Monday, March 20, 2017

An International TTM Return

TTM's are a part of the hobby that I continue to take part in even as my interest in cards in general fades. Something about getting an autograph still appeals to me.

This feeling was reinforced just today when I got one of the best TTM returns ever in my mailbox. Regular readers know that I lump all TTM returns I get during a given month into one big post, but this one is so special, it deserves it's own post. Right, before we get to the return, some backstory.

As you all know I've been on a Chunichi Dragons kick. Pretty much 90% of my posts this year have been devoted to the Dragons and many more will come in the future. As much as I like the Dragons, two aspects of the card collecting hobby that I consider crucial have long eluded me. An IP autograph and a TTM autograph. The IP autograph goal will have to wait until I go back to Japan when games are going on. On paper the TTM goal should be easier, but in reality is even tougher. I've mentioned it in passing before but a lot of NPB clubs have banned TTM requests. The Dragons are one of them. What this effectively means is that if you want Dragons autographs via TTM, your only chances will be with OBs (which stands for Old Boys, which is a Japanese term used to refer to retired baseball players).

Enter クリッパー (Clipper)-san, a fellow TTM autograph collector who is based in Japan. Clipper-san usually sends requests stateside to foreigners who used to play in the NPB. Clipper-san's blog has an impressive log of such returns and two out of every three returns he receives has me going "wait, he played in the NPB?" Go check it out if you have the time.

Anyway, I had one player in mind to try out an international TTM request with, and I noticed Clipper-san had managed to get a success from him before. A few DM's and a carefully worded letter later, I sent out a request headed to my motherland of Japan. Less than two weeks later (it was a really quick turnaround), the SASE I sent came back. Inside was...


BOOM.

Yes that's right folks. I got a TTM return from the God of Forkballs, Mr. Shigeru Sugishita.

The minute I saw that sase in my mailbox I was grinning from ear to ear. It'd been a while since I was that excited for a TTM return. I mean, all returns are special to me, but this was especially cool since it's my first TTM return from Japan. My home!



The God of Forkballs was also kind enough to send along TWO extra autographed cards along with the EPOCH card I sent above. The first card was part of EPOCH's Japan Baseball Promotion Association set from 2014, the one that commemorated the association's 20th anniversary. The second card was part of last year's BBM set that commemorating 80 years of the Chunichi Dragons being in existence.


Mr. Sugishita was kind enough to send all three in this plastic bag to make sure they wouldn't go flying all over inside the SASE.


And if you're curious about the postage, I had some family members get stamps for me so I could send a proper SASE. Success!


I really love how these signatures turned out. For the first time ever I sent along a blue sharpie, my lucky sharpie that I'd been using for IP autographs since 2015. The very pen used by the likes of Luis Torrens, Gaylord Perry and Goose Gossage, ended it's journey with me by delivering me my first international TTM return. I hope Mr. Sugishita can make good use of the sharpire to make other fans happy too.


I already wrote a post profiling the great career of Mr. Sugishita a while back so I thought I'd add some things I left out. Like the video above of Mr. Sugishita pitching in his prime (dig the glasses).


Or this video of Mr. Sugishita throwing out the first pitch at last year's Home Opener for the Dragons. He really is the God of Forkballs, just look at that curve. Keep in mind that he was 90 years old when the video was taken.

I've heard from Clipper-san and various other outlets that Mr. Sugishita's body is starting to slow down a bit at age of 91. I hope whatever is ailing him doesn't stick around too long and Mr. Sugishita continues to be the OB presence he's been for pretty much the last 50+ years.


So yeah, this has easily been the best TTM return of the year (for me) so far. Probably during my time as a TTM collector in general too. It's gonna be hard to top this one.

杉下選手、本当にサインありがとうございました!

And as always thank you, the readers, for stopping by.

Take care :).

Monday, March 13, 2017

Pack Break: 2011 Edition

There was a point in time (way back when this blog was still in it's draft stages in 2012) where I figured that my calling card would be a pack of cards. In some respects they are, but not the way I initially intended. You see, my original vision was to also send along packs of Japanese baseball cards with trade packages.


Like these Konami Baseball AllStar's cards from 2011.

Of course that idea flew out the window for obvious reasons. But I still had one pack left from back then.


These cards were issued by Konami as cards you bought physical copies of so you could use the codes on their back to play a virtual video game online. The gist of it is that these cards all have codes on the back so that you can unlock that player to use in the game. I think this is a pretty good idea that benefits the crowd that only wants the physical copies and the crowd that just wants the digital cards for the game. Topps Bunt should do something similar.

So anyway these packs came with two cards each (out of 252 cards total). It had 12 cards for managers, 12 "Great Player" cards, 12 "Super Player" cards, 36 "Star Player" cards, 84 regular cards that had black borders, and finally another 96 regular with white borders. As far as I can tell there aren't any parallels. But I could be wrong.

Obviously this pack won't yield any hits or those super low numbered parallels, but I figure it'd be a fun little break. I'm hoping for a Chunichi Dragons card (or two), seeing as how this is 2011 there's also the possibility of future big leaguers like Yu Darvish, Masahiro Tanaka, Kenta Maeda, Munenori Kawasaki, Hisashi Iwakuma and Norichika Aoki.

Right, let's open it!


The head of the welcoming committee was this play guide that gave you instructions on how to play the game. Basically how to access the game from your computer or phone, all the way to competing for the pennant title.


The back featured some tips for beginners like how players can level up their skills in the game, how manager cards can make a difference, and how certain player combinations work better than others.

Well that was interesting, now onto the actual meat of this pack.


Here we have Chiba Lotte Marines outfielder Yoshifumi Okada and what's probably a regular card with a white border.

Okada was drafted by the Marines back in 2008 as an amateur and has been with the club for nearly a decade now. Okada made his debut with the big leagues Marines in 2010 so this card was when he was in his sophomore season of big league NPB ball.


Here's the back. Lots of stats and graphs and a little bio too. You can see the code used for the game on the bottom, and QR code if you're lazy and using a phone.

The stats also reflect Okada's profile as a player. Okada's known for his glove work and his speed. Both of which got a five and six rating on the card respectively. Although some would probably say his power level is a zero or one rather than a two. Apparently Okada set a record for most consecutive at-bats as a professional at the top NPB level without having a home run with 1,773 at-bats. That said, he can still manage to run his way to first base via bunting or bloop singles.


Our second card was a "Star Player Card" of former NPB outfielder Hitoshi Tamura.

Tamura was originally drafted by the Yokohama BayStars (his local team)  in the fourth round of the 1994 NPB Player Draft. Tamura made his ichigun NPB debut with the BayStars in 1996 and spent a eleven seasons with the BayStars. He made his presence known during the second half of his first stint with the BayStars when he hit 40 dingers in 2004. Due to his team's lack of any real success he was traded to the SoftBank Hawks in 2006 and spent six seasons with the black and yellow before returning to the BayStars in 2013 and giving it three more seasons. Tamura tried one last comeback in 2016 with the Chunichi Dragons but injuries dashed those hopes. Tamura now works as a broadcaster for baseball games.


Here's the back. Over course Tamura was given a seven score for his power and an eight for his contact skills.

For whatever it's worth Tamura did consider giving the big leagues a try back in 2010 (after all, he had power for a Japanese player) but he decided to stay with the Hawks instead. I suppose one would wonder how he'd fare in the big leagues, my guess is that he'd carve out a career that's (at best) Tadahito Iguchi and at worst Kensuke Tanaka.

Anyway that was my NPB pack break from 2011. This was fun and I'll look into doing more at a later time.

As always thanks for stopping by and take care :).

Sunday, March 5, 2017

Month-End TTM Roundup: 2/6-3/4

Received On: 02/13/2017

My first return of this post is from Scott Fletcher.
Scott Fletcher was originally drafted by the Chicago Cubs in the first round (sixth overall) of the 1979 secondary MLB player draft. The infielder went on to have a 15 year career playing for the Cubbies, Rangers, White Sox, Brewers, Red Sox and Tigers. After his playing career ended he became a coach and was a coach for the Atlanta Braves until 2014.

Received On: 02/13/2017

Next up is Orioles prospect Jon Keller.
Jon Keller was drafted by the Baltimore Orioles in the 22nd round of the 2013 MLB Player Draft. The brother of top Pirates prospect Mitch Keller, Jon Keller's has his fair share of ups and downs as a reliever in the minors. Keller had a great 2014 that ended prematurely due to injury but he made up for lost time in 2015. In 2015 he was a top 30 Orioles prospect on MLB.com's ranking. Armed with a fastball, slider and change up, Keller may be up in Camden Yards soon.

Received On: 02/15/2017

Here are a couple of returns from Rockies southpaw, Jack Wynkoop.
Jack Wynkoop was drafted by the Colorado Rockies in the sixth round of the 2015 MLB Player Draft. The lefty is armed with a fastball that sits in the high-80's, change up, slider and curveball. I've seen Wynkoop get a lot of praise and be touted as having potential due to how he doesn't rely on a fastball to just fly past hitters (which would be disastrous in a park like Coors anyway), but because he can pitch. His delivery is said to be solid and offers Wynkoop good results. His career in the minor leagues to this point shows as such. Whether or not he finally becomes the 2nd pitcher to ever work in Coors remains to be seen but, hey, anything's worth a shot for the Rockies.

Received On: 02/27/2017

Here's a return I gave up on a long time ago, from Barves prospect Alex Jackson.
Alex Jackson was originally drafted by the Seattle Mariners in the first round of the 2014 MLB Player Draft. Seen as a top tier high school catcher going into the draft, Jackson was taken sixth overall and moved to the outfield by the M's so his development would go a lot quicker. It did not work out as the M's had hoped. After M's GM Jack Zduriencik got fired and Jerry DiPoto came in, the new M's front office purveyed what they had and used Jackson as a trade chip rather than keep him. Jackson was traded to the Atlanta Braves last year in exchange for Rob Whalen and Max Povse. The Braves are planning on moving Jackson back to catcher to try and get some more value out of the 20 year old. He's still young enough to be able to turn into something. In the meantime, he's just another piece of depth for the 100% tanking Barves.

Received On: 02/28/2017

My first Spring Training return from this year came from Mets infielder Neil Walker.
Neil Walker, the son of former MLBer Tom Walker, was originally drafted by the Pittsburgh Pirates in the first round of the 2004 MLB Player Draft. Drafted as a catcher, Walker was a beacon of hope for an incredibly bad Pirates org in the mid 2000's. Walker earned high praise as one of/the top Pirates prospect for most of the decade and finally made his MLB debut in 2009. In order to limit his chances of injury the Buccos moved Walker to second (although he wouldn't really settle in a position until a year later) and for the most part that has worked out nicely. Walker had some nice moments for the Pirates as a hometown favorite (Walker was born in Pittsburgh for the record) but ultimately his Pirates tenure ended (at least his only one to date) when he was traded for Jon Niese in late-2015. Walker's walk year ended up being marred by a few injuries, enough to have him take a qualifying offer and see what he could get another year. Supposedly the Mets are interested in signing him to a long term deal, but the last negotiation failed. We'll see how things play out there in the next 12 months I'm sure.

Received On: 03/03/2017

Next up is Keith Hessler.
Keith Hessler was originally drafted by the Arizona Diamondbacks in the 28th round of the 2010 MLB Player Draft but he didn't sign. Hessler was signed as free agent one year later after going undrafted in the 2011 MLB Player Draft. Hessler spent the next few years as a member of the D-Backs org and made his MLB debut in 2015. After which Hessler was largely yo-yo'd up and down the big leagues as the D-Backs tried putting together a bullpen. In 2016 Hessler was with the D-Backs for a month before he was cut in late April. The San Diego Padres picked up Hessler off of waivers and have also yo-yo'd Hessler up and down the big leages/triple-A as they scrambled to make their bullpen as well. The lefty presents a relief option (LOOGY) going forward for the Padres. According to Brooks Baseball Hessler is armed with a low 90's fastball and a slider. Can Hessler reinvent himself as a member of the Padres? We'll see.

Received On: 03/04/2017

My last return during this time frame was another spring training TTM return, this time from Tribe righty Shawn Armstrong.
Shawn Armstrong was drafted by the Cleveland Indians in the 18th round of the 2011 MLB Player Draft. Armstrong is a career reliever who will likely end up as a key bullpen arm for the Naps going forward. Armstrong is armed with a mid-to-high 90's fastball, a slider and a curveball. His long term role various from middle reliever to set-up man. Will Armstrong step up and be the one to bridge the gap between the middle relief and Andrew Miller? We'll know by 2019.

And those were my returns during the past month.
Big thanks to Mr. Fletcher, Keller, Wynkoop, Jackson, Walker, Hessler and Armstrong for the autographs.

And as always, thank you (the readers) for stopping by. Take care :).

2017 TTM Count: 16

Sources:
*http://www.baseball-reference.com/players/f/fletcsc01.shtml
*http://www.milb.com/player/index.jsp?sid=milb&player_id=592458#/career/R/pitching/2016/ALL
*http://m.mlb.com/prospects/2015/?list=bal
*http://www.milb.com/player/index.jsp?player_id=622063#/career/R/pitching/2016/ALL
*http://www.purplerow.com/2015/6/12/8770817/colorado-rockies-draft-pick-2015-jack-wynkoop
*http://www.milb.com/player/index.jsp?sid=milb&player_id=656577#/career/R/hitting/2016/ALL
*http://m.mlb.com/prospects/2017?list=atl
*https://www.mlbtraderumors.com/2016/11/braves-acquire-alex-jackson.html
*http://www.newsday.com/sports/baseball/mets/neil-walker-contract-talks-with-mets-hit-a-snag-sources-say-1.13149583
*http://www.baseball-reference.com/register/player.fcgi?id=hessle001kei
*http://arizonasports.com/story/356552/diamondbacks-recall-keith-hessler/
*https://www.mlbtraderumors.com/2016/05/keith-hessler-claimed-padres-waivers.html
*http://www.brooksbaseball.net/landing.php?player=594857
*http://www.baseball-reference.com/register/player.fcgi?id=armstr001sha
*http://m.mlb.com/prospects/2017?list=cle

Wednesday, March 1, 2017

Iori Katsura

The other day I blogged about my new player collection, Takuya Kinoshita. The Dragons' up and coming catcher who pretty much all of you were quick to point out as being "Luis Torrens 2.0". Well here's another player collection of another up and coming catcher for the Dragons, Torrens 3.0 basically.


None other than Iori Katsura! With a powerful signature that's so big that it didn't even fit on the sticker.


Oh well, at least it's numbered to 60.


Iori Katsura was drafted by the Chunichi Dragons in the third round of the 2013 NPB Player Draft.  Katsura's professional career didn't start off on a high note as he got a case of the yips in 2014 and injuries took him out of commission for the year. Despite that he managed to bounce back and is now seen as another future mainstay behind the plate for the Dragons in the post-Tanishige era.


Unlike Kinoshita, Katsura is more of a glove first catcher. He has a cannon for an arm that can gun down even the best of the would be base stealers. Some scouts say he can throw ball from the plate to second base in 1.85 seconds. His receiving skills have also been praised as being very advanced. Unfortunately his bat lags behind tremendously.

Although Katsura's had some personal highlights like his first hit and first home run during his brief cups of coffee with the big league Dragons, he's still only managed to hit for a .223 BABIP (stat courtesy of プロ野球ヌルデータ置き場), but when he makes contact he can drive them into the bleachers.


In an ideal world I'd suppose that Kinoshita would be the everyday catcher and Katsura would be the defense-first catcher who catches every other day. Although in the NPB they have four catchers so... :P. For whatever it's worth, I have heard that Katsura gets along well with foreign pitchers who prefer to have Katsura be their designated catcher. Part of me wants to think "Yes! Come to the MLB!" I mean hey, if Chris Stewart can stick around and have an MLB career why can't Katsura?


2016 proved to be a bit of down year of Katsura due to how pain in his left knee kept him out of action a lot, but Katsura is determined to be in the mix for the everyday catching job that's very much up for grabs.


I mean the guy plays baseball with glasses/goggles and has one of the best bat flips ever, how could you not root for the guy?

Anyway, there was Luis 3.0. I'll have to dedicate a page to him too now I suppose.

As always thanks for stopping by and take care :).