Saturday, January 28, 2012

RBI (55) 3rd return of the 365

Well amidst the RTS that I've been seeing there was a positive that came in the mail. The 3rd return of the challenge is a nice big name, Texas Rangers outfielder Rusty Greer.

A Georgia native, Greer was taken in the 10th round of the 1990 draft by the Rangers. He wouldn't debut in the majors until 1994 playing in 80 games his rookie year. Once he made it into the bigs he refused to leave despite a rash of injuries hindering him throughout his career due to his hard nosed playing style. His put it all out there approach was highlighted when he made a diving catch to preserve Kenny Rogers' perfect game in 1994. Combining his strong offensive skills with high energy defensive play made him a long time fan favorite.

Through 9 seasons playing only for the Rangers he put up impressively consistent numbers despite the severity of his injuries requiring surgery. When he finally ended his comeback attempts his career average stood at .305 with an impressive OBP of .387. Not only did Greer consistently find a way onto the base paths he slugged his way through them with 119 Home Runs in his 1166 hits. For his tireless service he was inducted into the Rangers Hall of Fame in 2007.
Rusty Greer signed this 2001 Topps card for me in only 16 days from his home address. I'm pretty disappointed in myself for the bad autograph. The card was the first of that year that I had and I didn't have a test card to play with. It's pretty obvious by looking at the signature that the gloss was stronger than I hoped. It seems like Greer started to give a nice one but scrawled the end as the sharpie had begun to streak and bubble. Considering I think of Rusty Greer as the Ranger counterpart to Tim Salmon during their playing days I'm pretty frustrated with myself with the autograph not being great.

Friday, January 27, 2012

365 Letters, 2nd batch

Well as the challenge goes on I've realized I'll be running into one major problem consistently. Out writing my supply of stamps when I really get on a roll. It's not like it slows down the process very much, but still it's a bit of a hassle to get to the point where I just want to drop the letters in the mail but have to make myself get to the line in the post office.

It's a little frustrating when after making it finally down to the post office and working my way through the letter writing process, it comes back unopened. As much as I enjoy the research, its tough to learn so much and want to know more only for your letter to not even be read. It's like that sneeze you feel but can't get out. Oh well, that's part of why it's such a thrill when you see that familiar sized return envelope with your own handwriting on the outside. Each RTS just makes every response that much more cherished.

What's even more frustratingly confusing is the RTS from Mr. Phil Hughes. Sharpied next to his address with an arrow through it is "RTS" but then stamped next to the address is "Undeliverable Commercial Mail Receiving Agency No Authorization to Receive Mail for this Addressee" Really Phil Hughes? Really? A commercial mail sorter that rejects fan mail? It's hard to believe you have a commercial mail agency that doesn't have the authority to accept your mail. It kind of defeats the point.

I was a little delayed getting to some of the letter writing because of a charity event I went to that you can see here. It was a great even for a nice cause that was definitely worth delaying a few letters.

The theme of this batch gets a little bit of inspiration from the event I was just at and from my previous batch.
  1. Trevor Cahill, while I was reading about Phil Hughes for his letter I thought back to the regular season and realized Cahill also grew up in the area and wanted to know his opinion on playing for a rival of the local team.
  2. Craig Anderson, when writing some of my letters I saw my Eli Grba signed ball and wondered about another expansion franchise. I checked my card collection against an original roster member from the Mets and came up with the interesting Mr. Anderson.
  3. Brandon Inge, one of my favorite players a consistent team guy. I decided to write him after actually seeing a guy who looked like him at the event I was at (it wasn't him).
  4. Scott Hatteberg, as an Angel fan it was interesting to see the division rival A's brought moneyball to town, and Hatte was a big part of that system. As a Red Sox fan Hatte was obviously a big part of the club through the ends of the 90's. I wish I wrote earlier though now that I'm sure the movie has him swamped by other collectors.
  5. Danny Espinosa, I had actually heard that Espinosa was going to be at the event I went to since he was a local product. When it was announced that he wasn't going to be there I was pretty disappointed and added him to the letter list.
  6. Jason Bay, One of my favorite recent Red Sox outfielders, I'm pretty upset about his recent injury woes with the Mets. When I lived in Boston and made it out to Fenway, it seemed like Bay was always starting a game winning rally. 
  7. Robin Ventura, taking over after a manager like Ozzie won't be easy but if there's someone who is used to making slick game changing plays it's this guy. We'll have to wait and see how the South Side of Chicago adapts to life post Guillen. 

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

RPS (2) Trinity Bat Home Run Challenge and Cory Hahn Benefit

This past Saturday January 21st, Trinity Bat Company took part in hosting a charity Home Run Challenge to help former Southern California prospect Cory Hahn's family after a tragic injury during his second collegiate game. Trinity Bat Co. combined with sponsors such as The Inland Empire 66'ers, the Rex Hudler Wonder Dog Show, Chick-fil-A, and to help raise awareness of Cory's unfortunate situation and of the great lengths he is going to stay positive and an inspiration to those in tragedy. Trinity has gone so far to offer a Hahn model bat with proceeds going to assist Cory's family with the rising costs of the tragedy.

The Home Run Challenge had categories for people of all ages, but the main show was the professional players who came out to support. The showing was actually pretty impressive with a large sized crowd coming to support the Hahn family. A ticket into the event actually got you a fair amount. You got 2 tickets for a raffle featuring items such as autographed bats, jerseys, balls, and even custom framed autographs. Chick-fil-A gave away coupons for free food, free sandwiches and sweet tea, and players were very friendly about signing autographs for those who asked.

Even though it was a little overcast in the morning, the sun came out and beside a light breeze it was a nice day out there to hit. Prospect Matt Hobgood of the Orioles took the first at bats for the pro's.
Matt was followed up by prospect Nick Ramirez.
Even though the show had been impressive to that point, it was time to "pop the chain" and YouTube sensation Domingo Ayala went up to the plate. It was pretty funny to watch him bat in person and watch him actually crank one out.
After Domingo warmed up the home crowd, Angels catcher Hank Conger took to the plate to showcase some of the muscle we'll hopefully see this coming season.
Trace Thompson of the White Sox system was next up.
Aaron Northcraft a prospect from the Braves also took up a bat.
Padres prospect Austin Hedges was the final participant before they cycled through to hit again. 
The show was so entertaining that former Angel player/broadcaster Rex Hudler couldn't resist popping on the announcement system for a  few high energy words. 
He was so energetic that the 66'ers mascot couldn't stop himself from going out into the outfield to try and shag a few flyballs too.

Part of the draw was from Conger announcing he was going to be hitting bombs and the 2011 Angel contender for Rookie of the Year Mark Trumbo announcing he would also be in attendance to sign autographs though he couldn't hit due to injury. Mark sat down to sign an item for each fan that stood in line, taking his time to give an actually very nice signature.
There was also a surprise guest who appeared to watch the festivities and show his support.  The Pittsburgh Pirates choice with 1st pick of the 2011 MLB draft, Gerrit Cole.
 It was a very nice event, and I'm glad there was such a strong showing for the Hahn's. Definitely worth making the trip out there and see the prospects, and more importantly the community of regular autograph collectors from Angel stadium. A great day that made me anxious for the coming season. To read about the 2nd Annual Trinity Bat Company Home Run Derby and Cory Hahn benefit you can read it here.

If you're a social networker and want to follow some more baseball players twitters, you can find:
Mark Trumbo's  twitter @mtrumbo44 
Hank Conger's twitter is @hankconger16
Nick Ramirez's twitter is @nickramirez3314
Matt Hobgood's twitter is @matt_hobgood48

Saturday, January 21, 2012

RBI (54) 1st batch, the 2nd TTM return...

Well we're on a roll and it's the second return from my first batch of letters in the 365 day challenge. I'm actually slacking a little on the letter writing because of work and going to an event that I'll be posting up as a part of the RBI Photo series.

The second return is a familiar face in the our collecting world, TTM all star Mr. Carl "Ersk" Erskine. Mr. Erskine signed with the Brooklyn Dodgers in 1946 and made his debut in 1948. While technically only one franchise, "Ersk" played for two teams during his 12 season pitching career, the Brooklyn Dodgers and the Los Angeles Dodgers.

A consistently solid producer, Erskine was a part of the core of the famed "Boys of Summer" era of Dodger baseball helping to win the Dodgers their first franchise World Series Championship. The year prior he earned his lone All-Star appearance in 1954. He would also author 2 no-hitters, against the Cubs in 1952 and the New York Giants in 1956. When finally ready to leave the game, Erskine would walk away with top tier stats from his era. He would sport a 122-78 record, 4.00 ERA, 71 Complete Games, 14 Saves and 981 Strikeouts.

Mr. Erskine was kind enough to send me a card from his personal collection since I wasn't able to track one down to send with my letter. I really appreciate him taking such an effort to increase my collection and it makes the reply that much more special along with answering my questions.

What do you consider to be your career season?
Considering how many great seasons he's had there were plenty for him to choose from and he elected, "1953 - League Leader 20-6, 3rd game World Series 3-2 game win vs Yankees 14 K's Record."

With 122 Wins were any especially meaningful to you?
A no-hitter is a quite the special and unique thing. Some aren't created as equal and some opportunities are unique to the time and place never to be repeated, "The Giant no hitter and winning the first game in LA."

Did you feel added pressure when you realized you were working on your second no-hitter?
Showing the old school mentality that I've found to be common amongst the men who played the game at a high level for sustained time Erskine responds, "No-Just one pitch at a time."

How did you celebrate each no-hitter?
Showing why he is a such a strong character guy, "Out to dinner with my wife and friends."

What was relocating the franchise like? Did it change how you played?
"It was a big adjustment for those of us who had already had our best years in Brooklyn. Pitching in the Coliseum was different than Ebbet Field."

Mr. Erskine was kind enough to send his custom card and respond to my letter from his home address after only 9 Days.

Thursday, January 19, 2012

RBI (53) The 1st 365 Challenge TTM return...

The first return is quite appropriate I think. Adam Kennedy, an alumni of my high school and former Angel is the first person to be a success for the 365 Letter challenge, and I'm pretty happy to score the card. I've actually had a good amount of difficulty getting his autograph in person since he's from Southern California and is normally chatting with his family or friends before games. I don't really like to interrupt that (even though I know his dad and haven't even considered asking him to get it for me) and with him being on an out of state team consider that family time not to be disturbed.

Kennedy is a native of Riverside, California and was taken in the 1st round of the 1997 draft by the St. Louis Cardinals. He would make his debut with St. Louis in 1999 but would be traded to the Angels as part of the package for Jim Edmonds. From 2000 to 2006 he would be a fixture in the Angel lineup and helped to power them to the franchise's first World Series Championship by slugging the Angels through the ALCS earning the 2002 ALCS MVP.

He would leave the Angels to go back to St. Louis, on to Oakland, Washington, Seattle, and now currently back to Southern California with the Dodgers. Since moving on from the Angels teams have asked him to play every infield position but catcher, and shortstop allowing him to be highly versatile and successful defensively in each position.

So far in his 13 season career he has been a reliable infielder with some pop batting .276 with a solid .326 OBP and 78 Home Runs. Only once in his career since his debut in 1999 has Kennedy appeared in less than 100 games for a club, so I'm sure so long as his glove stays steady and bat reasonable he'll be able to eventually decide when to hang up his cleats himself as opposed to teams not being interested in his services.

Kennedy responded to my request sent to his home address after only 7 days and autographed this 2011 Topps card for me. I think it's not a bad signature considering he was nice enough to sign in blue sharpie and tried to fit the signature across the Mariners gray instead of the blue arms in the picture. I'm always glad to put a local guy in my collection so an Adam Kennedy autographed card is a nice pick up for me.

I debated sending out an Angels card, but actually am making a mini task of seeing how many cards of the 600 card set I can get signed myself. It's not a goal so much as just an interesting part of the hobby seeing as I doubt I'd be able to get all of the superstars to sign for me, let alone me wanting to use such an opportunity on not a rookie card or baseball.

Sunday, January 15, 2012

365 Letters, the first batch...

Well folks the challenge has been underway for a few days now, and so far my preparations have been going well. I've sent a want list to a friend to track some specific cards down for me, and hopefully they'll come through in the next few weeks.

It's been an interesting task so far. I've always seen each autographed card as a gift that the player decided to give to me. I felt lucky that the player enjoyed my letter and chose to give me their autograph. When a player goes even farther and responds to the questions posed in my letter I truly do appreciate them sharing an insight into their life and playing career.

Even though I do have a high goal for the number of requests I'd like to send out does not mean I care about the number more than the player. Every player's career from the Hall of Famer or the bullpen contributer is valuable to me. I have way more than the 365 cards I need to send out, but each letter sent out is chosen for a specific reason, some aspect of their career or the card itself that speaks to me and makes me want to know more. I don't want to cheapen the experience by just thumbing through a stack of dollar packs and cranking out letters.

Part of that means then that I'd like to share the reason I've sent out each request and talk about the experience.

  1. Jim Rice, I picked Mr. Rice because as a big Red Sox fan, I can't imagine undergoing a task of this sort without writing him. Having met Fred Lynn in person, I'd really like to complete interacting with such a fabled Red Sox outfield.
  2. Rusty Greer, When the Rangers come to town there is always so much talk about Michael Young and what he means to the Rangers. But I wondered, who were the Rangers before Michael Young became such an essential part of the franchise? That'd be Mr. Rusty Greer. So what does he think of the Rangers now?
  3. Mike Davis, With the Dodgers now struggling their last glory was in 1988 and Mr. Davis is the actual run scored by Kirk Gibson's walk off home run. How does he reflect on his time with them now?
  4. Lee May, with David Ortiz having been up for a new contract as one of the top DH's in the league I wondered who was the Big Papi before Papi.
  5. Richard Dotson, I've always been interested in the starters who could routinely go the distance despite not having huge strikeout numbers. What was the key?
  6. Bud Black, I found one of his older cards in my collection that I didn't realize I had. He's a continuation of getting the 2002 World Series Angels.
  7. Derek Lowe, Winning pitcher that broke the curse of the Bambino for one of the greatest playoff runs in MLB history? Essentially Derek Lowe can do no wrong in my eyes. 
  8. Barry Larkin, Congratulatory letter on his recent induction to the Hall.
  9. Carl Erskine, all star TTM responder who I've never had the pleasure of interacting with.
  10. Adam Kennedy, local boy done good to win the Angels first World Series title. Enough said.
  11. Ryan Howard, My little sister recently completed her first art piece that was screened onto canvas. It was of Ryan Howard and I had to write him as a result.
  12. Jed Lowrie, With the Astro's coming to the AL West, I decided it was necessary to write someone while they're still in their native NL. What's better than a former Red Sox player?
  13. Will Venable, While researching past Angels I stumbled on his dad. Seeing a baseball family is always interesting let alone one where the players stay close to their roots made me want to collect him.
  14. Dave Stewart, With Matt Kemp being brought up due to the Braun MVP controversy I looked up details on his extension. Realizing his agent was a former player who also threw a no hitter and part of multiple World Series winners meant I had to write him.
  15. Matt Cain, with CJ Wilson coming to the Angels I thought about his performance in his first World Series and decided to write the man who out dueled him on the way to a World Series upset.
  16. Al Fitzmorris, a member of the Royals who was a consistent producer along the lines of Richard Dotson I wanted his opinion on going deep in the game.
  17. Phil Hughes, another hometown boy who has done good. He actually pitched in the All Star game at Angel Stadium, and I'd like to know what that experience was like.
It's been fun and I hope that I start to get a few of these responses back. It'd be nice to get the 2011 responses back, but getting a few of the responses from this task would really help me keep the motivation and carry on.

Thursday, January 12, 2012

The 365 Letter Challenge

While everyone has already cranked out their 2012 to do list, resolutions, and goals I decided to wait a bit and really take everyone's ideas in for my first New Year with this blog. I thought back to the helpful comments that were left in the Balk 6 - Calling all readers... post and have decided to make a few tweaks that will appear when baseball season resumes.

The Challenge:
I'm really planning on picking up the pace on my TTM collecting this year. While I think my first few months in the hobby have been fairly productive in getting responses and autographs I really think I can do better. Some of the responses I've gotten have just left me with so many more questions and needing to know more about the men who played the game.

As a result I'm looking to begin a huge undertaking, one that is undoubtedly going to leave a hefty mark on my wallet at the least from the stamps and envelopes let alone the cards. 365 letters mailed by December 31st 2012.

While I doubt that I'll be writing a letter every actual day and will be doubling/tripling/bakers dozening up, that's the goal. 365 letters sent to players active, retired, and on the rise as prospects.

I'm really asking for the blogging community to help me with this task. I can already tell that there will be lulls and times when the task seems overwhelming. I'll still be posting my returns and letters as the challenge goes on, so please comment, email, or even write snail mail. Leave ideas of players or themes to keep the letter writing task interesting, some days I just look at my piles of cards and feel I owe more than just picking a card from the stack to these men. If I ask their time in my letter I owe them a thoughtful reason for interrupting their daily lives beside I got their card in a dollar pack and chance chose them.

This page View Page will list each letter in the order I write them all the way up to the final 365th. Please readers, pass this undertaking along so even more people can watch the craziness I'm about to force upon myself. Feel free to comment as I update and thank you all in advance.

Sunday, January 8, 2012

RBI (52) A Slammin' Salmon...

That's right folks the Tim "King Fish" Salmon. Angel readers need no introduction to the King Fish, but the rest of you can enjoy the recap to the franchises' greatest homegrown player.

A native of Long Beach, the Angels took Salmon in the 3rd round of the 1989 draft. Salmon eventually made his debut in the bigs in 1992 for a cup of coffee in the form of 23 games.

The Angels would keep him up for the following 1993 season, and Salmon would overcome his 1992 difficulties to mash his way to Rookie of the Year Honors. The power would maintain throughout his career and in 1995, he was given the Silver Slugger award. Salmon would patrol the outfield for years, but in 2001 have a largely disappointing season as his elite power and average would leave him. 2002 would prove to be a bounce back year as the Fish would help the franchise win it's first World Series Championship, and he would claim the AL Comeback Player of the Year award. When he finally hung up his cleats after 14 seasons with the Angels he would have 299 Home Runs, 1016 RBI, .282 average, and an impressive .385 OBP.

When the Angels hosted the 2010 All Star Game they were sure to include Salmon in the festivities and he won the celebrity softball game's MVP award. He also flexed his muscles in a home run derby contest to wow fans with his ability to still drive the ball.

I was able to get Tim Salmon's autograph on those at Angel stadium during the 2011 season when he began doing pregame broadcasts for the team. The first is a 1994 Upper Deck, a 1996 Score, and lastly a 1996 Topps signed "To Ryan Tim Salmon ROY '93" When I asked Mr. Salmon if he could "Please sign 'ROY'," he asked "Why?" I couldn't think of a response beyond the most obvious and truthful, "Because you're awesome and it'd just look really cool."
I was able to get this Tim Salmon's autographed ball during his signing during the Angel 50th Anniversary celebration.

There is some debate as to whether Salmon's numbers are worthy of entry into the Hall of Fame when comparing his numbers to those of his peers. However if you realize that he did them clean in a era of baseball highly in debate, it's a tough sell to deny him entry. Especially as a broadcaster he's been media friendly, so unlike some candidates there shouldn't be an overwhelming lockout for personal reasons/clashes. I wouldn't be surprised to eventually see him get a plaque in Cooperstown....except it won't happen via the BBWAA vote. On Salmon's first year of eligibility he was given 5 votes, well below the minimum needed to stay on the ballot. I like how 5 voters shared the same wave length that I did, but any trip to Cooperstown will have to be as a vacation unless the Veterans Committee decides to give Salmon a nod.

Sunday, January 1, 2012

RBI (51) A TTM and In person success...

It's not often that as a fan you have access to a former player, that's part of why TTM collecting and getting letter responses is so special. It's even less often that the player is someone of the top tier. I was able to have a few opportunities to get closer Troy "Percy" Percival's autograph.

The Southern California native was taken in the 6th round of the 1990 draft by the California Angels. Originally drafted as a defensive catcher, Percival eventually made his debut in 1995 as a pitcher when coaching staff members realized his throws back to the pitcher were faster than the actual pitch. When Percival debuted in 1995 he stayed with the big league club making a astounding 62 appearances his rookie year. Since his call up he was a reliable anchor of the bullpen as a career closer.

For his 14 season career he would play primarily for the Angels but would spend the end between the Tigers, Cardinals, and finally the Rays. Injuries would make closing a difficult task, but clubs continued to bet on the ever reliable "Percy" in hopes to find a diamond in the rough. Eventually he would retire and end his comeback attempts with stellar stats. 8th all-time with 358 Saves,  Percival would have a career 3.17 ERA to go with 781 Strikeouts and a 35-43 record. He would be be a 4-time All-Star and member of the 2002 World Series champion Angels.

The 8th and 9th inning would always be the favorite part of the game for me when Scot Shields and Percy would come to lock down the game and send the Angels home with a win. Knowing Percival came from a mere 20 minutes away also made me root hard for the hometown boy. I also know he has been active coaching locally for his son's team and helping coach at a local high school. I'm really appreciative he's giving back still to Southern California baseball.

I was able to get this Topps 2011 Angels team card signed through the 50th Anniversary promotion. I got a nice sense of symmetry having my favorite Angel player growing up sign the Topps 60th Anniversary team card in the Angels 50th Anniversary year.
I sent this 1996 Score card to Percy's home address, I love the trademark expression he's making in the action shot. It always looked like he was excited to bare down and make the pitch count. Percival was nice enough to sign and return the card in 61 Days.

The crown jewel though was this ball. While at an Angel game I heard from a friend that Percy was actually in attendance and they knew where he was sitting. Deciding to not intrude on his game experience we watched the game away from his section, and waited to ask him if he could sign for us on his walk out at the end of the game. Percy didn't seem to mind signing for a few people on his way out and was really nice about it, even sweet spotting it unprompted. Its one of my favorite autographs and I'm really happy to put this Troy Percival autographed baseball in my collection. The ball is a game used certified by MLB from Jered Weaver to Russell Martin foul ball from the September 9th, 2011 Yankees and Angels game.
I'm not sure if the Angels will retire his number or add him to the Angel Hall of Fame, but if I got a vote he'd be in there for sure. He is a member of the Angels Hall of Fame by being a member since the entire 2002 World Series team was inducted but I hope they add him individually. I also got a Troy Percival autographed World Series baseball and it's a nice piece to go along with the other Percival autographs I have.