Wednesday, April 30, 2014

Book Review: The Summer of Beer & Whiskey

Four months into 2014 and I've finished three books. I was hoping to do a book a month, but three in the first four isn't bad.  Here's the latest!

Title: The Summer of Beer & Whiskey
Author: Edward Achorn
Genre: Nonfiction
Ease of Reading: 268 pages of 12pt font, few pictures, narrow margins, lots of words... moves a little slow
Synapse: The book is less about beer and whiskey and more about the American Association season of 1883.  Baseball at the time was losing the attention span of America as it recently been overtaken by gambling and was view upon as dirty.  The National League, in attempt to clean up the game, raised the ticket prices to keep the riff-raff out and also banned the playing of league games on Sunday.  You know, because people should go to church instead of taking in a baseball game.  The American Association took some of the crooked players and some of the banned teams and started a league which thrived upon three key things: 1) admission prices were a fraction of the National League's, 2) baseball on Sundays, and 3) alcohol sales to help boost revenue.  Next thing you know, the NL has competition and baseball is revived in the eye's of the public with a great Pennant Race between the St. Louis Browns and the Philadelphia Athletics.
Comments:  I've read many baseball books, but this was the first nonfiction piece where I had to learn an entirely new set of players (save the brief mention of Old Hoss Radbourn, Charles Comiskey, and Connie Mack).  It took me a while to get into book because of this fact, but I was happy I stuck with it.  I learned much about America in the 1880's and what it was like being a major league baseball player during those times.  The book is chocked full of fantastic characters and anecdotes.  On a side note: As a Cubs fan, it was a little tough getting over the fact the Summer of Beer and Whiskey focuses a great deal on owner Chris on der Ahe and the birth of the St. Louis Browns (Cardinals).  Even still, it's amusing to think a German immigrant with a thick accent and no knowledge of baseball practically saved the game!
Grade: The title is a little deceiving as there wasn't too much focus on beer and whiskey, but instead it is a thoroughly researched book about professional baseball during one of its most tumultuous times.  It sometimes came across as a little dry, but it would quickly rebound with a fun little story or it would teach me something new about how baseball became the game it is today.  Did you know that it once took eight balls to earn a walk?  Here's another one: in 1883 pitchers couldn't throw overhand, but the most dominate pitchers of the time pushed the rule as far as they could (side arm slot or 3/4 slot when the umpire would allow it). 
Overall, I'll give it a solid "B" for a grade.  Not in my Top 10 baseball books, but definitely worth the read.

I'd like to thank my Aunt Chris and Uncle Ken for giving me the book for Christmas last year.  And thanks to you, the reader, for stopping by!

Sunday, April 27, 2014

Pack Wars and A Prize

I haven't been terribly active around the blogosphere as of late.  In fact, I've had a yellow bubble mailer sitting on my desk for over a week now. Sometimes I'm such a bad blogger.  Let's crack into it and see what we have!

 Hey!  This must be the prize I won from Cervin' Up Cards.
 I took a stab at guessing Zippy Zappy's last roster of cards from the Sega Card Gen game.  I actually did better than I thought in the contest and was rewarded with some of the coolest cards out there.
 Sega Gen Cards are manufactured by Topps, are in Japanese, and can be used to play an arcade-like game.  Man, I would be ALL over this if we had this in the States.
 I am also now the proud owner of a Buster Posey rookie card and relic of Greg Gumbel.  Nice!

Zippy Zappy also slipped in one of his re-packs into the bubble mailer.

Woo-Hoo!  It's time for another round of PACK WARS!

The pack above looks like a 2013 Bowman Chrome pack of three cards, but the packaging is barely large enough to contain its contents.    I'm thinking 8 to ten cards...  A quick trip to the LCS and we're ready to go!

2014 Gypsy Queen versus the Zippy Zappy pack!

Round 1:
Saltalamacchia versus a shiny 2013 Topps Finest Rizzo?  A Rizzo that will fit into my mini PC?
The Zippy Zappy pack takes the early lead!

Gypsy Queen = 0
Zippy Zappy = 1

Round 2:
Hall-of-Famer Joe Morgan against a mini of The Hawk. The scoring of this pack is pretty easy so far.  Zippy Zappy extends the lead!

Gypsy Queen = 0
Zippy Zappy = 2  

Round 3:
Oye! Colby Rasmus, who is in dire need of a haircut, versus a 1992 Pinnacle card of Derrick May. Both are left-handed hitting outfielders and neither are/were favorites of mine.  May wins because Rasmus needs a haircut.

Gypsy Queen = 0
Zippy Zappy = 3

 Round 4:
Trevor Bauer.  Meh.  Bob Dernier?  The same Bob Dernier who I met and shook hands with while at Spring Training last month?  Um, yeah, if you look up "domination" in dictionary you'll see a picture of a Zippy Zappy pack!

Gypsy Queen = 0
Zippy Zappy = 4  

Round 5:
There will be no shutout today, folks.  Collation can sometimes be an issue and as nice as one Dernier is, two is well, um, repetitive.  Plus, I'm a fan of Paulie.

Gypsy Queen = 1
Zippy Zappy = 4  

Round 6:
A Wade Boggs insert and an '88 Fleer card of Jerry Mumphrey. Hmmm... I'm smelling a comeback!

Gypsy Queen = 2
Zippy Zappy = 4  

Round 7:

 Minis!  This is almost unfair.  A Cardinal (Lance Lynn) is forced to match up with ROCK SHOULDERS?!?!  Pah-lease.  ROCK SHOULDERS is the man!  No contest!

Gypsy Queen = 2
Zippy Zappy = 5

Round 8:
I am not a Cardinal fan, but I do respect Yadier Molina.  The man is probably the best at what he does.  Mike Brumley?  Well, he's an assistant hitting coach for the 2014 Cubs.  The Cubs are currently batting  0.230.  Sigh.
Gypsy Queen = 3
Zippy Zappy = 5

 I can't believe I just gave a point to the Cardinal card. 

Round 2:
 Nick Swisher is a riot and a decent ballplayer.  The 1988 Donruss Mike Brumley is the second of the pack.  Ouch.

Gypsy Queen = 4
Zippy Zappy = 5

It all comes down to the last card in their respective packs.

Round 10:
Wow.  Gypsy Queen drops a Nolan Ryan, an ace, out of its deck.  The Zippy Zappy pack gave it a good go, but could only muster an Alfonso Soriano A&G card to retaliate.  I like Sori, but he's no Ryan Express.  Round 10 goes to the GQ pack.

Final Score:
Gypsy Queen = 5
Zippy Zappy = 5

Mr. Zipster, thank you so much for the package.  I'm sorry it took so long for me to free the contents and share them with the blogging community.  Nevertheless, they are truly appreciated!

Saturday, April 26, 2014

Living on the Border

My wife and I don't get the local newspaper.  We rarely turn the television on and when we do it's certainly not with the intent to watch the news.  How do we stay up-to-date on worldly happenings and the like?

The interwebs of course!  I visit a half-dozen sites each day in an attempt to stay current.  We also pay $15 a month so my wife can be an on-line subscriber of The New Tork Times.  She enjoys well-written content and I can't say I blame her.  Although, sometimes I wonder if it's worth the cash to have unlimited access to their site, but then I'm made aware of a "cool" article or feature.

I know we love our cardboard, which means we're all baseball fans at heart.  So why not share the latest great baseball related article from the NYTimes.

Above is a snapshot of a map, from the Up Close on Baseball's Borders story, which breaks down fan boundaries for our favorite MLB teams. All the data for the maps has been accumulated through Facebook. The article makes an attempt to break down the where the borders would be drawn between the most heated rivalries in our beloved sport AND name the boundary lines. 

The maps are interactive and every team is represented, although some aren't shown in the picture above.

It doesn't take long for one to figure out for themselves that my neck of the woods is right on the border.  Let's take a look:
 Yikes!  38% to 36% in favor of my Cubs over the Redbirds.  I think I'll have to enjoy that small win, because I fear this will be the last time the Cardinals will be looking up at the Cubs in the standings this year.  The Cubs are currently on pace for a season record of 52 wins and 110 losses. Oye. 

If you're looking to kill a couple of hours just click the link to the article and/or explore the map.


Thursday, April 24, 2014

Wait, what? Topps Listens?

I found a link on Twitter to a two minute video at which spotlights Topps VP David Leiner talking about the lack of gum in its baseball card packs.  About 35 seconds into the interview Leiner offers this nugget, "Our consumers weren't exactly happy about our gum sticking to the last card."

So, Topps does listen?   Huh.  After spending a couple of years around the baseball card blogosphere I was beginning to have my doubts.  . . . On second thought, I still do.

Monday, April 21, 2014

P-town Tom vs. the Blue Bag

My wife and I eat dinner most nights at a small little table within our kitchen which is adjacent to our patio slider.  During dinner I often gaze out the window to watch the birds at our feeders, but recently there's been something else drawing my attention.

I can't remember how long the blue plastic shopping bag has been stuck in that tree.  A month?  Maybe two?  Maybe since last fall?  Either way, it's been driving me crazy.  For a while I started to wonder why the property owners hadn't taken care of it, but that was before I learned that the house had a "for sale" sign out front and was sitting vacant.


I would have to take matters into my own hands.

We were working on reorganizing the garage this weekend when an epiphany hit me.  Next thing I know I'm running a couple of houses over with a metal L-shaped "hook" screwed into the end of a 1"x2"x8' board.

Two minutes later I was taking a victory lap around my own house with the blue plastic bag flying like a flag from the end of my stick.

Victory, at last!

Sunday, April 20, 2014

Cubs Convention Calendar: April

"A marching band leads the Cubs onto the field on Opening Day 1916.  On this day, April 20, it was the first game the Cubs ever played at Wrigley Field, at the time known as Weeghman Park: they beat Cincinnati by a score of 7-6 in 11 innings."

Ninety-eight years ago the Cubs moved in, but in 1914 the first game at Weeghman Park was played between the Chicago Federals and the Kansas City Packers of the Federal League.  The Federals downed the Packers 9-1 on April 23rd, 1914.

The Cubs are making a big deal about Wrigley Field turning 100 years old, but part of me wonders if they'll bother celebrating the 100th anniversary of the Cubs calling Wrigley Field home in 2016.

Side note: I frequently look at the outcome of the first pitch of a game or the final score of said game and say, "It's going to be a good season!"  ... or...  "It's going to be a long year."  You know, like the result of one event, an extremely small sample size at that, has the power to portend the future.

The Cubs and Federals were both victorious in their first games at Weeghman Park, which would have had me saying, "We will see many championships on this field in the years to come." Huh.
Me thinks there is a flaw to my system and I have 100+ years of data to back it up.  Sigh.

Saturday, April 19, 2014

More Distractions

My interest in cardboard has been waning as of late.  Too many distractions:
  1. I was trying to cut down on unread load of back-logged baseball books in the Man Room.  
  2. Then the weather turned "nice" and the yard needed some attention.  
  3. Heck, then the Major League Baseball season started. And even though my Cubs are off to a less than stellar start I've found myself paying more attention than I should.
I did make an eBay purchase this past week, which was my first one in over two months.  That must be a new record for me for since I jumped back into the hobby in 2009.

Hello, Welington!
 The Cubs "C" is obviously missing from the helmet, but otherwise I'm really happy with my purchase.  I love the sepia coloring of the card.
 Welington is even numbered our of 149.  For under $5 shipped that's a nice score in my opinion.

Now, back to the distractions:
 OOTP15 was released yesterday and I'm downloading it as I type.  This is the best baseball simulation out there.  I've been playing since 2004 and absolutely recommend it to any baseball fan who has ever thought, "I could be a better GM than so-and-so!"

Funny thing is, my hours playing OOTP and "playing" with my baseball cards has always varied inversely.  The new release of my favorite game could mean an indefinite hiatus to my card collecting habits.  We'll just have to see how it plays out.

Well, I gotta go.  I need to install a baseball universe in which the Cubs have a chance to win more games than they lose.  Wish me luck!

Saturday, April 12, 2014

Cardinal Fans Are Cool: Part 2 (A Trade Post)

On contacted Madding, author of Cards on Cards, about the possibility of swapping some 2012 Panini Triple Play.  Mr. Madding is a Cardinals and I'm sure one of the "Cards" in his blog's title reflects his favorite baseball team, but my mind keeps going back-and-forth on which one represents cardboard and which one is about the Redbirds.  Huh.  I'm a Cub fan... I shouldn't spend my time on such trivial items!

Here's what started the trade:
Yep, I'm down to four cards to complete the master set of '12 Triple Play.  I've had a rough time tracking down the "Real Feel Pants" card.  You don't have one laying around, do you?

Madding, an ever-generous Cardinal fan, tossed in a few Cubs.  You know what's great?  All of them will find a spot in my binders!
 What kind of baseball card collecting Cub fan would I be if I didn't keep my Mr. Cub cards in a binder?

Topps Stickers!  I don't have any of these yet.
My unofficial collection of Starlin Castro is growing much faster than my official player collection of Kosuke Fukudome.  This is my 93rd unique Fukudome card and Starlin is not too far behind!

Here are my two favorites, a 2013 gold parallel and a 2014 red parallel of Junior Lake.
 I remember sitting behind the first baseman in Peoria while Junior played shortstop and always being alert and ready.  He threw as hard as Shawon Dunston from the position, but he made Shawon look accurate.  That takes some talent!
Currently, Junior is knocking over ball-hawks on Waveland Avenue with his mammoth home runs.  Good for you, Junior!

Madding, thanks for the set help and the extra Cubs!  They are great additions to my binder!  And dare I say it?  For the second time in as many days, Cardinal fans are ... gulp... pretty cool.

Friday, April 11, 2014

Cardinal Fans Are Cool: Part 1

I don't have cable.  I don't have Dish.  I don't have a subscription to  To watch my Cubs I usually head off to the nearest bar, which just so happens to be a national chain by the name of Old Chicago.

There was one seat at the bar and it was next to a Cardinal fan who was wearing a Yadier Molina jersey.  No biggie.  I can make nice.  The television directly in front of me was showing the Blackhawks.  I should really be more excited about the Hawks, but I'm just not a hockey guy. The TV to the right was doing its normal trivia thing and the TV to the left was just starting to show a replay of the Cardinal game from earlier in the day. 

The Cubs were going to be on in a half-hour, which if I played my cards right would mean that I would be able to butter up the Cardinal fan and coerce him to switch the replay of the Cadinals 4-0 loss to the Reds to the live Cubs game.

Game on.

We talked about the new "Ballpark Village" across from Busch Stadium and how my uncle works for the Cardinals.  We talked a little about Yadier Molina and Matt Carpenter, as a video showed Carpenter making throws from home to Molina covering second.

We both talked about how really don't necessarily despise the others' favorite team, as we are both fans of baseball.  Yep, I actually cheered for the Cardinals in the playoffs last fall.

I soon noticed he was settling up his tab and I realized that I wouldn't have to even ask if it would be okay if we changed the channel.  I just had to wait him out.

Before I knew it, we said our good-byes and then I was tapped on the shoulder.

"The guy in the Cardinal jersey asked me to deliver this," explained the host from the doorway.

What the heck?

I opened it up and was absolutely floored.  So much so that the bartender asked me if I was okay.

Wow.     I'm all about the saying "Pay it forward."  And I most certainly will, but for the time I was content to #KCCO. 

What a nice gesture.  To think...  maybe Cardinal and Cub fans can co-exist?

Wednesday, April 9, 2014

Favorite Pics from Spring Training

I've broken down my trip to spring training, the autographs and the cards already.  I actually thought I was done posting about my trip, but then Jim handed me a CD with a bunch of pictures from his camera.  So, why not?

Let's start with a food item.  Super Nachos!
 I was in Arizona long enough to see five baseball games and this tops my list of regrets: $10 Nachos.  I'd say if that's the worst, then that's a pretty good trip.  It wasn't even the cost that I regret, it was the fact that I finished the whole thing and then felt miserable for the next 6+ innings.  The Cubs losing that game didn't help matters.

Sweet shot of my sister and I from center field at Cubs Park. My sister is sporting her 2004 Spring Training shirt.  Nice!

Jim, my sister, and myself in front of the marquee at Cubs Park.  Stand in line for 10-15 minutes, don't pay a dime, and you're rewarded with a nice photo opportunity.  Cool!

 Ah... Theo!   I have such a man crush on Mr. Epstein I'm not even sure what to say.

We got up early on a Sunday morning to watch the minor league players practice. 
I can just read Dan Vogelbach's mind, "What are these yahoos doing out here on a Sunday morning taking pictures of me for?"   What a great candid shot!

Thanks for passing on the pictures to me, Jim!

And thanks to everyone else for stopping by to check out my picture heavy post!

Sunday, April 6, 2014

Lastest JBF Bomb - Part II

Wes, also known as the uber-generous author of Jaybaerkfan's Junk, sent me a package so large I had to separate it into two posts.  Yesterday, I revealed the three team bags full of Cub goodness.

Today, we'll take a crack at dissecting the "Bear".
 Now, I'm not sure that this isn't a re-purposed case, which already had this sticker applied to it.  Wes tends to name his packages after fictional monsters: The Kraken and The Rancor Monster.

A Bear?  Yeah, that's a little tame for this package, because every card was serial numbered!  Holy smokes!
Five new Kerry Wood cards for my collection!
Rally Caps?  Cool! This 2004 Studio card might be my favorite from the plastic case, but there was some very stiff competition, as you will see below.
 Wait, six?   A 2006 Topps Co-Signers card of Derrek Lee with a cameo of Kerry.  Nice!

Yep, this one counts for sure.  I don't care if the back side neglects Wood or not.  I'm up to 316 unique Kerry Wood cards!  Woo-Hoo!

More Derrek Lee:

A really sweet looking Mark Grace card featuring him in two different uniforms:

Two more of my favorite players from when they suited up for the Cubs: Jon Leiber and Lance Johnson, aka One Dog.

Since the entire plastic case contained serial numbered cards there was a nice smattering of Topps and Bowman parallels from different years.  Many of these were from years in which I wasn't collecting cards so I was pretty excited to find them in the package.

There were plenty of one-time prospects as well, like the Patterson brothers:

Felix Pie... Mmmmm... pie.

Hey, it's Ceda time!  (A reference to Ceda's fleeting fame when he was a member of the Peoria Chiefs.)

 As you can tell, there was quite a collection of players from a wide assortment of sets and years.

Hall-of-Famers?  Wes always includes major stars in his packages.
 The Hawk was a great Chicago Cub.  These will probably wind up in my sister's collection as she's a Dawson super collector.

Fergie Jenkins!  The first ever Canadian born player to be elected to the Hall of Fame!

And the icing on the cake: An Ernie Banks autograph with certificate of authenticity.
Wowsers!  An auto of Mr. Cub!  <jaw hits floor>

Seriously, where does Wes find all of these cards?  Another blogger hypothesized the other day that Wes may have a printing press in his basement.  I don't think that's the case, but if it were true it sure would explain some things!

Thanks for a great package, Wes.  It'll take a while to accumulate a return package, but one is most certainly in the works!