Friday, April 26, 2013

Fantasy & Reality & Some Rookie Cards

I always get a kick out of instances where baseball cards (or sports cards, or hobbies in general) help relate to other aspects in my life.

For instance, last fall I was able to work on some basic math and critical thinking skills with my daughter by using some Upper Deck soccer cards I had picked up for her.   I would consider this to be high (if not THE highest) on the list of extra benefits from my cardboard addiction.....anything that brings us closer with our loved ones is a GOOD thing.

My example for today is not so righteous, but it is pretty cool to see how a fantasy game version of my favorite sport has added to my enjoyment of our hobby.

I played fantasy baseball for the first time last season and I really enjoyed myself.   It is interesting, statistic-centric (nerd sound) and creates incredible moments of crisis as a fan when one or more of your fantasy players face off against your real life favorite team or player.   Good stuff, despite the quizzical "I love you, idiot" looks from Mrs. Ryan's Pitch.

This season has been no exception.   I'm playing in two fantasy leagues again and having a grand time.    There's been an added focus for younger stars in my new league as it is a "dynasty" league where you can keep some of your players from year to year and build with prospects and minor leaguers.   Exhausting sometimes's baseball.   So it's awesome, naturally.

This year, there's been a couple of young chaps in the game who have caught my eye.   I don't own either of them but I've given considerable thought to "claiming" them for my team off of the waiver wires.

Matt Adams for the Cardinals and Patrick Corbin for the D-Backs.

A bat and an arm - good mix.

Matt Adams is a hoss!   He comes with a lot of power potential, which we received a sneak peek at last season, but the Cardinals have a pretty well stocked cupboard right now.   He is getting some playing time but I haven't been able to justify picking him up just yet.   Still, it's been a lot of fun doing the research and monitoring his performance.

While going through my 2012 Topps flagship extras the other night, I came across this card:

Who doesn't love an RC?

It didn't really have much  meaning for me when I shuffled through the packs last year but now this "Gold" parallel (#'d out of 2012 - MOJO!!!!! :) means a little bit more and was a lot of fun to check revisit a second time.   Taking a look at Mr. Adams' physique provides a quick visual explanation for the power potential, too.   And because this is Ryan's Pitch - here's the CARD BACK:

Not considered a "HIT" by millions of collectors

Patrick Corbin is a young fellow who, so far, is making D-Back Manager Kirk Gibson look like a genius for selecting Patrick as their #5 at the end of spring training.   Corbin has a 1.72 ERA, sub-1 WHIP and a respectable 2.9 K/BB ratio.   Not too shabby.   He's 2-0 on the season and his 21 IP have come against the Yankees, Dodgers, Giants and Brewers.   He's also only 24 years old.   Great job, kid.

Now, corrections happen and great starts happen......the Yankees aren't the usual Yankees right now and the Dodgers have been a bit anemic as of late (though Kemp is heating up!) but still.   This kid could be legit.   Maybe I should drop Wade Davis for him?   What do you think?

That being said, I also stumbled across this card during the same 'hobby break' that I found the Adams:

Not an SP and I couldn't care less

Actually, I found two of them!   Immediately, they were penny-sleeved.   Yeah, in the opinion of some hobbyists they're worthless base cards......but to me, they represent rookie cards of a great young pitcher.   And all because I'm following the sport a little bit closer through fantasy baseball.

I love technology.

Thanks for reading and have a great weekend.

Friday, April 12, 2013

2013 Gypsy Queen: The Verdict & Trade Lists

I won't be collecting the 2013 Gypsy Queen base set.

Don't get me wrong, I picked up a blaster and enjoyed my packs.   No wait....they were out of blasters.   I snagged three "rack" packs....of packs.....not that it matters.   I enjoyed checking the set out.   There was a healthy dose of inserts and parallels throughout and I even pulled a Mattingly base card!   Yep, I was mystified as to why the previous two editions of GQ blacklisted The Hit Man and even tweeted to @ToppsCards about it.   Obviously, they listened to Ryan's Pitch and decided to include him in this year's release.   I'm ecstatic to make it the latest addition to my Mattingly PC!

The cards were sorted and reviewed.   By yours truly, so it was pretty technical.

I've set aside a few cards for my collection - mostly Braves, Yankees and a few legacy stars.   But otherwise, the base card design just didn't do it for me.   I don't necessarily hate it.   Remember, the 2011 Gypsy Queen set was what welcomed me back into the hobby a couple of years ago ( my goodness!?).   I pursued it with reckless abandon and flip back through my (almost complete!) master set on a regular basis.   I dig the artistic nature of the cards' pictures and I really enjoy the mixture of current and past players.   It's just that...the design of the cards aren't that much different, and I just don't think they have enough color.   Or the right color, I guess, as the '11 versions were strictly tan and black:  

Gateway Set

Yeah, I don't get it either - I just enjoy the 2011 design much more.   This latest attempt just seems more cheap and bland.   And that's fine - you can't win them all.   We'll try again next year.

In my opinion, Topps got it right with the initial release as far as base, relics, inserts and production numbers are concerned.  


They took a step back last year with some inserts that just didn't appeal to me and a design that was so-so.   There seemed to be a lot more "blah" names on the relic and autograph list, too.   But I chased it anyways and have almost completed the base set.

This year, I think the inserts are spectacular for the most part and I will actually try to collect a few of them: "No Hitters", "Sliding Stars" and "Collisions at the Plate".   I'm really glad that Topps brought back the 'Sliding Stars' inserts.   I still dig them and the 'Collisions' was a great idea.


Therefore......I don't need all of the cards I have but I need some that I don't!   The cards below are "For Trade" and can be yours if you need them - just let me know!   If possible, I'd really like to swap them for cards I need.  

Here's the situation:

For Trade

Base:                    4, 7 (Mike Schmidt SP), 25, 43, 52, 59, 68, 88, 105, 129, 153, 165, 206, 214, 235,
                             241, 256, 261, 278, 338, 343, 345

White Parallel:     Ben Revere (269), Alex Gordon (141), Darwin Barney (341), Jemile Weeks (214),
                             David Wright (37), Yonder Alonso (173), Chris Capuano (241)

Mini:                    CJ Wilson (224), Vida Blue (157)

Black Mini /199:  Alex Rios (65/199, #114)

Dealing Aces:      Stephen Strasburg, David Price

Glove Stories:      Manny Machado

Cards I Need 

Sliding Stars: Austin Jackson, Adam Jones, Andrew McCutchen, Bryce Harper, Carlos Gonzalez,
                       Derek Jeter, Jason Heyward,  Joe Morgan, Ken Griffey Jr., Mike Trout, Ozzie Smith,
                       Prince Fielder, Rickey Henderson

Collisions at the Plate:   McCann, Posey, Fisk, Carter, Bench, Montero, Rosario, Molina

No-Hitters:   Feller, Hunter, Abbott, Santana, Weaver, Millwood, Ryan, Humber, Halladay, Koufax,

For Yanks & Braves Team Sets, here is what I have (below).   I will gladly take any that I don't have and any parallel version from my favorite teams!


A-Rod (#6), Ivan Nova (#21), Paul O'Neill (#316)


Chris Johnson (#195), Craig Kimbrel (#257), Tim Hudson (#344)

Yanks & Braves Mini's & Parallels

Mariano Rivera (#86)

Thanks for reading guys - have a great weekend!

Thursday, April 11, 2013

The Masters

By far, this is my favorite event of the year in professional golf.  

In fact, I would even venture to say that it may be my favorite sporting event of the year, overall!

I wasn't fortunate enough to obtain passes for this year's tournament, so I'm currently on an 0-2 streak there.   But that's okay, these are tough, tough tickets - and very expensive, particularly this year with Tiger's return to strength.

I can't wait to make it back, though.   I love Augusta National.   Last year's tournament was a true treat, as my old high school and junior golf circuit nemesis Bubba Watson earned himself his own green jacket.   When it comes to amazing "what ifs" and vicarious athletic dreams from high school glory days, I can't see how it gets much better than last year's experience.

But the tournament is THAT great - it marches on, creating new history and legends each year.   When I DO get back, my first stop will undoubtedly be the "spot" in the woods on #10 where Bubba fashioned that hooked wedge onto the green, securing his place in history.   Good stuff.

One of my favorite memories from my two trips to Augusta was when I was able to attend the Wednesday practice round and Par 3 competition.   I believe this is THE best day to attend The Masters other than Sunday's final round (which I haven't attended, yet).   The mood is festive, friendly, anticipatory and pure.   And let me tell you - for us memorabilia & autograph hounds, Wednesday at The Masters has no equal in the game of golf.   The best in the sport are THERE and they are, traditionally, in a very good, generous mood.   The Par 3 competition allows patrons to get very close to the players for an up-close look at our heroes and even some great signing opportunities.   It's practically a tradition, which is what Augusta is ALL about.

When I visited, I had a tremendous autograph experience during the Par 3 competition.   Historic.   Epic.  Once in a lifetime kind of thing......I'll definitely share the results of that experience at some point on here, but not today.   No, today, I want to share a great moment that occurred after the competition was over.   In fact, it happened after all play was done for the day and the Augusta grounds crew had begun to swarm the course for final preparations before the opening round.  

I was with my dad, brother and cousin.   My brother and I were enjoying a couple of cigars that a fellow patron had offered to share (he was nearby for a part of my epic moment) and we were quite content.   "Life was good" as we strolled by the pines and azaleas, heading back to Amen Corner for a final gander and moment of zen before heading for the parking lot.   We sat there in the shade, sending soft puffs of aromatic goodness into the pine-coned canopy above.   We recounted the day's experience, comparing notes about what we saw and what we liked.   At some point, I got up and walked towards the edge of the woods at the actual "corner" boundary of patron access.   This was the closest point to #12's green, my favorite part of the course.

It was then that I heard the voice.

THE voice of my sports-watching childhood.   Whether is was the NCAA men's basketball Final Four, The Masters telecast itself or just the weekly PGA tourney......this guy delivered the shot-by-shot recaps, summaries and glorious introductions.

Mr. Jim Nantz.

He was speaking to a young man in a golf cart - HIS golf cart, as the name plate explained -  recounting some great stories of individual shots at Amen Corner and tales of tournaments gone by.   Barely above a whisper, I stood nearby and listened to the master weave his tales.   His voice was just as it sounds on TV.

After a few moments, I couldn't help myself and decided to give it a shot.   I didn't want to impose myself into a private moment, but hey - I was there and so were they and, well, we were all "patrons" to some extent.

"Mr. Nantz?   I hate to bother you but I couldn't leave without introducing myself and thanking you for all of the memories you have provided over the years.   I'm a huge fan of yours and a fan of the game.   This is my first time at Augusta.   My name is Ryan LaMonica."

"It's great to meet you, Ryan," he said as he shook my hand.   "Thank you very much for your kind words - it's been my pleasure."

"Could I trouble you for your autograph?"   I held out my Masters Guide Book and a sharpie (of course!).

"Sure thing.   Thanks again and enjoy the tournament."

"Thank you, Mr. Nantz."

"A tradition like no other....."

Awesome experience that really capped off an amazing FIRST time at one of my favorite sporting events!   Augusta National is a special place and I look forward to our chance as fans to 'visit' every year, in person or on TV.

This year is no different.   Thank you again, Mr. Nantz.   Enjoy the Masters, everybody!

Thanks for reading.

Monday, April 8, 2013


Even though I'm devastated that the pace for 162 home runs has been shattered.....

I'm interested to see how well Chris Davis can continue the amazing start to his 2013 season!

I also really love his card from 2013 flagship.   It's a great design and Topps utilized some very interesting and high-caliber photography.   I was tempted to chase the set by hand and build towards another completion for my son's stash.....but I've decided to just hold off and pick up a factory set in December.

Baltimore Brotherhood
Thanks for reading!

Friday, April 5, 2013

Reflections: Virgil Trucks

Virgil "Fire" Trucks (1917 - 2013)

Baseball lost a great man nearly two weeks ago in Virgil Trucks.   It's been well documented by so many of my fellow bloggers with beautiful tributes and fantastic encounters - both 'through the mail' and even personally - that if there was any doubt as to how well he lived his life and how much of an accessible friend he was to baseball has certainly been laid to rest with 'ol "Fire" Trucks, himself.

I wanted to make my own contribution.   Not so much as to reiterate what others have already said so well, but to share my own little piece of baseball treasure from my own correspondence with Mr. Trucks.   I think it would be shame not to and not in line with how "Fire" treated the Game as something to be cherished, shared and learned from.

Mr. Trucks at Rickwood Field, Birmingham, Alabama in 2012
(photo courtesy of Randal Crow)

A little background.....

As some of you know, I began my professional career as a naval nuclear propulsion officer in the submarine community.   I have a rich family history of military service but I was the first one crazy enough to go willingly underwater - on purpose.   Other than being a husband and father, I am certain it will be one of the most worthwhile things I'll ever do.

You also know by now that I am a huge baseball fan and collector of baseball cards and memorabilia.   I love the history of the game and have a great deal of respect for the players of the past that achieved greatness of a binary nature, both as professional ballplayers and citizen soldiers who put their lives on the line for the life and liberty of others.   In comparison with the prototypical professional athletes of today, the incredible nature of these heroes' stories become more unbelievable and more distant as society and time roll forward, but no less powerful.

Mr. Trucks at Rickwood Field, Birmingham, Alabama in 2012
(photo courtesy of Randal Crow)

It was a natural progression, therefore, that my memorabilia pursuits and collecting goals leaned towards these veterans of the Game and the service.   I've reached out to dozens over the past six years with some terrific success.   Sadly, the timing of my pursuit has taken on tremendous urgency due to simple timing - our heroes are dying.

But that's okay.   These men and women lived full and meaningful lives, accomplishing so much to deliver the advanced and comfortable world that we live in today.   I've referred to my own grandparents on this blog from time to time.   Three of them served in the military, during World War II and the Cold War's first days.   They raised families and worked hard in successful careers that stretched more than 50 years.   They were baseball fans, too!

Like Mr. Trucks, all of my grandparents are now gone.   I lost the last three of them in a little more than three months towards the end of last year.   I miss them terribly - but it is certainly bittersweet.   I'll reiterate what I said above; they lived wonderful lives.   And now, more than ever, I understand that dying is simply a another part of life that we will all endure.   What's important is how you live and what (and whom!) you leave behind for the world to enjoy and, hopefully, become a better place.   So that's my urgency - to capture as much beautiful life experience from these heroes, whomever they may be, before they're gone with their stories that are OH so worth telling!

I like to think that I try every day to make the world a better place as a tribute to my grandparents and as a part of their legacy.   I also feel like I have a little piece of Mr. Trucks' legacy to share - so let's talk some baseball!

I reached out to Virgil Trucks with a letter and some pictures from my navy days.   He was a sailor himself, serving in the Navy towards the end of World War II in the Pacific theatre.   I would recommend to anybody that they check out some of the stories regarding the service league baseball tournaments held in Hawaii (and elsewhere) during the War (read more about that here: ).   "Fire" Trucks utilized these opportunities to keep his hurling skills fresh, boost morale for his fellow servicemen and create terrific sports stories for an entire nation in war time.   Is there a greater gift?   He also has a GREAT story of how he re-joined the Detroit Tigers to pitch in Game 2 of the '45 Series only TWO WEEKS after being discharged from active duty!

Add all of these tales to his accomplishments on the diamond from 1941 through 1957 with the Tigers, Browns, White Sox, Athletics and Yankees.......and you have quite the legend!   I only wish I had enough time to go through his career and life in its entirety.   He did have one highlight for which he is very well k nown.   Rightfully, Virgil was a proud member of the elite club of pitchers to fire two no-hitters in the same season.   He adorned nearly every autograph he signed with custom-made stamps that reflected the dates of his two "no-no's" in 1952.   I am personally fascinated by this feat and have actually made a collecting goal of obtaining autographs and collecting cards of each of the pitchers that have achieved this feat:

  • Johnny Vander Meer (1938)
  • Allie Reynolds (1951)
  • Virgil Trucks (1952)
  • Nolan Ryan (1973)
  • Roy Halladay (2010)

My first vintage Fire Trucks - 1956 Topps #117

I'll keep you posted on that quest, of course - but back to my letter to "Fire" Trucks!

I shared my own experience in the navy and the service connection to my grandparents with Mr. Trucks and thanked him for his own service.   I briefly described my favorite feats from his amazing career and peppered some questions about his experiences throughout my diatribe.   I thanked him for his contributions to the game, asked very politely for his autograph and even enclosed a donation to his church, something that I had been told, though not a requirement, would mean a lot to him.   Heck, it was the least I could do.

Mr. Trucks signing a baseball (photo courtesy of Randal Crow)

Within a week, Mr. Trucks replied with an amazing 'package' of baseball treasures.   He was quite generous with everyone who reached out to him over the years but I couldn't believe my eyes as his generous reply unfolded before me.   A picture, book jacket, cards and the ball I had sent - all fell out of the envelope with Mr. Trucks' inscriptions, stamps and well-wishes.  

"To Ryan M. LaMonica, My Navy Partner With Best Wishes Always, Virgil 'Fire' Trucks"


Most amazing to me though, was the personally written letter from Mr. Trucks, himself.   Two whole pages of kind words and incredible recollections from his playing days.And now I'd like to share his words with you!   I've partitioned the letter into paragraphs for ease of reading but left most of Mr. Trucks' own prose intact.


Dear Mr. LaMonica (mate),

It was nice hearing from you.   And my pleasure to sign your baseball, I hope I didn't mess it up with all the stuff I put on it.   Also enclosing a photo and four small cards for you.   I'm sorry my writing is bad and won't write much.   I'm having a carpal tunell done the 28th of this month and will write more after it heals which is estimated about a month.

Your whole family is service people and that's terrific.   I also thank you & family for your participation in the service for our country.   Bless you all.  

Well, as I pitched every game was treated the same.   But the two no hitters were special.   As for being calm in the bottom of the 9th inning against the Yankees was no more than the other 8 innings as it was a bad year for the "Tigers" & me.   We finished last that year winning only 50 games and losing 104 in a 154 game schedule.

As for Mantle being the leadoff hitter in the bottom of the ninth, I was just going to give him my best, power against power.   I struck him out.   I'm also enclosing a lineup of both no hitters.   I also had a 1 hitter that year.   I almost had three.   The leadoff hitter that game hit a clean single between 3rd and short.   I then retired the next 27 hitters.

Well Ryan, I hope you don't mind me using y our first name.   As I get a lot of mail and am used to doing that.   I also enclosed a cover of a book I wrote.   Which were sold out of 2 printings.   And may have a third.   Not sure yet.   Thank you for the church money.   And they do to.   I'm sorry I can't write more but hand is a little tired & weak.   My best to you and your family.


                                                                                 Virgil Trucks

P.S. Thank you for the sub photo.   I had to patch up your envelope.   It  got scuffed up.   So I patched it up with tape of your address on the one you mailed me.

Congrats on the upcoming son.   Bless him.


No, sir.   Bless you.   Rest in peace, Mr. Trucks.   Your legacy lives on.  

I've included a couple more beautiful portraits of Mr. Trucks below.   These were taken by photographer (photo-journalist?) Randal Crow.   His website/blog can be found below and I would encourage you to view his work.   It's beautiful.   These photos were taken in 2012 at Rickwood Field in Birmingham, Alabama.   Wouldn't you know - Rickwood Field is the oldest standing professional ballpark in the United States.   It opened in 1910, just seven years before "Fire" was born.

Thanks for sharing, Randal.

Thanks for reading.

Photo Credit(s):