Tuesday, January 17, 2017

Project Durham Bulls #7: James Shields

James Shields 2005-2006 Durham Bulls 

Shields first arrvied in Durham at the end of the 2005 season, making one start for the Bulls, after spending the entire season with the Montgomery Biscuits in Double A.  He returned to Durham for the beginning of the 2006 season pitching in 10 games, all starts, for the Bulls before he was called up to the Rays at the end of May.  In his 10 games as a member of the Durham Bulls Shields went 3-2 with a 2.64 ERA and 64 strikeouts in 61 innings.  James Shields was never ranked by Baseball America, or any other sort of publication that follows the Minors, as a highly regarded prospect.  While in recent years baseball fans have seen him as sort of a dud after signing a large contract with the Padres in 2015, he was a really good pitcher for most of the first nine seasons of his career spent with the Rays (7 years) and Royals (2 games).  Most notably Shields pitched a lot of lot of innings and earned the nickname "Big Game James" for a few clutch wins along the way.  Looking at his Postseason record I never really understood where people got the idea for this nickname....

I have been sitting on this one for awhile, but it is good to finally get around to putting it into a post.  This summer I came up with the idea of doing some sort of Durham Bulls posts like this and picked up a few cards.  A few of them have lingered around, I will get around to all of them.  Mostly players from the early 2000s and 1990s.  Shields has a couple of Rays autographs, I even own a few, but I really like the Triple Threads cards.  Can't say no to these, well most of the time.  The Padres version of Shields is not going to be a good memory for most, but I like the brown pinstripe on this card's jersey swatch.  

Monday, January 16, 2017

A Venerable Old Card Part 41

The Cardinals had a rough year in 1990.  There were several players who had nice seasons.  Willie McGee won the National League batting title and Vince Coleman stole 77 bases to lead the National League for his sixth straight season in that category.  Ozzie Smith was still a force on defense.  Pedro Guerrero, many forget he ended his career with the Cardinals, had a decent season just not a lot of power left in his bat.

Hall of Fame manager Whitey Herzog quit his manager's post in the middle of the year, was briefly replaced by Red Schoendienst, who eventually gave way for a permanent manager in the person of Joe Torre.  The vets lost playing time in favor of young players like Ray Lankford, Geronimo Pena, Bernard Gilkey, Felix Jose, and Todd Zeile.

Lankford turned out to be the best of that group, but Zeile was actually a much more highly regarded prospect.  Hard to believe, but Zeile was actually ranked as a Top 10 prospect entering the 1990 season by Baseball America.

Kiki Jones?

The Cardinals actually had four players on the Top 100 with Zeile, Lankford (19), John Ericks (32), and Brian Jordan (98).  By the end of the year the team ended up with Felix Jose (54) who was in the Willie McGee trade with the A's.

Zeile was a big deal with Cardinals fans when he first came up at the end of the 1989 season and there were some pretty high hopes for him after he took over the starting catchers job in 1990.  The Cardinals even let Tony Pena walk to give him the starting catcher's job.

As a baseball card loving middle schooler there living in St. Louis Zeile cards were really popular.  There are a bunch of them, but his 1990 Topps cards had to be the most popular.  I pulled my first copy out of a pack of cards from the Webster Groves Ben Franklin.....

Love the Future Stars label at the bottom of the card.  This card was not as cool as a Ken Griffey Jr. card, but was probably easily the most popular current Cardinals card at this point in time.  For a team that was really lacking star power, Zeile offered hope.  Plus, as a card collector, it's always nice when one of those really good players is on your team.  Makes opening the packs of cards a little bit more fun.  

This is my actual original Zeile card which had one glaring problem, which is why I know this is the original card.....

The faded back was a crusher at the time I pulled this card.  Sure, the back is a little off center too, but the faded ink always really pissed me off.  Luckily the angry feeling did not last too long.  That and the card is worth about $0.02.  I am pretty sure that there are five of these in my card closet.  

Ultimately Zeile became sort of a scapegoat for Cardinals fans in the mid 1990s.  He never hit for the power that was promised, he was moved from catcher to third to first, and had some pretty rough years.  Eventually he was traded to the Cubs in the middle of 1995 and then wandered the league for the better part of a decade playing for the Phillies, Orioles, Dodgers, Marlins, Rangers, Mets, Rockies, Yankees, and Expos.  

Sunday, January 15, 2017

Is That You Junior?

We are a few weeks out now from Spring Training.  Last summer I did a little bit of work on collecting Cardinals prospect Alex Reyes, however he has no graduated to the Majors and will be in the starting rotation in St. Louis this summer.  That means that I need to find a new Cardinals prospect to follow around this year.  There are some good options for Cardinals fans in the lower Minors, so after a little research, and card searching I am going to pick Junior.....

Actually, Junior Fernandez, but every time I hear his name I think about Sean Connery saying something like "Is that you Junior?".  Maybe it's just me.  The Cardinals pitching prospect was in Bowman Chrome, Leaf, and Dornuss Elite.   I went ahead and picked up the Bowman Chrome card recently....

Fernandez pitched for the Cardinals at their High A and Low A affiliates, and at just 19 years old, is a little ways off from being in St. Louis.  He universally appears in Cardinals top prospects lists, but his placement on the list greatly varies.  Junior throws almost 100, but needs a lot of polish.  We will see if he can put it together.  

Saturday, January 14, 2017

Rehash, Rehash Again

I was out and about a few days back completing some errands at the local Wally World when I ran across one of those boxes of Topps Archives 65th Anniversary Set.  I believe they are only sold at Wal-Mart and each box has an autograph and a buyback card.  I have seen a few different collectors say some nice things about the boxes, so I figured I would take a chance.

If nothing else, I like the Archives autographs.  The base cards and remakes of Archives cards are a little bit stale.  Maybe more than a little stale.

The base cards in this version of Archives all have the original fronts on the cards.....

and for some reason the backs of the cards are all based on the design of the 1975 Topps card backs.  I have no idea why 1975 was picked....

Perhaps to distinguish this version of Archives from all the other versions of Archives that have been put out over the last few years, or maybe something other reason I am not think of at the moment.  Just a little lost on the choice.

My buyback out of the box is related to the Durham Bulls, which is cool in some ways, but....

didn't the Bull Durham cards come out of this year's Archives set?  The answer is yes, meaning that my buyback is just merely a few months old.  Not sure if this is much of a buyback.  Hey, Durham Bulls, right?  

Last card is my autograph which is, as you can see, former Expos second baseman Jose Vidro.  I am not sure how picky you can be about an autograph out of a $20 box of cards from Wal-Mart.  Always nice to see Expos cards, so I am going to consider this card a winner.  Plus, Jose was a pretty nice player back in the day.  

Thursday, January 12, 2017

Minor Coinage

I have done a few posts about coin cards in the past.  Topps has placed them in all sorts of different products over the years.  This year was no different and I managed to pull one out of a pack of cards.  The only problem is that the card kind of sat on a shelf in my card closet for the last month or two.  Maybe three.  The best part of the card is that it actually came out of a Minor League product, always a big fan of those.....

Not sure if Topps has ever put coin cards into a Minor League product before, but I was happy to land this out of a box of Topps Heritage Minors.  Also nice to land a player like Benintendi.  I have a few base cards of the top Red Sox prospect, but nothing as cool as this card.  Of course, if you are going to check out a coin card you have to look at the back....always one of the coolest parts of these...

The back view of the coin in the card is always awesome.  I like the connection between the card year and coin year, but I am not quite sure why the highlight on the back of a Red Sox card is about a game between the Cardinals and Reds.  I get that it's his birthday, but the Red Sox made the World Series that year.   I am sure that they had a few highlights that year, say their left fielder winning the Triple Crown...something.

Overall, a really cool card and a welcome addition to the collection.

Wednesday, January 11, 2017

OT- Reynolds Coliseum

A little bit of a non-baseball, non-baseball card post for today, but if you read down far enough there is a brief mention of some MLB types like Trea Turner, Carlos Rodon, and Mike Caldwell.  If you are a regular reader of this space you no doubt know that I am a graduate of NC State and reside in the Raleigh-Durham metro area.  College sports are king here and there is a tremendous opportunity as a sports fan to see some great athletes, in many sports, before they reach the pros.

Beyond seeing athletes there are also some really cool stadiums and arenas in the area.  Everyone knows Cameron Indoor, but other places like Wallace Wade Stadium (Duke Football) and Carmichael Arena (UNC Basketball) also have historical significance in college sports.  As an NC State grad/fan the Wolfpack faithful has Reynolds Coliseum.

The arena was built in the late 1940s and has been home to many great Wolfpack basketball teams, but also has some significance in terms of NCAA Postseason play.  It was the original home to the ACC Basketball Tournament, as well as the Dixie Classic, which was an important basketball event back in the 1950s.

Here is the marker outside of the arena which has a little brief synopsis of the building's signficance beyond what I have stated above....

The NC State Men's Basketball team moved out of Reynolds long ago, but the old building still hosted one Men's game every year along with being the regular home to the NC State's Women's Basketball team and a few other Olympic sports programs at State such as Volleyball, Wrestling, and Gymnastics.  I was actually able to attend one the last Men's games at Reynolds two years ago before the school decided that the building was dated and needed a major overhaul....

The original configuration of the arena was actually very similar to Duke's Cameron Stadium, same architect, but it was a larger arena with deeper end zones.  It was also a very tough place to play due to the fact that the seats in the arena are rather vertical.  If you sit in the last row of the arena, you still aren't far from the court, and those in the lower seats are basically above the court.  Note the seats on the far side are elevated and close to the scorer's table.  

Former Duke player and current ESPN analyst Jay Bilas described playing at Reynolds:

"To me, the toughest places to play had more to do with the quality of the opposing team than anything else, but Reynolds Coliseum at NC State was the toughest place I played while in college. Reynolds was configured much the same way as Cameron Indoor Stadium, but the end zones were much deeper and the sides were right on top of you. Reynolds was loud, edgy and intense. The Wolfpack under Jim Valvano were a tough out and the games were always fistfights, but the thing I remember most is coming back to a huddle and seeing lips move, but not being able to hear what was said. It was so hot and loud that your head would spin. Of course, having to guard guys like Thurl Bailey, Lorenzo Charles, Cozell McQueen and Chris Washburn probably had something to do with my head spinning." 

Recently I had the chance to visit Reynolds again to see the remodeled version of the historic building.  I was really excited to see the changes that were made to the building.  Besides remodeling the seating area, State also added a Hall of Fame component to the building which is very nice.  Let's look at the Hall of Fame first.  When you walk into the building.....

this is the main hall.  Previously there was a wall right here and the seating bowl inside of the arena book up most of this space.  The sides of this space have offices for the basketball and volleyball teams as well as all sorts of cool displays about some of the successful teams in the school's history, as well as some memorabilia from some of the name players.  

The majority of this space is used to recognize basketball teams and players with the two biggest items in this space being the National Championship trophies from the 1974 and 1983 Men's Basketball teams.  

The 1974 trophy is on the left and the 1983 trophy is on the right.  Back to the picture above for one second...The quotes on the wall at the end of the hallway are from Jim Valvano - "Never give up..." - and the one on the right side of the picture is from The Jungle Book -The strength of the wolf is the pack -

Look back the opposite direction this is the view looking towards the front doors of Reynolds....

The giants GO PACK! sign can be seen from inside the seat bowl as well as the original Reynolds Noise Meter which is hanging on the ceiling to the left of the G.  Up close.....

If you look at the top picture of the arena in it's original state, the noise meter was at the end of the scorer's table.  It was a fixture of games when Reynolds first open, apparently went away for a time, and then came back refurbished recently.

The NC State Hall of Fame also extends down the sides of the concourses leading to the seating areas.  Each of the sports has a display case on the inside the hallway....

Beyond the basketball stuff, I had to stop by the football case to check out the Torry Holt display.  I don't do a ton of football stuff on here, but I do like Torry.  The Greatest Show on Turf teams were fun to watch and showed that St. Louis can support football, even if the NFL keeps moving teams out of the city.  Tory Holt and his brother Torrence actually helped with the remodel of this building.  They do construction work.  

Also stopped by to see the baseball case.  There are some cool ACC Championship Trophies and they do a good job of recognizing a few of the great players at State like Carlos Rodon, Mike Caldwell, etc.   The Hall of Fame in section in Reynolds just opened, and I probably have a more critically eye for the baseball area, but I thought they could have a little bit more about guys like Trea Turner and Dan Plesac.  Again, just opened and I am sure that the school will continue to work on the displays.

There is also a cool display of All-American performers at the school.....

on red and grey tiles on the outside wall of the concourse.  It's not organized by sport, nor by year, but I kind of like that they mixed up the well known athletes from the school along with those who may not be household names.  As I looked at these I went and found three big names: David Thompson, Trea Turner, and Torry Holt.  I learned about all kinds of track athletes, volleyball players, gymnasts, and wrestler who starred in their craft along the way.  

and what about the actual basketball arena inside of the historic building?  It's incredible.  

This is the view of the court from the end zone.  I actually went to two different NC State games at Reynolds.  If you compare this picture with the pre-renovation building at the top of the page, the area you are looking at is the left hand side of the court.  The game in this picture is against Notre Dame.  State won the game, which was a huge upset......

I went last week too and saw the Pack take on Miami.  They did not do as well against the Canes, but it was still fun to see another game in one of the great historic basketball arenas.  This is the view of the court from the side....

This gives you a little better idea of how much the inside of the arena has changed.  It was truly a fun experience that I will repeat again in the near future and I would encourage all of my basketball loving readers to check out this building if you ever happen to be in Raleigh.  Since the Hall of Fame is in the building, the arena is actually open during the day for visitors.  Not sure they will let you take a few shots...  

Tuesday, January 10, 2017

Project Durham Bulls #6: Blake Snell

Blake Snell 2015-2016 Durham Bulls 

Snell first arrived in Durham during the middle of the 2015 season after a dominating first half of the season in Double A and High A.  In Durham Snell made 9 starts for the Bulls going 6-2 with 57 strikeouts in 44 innings and an ERA of 1.83.  For the season, Snell went 15-4 with a 1.41 ERA and 163 strikeouts in 134 innings.  Snell started out the 2016 season with the Durham Bulls.  I actually got to see his first start of the season on opening night.....

Snell pitched well in Durham last year.  He made a few starts with the Bulls before he was called up by the Rays to make a spot start against the Yankees in April.  Snell was then returned to Durham where he stayed until the middle of June when the Rays called him up for good.  In 19 starts with the Rays last year Snell went 6-8 with a 3.54 ERA and 98 strikeouts in 89 innings.  I'm bullish on Snell's future....

for good reason.  I know a lot of other baseball fans are also high on the Rays hurler.  Snell misses a lot of bats and has several great pitches in his arsenal.  It would be nice if Tampa could get some traction going and build a team around some of the young pitchers on their staff like Chris Archer, Jake Odorizzi, and Snell.  

This is my first Project Durham Bulls post where the baseball card has actually featured the player in a Durham Bulls uniform.  It's a hard task, but I am going to try to find as many of the former/current Durham Bulls as possible actually wearing a Bulls uniform.  That generally leaves me with the Pro Debut and Heritage Minor League sets for current products, although some of the sets from the early 2000s and 1990s make it a little easier.  I dig almost everything about this Pro Debut card from last year's set.  It's a great looking action shot of Snell pitching in the Durham Bulls Athletic Park.  The Snell autograph is a sticker autograph, but I am more than willing to get past it in this case.