Orioles Card "O" the Day

An intersection of two of my passions: baseball cards and the Baltimore Orioles. Updated daily?

Monday, February 13, 2017

Kurt Ainsworth, 2004 Topps #404

I'm probably not setting a great precedent by posting mostly by explicit request. However, my mother gave me a nudge this evening. As she pointed out, pitchers and catchers reported to spring training today, and that's as good a reason as any to dust off my blogging cap. Besides, I try to be a good son.

So here we are, 49 days from Opening Day. Sweet merciful crap, spring training is way too long. I wouldn't blame the players for getting as stir-crazy as Kurt Ainsworth seems to be in this candid shot from the summer of 2003. Then again, that facial expression could be saying, "My shoulder is being held together with Big League Chew and fishing line." It wouldn't be that far from the truth. Also true: the "Fun Bird" on Kurt's left sleeve is still one of my least favorite O's logos. Somehow it crosses the line from endearingly goofy to just plain corny. Plus, I'll always associate it with those barftacular Orioles teams of the early 2000s.

Until next time, I'm going to go apply for a trademark on the word "barftacular".

Tuesday, January 31, 2017

Mark Trumbo, 2016 Topps Orioles Team Set #BO-8

It's been nine years (nine!) since I started blogging about baseball cards, so I couldn't let the entire month of January lapse without touching base. Thanks to last weekend's FanFest, I've got some experiences to share that I hope will be worth the wait.

Since Finn wasn't born until late June, Saturday's midwinter shindig doubled as his first visit to Oriole Park at Camden Yards. We're already excited about bringing him back in a few months to get his "first game" certificate.

Thanks to the early (10:00 AM) entry time for season ticket holders, we were able to scope out the main hall of the Convention Center before the larger crush of people streamed in. Among other things, we won free admission to the Babe Ruth Birthplace and Museum by spinning their prize wheel, bought this year's Orioles/BARCS Pet Calendar (I love J. J. Hardy's goofy-looking retriever), invested in some O's cards in the form of three late 1990s team sets for five bucks, and even scoped out the team-sponsored authenticated game-used stuff. Of particular interest were the actual lineup cards that are posted in the dugout for each home game; after a few minutes of searching, we found the card for the second game of the June 25 doubleheader vs. the Rays - Finn's birthday. After some friendly haggling, we brought it home with us. The plan is to get it signed by as many players as we can at the midseason event for season ticket holders, and to have it framed and hung in the kid's room.

There was a crowd around the bank of tables for the team's minor league affiliates, but we stuck around long enough to snap photos with Bowie Baysox mascot Louie and Frederick Keys mascot Keyote. I can't remember what had drawn Finn's attention in the latter shot, but I suspect that it was nothing in particular. Kids.

About the time we started feeling claustrophobic, I checked the FanFest brochure and saw that one of the kid-friendly events being held on the third floor was "Drumming with Caleb Joseph"...and it was starting in ten minutes. So we hustled upstairs and spent a half hour listening to Baltimore's delightful backup catcher as he answered questions from children and showed off his self-taught skills on the drums. Caleb performed a medley that included selections from "Eye of the Tiger", "Limelight", "Don't Stop Believing", and "Let It Go"...yes, the Disney song. He does have a toddler, after all. More impressively, he drummed along to the entirety of Rush's "Tom Sawyer" by request. I really hope #36 is able to rebound from last year's dismal offensive performance, because he comes across as one of the most personable, friendly guys you could meet.

On our way to Caleb's jam session, we'd notice that there was a photo station set up on the second floor. A five-dollar donation to the Orioles' Shannon's Fund charity got you a picture with whichever player happened to be on shift. At the time we'd passed it, Mychal Givens was there. When we came back to take our place at the end of the line, Christian Walker was up. But while we were waiting our turn, one of the volunteers came by and announced that our player would be the recently-signed Mark Trumbo. Good news! So here's the kind of cutting-edge insight you've come to expect from me over the years: Mark Trumbo is a large mammal. For comparison's sake, I'm about six feet tall; you'll see below that the 2016 MLB home run king towers over me. Our turn finally came and we exchanged greetings with Mark. I offered to let him hold Finn for the photo and he politely declined. He probably noticed that our seven-month-old was content in my arms and didn't want to mess with what worked...or maybe he was self-conscious about his defensive abilities.

After a detour for lunch at the Pratt Street Ale House (I strongly recommend the roast turkey sandwich), we toured the O's clubhouse in Oriole Park at Camden Yards. The tour takes you through the weight room and the locker room (I think the shuffleboard table was a new addition since the last time I'd been on the tour), spills out into the home dugout, and then into the interview room where Buck Showalter dispenses his unique brand of insight before and after each home game. We also got a photo print there, but this one was free. You'll notice that Finn reached for the microphone just as the picture was being taken. Why? Because it was there.

So there you have it, another FanFest in the books. It was exhausting, in a good way. Now we just have to endure the two months that separate us from real live baseball games that matter.

Wednesday, December 21, 2016

Andy Van Slyke, 1995 Pinnacle #396

Today is Andy Van Slyke's 56th birthday, which I learned by reading Stacey's "Bird Droppings" post this morning at Camden Chat. She also linked to this blog, which was a swell thing to do, and which gave me that little extra push to write something tonight. I guess reciprocity makes the world go 'round.

Andy was a five-time Gold Glove center fielder, a three-time All-Star, and a two-time Silver Slugger, and he did exactly zero of those things in Baltimore. It would've been hard to squeeze such accolades into his muddled 17-game swing through Charm City in early 1995. So it goes. You may feel like you've heard the Van Slyke name more recently; indeed, Andy's son Scott has been a part-time outfielder and first baseman for the Dodgers since 2012. He's batted .249/.331/.424 in 821 career plate appearances, with 27 home runs and 92 RBI.

The elder Van Slyke shares a birthday, birth year and all, with former righty reliever and storied prankster Roger McDowell, who also had a mid-30s sojourn with the Orioles in the mid-1990s. Roger finished his 12-year stint in the majors with 41 appearances out of the O's bullpen in 1996, running up a 4.25 ERA while walking 23 batters and striking out just 20. Two decades later, McDowell has returned to our city as Buck Showalter's new pitching coach after a lengthy tenure in that same role in Atlanta. He's got his work cut out for him, to say the least.

Sunday, December 18, 2016

Nate Spears, 2003 Bowman Heritage Rainbow #260

I know as much about Nate Spears as most of you do. Let's see...he was in the Orioles' organization in 2003, and he had wicked hat hair.

Fine, I'll dig deeper. Nate was Baltimore's fifth-round pick in the 2003 draft out of Charlotte High School in Punta Gorda, FL. He spent three years in the low minors with the Birds, and made good contact and took some walks. In 2005, he batted .294/.349/.429 with 30 doubles as a 20-year-old with the Frederick Keys, making both the midseason and postseason Carolina League All-Star teams. In January 2006, Nate was traded to the Cubs in the Corey Patterson deal. He continued his steady, unspectacular performance, winding up with a batting line of .268/.357/.398 in a dozen minor league seasons. In an outlier year, he clubbed 20 homers and drove in 82 runs with Boston's AA Portland affiliate in 2010. He had cups of coffee in the majors with the Red Sox in September 2011 and April 2012, unfortunately going 0-for-8 in all with four strikeouts. As of the 2016 season, he'd put away his bat and glove and joined the coaching staff of Boston's Class A Greenville Drive club.

Friday, December 16, 2016

Vintage Fridays: Eddie Watt, 1972 Topps #128

Fun facts about Eddie Watt:

-The youngest of four kids, he became the first member of his family to attend college when he enrolled at Iowa State Teachers College. His alma mater later became known as Northern Iowa University.

-In 1961, he was scouted by the Cardinals, White Sox, and Orioles, but the first two clubs each offered him a $350 signing bonus. The O's sweetened the pot and got him for $400.

-While splitting the 1964 season between Class A Aberdeen (S.D.) and AA Elmira, Eddie went a combined 17-2 with a 2.04 ERA.

-He made his big league debut on Opening Day of the 1966 season - April 12 - and earned the save in Baltimore's 5-4, 13-inning win at Fenway Park. The stocky righthander struck out George Scott and got a pair of groundouts from Tony Horton and Rico Petrocelli in a flawless inning of work.

-Though Watt didn't appear in the O's four-game sweep of the Dodgers in the 1966 World Series, he still earned an $11,683.04 share. In five years, he'd come a long way from a $400 bonus!

-His career-best performance in 1969 helped the Birds claim the first of three straight American League pennants: 5-2 with a team-high 16 saves and a 1.65 ERA in 71 innings.

-After Eddie's playing career ended, he managed in the Padres' farm system for four years, racking up a .524 winning percentage from 1978-1981. Later he coached in the minors for the Astros, Phillies, and Braves before retiring in 2003.

Tuesday, December 13, 2016

Cal Ripken Jr., 1992 Triple Play #199

Look, Cal Ripken isn't a violent man by nature. But if Kevin Maas comes in too high with a takeout slide at second base, Junior is going to linger at the bag for just a moment, gripping the ball with a little extra oomph. Maybe he'll give a passing thought to spiking that ball off of Maas' helmet, but he'll think better of it. He'll bend down, just as the Yankee first baseman moves to get up and dust himself off, and he'll challenge Maas to a friendly wrestling match in the clubhouse. He'll grin at the younger player, his icy blue eyes glinting. Always keep them guessing.

Monday, December 12, 2016

Fred Lynn, 1988 Fleer #566

So there's this thing I do on this blog (or used to, in the long-ago when I didn't have to be shamed into writing by my restless readers) where I project thoughts, fears, delusions, etc. into the minds of the players pictured on my cards. For instance, even though this photo was snapped nearly 30 years ago, I might suggest that Fred Lynn is wondering what the hell we've all done to deserve a year like 2016. By now you know my personal laundry list of difficulties over the past calendar year: my wife's breast cancer diagnosis in March at 24 weeks pregnant (coinciding with the death of her grandmother), her subsequent treatment before and after our son Finn's June birth, Finn's cleft lip repair surgery in September, the financial stress of paying two mortgages until we finally rented out our old rowhouse IN NOVEMBER...hell, since the last time I posted back in *cough* October, my car battery went kaput and various tow truck snafus stranded me in my workplace parking lot for three-plus hours...and three weeks later, Janet got hit by an elderly driver making an ill-advised left turn just a few blocks from our home, WITH Finn in the car. (They're both fine, and her car will be, with Geico picking up the tab.) So I have plenty of reasons to tell 2016 to go piss up a rope before we even start talking about climate change, or Syria, or the Zika virus, or Brexit, or the neverending roll call of public figures dying, or Donald Effing Trump.

And yet...2016 brought me this daily source of joy, wonder, and warmth.

That's one major exception that proves the rule. As I've taken to saying in recent months, thanks for the baby, 2016. Now go away and never come back.