If you've read much of my writing, you're likely aware that when I was a kid, baseball cards were a huge deal to me, really taking off when Topps released its classic 1987 set, the one with the wood paneling trim. I say they were a huge deal when I was a kid, but it's not as though I ever entirely let them go. Last summer in fact, I spent hours over the course of my weeks off from teaching loosely organizing the thousands and thousands of cards I had in a couple of large cardboard boxes in the basement. First I sorted them by sport (because I had a few football and basketball cards as well, along with some Star Wars and Marvel superhero cards too. Then I sorted the baseball cards by brand. There were Donruss and Fleer, Bowman and Score, Upper Deck and O-Pee-Chee. By far the largest pile was the Topps one though. My first love, and always to remain my greatest. And because of that, when I came upon something new today, I beamed with excitement the way I would have when I pulled a Kirby Puckett or a Bo Jackson from a pack as a kid.
To set the stage...
Topps has an app called BUNT, that's digital trading cards. You get some coins every day that you open the app, and then there are different packs you can buy, with hundreds of different players. There are some cards that are harder to find, that there are only a few hundreds copies of. Out walking Scout: open the app and pull a few cards. Bouncing Imogen to try and get her to sleep: check and see if there's anything new. Standing in line at the grocery store: Hey, did my trade offer get accepted? Topps has a similar app for the other great love I've retained from my childhood, Star Wars, and I spend maybe even more time on that one. So many Han Solo cards.
The other thing to know is that Thursday night Masahiro Tanaka pitched a Maddux, MLB's first since last August. Jonah Keri, Craig Calcaterra, Jay Jaffe, and Rob Neyer all mentioned it, and as they always have been, they were each generous about mentioning me as well. The official MLB account tweeted about it to their 7+ million followers. (And as they always have, they declined to mention me at all. Someday, MLB, someday!) Then this morning I received a notification that Joe Posnanski had followed me on Twitter. My friend Zak texted me Joe's latest post, in which he referred to the Maddux's "brilliance." Better yet, he wrote that he'll soon be talking to Greg Maddux and will ask if he knows about the Maddux, and what he thinks of it. Mention by five of my absolute favorite writers had been a great enough feeling already, but learning that one of them would soon be talking to the namesake himself about it... It was maybe the most satisfying day I'd had as a baseball blogger. The day couldn't get any better. (Okay, it could and did, you know that's where I'm going with this.)
I jumped on BUNT on my way home from work; they'd released a new card, the one you see at the top of this post: Masahiro Tanaka records first "Maddux" of the 2017 season. Obviously I had to open some packs and get myself one. Sure, it was digital, not the cardboard I'll always feel a true affinity for, but still. Zak asked if there would be a physical version of it. I told him I doubted it, but then found myself wondering, and went to check. It turns out there is. Last year Topps began to make special limited edition cards that aren't in the sort of packs I bought at gas stations and convenience stores as a kid; instead they can be ordered online for 24 hours after their initial release. Topps Now, they call it.
The digital copy I have on my phone right now is cool, but the copy that arrives in the mail next week, that'll be a keepsake, something to go with the copies of Sports Illustrated and New York Times with my name in them. Something to go with my Greg Maddux rookie card. My creation on Topps cardboard... seven-year-old Jason wouldn't believe it.