Showing posts with label Shohei Ohtani. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Shohei Ohtani. Show all posts

Friday, March 30, 2018

2018 Topps Opening Day Baseball Review - A new twist on a time honored tradition

The baseball teams have made their way north, far away from their respites in the spring training sun to the realities of another Major League season. This annual tradition is honored with the release of the 2018 Topps Opening Day Baseball set. Emblazoned with the Opening Day logo, this set serves as a happy reminder that baseball has once again arrived.

2018 Topps Opening Day / Topps

Topps keeps things short and sweet with the 2018 Opening Day Baseball set, as it checks in at a lean 200 cards. While Opening Day is concentrated on a small amount of players, Topps still managed to get in a bevy of rookies and prospects to the set including the coveted Shohei Ohtani.

With a price point of $36 for a 36-pack box, and a guarantee of one insert per pack, 2018 Topps Opening Day Baseball is an affordable entry point to get young fans involved in the collecting hobby. Families will have fun opening a box to compile a complete set, as the box provided for this review not only yielded all 200 base cards, but a few doubles to boot.

New to 2018 Topps Opening Day Baseball is the Before Opening Day insert set, which gives fans a look at their favorite players during spring training. The Team Traditions and Celebrations insert set spotlight franchise staples such as Yankees Old Timer’s Day and new quirks such as Beat the Freeze from the Atlanta Braves.

2018 Topps Opening Day Inserts / Topps
While Opening Day is positioned towards a younger demographic with their Mascot inserts, Topps has added a degree of scarcity to their autograph and relic inserts for this set. By placing them at the rate of one per every 1-2 cases, Topps has given collectors a further reason to go deeper into this product beyond the base set.

2018 Topps Opening Day Inserts / Topps
Sporting an improved insert lineup and a base set that includes Shohei Ohtani’s first official Topps rookie card, 2018 Topps Opening Day Baseball set has positioned itself as a cost-effective option for fans to get started collecting this baseball season without feeling like they’ve broken the bank in the process.

Sunday, March 25, 2018

2018 Donruss Baseball Review - How Donruss is creating marvels for the upcoming season

Cracking open a box of 2018 Donruss Baseball, collectors are kept on their toes with the robust assortment of variations and parallels that reside in each pack. While Donruss boasts the inclusion of Shohei Ohtani’s coveted autographs, the depth and historical connections of make a box 2018 Donruss Baseball a marvelous experience even for the most seasoned of collectors.

2018 Donruss Shohei Ohtani Mound Marvels / Donruss

The 270-card base set contains the Donruss Rated Rookie and Diamond Kings staples, combined with a wonderful mix of coveted young stars such as Aaron Judge, Rafael Devers, and Rhys Hoskins, as well as cards of past and present icons in the famed 1984 Donruss design that includes Mickey Mantle.

2018 Donruss Mickey Mantle / Donruss

Donruss added a new twist to the base set in 2018, inserting multi-player cards that feature some of the top pairings in the game. The Houston Astros keystone combination of Jose Altuve and Carlos Correa, and Dodgers mainstays Clayton Kershaw and Corey Seager make up some of the modern duos featured in the set. Maintaining their bridge across generations, Donruss honors vintage duos such as Montreal Expos Hall of Famers Gary Carter and Andre Dawson, and Big Red Machine stalwarts Dave Concepcion and Tony Perez.

2018 Donruss Multiplayer Parallel / Donruss

Drilling down on the base set, collectors will find many curveballs that will force them to keep their eyes on each card. The first are the nickname parallels, with Aaron Judge being cleverly renamed the “NY 12th Judicial District,” teammate Gary Sanchez labeled as “The Kraken,” and Francisco Lindor as, “Mr. Smile.” The second are the image variations, which exist on both the regular base cards and the 1984 designs. A helpful tip for most of the base variations are the black baseball on the top left of reverse side of the card.
2018 Donruss Base and Variations / Donruss
The variations are so plentiful in 2018 Donruss Baseball, that after opening two boxes, I was still over 50 cards shy of a complete base set, while compiling doubles of each variation. Even though the difficulty of building a complete set might be frustrating for some collectors, the ensuing numbered parallels, autographs, and relics more than made up for it.

2018 Donruss Signature Series / Donruss
Each box guaranteed three hits, and between the two boxes, there were a total of three autographs, two Signature Series cards and one autographed relic card. The other three hits were relic cards, including that of New York Mets hopeful and former Heisman Trophy winner Tim Tebow.


The serial numbered parallels were plentiful between the two boxes, yielding inserts of Shohei Ohtani, Aaron Judge, and Max Scherzer in a wide color palette that is sure to draw the interest of many collectors.

2018 Donruss Parallels / Donruss
Despite the long odds at a complete set, collectors have a lot to look forward to by opening a box (or two) of 2018 Donruss Baseball. The clean design and exciting inserts, combined with the player selection that is tinted with just the right amount of nostalgia, drive interest in the product that goes well beyond the prospect of landing a Shohei Ohtani autograph.

Wednesday, March 7, 2018

The Top 5 Reasons to Love 2018 Topps Heritage Baseball

Topps resurrects their 1969 design with the release of 2018 Topps Heritage Baseball. This set is beloved by collectors for a variety of reasons, primarily due to the fine details they replicate as an homage to the throwback issue. We cracked open a fresh box of 2018 Topps Heritage Baseball and found these five hallmarks that will make you fall in love with this year's set.


5) Player Checklists –
Trying to keep track of your 2018 Topps Heritage set? How about some help from Aaron Judge, Mike Trout, and Kris Bryant? Staying true to form of the 1969 Topps protocol, 2018’s checklist cards feature face shots of today’s top stars, providing collectors with an additional look at their favorite players while they mark off their progress towards a complete set.

2018 Topps Heritage Aaron Judge Checklist / Topps

4) Seattle Pilots Autographed Tribute Cards –
A Ball Four revival anyone? Jim Bouton leads the signers from the limited edition 1969 Seattle Pilots 50th Anniversary tribute autographed cards. Former Pilot Steve Whitaker once referred to the team as, “the orphans of the league.” Fifty years later, Topps proves they still have a home in the hearts of fans and collectors with these special autographed cards.

Jim Bouton Seattle Pilots Autograph / Topps

3) Imperfections –
Most modern sets are bred to perfection with borderless images, high gloss finishes, and centered designs. While going through the first few packs of this 2018 Topps Heritage Baseball box, I drew the occasional off-centered card. By the time I opened the last pack, these 60/40 or 70/30 centered cards averaged one per pack. With so many modern issues made in perfect symmetry, pulling some cards that had centering flaws only added to vintage experience that Topps Heritage provides.



2) Variations –
Funky nicknames? Action shots? Color swaps? Newly traded players? Solo rookie prospect cards? Topps has all of the bases covered with the short printed variations in 2018 Topps Heritage Baseball. These detailed variants force collectors are to pour over the details on each card, savoring the nuances to see if they have landed one of these scarce issues.

Victor Robles Image Variation SSP / Topps

1) Shohei Ohtani –
Would it be anyone else? Topps wasted no time getting this year’s most coveted rookie in their 2018 Topps Heritage Baseball set by including Ohtani as a last minute short printed variation to the set. Early sales of his short printed rookie are selling for $200 each, while his autographed versions have sold for in excess of $3,000.
$3,000 anyone?

Sunday, October 15, 2017

Pat Kelly recalls the Yankees 1995 post-season heroics

Former Yankees infielder Pat Kelly was in New York recently to help give an assist to the fundraising efforts for the Jason Krause Kick Cancer Scholarship, signing autographs along with his Yankee teammate David Cone at their annual community event. As soon Cone explained to Kelly his endearment for the people who are involved with the organization, he came right on board.

“Andrew Levy our agent discussed it with me,” Kelly said during an interview at the fundraiser. “I discussed it with David Cone who has been here several years and it was something that we all wanted to get involved with and come back to as well.”

Pat Kelly / Yankees
Kelly, who played seven of his nine big league seasons with the Yankees from 1991-1997, helped the Yankees transition from a team mired in mediocrity, to one that would rise to dominate the latter part of the 1990s. He credited the late Gene Michael for being the wise architect of the new Yankees dynasty.

“Stick was the ultimate Yankee utility guy,” he said. “Stick did everything from manage, to coach, to [serve as] general manager. He really put together the Core Four, all of those guys in the early 90s who eventually turned into those great teams that we all know today. … He was fair and honest – a true Yankee.”

While serving as the Yankees primary second baseman from 1992-1995, Kelly had the opportunity to mentor a nubile Derek Jeter. He recalled a spring training encounter with Jeter during his early career that caused him question if the Yankees did the right thing in giving Jeter such a large signing bonus.

“Derek was quite the young lanky skinny sorta guy,” he said “I remember they brought him in 1994 and I was my prime then. I remember myself, Don Mattingly, Wade Boggs, and Mike Gallego sitting at second base and saying, ‘This kid’s never going to make it. They wasted $700,000 because he was just this lean kid.’”

After playing three seasons with Jeter, Kelly quickly changed his tune about their future captain. Taking a moment to reflect on Jeter’s Hall of Fame career, he surmised that he was just proud to be there to help instill the rich Yankee traditions in the young shortstop.

“The projection of the scouts to be able to predict that he was going to be the greatest Yankee that ever played was phenomenal,” he said. “His progression from the young Derek Jeter that we saw in Fort Lauderdale to what he is now is truly amazing. You give credit to Gene Michael; you give credit to us, because we taught him everything, all the stuff about how to be a Yankee. I take a lot of pride that I played with Derek and that a bit of whatever he turned into was because of the Yankee tradition.”

While the Yankees were giving Jeter his first taste of the big leagues in 1995, Kelly helped lead the Yankees to their first playoff appearance since 1981. While Kelly scored the go-ahead run in the 11th inning of Game Five of the American League Division Series against the Seattle Mariners, he is probably best remembered for being on base when Jim Leyritz hit his infamous walk-off home run in the 15th inning of Game Two to put the Yankees ahead 2-0 in the series.

“I just talked to Jim Leyritz about it yesterday,” he said. “It was all because of me I told him, because I walked and they thought I was going to steal. [Tim] Belcher is worried about me stealing, so he wasn’t worried about Jimmy, so it was all my doing. He hit that ball and it was raining. I remember just the feeling of getting goose bumps running around those bases knowing what we were doing. It was a long time since the Yankees had any success in the playoffs. The people just went nuts. What happened after that, you wouldn’t guess, right? The success we had all the way to those World Series after that, it was the start of something good. I was very proud to be a part of it and to get at least one World Series in 1996.”

Kelly battled injuries during the 1996 season, limiting him to only 13 games while the Yankees finally broke through to win the World Series. As exciting as it was for Kelly to be a part of that championship club, little did he imagine just two years later that he would be alongside Mark McGwire as he challenged Babe Ruth’s all-time single season home run record.

Signed as a free agent by the St. Louis Cardinals in 1998, Kelly rekindled a long standing friendship with the famed slugger that started when he played alongside another of McGwire’s close friends, Mike Gallego. Kelly detailed how they spent a lot of time together away from the field that most baseball fans aren’t privy to.

“We were great friends before that,” he said. “It came through Mike Gallego. Mark used to come out to eat with us when Gallego played with the Yankees. After Gallego was traded, when Mark was in New York, I hung out with him; that was how the friendship evolved. We would go away with my wife and his girlfriend on holidays. We went to Africa the year before he broke the record. The year he broke the record, we went to Australia because I was living there.”

Being one of McGwire’s confidants on the 1998 Cardinals, Kelly was an eyewitness to the rock star treatment that McGwire received throughout the season. He said it was an unimaginable spectacle for a baseball player.

“Playing with him in 1998, it was like hanging out with Elvis or the Beatles; it was a flash mob all the time,” he said. “When we were in Milwaukee, there was nobody at the bar, just out for a quiet drink. Before you knew it there were 2,000 people there, just like that. It was crazy making history like that.

“As a spectacle, like playing in New York and winning the World Series, it was right up there because it was something you never saw before. He hit two on the last day and we were celebrating the night before and I knew how many [drinks] we had; I couldn’t even see straight, let alone do anything and he hit two home runs that day! It was just a magical season.”

Peeling back the curtain of his wild ride with McGwire in 1998, he recalled that McGwire was able to put on his game face every day, but not without enduring the pressure that came with the increasing media attention.

“Every day he worried about it; he worried about losing the home run race,” Kelly said. “He didn’t want to lose to Sammy Sosa. The stress that he was going through physically he didn’t show it like Roger Maris with his hair falling out, but the stress was there. Every day we were together and he did intimate to me that it was stressful for him. Tony LaRussa was the one who made him that comfortable. We had a pretty good team. We were all there for Mark; we were doing everything for him.”

Kelly capped his major league career with the Toronto Blue Jays in 1999 and quickly moved to Australia in 2000. He has since worked as an international scout for the Dodgers, helping their operations in the Pacific Rim. It was a career move that he made sure that he took care of before leaving the United States.

“I married an Australian girl, moved there in 2000, and stepped into scouting,” he said. “I set myself up before I left, as I knew the writing was on the wall. I talked to the Dodgers and I’ve been there 16-17 years now. They have a league down there that is good and they bring former players in and I see the kids that progressed, the American minor leaguers that get to the majors and the handful of Australians too. The biggest thing that I’ve seen is the Asian market booming, the Japanese players that get posted and signed. I helped to sign Korean pitcher Hyun-Jin Ryu for over $60 million.”

So who does Kelly think is the next big star that will come from Japan? He quickly singled out two-way player Shohei Ohtani, who is blessed with a 100-MPH fastball and a bat that carried him to over a .300 average for the Nippon Ham Fighters during the past two seasons in the Japan Pacific League. His success comes as little surprise to Kelly, who has watched Ohtani since he was in high school. The larger quandary Ohtani presents for MLB executives is how they can take advantage of both his powerful bat and pitching arm.

“I saw him as a 15-year old,” he said. “He can hit and pitch. He was 15, hitting and pitching! I told the guy I was working for that I didn’t know if he was a hitter or a pitcher because he’s that good at both. How do you deal with that as a general manager? He’s 0-4, but he pitched okay; how do you manage that when taking him out? It’s going to be a logistical nightmare dealing with it as a manger to deal with the Monday morning quarterbacking. It will be interesting to see how it goes.”

Monday, July 6, 2015

Masanori Murakami revisits the site of his major league debut

Masanori Murakami was 6,000 miles away from his home while visiting New York City this week, but the famed Japanese pitcher was welcomed with open arms as he returned to the site where he made history over 50 years ago as the first Japanese player in Major League Baseball. What started with a book signing in Manhattan on Tuesday and finished with him throwing a strike from the mound at Citi Field on Thursday, left Murakami with a sense of adulation that has been absent since his playing days.

“[They have been] the best so far,” Murakami said during an interview on Wednesday. “Maybe half the people didn’t see me pitch, but [the people] are friendly, very kind, and nice. I’m having a good time.”

Masanori Murakami / N. Diunte
His mound appearance at Citi Field coincided with the release of his autobiography, “Mashi: The Unfulfilled Baseball Dreams of Masanori Murakami, the First Japanese Major Leaguer.” The book is authored by Rob Fitts, who previously wrote two other works on Japanese baseball. Guiding “Mashi,” on his tour, Fitts has encountered tremendous excitement from fans eager to catch a pillar of baseball’s past.

“There has been so much enthusiasm from fans,” Fitts said in a Wednesday interview. “We’ve done three events so far and there were 100 people at each event. People are just coming up and saying, ‘I saw you pitch when I was 10 years old, or I was wondering about you for 30 years and I got the 1965 baseball card when I was eight.’ A lot of people knew he was in the major leagues, but didn’t know much about him. These events have been great having people meet him for the first time and hear his story for the first time.”

One of those excited fans was Chicago Cubs pitcher, Tsuyoshi Wada. The 34-year-old Japanese pitcher is in his second season with the Cubs. After being alerted to Murakami’s presence in the ballpark, Wada dashed from the clubhouse to greet his countryman with a ceremonial bow and handshake. Speaking with the help of a translator, Wada showed reverence for his predecessor.

“I have respect for him as he is the first pitcher who came here,” Wada said at Citi Field on Thursday. “He’s also left-handed, so I [also] relate to him that way. I had no idea that I was going to meet him today, but it has been a real lovely experience. … I would love it if more people knew of Mashi.”

Murakami presents Wada a signed copy of his book / N. Diunte
Murakami was equally delighted to see a familiar face on the field. The two exchanged pleasantries and even autographs during their meeting.

“Wada played on the Hawks, same team [as I did] before,” he said. “He’s a good guy. I was very happy to see him. I got some autographs to bring back to Japan after the season for my charity golf tournament to auction to make money to help the Special Olympics.”

Murakami was introduced to the greater American baseball public on September 1, 1964 at Shea Stadium as a member of the San Francisco Giants. Down 4-0 to the New York Mets, Giants manager Alvin Dark thought that this low pressure situation was the perfect time for the 20-year-old to make his debut. A half-century later, Murakami recalled the details of his entry.

“I [was] very relaxed, not tight,” he said. “We finished the 7th inning [and] Alvin Dark called to the bullpen, ‘If [in the] 8th inning [there are] no runs, Mashi goes in.’ Then the 8th inning, nothing [no runs]. We were behind four runs. The umps called me and I was walking to the mound to the Sukiyaki song. They [the fans] were all watching me, but I didn’t notice. I talked to the catcher and [went over] the signs. First pitch, outside corner, nice strike, and then Charley Smith I struck out.”

He finished his debut with a clean slate, surrendering only a single while striking out two batters. Even though his performance that day could be categorized as magical, the events leading up to his arrival on the mound were chaotic, starting with his flight from Fresno.

“From Fresno to here, [it was] very tough because nobody was taking me to the hotel,” he said. “I did it by myself. I was only here for six months, I didn’t know much English. I remember, the first night, I ate roast beef with Juan Marichal in the hotel.”

It didn’t get any better for Murakami when he got to the ballpark. Although he signed his release from Fresno, he never formally signed a major league contract with the Giants. Confused by being asked to sign what he thought was a duplicate contract, Murakami had to iron out the formalities of his major league contract only minutes prior to the first pitch.

“Before the game Chub Feeney the general manager called to me to sign the contract,” he recalled. “There was a little bit of trouble because I didn’t know that. I can’t read it, contracts are very tough. [He told me] to sign over here. I said, ‘No, no, no. I don’t understand.’ He sent to the stands to get a Japanese guy [who helped translate] and then I said, ‘Oh, I understand.’ Then I signed.”

Murakami finished the 1965 season with a 4-1 record for the Giants, but decided to honor a commitment he made to the Nankai Hawks to return to Japan. He continued to pitch in Japan until 1982 with the Nippon Ham Fighters. Returning to the United States in 1983, Mashi tried to finish an unfulfilled dream by vying for a spot on the Giants roster.

“I thought I could play against the left-handed hitters,” he said. “I never played in major league spring training, only the minor league. … [I told the Giants] I would like to try spring training and if my arm is good, I would like to sign the contract.”

Unfortunately, his comeback with the Giants in 1983 was short lived. He was released at the end of spring training, but stayed in San Francisco to be the team’s batting practice pitcher for the duration of the season.

In the 50 years since his debut Murakami has seen a lot of changes, especially with how pitchers are handled. When he started his career, Japanese managers were notorious for running their pitchers into the ground; now their staffs have a lot more depth.

“Pitchers rotation before over here was three days,” he said. “Over there [Japan], if you are a good pitcher, maybe [one day you are] starting, maybe next day, [if the team might] win, ‘Okay, you get the ball.’ The Lions number 24 [Kazuhisa Inao], he had 42 wins [in a season]. He threw every day. Over here it’s mostly rotation. Maybe number one pitcher goes to relief one or two times only [per season]. Next day is day off. Now the rotation is four or five days … in Japan it is six days; one week, one time.”

With a new system in place for Japanese players to sign with major league teams since Murakami broke ground with the Giants, many players, especially pitchers have enjoyed vast salaries and opportunities for their exploits. He is hopeful that their top prospects will have the chance to play on the stage he once occupied.

“[Kenta] Maeda from the Hiroshima Carp and [Shohei] Ohtani, the young boy who is about 6’5”, he’s 20; he does both the pitching and hitting. I hope he comes over here, but he will be a pitcher. I hope every pitcher can [come here] and pitch well.”