Monday, November 18, 2019

Card Shops In Japan: Mint Yokohama

Please check my "Card Shops in Japan" page before planning a trip to this store to verify that it's still where it was when I visited.

Mint Yokohama is another store that has moved since I visited it in 2013.  It used to be located a couple blocks north of Yokohama Station on the second floor of a building above a Lawson's but now it's located on the eighth floor of Vivre shopping mall a few blocks to the southwest of the station.

The store I visited in 2013 reminded me a lot of Mint Kanda - a small, run-of-the-mill card shop, well organized and selling singles, sets and unopened product.  If I recall correctly they had older cards although they didn't have anything I was particularly looking for that day.  Unfortunately they apparently got rid of their old inventory when they moved to their new location and are now basically a "mall store".   (Ryan's comment to me was that they "used to be so much better before they moved into the mall".)  Like the other "mall stores" I visited they basically had mostly new stuff in boxes, packs, singles and hits.  As you would expect from a store in Yokohama they emphasized the Baystars and I was able to pick up a number of team issued cards here.  I also got a couple Giants "Players Day" cards from 2008.  Dan was able to pick up the Lee Seung-Yuop card from the recent Epoch Lotte 50th Anniversary set here.

The store takes credit cards.  It was written up in Sports Card Magazine #117 published in May of 2016 - I think the article mentioned their then-recent move to the mall.

Like Mint Chiba I wouldn't necessarily recommend going out of your way to come by here but this store is much more conveniently located than that one.  Yokohama Stadium is just two stops away from the Yokohama Station on the JR Negishi line so you make a quick run to the store if you were on your way to a Baystars game.  It's also not far from other touristy things in Yokohama.

Here's a map showing the store's location:

Sunday, November 17, 2019

NPB Players In Winter Leagues

Now that the Premier 12 is over I feel like it's time for the various winter leagues around the globe to start up although actually the Caribbean ones have been going for a couple weeks now. 

The Australian Baseball League will kick off their 2019/20 season this Wednesday.  The ABL delayed the start of their season a week or so due to the Premier 12 - the Australian team was still playing as of yesterday and had they beaten Taiwan in yesterday's game it would have been them rather than the US playing Mexico today for the Bronze medal. 

There are eight Japanese players who are on NPB rosters who will be playing down under this winter.  For the second straight year the Baystars are sending four players to the Canberra Cavalry - Shingo Hirata, Takamasa Kasai, Shinich Ohnuki and Kosuke Sakaguchi:

2014 BBM 1st Version #293

2017 BBM Rookie Edition #092

2019 BBM 2nd Version #536

2019 BBM Baystars #DB03
For the past eight seasons the Melbourne Aces have received a handful of players from the Saitama Seibu Lions.  That streak has come to an end this season as Melbourne is getting four players from the Orix Buffaloes instead,  The four players are Yuma Mune, Hayato Nishiura, Kodai Sano and Ryoga Tomiyama:

2018 BBM Fusion #013

2019 Calbee #163

2015 Orix Players Card #12

2019 Epoch Pacific League Rookies #25
There's one other Japanese player of note who will be playing in the ABL this winter but he's not a member of an NPB organization - he's a member of the Dodger's organization!  Yujo Kitagata will be a member of the Auckland Tuatara this season.  He's taken a rather unique path to the Dodgers.  Kitagita was originally with the Baystars - he was their number one pick in the 2011 draft out of Karatsu Shogyo High School.  He spent three years with DeNA without getting off the farm team and was released following the 2014 season.  He spent 2015 with the ikusei squad of the Hawks but was released again after the season.  After that he kicked around the indy leagues, going from the Gunma Diamond Pegasus of the Baseball Challenge League in 2016 to the Ehime Mandarin Pirates of the Shikoku Island League in 2016-17, then back to the BC League with the Shinano Grandserows  in 2018 and the Tochigi Golden Braves in 2019.  He got his big break this season when a Dodgers scout clocked him throwing a 162 kph (100 mph) pitch and Tochigi released him so he could sign with LA when the first half of the BC League season ended.  He spent about six weeks playing for the Dodgers Arizona Summer League, getting into 13 games and going 0-1 with a 7.20 ERA.  He struck out 21 and walked 17 in 15 innings pitched. 

2012 BBM 1st Version #316
There are another nine Japanese players who are playing winter ball in the Western hemisphere - eight in the Liga de Béisbol Profesional Roberto Clemente (Puerto Rico) and the other in the Mexican Pacific League.

The Chiba Lotte Marines have three players with the Caguas Creoles - Hiromi Oka, Daiki Yamamoto and Hisanori Yasuda:

2018 BBM Fusion #606

2018 Epoch Pacific League Rookies #36

2018 Epoch One #580/CM-065
The Hawks have put three players on the Carolina Giants - Masaki Mimori, Kazuki Sugiyama and Seigi Tanaka:

2017 BBM Hawks #H54

2019 BBM 1st Version #049

2018 Epoch NPB #7
The Yomiuri Giants have placed two players on the Mayagüez Indians - Yuri Furukawa and Hosei Takata.  Furukawa started the 2019 season with the Tohoku Rakuten Golden Eagles but was traded to the Giants in early July - I don't have a card of him with Yomiuri yet so I used his Eagles card from this year:

2019 BBM Eagles #E30

2019 BBM Giants #G27
Lastly Kodai Hayama of the Baystars is pitching for Venados de Mazatlán (Mazatlán Deer).  Hayama is another player who started this season with the Eagles but got traded during the season.  In Hayama's case he got traded on Opening Day (March 29th) to the Baystars for Kento Kumabara - it was actually the final NPB trade of the Heisei Era.  Due to the timing of the trade, Hayama does not appear in any BBM team set this year as he was traded after the Baystars team set went to press and before the Eagles set did.  As a result I don't have a card of him as a Baystar yet so I'm using his Eagles team set card from last year.  (And of course because of the same timing Kumabara had cards in both the Baystars and Eagles team sets.) 

2018 BBM Eagles #E20
I'm sure there are additional players I've missed - I'll either update this post or do another one when I become aware of them.

Card Of The Week November 17

The 2019 Premier 12 drew to a close today with a pair of pretty good ballgames.  The early game today (noon start in Tokyo) was the Bronze Medal game between Mexico and the USA.  Besides the Medal, the winning team was also going to clinch a spot in next summer's Olympics.  The US got out to an early lead on a solo home run from Jordan Adell.  Mexico tied the game in the bottom of the sixth on an RBI single by former Dragon and Buffalo Matt Clark but the US immediately got the lead back in the top of the seventh on a Robert Dalbec RBI single.  Team USA took a 2-1 lead into the bottom of the ninth and were three outs away from victory but Clark led off the inning with a home run off his one-time Orix teammate Brandon Dickson.  Mexico ended up winning the game 3-2 in the bottom of the tenth on a walk-off bloop single from Efren Navarro of the Hanshin Tigers.

The night cap was a little less suspenseful although it wasn't immediately obvious it was going to be that way.  Korea had a 2-0 lead after the first two batters after a walk and a two run home run from Ha-Seong Kim and before the first inning was over they extended the lead to 3-0 on a solo home run from Hyun-Soo Kim.  But that ended up being all the runs Korea got all night.  Japan picked up a run on a Seiya Suzuki RBI single in the bottom of the first and then took the lead for good on a three run home run from Tetsuto Yamada in the second inning.  An RBI single by Hideto Asamura made it 5-3 in the seventh inning and that was the final score.  Korea could take some solace in the fact that despite the loss they also qualified for next summer's Olympics.

This was the first "high level" international tournament win by Japan since the 2009 World Baseball Classic and they were able to avenge their semi-final loss to Korea in the 2015 Premier 12, a game in which they blew a 3-0 lead going into the ninth inning and lost 4-3.

Seiya Suzuki was named MVP of the tournament but since I featured him in last week's Card Of The Week post I thought I'd share cards of the two big heroes of the Bronze Medal game for Mexico as well as Tetsuto Yamada:

2013 BBM 1st Version #044

2019 Epoch NPB #421

2017 Topps Now WBC #W-35

Saturday, November 16, 2019

Card Shops In Japan: Wrappers

Please check my "Card Shops in Japan" page before planning a trip to this store to verify that it's still where it was when I visited.

Wrappers is the third baseball card store in Jinbocho and is my favorite of them.  I had originally visited this store in 2013 at their previous location in Akihabara.  Their new location is in on the sixth floor of the Musashiya Building on the south eastern corner of the intersection between Yasukuni-dori and Kijibashi street just to the west of the Jinbocho subway station.  It's also about a seven minute walk from Mint Kanda.  Here's a photo of the building:

I had plans to meet up with Dan here on a rainy morning and ended up getting here first.  Not knowing better, I went up the stairs on outside of the right side of the building.  When I got to the sixth floor I was greeted by a locked door that had no markings on it.  Puzzled, I went up another floor to see if I had miscounted but the store wasn't there either.  I went back down the stairs to wait for Dan.  When Dan arrived, he explained my mistake - there was an elevator that we needed to take up to the sixth floor.  The stairs I went up were essentially the emergency exit.

In my defense, it wasn't obvious there was an elevator. Here's the entrance that you use to get to the higher floors in the building (it's the one on the left):

If you go in through this opening and turn left, you immediately see the foot of the staircase.  To get to the elevator, you have to walk past the staircase into the building itself (can't remember if there's a door you have to open or not) and then turn left again and you'll see the elevator.  You essentially step out into the store when you step off the elevator.

Wrappers has the most diverse inventory of any store I've been to in Japan.  Beyond the usual BBM, Epoch and (at least recent) Calbee singles, you can also find singles here for more obscure issues from the turn of the century like Future Bee and DigiCube.  I also found singles for this year's Buffaloes team issued set, the BBM/Nippon-Ham Home Run sausage cards from the last few years and some Glico Tigers cards from 2003-ish that I'd never seen before.  Their BBM flagship singles go back to 1991 and they also have singles from most of the other BBM sets - I picked up some 1997 flagship, some 1999 Tigers team set cards and some 2004 1st Version "Asian Championship" cards here.  I also picked up the final Epoch NPB card I needed here.  Dan picked up some cards of Korean NPB players Dae-Ho Lee, Chang-Yong Lim and Seung-Yuop Lee here along with some Gravure Idol cards.

The store takes credit cards.  Ryan says that the price for commons here is usually 50 yen so it's a good store for doing set building.  They also have unopened boxes and packs and there's a couple tall display cases containing hits.  Here's a couple pictures of the interior of the store (and one features Dan again):

This is among my top five favorite stores in Tokyo, if not all of Japan.  Definitely worth a visit, especially if you're looking for something a little more obscure.

Here's a map showing the store's location:

Card Shops In Japan: Mint Chiba

Please check my "Card Shops in Japan" page before planning a trip to this store to verify that it's still where it was when I visited.

Chiba-prefecture is located just east of Tokyo and occupies the space between the east side of Tokyo Bay and the Pacific Ocean.  Many tourists coming to Japan visit the prefecture without perhaps realizing it - Narita Airport is located here.  Chiba-city is the capital of the prefecture and is best known to baseball fans as the home of the Chiba Lotte Marines.  But it is also home to another Mint store, called Mint Chiba of course.

Mint Chiba is located on the third floor of the BEE-ONE Mall just a short walk east of Chiba Station.   I think the Mall is just part of a larger building.  To get to the Mall you want to go into the main, obvious entrance (the one with the canopy over it) for the building on what Google refers to as "Chiba Station Odori Avenue".  I mention this so that you can avoid the mistake Dan and I made.  We went into the building through a doorway on the back side of it and took the elevator up to the third floor.  We were greeted by a featureless corridor with grey doors which actually reminded me of the Mint Hakata location.  We wandered around a little bit but didn't see anything that looked like a shop.  We eventually realized that we were pretty much in an office building rather than the Mall and we took the elevator back down to the ground floor and walked out the front door of the building.  Immediately to our right we saw the aforementioned entrance with the canopy and we both agreed that that was much more likely to be what we were looking for.  And sure enough we were greeted with the sight of the shop as we got off the escalator on the third floor:

That's Dan beckoning in the photo.

As for the store itself, it was...OK.  It's a mall store and I had set my expectations accordingly.  It carried a lot of recent stuff, including boxes, packs, hits and singles.  As you would expect for a store in Chiba they appeared to heavily emphasize the Marines.  I found a box of singles from Marines team issued sets and spent most of my time there going through it, picking out a handful of cards.  I also went through their singles from the recently released Epoch NPB set, looking for the 11 cards I needed for the set that Mint Urawa had not been able to include in the set they sold me.  I was able to find 10 of them here.  Dan went through the singles here looking for Korean NPB players (especially Lee Seung-Yuop who had spent two seasons with the Marines in 2004-05) but I'm not sure he bought anything here.

Here's a photo of the inside of the shop (which also includes Dan):

It's not a bad shop but I wouldn't recommend going out of your way for it.  And it is out of your way - it's about a 40 minute train ride from Tokyo Station to get to Chiba Station.  It's also not all that convenient to the Marines - the ballpark is six miles away which works out to about a 40 minute trip via the Chiba Monorial and JR Keiyo lines (although about half of that's the walk to the ballpark from the Kaihimmakuhari Station).  But if you're in the Chiba Station area for some other reason it's worth stopping by.

Here's a map showing the location of the store:

Thursday, November 14, 2019

Card Shops In Japan: Mint Urawa

Please check my "Card Shops in Japan" page before planning a trip to this store to verify that it's still where it was when I visited.

Saitama-city is a city just to the north of Tokyo-city, right over the border between the two namesake prefectures.  Urawa is a ward in Saitama-city that up until 2001 was itself a city and it's the location of most of the government offices for the city.  It doesn't have a lot of tourist attractions although it's the home to the Marine's farm team and there's a J-League team called the Urawa Red Diamonds although they play the bulk of their home games in a different ward of Saitama-city.  For baseball card collectors, however, there's another attraction - the Mint Urawa store.

The store is located at ground level about six blocks or so west of the JR Urawa station but you have to go down an alley to get to it - it's not on the street that you'll walk down from the station.  What you'll be looking for is a restaurant called (I think) Grand Blue:

You'll want to turn right here and go down the alley.  You can see there's a sign for the store on the side wall of the cafe.

You might notice the sign that says "Trading Card Museum" - it's not a real museum as far as I can tell - it's apparently some sort of contest thing Mint runs where people show off the hits they pull from busting boxes or packs.  I don't recall seeing the sign at any other Mint stores I was at but I don't think Mint Urawa is the only store participating.

I liked this store quite a bit.  For a shop that didn't have a lot of space they appeared to have a pretty good inventory.  It was a pretty good store for set building as they had singles for BBM flagship going back to the 1990's although I would say the bulk of the cards were from 2002 and later.  They also carried a lot of recent stuff and a lot of complete sets.  Their prices on complete sets seem to be among the better one around - Ryan had told me that I should probably wait to get the then-new BBM Lions set here as they would probably have the best price on it.  I ended up not listening and picked it up at Mint Hakata for 1500 yen.  I would have saved 500 yen if I had waited and bought it here.  They have recent hits in binders and some older hits were sorted by player in boxes.

The guys working in the store were incredibly helpful.  I was looking to get a complete 2019 Epoch NPB set and had been rebuffed at every store I had asked about it at.  This store wasn't selling the complete set but they were selling the individual 36 card team sets for 1000 yen apiece so they suggested I put the set together that way.  I told them I didn't really want to spend 12000 yen on the set - I was hoping to do it for more like 7000 yen.  To my surprise, they agreed to my price.  We ran into a problem though - they didn't have team sets assembled for the Giants, Lions and Fighters.  They then proceeded to go through a bunch of singles and assemble the team sets while I waited.  They ended up being about 11 cards short so they gave me a list of the cards I was missing and knocked another 1000 yen off the price.  I ended up with 421 out of the 432 cards in the set for 6000 yen (and I picked up the other 11 cards in the next couple days for another 1000 yen).

In addition to the Epoch NPB set I picked up a bunch of singles (including some short prints) from the 1996 and 1997 BBM set (I had reconstructed my want list on-line after having left the paper one at Biblio a few days earlier).  All in all I spent about 9000 yen here.

One thing to keep in mind when set building here - the singles are organized by team, not card number.

They take credit cards.

Here's a couple photos from inside the store:

The only drawback to this store is that it's way out of the way.  It's around a 40 minute train ride from Tokyo Station to Urawa Station and then about a 10 minute walk to the store.   As I said there's not much in the way of tourist attractions nearby (although there's a couple art museums that aren't far away).  The store's really not that convenient to the Marine's farm team's field if you're trying to combine baseball card shopping with baseball game viewing - it's about a 30 minute walk to the ballpark from the store and Google's suggested public transportation routes all take about that long as well via buses and trains.  But if you have some extra time and want to hit a good card shop (and have already been to the good ones in Tokyo), this store is worth your time.

Here's a map showing the location of the store:

Tuesday, November 12, 2019

2019 Calbee Series Two

I mentioned when I did my post on Calbee's Series Three set from this year last month that my Series Two set had gotten lost somewhere between Japan and Maryland after Sean put it in the mail in August.  We'd pretty much given up any hope of seeing it and Sean was preparing to send me a replacement set when the package unexpectedly got delivered to my house today.  I actually thought for a moment it was the replacement package but the postmark on it was from August.  The box was kind of beaten up after its 2 1/2 month journey but the cards in it were fine. 

The set was released back at the end of June and has a base set of 88 cards - 72 player cards (6 per team), 12 "Opening Day Starting Pitcher" cards (1 for each team) and four checklist cards.  It uses the same design for the player cards as the Series One and Three sets which are numbered consecutively with the other two sets (Series One was numbers 1-72, Series Two is numbers 73-144 and Series Three was numbers 145-216).

The set is pretty much your standard Calbee set (which seems to be what I say about every one of their sets).  The player cards are attractive but, as Sean talks about in his post about the set, the photo selection is pretty monotonous.  There's only two cards that aren't in the "pitchers pitching, batters batting, catchers catching" category - Seiya Suzuki and Sosuke Genda.  There's only two cards that use a horizontal format which at least break it up a little bit.  The player selection includes a number of stars - Suzuki, Yoshitomo Tsutsugoh, Tomoya Mori, Hayato Sakamoto, Sho Nakata and Munetaka Murakami - as well as a couple of 2018 draft picks - Koji Chikamoto of the Tigers, Kaito Kozono of the Carp and Taiga Kamichatani of the Baystars.  Here's some example cards:





The 12 "Opening Day Starting Pitcher" subset features the...uh...12 2019 Opening Day starting pitchers.  This subset include Tomoyuki Sugano of the Giants, Kodai Senga of the Hawks, Shota Imanaga of the Baystars, Daichi Ohsera of the Carp and Randy Messenger of the Tigers:

The checklists feature same random game action photos from the first couple weeks of the season in late March and April.  I'll echo Sean's comment that these are the best photos in the entire set.  The cards show Sho Nakata of the Fighters jumping on home plate after hitting a sayonara grand slam on Opening Day, Yoshihiro Maru of the Giants on the "Hero Of The Game" stage after Yomiuri's win on April 3rd, Yutaro Sugimoto of the Buffaloes celebrating after hitting two home runs on April 13th and Keita Sano's sayonara pinch hit single on March 31st.  The cards are numbered C-05 to C-08 in continuation of Series One.  Here's the Maru card:

As always you can see all the cards over at Jambalaya, including the usual Star insert cards and the special box set (that I think it available via a mail in redemption of "lucky cards") called "Hit Leaders".