Long Time Coming

I haven't posted in over four months. The weird thing is that I actually would have had more time in the summer, I suppose. Part of it was due to having my laptop stolen. The rest, I'm not entirely certain as to why. Some schoolwork, some work work, etc.

I'm busier than ever right now. I guess posting is a little stress relief, or maybeI just need to reconnect with the outside world a little bit. I'm in my final semester of my MBA program - I got cleared to graduate in December, and I just have to pass these last three classes.

I haven't picked up many cards lately, though I've bought a little of each retail set from 2016. I scored a few nice pulls that I'll try and show off later. What I have done, though, is maintain a pretty steady TTM level, and that's lead to a bunch of returns, including this one that was out for nearly 14 months.

Now that 1998 Upper Deck and all its shiny doesn't scan very well, but it's pretty damn nice. It's my second signed Wood RC, after the one I sent him just days after he struck out 20 of my beloved Astros just weeks into his debut in 1998. These were sent via the Cubs in August last year, after I saw a few returns reported.

In my time away from the blog, I've made some really nice progress on my Astrographs project. Provided that the totals I have on my recreated spreadsheet are correct, I'm up to 323 autographs of players/coaches in a Houston uniform, and another 40 in other uniforms. I need to take some time to update the page I have for it here, but that full redesign I'd like to do will probably have to wait several more months. The Astros held their Legends Weekend in early August, and I hit up the pregame signing on August 6th that featured nearly two dozen former players, including several from the 1986 team. The big score of the day for me was Mike Scott, whose no-hitter clinched a playoff bid for the 'Stros that year. I'll work up a full post on that one soon, hopefully. I also added Le Grand Orange, Rusty Staub, via a private signing recently. It was nice to check those two team stars off my list.

The TTM train has been rolling along steadily, and I have so many returns that I need to post. Maybe I can try to throw a few a week up, but who really knows what sort of time I will have between now and graduation.

Here's my most recent return, which came in today: long-term minor leaguer, short-term Astro, and current Royals bullpen coach Cody Clark. After a decade in the minors and Indy ball, Cody got a callup in late 2013 when the Astros hit a rash of catching injuries, including a surprise fastball to Max Stassi's jaw. All told, Clark played in 16 games, collecting 4 hits. These are two customs I made (I sent him an extra pair), based off the 1954 Wilson Franks series and the 1979 TCMA Japanese set. The "Wilson Franks" features Clark's first hit, which took an agonizing 11 games for him to realize, and the "TCMA" features the subsequent postgame bath he received after the team won. Clark had gone 0-for-25 in 27 plate appearances before hitting a single off Jason Vargas in the 5th inning on September 13th.

I fell in love with the Wilson Franks layout thanks to a Mark Hoyle post I spotted on Twitter, and it has subsequently become my default go-to for Astros customs now. It's nice to have an official style for the series. I replaced the hot dogs with the team logo - the 60's shooting star version is my favorite, and I use it with older uniforms and the current ones, though I've stuck with correct logos for the Eighties through the horrific brick red and pinstripe days of the Oughts. I matched the fonts as close as I could, and got rid of the facsimile signatures, as I'm interested in using these to collect the real deal. I'm interested in trying to develop a version of the back that I can use for my customs on a regular basis as well, so maybe I'll get to that in, I don't know, January?

Finally, I'll show off another recent autograph addition. I got this one when the Cubs came to town in September.

That's probably not who you were expecting to see, huh? Fox had brought their crew in for the Saturday day game, and I decided to head over and try to catch some Cubs at the team hotel in downtown. I was hoping for Dexter Fowler (for my Astros collection) and maybe Maddon and some of the young Cubbies, so I loaded up some cards and threw in a few of the Fox & Cubs broadcasters just in case. To my dismay, I was at the wrong hotel - for the Cubs, that is. They stayed outside of downtown, but the broadcasters and sportswriters were all staying just blocks from the ballpark. Smoltz was very nice to the three of us who were waiting, and I was very grateful to come away with a pair of signed RCs.

I'm a doofus, though, and didn't realize that some of the Astros call-ups were put up at the hotel as well. I hadn't brought any Astros cards with me, and missed out on Alex Bregman. Whoops.


A Real Quick Trade Post

Most of my writing time lately has been devoted to school papers and TTM letters, so I haven't been posting. Sorry about that. This one's going to be very brief.

I banged out a quick trade over at TCDB recently, and just wanted to send a shout of thanks to Sean, aka Broadway, for the Astros that just showed up at my door. I'd sent over some Panini Cooperstown cards he requested.

Sean helped me out with some cards from this year's recent releases, sending over some Gypsy Queen and Heritage cards. This gets me some Ken Giles cards in a Houston uniform, so now it's time to try to track down another signature from the flamethrower. After a rough start, it looks like "100 Miles" Giles is back on track. Carlos Gomez, however, has become a black hole at the plate. Where has your swing gone, Go-Go?

I absolutely love that team celebration card - getting one of those signed by all four players on it would really be something special. I suppose that will be my new mini-quest. If anyone has a spare copy, I'll take it. Also, is it just me or do the facsimile signatures on this year's Heritage look especially thin? It seems odd.

I know I haven't been posting much, and that a lot of you offered to take cards off my hands. I'm still planning to do this. My fourth semester of grad school just wrapped up, and I'm carrying a nice hefty 3.818 GPA! I'm taking a mini-mester course, so I haven't had a break yet. I've got a week here full of essay writing - a four page research paper, five two-page article reviews, and twenty 500 word discussion posts on an equal number of articles. Once that's all done, I'll have some more time to write and put packages together.

Also, because I have the same rabid love of cardboard that we all share, I have bought plenty of 2016 cards, and I would love to trade you some for some Astros. If you've got needs from flagship, Opening Day, Donruss, Gypsy Queen, or Heritage, hit me up and I'll see what I can find for you.

Wow! This went longer than expected. I guess that's what ten minutes uninterrupted at the office can do for you. Speaking of, time to get back to work.

Until later,

 - Marc


Astros FanFest Report: Astro-graphs Galore!

Alright, Opening Day has come and gone and I'm still way behind on posting. At least my Astros beat the Evil Empire in their first game! Correa looked great.

I promised a post on Astros FanFest. Back in January, my loving wife let me go up to the ballpark and stand in lines for five hours to get squiggles from men - mostly men younger than I at this point, save for the "Astros Legends" group and one Mr. Scott Feldman.

At this point, two months down the road, I'm fairly lost as to the order that this happened in, so unfortunately I'm at a loss for narrative here. I will say that it was a fantastically gorgeous day, 50 to 60 degrees with bright blue skies and the roof open at Minute Maid Park. However, that meant it was going to be a rather chilly day full of waiting in lines.

I zipped right in towards the front of the initial autograph group, and immediately knew it was going to be a good day. While I don't have a whole lot of the day's order down, this guy was definitely in the initial group of players. 

That right there made my day. So who else did I land during my frigid morning?

Well, I'm pretty certain the first group of players also featured Jason Castro and Jake Marisnick. Marisnick will start out as the fourth outfielder, and he's hands-down one of my favorite guys on the squad: fun to watch, amazing in the field with a canon for an arm, and when he's hitting it's spectacular.

Pretty sure that Preston Tucker was in that first group as well. This kid's got a nice bat. He's currently 5th outfielder and could see the occasional DH at-bat with Gattis out.

Here's another pair of these team-issued postcards. I had run out of stuff for Marwin to sign, so I just picked one of these up when I went through the line. Same thing with Chris Sampson, who was signing at the "Astros Legends" table. Hmm... Chris Sampson, Astros Legend? Yeah, I don't think I'm buying that one. So who else was at this supposed legendary table?

Terry Puhl, a long-standing and serviceable right fielder with a .993 fielding percentage, a .372 average in 13 postseason games across three series (including .526 in the 1980 NLCS) who played for Houston from 1977-1990. Terry's a member of both the Canadian Baseball and Texas Baseball Halls of Fame. So, sure: legend status accepted I suppose.

Brandon Backe, local hurler whose career was ended after police broke up a wedding he was attending and damaged his shoulder. Backe's bona-fides? Excellent performances in the 2004 postseason, and fine performance in 2005 as the Astros made the World Series. Backe's originally from down the road in Galveston, where he was a stud at Galveston Ball High School. Legend? Probably not. Nice to see? Most certainly.

Next up was Colt .45's outfielder Carl Warwick, who was involved in the first trade Houston ever made. In June 1962, the Colts shipped opening day starter Bobby Shantz to St. Louis in return for Warwick and pitcher John Anderson. Carl did hit for a nice bit of power in the short time he spent with the club. I was pretty happy to check this one off my list. Legend status? Meh, though he does get points for being involved in the first trade.

Warwick hit 23 homers across 254 games in his two seasons with Houston, before being traded back to St. Louis at the beginning of 1964, where he landed on a World Series champion. The Legends Table line was moving incredibly slow (so much that I thought I might miss the next signing), so the handlers were trying to make sure everyone only signed one item. There was a bit of a roadblock in front of me though, so Warwick was happy to sign a few more. "Don't let her know I signed extras for you," he told me, referring to the handler over his shoulder.

There were two more players at the Legends Table that were most assuredly legit, which I'll save for the end of this post.

I hustled back to the current player autograph area to get in line for the next group of players. I'm fairly certain that Feldman was in this group, and he happily signed a pair for me. At the time, Feldman was the only player on the active roster older than myself - which did make me feel a bit silly for getting blue scribbles from all these guys. Since FanFest, the Astros have acquired two more guys that outrank me in age: new backup catcher Erik Kratz and rotation addition Doug Fister, who's got about two months on me.

I saw Lance Jr. again, who was a real hit with all the fans. I'm hoping he returns to form once he's back up with the club, which should be next month. The delay should actually help with his innings limit.

I didn't have an Astros card of Colby, so I whipped up a custom, based on the 1984 Topps design with a bit of my own tweaking, and gave him an extra copy of it. Collin McHugh was super nice - I know he's a big coffee drinker, so I asked if he'd ever been by the shop I used to work at (Catalina, best coffee in Houston) and recommended he stop by sometime.

Two more Valbuenas for the collection, including another of these '84-ish customs.

I had the same lack of Astros cards with Stassi, so I tried a couple options, and gave them copies as well.

When it came down to the last signing group, I didn't actually have a ticket, but there were some names on the list that I really wanted. Groups hadn't been announced until just before the signings, so I hung around for a bit to see if I could perhaps buy someone's extra ticket.

Eventually, I lucked out and ran into a guy who's friend wasn't able to make it. He'd let me have his buddy's ticket, no charge, if I'd use my one item to get a second Mike Fiers 8x10 signed for this gentleman.

I agreed, although just a wee bit heavy-hearted. I still needed a Fiers card signed, and that was one of the key people in this last group.

I netted another pair of Singleton signatures, including the great 15 GQ with the tequila sunrise jersey.

Josh Fields has been rather good out of the 'pen, so I was pretty happy to come away with his signature. Fiers, by the way, was more than fine with signing the extra card for me. We were very close to the end of the line, so that probably helped.

Alright, I've saved two of the biggest scores from the day for last: El Oso Blanco was in the third group if I recall correctly. The scan doesn't show it well, but his signature really pops on this Topps Chrome card. Altuve was the lead man in the last group, and although I'd gotten him just two days earlier I felt like an absolute kid again when the prospect of getting another signature came up. I guess the bug never goes away.

Oh yes, let's not forget the two true Astros Legends I mentioned earlier. 

Yep, I came away with new signatures from J.R. Richard and Jimmy Wynn! I'd met J.R. before at a book signing, but this was the first time I'd gotten to shake hands with the Toy Cannon. They were also nice enough to sign a second card for me, though J.R.'s wife sure didn't want to allow him to do so. She was trying to keep the line going, and J.R. will talk all day long given the opportunity.

Here's the extra card. If you have spares of this one, I'll take them all off your hands. I'd like to get several more of these signed by former players.

Alright, I know this one was a doozy of a post. Hopefully I can get some trade posts knocked out in the near future.

- Marc


Belated: The Astros Winter Caravan

I really should be doing some Business Modeling homework at the moment, but my brain needs a break. Plus, it's gorgeous outside, so I figured I'd sit on the porch and bang out a long overdue post.

This one happens to be two months overdue at this point, but who's counting anymore? Back in January when classes were yet to begin or just getting underway, I managed to hit up a few of the Astros "Winter Caravan" stops, in hopes of making some more progress on my autograph project.

One day I happened to get done with work early and caught the tail end of an appearance at a Whataburger across town. For those of you not in the know, Whataburger is pure glory. Do yourself a favor when you come through town.

Marwin Gonzalez, A.J. Hinch, and Big Jon Singleton were the scheduled 'stros, so I ducked inside. I quickly spotted Marwin and A.J. talking to some fans and reporters, but I'd run out of stuff for Marwin to sign and Hinch just now got his first Astros card in 2016 Heritage. So I landed another Hinch rookie, and went looking for Jonathan.

There's a fairly standardized system for these appearances. They're one to two hours long, and the team will typically have one guy "work" behind the counter, one in the restaurant talking to fans, and one at the drive-thru, handing out food. With Singleton nowhere to be found, I knew what I had to do.

So I got back in my car, and pulled through, ordering a sweet tea. Jonathan handed it to me with a big smile, so I asked if he'd mind signing a couple cards. He happily obliged, and I drove off with these two new additions to the collection.

The next day, three Astros were scheduled to make an appearance at the Chik-Fil-A down the street from our office. Literally, I can walk there in less than five minutes for lunch (and certainly have before). The names: Dallas Keuchel, Jose Altuve, and new closer-to-be Ken Giles.

It was a morning appearance, so I got there early and ordered breakfast, and sat around the madhouse that was an obscenely packed restaurant and patio. Eventually the players arrived, and I'd positioned myself well by the door. I managed to ask Jose, and he motioned that he had to get inside. Strike one.

So I dashed around the restaurant to the side door, sneaking in to try and land him at the counter. He signed two baseballs for the people next to me before walking back behind the counter. Strike two.

Keuchel started taking orders, and I briefly attempted to get him before realizing that was pure futility. Giles and Altuve had been ushered toward the drive-thru, so I went to my backup plan. This time I opted for an Arnold Palmer.

To my chagrin, it wasn't Altuve doling out chicken, but rather Ken Giles. It was still crazy inside, and that wasn't helping the drive-thru line at all either. My Arnold Palmer hadn't made it to the window yet. "I'll get to the bottom of this," Giles assured me with a smile, and then apologized for the delay. I could see Altuve over his shoulder, talking to the staff in Spanish and snapping photos. Low and away, ball one.

I asked Ken if he'd mind signing a card while I awaited my drink, and and he replied, "of course!"

Taking the card and marker, he turned over his shoulder to Altuve and remarked, "hey look, this guy came prepared!"

This was the moment - a hanging curve that I could either crush or foul into the stands, but I might as well swing. "Jose, I have a card of you too, would you mind signing it?"

"Sure," he said, taking the card and chuckling as he squiggled upon it, "I have the worst sign[nature] in all [of] baseball."

And with that, I landed what has been the white whale on the roster for the past few years.

There was one more appearance, later that evening. Seeing as I've written a novella at this point, I'll make it brief. At an Academy (that's a sporting goods shop here, in case it's not in your region), young fireballer Lance McCullers Jr. and free-swinging, bat-flipping, dazzling third baseman Luis Valbuena were signing some autographs.

I approachedd McCullers, and not wanting to try for too much, settled for a single card. Seeing more than one small kid approach him with a Lance McCullers Sr. card, I asked how many times he gets asked to sign cards of his dad.  "I see them a bunch," he said.

I will say, the kid has impeccable poise and an immaculate jaw. I'd be weak-kneed in the box facing him.

That brought me to Valbuena, who was consistently one of my favorite Astros to watch last season and simultaneously one of the most frustrating at the plate. His defense is remarkable, with great instincts, range, and a cannon arm. He's got pop at the plate, and was literally one of the unluckiest hitters in the league last year, spending most of the season ranked in the top ten for hard-hit ball percentage and in the bottom ten for BABIP.  The faux-'71 on the right is a custom I made last summer when I apparently had some time.

Robert Ford, who is in the new wave of great radio broadcasters, was also there - I wish I'd know that because I would've whipped up a quick custom for him to sign. I did walk out with these two postcards, though, and thanked Mr. Ford for his work. It's certainly a pleasure listening to him call a game.

Ok, there are many more to come from the actual FanFest. First, I need to kick some spreadsheet butt, though.

 - Marc