Thursday, May 25, 2023

More School-Related Cards

Last week I posted about some trading cards I made for the teachers I work with in my school. It turns out that wasn't the only card connection my school would bring me. Just a few days ago, one of our 7th grade math teachers walked into my office and asked, "You collect baseball cards, don't you?" Then she left these stacks of cards on my desk.

Wow, it's been a while since I saw rubber bands holding cards together!

So what prompted this gift? Our 7th grade math team created a fantasy baseball game as their culminating project. I'm not sure about the particulars, but I know they use baseball cards to draft teams, analyze the stats, and compete against each other. The kids and teachers both love it and it becomes a highlight every year. These cards are ones that don't meet their needs for the game. The first stack is of cards that don't include strikeouts and walks in the stats, which are both categories they use for the game. The middle stack is of cards that either didn't have stats or enough seasons of stats to be useful for them. The last stack is pitchers. I guess they work with batters only. So when they were looking to clear out the cards that they couldn't use, they thought of me. I was only too happy to take them.

As always, it was fun to sort through an assortment of cards and see what was there. There were a few that will fit nicely into my collection, including these Cubs and a BYU alum that I didn't have previously.

These cards all fit into my collection, too. That trio of 1991 Score features some pretty great action shots.

The majority of the stack came from 1998 and 1999 Choice, which makes for a lot of great photos. Here are a few gems. I love how clearly you can see the ground reflected in David Cone's sunglasses. Double dip, dugout, and autograph shots are always cool. I forgot that Randy Johnson had a short-term stop in Houston. Dave Burba got a great pitcher-at-the-plate shot. And that is a pretty sweet throwback uni on Orlando Merced.

Despite the rubber band storage and the fact they may have been handled by many kids, the cards she gave me were in pretty good shape. There were a couple of creases and some that had obviously been under a sheet of paper when someone was writing, but for the most part, the damage was very minimal. It was a fun surprise and I'm glad she thought of me instead of just throwing them all out.

Thursday, May 18, 2023

Teacher Trading Cards

Teaching can be a polarizing profession. I have a few friends who think it's the cushiest job in the world. Some of my friends think my talents are wasted in education and I could be making far more money elsewhere. (As if we need the least intelligent and skilled people teaching our children!) Some people argue that teachers are overpaid and coddled for the hours they work. Others argue that they are criminally underpaid. Teachers rebut the argument that no other profession gets three months of the year off with a counter that they are constantly taking work home and grading into the night. I try to avoid these arguments. I view myself as a professional and I understand every profession has its pros and cons, its perks and drags. I think sometimes teachers do themselves and their profession a disservice, at least in public perception, by complaining about salaries and workload. But I also recognize that the work we do is vital not only to society, but for the well-being of those kids we teach. I won't argue that educators should be paid as much as pro athletes because I understand the funding for those two professions come from entirely different sources. Still, things like this Key and Peele video get a little chuckle out of me:


Since I moved out of the classroom for another role two years ago, I've discovered that May is no longer an easy, slow month for me. For 13 years, I was winding down and wrapping up in April and May, looking for ways to let my English students have fun and show off their creativity. It was light work. Now that my new responsibilities include overseeing testing and professional development (in-service training), April and May have become a whirlwind for me. This explains my blogging absence over the past 5 or 6 weeks.

But I've found a way to incorporate cards into my work. Being in charge of professional development, I put out a monthly PD newsletter. As part of that newsletter, I've been highlighting our monthly Spirit of Willowcreek award winners. This award is given to teachers by teachers who recognize the good work their colleagues are doing. We have three trophies that get passed around from month to month. In my newsletter, I include a picture of the teacher and some fun tidbit, like a personal motto or something. This year, I decided to make the teacher's photo come in the form of a card.

Here's a snippet of an example:

After a couple months of doing this, I realized that the award recipients were passing the traveling trophy onto a colleague at the end of the month with no other physical memento of it. So I started printing out the cards and delivering them to the teacher. Each card had this message on the back:

Yes, I started to make this kind of a Topps On Demand living set and I numbered the cards. It has been a highlight each month for me to make these. I just found and downloaded some Photoshop templates of card designs and used my rudimentary Adobe skills to make this teacher-centric custom card set.

For privacy purposes, I've blacked out the last name of the teacher and blurred any student faces in the background. The one teacher who has a bitmoji instead of a photo is because he doesn't even like to have his picture up on the school's website. That's his school photo taken from the school's site. I enlisted the yearbook staff to take the pictures for me.

The blank spot is because two people picked the same teacher in one month, so only two teachers received the three trophies.

The Topps Rookie Cup appears on all cards just to be a symbol of the award. I do realize that 1989 Donruss, 1997 Score, 1991 Fleer, etc. didn't use the Topps Rookie Cup. I don't know how many recipients actually realize that, however.

For my first attempt at custom cards, I tried my best to match fonts and keep things as original as possible (aside from the sometimes erroneous or anachronistic cup, of course). On some cards, I added a school logo where the original design wouldn't have had one, but I think they look good overall.

While I have been far too busy with work things to post on my blog, at least I've found a way to make some of those work things card things at the same time. On top of work, I've been staying busy by coaching my son's 7th and 8th-grade little league team. It's my first experience as a head coach and I'm enjoying it. But now I'm thinking--another round of custom cards may be in order with this experience, too.

Monday, April 3, 2023

2023 Card Madness: It All Comes Down to This!

When I started this little tournament, I know that thousands of people took my bracket and filled out their own predictions. Workplaces everywhere have pools of various stakes going. More than a few brackets have been busted with shocking upsets and there may be very few lucky ones who correctly foretold the final face-off: the Minnesota Twins vs. the Washington Nationals. (Or as Matt pointed out in the comments of the last post, the original Washington vs. the new Washington.) Before the pitch clock runs down, let's start this matchup!

Championship Round: Minnesota Twins vs. Washington Nationals

2018 Bowman #9 Zack Granite vs. 2014 Donruss #204 Stephen Strasburg

Stephen Strasburg jumps out to an early lead. He began his career as the most anticipated rookie in 2010. Injuries have hampered him through much of his career, but he has still put together a career worthy of the Hall of Very Good. He's got one World Championship under his belt, which he fully earned by being named MVP of the 2019 World Series. Zack Granite doesn't quite have that resume. In fact, he played at center field in 40 games in 2017 (41, if you count the Twins' Wild Card Game), presumably filling in for an injured Byron Buxton. Since this rookie card was produced, however, he hasn't made a single appearance in a Major League game. This is pretty sharp-looking Bowman card, however. Topps could and maybe should have used this for a Flagship release. The opposing Diamond King is a mediocre effort in a subset that is pretty hit-and-miss for me. I could do with a smaller logo and bunting at the top and a bigger picture. Overall, it's not as artistic as many other DK sets have been and it's exacerbated by the lack of licensing for Panini. On the plus side, it is supposedly short-printed in the 2014 set, so I suppose that helps the collectibility of the card. I keep looking back and forth between these two, trying to make a distinction. My eyes keep settling on the Granite, which is more visually appealing. But it's not like the Strasburg is horribly ugly. I just don't think the Twins have enough here. Stephen Strasburg is going to come out the hero of the Nationals' championship opportunity once again.

Winner: Nationals
So after the maddest March in history, the Washington Nationals have come out on top of the Bump and Run card collection. Here's how they got there:

That's pretty good mix of old school Expos and new school Nationals to get through the tournament.

I checked back to the last time I did a Card Madness baseball-style, and it was the Braves who won it then, in 2018. I made the prediction that it would be the only success the Braves had all season. But then this guy named Ronald Acuna broke out and won Rookie of the Year. The Braves ended up winning the NL East. Maybe I'll be wrong again, but I'm predicting a long, fruitless season for the Nationals this season. I feel fairly confident they'll finish in the cellar of a strong division. So enjoy this, Nats!

This is one of my favorite types of exercises, and I'd be doing this with or without readers. But a big thank you to all of you who kept up on Card Madness happenings. Now you'll get to enjoy the NCAA men's basketball championship tonight!

Friday, March 31, 2023

2023 Card Madness 2023: The Final Four

Ever since I was a kid, March Madness always culminated in the Final Four for me. I always paid more attention to who made it to the Final Four than who actually won the championship. We now have our Final Four in both NCAA basketball and Bump and Run's Card Madness. Tomorrow, we'll see who wins the basketball semi-finals. Today, we'll check out the card competition. Today, we have two matchups. Two winners who will face off in the championship round.

Round 4 Semi-Finals: Minnesota Twins vs. San Diego Padres

2017 Topps #227 Byron Buxton vs. 2017 Topps Update #US267 Jhoulys Chacin

If I have a complaint about this tournament, it's that 2017 Topps has been waaay over-selected by the randomizer. Here we have to see it twice. The thing that stands out to me in both of these cards is the way the ball is hanging in the photo. That alone might have been able to push Chacin to victory--he has a perfectly-framed shot with the pitch on its way. But when Buxton has the same thing as he is about to make the catch, I defer to player quality. Buxton wins in that category.

Winner: Twins

Round 4 Semi-Finals: Chicago Cubs vs. Washington Nationals

1987 Donruss #594 Drew Hall vs. 1990 Topps #341 Tim Foley

Well, neither of these two matchups are too exciting, are they? This second one features two Junk Wax Era cards of definite non-stars. Comparing players, Foley has the advantage, as his 5.4 career WAR towers over Hall's negative number. Both photos are a little fuzzy, which isn't uncommon for their day, but Foley's action shot is better than a somewhat doofy head shot of Drew Hall. I don't mind 1987 Donruss and the little baseballs in the border are a nice touch. But I like the comic book colors on 1990 Topps more. Plus, I'm still on a little '90 Topps high from my frenetic set build from scratch last summer. It looks like my Cubbies' run has come to an end.

Winner: Nationals

And with that, our championship round is set. Minnesota vs. Washington. We'll return on Monday to crown our Card Madness champs.

Monday, March 27, 2023

Card Madness 2023: Regional Finals (The Elite 8)

Let's catch up to real tourney time. This weekend revealed the prestigious Final Four college basketball teams for this season. Let's see which MLB teams will be the Final Four of my card collection. A new round means new cards for these eight competitors as they battle it out. Here is an overview of today's matchups.

Round 3: Minnesota Twins vs. Seattle Mariners

1997 Topps #428 Matt Lawton vs. 2021 Topps Opening Day #83 Justus Sheffield

Both of these cards leave me with questions about what is going on. Matt Lawton's card seems pretty straightforward at first. But then I wonder about the empty seats. What was this game? Was there really nobody attending it? Justus Sheffield also has an intriguing photo. Where is his glove? What kind of warm-up drill is this? Are those umpires standing in the baseline? Actually it looks like maybe an umpire and a player. Is this pre-game or between innings? I may not fully understand either card, but I can say I prefer the catch in foul territory over the warm-up in these two cards.

Winner: Twins

Round 3: Los Angeles Dodgers vs. San Diego Padres

1994 Collector's Choice #209 Raul Mondesi vs. 1987 Leaf  #114 Steve Garvey

Great matchup! Both Raul Mondesi and Steve Garvey are PCs in my Rookie of the Year and All-Star Game MVP collections, respectively. Mondesi has a couple of things really working in his favor: a nice dugout pose is always good. I've always like this Choice set and its little position guy in the corner. Garvey is a nice card, too. He looks so happy just to be playing. It looks like he might be taking BP--there are people just sitting on chairs in the background and I think I see a net behind him. The novelty of Leaf over Donruss is a plus. This is a really hard decision. When I sit back and take the whole card in as a whole, it feels like all the colors and photos and design of  the Garvey just come together better.

Winner: Padres

Round 3: Chicago Cubs vs. Cleveland Guardians

1993 Upper Deck #38 Ryne Sandberg vs. 1992 Bowman #676 Manny Ramirez

Here's another competitive clash. We have two outstanding players facing off, one in the Hall of Fame and one who could be if not for his behavior. At first glance, the Ryno is kind of a boring card. But the details start to make it: batting cage shot, cool (if not-so-interestingly designed) subset, and a write-up of his charity work on the back (which includes buying tickets to every home game and giving them to less-privileged people). Manny, on the other hand, gets your attention right away. The gold foil border on these 90s Bowman cards are eye-catching. It's a prospect card of someone who ended up having a great career, a true rookie card even. But why did Bowman choose to dress up high school baseball prospects like fashion models in a catalog and use those pictures on their cards? To me, that detracts big time from the otherwise high potential of this card. And given the choice between Sandberg and Ramirez, I choose Sandberg any day.

Winner: Cubs

Round 3: Pittsburgh Pirates vs. Washington Nationals

1991 Conlon Collection #244 Johnny Gooch vs. 1994 Finest #342 Sean Berry

These two cards are vastly different. Black and white versus chromed. Coach versus player. 1930s versus 1990s. The only thing they really have in common is the fact that they were produced within three years of each other. A quick glance at stats indicates they had similar success in their playing careers: 4.1 WAR to 4.4 WAR. Ultimately, this comes down to the card itself. As much as I like Conlon cards, it's harder for me to get excited over an old-timer that I had never heard of. It's hard to beat the green Finest. Gooch just doesn't have enough to do it this time.

Winner: Nationals

So there we have it. Twins, Padres, Cubs, Nationals. Our Final Four. I've now done this twice each for football and baseball. This is the first time either the Cubs or the Packers have advanced this far, so I'm excited. Will my team finally be champion of my card collection? Just two more rounds to go until we find out.

Friday, March 24, 2023

Card Madness 2023: Round 2.2 (The Last Sweet 16 Matchups)

With the elimination of four more teams yesterday, we are down to 12. Today will finish off the Sweet 16 round and leave us with an Elite 8. As a reminder, the cards you see today are different from the cards representing the team in the first round. But they are all cards I own. Here is a look at the updated bracket before we move on to the competition:

Round 2: Philadelphia Phillies vs. Chicago Cubs

1992 Fleer # 538 Jim Lindeman vs. 2017 Panini Diamond Kings #55 Kris Bryant

Two sets I like here, even though they are extremely different. The picture is essentially the same on both: right-handed batter standing in the batter's box. This comes down to the player, and there's no contest here. Former ROY, NL MVP, fielder of the final out of the curse-breaking World Series--Kris Bryant has the resume to win this one.

Winner: Cubs

Round 2: Cleveland Guardians vs. New York Mets

1979 Topps #705 Indians Prospects vs. 2002 Topps Pristine #56 Roberto Alomar

This is a tough matchup. When cards are this different, it makes judging between the two of them difficult. Both of these cards are in my collection for my special focuses (Alfredo Griffin was a Rookie of the Year; Roberto Alomar was an All-Star Game MVP.) I think Pristine is beautiful and I treasure the one that I have because only have a few. However, Alomar has been banned from Major League Baseball for some pretty heinous off-field behavior and that taints this card. The Guardians (or Indians, in this case) are represented by a multi-player prospect card. Besides the aforementioned Griffin, Tim Norrid and Dave Oliver also make their card debuts here. After winning Rookie of the Year, Griffin went on to a long, productive career. The other two combined for seven Major League games. All of those are Oliver's; Norrid never made it to the Show. But that's a beautiful, black and white, multi-prospect card. I think I'll go with it.

Winner: Guardians

Round 2: Miami Marlins vs. Pittsburgh Pirates

2017 Topps Update #US71 Junichi Tazawa vs. 1981 Topps #430 Jim Bibby

This one is a blowout. I don't like 2017 Topps. The picture is dark, with a dark jersey fading into a dark background. Tazawa had a decently-long career, but he wasn't as successful as Bibby. The other card, however, has a nice "All-Star" banner on it. The little hat on 1981 Topps is classic. And I never noticed this until now, but the shape of the cartoon hat is even a pillbox to match the Pirates hat! It's a card I really like against one that I find thoroughly mediocre.

Winner: Pirates

Round 2: Boston Red Sox vs. Washington Nationals

1988 Donruss #41 Jody Reed vs. 2017 Topps  #34 Bryce Harper

Sheesh. Right after I blast a card for belonging to the 2017 Topps Flagship set, another one comes up. But you know what I probably dislike more than 2017 Flagship? 1988 Donruss. This set doesn't appeal to me at all. At least the photo is crisper and cleaner on Bryce Harper's card. And Harper is the better player. In this case, 2017 Topps is good enough to advance.

Winner: Nationals

So that does it for the Sweet 16 round. Looking forward, the NCAA tournament will decide the Final Four this weekend. We'll pick up our own tournament on Monday to catch up. As always, I'd love to hear your thoughts. Would you have advanced teams differently today?

Thursday, March 23, 2023

Card Madness 2023: Round 2 (The Sweet 16 Has Begun!)

We're now in the regional semi-finals. Over the next two days, we'll see eight matchups. Eight winners moving on. In this round, new cards will be randomly chosen to represent each team. In case you've forgotten who our Sweet 16 are and how they got here, I have the Card Madness bracket for you:

Round 2: Houston Astros vs. Minnesota Twins

2015 Topps #621 Luis Valbuena vs. 1992 Donruss #25 Jack Morris

This is a low-key good matchup. After moving through the first round with a bye, defending World Series champion Astros appear for the first time. Despite being represented by a journeyman infielder, I think the card is a strong shower. First, colorful 2015 Topps is a great look. The photo is a good one, with Valbuena springing up to make likely a long throw to first. The shot, the colors, the design--it all blends well into one good card. On the other side, Hall of Famer (and former BYU Cougar) Jack Morris is on the mound for the Twins. I think I'm in the minority, but I like 1992 Donruss and always have. The photo is weaker than Valbuena's. But dig those stirrups! In a controversial call, I think the aesthetic appeal of these two sets is pretty much a wash. So on the strength of the featured player, Minnesota steals the win here.
Winner: Twins

Round 2: Seattle Mariners vs. St. Louis Cardinals

1982 Donruss #307 Lenny Randle vs. 1991 Fleer #648 Bob Tewksbury


After rolling easily through Round 1--thanks to a strong Randy Johnson card--the Mariners get another nice card to represent them this time. I like the digital "82" in this Donruss set. I like the name on the bat. I love the shot of Lenny Randle making the turn in a double play. The opponent brings a yellow Fleer border. I'm on record saying that I like this set. Bob Tewksbury probably had a better career statistically, but he may not be as well-remembered as Randle and his blowing the ball foul over the third base line. There is no competition in the quality of the photos, though.

Winner: Mariners

Round 2: Los Angeles Angels vs. Los Angeles Dodgers

2014 Donruss #301 Mike Trout vs. 1991 Score #343 Jose Offerman

It's a freeway series matchup in SoCal! The Angels are bringing their best with Mike Trout. He is one of, if not the, best players I've seen play in my lifetime for sure. The problem here is that he shows up on a very weak Donruss card. Panini has done no favors to the Donruss brand, and 2014 is one of the most boring of their boring looks. The Dodgers are represented by rookie phenom Jose Offerman. Well, maybe he didn't play like a phenom, but the hype was there. Back in 1991, I can imagine this was a card to seek after. It wasn't his true rookie card, but it does say "Rookie Prospect" on it. I like Score's 1991 offering, with the black and the white borders probably being my favorite options. Offerman's photo, with the look of concentration on fielding that bouncer beats Trout's. The overall better look of the card and the associated nostalgia are enough to beat out a very "blah" card of living legend Mike Trout.

Winner: Dodgers

Round 2: Arizona Diamondbacks vs. San Diego Padres

2015 Topps Chrome #37 Chris Owings vs. 2013 Topps Opening Day #84 Yonder Alonso

Topps Flagships in 2015 and 2013 are two of my favorite of the decade. I think 2015 looks even better Chromified. The curved out diamond in the corner of 2013 is nice to me. The edge might go to the Chrome here. The photos are both typical baseball card action shots, I think I slightly prefer Alonso to Owings' black jersey being camouflaged against the dark outfield wall. So far, there's not much separating the two. This will come down to the player, and I Yonder Alonso will best Chris Owings here.

Winner: Padres

One more day will get us through the Sweet 16 and into the Elite 8.