated to breaking cases with a massive purchase of 1990 Topps, a set that I would soon grow to despise after long hours tearing through wax to build sets and pull cards of young stars Ken Griffey Jr. and Frank Thomas.

That summer, I once more found myself in possession of packs of Upper Deck, this time 1990 Upper Deck High Number Edition.  The price of the 1989 product, which was now finally available locally, was far above what I could afford, but the current product was still within reach.  And so, recalling my experience from the previous year, I once more dove in to sample the newcomer’s latest offering.

This time around, the design elements were limited to just a strip along the top representing the basepath from first to second, a rather dull continuation of the theme started by 1989′s first base path.  The quality remained the same, but it wasn’t new and exciting anymore.  Until I opened the pack that held a treasure unlike anything I had ever seen before.

In retrospect, that card wasn’t as special as it seemed at the time, but it was more significant to the history of the hobby than my big 1989 pull.  This time, the card bore no name or number, just the words “Baseball Heroes” on the front and some text on the back about Reggie Jackson.  What could it be?  In the thrill of the moment, I scrutinized the back of the pack for any clues to the identity of the wondrous gem I had unwrapped.  For a moment, I thought that just maybe this could be the rare find mentioned in the odds listing, but that card was supposed to be autographed – this one clearly was not.  Instead, it seemed to be from the Reggie Jackson Baseball Heroes set, but why didn’t it have a number or a picture of Reggie Jackson?  I was holding the first-ever Baseball Heroes header card and a new obsession had just begun.

The “Find the Reggie” Reggie Jackson Baseball Heroes set became known as the first commercially-successful insert set in the history of the hobby.  While inserts of various kinds had existed for many years, none had surpassed the popularity of the base product.  Upper Deck changed that in 1990 and started a mad rush to make, and pull, the next hot inserts.  In just two years, Upper deck had transformed the hobby into something that closely resembles what we have today.  This was the biggest change since the standardization on the 3.5″x2.5″ card size and I was right there in the middle of it.

Or at least I wanted to be.  My heart was with Upper Deck, but my wallet took me in a different direction.  The following year, I put my resources into 1991 Score, a massive set that, like 1990 Donruss before it, remains painfully incomplete.  Pack after pack, I worked my way through stars, prospects, draft picks, highlights, and the extra special Dream Team inserts.  Series 1 gave way to Series 2, as had become standard practice in many products that year.  All the while, Upper Deck remained on the periphery, just a pleasant distraction and little more.

1991 was when Upper Deck fell behind in the pursuit of quality in baseball cards.  That year, Topps and Fleer introduced high-quality glossy cards with full-bleed photographs in their Stadium Club and Ultra products, respectively.  I barely noticed, unable to fund the purchase of such superior cards.  The arms race was well underway.

Oh, how the hobby had changed by 1992.  Premium lines were sprouting up everywhere and even Bowman and Donruss had gone premium.  Triple Play (which makes an intriguing return this year) was introduced by Donruss to fill the gap in the low-end market, but it was a failure in every possible way (and how is it that, despite buying so much of it, I never came close to finishing that tiny set?).  Upper Deck, finally done with the basepath motif after 1991′s design overdid it with the entire left half of the diamond, released what may be its most forgettable design.  No longer the hot new product, Upper Deck dropped in value.

Three years ahead of its time

Which meant I could finally buy in big time!  At last, I could afford to pick up boxes of 1991 and 1992 low and high number editions.  Between the base set, the Baseball Heroes inserts, the occasional SP-numbered card, and those hologram stickers, I had plenty to work on.  And plenty to get frustrated about when Upper Deck’s trademark collation problems became apparent.  Still with us to this day, Upper Deck’s style of collation is guaranteed to get you lots of extra cards you don’t need and lots of missing cards no matter how many packs you buy.  I desperately wanted to enjoy these products, but every box was like a slap in the face with double after double and little progress toward finishing a set.  It didn’t take long to get disillusioned with the entire process.

Super premiums were introduced in 1993, cards seemingly designed to push me out of the hobby.  While I could afford to sample a pack or two of each new hot product, there was no way to build a decent stock in any of them unless I focused on one to the exclusion of all others.  In my misguided focus on quantity over quality, I kept buying up anything that was cheap.  Upper Deck’s SP should have been my focus that year, but I bought two packs and moved on, drifting from product to product in search of something I never found.

Shock.  Disbelief.  Betrayal.  This is what I felt when Upper Deck moved its mainline product up a tier to the new premium level in 1994.  It had moved on to a new price class and I couldn’t follow.  Worst of all, the Baseball Heroes insert set, which I had meticulously assembled in a set of binder pages over the previous four years, continued in the new premium format.  All of my work came to a screeching halt.

Because "Collector's Last Refuge from Increasing Prices" was too cumbersome

As a consolation, Upper Deck introduced Collector’s Choice, which, like Triple Play before it, was a low-priced product aimed at kids without the resources to collect the “real” product.  And so that’s where I focused my efforts, searching out Alex Rodriguez and Michael Jordan rookies and silver and gold signature cards.  This was my life now, this was who I was.  I could enjoy it or leave.

And then came 1995.  While on the surface it appeared to be more of the same, there were major changes in the works.  I resumed my efforts on Collector’s Choice, almost entirely ignoring regular Upper Deck and SP, but now there was a Collector’s Choice SE.  Huh?  I never understood the point of this blue-bordered clone of Collector’s Choice, but that didn’t stop me from buying it.  Elsewhere, the hobby was getting more cluttered than ever, with six manufacturers all putting out multitudes of products and trying to find the next big innovation in card design, failing more often than not.  I couldn’t take it anymore.

And so ends this chapter in my life with Upper Deck.  I picked up a few packs in drug stores over the next summer and apparently a couple packs of whatever UD3 was in 1997, but those would be stashed away in random places and forgotten for several years.  The hobby would undergo a metamorphosis in the meantime, but I had no patience for the ugly and messy early stages.  If not for an improbable sequence of events, I might never have seen what would one day emerge from the chaos and uncertainty of the 1990s.

Next: Upper Deck: A Love Story (Part 3)

The Side Panel: On sibling teams and other anniversaries

Leftovers from a Mets series in Houston 26 years ago

Back in 1986, the Mets celebrated their 25th anniversary.  Yeah, it was really their 25th year, not their 25th anniversary year, but they weren’t the only ones who had trouble figuring out those details.  Their fellow 1962 expansion team in Houston (originally the Colt .45s, now the Astros) also celebrated their 25th anniversary a bit early in 1986.  For the first time since the 1986 NLCS, both teams are celebrating a major anniversary in Houston this week.  They even got the year right this time.

Two days after hosting the 1986 All-Star Game, the Astros opened a four-game series against the Mets at the Astrodome.  This would be my first time seeing the Mets play in person, though I don’t know which game it was.  It could have been the 13-2 blowout against former Met Nolan Ryan or any of the three losses that followed (I’m hoping for the former, not that it matters now).  In the days before we externalized all of our memories with Facebook and Twitter and cell phone cameras, the details of our past are shrouded in faded memories.

Quickly discarded memories of seeing the Mets play from way down the right field line (Ooh, gift shop!) weren’t the only thing I left that game with.  As luck would have it, there was a free 25th anniversary hat given out as a promotional item that day.  I don’t know if this was a one-time giveaway or what, but I left Houston that year up two hats (this and one from the All-Star Roundup, sponsored prominently by Chevrolet).  And for those of you following on Twitter, this is the hat I was looking for when I found that other hat we shall not speak of.

Still looking for whitening tips...

This was quite the classy hat in its day, with the full cloth back and metal rings around the holes.  It’s a one-size-fits-all plastic snapback, as were most hats back then.  It hasn’t aged particularly well; there’s a lot of discoloration and the foam liner started breaking down about 20 years ago.  It’s clear that these hats weren’t made to last for the team’s next 25 years.

The 30 Patch Project

Taking back the hobby on my own terms

It is purely a coincidence that the topic of the hobby’s evolution and its future has come to the forefront just as I’m getting to this reveal.  I started the buildup to this at the beginning of the month, mainly because I knew I wouldn’t have much time to develop much new content and updating a picture once a day for 30 days seemed like a good way to keep the site active.  Now that we’ve reached the anticlimactic finale, my previous “Hobby in crisis” pieces make a perfect lead-in to a story of how I’ve learned to adapt to the changing landscape of baseball card collecting.

Card collecting has become increasingly difficult as the number and variety of cards have increased (and as the print runs have decreased).  eBay has also changed the game by making common items more available at lower prices and opening the market for rarer items to the entire world.  This drives the demand for rarer and rarer items in new products, which raises prices and turns the original draw, the base set, into unwanted overhead.  The whole thing ends up being lose-lose for case/box/packbusting; if you want a set, you can get one cheaper and easier on eBay than you can by opening packs, and if you want high-end inserts, the long odds of getting what you want at random, the premium added to the case/box/pack price for at best a miniscule chance of a big hit, and the ever-decreasing prices on the secondary market make those prospects dismal at best.  I’ve built sets, I’ve collected players, and I’ve chased rookies, but it seems like the rules keep getting changed out of my favor.  It got to the point where I had no choice but to call it quits.  This hobby just wasn’t fun anymore.

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