Friday, May 31, 2013

My Rizzo Collection - First Ink, Part One

Yeah, totally a shout-out to those fantastic Rambo movies of my youth with that title.

Happy Friday!   On to baseball cards.....

My last post announced my latest Player Collection (PC), Anthony Rizzo.   A bold move for me as Anthony doesn't play for the Yankees or Braves, my two favorite teams.   Have I betrayed myself?   Some may think so, but that's the great part about our hobby - collect what you like.

And I think Rizzo is pretty damn cool.   So, off I go.....

The collection started with one.

And, then a mini made two.

The next obvious move?   How about some ink on that third card?


Home Run

From 2013 Gypsy Queen, here's a sharp on-card autograph from the Cubbies' first baseman.   I am not the biggest fan of GQ this year though the 2011 inaugural version is a big part of how my tentative return to the hobby shifted into fifth gear.   Therefore, I still feel some set loyalty.

Rizzo's signature isn't winning any awards from me (I can see Killebrew shaking his head) but it is what it is.   What I DO love about this card is the way the blue ink works with the blue in the Cubs uniform.   It contrasts nicely with the sadly forlorn gray of the '13 GQ border.   AND, IT'S A RIZZO AUTOGRAPH!   For about half the price of a blaster, I was more than happy to scoop it up (30YOC nod).   Here's the back, just for kicks:

Thanks, Topps.

Love it!

Welcome to the collection.

Interesting Note:   Out of all of my official PC's (Mattingly, Freeman, Kimbrel, David Robertson, Rizzo), I lack autographs for the two I've had the longest - Freeman and Mattingly.   For Donnie Baseball, we're talking about 28, 29 years or so.   And while I have autographed cards for both Robertson and Rizzo, this Rizzo is the only CERTIFIED signature.

Funny how that happens.   Hopefully I'll be fortunate enough to remedy the voids soon enough.

But for now, I'm really excited to have a cornerstone for the Rizzo PC.

Thanks for reading and have a great weekend!

Thursday, May 9, 2013

Announcing Anthony Rizzo - My Latest PC (Paisan Collection)

Huge news here at Ryan's Pitch.

I'm collecting any and all cards of Anthony Rizzo!

I only have two cards of Rizzo, so we're definitely on the GROUND floor for this collection.   You read that correctly - TWO.   I pulled his Allen & Ginter card out of pack last summer and then stumbled upon his mini from this year's Gypsy Queen set, also out of a pack:

Didn't dig the whole set, but I dig this card!

Without further ado, let the call ring out - I would love the chance to work out some trades for any Anthony Rizzo cards that you don't need for your collections!   That is all.......

But, as the Talking Heads pondered - how did I get here?  

Call it an epiphany of sorts - I've been following Rizzo's career pretty closely since the beginning of the 2012 season.   By then he had already been through Boston and San Diego before being shipped off to Chicago in exchange (pretty much) for Andrew Cashner.    I began my first season of fantasy baseball last year, so for the first time, I began dabbling in the "goings on" of minor league prospects throughout the majors in an effort to scout out rising talent for my own "team".

And I found Mr. Rizzo.

The Cubbies were hurting, as usual.   Their offense needed a boost and first base wasn't exactly blocked off by a long-standing beloved Windy City veteran.   In fact, the last prominent first basemen that I can recall at Wrigley would have to be from my first collecting period - Mark Grace.   No slouch! 


Anthony was called up in late June and had an immediate impact.   He couldn't singlehandedly turn around the Cubs' season but Rizzo proved to be a solid fielding 1B (.995 in 735 chances) with a great eye at the plate and some power to boot (.285 and 15 HRs).

But here is where I really started to feel a connection to the guy - he is of Italian descent, just like yours truly.   In fact, Rizzo can trace his family's roots back to the Sicilian village of Ciminna.   Ciminna is just inland, south of Palermo. 

Il mio connazionale!

One of my grandfathers, whom I mention quite frequently on this blog, was primarily responsible for solidifying my love for the game of baseball.......and he was also a first generation Italian American whose parents traveled to this country from the Sicilian village of Villarosa.   Villaroasa is fairly central to the island, several miles northeast of Caltanissetta.

Hopefully, at some point, I'll be able to travel to Sicily and see where I come from.   And don't THINK I didn't take a look at Rizzo's and my ancestors' location relative to Corleone!   I know.   Ridiculous.   But I couldn't help it.   Perhaps one day, I can hang out with Anthony and these guys, drink some coffee and tell some stories:

How y'all doin?

Fantastic.   I'm looking forward to collecting this guy and following his career.   I'm hopeful he can continue his current trends at the plate and settle in as a reliable part of Chicago's fledgling foundation with fellow infielder, Starlin Castro.   Rizzo recently made some comments about his hopes to be a part of the Cubs organization and that city for many years to come.   It's tough to do these days, but I'll hope along with him (unless he wants to wear pinstripes or tomahawks?).   Here's the back of that Rizzo GQ, by the way:

That's right......since RICK WILKINS! What?

It's almost like a return to my collecting youth in a lot of ways.   So many years ago, it was the love of The Mick shared with me by my Dad that introduced me to the Yankees and everything fell into place for my collecting ways to quickly center around Don Mattingly.   That quest continues today!   Likewise, a family connection and some random geographical coincidence from half way around the globe has now led me to cheer on another southpaw first baseman.

You can check out my PC list here.   More changes may be on the way soon, so stay tuned.

I love this hobby!

Thanks for reading!  

Wednesday, May 8, 2013

Consider Me a Matt Kemp Fan...

.....for life.   As a father, I can't imagine what the young man featured in this video (below) and his family are going through.   I pray I never do, but ultimately that won't be up to me.

Baseball is therapeutic for so many of us.   A retreat from all that ails the world.   A fun game.   A parable for the best parts of life and some of its toughest lessons.

Sometimes we become very critical of the athletes that play baseball or any other sport - and some of this criticism is well deserved.   My biggest problem is when an athlete forgets what the sport they play is all about, how fortunate they truly are and the fans, particularly the young ones, who cheer them on.   Nay, the young fans who idolize them as heroes and role models.

Matt Kemp is having what I might guess to be the toughest season of his exciting career.   Serious injuries plagued Matt during last year and an off season surgery appears to be hampering his typical powerful results at the plate.   His team is struggling as well so this can all make for a very tough time for him as a professional.

But 'tough times' are relative and Kemp's fortune on the ball field can still change in an instant - something that not everyone can say.

And Matt Kemp clearly remembered that this past Sunday night.   And for that, consider me a very big fan.   Bravo, Mr. Kemp.

Thanks for reading.

Here's an article from Yahoo! Sports about the incident:

LOS ANGELES – There was never supposed to be a video. Matt Kemp's uncommon act of kindness was never supposed to go farther than an ailing boy, his dad and the baseball star.
And yet when Kemp awakened Tuesday morning, 36 hours afterward, his phone told him otherwise. The video was everywhere.

No, there was never supposed to be evidence beyond the ailing boy's memory, and perhaps a shelf in his room. Maybe he's wearing Kemp's cap. Maybe he's still holding Kemp's gray road jersey and spikes.

"I didn't know that anybody was filming it," Kemp said Tuesday afternoon. "I wasn't aware."

A boy, Joshua Jones, and his father, Steve Jones, sat Sunday night in front-row seats at AT&T Park in San Francisco. The boy was in a wheelchair. Early in the game between the Los Angeles Dodgers and San Francisco Giants, the father struck up a conversation with Dodgers third base coach Tim Wallach. He said his son was very sick, that he was a Dodgers fan, and that his favorite player was Kemp. The boy, who has cancer, is unable to speak.

Matt Kemp made an otherwise forgettable trip to San Francisco extraordinary for one Dodger fan. (USA Today Sports) …

"He just kind of looked at me," Kemp said.

Wallach brought them a baseball. Later in the game, he told Kemp about Joshua. And when the game ended – Kemp had made the last out in a loss, the Dodgers' fourth in a row – Wallach returned to the dugout and found Kemp waiting for him. He wanted to go see the boy in the stands.

In the video that was recorded and uploaded by Tommy Schultz, a friend of Joshua,  Kemp and Wallach walk together toward the ailing boy and his father. Kemp reaches out to shake the Joshua's hand, and instead he gets a baseball, which the boy had in his right hand.

Seated below field level, the boy looks with wide eyes as Kemp signs the baseball. The boy beams silently. Kemp returns the ball and then, in a ballpark full only a few minutes before, as onlookers laugh and cheer, Kemp removes his cap and hands it to the boy. He pulls his jersey – No. 27 – over his head and hands that, too, over the rail. And he unties his cleats, pulls off the right and then the left, and gives them to the boy so that his lap is piled with most of Matt Kemp's uniform.   Wallach stands to the side. He watches. Steve had told him his boy was dying.

"As a parent," Wallach said, "you can't even imagine what they're going through. You'd hate to have to imagine what they're going through."

Kemp reaches back over the rail to shake the father's hand. Then the boy's. He smiles and then he is gone, and the boy's eyes follow Kemp as he leaves, cap-less, jersey-less, shoeless.
And that was it. The video went dark. A minute or so that otherwise passed between the father and his ailing boy and the center fielder for the Dodgers, it would last a lifetime. And the world would witness it.

"It's just something I felt probably would have cheered him up a little bit," Kemp said. "Help him out a little bit. I just did it.

Joshua Jones thanked Matt Kemp on Instagram with a message that read "Thanks Matt. I will never forget that moment!!!" …

"Hopefully that made that kid's day."

He paused. Such a small gesture, then it was time to go. There have been others like him. There will be others like him.

"I don't even know the kid's name," Kemp said.

By then, after another loss, in a season in which the talented Kemp is batting but .265 with a single home run and his Dodgers are in last place, Kemp had known there were smaller acts that meant bigger things. In that, a hello and a ball and an autograph weren't enough. The cap wouldn't be enough. The jersey wouldn't be enough. None of it would, perhaps, but it's what he had to give. That and an encouraging smile from an enemy Dodger in the land of Giants.

"I just saw a kid there that was a big fan," Kemp said. "Hopefully, God-willing, a miracle happens and he lives for a while."

Joshua smiled back best he could in a moment that was supposed to vanish, but wouldn't. On Tuesday morning, Kemp's phone was filled with messages.

"What'd I do now?" he thought.

It was the ailing boy, his father, and that minute Sunday night. Just that. All that.

"You have some good stories and some sad stories," Kemp said. "God puts them there to remind you."

Friday, May 3, 2013

The Quest for '60: 1960 Topps #502 Jim Bunning

I haven't had too many opportunities to continue my 1960 set chase in awhile, so I was pretty excited to snag this Jim Bunning card recently.   The card is a bit off-center but its corners are sharp and is in overall great condition.

As usual for the '60 set, the main color mug shot is a bit dull but definitely provides a sharp close-up of Senator Bunning as a Tiger, the team with who he enjoyed much of his success.   I always love the vintage team logos and the Tiger in the lower left hand corner is no exception!

Jim Bunning was a solid pitcher who finished his career with 224 wins, 2,855 K's and a 3.27 ERA.   He made his debut with the Tigers in 1955 on July 20 and exactly three years later would fire his first no-hitter against the Boston Red Sox at Fenway on 7/20/1958.   You gotta love that!   He was only two walks (both against Boston leadoff man, Gene Stephens) away from a perfect game but he would have a date with perfection at a later date.   Ted Williams was 0-4 in the game but did not have a strikeout......this no-hitter is mentioned on the back of his 1960 card:

Bunning is saying "A Boston Tea Party!" in the comic...which is awesome.

Senator Bunning was a key component of Detroit's staff and his contributions were featured on this other card in my collection from the Topps release in 1963:

Twirlers?   Thesaurus FAIL, Topps.

Color scheme was great to re-visit through last year's Heritage release!

Bunning was traded to the Phillies with Gus Triandos for Don Demeter and Jack Hamilton in December of ', yeah.    At that point, Jim was a five-time All-Star (add the additional two for years '61 and '62!), had led the league in Wins (once) and Strikeouts (twice).   Not sure what spawned this trade idea......I'll have to do some more research into those guys, but none of the names really stick out to me.   Let's get on with it -

What better way to endear yourself to your new team than by hurling a perfect gem!   Senator Bunning did JUST that on June 21st in 1964 (Father's Day, wouldn't you know - and at the time, he was a father of 7 of his eventual 9 kids!) against the young Metropolitans of New York who were in their third season under Casey Stengel.   Jim helped his own cause that day by doubling in two runs with two outs in the 6th inning!   Even the Mets fans were cheering on Bunning's perfect quest by the end of the game.   He reached a "3-ball" count only two times throughout all nine frames.   Good stuff!

The 1964 season became a very infamous one for the Phillies organization and their fans.   The Phils led the National League for most of the season but fell apart in the final days.   Many critics cite Manager Gene Mauch's overuse of both Bunning and fellow ace, Chris Short.   Looking back at Jim's numbers that season, I can believe it.   Bunning appeared in 41 games, starting in 39.   He pitched 284 innings (though he would top that with 291, 314 and 302 IP the following three seasons!) and recorded 13 complete games.   Yowza.   The Phils blew a September 21st six and a half game lead, losing their final 10 games to finish in second place behind the Cardinals.   The Cards eventually bested my Yankees in the World Series, four games to three, and would go on to win two of the next four Series titles.   The Phillies wouldn't make an appearance in the post season until the Schmidt era in 1976.   A cool factoid?   Tim McCarver played for the Cardinals in 1964.....and then for the Phillies in 1976.   Timing is truly everything.

Bunning would also pitch for the Pirates and Dodgers before retiring as a Phillie in 1971.   They later retired his jersey (#14) in 2001 after he was elected to the Hall of Fame in 1996.   Being a Hall of Famer, Senator Bunning was on my list of TTM missions a few years ago, and I was very fortunate to receive a generous response from his office in his home state of Kentucky.   The Senator signed a baseball with his HOF-induction inscription for me in ball-point on the sweet spot.   He was also kind enough to take the time to sign my traditional "Autograph Card" in a really nice looking, bright blue sharpie.

Thanks a lot, Senator Bunning!

Here are some more great statistics regarding Bunning - some pretty cool names mentioned here, so I couldn't resist!

- Bunning's perfect game in 1964 was the first regular-season perfect game in baseball since 1922 (Charlie Robertson, White Sox)

- Bunning's perfect game was the FIRST in the National League in 84 years

- on 8/2/1959, Bunning became the 10th pitcher in MLB history to record the 9-pitch-3-strikeout inning (versus the....WAIT for it.....Red Sox!)

- Bunning retired with 2,855 strikeouts, which at the time placed him SECOND on the all-time list behind Walter Johnson.   Senator Bunning is now 17th on the all-time strikeout list.

- Bunning is one of only five players to throw no-hitters in both leagues, joining Nolan Ryan, Cy Young, Randy Johnson and Hideo Nomo

Thanks for reading!