Thursday, March 26, 2020

A Queen's Comfort

In these troubling and uncertain times, the best form of comfort, for some people, might just be a box of Baseball cards with game 7 of the 2016 World Series playing on TV.

On what would've been 2020 opening day, MLB went all out to please its fans, airing 1 re-run of an iconic game for each team on various streaming platforms. They've also used the MLB network to broadcast iconic matchups which is how I recorded the previously mentioned World Series game.

Though non-essential businesses have been ordered to close in Massachusetts, deliveries can still be made. I don't want, by any means, to order a surplus of unnecessary goods and overwhelm workers during this time.

Because of that, the 2020 Topps Gypsy Queen box that I got from Blowout will likely be my final online purchase for quite some time.

Like I do with most products, I'll start off by overviewing a single pack of 2020 Topps Gypsy Queen before, ultimately, getting to a full recap of the hobby box. I don't envision writing that until the weekend since I'm only halfway through at the moment.

But even from the pack design alone, you can tell a lot of attention to detail was exercised in the creation of this product. Bryce Harper wouldn't have been my first choice for the cover, but the color combinations work beautifully together and with his off-white jersey as well.

Each pack contains 8 cards, and there are 24 packs in a hobby box. Gypsy Queen has always been one of my favorite products, and I especially enjoy the direction the set has gone in since last year. Now, let's take a look at the 2020 release together.

#96 Xander Bogaerts
The Boston Red Sox may have traded the face of the franchise as well as their #2 starting pitcher to Los Angeles over the offseason, but seeing Xander Bogaerts' card reminds me of the dynamic duo that he and Rafael Devers were last season. Thus, I'm provided with a little bit of hope that this season is going to turn out alright.

Onto the set design which uses the same color as both the 2016 and 2018 sets. With all that the cards had going on last year, it's refreshing to see something a little simpler.

We have the GQ logo in the top left and the team logo in the bottom right along with the typical information that you'd expect to see on a Baseball card.

The only unnecessary element, in my opinion, is the team name; the small text combined with the presence of the logo renders it relatively pointless.

#192 Ryan O'Hearn
Admittedly, Ryan O'Hearn was somebody I was hoping I wouldn't have to run into now that the 2019 rookie class is in their 2nd season. His base cards and autographs, along with a few other players (Cedric Mullins), flooded last year's releases.

Hopefully, if nothing else, there will be a new crop of players to perform this task in 2020, so I'll at least be tired of new players rather than the same ones as last season.

#131 Colin Moran
The card backs are incredibly similar to what we saw from Gypsy Queen a year ago but with one major improvement; the card numbers are actually legible, not like the small digits, that Topps forced us to read in 2019.

This time around, you can easily see, for example, that Colin Moran is #131 in a set of 320 cards, but last year, the text was unnecessarily small. Even though the backs don't differ that much from one another, I applaud Topps so much for the change they made that I'm willing to look past it.

#250 Justin Verlander
Nice player collection addition here, though I must say I'm not particularly stoked to acquire new Astros cards these days.

#FTM-20 Fortune Teller Mini Aaron Judge
Since a massive overhaul was done on the set in 2017, a lot has changed surrounding the Gypsy Queen product. One of the constants through all of the shifts, however, has been the Fortune Teller minis.

The back of each card predicts with the particular player will achieve in the subsequent year. In this case, the "fortune teller" envisions that Yankees outfielder Aaron Judge will bounce back from 2 injury-plagued seasons by winning the AL Gold Glove and Silver Slugger.

#247 Ronald Guzman
There's not a whole lot for me to say about Ronald Guzman as I'm not very familiar with him, though I do find it interesting that Topps chose to have his leg extend past the frame of the image.

#74 T.J. Zeuch

#260 Zack Collins
Not to be confused with Zach Collins of the Portland Trail Blazers, White Sox catcher Zack Collins is expected to be yet another key contributor to this resurging team in 2020.

Overall, though I certainly have to see more before comparing and contrasting the 2, there are a lot of similarities between 2019 and 2020 Gypsy Queen, and that's not necessarily a bad thing.

After all, Topps finally established an identity for the set last year after years of uncertainty, so now that they've got it down pat, I wouldn't mind another year of playing it safe before taking another risk.

Monday, March 23, 2020

2020 Predictions By Division: AL Central

Not even a day after I finished my 2020 AL East division predictions, MLB announced that Chris Sale would miss the entirety of the season due to Tommy John surgery, despite an announcement a few weeks back that contradicted the more recent statement.

I'd like to say that this announcement was a surprise, but Sale's been injury-prone since arriving in Boston in 2017. Arm and elbow problems have consistently landed him on the injured-list, most notably in 2019 when he was limited to just 147 innings.

Hopefully, there won't be any news headline that'll prove detrimental to my AL Central predictions. After all, with the season already scheduled to be significantly limited, the last thing I want is for any player's season to be cut even shorter, let alone ended before it begins.

With all of that in mind, let's talk about the AL Central division race, one that has been one of the least competitive in Baseball over the last few seasons.

This year, however, could be more exciting following an offseason in which the Chicago White Sox made some substantial improvements.

The Minnesota Twins, last year's division champs, set the single-season home run record before being swiftly defeated by the Yankees in the ALDS. It'll be interesting to see whether they have what it takes to repeat, or if another team will rise to the occasion.

As for the bottom 2 teams, I expect the Royals and Tigers to fight to the death for 4th place. Without any further adieu, let's take an in-depth look at the American League Central division.

1st Place: Minnesota Twins
The true test for the Minnesota Twins in 2020 will be consistency, an attribute that they've struggled with in the past. Following a Wild Card game appearance in 2017, for example, the Twins finished the 2018 season with a disappointing record of 78-84.

Fortunately, they soared to new heights in 2019, capturing the AL Central Division title and breaking the 2018 Yankees record for home runs in a single season, a feat I don't think anyone saw coming. To my knowledge, most of the team, including the 39-year old Nelson Cruz, will be returning for another crack at a World Series championship.

This team has a very talented, young core, both at the plate and on the mound, and I don't foresee any AL Central team taking the crown away from the Twins anytime soon.

2nd Place: Chicago White Sox
Signing Dallas Keuchel and Edwin Encarnacion to contracts along with extending Yoan Moncada's have positioned the Chicago White Sox to be in the 2020 AL Wild Card hunt and, possibly take home the division title as early as next season.

Don't forget, Tim Anderson captured the AL batting title last year as well, meaning this Chicago White Sox offense can do it all. Eloy Jimenez, in what will be his 2nd season, also seems destined for great things.

But the true test to the strength of the Chicago White Sox will be when and how well Luis Robert can contribute to the team's postseason hopes. If he gets some solid playing time, I expect the White Sox to be in the hunt 'till the very end.

3rd Place: Cleveland Indians
The Indians may have gone 93-69 in 2019, but in my opinion, their window for winning a World Series championship has closed, and the team's front office seems to share that belief. Why else would they trade 2-time Cy Young Award winner Corey Kluber for Delino DeShields Jr?

It seems like the Indians are throwing in the towel before the season starts, and if things continue at this rate, I wouldn't be surprised to see them shopping face of the franchise Francisco Lindor at the trade deadline.

Up against any other NL team in 2016, the Indians likely would've walked away from the World Series as champions. But they had to face the historic Chicago Cubs team, and ever since that game 7 loss, Cleveland hasn't come close to being the team they once were.

4th Place: Kansas City Royals
Last year, the AL Central featured 2 100-loss teams, the Kansas City Royals and the Detroit Tigers.

Although neither team is poised to make a run for a playoff berth, the Royals roster gives me slightly more hope than the Tigers, which is why it stands to reason that they'll beat Detroit out for 4th place for the second year in a row.

Whit Merrifield is one of the most underrated players in the game, and his all-around talents shine brightly along with the surging, power-hitting Jorge Soler, who led the AL with 48 dingers last year.

I don't know much about the team aside from those 2 players, but if they perform at the levels they did in 2019, Kansas City, if nothing else, can take home 4th.

5th Place: Detroit Tigers
A few years ago, Tigers slugger Miguel Cabrera seemed like a shoo-in for the 500 home run club. Now, at the age of 36, he's coming off missing the vast majority of the 2019 season, and his Detroit Tigers are coming off a season in which they lost 114 games.

I probably couldn't name 5 players on this Tigers team, a testament to how much they've regressed over the past few seasons without many signs of hope.

Truth be told, nothing's going to change for this team until Casey Mize makes his way to the MLB. Hopefully, he'll be the reincarnation of Justin Verlander for Detroit, and they can find success once more.

Wednesday, March 18, 2020

2020 Predictions By Division: AL East

No, nobody knows quite when the 2020 MLB season will get underway. The league has stated that a mid-May start, at the earliest, is possible, but the unpredictable nature of the Covid-19 virus puts this in jeopardy. Truth be told, we may not see the regular season start until June.

But I've always done my predictions by division in March since my first full year of blogging in 2018, and this tradition is one that I'd like to continue. I also don't envision much changing between now and Opening Day.

It's things like this, analyzing each team in Baseball, organizing cards, that's going to get sports fans through this time of uncertainty.

Of course, the MLB season being delayed is far from our biggest program, but for fans who look forward to the season starting around this time of year, we need to find something to take our mind off of things.

Hopefully, the predictions by division can get me into that type of mindset while also preparing for Opening Day, whenever that may be.

Moving onto the main content of the post, the AL East division has the most significance for me, yet I've never predicted the final results correctly.

Following a disappointing finish for the Red Sox, a resilient Yankees team, and an offseason of improvement for the Blue Jays, I'm fairly certain that anything can happen.

1st Place: New York Yankees
In 2018, following their offseason acquisition of reigning NL MVP Award winner Giancarlo Stanton, I chose the New York Yankees to win the AL East division. The rest, as we know, is history; the Red Sox surged to 108 regular-season wins and, eventually, a World Series championship.

This year, after the Yankees added Gerrit Cole to the tune of $324 million, it stands to reason that New York will capture the division title for the second consecutive season. However, I'd much rather have a different outcome occur than for me to be right.

Still, the delayed start will allow guys like Stanton and Judge to become fully healthy by Opening Day, though the loss of Luis Severino to Tommy John surgery will definitely hinder their rotation.

But as we saw last season, injuries can't really keep the Yankees down. It didn't happen in 2019, and it likely won't in 2020 either.

2nd Place: Boston Red Sox
The Red Sox finished third last year with David Price and Mookie Betts, so it seems a little ridiculous to elevate them to second following the most irritating offseason I've ever experienced as a fan (and that's saying something).

However, I'm trying to remain hopeful that the World Series hangover was the cause of Boston's lackluster 2019 season, and that everyone can come back and stay healthy in 2020 (I'm talking to you, Chris Sale).

Devers, Bogaerts, and Martinez are laying the foundation of both the Red Sox's lineup and future while Michael Chavis and Bobby Dalbec are a couple of young sluggers that I'm eager to watch.

If E-Rod is lights out like he was last year and Sale comes back strong, there may be, if nothing else, a Wild Card berth in Boston's near future.

3rd Place: Tampa Bay Rays
At this point, the Rays might've been able to win a World Series if not for the organization's many, many poor moves. It's impossible to get into all of them, but trading Tommy Pham for Hunter Renfroe and a prospect ranks as one of the worst.

The Rays won 96 games last season almost despite the front office, but my rationale is that, at some point, the terrible moves are going to catch up with Tampa Bay, and their luck will run out.

They do have one of the youngest teams as well as one of the lowest payrolls in all of Baseball, but for whatever reason, Tampa's always been a seller, not a buyer, at the trade deadline.

Simply put, the organization doesn't seem determined to find success, and if you're not actively doing everything possible to win, it's not going to happen, not with all the talented teams competing for that World Series trophy.

4th Place: Toronto Blue Jays
I don't think anyone's disputing the fact that the Blue Jays are going to become a genuine playoff contender at some point in the next few seasons, but I just don't see it happening in 2020.

Despite offseason acquisitions that include NL Cy Young runner-up Hyun-Jin Ryu, the Blue Jays are too young to make a real push this season. Vladimir Guerrero Jr, Cavan Biggio, and Bo Bichette have laid the foundation for a very successful future, but they don't have a very deep roster as of now.

In a year or so, the Blue Jays might be making new moves, or new prospects could make their way to the MLB, but the team is a little too inexperienced to surge to the top of the AL East quite yet.

5th Place: Baltimore Orioles
The Baltimore Orioles have finished in fifth place from 2017-2019 with the latter 2 seasons being absolute disasters for a team that as recently as 4 years ago was contending for and actually made the playoffs.

While no team can stay terrible forever, it's going to take a while for the Orioles to rise from 5th place and make some strides toward moving up in the division. Adley Rutschman won't be making his MLB debut for a few seasons, but he's a reminder, if nothing else, of hope for Orioles fans.

Truth be told, I don't know a whole lot about this team or its players, but I do know that anything besides a 5th place finish is highly unlikely.

Thursday, March 12, 2020

The New Frankenset: Page #6

The last 24 hours have been the craziest in terms of sports events that I can recall. Virtually all events, including the rest of the NBA and NHL seasons as well as the much-anticipated March Madness, have been canceled.

Spring Training is finished and the MLB season will be delayed at least 2 weeks. College sports have also been shut down, but truthfully, the Coronavirus issue goes way beyond the sports world.

I don't want to get too much into the details of the pandemic. After all, this is a Baseball card blog, and my goal is simply to provide interesting content related to the greatest sport in the world.

However, it's imperative that everyone is aware of the symptoms and stays safe during the foreseeable future. Awareness and proper hygiene is the #1 thing that each and every one of us can do to prevent it from spreading even more.

Now that I've addressed the unavoidable, I would like to move onto the 6th page of my new frankenset, the subject of today's blog post. As I mentioned, my goal is to (when I can) write and provide interesting content about various topics within the hobby as well as Baseball as a whole.

Hopefully, this frankenset page, featuring cards #46-54, can do that, and we can all take a 5-minute break from thinking about the Coronavirus.

#46 1974 Kellogg's 3D Super Stars Bert Blyleven
My dream of a Kellogg's 3D card revival seems highly unlikely unless Topps reaches out to form a partnership, but I can't help but want something like that to happen given the caliber of the original cards from the 1970s and 80s.

In my eyes, Hostess and Kellogg's are the top oddballs in the history of the hobby, though I'd give the latter of the 2 the edge if it came down to it. Although a few designs, most notably those with blue borders, blend together in my mind, certain sets, like 1981, stand out to me.

#47 2007 Bowman Heritage Mark Teixeira
If Topps actually wanted last year's Bowman Heritage release to be a success, it should've come out earlier in the year (not at the same time as Bowman's Best, an anticipated and popular product), and they should've included a retail format so the set would appeal to a wider audience.

It's challenging for a lot of collectors, myself included, to get behind purchasing and collecting prospect cards. However, if Bowman used a more interesting format, like Heritage, they'd be able to draw my interest toward the entire field of prospect collecting.

#48 2016 Topps Stadium Club
Produced before he was elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame, Harold Baines' 2016 Topps Stadium Club card is one of my favorites from the entire set, and that's a bold statement given the sheer caliber of the '16 product, specifically the checklist and photography.

It's impressive enough when Topps captures shots of current players using all sorts of different angles and so on, but it's the enhanced photos from decades prior that elevate Stadium Club to the top tier of all releases.

#49 2005 Upper Deck ESPN Scott Podsednik
I feel like this collaboration between card producer Upper Deck and TV/news network ESPN had strong potential, but the duo failed to give the cards an identity/concept in addition to the modern design.

I'm not exactly sure how I would design/market these cards so that they were more than just a set with the name ESPN attached to them, but there's definitely a whole lot more that could've been done to enhance the quality.

#50 2003 Fleer Authentix Jorge Julio
Seeing this ticket emulation from Fleer Authentix brings me back to the same idea that I started this post by talking about: the fate of sports, particularly the new MLB season, in the wake of the Coronavirus outbreak.

I'll be watching to see whether MLB pushes the schedule back to get all 162 games played or if they opt to cancel the first several weeks and, thus, have an abbreviated 2020 season.

As far as I know, something like this is unprecedented in its effects on sports, particularly baseball, so there's not necessarily a proper way to handle things.

#51 1984 Donruss Dave Winfield
First came Blyleven, then Baines, and now Dave Winfield: half of the first 6 cards of this page feature members of the Baseball Hall of Fame, and while the final of the 3 doesn't have quite as interesting of a card, it's still nice to have some superstar representation.

I actually appreciate the choice to feature this type of image with the '84 Donruss design, one that allows for photographs to take up most of the card. With that being said, the set itself is rather uninspiring, so the pictures need to blow me away to make up for it.

#52 1966 Topps Power Plus
It doesn't matter if the condition is a little worse for wear or if I don't even collect either of the players featured: I will always have a profound appreciation for combo cards from the 50s, 60s, and 70s Topps sets, as well as the, recreates in today's Topps Heritage.

As fabulous as vintage Topps sets are, the base cards, like any set, can get rather repetitive after a checklist of several hundred. Breaking up the set to avoid becoming boring is essential, and that is exactly the role that combo cards like the one above play.

#53 2016 Panini Donruss Clayton Kershaw
It might just be my personal dislike for the 2016 Panini Donruss set, but I feel like this card stands out like a sore thumb among the rest of this page. Even the Podsednik and Winfield, 2 cards that I'm not exactly crazy about, fit better with the page than Kershaw's from '16 Donruss.

The reason for this, simply put, is licensing. The less than stellar design/photograph is only made worse because of the fact that Panini, to no fault of their own, cannot use the MLB logos.

Thankfully, they've stepped up their game in the years that have followed with products like Leather & Lumber and Prizm. Hopefully, MLB will reward them with the license as soon as Topps' exclusive rights end in a few years.

#54 1963 Topps Rookie Stars
Last up, a good old-fashioned rookie stars card from 1963, a title that seemed to almost doom the career of anyone it was applied to.

Although none of these guys became superstars in the MLB, it's certainly worth noting that Dave Debusschere eventually became a member of the Basketball Hall of Fame.

Sunday, March 8, 2020

An Expected Package of Unexpected Cards

Roughly 2 weeks ago, Kerry from Cards on Cards and the recipient of my Secret Santa package from the end of last year, reached out to me, saying that he'd put together a collection of cards that he wanted to send my way.

Immediately, I was impressed by his generosity in that he wanted to send something my way completely out of the blue, and he didn't ask for anything in return. However, I was even more impressed when the package arrived in the mail.

My posting schedule has been inconsistent for the last month or so, and while I've wanted to write this post for several days as a way to show my appreciation, I simply haven't gotten around to it, and I apologize for that.

As for the actual contents of the package, there is a broad coalition of all sorts of cards. A large number of them feature Red Sox players, but there are also a fair number of set needs from my want list mixed in as well.

For example, a few needs from my 2018 Topps Archives set, including an SP of Buster Posey and Andrew McCutchen in the 1959 Topps combo card design.

Coincidentally, one card from each of the 3 designs replicated ('59, '77, and '81) was featured in addition to the combo card which has to be my favorite of the group.

But as I mentioned earlier, Red Sox cards constituted most of the contents of the bubble mailer, and a significant portion of those cards featured players that I collect.

I was familiar with most of the products, but the card in the upper-righthand corner continues to leave me slightly mystified. At first, I thought it was a sticker, but I soon found that the cardstock is too thick.

Plus, J.D. Martinez is shown on the back, so it must be some sort of 2-player insert, though I don't know what set it's from.

I wouldn't be able to highlight every Red Sox card that Kerry sent me as it would take far too much time, but I can point out a couple of highlights that really stood out to me. Surprisingly, many of those cards are from Panini products.

2 of the cards above, the Babe Ruth insert and the Ortiz in the bottom-lefthand corner, are from a couple of sets (Diamond Kings and Leather & Lumber), that I've never purchased in my life.

To me, something like this is one of the primary benefits of having a card blog. You can connect with so many different collectors and come across cards that, otherwise, wouldn't end up in your collection.

Lastly, when 2019 Topps Chrome Update was released toward the end of last year, I raved about the 150th-anniversary cards and how Topps chose excellent images for the chrome cardstock. Little did I know there were 2 Red Sox players whose cards I'd yet to come across.

Williams and Yaz, along with David Ortiz, constitute the Boston players featured in this checklist, and they seem like the 3 most qualified guys to be included if you ask me.

The pictures, particularly Yastrzemski's, work unusually well with the chrome cardstock, something you wouldn't necessarily think would happen.

This package was certainly an unexpected act of generosity. Thanks so much for putting this together, Kerry. I'm going to try to send something your way in the next week or so.

Friday, March 6, 2020

Card Shop Singles

My much-delayed 2020 Topps Heritage hobby box recap will be posted sometime this weekend, but before I get into a more in-depth analysis of this year's product, I thought I'd share a select few singles that I picked up before grabbing the Heritage box on release day just over a week ago.

When your spending money on a hobby box in general, you're not usually too inclined to splurge even more and grab some individual cards, but I figured it couldn't hurt to take a look. I purchased more cards than I actually chose to show, but they only added around $5 to the total cost.

Plus, I can't remember the last time I went on a dime box search: that is, giving myself a $20 budget and scanning through the cards until I reached the limit.

The whole process is wonderful because I end up with 200 new cards for my player collections that I can sort later that day, especially during the Baseball season when the Red Sox are playing.

I might be going off on a tangent and/or getting ahead of myself, but all this talk of dime boxes is inspiring me to get back to the card show and look through the bins. As I mentioned, it's been far too long since I significantly boosted my various PCs.

Moving on, I have a few cards that I specifically chose for today's rather brief post, starting with the one from the 2017 Topps Stadium Club set at the top of this post. No, I don't collect Willson Contreras, and I didn't necessarily choose this card because he plays for the Cubs.

Instead, it was the cameo that Aroldis Chapman made that sold me; 10 cents is well worth it for a parallel of a guy who played in Chicago for just half a season.

The Contreras card with a Chapman cameo didn't spell the end of my Stadium Club pickups. Despite how much 2018 I ripped, this is definitely my first time seeing the Carl Yastrzemski card, and I don't believe I'm familiar with the Ty Cobb either.

Some products end up in the dime boxes a lot more than others, but both Topps Stadium Club and Archives are pretty dependable in that, year after year, I can pick up singles for my player collections a week or 2 after release day.

Come to think of it, I can even wait 8 months and find new cards for my PCs in late February.

The 2 cards above were located directly next to one another in the order of the dime box, so for a quick second, I thought they were from the same set. As I soon found out, one is from Fleer Maximum Impact while the other is from Upper Deck SP Signature Edition.

Overall, Derek Jeter and Harmon Killebrew could not be more different. One was a contact hitter with superb defense while the other would've been a DH had it been implemented and focused on crushing homers rather than upping his batting average.

In my opinion, one of the better parts of specializing in player collecting is that you can find cards of all different players from virtually any era in Baseball history, allowing you to expand your repertoire as a baseball fan and card collector.

Plus, thanks to both Topps and Panini, both current, retired, and future players get their own cards thanks to the extensive range of different products.

As I've said before, there are abundances of cards from various sets/brands depending on when and where you search through the dime bins. In the case of my most recent visit to the card shop, that particular set was 2003 Donruss Team Heroes.

There were a few other cards in the Team Heroes stack, but the majority of them, oddly enough, featured members of the Chicago Cubs.

Though Ron Santo was not included, Jenkins, Sandberg, Banks, and Williams all were, so I'll definitely take this as a victory and an opportunity to enhance player collections from my 2nd favorite team.

I don't really have an effective way to transfer from 2003 Donruss Team Heroes to a "power plaid" parallel from 2019 Panini Prizm, but I wanted to save this card for last because it is a nice addition to my 2019 Panini Prizm project, which I haven't had the chance to add to in a while.

Anyone who follows my blog closely knows that I don't necessarily believe that I can achieve the goal of tracking down all parallels with print runs higher than 25 in a 300-card set, but I'm going to everything in my power to at least try.

Panini is going to release Prizm once again this year on May 13th. As much as I'll be tempted to rip into some packs, I'm going to give it my best effort not to open any of this product. Instead, I plan on saving the money I would've spent on the new release and concentrating on picking up singles for my project.

Whether or not that happens is an entirely different story.

Sunday, March 1, 2020

New Month: More Posts (Starting With Topps Heritage)

Last month, I managed just 6 blog posts. I took breaks from posting that equaled that amount of time on 2 separate occasions. Even with the shift that's occurred in the number of posts I've put out over the past few months, 6 is an all-time low for me.

In some ways, however, the breaks provided some insight as well as some downtime to figure out what I can do to ensure a better quantity and quality of material in March and beyond.

I fully intend on using the new month to get back on track toward a more regular schedule. I don't want to set anything in stone, but I'm looking to post roughly 20 times over the next 31 days. Hopefully, this will help cancel out the 6-post month of February.

Now, let's break away from talking about my blogging habits and get to today's post itself.

One of my favorite products, Topps Heritage, was released on Wednesday. It's always been a tradition of mine to rip a Heritage hobby box each year, something that's dated back to 2016. In the years that I didn't open a box, chances are I bought the base set at the card show.

The odds of pulling certain inserts as well as chrome cards and variations have decreased almost annually, but Heritage is still one of the most enjoyable products to break. After all, Topps does a magnificent job recreating their vintage sets, and, unfortunately, we're not going to have them for too much longer.

Pretty soon, Heritage will venture into products from the late 70s and early 80s, sets that still have something to offer, but let's face it: nothing can beat the sheer caliber of cards from the 1950s, 60s, and early 70s.

I have the standard 1-pack preview lined up for today, but my next post will be focused on the hobby box as a whole.

#329 2019 World Series Game #3
One thing I noticed right off the bat is the sheer number of Houston Astros cards that have flooded this product. Maybe I've become more observant given the scandal that appears ready to plague their entire 2020 season, but it seemed like every pack presented a new Houston card.

Making up a large portion of the cards is the playoff highlights from last year's ALCS and World Series. In fact, my first card from the product commemorates game 3 of the 2019 World Series in which the Astros beat the Nationals 4-1 in Washington thanks to a strong performance from Zack Greinke.

#273 Gregory Polanco
Before writing this post, I didn't even realize that Gregory Polanco missed most of the 2019 season with a shoulder injury, though I guess this sort of thing will go unnoticed by someone who pays more attention to the affairs of the American League than the National League.

Now that McCutchen, Cole, and Marte have left Pittsburgh, Polanco could be recognized as the face of the franchise along with Bryan Reynolds who had a terrific rookie season in 2019. Entering his age-29 season, Polanco seems destined, in my eyes, for a bounce-back season.

#194 Craig Kimbrel
I was going to use this card to address how well Topps recreated the 1971 design, but I pulled a card of Craig Kimbrel, one of my "super collections," so I feel obligated to talk about that instead.

If I remember correctly, I pulled a Craig Kimbrel base card in my first pack of 2020 Topps Series 1 as well, a type of momentum I'd love to carry with me throughout the year. If I can land Kimbrel's base card in the first pack of everything I open, I won't have to hunt them down each time I go to the show.

#72 NL Strikeout Leaders
With 2 of their pitchers making the top 3 in league strikeouts in 2019, not to mention the fact that Patrick Corbin finished 4th, 5 behind Scherzer, it's no wonder the Washington Nationals won the 2019 World Series.

This impressive feat just proves once again how vital pitching is to winning championships. As dynamic as their lineup was last season, the Nationals likely wouldn't have even made the Wild Card game if their pitching had been average. Strasburg, Scherzer, Corbin, and Anibal Sanchez are the reasons for this success.

#BF-2 Baseball Flashbacks Bert Blyleven
All the Heritage inserts have become much harder to pull over the last few years, but there was a time, if I remember correctly, when flashbacks inserts, both Baseball, and news, became twice as rare over 1 year.

As tough as the odds might be, Topps embodied both the era and the specific year with the Baseball flashbacks design. I particularly love the rainbow letters at the top of the card and the teal banner at the bottom.

#12 20 Gigantic Seasons Candlestick Park
20 Gigantic Seasons is an insert set unique to 2020 Heritage that honors Willie Mays' time with the New York and San Francisco Giants with each card representing a year in his career.

The one above, for instance, recognizes his contributions to their come-from-behind victory over the Dodgers to capture the 1962 NL pennant. There won't be anything like this in next year's Heritage, so this insert set might be one for me to complete.

#313 Thairo Estrada
I don't know much about Thairo Estrada, so I'll take this opportunity to talk about Topps' efforts in recreating the 1971 Topps set for 2020 Heritage.

I'm not an expert on the specific color combinations of the product, but at a surface level, it seems like Topps did everything they needed to, down to spelling the player's name in all lowercase letters.

Additionally, most of the photos (Estrada's not really included) resemble the types of shots used in the set 49 years ago.

#378 Tyler Chatwood
Now, this is the kind of photo you could expect to see on an original 1971 Topps card, not necessarily including the smile. There was also a wide range of unique, oddball photographs in '71 Topps as well as iconic cards like that of Thurmon Munson.

#117 Marcus Stroman
Though he put up better numbers with the Toronto Blue Jays as opposed to the New York Mets in 209, Stroman will be an integral part of their future.

They essentially replaced Zack Wheeler with Stroman, so it'll be interesting to see who performs better throughout the 2020 season, especially given that the 2 pitchers are division rivals.

I know that this post was on the simple side, but I wanted something like that as I ease back into posting regularly. I really regret only putting out 6 posts in February, and I'm hoping that March will be a month of new material and way more posts than what I did in February.