Monday, April 23, 2012

Pennant: Chasing That Old Time Feeling

I've been able to resist it up to this point, but with Heritage and Gypsy Queen being the last two baseball releases, I couldn't help but work on an 'old-timey' set design. Instead of combing through the encyclopedia of trading cards, looking to resurrect the zombie of something 50-100 years old, I decided to just make something up. This is kind of a hybrid between the styles of the old and the current.

Say hi the Pennant line of Spirit trading cards. You'll notice some of the characteristics of other retro sets: photos doctored to look old and weathered, typefaces from decades past, not-quite-white borders. There's a team-color curve on the bottom to house the player name, team and position. I've used some similar curvilinear shapes throughout the other Spirit designs, so this helps keep them in the family. Another point of 'modernization' is the fact the player name is more than just their last name and first initial and it's actually bigger than the set name/logo.

The backside is pretty similar to retro sets of today: 1-color, vertical, a lot of non-informational elements, simple team logos. These here may be printed in a single color, but instead of just black, the ink is the same as their team color. I decided to include players' full names on the back since I really miss that from my youth. Also, there's a simple line of the previous season's stats (hits, homers, rbi, and average) that has numbers instead of 'two thousand and eleven' and such.

I may do some inserts for the Pennant line coming up in the future. I can see myself getting the itch after A&G hits the shelves.

Friday, April 20, 2012

REVIEW - 2012 Gypsy Queen

Welcome to my second product review here. I skipped Heritage* since the design is the same as 1963 and there were only a few inserts to mess with. That means Gypsy Queen is next up on the docket.
*For the record, I really dig the 1963 design so I think Heritage is a winner this year. My only gripes are peripherally design-related (Rookie Stars variations? No thanks.)

So far, I've only opened a blaster and a rack pack, so I don't have an example of everything in-hand, but I've seen enough pics online to have a good understanding of the designs.

Starting with the base design, it's definitely more ornate than last year. They've added some of the flourishes from last year's inserts onto the base here. All of the info has been moved to the bottom. The Gypsy Queen 'logo' is bigger but somehow blends in a little more. That's probably due to the gold neutrals on gray. There may be a little less real estate for photos, but the shots seem to be closer and more intimate, so that's an upgrade in my eyes. Comparing this year's to last year's really makes the 2011 design look pretty drab and dull. Off to a good start with the base set.

Unfortunately, the SPs this year are photo variations instead of just high-numbers at the end of the set. Right now, the problem is you only know you have an SP if you happen to pull two of the same card number but different images, like I did up there with Ian Kennedy. I'm sure eventually it'll be common knowledge which is standard and which is short-printed, but it's kind of annoying at the moment.  Not only that, there are now 50 less players with a card than there should be.

A couple of parallels here are the Framed Paper. There are also a blue version and a retail-only brown version, like the Ripken here. Also a black 1/1 version for some reason. It's up in the air whether these are any nicer than last year's copper/bronze and green. There are also a lot of on-card autos which look really nice on this card stock and design. The white fade on these is the least noticeable on any auto card I've seen lately.

Minis this year come in regular (gray), black, green, and sepia. The black look really nice with the leather brown flourishes. The sepias also work better than the 2011 version.

The Hallmark Heroes insert features all-time greats while Future Stars returns with up-and-coming players with bright futures. Both have blue borders, which is kind of a strange choice. Also, the logo situation on both bugs me. For the Hallmark Heroes, that shade of gold on the logo is way too light compared to the darker gold around the photo frame and the text on top. And on the Future Stars cards, not having the GQ logo centered at the bottom is really distracting since everything else is symmetrical but that.

The homerun insert this year is called Moonshots. (Hey, that sounds familiar...) The purple border is surprising and works pretty well. I like the asymmetry, especially compared to the centered-ness of every single other card in GQ. The Glove Stories design is really plain and boring. There's just not a lot going on with the photo frame, especially compared to every single other card in GQ. Maybe its the fact that leather color is too similar to the gold used for that frame. Something closer to the gold on the GQ logo here would work a little better. And what's with the cropping on this image of Mays? Why they felt it necessary to show the outfield wall and keep him so small is beyond me.

The last insert is Sliding Stars, which is kind of like this year's Sticky Fingers in that it focuses on a part of the game that doesn't get a lot of attention on cards. Also, they're both the only horizontal design in both their respective sets. This is a pretty cool design that leaves a lot of space for some great photography. The elements that do enter into the frame don't impose too much, so there isn't much obstruction on display.

Last year, we saw the Gypsy Queen inserts. This time around, they've featured the Gypsy Kings, a mythical baseball squad. Again, they have auto variations, though I don't really get why they have fictional characters sign autographs. Oh well. It's a fun little bit of A&G without going overboard.

Rounding out the set are the hits like the Indian Head Penny and Relics that do a really nice job of adjusting the base design to incorporate the memorbilia. There are also the framed mini Relics and Autos that are exactly the same design as their full-size counterparts, only smaller.

All in all, the 2012 version of Gypsy Queen isn't all that different from the 2011 version. They seemed to have made some improvements here and there without really downgrading anything, so I'd consider that a success. It definitely feels less like a rehash of A&G like I was thinking last year.

Base cards: 4/5
Parallels: 4/5
Photography: 4/5
Hallmark Heroes: 3/5
Future Stars: 3.5/5
Moonshots: 4/5
Glove Stories: 2/5
Sliding Stars: 4.5/5
Gypsy Kings: 4/5
Indian Head Penny & Relic: 4/5
Minis: 4/5
OVERALL: 3.73/5

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

1-2 Punch

The last post focused on heavy hitters so now it's time for mound masters (sounds like a great name for another inserts somewhere down the line.) The hook for this one is spotlighting teams with 2 pretty good or even great pitchers at the front of their rotation. It was a lot harder than I thought it would be to put together the checklist. For quite a few teams, the drop off from number 1 to 2 is pretty big. That's why guys like Kershaw and Sabathia are absent here. On the other end of the spectrum, you've got a couple of teams with deeeeeeep rotations that end up leaving off a some great pitchers, Cole Hamels and Madison Bumgarner* in particular.
* I reeeeally hope Timmy gets back to normal or his inclusion over MadBum will look particularly egregious.

Basically we've got player cutouts on top of a gold diamond (mimicking the 1-2 Punch logo shape) on top of a team-color saturated photo. The big 1 and 2 on the side look really cool with the cards stacked next to each other.

The design here is a little more 'sophisticated' than a couple of the other Clubhouse inserts, but I think it's nice to appeal to some different tastes with a low-end set. We have some gold foil here on the 1-2 Punch logo along with the player & team names. I included the fineprint (copyright, MLB and MLBPA logos) on both sides so the number 2 guy doesn't get dumped on. I figure player collectors would probably appreciate having a full side of their guy on a 2-player card.

Here's the 14-card/28-player checklist I came up with. See any blatant snubs?

GIANTS: Lincecum, Cain
PHILLIES: Roy Halladay, Cliff Lee
TIGERS: Justin Verlander, Doug Fister
RAYS: James Shields, David Price
BREWERS: Gallardo, Greinke
RED SOX: Josh Beckett, Jon Lester
DBACKS: Ian Kennedy, Daniel Hudson
ANGELS: Jered Weaver, Dan Haren
BRAVES: Tim Hudson, Tommy Hanson
REDS: Mat Latos, Johnny Cueto
CARDINALS: Adam Wainwright, Jaime Garcia
MARLINS: Josh Johnson, Mark Buerhle
RANGERS: Yu Darvish, Derek Holland
NATIONALS: Strasburg, Gonzalez

Sunday, April 1, 2012

To the Moon and back

Oh, hi there. It's nice to be back. I sure was gone a looooong time, huh? Well, the vacation was had and spring has sprung. I figured it was time to poke my head out and say 'hello.' Opening Day is a few short days away so let's get this thing back on the rails.

In thinking for another insert idea for Clubhouse, I figured I'd go with something simple like 'guys who hit a bunch of homeruns.' That seemed easy enough. But then came the hard part of coming up with a name & concept. I passed over stuff like 'Home Run Kings' since they have been in recent products and thought that the Clubhouse brand could use something a little more fun. So I started thinking of different slang terms for homers. Unfortunately, most were either semi-perverted (dingers, dongs, goin' deep) or had also been used elsewhere (going yard, touch'em all.) So I was back at square one.

But during my research, I kept coming back to the term 'moonshot,' thinking it really lends itself to something fun and interesting design-wise. Even though Ultra ran an insert in 2003 with the same basic premise, I figured I could update and improve upon it.

Looking at these cards, the first thing that pops out is either the UGE moon image or the absence of edges on the top. Yep, these are my first die-cuts. Over the years, I've come to the conclusion that die-cuts can be really cool but I always prefer the ones with at least 2 true corners. They need to be able to sit level in a sleeve or toploader, which usually means the bottom corners. I have a feeling that if some other card companies tried to die-cut this, they'd jump for the completely round die-cut and obliviously annoy collectors.

With the full moon image taking up a lot of real estate, it makes a nice backdrop to the player images. The photos here are of the batters directly following their 'moonshot' swings. With the Howard and Reynolds cards, they're stoicly staring down their long balls (or fly outs) while Teixeira is starting his trot towards first. The dark blue color complements the gold moon while adding a little bit of subtlety you wouldn't get from black. The names are below in a 'space' font to extend the lunar motif going on here.

On the back side, the symmetry of the die-cut really helps keep things clean. Instead of the moon, we get a circular close-up of the players, which fades out towards the bottom to make room for the text. I also found space for the team logos somewhere within the photo frame (these all happen to be in about the same spot but that was just a happy accident with these particular photos.) The checklist totals 20 though I didn't really put it together completely. I thought it would be nice to include some guys like Reynolds here who have better numbers in the HR category while not really nearing the leaderboards elsewhere. Adam Dunn would be another candidate but would probably need to get off to a good start in 2012 to justify a spot here. Anyway, 17 of the 20 spots are still open.

Alright, thanks for checking in with me again after the long lay off. I promise the posts will keep coming semi-regularly like they used to. See ya soon!