Blaster Box Break(s): Three Boxes of 2017 Topps Series 1

There’s no better omen for a good baseball season than a good Topps flagship set. That’s what the 2017 version of Topps delivers.

A year after having a design that I wasn’t too crazy about (it cut off way too much of the photo), Topps let them breathe this year. So I’ve decided to buy three blaster boxes at various times — along with my usual spate of packs from Target and Wal-Mart — and share the results.

Get all of your 2017 Topps baseball cards here.

I’ll share the hits later, but first a few notes on my favorite base.

One of the first base cards to strike my eye was the Craig Kimbrel. There’s nothing too special about the photo itself, but the story behind it is special to me. Take a look at it:

Based on my detective work, I can tell that the photo was taken when the Red Sox played in Detroit. My initial reaction was that I at that game, and it looks like my quick research confirms that. The Red Sox played a four-game series at Detroit — Kimbrel didn’t pitch in the first two games, and the final game was a day game. That left only the Saturday night game as the only one Kimbrel appeared in. That’s the one I attended, and waited through two hour-plus rain delays.

Related: My photo review of my trip to Comerica Park

Overall, there’s nothing special about the photo (although it does feature his distinctive bend) but it’s always cool to see a card featuring a game you attended. The only other one I can think of that features a photo from a game I attended was the 2012 Topps Juan Nicasio card.

But on a larger sense, I’ve been very impressed with the photo selection in 2017 Topps. I might get more into it if I do a more detailed review of the set, but let me just say it’s been great. A lot of great action shots, especially among outfielders making catches (like this Jacoby Ellsbury card). Combine that with a cool border, and that’s the perfect elements for a great set.

Now onto the hits. Let’s start with the guaranteed Jackie Robinson Logo Patch card. It’s one per blaster box, and 50 different patches. Here’s the best one I got — the Carlos Correa.

I also pulled a Sonny Gray and Nolan Arenado ones. Overall, not a bad trio, but still kind of disappointing when they carry the box.

On the base parallel front, it’s worked out to about one gold and one silver foil per blaster box. There was also one Rediscover Topps buyback in the three-box lot, a silver 1993 Kevin Brown.

First Pitch also makes a return, as you can see in the first of the two above photos. It’s about one or two per blaster box for me, and some of the people featured I had never heard of. But it was cool to pull the Stephen Colbert — love that guy.

Topps also has a different type of Rediscover Topps, as you can see by that George Brett 1975 in the photo above. Sadly, it’s not an original. It’s just a reprint on the front and features an ad for Topps on the back. It’s about one per blaster.

Related: 2001 Topps Series 1 hobby box break

The heaviest insert is definitely the Salute/Jackie Robinson Day cards. Take a look at the ones I pulled from three boxes. You can see how much they are featured.

That’s 23 of these in three boxes, or just a shade under 8 per box. With such a large set, it will take you a while to build it all.

The other prominently featured set is the MLB Awards. It features everything from Rookie of the Year to MVP to Gold Glove winners, and even Comeback Player of the Year. Of course, the NL version features Jose Fernandez, who I had forgotten had died.

Other assorted inserts included Bowman Then and Now (2 out of 3 boxes had one), a look at MLB Network personalities (1 out of 3), and 5 Tools (2 out of 3). My favorite was definitely the 5 Tool, especially pulling an Andrew McCutchen (since I’m a Pirates fan).

But of course, the biggest draw insert-wise is the 1987 Design. Prices have started out pretty high for them (compared to your average insert) I’m guessing because of the popularity of that set. Based on my experience, you’ll get two or three per blaster box meaning you have to go through a ton of boxes to get the full 100-card set.

Overall, these boxes were OK, nothing too special. There weren’t any short prints among the base set, and still wasn’t able to complete the 350-card base set. That makes sense since there were 10 packs of 10 cards in the box, and most of them featured two inserts. Let’s say you average about 85 base cards per blaster box (since not all packs have two inserts), so it would take at least five boxes to get the full set, assuming you don’t get too many duplicates. So maybe a hobby box and a blaster would be a better bet.

But hey, for $20, this is a pretty good buy for the base alone.

Support this blog by browsing through all the baseball cards, basketball cardsfootball cardshockey cards, soccer cards and Marvel cards that I have for sale at my eCrater store.

Blaster Box Break: 2016-17 Panini NBA Hoops

For whatever reason, this year I’ve started embracing NBA cards again. I don’t watch the games — or at least maybe until late in the playoffs — but the allure of the cards has been calling my name.

I’ve picked up a few packs of Prizm, opened a few more of Panini Complete, but took the big plunge on NBA Hoops. Then again, when you pick up one pack at Target and this is your hit, it’s hard not to get the bug again.

So when I had a gift card to Amazon, I decided to place an order for a blaster box of NBA Hoops. The box had a promise of a autographed card or relic, and was hoping for another auto. So did I get the second auto? Read on to see what else I pulled — I’ll get to it at the end.

Click here to browse through all the basketball cards listed on my eCrater store.

But first, I want to comment on the base set. It contains a total of 300 cards, with 40 of them dedicated to the rookies. It’s been a rookie class that’s been less than impressive (from what I’ve heard, anyway), but I did pull a couple of nice rookies — Brandon Ingram and Malcolm Brogdon.

I was also glad to see Kevin Garnett in the set. Even though he retired before the season (and would therefore be usually a weird thing to see in a set), as a KG fan growing up, I was glad to get it. If only there was a Tim Duncan in the base….

Now onto the inserts. The box brought three unnumbered blues — Ish Smith, Jeff Green (I didn’t realize either was still in the league) and Gordon Hayward. It also had one red parallel, numbered to 49, of Udonis Haslem.

The blaster box also had seven other inserts of the non-parallel type.

The Lights, Camera, Action pair were pretty darn cool, showcasing some great photography. That’s always a plus in my book.

I also like the Double Trouble and Faces of the Future. Obviously the Chris Paul-Blake Griffin pairing on the Double Trouble is worth being highlighted on a card, but honestly, I had never even heard of Miles Turner before, and wasn’t sure he was worthy (for lack of a better word) of being featured in that set. But NBA fans, feel free to chime in if I am wrong.

The End 2 End cards are nice, but really don’t grab my attention too much. But they’re still better than the Kobe 2K Hoops insert. I’m really never a fan of those video game cards. But c’est la vie.

Now onto the big(ish) draw — the guaranteed auto or relic. It was clear looking at the packs which one had the big hit, a clue that it was a relic. I opened it and saw it was a relic of…

Tyler Ennis! Woo! I recognized the name from his time at Syracuse, but I had no idea how he was faring in the NBA. I looked him up and soon learned that his career hasn’t exactly gotten off to the best start. He was acquired by the Lakers at the trade deadline this year, which makes it his fourth team in three years. He’s been a bench player for his whole career, and his stats aren’t that impressive.

It looks like his NBA career will be short lived, but hey, a relic card is a relic card. I’ll never complain about getting one of those.

For $20, you could do a lot worse than a blaster box of NBA Hoops.

Support this blog by browsing through all the baseball cards, basketball cardsfootball cardshockey cards, soccer cards and Marvel cards that I have for sale at my eCrater store.

Seven undervalued baseball rookie cards since 2014

When you think of rookie cards from the past three years, a couple of big names come to the forefront. Xander Bogaerts. Mookie Betts. Jacob deGrom. Noah Syndergaard. Carlos Correa. Francisco Lindor. Kris Bryant. Javier Baez. Luis Severino. Gary Sanchez. Trea Turner. Corey Seager. Miguel Sano. Kyle Schwarber.

Even guys like Gregory Polanco, Aaron Sanchez, Masahiro Tanaka, Jose Abreu, Marcus Stroman, George Springer, Joc Pederson, Joe Ross, Addison Russell, Byron BuxtonJoey Gallo, Blake Swihart, Odubel Herrera, Maikel Franco, Devon Travis, Michael Conforto, and Aaron Nola have had their rookie cards come out in the past few years. And that list doesn’t even include any from the 2016 Topps Update set.

Tip: Click on a player’s name to see their baseball cards

With a class that big and top heavy, it’s easy for a few players to go under the radar. And that’s exactly what has happened.

Some of these seven cards listed below are the result for a player not getting a chance yet. Others have been slowed by injuries. Heck, even some have been overshadowed by newer, bigger prospects.

Now, not all of these players will ever make it truly big — with so many young players already superstars, it will be hard for them to crack that realm — but adding their cards would be a nice boost to your collection without breaking the bank.

Get all of your baseball cards here.

And in no particular order, here are the seven:

Steven Moya, OF, Detroit Tigers

The Tigers are reportedly listening on trade offers on anyone and everyone. While some guys like Justin Verlander and Miguel Cabrera might be harder to trade with their large contracts, someone like J.D. Martinez may be on the move. That would open up an everyday spot for Steven Moya.

Moya, MLB.com’s No. 100 prospect prior to the 2015 season, has faired decently in some cups of coffee with the Tigers the past few seasons. Last season, Moya played in 31 games with Detroit, hitting 5 home runs in 100 at bats and slugging .500. For comparison’s sake, Martinez checked in at .535 in the slugging department last season. Where Moya struggles though is getting on base. His .255 average is livable for someone with his power but he only walked 5 times (compared to 38 strikeouts) and had a paltry .290 on-base percentage. He also checked in negatively on defense, worth -0.7 dWAR, according to baseball-reference.

Moya will be 26 in early August next season, so this is the time for him to claim a full-time spot in the Tigers lineup.

Greg Bird, 1B, New York Yankees

Last season can only be described as a wash for Greg Bird. He entered the season in a timeshare at first base with Mark Teixeira, but was ruled out for the season even before Spring Training ended with a shoulder injury. While rehabbing, Bird saw fellow rookies Gary Sanchez and Tyler Austin (himself a first baseman/outfielder) make their mark in pinstripes.

So what does Bird’s 2017 outlook look like? Well, a lot of it obviously depends on his health. But assuming he’s back to 100 percent, it’s pretty positive. Remember, as a rookie in 2015, Bird slugged 11 home runs and had a .871 OPS in 46 games with New York. On the other hand, Austin “only” put up a .758 OPS in 31 games in the Bronx last year. Bird is also a year younger than Austin, and will play the season as a 24 year old in 2017.

Even with Teixeira’s retirement, the Yankees can afford to take it slow with Bird. But don’t be surprised to see Bird take over the first base job in the Bronx by midseason.

Carlos Rodon, P, Chicago White Sox

The White Sox have a quality front-end of the rotation. Everyone knows about Chris Sale. Jose Quintana is always mentioned as one of the most underrated players in the league (aka, Ben Zobrist Syndrome). Lost in the shuffle is Carlos Rodon.

Rodon was the third overall pick in the 2014 MLB Draft after a stellar career at NC State. Less than a year later, Rodon made his MLB debut. He’s since pitched the past two seasons with the South Siders, Rodon has gone 18-16 with a 3.90 ERA in 51 starts (54 games) with the Sox. Those overall stats aren’t anything impressive but there’s room for more optimism. In his final 11 starts of 2016, Rodon allowed three earned runs or fewer in 9 of them — eight of those, he didn’t even give up three. He had back-to-back blowups in September, giving up six earned runs to each the Indians and Royals, but then responded by throwing 8 shutout innings against the Indians on Sept. 25, striking out 11 and walking 3. It’s those types of starts that could become the norm for the 6-foot-3 left hander.

With the Sox contemplating a fire sale, both Sale and Quintana could be moved. That would leave Rodon as the ace, a role he looks ready to fill.

Ketel Marte, SS, Arizona Diamondbacks

It’s hard for players on the West Coast to get their proper due, especially in the Pacific Northwest. I’m sure most casual baseball fans probably think that Robinson Cano is still overpaid, and had no clue how close the Mariners were to making the playoffs this past year. Those factors, plus a down 2015, have kept Ketel Marte under the radar.

If you look at Marte’s final line for 2016, it’s not pretty. He only hit .258/.287/.323 with 1 home run in 437 at bats. That has the makings of a career utility player, at best. But you have to keep one thing in mind. Marte missed about a month from mid-July into August due to mono, which caused him to lose 22 pounds. Listed as 6-foot-1, 165 pounds to enter the season, that’s a lot of weight to lose. So it should be no surprise that he wasn’t the same hitter down the stretch. Before the illness, Marte was batting .273/.299/.358, which isn’t that bad for a 22 year old in his first full season in the majors. A stint in the minors to start 2017 may be in the cards for Marte, especially if the Mariners finally get Zack Cozart.

Marte will never be a big power threat, but neither was a guy like Rafael Furcal, who had a productive long career. It wouldn’t be a surprise to see Marte carve out a similar career. And now that he’s been traded to the Diamondbacks with Taijuan Walker, he gets his a fresh shot to make his mark.

Rougned Odor, 2B, Texas Rangers

Most baseball fans know Rougned Odor‘s name for either its uniqueness, or his personal rivalry with Jose Bautista. Or both. But what they may not know is the historic start he’s gotten off to in his career.

Odor’s calling card is his power, and he’s used it wisely in 2016. Last year, he became the first second baseman in history 25 or younger to top 30 home runs (he finished with 33). Oh, and he was only 22. Only five others since 2000 have hit at least 30 homers when they were 22 or younger: Albert Pujols, Miguel Cabrera, Giancarlo Stanton, Mike Trout, Bryce Harper, Manny Machado. Through 2.5 years in the bigs — he played a half year with the Rangers as a 20 year old in 2014 — Odor already has 58 home runs. He also cranked out 33 doubles and stole 14 bases, keeping him from being a one-dimensional slugger.

Of course, there are things for Odor to work on. He still strikes out a good amount, his defense can be questionable, and doesn’t walk much. Oh, and he has to keep his anger in check. But if he can keep up the pace he’s at, Odor’s stock will only continue to rise.

Mike Foltynewicz, P, Atlanta Braves

The Atlanta Braves have been, well, not good the past two years. They did show signs of being competitive again down the stretch of 2016 after Dansby Swanson was promoted, and if they keep that going into 2017, a lot of that will be due to the pitching staff.

A key part of that staff will be Mike Foltynewicz. I debated about giving this spot to either Folty or Matt Wisler, but went with Folty due to his higher potential. He’s a 6-foot-4, hard-throwing right-hander who was a first-round pick of the Astros in 2010. He was one of the first pieces of the Braves’ rebuild, coming over in the deal that sent Evan Gattis to Houston. Since then, there have been questions about whether Folty’s future would be in the rotation or the bullpen. He finished fairly strong in 2016, and looks to have a spot in the Braves’ 2017 rotation fairly secure, despite the signings of Bartolo Colon and R.A. Dickey. Overall his 2016 was encouraging, cutting his WHIP to 1.297 and walk rate to 2.6 per 9 innings, both career bests.

One other sign that he’s part of the Braves future: the Yankees have been asking for him in return for Brian McCann, and have repeatedly been denied. It’s not hard to see why.

Max Kepler, OF, Minnesota Twins

Max Kepler was one of the most intriguing rookies in 2016, not because of his potential, but because of his backstory. Kepler is one of the best prospects to come out of Europe, ever.

Kepler was a promising youth soccer player growing up in Germany, but decided to just focus on baseball at age 15 (BleacherReport shares a good story of his journey). That worked out as the Twins gave him a $800,000 signing bonus to sign with them, the largest ever given out to a European player. He made it pay off, reaching the bigs for 3 games in 2015 before carving out a permanent role in 2016. After a slow start to the season, he was sent back to AAA before getting another opportunity in June. He ran with that, and finished the season with 17 home runs and a .734 OPS as a 23-year-old rookie. He may have worn down at the end of the season though, as he only had one home run in 92 September at bats. Kepler turns 24 before Spring Training, and looks destined to join Miguel Sano and Byron Buxton as cornerstones of the Twins franchise.

When you combine his potential and the fact that he could be an international sensation, Kepler’s stock looks like it will only rise.

Support this blog by browsing through all the baseball cardsfootball cardshockey cards, soccer cards and Marvel cards that I have for sale at my eCrater store.

Why the 2016 Cleveland Indians are like the 1996 New York Yankees

It’s impossible to see a perfect carbon copy of a baseball team, especially two from 20 years apart. That doesn’t mean two can’t be pretty similar.

That’s the case for the 2016 Cleveland Indians, who resemble the 1996 New York Yankees — the team that brought the Yankees their championship in their most recent dynasty.

Tip: Click on a player’s name to see their baseball cards

The obvious place to start comparing these two teams is at the shortstop position. One team had a 22-year-old budding star in his second season. The other has… the same. At that age, Derek Jeter looked like the future face of the Yankees, winning the Rookie of the Year Award in ’96 with an .800 OPS in the regular season, and continuing to hit in the playoffs. Francisco Lindor finished second in ROY voting last year (no shame in losing to Carlos Correa), and made his first All Star team in 2016. Oh, and like the future Mr. November, Lindor has been a driving offensive force for Indians.

Get all of your baseball cards here.

Another easy parallel to make is in the bullpen, specifically the setup man. In ’96, the Yankees had a failed-starter-turned-reliever to use out of the ‘pen at the most necessary time in Mariano Rivera (you may have heard of him). This year’s Indians team has a slightly older, left-handed version in Andrew Miller. Both relievers were frequently used in multi-inning scenarios, Rivera topping out at 2.2 innings in the Yankees’ Game 2 win of the ALDS, and Miller constantly pitching over an inning each outing.

What made that usage possible was the solid option at the back end of the bullpen. While neither closer may be better than their more high-profile setup man, both John Wetteland (Yankees) and Cody Allen (Indians) are more than capable of getting the final outs of a game. Allen has recorded six saves so far this playoffs without giving up a run. Wetteland ended up being the World Series MVP in ’96, earning the save in all four Yankees wins.

Related: The best playoff home runs from the past 15 years

In the rotation, both teams have a former Cy Young winner leading the rotation. Although David Cone missed most of the ’96 season, he came back in time for the playoff push and ended up coming up with biggest pitching performance of the year, throwing six innings of one-run ball in Game 3 of the World Series (New York trailed 2-0 in the series up to that point). The Indians have Corey Kluber to fill that role. Kluber didn’t miss any time this season — instead, he made his first Midsummer Classic — but has come through with four big starts in the playoffs, going 3-1 with a 0.74 ERA.

Backing up those aces is a young, solid No. 2 pitcher. Andy Pettitte was only in his second season in the majors in ’96 but was already showing the stuff that would make him a future Yankees legend. Trevor Bauer, while more experienced but only one year older, has shown flashes of potential to be a mainstay in the Cleveland rotation for years to come.

At full strength, the Indians rotation is better than the one the Yankees had 20 years ago. But injuries to Carlos Carrasco and Danny Salazar have trimmed their starters down to Kluber, Bauer and the recently dominant Josh Tomlin. Meanwhile, the Yankees had to turn to Jimmy Key (probably the best Tomlin comparison in terms of effectiveness), Kenny Rogers and Dwight Gooden. Neither rotation was particularly deep, but that could be worked around with good top-end starters and a very strong bullpen.

Behind the plate, both teams won using mostly a strong defensive-first catcher. Joe Girardi, the future manager of the Yankees, was the primary backstop, and was a solid but not spectacular option at the plate. Injuries to Yan Gomes have forced Cleveland to ride Roberto Perez — he of the .183 batting average and 3 home runs this year — through the playoffs. Oh, and both have come up with big World Series hits. Girardi hit a RBI triple in Game 6 of the World Series to get the starting scoring in the clinching game. Perez had a two HR game in the first game of the 2016 Fall Classic.

While Mike Napoli doesn’t catch anymore, his counterpart on the ’96 Yankees would be Jim Leyritz. While Napoli hasn’t come up with any clutch home runs in the playoffs for the Indians (yet), he does have a few on his resume. Leyrtiz became a World Series hero in Game 3 with his game-tying shot with a three-run dinger in the 8th inning. Not a perfect comparison but hey, it’s pretty close.

In the outfield, there’s a pretty strong comparison between Coco Crisp and Tim Raines. Both are 36-year-old speedsters who play a key, part-time role. Neither has hit particularly well in the playoffs, but have played a big role: Raines scored seven runs that postseason — mostly as a pinch runner — and Crisp has come up with a pair of homers in the ALDS and ALCS, and also drove in the game-winning run of Game 3 in the World Series.

There are other minor similarities in the way the rosters were constructed. Both Carlos Santana (CLE) and Cecil Fielder (NYY) are lumbering sluggers at the DH spot. Bernie Williams (NYY) and Jason Kipnis (CLE) are solid all-around All Stars at their positions who were holdovers from the rebuilding teams of the years before. Even at third base, Jose Ramirez has developed into a Wade Boggs-type hitter for the Indians, for this year at least.

The one player the Indians don’t have a match for is Tino Martinez, the slugging first baseman. Even if healthy, Michael Brantley plays a different style than the man who replaced Don Mattingly (if anything, Brantley would be a good match for Williams).

While the comparisons may not be perfect, both teams were built the same way. Neither one relied too much on the long ball, and could beat you up and down the lineup. There wasn’t one player opposing pitchers could circle and make sure didn’t beat them.

Oh, and one more comparison just for good measure: their foes in the World Series. Both teams had up-and-coming superstars at third base in Kris Bryant (Cubs) and Chipper Jones (Braves). But the best parallel comes in the rotation. The Braves trotted out an imposing trio of Hall of Famers in Greg Maddux, Tom Glavine and John Smoltz. The Cubs have Jon Lester, Jake Arrieta and Kyle Hendricks to throw out.

Will the Indians have the same result as the Yankees, not only in the World Series but in the years to come? Only time will tell but there are certainly good omens all around for Cleveland.

Support this blog by browsing through all the baseball cardsfootball cardshockey cards, soccer cards and Marvel cards that I have for sale at my eCrater store.

The 15 best MLB postseason home runs of the past 5 years

In the postseason — where a hit or walk can constitute a rally — a home run can create a legacy. We’ve been lucky enough to witness a few of those legacy-defining moments during the past five seasons.

So what are the best, most-dramatic playoff homers since 2011? I take a look at the 15 best.

Get all of your baseball cards here.

15. Brandon Belt, 2014 NLDS Game 2

The Giants, already up 1-0 in the series with the Nationals, tied the game at 1 in the ninth on a Pablo Sandoval double. What followed was pretty identical to the first nine innings of the game — a bunch of zeroes in the run column. Yusmeiro Petit became a playoff hero for the Giants by pitching six innings of scoreless relief (12th through 17th) while giving up just one hit and three walks against seven strikeouts. He was finally given the win when Brandon Belt took Tanner Roark out to right field for a game-winning shot.

14. Matt Adams, 2014 NLDS, Game 4

Clayton Kershaw was pitching one of his finest playoff games of his career. With his Dodgers down 2 games to 1 to the Cardinals, he cruised through the first six innings while only giving up three runners. That all changed in the seventh when Matt Holliday and Jhonny Peralta led off with back-to-back singles. That set the stage for Matt Adams, who on an 0-1 pitch went yard to give the Red Birds a 3-2 edge — the final margin in the series-clinching game.

13. Juan Uribe, 2013 NLDS, Game 4

The Braves were on the verge of sending their 2013 NLDS series back to Atlanta for one more playoff game at the Ted. The Dodgers had different plans. The Braves were holding a 3-2 lead headed into the bottom of the eighth when Yasiel Puig led off the inning with a double. Instead of bringing in Craig Kimbrel, Fredi Gonzalez stuck with David Carpenter to face Juan Uribe. On the fifth pitch of the at bat, Uribe took Carpenter out to push the Dodgers ahead 4-3, and ultimately eliminate the Braves.

12. Conor Gillaspie, 2016 NL Wild Card Game

This game was one of the pitchers’ matchups that lived up to the billing. Madison Bumgarner was doing his usual playoff thing while Noah Syndergaard threw seven dominant innings. The game was scoreless headed into the ninth, when the Mets brought in closer Jeurys Familia. Brandon Crawford doubled to lead off and then Joe Panik walked to bring up Conor Gillaspie with two on and one out. Bumgarner was in the on-deck circle and Familia was forced to face Gillaspie. On the 1-1 pitch he faced, Gillaspie drove the ball over the right-center wall to put the Giants up 3-0 — all the support Bumgarner needed to eliminate the Mets.

11. Edwin Encarnacion, 2016 AL Wild Card Game

Much like the Uribe homer against the Braves, this game ended with the visitor’s team All-Star closer standing in the pen. The Orioles went to Ubaldo Jimenez with 1 out an no one on in the bottom of the 11th, and he soon ran into trouble. Devon Travis and Josh Donaldson greeted Jimenez with back-to-back singles to put runners on the corners with one out. Instead of fetching Zach Britton, manager Buck Showalter stuck with the up-and-down Jimenez, who promptly gave up a monster shot to Edwin Encarnacion to send the Jays back to the ALDS.

10. Russell Martin, 2013 NL Wild Card Game

In the Pirates’ first playoff game in 21 years, the crowd at PNC Park was fired up. After a scoreless first inning, the Pirates took a 1-0 lead in the bottom of the second on a solo shot by Marlon Byrd to lead off the inning. That fired up the crowd even more, even after Johnny Cueto got the next out. With the crowd chanting “CUUUUUUEEEEETO,” the Reds starter dropped the ball — literally — and then gave up another solo shot to Russell Martin, a homer that was the shining example of the Pirates’ rebirth.

9. Alex Gordon, 2015 World Series Game 5

Alcides Escobar led off the bottom of the first with an inside-the-park home run (immortalized on this baseball card), but the Mets took the lead in the top of the eighth on an error by Eric Hosmer. Enter Familia in the bottom of the ninth. He retired Salvador Perez easily and the Mets were two outs away from taking a 1-0 series lead. What would come next was classic Royals. Alex Gordon lined a 1-1 pitch over the wall to send the game to extras where the Royals would eventually win it in the 14th on a Hosmer sac fly.

8. Kris Bryant, 2015 NLDS Game 3

The Cubs and Cardinals were tied at 1 in the series, and tied at 2 in the bottom of the fifth inning in Game 3. With 2013 playoff ace Michael Wacha on the mound, the Cardinals were looking to take control of the series. Instead, with Jorge Soler on first, 2015 Rookie of the Year Kris Bryant lifted one deep into left to give the Cubs a 4-2 lead. Anthony Rizzo followed that up with a solo homer as the Cubs took control of the game and the series.

7. Nelson Cruz, 2011 ALCS Game 2

Nelson Cruz was a thorn in the Tigers’ paw in the 2011 ALCS. But his biggest of his six (!) home runs that series came in Game 2. Cruz tied the game with a solo shot in the seventh to send the game into extras, and then took care of the winning later on. The bases were loaded with no outs in the bottom of the 11th so it was pretty much a given that the Rangers were going to win. Cruz did it in grand style, taking Ryan Perry deep for a walk-off grand slam as the Rangers went up 2-0 in the series.

6. Raul Ibanez, 2012 ALDS Game 3

The Yankees were two outs away from going down 2-1 in the series to the Orioles when manager Joe Girardi made the bold move to pinch hit Raul Ibanez for Alex Rodriguez. It paid off as Ibanez went yard off Jim Johnson to tie the game at 2 and send the game to extras. With the score still knotted at 2 in the 12th, the Orioles brought back Brian Matusz for a second inning of work. Leading off the inning was Ibanez, who once again hit a dramatic homer to give the Yankees the 3-2 victory. Just three days later, Ibanez would hit another game-tying homer against the Tigers in the ALCS, but it was his Game 3 performance that stands out.

6. Miguel Montero, 2016 NLCS Game 1

The Dodgers intentionally walked the bases loaded to bring up Aroldis Chapman‘s spot in the lineup. Pinch hitter Miguel Montero made them pay. On an 0-2 pitch, Montero, who had struggled most of the year, absolutely crushed one to right field to break a 3-3 tie and give the Cubs the lead back. The next batter, Dexter Fowler, followed up with a solo shot to push the Cubs lead to 8-3, but it’s the Montero mash that took the show.

5. Travis Ishikawa, 2014 NLCS Game 5

The Giants were on the verge of going to their third World Series in five years with a 3-1 series lead on the Cardinals. The Cardinals were trying to make a series comeback and had a 3-2 lead in the bottom of the 8th when Michael Morse took Pat Neshek deep to tie the game. With the score still tied, the Cardinals brought on a struggling Wacha to try to get the game to extras. Instead, he only got one out and put on two runners when first baseman Travis Ishikawa came up. On a 2-0 pitch, Ishikawa sent AT&T Park into a craze with his walk-off three-run shot to send the Giants back to the Fall Classic.

4. Jose Bautista, 2015 ALDS Game 5

The deciding Game 5 of this series was a wild affair, especially the 7th. After the Rangers took a 3-2 lead when Russell Martin‘s throw back to Aaron Sanchez hit the knob of Shin-Soo Choo‘s bat and went astray, allowing Rougned Odor to score from third. The controversial run looked to be the deciding factor in the series until the Rangers fell apart. Three consecutive errors allowed to start the inning loaded the bases for the Jays with no one out, although starter Cole Hamels then got Ben Revere to ground into a fielder’s choice to keep the score tied. Reliever Sam Dyson was brought in to face Josh Donaldson and induced a little pop up that was misplayed by Odor, who did get the out at second but allowed the tying run to score. Three pitches later, Jose Bautista hit the iconic home run of the 2015 postseason — including his renowned bat throw — as the Jays advanced to the ALCS for the first time since 1993.

3. Shane Victorino, 2013 ALCS Game 6

The Tigers starters this series were dominant. Unfortunately for Detroit, its relievers had a tendency to give up critical homers to the Sox. It was only fitting then that this series was decided by a huge home run off the Tigers ‘pen. With the Tigers on the brink of elimination, Max Scherzer kept the Red Sox in check and had a 2-1 lead headed into the bottom of the 7th. Scherzer could only get one out that inning, and put a pair of runners on before turning the game over to the ‘pen. An error by the normally reliable Jose Iglesias prevented a potential inning-ending double play and loaded the bases for Shane Victorino. The Flying Hawaiian made sure the Tigers paid for that mistake, as he took reliever Jose Veras deep for a grand slam that gave the Sox a 5-2 advantage — one that they would use to send them to the World Series.

2. David Ortiz, 2013 ALCS Game 2

In Game 1 of the series, the Sox could only manage one hit off of Tigers starter Anibal Sanchez and the Tigers relievers. Game 2 was shaping up to be the same as Max Scherzer only gave up 2 hits in seven innings. But with his pitch count at 108, the Tigers were forced to turn to their bullpen to get the final six outs while holding a 5-1 advantage. With two outs and the bases loaded in the 8th, Tigers manager Jim Leyland brought in Joaquin Benoit — his fourth reliever of the inning — to face one of the best clutch hitters in the history of the game, David Ortiz. And of course, Ortiz added to his legacy. On the first pitch that Benoit threw, Ortiz hit one into the right-field bullpen for a grand slam, which is just as known for the image of the bullpen cop with his arms up right alongside the legs of Torii Hunter, who flipped over the wall in an attempt to catch the ball. That homer sparked the Red Sox, who would go on to win their third World Series title in nine years.

1. David Freese, 2011 World Series Game 6

The only game wilder than Game 5 of the 2015 ALDS in recent history is Game 6 of the 2011 World Series. Twice the Rangers were a strike away from winning their first World Series title. Twice the Cardinals came back. David Freese tied the game in the bottom of the ninth after Nelson Cruz had trouble with his drive to right, and was unable to snag the final out. That allowed Albert Pujols and Lance Berkman to score and sent the game to the 10th. The Rangers would retake the lead in the 10th on a two-run home run by Josh Hamilton, but the Cards would come back once again thanks to RBIs from Ryan Theriot and Berkman. After the Cards held Texas scoreless in the top of the 11th, Freese led off the bottom of the inning. He worked a full count off of Mark Lowe, and then hit one of the most iconic home runs in World Series history (and captured on this baseball card).

 

Support this blog by browsing through all the baseball cardsfootball cardshockey cards, and Marvel cards that I have for sale at my eCrater store.

Box Break: 2001 Topps Baseball Series 1

Writer’s note: This is my first post on a box break. The goal is to do more throwback box breaks… but that will depend on my budget. Let me know if there’s anything else you would like to see me cover in the comments!

I was 10 when 2001 Topps Series 1 hit the market, and I can remember my reaction to seeing the design for the first time.

I didn’t like it.

I think I bought one or two packs of it at the time, then picked up the Bernie Williams card at a show (he was my favorite player), and was done with the product. For 15 years, anyway.

Get some 2001 Topps baseball cards here

Recently, I found a box of Series 1 on sale on eBay for about $25. For whatever reason, I decided to take the plunge and buy it, even though I was still not a fan of the design.

But a funny thing happened after buying it — I started to really look forward to cracking the box. Even the design of the base cards became appealing.

So with that in mind, I wanted to share what I got out of the box — there were 36 packs, with 10 cards in each pack — and highlight some of the neat features of the set.

The Basics:
Base set size: 406 cards (Checklist)
Different base cards I now have: 338
Base card doubles: 7
Inserts: 16

As you can tell, a majority of these cards are base. Most people don’t care too much about the base, but I really like the ratio. It makes the inserts more valuable, unlike the watered-down inserts that have become very prominent in recent years.

Related: My 5 favorite baseball card designs of the past 25 years

Also nice is the lack of doubles. Just out of the box, I got about 83 percent of the set done. Add in the few cards I have back in my childhood home (I’ll pick them up during Christmas) and I should have a majority of the set done. As a set collector, I really appreciate it.

The Design: 

As I mentioned earlier, I wasn’t a fan of the set design when I was younger. I had never seen a green border before (and have yet to see one since, for good reason) and I think that’s what threw me off. I also remember not liking the big, golden 50th anniversary stamp on every card but I’ve accepted that now.

Here’s what it looks like:

As you can probably guess, the cut of the cards was very hit or miss. Some of them looked good, others were a bit off:

20160921_213618

The side of the card is cut pretty close to the gold border.

…. while one was way off:

Good try, good effort on the cut.

Good try, good effort on the cut.

But the vast majority were pretty good. Overall, it makes you appreciate the improvements on that front that have been made in recent years.

And just for fun, I’m including a couple of photos of current (or recently retired) stars when they were much younger, just to show how much has changed since the set’s debut.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

And one more note on the base set. As a person who is a big fan of baseball (obviously) and The X-Files, I love this Mark Mulder card:

Once you get past the base cards of the players, you get to the managers. It’s a nice reminder to see who was managing back then — and that Mike Scioscia was entering his second season with the Angels — and served as a nice reminder that Terry Francona managed the Phillies.

20160921_214218

Coming after the managers are all the rookies/prospects. This was back in the day when players could have a few rookie/prospects cards, and it was tough to tell which were the real rookie cards. This set hit on some big names in this area, including Adrian Gonzalez, Adam Wainwright, Barry Zito, C.C. Sabathia, and Ben Sheets. But one name that really struck with me was Brian Cole, who, if you don’t know the story, was once a very talented prospect whose life was cut short. SI had a profile on him, and although it’s long, it’s definitely worth a read.

Still in the base set is a look back at some “Golden Moments” since it was the 50th anniversary celebration for Topps.

20160921_214346

Rounding out the base set are some foil season highlight cards. The first few are of individual feats like Cal Ripken Jr. reaching the 3,000-hit mark, while the backend goes over postseason highlights. The final card in the set, No. 406, is a team photo of the World Series-winning Yankees, a nice touch for me as a Yankees fan.

20160921_214423

The Inserts

Compared to recent years, this set is light on the inserts. But that’s quite OK in my book.

One thing you’ll notice with all the inserts is that a majority of them have an anniversary theme to them. Whether they’re reprints of some of the most sought-after Topps cards:

Two of the four reprints I got.

Two of the four reprints I got.

or predicted what was ahead for Topps:

20160921_214547

or planned what the future held for some players:

20160921_214604

or just highlighted some of the “golden” players from that time:

20160921_214629

a majority of them all based around the anniversary of Topps. Oh, and foil was also a big thing back then.

But the most enduring legacy of that set was the gold parallel cards. I don’t remember how well received they were at the time, but considering that they’ve become a staple of every set — and have come to include different variations — I would say it’s been a success.

20160921_214441

Looking past the anniversary inserts, we get to my favorite insert. I know I got the Vladimir GuerreroRoberto Clemente card when I was younger, and thought it was so cool. I still kept that outlook when I pulled a few more from my box. It’s one I will look into finishing one day.

20160921_214532

And now, we get to the big hit of the box. In an era where we get a majority of the cards with a sticker autograph, it was really nice to see an on-card auto of a card that would have been huge back when this set first came out:

resized_20160908_183533

Autos aught to be on cards, not stickers. See how nice this one looks?

Pat Burrell was the Phillies’ top prospect, and was supposed to team up with Scott Rolen to bring the Phillies back into the spotlight. Of course, both of those players didn’t do that (the honors went to Chase Utley, Jimmy Rollins and Ryan Howard) but both players carved out very good careers. So while that Burrell card may not be a huge-money card like it probably was in 2001 (eBay sold listings don’t go back that far), but it’s still a really cool pull.

While if I tried to sell these cards individually, I doubt I could recoup my money, that’s quite OK in my book. I’m in it to collect and only sell the doubles. And as a trip back in time, it was definitely money well spent.

Support this blog by browsing through all the baseball cardsfootball cards, and hockey cards that I have for sale at my eCrater store.

Which of the first-timers on the 2017 Pro Football Hall of Fame ballot be inducted?

The Pro Football Hall of Fame is a bit of an odd ball. The list of candidates gets narrowed down to 18 finalists, and then up to 5 get voted in.

That leaves some very deserving candidates on the outside looking in.

Get all of your football cards here.

Take Terrell Owens for example. Last year, his first on the ballot, was left out despite being one of the best wide receivers in history. But his personality rubbed some voters the wrong way, hence him needing another year on the ballot.

While TO should get in this year, the fact that he had to wait shows there are some flaws with the system.

With 10 newcomers on the ballot for the Class of 2017, which ones can expect to be in Canton — whether this year or in the future? Let’s take a look.

LaDainian Tomlinson, RB, Chargers and Jets

This is — by far — the easiest call to make. LT made 5 Pro Bowls, was a 3-time First-Team All-Pro selection, the MVP in 2006, led the NFL in rushing yards twice, led the NFL in rushing TDs three times, set the single-season record with 28 rushing TDs and 31 TDs from scrimmage, and was named to the NFL All-Decade team for the 2000s. And if you thought that was impressive, just take a look at the rest of his records. Running backs like Terrell Davis and Edgerrin James might steal some of the votes, but if LT doesn’t get in on the first try, then there’s something seriously wrong.

Chance he makes it: 100%, first ballot. End of discussion.

Brian Dawkins, S, Eagles and Broncos

Only seven full-time safties have ever been enshrined. That’s working against Weapon X. Also working against him is the fact that he played in the same era as Troy Polamalu and Ed Reed — two players who overshadowed him. But that’s not to say that Dawkins doesn’t deserve consideration. In his 16 seasons in the NFL — the first 13 with the outstanding Philadelphia Eagles (confession: I’m an Eagles fan) — Dawkins reached the 20-20-20 club. He finished his career with 26 sacks, 28 forced fumbles, and 37 picks. He was the heart and soul of a dominant Eagles defense during the early 2000s, and would have been considered the best in the league in a different era. He won’t get in right away, but he is very deserving of a place.

Chance he makes it: 76%, will have to wait a bit.

Jason Taylor, DE, Dolphins, Redskins, Jets

It seems that Jason Taylor is something of an under-the-radar dominant player. It’s weird to call the 2006 Defensive Player of the Year that, but what made him so good was his consistency. In six seasons, he had at least 10 sacks, and finished his 15-year career with 139.5 — good for sixth on the all-time list. He made the Pro Bowl six times, and was a three-time First-Team All Pro. However, playing for mostly mediocre Dolphins teams, and in the same era as all-time sacks king Michael Strahan kept a majority of the focus away from Taylor. But it’s time he gets his.

Chance he makes it: 71%, might be a few years but he should make it.

Hines Ward, WR, Steelers

At the time of his retirement, Hines Ward was a controversial candidate. As time’s gone on, he seems to have picked up more support. Based on numbers alone, Ward doesn’t look like a shoo-in. He only topped the 1,000-yard mark in six seasons, and never had more than 1,329 yards or 12 TDs in a season. His career totals of 1,000 catches, 12,083 yards and 85 TDs are outstanding, but nothing that jumps off the page as a Hall of Famer — for comparison’s sake, Owens had 153 career receiving TDs. Even Calvin Johnson put up similar numbers, except for receptions (736) in five fewer seasons. But when you factor in his blocking ability, plus the fact that he played his entire career with the Steelers and won two Super Bowl rings, it wouldn’t be a surprise to see him in one day.

Chance he makes it: 55%, he’ll have to wait for guys like TO and Isaac Bruce to make it first, but there’s a decent chance he’ll be in.

Donovan McNabb, QB, Eagles, Redskins, Vikings

Donovan McNabb‘s legacy is defined by being close, but not being able to make it over that last hump. He led the Eagles to four consecutive NFC Championship Game appearances… and lost the first three. He helped the Eagles reach the Super Bowl in 2004/5… and fell short in a comeback attempt (and is best known for the rumor of him throwing up in the huddle). Heck, he even made it back to the NFC title game in 2008 after battling years of injuries… and saw his second-half comeback erased on a game-winning TD by Tim Hightower with three minutes left in the game. When he was on, he was an elite player, like in 2004 when he threw 31 TDs against 8 picks, and made this incredible play against the Cowboys on MNF. What hurt him often in his Eagles career was the lack of real weapons — TO only played one full year in Philadelphia. Besides him, McNabb had to throw to legends like Todd Pinkston, Freddie Mitchell, James Thrash, Reggie Brown and Kevin Curtis. Playing in the shadow of Tom Brady, Peyton Manning and Kurt Warner will most likely leave him on the ballot for a few years, but always falling short of enshrinement.

Chance he makes it: 15%, he’s an Eagles legend but won’t make it to Canton. 

Chad Johnson, WR, Bengals and Patriots

Give Chad Johnson credit for this — he helped change the way football is played… and officiated. Along with receivers like TO, Randy Moss and Steve Smith, Johnson was part of the group of dominant receivers who also liked to talk on and off the field. His post-scoring celebrations were the stuff of legends, and helped convince the NFL to eliminate that from the game. There was plenty of reason for Ochocinco to celebrate though. He topped the 1,000-yard mark in 7 of his first 9 seasons in the NFL, made 6 Pro Bowls and led the NFL in receiving yards in 2006. Despite those accolades, one thing missing from Johnson’s resume is touchdowns. He finished his career with 67 and only reached double digits in a season once. That lack of all-around production, a relatively short peak, plus off-field drama like this will help keep him out of the Hall.

Chance he makes it: 5%, a dominant player just not one who is Canton-worthy.

Other first-timers on the list: Derrick Mason (very solid career but never considered one of the best at his position), Olin Kreutz (it’s hard for centers to make it), Joey Porter (dominant, but for not long enough), Bob Sanders (one of the best players for a few years before injuries ruined his career).

Don’t forget to also browse through all the football cards, baseball cards and hockey cards that I have for sale at my eCrater store.

Five middle infielders who could make a late-career Baseball Hall of Fame push

When baseball fans talk of middle infielders, the course of the conversation generally takes them to all of the young talent at the shortstop, and for good reason. It’s hard not to be excited about guys like Carlos Correa, Francisco Lindor, Corey Seager, Trevor Story, Xander Bogaerts, Addison Russell, Trea Turner, Rougned Odor and even guys like Didi Gregorius and Marcus Semien.

However, what is lost, is some players who are already established and could make a late-career push toward a Hall of Fame campaign.

Get all of your baseball cards here.

Take a look at the current crop of veteran middle infielders, and it’s hard to identify many players who will end up in Cooperstown. There’s Robinson Cano who is making a strong case to be one of the best second basemen in MLB history. Chase Utley‘s career is winding down, and injuries may have kept him from his place in the Hall. Outside of those two — and maybe Brandon Phillips — there’s no one in that age range that’s really made much of a push.

That’s not to say there aren’t contenders who, with a few more years, could have a shot at the Hall. After all, it wasn’t until late in their 30s that guys like Adrian Beltre and Carlos Beltran were accepted as HoF candidates. Here are five second basemen and shortstops who could be thought of as future Hall of Famers in five years or so.

Dustin Pedroia, 2B, Red Sox

Dustin Pedroia has been the heart of the Red Sox, to go along with David Ortiz‘s soul, for the past decade. He got off to a quick start, winning Rookie of the Year and AL MVP in back-to-back years and also has finished in the top 10 of MVP voting two other times. Add in his four All Star Game appearances and there’s a solid base to a HoF career. But like others, injuries have taken their toll on him. Thumb issues have hampered him in three of the past four years although he’s shaking it off in 2016. It looks like he’ll finish with an OPS above .800 for the first time in 2011 even if he just turned 33. His similarity scores on his baseball-reference page are discouraging, listing players like Jose Vidro, Michael Young and Carlos Guillen as the most similar, but his index stats list him on the verge. A couple of more productive seasons and he should be in.

Chance he makes it: 65%

Troy Tulowitzki, SS, Blue Jays

There are a lot of similarities between Pedroia and Troy Tulowitzki. Both got off to great starts to their careers but injuries hampered them in the middle part. Whereas Pedroia looks like he’s rebounding, Tulo looks to be going down the wrong path. Since leaving Colorado at the trade deadline last season (it was the right move for all involved — read more), he’s hit .247/.319/.430 in Toronto — well down from the numbers he posted in Colorado. Add that with injuries that have kept him from playing at least 150 games since 2009, and it’s pretty concerning. If he can rebound and get back to something close to Colorado Tulo levels, there’s a case that he could be this generation’s Barry Larkin but as of right now, he profiles closest to Miguel Tejada, Hanley Ramirez and Nomar Garciaparra. He’s trending in the wrong direction but there’s still time to get back on course.

Chance he makes it: 45%

Related: Are these players future Baseball Hall of Famers?

Brian Dozier, 2B, Twins

Call it recency bias with his home run binge, but it might be time to start taking a closer look at Brian Dozier. There’s something to be said for a power-hitting second baseman, who is on his way to crossing the 40-homer mark for the first time. He’s increased his power every season, going 6-18-23-28 during his first four seasons, and made the ASG for the first time in 2014. Despite not making it back in 2016, he’s putting up his best season to date. His OPS is .926 thanks in part to a lower strikeout rate. Of course, the one major factor working against him is his age — he turned 29 back in May and is only in his fifth full season. He still has a long, long way to go based on similarity scores and index stats but there is hope. Remember, Jose Bautista didn’t have his breakout season until 29 either and Dozier’s career to date has been better than Bautista’s was at that point. It’s also easier for a power-hitting second baseman to get into the Hall than an outfielder. It’s still early and Dozier will need a lot of work to make it possible but it could happen for Dozier if things break the right way.

Chance he makes it: 15%

Ian Kinsler, 2B, Tigers

For whatever reason, Ian Kinsler has been one of the most underrated players of the past decade. Since debuting back in 2006, Kinsler has been one of the most consistent second basemen in the league. He’s made four ASG appearances and has finished as high as 11th in MVP voting (2011) and has received votes three other times. He topped 30 homers twice (32 in 2011, 31 in 2009) and could reach that mark again in 2016. His OPS is back up over .800 for the first time in five seasons but has posted a 5-WAR season in five of the past six seasons. Already 34, Kinsler will need about 1.5 more seasons to reach the 2,000-hit mark which should help with the traditional stats crowd. His WAR and HOF index numbers are still a bit lacking, and he’s compared with guys like Brandon Phillips and Bret Boone on his baseball-reference page, so there’s still work to be done. But in a stacked offense like Detroit’s, there’s still a chance for him to make more of an impact.

Chance he makes it: 35%

Related: Comerica Park, one of baseball’s best ballparks (in photos)

Hanley Ramirez, 1B, Red Sox

This one is bending the rules a bit, but the majority of Hanley Ramirez‘s HoF candidacy will be based on his work as a shortstop. He spent the first 10 years of his career at that position, but struggled in 2015 with his defense in the outfield and has been about average at first this season. Thankfully for him, defense was never his strong suit. His bat has always been his calling card and has topped 20 home runs in a season for the first time since 2013 this season. Surprisingly, he hasn’t been invited to an All-Star Game since 2010 which was his third in three years. On his baseball-reference page, he’s listed as being most similar to Ryne Sandberg through his age-31 season, and behind him is Tejada and Pedroia. His career index marks fall short as of right now, and it will be harder for him to get in now that he’s moved away from the middle index but at only 32, there’s still time for him to add on.

Chance he makes it: 25%

Support this blog by browsing through all the baseball cardsfootball cardshockey cards, and digital cards that I have for sale at my eCrater store.

Predicting 10 breakout NFL stars of 2016

Every year, there are a few players who come out of nowhere to take the league by storm. Last year it was Devonta Freeman and Kirk Cousins. A couple of years back it was Nick Foles.

In the NFL, where opportunity is one snap away, it could be one (or multiple) of these 10 players who become household names by the end of the season.

Carlos Hyde, RB, San Francisco 49ers

The 2014 NFL Draft class is shaping up to be one of the best in a while, but one thing that’s missing is a dominant running back. Players like Jeremy Hill and the aforementioned Freeman have had their moments, but the title of top back in that class is still up for grabs. After this season, Carlos Hyde could take that mantle. The question with him will always be health — he’s only played in 21 games in his first two seasons — but he’s looked good so far this preseason in Chip Kelly’s offense. It wouldn’t be a surprise to see him make his first Pro Bowl this season.

More: Key questions for all 32 teams headed into the 2016 season

Lamar Miller, RB, Houston Texans

I feel like I’ve been championing Lamar Miller since the Miami Dolphins picked him in fourth round of the 2012 NFL Draft. After four seasons of not getting much of a chance in South Florida despite putting up good numbers when he did touch the ball, it’s time for Miller to shine in Texas. He’s already being mentioned as a possible contender for the rushing title and will be a key piece in a revitalized Texans offense. With wide receiver DeAndre Hopkins able to prevent defenses from keying in on the run, Miller could soon make Texans fans forget about Arian Foster.

Jordan Matthews, WR, Philadelphia Eagles

The one lasting image from Jordan Matthews‘ second season in the NFL is of drops. He made a few, including a late-game one that sealed the Eagles’ season-opening loss to the Falcons last season. What’s lost in all of that is he still finished just 3 yards shy of topping the 1,000-yard mark. The Eagles offense is a big question mark entering the season — How long will Sam Bradford be the starter? Can Jason Peters survive the season as the left tackle? — but one constant should be the playmaking ability of Matthews. Remember, he is related to Jerry Rice.

Shane Ray, LB, Denver Broncos

When you think of the Broncos’ defense, it’s natural for your first thought to go to Super Bowl MVP Von Miller. His counterpoint on the other side, DeMarcus Ware, is a future Hall of Famer too. But the Broncos depth doesn’t end there; it could be their backup that makes a ton of noise this season. Shane Ray, the Broncos first-round pick in 2015, spent his debut season as a reserve but still managed 20 tackles and 4 sacks. His role could grow this season, especially as the Broncos try to keep the 34-year-old Ware healthy and productive throughout the season. Ray beat Ware in a $10K foot race in practice this season, which is obviously no guarantee to translate when the real action gets underway, but Ray is definitely trending in the right direction.

Jimmy Garoppolo, QB, New England Patriots

This is going to be a tricky situation for Jimmy Garoppolo. He could throw 20 TDs and 0 interceptions during the first four games of the season, and he’ll still likely head to the bench. Make no mistake about it, this is still Tom Brady‘s team. With the Deflategate saga mercifully over, and Brady set to miss the first quarter of the season, it’s Garoppolo’s time to shine. He’ll have a tough debut facing the Cardinals but at least he’ll have Rob Gronkowski and Julian Edelman at his disposal. Garoppolo has yet to really shine during this preseason, but you know Bill Belichik will have him ready to go come Sept. 11.

Related: It’s time to invest in Jimmy Garoppolo cards

Devin Funchess, WR, Carolina Panthers

One of the amazing things about the Panthers’ run to the NFC championship last season was they did it without a true No. 1 receiver. Kelvin Benjamin was supposed to be that, but suffered a torn ACL in training camp. Even with that absence, 2015 second-round pick Devin Funchess only played a minor role, tallying 31 catches for 473 yards. That much was expected from the raw rookie, and now there are even higher expectations for the wideout. He’s reportedly become Cam Newton‘s top target, and his 6-foot-4 frame will make him a terror for defenses in the red zone. It’s scary to think but the Panthers offense could be even better in 2016, thanks in large part to Funchess.

More: 5 thoughts on 2016 Panini Score football cards

Brandin Cooks, WR, New Orleans Saints

Much like Miller, I’ve been waiting for Brandin Cooks to become the clear-cut No. 1 in their respective teams’ offense. And again like Miller, this could be the year for Cooks. Longtime No. 1 receiver Marques Colston was released in the offseason, leaving Cooks to be Drew Brees‘ top target. Now entering his third season in the NFL, Cooks has done a little of everything so far in his career — returning punts and kicks, getting a few rushes, and of course catching a few passes. He showed considerable improvement in 2015, going for 1,138 yards and 9 TDs on 84 catches and was a first-round pick in 2014. The talent’s there, and now that he’s become the focal point in the Saints offense, it’s going to be fun to see what he can do.

Jesse James, TE, Pittsburgh Steelers

The unexpected retirement of Heath Miller and the injury concerns of Ladarius Green sent Steelers fans into a bit of a panic with so many questions surrounding the tight end position. Jesse James could alleviate all of those. James is not going to be the wide receiver-tight end hybrid that’s become so popular, but that won’t prevent him from becoming a solid, all-around tight end. He still isn’t perfect as a blocker but is improving in that regard. He’s shown good chemistry with Ben Roethlisberger, and caught four balls for 25 yards and a TD in the Steelers’ third preseason game this season. James may never be the game’s top tight end, but don’t be surprised to see him become a fixture in the Steelers offense for years to come.

David Johnson, RB, Arizona Cardinals

The running back position has been a rotating door the past few years for the Cardinals. It looks like the Cardinals finally have their long-term answer in David Johnson though. Fans of the Amazon series ‘All or Nothing’ will know how high the Cardinals coaches are on this second-year back, and for good reason. In his rookie season, he rushed for 581 yards and 8 TDs and had at least 90 yards in each of his first three starts. He slowed down a bit during the playoffs, but that’s not uncommon for players making the transition from college. Now with a full offseason to prepare for the starter’s role, and still with a strong supporting cast of Chris Johnson and Andre Ellington to help take some pressure off him, Johnson could become the focal point of the Cardinals’ offense by season’s end.

Eric Kendricks, LB, Minnesota Vikings

In a couple of years, Vikings fans can point to the 2015 NFL Draft as the moment that took their defense to an elite level. Besides picking up pass-rushing stud Danielle Hunter in the third round, and still-developing corner Trae Waynes in the first, it was their second-round pick that had the biggest early impact. Linebacker Eric Kendricks started 11 regular-season games, and the Wild Card loss to the Seahawks, in the middle of the Vikings defense as a rookie. He impressed right away, winning Defensive Rookie of the Month for October, and led the Vikings in tackles — the first time in team history a rookie did that since 1961. He’s been battling a hamstring issue through most of the preseason, but a return to health could see him move up into Luke Kuechly/NaVorro Bowman/Bobby Wagner territory when it comes to discussing middle linebackers.

Support this blog by browsing through all the baseball cardsfootball cardshockey cards, and Marvel cards that I have for sale at my eCrater store.

Review: Photo Tour of Comerica Park

The general consensus among baseball fans is that PNC Park and AT&T Park are the two nicest stadiums in baseball today. Where things get interesting is when people name their third-favorite park.

After visiting Comerica Park in Detroit, I would be hard-pressed not to put it in that third spot.

Get your Detroit Tigers baseball cards here.

The first thing you notice when arriving to Comerica Park is that you’re definitely at the home of the Tigers. Sitting right next to Ford Field, the home of the Lions, Comerica is chock full of tiger status and tiger heads on the outside of the stadium. And it’s really well done.

Make sure to spend some time before the game to walk around the field and see all the different gates. Each one is designed slightly different, and there are plenty of places where you can tailgate or get a pre-game drink at one of the many bars around the park.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Getting to Comerica early gives you plenty of time to explore the various attractions at the park, and to get some great views of the field and city.

If you have young kids, you can take them to the Ferris wheel and merry-go-round that inside the park. You can also teach them about Tigers history — and maybe learn some facts yourself — with the pillars on the concourse that host some memorabilia, and highlights key players in Tigers history.

If you want even more history, venture out to the outfield. The two brick walls in that go along centerfield feature the retired numbers and honored names in Tigers’ history, and there are statues dedicated to most of them out there too.

From centerfield, you can also venture down to front row and get a good view into the bullpens. I also found myself staying there for a couple of innings, and watching the action from the railing above the shrubs in center. It gives you a great view to catch all of the action.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Once the game gets going, it’s hard to find a bad seat in the house. As mentioned before, the view from center is highly recommended and it may be hard to go to your assigned seat once the game starts.

Related: Is Justin Verlander a future Hall of Famer?

My ticket location was up in Section 338, a little past third base in the upper deck. There, you’ll get a fantastic view of the action, and can see the Detroit skyline. Even if you don’t have a ticket for that area, make a venture over there to check it out. Plus, there’s a section cut out of the seats on the other side, allowing you an ever-present view of the Fox Theater sign. That’s a nice touch.

The view from behind the plate allows you to see it all: Ford Field towering over the stadium by the left-field foul pole, the Detroit skyline, all the action going on in the bullpen. Right field has a more limited view of the skyline (which is one of the best features of having a ballpark in the city) but it is still pretty neat to have Ford Field as a constant in your sightline.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Getting to and from Comerica Park is easy too. I was staying a little north of the city, and there was minimal traffic getting to the park on the Saturday evening when I went. I parked in the Ford Field parking deck for a very reasonable $15. Was only a couple minute walk to get to Comerica too. Even though the game ended around 12:30 a.m., it was a nice and easy walk back to the parking deck, especially with the sports area being one of the best districts in Detroit. Getting back on the highway was easy too, as it took maybe 2 minutes from the time I left the deck to getting back on the interstate.

And if you want to continue to hang around the park, there are plenty of bars and restaurants for you to grab something to eat or wet your whistle.

All in all, Comerica is a must-visit for any baseball fan, and a good time for all.

Support this blog by browsing through all the baseball cardsfootball cardshockey cards, and digital cards that I have for sale at my eCrater store.