Saturday, October 13, 2018

2018 Bowman Chrome Baseball Review - Do two star crossed rookies have what it takes to push 2018 Bowman Chrome to the top?

With the regular season wrapped up, fans are looking towards the 2018 Bowman Chrome Baseball release for their favorite stars and Rookie of the Year candidates on their chromium-embossed cards. The boxes feature the ROY frontrunners Ronald Acuña Jr. and Shohei Ohtani, drawing in collectors with the hope of scoring limited edition autographs and parallels of the cream of 2018’s rookie class.

2018 Bowman Chrome / Bowman
Each master box contains two six-pack mini-boxes, guaranteeing that at least two autographs and one shimmer refractor parallel will be uncovered in the 12-pack journey. Those who indulge in 2018 Bowman Chrome will also find themselves about a quarter of the way towards the completion of the 100-card base and prospect sets.

2018 Bowman Chrome Base Stars and Prospects / Bowman
Bowman entices collectors with their autograph selection, offering an opportunity to snag signatures of top prospects such as Estevan Florial, Luis Urias, and Enyel De Los Santos. Rookie autographs include the aforementioned Acuña Jr. and Ohtani, as well as Gleyber Torres. For those with a lucky hand, even Mike Trout, Kris Bryant, and Russell Wilson (yes, the Pro Bowl quarterback) are among the extensive list of signers for this year’s edition.

The box provided for this review drew two prospect autographs. One of Minnesota Twins outfield prospect Akil Baddoo, and a refractor autograph of Boston Red Sox pitcher Travis Lakins, numbered to 499.

2018 Bowman Chrome Autographs / Bowman
While this box did not yield an autograph nor a base card of the two cover boys (Acuña Jr. and Ohtani), it did turn out some attractive colored limited edition parallels that are sure to capture collector’s eyes. This master box a green parallel numbered to 99 of Chicago Cubs prospect Aramis Ademan, a purple shimmer refractor of Pavin Smith, and a base refractor of Cardinals mainstay Paul DeJong.
2018 Bowman Chrome Parallels and Refractors / Bowman
Bowman keeps consumers on their toes with a variety of insert sets, highlighting different facets of minor league stardom. Arizona Fall League stars have their own set, while the Peaks of Potential set features the next wave of top prospects. Another nifty touch by Bowman for 2018 Chrome is the return of the Sterling inserts, which were a favorite in the earlier 2018 Bowman release.

2018 Bowman Chrome AFL and Sterling Inserts / Bowman
2018 Bowman Chrome Peaks of Potential Inserts / Bowman
As the postseason is in full bloom, 2018 Bowman Chrome gently reminds collectors that while the big league stars are writing the history books right in front of us, there is another talent pipeline ready to create their own record setting paths. You can get on that next train to MLB stardom right now by digging into your own box of 2018 Bowman Chrome Baseball.

Sunday, October 7, 2018

Ryan Verdugo, former Royals pitcher, throws first perfect game in CPBL history

Ryan Verdugo, a former major league pitcher with the Kansas City Royals, pitched the first perfect game in Chinese Professional Baseball League history Saturday, October 6, 2018, with a 1-0 victory over the Chinatrust Brothers.

Ryan Verdugo / CPBL
Verdugo was a San Francisco Giants ninth-round draft pick in the 2008 draft, and make one appearance with the Royals in 2012. He continued to pitch in the minor leagues, last reaching Triple-A in 2015. He spent the next two seasons in the Mexican League before signing with the Uni-Lions in February.

He has 8-4 record in 26 starts and an ERA of 4.31 for the Uni-Lions in 2018.




Friday, October 5, 2018

Ron Locke shares wild tales of Casey Stengel during the Mets first year at Shea Stadium

Ron Locke was a 22-year-old rookie with the 1964 New York Mets, looking to make a name for himself as the Mets moved from the Polo Grounds to their new digs at Shea Stadium. Before he could break through from minor league anonymity with the fans, he first had to do so with his manager, Casey Stengel. It was a tougher task than he anticipated.

“To me, [Stengel] was a wacko,” Locke said during a phone interview from his Florida home in 2013. “I don’t know if he didn’t like me or didn’t know my name. I never knew what he was going to do. He’d send left-handers up against left-handed pitchers.”

Ron Locke / Author's Collection
While Locke was never sure if Stengel could identify him in a police lineup, he did have the attention of their Hall of Fame coach, Yogi Berra. Watching Locke closely with his keen catcher’s eye, Berra saw similarities with a former MVP teammate who was also a tough little left-handed pitcher.

“Yogi Berra thought I was like Bobby Shantz,” he said. “He would come over and say, ‘Ronnie, if I was managing here, you’d be pitching every four days until you prove you couldn’t pitch.’ That’s what I wanted to hear, but that’s not the way it worked out.”

Locke grew up in Rhode Island playing fast pitch softball as a left-handed third baseman and became an All-State baseball player in South Kingston. It was there where he caught the attention of Len Zanke, a Cincinnati Reds scout. At his urging, he auditioned in 1961 for their club in Jersey City.

“He said, ‘Go to Jersey City, Dave Stenhouse (another Rhode Island native) is down there. Just go and try it,’” Locke shared. “I pitched to their catcher on the side and he said, ‘You’ve got a good fastball; that thing really moves.’ So I go up in the stands and I’m talking to the head guy there and he asks, ‘How big are you?’ I said, ‘Maybe 5’9”-5’10”, 158 lbs.’ Well he said, ‘We don’t sign anybody here under six feet.’ So I left.”

Most amateurs would have tucked their gloves away after hearing that kind of a rejection from a top scout and moved on with their careers. Luckily for Locke, he had an angel in Zanke who urged him to give professional baseball another shot when the expansion Mets hired him the next year as a scout. After throwing in front of the Mets brass, he impressed enough that they asked him to pitch against their minor league team in Auburn.

“The Auburn team was going for the championship,” Locke recalled. “They said, ‘Go out and throw against those guys, see how you do.’ Man, they could not even touch me. The more I threw, the more confidence I got. They signed me that year. This was 1962.”

Locke joined Auburn in 1963 and set the league on fire. His 18-8 record with 249 strikeouts in 217 innings earned him a New York-Penn League first-team selection, alongside future major leaguers such as Tony Conigliaro, George “Boomer” Scott, and Paul Casanova. Little did he know that with only one year in the minors under his belt that his next season would be in the major leagues.

“I was always a small guy, I was never a big guy you know,” he said. “I just got there, looked at the field and said, ‘What am I doing here?’ I am looking at all these tall pitchers and saying, ‘My god.’ In this day and age, they probably would not have looked at me.”

Locke appeared primarily as a reliever in 1964, posting a 1-2 record with a 3.48 ERA, with his only win coming in one of his three starts. The adjustment going from pitching consistently as a starter the previous year, to not knowing if he had Stengel’s trust, increased the difficulty of his jump to the major leagues.

“They just didn’t pitch me enough,” he said. “When you go from Class A to the major leagues, that was a huge difference. You could not get your confidence. I thought I had my confidence, but he [Stengel] didn’t [have it].”

One incident that shook Locke’s confidence came when Stengel pulled him from a game in the middle of an at-bat. While box scores online do not show that he was removed mid at-bat, one account from the New York Times indicates that during the Mets first night game at Shea Stadium, Locke pitched to two batters, but only recorded a plate appearance for one of them.

“We were playing against Cincinnati … we’re losing four, or five-nothing, and he gets me up,” Locke said. “Deron Johnson was the next guy up; I threw two fastballs right by him on the outside corner. I looked over [to the dugout], and here comes Casey. I said, ‘I hope he’s not taking me out of the game. … He is walking across waving his hand to bring the pitcher in. He taps me on the shoulder and says, ‘Good job boy. We’re going to bring in a right hander.’ I wanted to bury him right there. I had two strikes on him and he took me out in the middle of the at-bat. I just left the game, but I was some ticked off!”

Locke made an impressive bid during 1965 spring training to return up north with the big league club, but a late decision by Warren Spahn to hyphenate his coach title to player-coach, forced Stengel to make a move.

“I was there for most of 1965 [spring training],” he said. “Then Warren Spahn came over and was going to be our pitching coach. That was fine with me; it was going to be Tug McGraw and me in the bullpen. All of a sudden, Spahn decides he wants to be pitcher and pitching coach, so one of us had to take a hike, so I unfortunately got the call.”

Locke persisted in the minors through 1970, but could not break through the Mets developing rotation that eventually built their 1969 World Series championship team. His dampened second chance at a return to the majors never lessened his love for the game. Now, in his 70s, Locke continues to play both competitive baseball and softball.

“I play for a good team, the Florida Legends,” he said. “We have 98 national championships. We play in Las Vegas, Reno, all over the place, anywhere there is a national tournament. I started in the 60s [age bracket], now we are in the 70s. For a 70-and-over team, we have a very good team. We played on 330-foot fences and one of the guys hit the ball out of the ballpark. He is 72 years old! We have four or five guys that can hit them out 300 foot. I play the outfield. I hit and run like heck! … It was hard for me at first because I was used to that 90 MPH fastball down around my knees. All of a sudden it was unlimited arc; what a difference that was! You have to get used to hitting that.”

He feeds his baseball appetite by working for the Boston Red Sox in Fort Myers and pitching annually in Roy Hobbs baseball tournaments. He even tried to audition as their batting practice pitcher.

“I work for the Red Sox at Jet Blue Park,” he said. “I’m a ticket taker, but I wanted to be an usher. I asked them to be a batting practice pitcher, but they have guys to take that job. I still throw pretty decent. I do not throw 90 MPH, but I throw decent. I play in the Roy Hobbs baseball tournament every year. They have different age groups. It’s fun.”

Despite his lone season in the big leagues, Locke continues to receive fan mail from all over the world. Some fans try to send him money to sign their items, but he feels an old school sense of responsibility to sign their items while returning their attempts at compensation.

“I get them all the time,” he said. “Sometimes it is 4-5 per day. It makes me feel good [to get the mail]. For somebody that has been out of baseball for a long time, I am glad at least the fans remember my name. Some people send me money, but I write them a note back saying that I don’t take money for autographs; I am an old timer.”

Tuesday, September 25, 2018

2018 Bowman High Tek Box Break and Review - A new pattern for Bowman baseball

The sophomore season is one for making adjustments, and Bowman has done just that with 2018 Bowman High Tek Baseball. Following up last year’s debut, Bowman has upgraded the design of the multi-patterned acetate cards for a more palatable user experience.

2018 Bowman High Tek / Bowman
The series focuses on top rookie and prospects, keeping in stride with Bowman’s reputation for highlighting the next wave of talent in the baseball pipeline. Each box contains ten cards, four of which are on-card autographs, an appealing proposal for those in search of adding to their prospect stash.
2018 Bowman High Tek Patterns / Bowman
One thing that sets 2018 Bowman High Tek apart from its more traditional trading card counterparts, are its ten, that’s right, ten different base card parallel variations. (Click here for detailed guide of each pattern.) Compared to last year’s release, Bowman increased the size of the player’s name and team in a way that further accents the photo and make the player easily identifiable. While the box provided for this review did not yield any of the rare patterns, it did feature a Jake Burger Orange Magma Diffractor numbered to 25.

2018 Bowman High Tek Serial Numbered Parallels and Inserts / Bowman
The tipping point for Bowman High Tek is the four guaranteed autographs in each box. This year’s signers list is strong, featuring over 45 different prospects, including Ronald Acuña Jr., Gleyber Torres, Rhys Hoskins, and Royce Lewis. Noticeably absent is Washington Nationals upstart Juan Soto; however, with an abundance of top tier talent, fans are rather likely to catch at least one rising star, if not more.



Cincinnati Reds power prospect Ibandel Isabel (pictured with the Dodgers) and Chicago Cubs pitching phenom Adbert Alzolay led the way for the four autographs in this box. Aside from Isabel’s penmanship, the other three players who signed cards for this box could use a lesson in cursive, as their signatures amounted to undecipherable scribbles, a seemingly growing trend in the minor league ranks.
2018 Bowman High Tek Autographs / Bowman
With boxes settling in under $100, collectors are primed to take a chance at the four autographs 2018 Bowman High Tek offers, with any of the rare base card patterns serving as the icing on top of an already heavily layered cake. Click here to get a hold of a box of 2018 Bowman High Tek.





Monday, September 24, 2018

Vance Carlson recounts life as a Yankees farmhand before his legendary NCAA football refereeing career

Vance Carlson came up with the same aspirations of making the major leagues and achieving Hall of Fame stardom that fuels every minor leaguer. He realized one of those dreams; however, it was not for his pitching prowess on the diamond, rather it was for his officiating skills on the football field. The 2003 Kansas Sports Hall of Fame inductee, who was one of the top football officials in Big Eight Conference history, died September 17, 2018 at the age of 92 in Ellis, Kansas.

Vance Carlson 1954 Lincoln Chiefs / Mile High Card Co.
Born November 14, 1925 in McPherson, Kansas, Carlson built his legend locally as a multi-sport star at McPherson High School. He had his first opportunity to sign professionally after high school with the St. Louis Cardinals, but his father held out for pinstriped pastures.

“I signed when I was out of high school when I was 17,” Carlson said from his home in 2008. “I signed a Kansas City contract and then of course I didn't get to play any. … I graduated high school at 17 and did not turn 18 until November. I played that summer and then I went to a camp in Kansas City. I got a letter and had a chance to go to the St. Louis Cardinals, but my dad would not sign the contract because I was not 18. He did sign the Yankees [contract]. They were a big name.”

Carlson had little time to savor his contract, as he entered the Air Force in 1944 during World War II. As a newbie in baseball, Carlson could not earn placement on one of the prominent bases to keep his skills sharp.

“I got to play a little in San Antonio, but not a long time,” he said. “You never got in shape. You could be an infielder or an outfielder, but you could not really get in shape if you were a pitcher. The major league stars, not that they got preferential treatment, but they were stationed where they got to play quite a bit.”

He returned from his military service to the Yankees organization in 1946. While his World War II duties kept him from staying in baseball shape, his ledger said otherwise. He posted a 17-8 record with a 2.93 ERA for their Class C team at Twin Falls in the Pioneer League. It was the start of a nine-year journey through the minor leagues.

“At that time you were just a piece of property, you got moved around any way they wanted you,” he said. “You couldn't get out of an organization. I was in the Yankee organization. It was so big; it was just a pyramid of getting to the major leagues. I am not saying I should have been in the major leagues, but it was very hard to move up because they had so many teams. … When I got out of the service in World War II, there were like 47-48 leagues. Now the minor leagues are in college really.”

Carlson crossed paths with future Yankees stars Billy Martin, Tom Sturdivant, and Whitey Ford while in their system, but ultimately he could not follow them on their major league path. He reached as high as the Pacific Coast League, which at the time had an Open classification, but that was as close as he got to the majors.

“You never really knew how close you were,” he said. “I pitched against [the major leaguers] in spring training, but I never was called up. I never even got a cup of coffee.”

Beating the bushes for almost a decade, Carlson had his share of his minor league woes. He shared his favorite tale, which occurred in 1952 while playing in AAA for Toledo. Just as he arrived to the club, he found himself trying to protect his valuables, not from teammates or thieves, but from creditors.

“When I got there, an unusual thing happened,” Carlson recalled. “The club went bankrupt in Toledo. We had to get our uniforms out of there because they were going to confiscate them. That's how I remember it. That it was our personal things, not our uniforms, but our shoes and things like that. Then they moved the franchise to Charleston, West Virginia.”

Not all was lost that year with Charleston, as he made good with another ballplayer that later followed Carlson’s path to a Hall of Fame in another sport. This time he bonded with a a future basketball Hall of Famer.

“Fred Taylor played first base, and he went on to coach Ohio State,” he said. “I roomed with him. He played basketball for Ohio State and then went back there to coach.”

Looking back at his time in between the lines, Carlson thought that he dragged out his career with the hopes of getting to the major leagues. He felt that he was often on his own due to the lack of available coaching down on the farm.

“I honestly played too long really, but that was my dream to get to go to the majors,” he said. “I don't regret it, but the thing that I see now is that there is so much better coaching in the colleges than there was in the minor leagues. You really had to teach yourself the game.”



Carlson spent 27 years as an NCAA football official, which included being at the helm of four national championships. He shared his perspective about the multitude of changes he observed in athletics since he started in professional baseball in the 1940s.

“I'm disappointed about all kinds of sports, it's all about money,” he said. “That's what got these colleges in trouble; it's you either win or else. The coach has to win or else he is gone. That is the influence of professional football.

“I'm prejudiced to college because I worked in it. It is all about offense. Umpires do not call anything above the belt. You pitch home run hitters up and in if you can, because they can't get their arms lengthened out. They say the rules are the same, letters or armpits; that's to give the hitters more. Physically they have also progressed. The only person I saw that lifted weights was Bob Feller. The Yankee organization did not wanted you to lift weights at all. They wanted you to swim. They wanted long muscle. That theory has gone out the window now. With the advance in athletic training, you can add weight in a football player and gain speed. The athlete is much better. You can't compare athletics now with in the old days because of technology.”