In a year that has been so improbable, the impossible has happened!— Vin Scully, October 15, 1988
To be a card collector is to romance the improbable–to buy just a few packs in hopes of pulling a favorite player or what today would be called a “hit.” For some it means sitting around at Target or Walmart for hours and hours in hopes of buying a box or two (or all of them) on the off chance the stars align. For others it means putting a low bid in on an eBay auction and somehow winning. And in the realm of Topps Project 70, it means ordering cards and hoping to land a foil.
As proof that the improbable is aptly named, I am the sort of collector that almost never hits on any of the above. And then I had quite a week.
I had ordered an uncharacteristic FIVE of the Project 70 Babe Ruth card by DJ Skee. One was for my own collection, as I genuinely liked the card and felt like Skee did something really novel by adding his own curated Jay-Z playlist via QR code.
The other four were for a fun project my son is working on with me. I’m not positive we’ll ultimately use the Skee cards for it, but I didn’t want to risk paying sky-high prices on the secondary market later on. To my surprise, however, my package from Topps did not contain five cards. It contained six.
So that was Monday.
Friday was a long postponed and much anticipated Card Night with some of my SABR Chicago buddies. We used to use the name “Junk Wax Night” but the ratio of junk to non-junk kept diminishing to the point that the name no longer made sense. Plus, in case you haven’t checked lately, the price of junk wax is so crazy right now it may well be time to retire the label for good.
Among my contributions to Card Night were five packs of 2021 Gummy Arts that I bought the minute they went on sale and somehow managed to not even peek at until Friday night. I gave one pack to each of my buds and kept one for myself. Improbably I pulled my favorite card from the entire set!
I think the card would have qualified as a “hit” for any Dodger fan, but I’ll back up a bit and provide some context. I really do think I made the most of it, but there’s no denying that 2020 was a historically terrible year, so much so that Joe Kelly’s strikeout of Carlos Correa and ensuing pouty face felt like one of the all-time great moments of my life when it happened. As the baseball season progressed toward an uncertain (but ultimately awesome) conclusion, I was ready to name Joe Kelly my 2020 MVP and make room next to Jackie Robinson’s debut, Kirk Gibson’s homer, and Fernandomania for Kelly to assume his proper spot on my Dodger Moments Mt. Rushmore.
Ah, but the night was still young. My bud Bill came to Card Night with a box of 2018 Topps Heritage and we each ended up with five packs or so. I’m definitely not a “prospector” so I wasn’t looking to land whoever the big rookie cards might have been in the set (Ohtani?). Rather, I was just hoping for my favorite active player, Clayton Kershaw. Well, once again the improbable happened. I not only pulled a card of Kershaw but it was even one of the scarcer purple refractor cards.
Before moving on to Saturday I want to go back to Joe Kelly for a second and just set the table a bit for what’s coming next. After spending seven months largely homebound I flew to Los Angeles in October to see my dad. He was in the hospital and things were looking really bad all of a sudden. Only a week earlier he was in near perfect physical health, but now his body was failing in nearly every imaginable way. It wasn’t COVID, but the final days didn’t look so different, ventilator and all. Visits to the ICU were capped at 20 minutes per day, immediate family only, which meant I had 20 minutes a day to be with my dad and 23 hours 40 minutes a day to worry about him. I am thankful to have had the support of one of my best friends (and my dad’s favorite person), who I stayed with, just like I did so many nights back in high school.
After our Sunday visit to the hospital I asked my bud if we could visit the Jonas Never mural of Joe Kelly. I wasn’t really in L.A. for pleasure, but this really was a bucket list item for me, and I knew I could use the escape.
There’s no other way to say it. It was fuckin’ awesome to be a the mural. Yes, 2020 was shit, and yes, the occasion couldn’t have been a worse one, but this was just the spark I needed to keep my head up through a helluva weekend.
Fast forwarding to the launch of Topps Project 70, I was so happy to see Jonas Never on the list of artists. Even sight unseen, I knew I would be collecting his entire set. For a logic that may or may not make sense, there has been a slow processing of my dad’s passing in which Never’s artwork plays a major guest-starring role. Oh, and his art is just plain dope on top of that.
So yes, when Never’s J.T. card appeared on the Topps site I was all in.
He could have painted anyone–even a Yankee or Giants player–and I was in. That’s what we set collectors do. But he did MUCH better than that. It was J.T., who I absolutely love! Plain and simple, EVERYTHING about this card kicks ass! And to boot, J.T. himself helped paint it. Seriously, what a freaking awesome card!
Topps shipped my J.T. with my two other orders from the week: Cutch by Blake Jamieson and Aaron Judge by Lauren Taylor.
But what’s this? Instead of three cards in the box there were four. ANOTHER foil?! No, not quite.
We are collectors. We chase the improbable, not because we expect it to happen but because it’s the only way to even imagine, much less attain, the impossible.
Now if you’ll excuse me, it’s time to buy a lottery ticket!