Thursday, August 29, 2013

2013 Clubhouse Mitt Masters

After tackling the heavy hitters of the league, let's shine a little light on some guys that flash the leather. The Mitt Masters insert features some of the league's best fielders that might not put up the offensive numbers to garner a lot of attention. Being a Giants fan, I'm keenly aware of Brandon Crawford's glovework at short. The rest of the baseball world, however, I'm not so sure. The card is almost top-to-bottom leather, or in this case cardboard with a leather texture. By adding some thickness to the stock, we're able to give all the elements a visual and tactile embossed appearance. Gloves come in all shades of leather so we' have 3 tones represented here.

The raised surfaces of all the leather spots makes way for some stamp silver foil to be pressed down. In person, these cards would be a pleasure to hold, running your fingertips across all the bumps of the images and valleys of the foil. The big cap logo in the upper right corner really stands out to my eyes.

The back may have a level surface but the full color photo on the left and the richness of the leather pattern keep things from getting dull. It's a little hard to make out here but the card number (MMxx) is found inside a mitt silhouette with an embossed look, along with the Mitt Masters logo subtly pressed below the text.

I don't know how feasible it would be, but if these cards were produced it would be nice if they could somehow be infused with a leather scent. I guess that would probably make it easy for pack searchers to sniff them out, though. I think the combination of the embossing and the leather texture along with this hypothetical odor would fit in perfectly with the Clubhouse target market.

Friday, August 23, 2013

Gint-A-Cuffs V: Packs 17-24

We're heading into the final third of the box with a running score of 148. I wonder if my lucky streak will stretch another year?

FP/ATY Trevor Bauer +4


164 Chris Mortensen -1
ATY C.J. Wilson +2
Mini Relic: Roy Jones, Jr. +10


Well this is interesting. All 3 of my hits were relics but none of them came in the same format. The Roy Jones, Jr. here has a different colored frame around it. I think the light blue on the Belle is a lot more flattering. This mauve color is just way to drab here. Plus the plain borders are so far away from the ornate borders on pretty much every other card in the set. I guess the red fabric swatch is cool, though. Really makes me wonder what article of clothing it's from since boxer trunks are usually all silky and shiny, no?

128 Joe Mauer (FP) +2
344 Nolan Ryan (SP) +2
Martial Mastery: Zulu +3
A&G Mini: 288 Chris Davis +2


It's crazy how some packs have 4 scoring cards in them while others only offer 1. Here's my first look at the Martial Mastery cards. I like how the lack of hard borders helps the card breathe. The little logo up top is well done, too. Can't say I'm a fan of the subject matter, though. They just had a military leaders set in A&G a couple years ago.

ATY Dylan Bundy +2


This doesn't look like a strong finish...

186 Andy Pettitte -1
345 Melky Cabrera (SP) +2
Civilizations: Swahili +3
Inquiring Minds: Francis Bacon +3


I tried to keep it out of my mind and avoid the jinx but there were more than a few times opening this box where I thought "man, I haven't pulled me Yankees so far." I don't know if the checklist was lighter or if I just got a lucky box but the Pettitte here was the first Yankee base card I pulled.

96 Jason Heyward (FP) +2
316 Hal Newhouser (SP) +2
Martial Mastery: Romans +3
SP Mini: 346 Josh Johnson +3


Hey hey, we're picking up some steam here. I feel a strong finish in the works.

300 Bud Selig -1
327 Yogi Berra (SP) +2 / -1 NYY = +1 total
Martial Mastery: Knights +3


Damnit, Selig!

ATY Willie Stargell +2
Inquiring Minds: Plato +3


And an embarrassing stagger across the finish line. Actually, 199 is basically 200 and I told myself beforehand if I get to 200, I'll be pleased. It's always fun opening a box but adding the weird scoring into the mix cranks it up exponentially. As always, thanks to Mark for organizing/running this whole crazy thing and also getting Dave & Adam's Card World on board with a Gint-A-Cuffs discount. I can't imagine all the work that goes into overseeing this year after year.

Overall, I like the 2013 Allen & Ginter designs a bit less than last year's. The whole 'theme' seems a little too loosely applied resulting in a mix of carnival and ren faire that I'm not a big fan of. I suppose there are only so many 'yesteryear' eras to cull from. It seems a bit like A&G and Gypsy Queen are on a track to meet each other head on in a few years. A lot of these ornate storybook elements are found in each, along with things that used to be A&G signatures like the minis and such. About the only distinction that remains is GQ is baseball only (minus the gypsies) and A&G is a balls-out quirkfest. The products may be built differently but the looks of each are starting to converge.

Thursday, August 22, 2013

Gint-A-Cuffs V: Packs 9-16

Let's get round 2 started. To recap, after the first 8 packs yielded 2 of my hits, my running total is +91.

247 Ryan Howard (FP) +2
ATY Anthony Rizzo +2
A&G Mini: 253 Mark Trumbo +2


336 Chase Headley (SP) +2
One Little Corner: Sedna +3


The One Little Corner cards feature 'one little corner' of universe, depicting either a particular planet, star or other celestial object. The design is nice and all but it's hard to get excited about these drawings of homogenous spheres. I think maybe constellations would be a bit more interesting. Maybe next year...

324 Justin Morneau (SP) +2
One Little Corner: Mercury +3


282 Tim Lincecum (MFP) +4
ATY David Ortiz +2
First Americans: Sioux +3


Hello, Timmy. Even after the ups and downs of his last season and a half, I still get excited when I pull a Timmy from a pack. Even a base card like this. I also got my first look at the First Americans minis. I really like these cards. The design is clean and solemn yet still has an organic feel. Living in Oklahoma, this might be a set I try putting together.

ATY Ryan Howard (FP) +4
A&G NNO: Bob Lemon +11


I wonder how many people have these no-numbers in their possession but have no clue.

332 Cole Hamels (SP) +2
One Little Corner: Eris +3
Black Mini: 291 Edwin Encarnacion +3


ATY Jayson Werth +2


And now we're feeling the affects of pulling 2 hits in the first 8 packs...

59 Joey Votto (FP) +2
325 Johan Santana (SP) +2
Civilizations: Mayans +3


After 16 packs, I'm 8 points off my pace from last year's contest. Who knows what's in store? (I do)

Wednesday, August 21, 2013

Gint-A-Cuffs V: Packs 1-8

Now's the time, the time is now. Time for Gint-A-Cuffs! As you may recall, I participated for the first time last year and somehow won the durn thing. I'm still amazed at my good fortune. And since it's a no-brainer that I have to defend my title, here's my first post for Gint-A-Cuffs V. I've decided to split the box into 3 posts rather than 4 to help keep you all from growing weary. Let's get going.

OBBH: Bryce Harper (FP) +18

119 Adam Richman -1
217 Pope Francis +1
244 Nick Saban -1
ATY Chris Sale +2
A&G Mini: 259 Matthias Blonski +2


I got off to hot start with last year's boxtopper. This year's didn't quite match it but pulling Harper from the Favorite Player list is a nice bonus. These are nicer than the N43s from 2012 though the checklist is a bit small.

I was definitely a bigger fan of last year's Art Deco look than 2013's medieval bigtop feel. The Allen & Ginter's logo is a tad too large and all the light, scroll-y borders take a up a little too much focus. The two combined scream 'college-town head shop' to me. The pictures and paint daubs look the same as ever but don't really fit in with the rest of the elements.

122 John Jay (FP) +2
333 John Kruk (SP) +2
A&G Mini: 239 Craig Kimbrel +2
Civilizations: Olmecs +3


The Civilizations of Ages Past really sticks out here around the rest of set. If the cobbled border were a lot lighter and the typeface was a bit more subtle, I'd probably really dig the cards. As is, those elements really jump out and not in a good way.

341 Ozzie Smith (SP) +2
307 Darwin Barney (SP) +2
Palaces: Mysore +3
A&G Mini: 129 Miguel Montero +2


Huh, can't say I've ever pulled 2 SPs in the same pack before. Hopefully they behaved themselves in the wrapper.

99 Barry Zito (FT) +1
Black Mini: 18 Matt Harrison +3
ATY: Robinson Cano +2 / -1 NYY = +1 total


I do like the black-bordered mini's this year. 2012's didn't really stand out as much so it's nice to see Topps return to more ink coverage. The expansive insert set this year is Across the Year's which features some historical trivia as it relates to the players' birthdays. I really like the concept here since so much of A&G is about history. One complaint, though, is the numbering system. I understand when they throw the players' initials onto relic and auto numbers but I really don't get the reasoning here. They always have a 100-card insert set. What's wrong with ATY1-100? Or even a chronological numbering system since each card has its own unique date? As far as the design goes, it's definitely bold and the shield looks like something Topps would love to die-cut. All the text at the bottom gets a little muddled, especially the blue A&G logo on that gold color.

319 Matt Kemp (FP/SP) +4
Black Mini: 217 Pope Francis +4
Palaces: Taj Mahal +3


Hey look, Black Francis!  The Palaces & Strongholds design matches the base design much better. The asymmetry is really nice.

241 Matt Cain (FT) +1
ATY Jurickson Profar +2
Full-Size Relic: J.P. Arencibia +10


Okay, here's my first hit of the box. New this year are full-size relic cards. You get a little more 'relic' size-wise but I think the penalty is a card that doesn't look as good. I'm still on the fence as to whether or not a different design than the base design is necessary. The elements are pretty similar between the two. In fact, if you remove the relic portion, I could see this as the runner-up design from their brainstorming sessions.

ATY Jason Kipnis +2
SP Mini: 345 Melky Cabrera +3
Mini Relic: Albert Belle +10


And the hits keep coming. This Albert Belle bat relic is in the traditional A&G mini format with the big honkin' frame. The frames this year aren't the kaleidoscopic wonders from years past but I do think they're nicer than the black borders from last year. I would've been soooo excited to pull this card 20 years ago. 

347 Steven Strasburg (SP) +2
Palaces: Forbidden City +3
Inquiring Minds Mini: Sun Tzu +3


My first mini insert comes from the Inquiring Minds collection. The ionic columns and olive leaves work for Greek thinkers but look off for Sun Tzu here. I guess if you have to represent a singular age of great thinking from history, the Greeks probably have the most recognizable imagery. All in all, I like the design just fine.

A third of the way through the box and I'm ahead of last year's pace. Unfortunately, I've pulled 2 of my 3 hits so I anticipate these numbers to trend down a bit. Also, I forgot to track my non-scoring cards from each pack so I hope I don't get docked for that. *SPOILER ALERT: it won't matter*

Saturday, August 17, 2013

Parallel Universe: 2014 Topps Flagship Designs

A little over a week ago, Topps released preview images for the 2014 flagship set.

I'll save my detailed review for next year when they hit the shelves but I'll just briefly state here that I'm not a fan. Luckily, though, it presents me the opportunity to share some work of mine from before I started the blog here. My first foray into designing custom cards was actually doing hypothetical Topps flagship designs. You may have seen some of them online in random places but this is the first time I've posted them here. So, let's open the flood gates.

These are all a couple years old and while getting them all formatted for this post here, I noticed a lot of things that I'd probably change up now but I decided to show them warts-and-all for the sake of convenience. I did update some of the players/logos since a lot of them were out of date. Each design has a lot of the same elements Topps has been using for the past 5 years or so: white borders (for parallels, natch), gold or silver foil, team colors and team logos. I made sure to add the player positions even though Topps isn't always consistent with those.

I'll write briefly about each design. The color fading in here would probably be better as a texture instead of a solid color. I like that the names are the most prominent element and very easy to read.

Again, the color fade here would probably be better if it had a simulated felt pennant texture to match the pennant shape. I think the diagonals across the bottom are pretty sharp. The foil names on top of the photos may be problematic but I guess not any worse than foil on white or anything else.

These are probably the simplest cards of the batch. The positions in the bottom left corner definitely need to be beefed up and the amount of color bleeding over the photo could probably stand to shrink a bit. I do like the beveled corners of the colored photo frame, though.

Trading those sharp angles for curves, these cards are a little more 'friendly.' But that negative space in the bottom corners is waaaay to big. I tried to fit the position and team name both on here but they don't really work with this symmetrical design. Look how crowded it is to the right side of the logo on the Cody Ross card.

This design is basically the inverse of the previous one. The logo is still centered on the bottom but the names are below in a team color shaped. I went with the same idea for the position/team name usage on this one, too. It looks nice when it works, like on the King Felix there but I can't imagine how unbalanced Chris Ianetta's would look with 'catcher' on the left and 'L.A. Angels of Anaheim' on the right.

Next up is probably my second-favorite design. These have a bit of a modern retro feel to them with the half-tone fading up under the logo and the teardrop-esque shapes to house the player name and position. Topps has been riding the 'futuristic' look a lot lately so I think this here is a bit refreshing.

I had designed these before the 2013 design was released. Looking that them now, these cards look to be the love child of Topps' 2013 and 1982 sets. The gold foil names spilling over from the photo into the color swoosh is a big problem area for me now. I'd probably thicken that up at the bottom and put the names inside the bar. This design is also the first one that called for the hat logos instead of the primary logos.

This design here is one of the sleekest of the post. The little team-color tabs come up from the bottom to hold all of the player/team information and is topped off by an oversize team logo. Having the part of the image show through the top part of the tab adds a bit of depth.

The nickname of this set would probably be the 'batter's box set.' The team logo sits in an inverted and squished home plate shape with a thin color line inset around the photo. Looking at them now, I'd probably inset that line a bit and have parts of the player overlap it, like Cano's helmet and elbows.

For some reason, these look a little too 'high-end' for Topps' flagship. That reason is probably their similarities to the 1995 Upper Deck SP set. Moving the shape to the bottom keeps the photos from getting too squished and also leaves plenty of room for the name and position.

Finishing up, this design incorporates some old school marble action albeit a little more subtly. Again, the position/team name line at the bottom needs to be beefed up here. I do like the alternating sides of the logo panel from card to card.

Below are the horizontal versions of each design. I figured this would be the best way to present them so they're still big enough to see everything.

Well, there's a look into some of my pre-blog custom work. As I've pointed out, there are some flaws here and there (and typos) but I think a lot of these designs stand a better chance of holding up years down the road than Topps' 2014 design.

Monday, August 5, 2013

REVIEW: 2013 Bowman Platinum

I've been kind of partial to Bowman Platinum the last few years of my collecting resurgence. It does a much better job of balancing prospects and veterans than the standard Bowman set. Design-wise, it's a pretty good entry as something that's not really high-end but much nicer than the cheaper standard Bowman.

There are some similarities though when it comes to the 2013 product. Much like this year's Bowman comes across as 2012 v.2, Bowman Platinum dances on similar ground as last year's. The foilboard is back, along with the player cutouts over rainbow-y backgrounds, though this year it looks like they've screened those back a bit so they're lighter and less busy. Then there's the BP pendant in the middle on top of some abstract, swooshy shapes. Last year was more about straight lines with curved corners. This year we get the Gateway Arch. Throw in some team-color slivers and the player & team names spelled out and it, once again, looks like a leftover from last year's design brainstorming session.

I do like that there's more room devoted to the player image and the name being smaller seems to keep things a little tighter. Added points for having both team colors in there as well. And the fake mesh texture at the bottom is definitely an upgrade from 2012's candy stripes.

I am pretty happy with the color parallels this year. We have the gold and ruby pictured here along with a blue sapphire which seems to have replaced the green emerald from years past. The main difference here is they've added the atomic/ice/diamond-like texture to the colors so they are easily distinguishable from the base cards.

Since it's pretty much standard procedure for all Bowman products the last couple years, the prospect card design is very very similar to the veteran cards. Stick the BP monogram in circle, tear down the arch, flip the player/team names and stick them on top of an overstuffed metal hamburger and we've got ourselves a 'new' design. My other big complaint with the prospect cards is the refractor situation. Can you tell which of the two above is the refractor? I sure as hell couldn't until bending my neck down lower and lower until I caught the glossy sheen on the Puig. If you're going to make every card appear refractor-y and still include a standard 'refractor' parallel, do a little extra work to differentiate them so collectors don't have to. Last year's concrete block worked great. No need to abandon it when you're so keen on repeating elements year after year.

Oh yeah, there are also a lot of prospect parallels that I didn't get in either of my 2 blasters so I'll just add they are the same as above, only colorified.

Unfortunately, I wasn't lucky enough to pull any autographs from said blasters so we're finishing up here with the inserts. The Top Prospects design is actually pretty different from 2012's and the rest of the 2013 cards. I don't have a problem with too much here other than the wispy white curves behind the player cutout. It's waaaay too much. It looks like they're sinking in a really loose hammock. The rounded inverted corner in the top are a little too big for my tastes but far from the biggest eyesore.

Last and certainly least is the Cutting Edge Stars diecut. I've mentioned before how I'm not a fan of Topps' over-the-top, random die-cutting they've employed excessively over the last 2 years. Most of my distaste is aesthetically motivated, which still applies here. I don't understand what all of these design elements are supposed to be. Some torture device from Michael Bay's next Transformers movie? But my biggest problem with this particular die-cut is the little barbed teeth in the center at the bottom. I can't remember the last time I had so much trouble sliding a card into a penny sleeve. Honestly, it was a torturous test of my will and patience. If I happen to get my hands on any more of these, hopefully they'll already be toploaded for me.

I know this may have come across as mostly negative, but since Bowman Platinum starts off pretty high in my mind, most of these little dings I put on the set don't really bring it down that much. Really, if this was the 2012 design and last year's was coming out now, I'm not sure if the 2 reviews would be that much different. Hopefully the 2014 edition will have a few more differences while keeping up the Bowman Platinum brand.

Base cards: 8/10
Parallels: 8/10
Prospects: 6.5/10
Inserts: 6/10

Monday, July 22, 2013

2013 Pennant Throwdown

Just like a most trends, I'm finally "down" with something just as it seems to be fizzling out. I'm talking, of course, about Puigmania. Even though we all knew his first month or so in the majors was pretty unsustainable for a whole season, the rest of the league does seem to be "figuring him out" of late. I'm sure he'll make the adjustments and stuff, but probably not late enough to help the Giants out. I imagine Topps' second half products will have no trouble selling.

With what would be the most highly sought-after card of 2013 up there, let's take a look at Pennant's next insert — Throwdown. These feature a pair of players on rival clubs. I know this is a lot like Topps' Legendary Lineage and Diamond Duos from a few years ago, but with only 15 subjects (all of which are actual rival teams), the connection is a lot less tenuous. Here's the checklist:

1. NYY v BOS: Rivera/Ortiz
2. NYY v NYM: Jeter/Wright
3. NYM v PHI: Harvey/Lee
4. STL v CHC: Beltran/Rizzo
5. SF v LAD: Cain/Kershaw
6. SF v OAK: Posey/Cespedes
7. LAD v LAA: Puig/Trout
8. TEX v HOU: Kinsler/Altuve
9. BAL v WAS: Machado/Harper
10. CLE v CIN: Jimenez/Votto
11. STL v KC: Wainwright/Butler
12. CHC v CHW: Castro/Sale
13. STL v CIN: Carpenter/Phillips
14. PIT v PHI: McCutchen/Howard

15. ATL v PHI: Hudson/Utley

A few teams have a couple of cards here but they're represented by different players. It would be nice to have all 30 squads featured but as you can tell from MLB's interleague scheduling, you can't force rivalries.

Design-wise, the front of the cards have a little vintage flavor to them like the rest of the Pennant cards but still look clean and modern. Embellishments like the rounded inset corners and the classic typography help add some age, along with the less-than-bright cardstock. The space is split down the middle with grainy team-color boxes housing single-color team logos behind player cut-outs. There's a faint white gradient billowing up over the photos to make room for the team name. It can also fade up a little farther to make room for the signatures on the autograph cards.

For the back, I kept it black & white while recreating similar design elements from the front. Black & white photos on the opposite edges leaves plenty of room in the middle for a brief history of the players' and teams' rivalry stories. The lines of stars can be removed for the authenticity statements on the auto versions.

I tend to shy away from horizontal cards due to format issues for the blog but I'm really pleased with these. They're bright but not too bright, retro but not too retro. It's always nice to feature more than one team on a card so you can have 2 fanbases chasing after them. And it helps take the sting out of pulling a Dodgers card if it features Matt Cain or Mike Trout. (Okay, I'll stop with the Dodgers jokes.)

Tuesday, July 9, 2013

2013 Spirit Team MVPs

Just like with Award Winners, every year will see a return of the Spirit Team MVP insert. To me, it's a no-brainer. A 30-card set with every team represented by their best player. Why Topps hasn't embraced this idea is beyond me. Maybe since it was Donruss' thing they want to keep their distance.

Let's start off with the checklist.

MVP1: Mike Trout (Angels)
MVP2: Jose Altuve (Astros)
MVP3: Yoennis Cespedes (A's)
MVP4: Jose Bautista (Blue Jays)
MVP5: Brian McCann (Braves)
MVP6: Ryan Braun (Brewers)
MVP7: Yadier Molina (Cardinals)
MVP8: Starlin Castro (Cubs)
MVP9: Paul Goldschmidt (Diamondbacks)
MVP10: Clayton Kershaw (Dodgers)
MVP11: Buster Posey (Giants)
MVP12: Asdrubal Cabrera (Indians)
MVP13: Felix Hernandex (Mariners)
MVP14: Giancarlo Stanton (Marlins)
MVP15: David Wright (Mets)
MVP16: Bryce Harper (Nationals)
MVP17: Chris Davis (Orioles)
MVP18: Chase Headley (Padres)
MVP19: Cliff Lee (Phillies)
MVP20: Andrew McCutchen (Pirates)
MVP21: Adrian Beltre (Rangers)
MVP22: Evan Longoria (Rays)
MVP23: David Ortiz (Red Sox)
MVP24: Joey Votto (Reds)
MVP25: Troy Tulowitzki (Rockies)
MVP26: Billy Butler (Royals)
MVP27: Miguel Cabrera (Tigers)
MVP28: Joe Mauer (Twins)
MVP29: Chris Sale (White Sox)
MVP30: Derek Jeter (Yankees)

Some of these selections were tough. The Braves have a handful of guys that are good but none that really rise above the rest. I went with McCann because he's been there the longest. Castro has had a down year so Anthony Rizzo could possibly replace him. The Rays' pick could've been David Price or even Ben Zobrist. Carlos Gonzalez has a good case for the Rockies since Tulo is always hurt. The Royals guy could easily be Alex Gordon or James Shields. And since Jeter has been out all year, it would probably make sense to put Cano in there, too.

Anyway, onto the design.

Like last year, the biggest feature here is the MVP relic windows. I figured the easiest way to differentiate from 2012 would be to make them vertical instead of horizontal. So the M-V-P letters are stacked on the right side leaving a vertical window for a player photo. To add some depth, I had part of the guys overlap into the team color section. Below is a the secondary team color section to house the player name along with the cap logo. The square-ish space for the logo helps balance things along with keeping it from looking to symmetrical (which I have a habit of doing.) There's some silver foil along the relic windows and all the text, minus the "Spirit Certified Game-Used Relic" small print below the P.

The elements make a 90° turn for the back side while the secondary bar moves to the top. Below a horizontal player photo is a brief bit of text. To the left is a block of copy about the relic authentication along with a code to enter online for more info about this particular swatch. And I'm looking out for everyone with having the numbers in the upper right corner so they're easy to see when stored in a cardboard box.