Tuesday, July 28, 2020

Delayed Perennials And Other Items

It's time for a quick round up of some recently announced sets including two of BBM's perennial sets that had their release dates pushed back a few months.

- First the big new - BBM's 2nd Version set will be released in October, two months later than normal.  BBM has made a couple changes to the base set this year.  The set has its usual 36 card "1st Version Update" and "Cross Something" subsets ("Cross Blossom" this year) plus the 12 team checklist cards but the number of "regular" player cards dropped from 216 (18 per team) to 180 (15 per team).  But the set will have the same number of cards because BBM has added three 12 card subsets - "Proud Ace", "Big Archist" and "Ground Master".  These are the first subsets in a 2nd Version set (beyond the "1st Version Update" and "Cross Something" ones) since 2014.  The other big change involves the "Ceremonial First Pitch" cards.  If I'm understanding the translation correctly, BBM is doing "historic" first pitch ceremony cards and tying it in with their 30th Anniversary.  There will be cards of celebrities throwing out the first pitch at games from the 1990's to the present (or at least last year).  As usual, BBM does not yet know the number of "Ceremonial First Pitch" cards that will be in the set.  There are three insert sets - "Breaking Now" (12 cards), "Soul Of The Team" (12 cards) and "Phantom" (24 cards).  The "Soul Of The Team" cards apparently use "special hollow paper" while the "Phantom" cards are serially numbered to 25 (I think) and feature both active and OB players.  There are also a large number of autograph and memorabilia cards available in packs.

- The other annual set that is having a delayed arrival this season is the "Dancing Heroine - Hana" set.  This is the first of BBM's two annual sets for the cheerleaders and dance squads of most of the NPB teams.  This set normally comes out in late June but will be released in early September this year.  The base set will contain 89 cards of members of the "bluelegends" (Lions), "Honeys" (Hawks), "Tohoku Golden Angels" (Eagles), "M☆Splash!!" (Marines), "FIGHTERS GIRL" (Fighters), "VENUS" (Giants), "Tigers Girls" (Tigers), "Cheer Dragons 2020" (Dragons) and "Passion" (Swallows).  I don't know why the cheerleaders for the Buffaloes and Baystars are not included (the Carp don't have cheerleaders) - this doesn't seem to be a COVID related thing because they weren't include in the sets last year either.  Each card in the base set has a parallel version and there are autographed cards and "cheki" available in packs.  The second set, "Mai", hasn't officially been announced yet but the website for "Hana" says that it will be released a short time later.

- BBM is releasing an OB team set for the Giants called "Giants History 1934-2020".  The base set will contain 90 cards - 7 "Team History" cards, 71 OB players and 12 active players.  There are two 12 card insert sets - "Legend Of The Giants" and "Team Records" - along with several different insert sets that feature "foil" facsimile autographs - "Cross Foil Signing" (27 OB players), "Combo Foil Signing" (6 OB/Active players), "Triple Foil Signing" (3 OB/active players) and "Special Foil Sign" (12 active players).  There's also the usual assortment of autographed cards available.  The set will be out in mid-September.  I haven't seen any images from the set yet but I'm hoping it's as attractive as the "Carp History 1950-2020" set that BBM released earlier this year.

- The Saitama Seibu Lions have produced a card set with BBM.  The set contains 20 cards - 14 active players plus 6 "Legend" kira cards - Daisuke Matsuzaka is one of the 14 active players AND one of the 6 "Legend" players.  I think this set is only available at the Lions team store out at Seibu Dome but I'm a bit confused as to how it's being sold.  I suspect that a card pack that contains just one card is 300 yen.  Packs could contain "lucky" cards that can be redeemed for autographed baseballs or cards.  The sets went on sale last week.

- Epoch has announced another in their "Stars & Legend" series of OB/active team sets, this time for the Baystars.  This is one of Epoch's "ultra high end" sets - a box containing four cards retails for 14,850 yen (~$141) - although two of those cards are guaranteed to be autographed cards.  The base set has 55 cards - 31 active players and 24 OB players.  Epoch is apparently unveiling some new insert cards called "DECOMORI SIGNATURE" which is some sort of processed foil facsimile signature card that has a 1-of-1 parallel.  There are three of these along with 6 "Gem" insert cards plus three different varieties of autographed cards - each of which has a "black" 1-of-1 version.  The set will be out on September 19th.

Sunday, July 26, 2020

Card Of The Week July 26

There's been a couple fun events in the past few days and I couldn't decide which one to feature today so I decided to do all of them...

Friday night in Yokohama the Carp had a 6-4 lead over the Baystars going into the bottom of the ninth.  It was 6-5 with one out when Keita Sano stepped to the plate with the bases loaded:

This was actually the first of two walk off grand slams on Friday as Matt Olson of the Athletics hit one to beat the Angels 7-3 in ten innings.

The two new Japanese MLB position players made their debuts on Friday with Shogo Akiyama getting a pinch hit single in his first at bat and Yoshitomu Tsutsugoh (Sano's predecessor as Baystars Team Captain) doing this in his third plate appearance:

Finally yesterday in Sendai, Yuma Mune of Orix hit a fly ball to deep right that Jabari Blash slammed into the fence while trying to catch.  Blash fell to the ground, the ball bounced away and Mune kept running:

Blash was unhurt.  Mune's first home run of the season put the Buffaloes ahead 4-3 in the top of the ninth and they went on to beat the Eagles 6-3.

Here are team issued/fan club issued cards for all three of these players:

2019 Baystars Team Issued Set #44

2016 Baystars Team Issued Card

2015 Orix Players Card #6

Monday, July 20, 2020

Junichi Tazawa, Japanese Players Starting Their Careers In The US And The Draft

Former Red Sox pitcher Junichi Tazawa was in the news recently after he signed a deal to play for the Saitama Musashi Heat Bears of the independent Baseball Challenge (BC) League.  Tazawa had been a corporate league player for Nippon Oil and was a top prospect going into the 2008 NPB draft but he requested that no Japanese team draft him as he wanted to play in the US.  No NPB team drafted him and he signed a contract with the Red Sox in December of 2008.  In retaliation the NPB teams passed the so-called "Tazawa Rule" which prohibits any amateur player who signs overseas from joining an NPB team until he had "sat out" for two (college and corporate league players) or three (high school players) years.  If playing for a Japanese independent team qualifies as "sitting out" then Tazawa would be eligible to join an NPB team at the end of next season.  There's a twist, however, as I believe that Tazawa would not be considered a free agent and at age 35 would be subject to the NPB draft.

I knew there were players who had started their professional career in the US and had been drafted by NPB teams when they returned to Japan but I wasn't sure how many there were.  There were about five I came up with pretty easily (Mac Suzuki, GG Satoh, Michael Nakamura, Tetsuya Yamaguchi and Kazuhito Tadano) but when I actually sat down to do some research, I came up with 15(!).  I'm pretty confident that I didn't find everyone and this doesn't include guys who started their professional career in Taiwan like Tetsu Yohfu.  Here's a card and quick blurb about the guys that I did find - I used the player's Rookie Edition card if there was one (keeping in mind that BBM didn't start doing the Rookie Edition sets until 2003):

1999 BBM #496
Kota Yoshida signed a deal with the Oakland Athletics after graduating from high school and spent 1997 in Arizona playing for the A's Rookie League team there.  He hit .238 in 48 games and was released (I think) after the season.  He was drafted by Kintetsu in the eighth round of the 1998 draft.  He spent three years with the Buffaloes and got into only one game at the ichi-gun level.  He spent 2002 with Yokohama and then retired.

2001 BBM #509
Takaeshi Kanaya joined the Boston Red Sox after graduating from high school and hit .313 in 14 games with the Sox' Gulf Coast League team in 1999.  He returned to Japan the following year and was drafted in the sixth round of the 2000 draft by the Buffaloes.  He only spent one season with them and never left the farm team.  After Kintetsu released at the end of the 2001 season he signed on with the NTT Shin-Etsu club team and played for them for four years.

2001 BBM #309
Osamu Tsujita was a high school teammate of Kosuke Fukudome's at PL Gakuen and attended Toyo University.  If I'm understanding the translation of his Wikipedia page correctly, it looks like he dropped out of college to somehow wrangle a deal with the Tampa Bay Devil Rays through the TV show "Asayan" that appears to be some sort of Japanese version of "Star Search".  He spent the 1998 season (Tampa Bay's inaugural season) with the Rays' Gulf Coast League team and hit .288 in 41 games.  Not sure what he did in 1999 and 2000 but he was drafted by the Dragons in the eighth round of the 2000 draft which reunited him with Fukudome.  He spent two seasons on the Dragons' farm team before being released after the 2002 season and he played for a couple club teams afterwards.  I'm a bit amused by some of the text on the back of his card - it mentions that Hiromitsu Ochiai had also dropped out of Toyo University to become a baseball player.  The similarities ended there.

2003 BBM Rookie Edition #85
Makoto "Mac" Suzuki had one of the most unlikely and unusual baseball careers.  He got expelled from high school in the early 90's and his parents sent him to work for family friend Don Nomura's team in the California League in the US, the Salinas Spurs.  He spent 1992 as the team's laundry boy but pitched in the team's final game that year - actually the team's final game ever as they moved to San Bernardino the following year.  Suzuki became a relief pitcher for San Bernardino in 1993 and was signed by the Mariners after the season.  He became only the third ever Japanese major leaguer (and first one in the American League) when he made his big league debut in 1996.  He also spent time playing for the Royals, Rockies and Brewers over the next few years before trying his luck back in Japan.  He was drafted in the second round by the Orix BlueWave in 2002 and spent three seasons with them.  He kicked around a bit after Orix released him after the 2005 season, spending time in Mexico, Taiwan and various independent league teams in both North American and Japan before retiring as a player in 2011.

2003 BBM Rookie Edition #89
Daisuke Shioya dropped out of Asia University to play ball for the Frontier League's Johnstown Steal in 1998.  He ran up an ERA of 5.14 in four games before getting released.  He failed in tryouts with NPB teams for a number of years before Orix saw something they liked in 2002 and drafted him in the seventh round.  He, like Suzuki, only spent three seasons with the team (all on the farm team) before getting released although Shioya's post NPB career seems to have only been with a club team.

2003 BBM Rookie Edition #62
Nobutoshi Ido played for Sumitomo Metal of the corporate leagues for a couple years after graduating from Tokuyama University.  He signed a deal with the Chicago White Sox and spent 2002 in Arizona with their rookie league team, hitting .245 in 21 games.  He returned to Japan and passed the Buffaloes test so they drafted him in the ninth round of the 2002 draft.  He spent two seasons with Kintetsu and became an Orix Buffalo when the two teams "merged" in 2005, joining Suzuki and Shioya.  He also joined those two in getting released after the 2005 season (like Shioya having never gotten into an ichi-gun game) and went on to coach for a club team.

2004 BBM Rookie Edition #13
Takahiko "G.G." Satoh signed a contract with the Philadelphia Phillies after graduating from Hosei University in 2000.  He spent three years total in their system, playing in Batavia in 2001 and 2002 and Lakewood in 2003.  He hit .259 in 170 games over that time.  He was released by the Phillies after the 2003 season, returned to Japan and had a tryout with the Lions.  He was drafted by them in the seventh round of the 2003 draft and spent the next eight seasons with them, making the All Star team in 2008 as well as the Beijing Olympic team.  He spent 2012 playing for Fortitudo Bologna in Italy and then finished his playing career with the Chiba Lotte Marines in 2013-14.

2004 BBM Rookie Edition #7
Kazuhiro Takeoka spent a couple years playing for IBM Japan Yasu of the corporate leagues and the Nakayama club team after graduating from Kinki University.  He somehow wrangled a contract with the Atlanta Braves out of this and spent 2001-03 bouncing between their Double-A team in Greenville and their Triple-A team in Richmond.  He went 9-7 with an ERA of 3.70 in 188 games in relief.  The Braves released him in mid-2003 and he joined the St Paul Saints in the independent Northern League, putting up an ERA of 7.56 in two starts.  He returned to Japan and was taken by the Hawks in the eighth round of the 2003 draft.  He spent five seasons with Fukuoka, mostly working out of the bullpen and joined a club team after he was released after the 2008 season.

2005 BBM 1st Version #118
Michael Nakamura holds a dual citizenship since his father is Japanese and his mother is Australian.  He was born in Nara, Japan but moved to Australia when he was three.  He went to college in the United States at the University of South Alabama and signed with the Minnesota Twins as an amateur free agent in 1997.  He spent six seasons in the Twins' organization, moving up through their minor league system until he reached the major leagues for 12 games in 2003.  He was picked up off waivers by the Toronto Blue Jays in early 2004 and appeared in another 19 games in the big leagues.  He was released after the season and made his way to Japan.  He had a tryout with the Hokkaido Nippon-Ham Fighters that went well but since he was a Japanese citizen he was subject to the draft.  The Fighters were able to take him in the fourth round of the 2004 draft and he spent the next four seasons with them (leading the Pacific League in 2006 with a then-record 39 saves) before he was traded to the Yomiuri Giants after the 2008 season.  He spent three years with the Giants before joining the Lions for the 2012 season after being released by Yomiuri.  He did not have a card in the 2005 Rookie Edition for reasons that are not entirely clear to me but he did have a "bonus" Rookie Edition card issued with an issue of Sports Card Magazine.

2006 BBM Rookie Edition #95
Hiroyuki Iida was another graduate of Tokuyama University and signed with the Minnesota Twins.  He spent 2003 with Elizabethton of the Appalachian League going 1-0 with a 4.80 ERA in 18 games, all but one in relief.  He missed the 2004 season due to a shoulder injury and was released in March of 2005.  He ended up being taken by the Carp in the fifth round in the 2005 draft but re-injured his shoulder in 2006 and spent the entire year on the farm team.  He got released at the end of the season but was brought back by the Carp as an ikusei player for 2007.  He tried switching to being a side-armer but he never made his way back to the 70 man roster and retired after being released again at the end of the season.

2007 Giants Original Baseball Card #102
Tetsuya Yamaguchi arguably had the best NPB career of any player on this list.  After being the ace pitcher at Yokohama Commercial High School he signed a deal with the Arizona Diamondbacks and spent three seasons with their Pioneer League team the Missoula Osprey, going 7-13 with a 4.98 ERA in 49 games split almost evenly between starting and relieving.  He had tryouts with Yokohama, Rakuten and Yomiuri after returning to the US and the Giants took him as their first (and only) pick in the ikusei portion of the 2005 draft.  He was registered to the official 70 man roster in 2007 and was the Central League Rookie Of The Year in 2008.  He played with the Giants until retiring after the 2018 season, leading the Central League in "Middle Relief" three times and making the All Star team five times.  He also pitched for the Japanese team in both the 2009 and 2013 World Baseball Classics.  He's become a coach for the Giants after retiring.  He did not have a card in the 2006 Rookie Edition set because BBM did not start including cards for ikusei players until 2009, probably not coincidentally the year after Yamaguchi was the first former ikesei player to be Rookie Of The Year.

2008 BBM Rookie Edition #42
Kazuhito Tadano had been a collegiate star at Rikkio University of the Tokyo Big Six league and was expected to be a top pick in the 2002 draft but it was revealed that he had starred in a gay porn video a few years earlier and none of the NPB teams wanted anything to do with him.  He went to the US and signed a deal with the Indians.  He spent three years in the Indians organization (2003-05) and pitched in 15 games in the major leagues in 2004 and 2005, going 1-1 with a 4.47 ERA.  The Tribe traded him to Oakland at the beginning of the 2006 season and he spent most of the season with their Triple-A team in Sacramento.  He returned to Japan after the minor league season ended and pitched for the Tokushima Indigo Socks of the independent Shikoku Island League for a few weeks (although still under contract to the Athletics).  He split the 2007 season between Sacramento and Double-A Midland before being released by Oakland when the season ended.  He was the first round pick of the Fighters in the college/corporate league player portion of the 2007 draft (although only after the Fighters had selected and lost via the lottery Shota Ohba and Yasutaka Hattori) and spent seven years with them.  After Nippon-Ham released him in 2014 he spent three years as a player/coach for the Ishikawa Million Stars of the BC League before becoming a scout for the Fighters in 2017.

2011 BBM Rookie Edition #078
 Keisuke Ueno dropped out of Jobu University in 2004 in an attempt to join the Florida Marlins.  Visa issues prevented him from being able to sign with the Marlins and he ended up spending 2005 playing for the Japan Samurai Bears, a traveling team in the independent Golden Baseball League that was made up of Japanese players and managed by former Yomiuri Giant Warren Cromartie.  Despite going 1-6 with a 6.75 ERA in 18 games he was picked up by the Texas Rangers and spent the next three seasons in their organization.  He went 5-8 with an ERA of 3.97 in 57 games between Arizona (2006); Spokane, WA (2007) and Clinton, IA (2008).  The Rangers released him in early 2009 and he joined the Kagawa Olive Guyners of the Shikoku Island League.  I don't believe that he was subject to the the "Tazawa Rule" since he'd signed with Texas before it was in effect but in any case he spent two seasons with Kagawa before being taken by the Swallows in the second round of the 2010 ikusei draft.  The Swallows released him after two years in which he did not make it to the 70-man roster and after an unsuccessful tryout in Taiwan he retired.

2017 BBM Rookie Edition #074

Jen-Lei Liao was born in Taiwan and moved to Japan to play high school baseball.  He returned to Taiwan to go to college and signed a minor league deal with the Pittsburgh Pirates while still a college student.  He spent 2014 and 2015 with the Pirates' Gulf Coast League team, going 2-3 with a 4.54 ERA in 27 games.  I think he was released by the Pirates after 2015.  He graduated from college in 2016 and decided to try to play in NPB.  Because he had spent three years enrolled in a Japanese High School he was considered a Japanese player and was therefore subject to the draft.  I am not sure why the "Tazawa Rule" does not appear to have been enforced in his case.  The Giants took him in the seventh round of the 2016 draft.  He spent two years with Yomiuri's farm team before being released.  The Saitama Seibu Lions picked him up for 2019 and he got into three games with the top team but was again released at the end of the season.  He returned to Taiwan and spent the first half of this year on the China-Trust Brothers' practice squad (his younger brother Liao Yi-Chung plays for the Brothers) and was a first round pick of the Wei Chuan Dragons in the 2020 CPBL draft (held today).

2018 BBM Rookie Edition #114
Takumi Numata dropped out of Nagoya Sangyo University to join the Edion AIT OB BLITZ club team.  He signed a contract with the Los Angeles Dodgers in 2013 and apparently violated some rule with the Japan Amateur Baseball Association (JABA) that oversees corporate league and club baseball teams and earned himself a lifetime ban from playing for any JABA teams.  He spent 2014 playing for the Dodgers' Arizona Rookie league team and was promoted to their Pioneer League team in Ogden, Utah for the 2015 season but was released before he could make an appearance with them.  His final numbers in the Dodgers' organization was 1-2 with an ERA of 5.46 in 10 games (including 7 starts).  He finished 2015 playing for the Gunma Diamond Pegasus of the BC League and spent 2016 with them as well.  Apparently the Baystars considered drafting him but were prevented from doing so by the "Tazawa Rule".  He joined the Ishikawa Million Stars in 2017 and was drafted in the eighth round of the 2017 draft by the Swallows.  He spent most of the 2018 and 2019 seasons with Yakult's farm team (he made one appearance at the ichi-gun level in 2018) and then was released.  He signed with the Ryukyu Blue Oceans, the new independent team in Okinawa for the 2020 season.

Sunday, July 19, 2020

Card Of The Week July 19

Last Tuesday the Giants beat the Carp 7-2.  It was Tatsunori Hara's 1035th victory as manager of the Giants, pushing him past Shigeo Nagashima for solo possession of second place for most victories in Giants history.  Number one on the list is Tetsuharu Kawakami with 1066 wins so Hara will probably be first on the list by the end of the season.  This is Hara's 14th season at Yomiuri's helm, the same number as Kawakami and one behind Nagashima for most in the team's history.

I thought I'd share cards of Hara, Kawakami and Nagashima this week.  The Kawakami and Nagashima cards come from a subset featuring all the Giants managers in the 2000 BBM Giants set while Hara's card is from the 2002 BBM Giants Central League Championship box set which celebrated the Giants winning the pennant in Hara's first year as manager:

2000 BBM Giants #G93

2000 BBM Giants #G94

2002 BBM Giants CL Champions #YG1
Hara has had three separate stints running the team so he is the Giants 13th, 15th and 17th manager.

Thursday, July 16, 2020

NPB Down Under Part 3

I've got a small collection of Australian baseball cards.  I've got the set Choice did for the Australian Baseball League (ABL) in 2018/19 but most of my cards are scattered singles of Japanese players who've played Down Under.  I've written about most of these cards in a couple posts last year.

I was a little disappointed this past winter that there was no set for the entire league.  For a while it looked like the only cards for the 2019/20 season would be team sets for the Sydney Blue Sox and Brisbane Bandits, neither of which had any Japanese players.  However some months back I saw on Twitter that the Auckland Tuatara was doing a Go Fund Me campaign to make a team set for the Tuatara.  I was intrigued because the Tuatara had had a couple Japanese pitchers last season but ultimately I decided against getting a set.  Luckily about a month ago I saw that Shane, the seller on Ebay (top-flite-79) who I'd previously bought ABL cards from had broken up one of the Tuatara sets and was selling singles.  I grabbed cards of the two Japanese players for around $10 (including shipping).  It took a little over a month for the cards to get here from Australia but they showed up earlier this week.

Most of the Japanese players in the ABL are there on loan from their NPB teams but neither of the Auckland players fall into that category.

Yujo Kitagata was actually on loan from the Los Angeles Dodgers.  He got into 13 games with Auckland this past season, going 1-0 with a 2.53 ERA in 10 2/3 innings of work.  He struck out an impressive 22 batters (averaging over 2 per inning) but he also walked 22 batters.  He was originally a first round pick of the Baystars in the 2011 draft and spent three years with their farm team, never making it to the ichi-gun squad.  DeNA released him after the 2014 season and he bounced around over the next few years, spending 2015 as an ikusei player with the Hawks, 2016 and 2017 with the Gunma Diamond Pegasus of the Baseball Challenge League, 2017 with the Ehime Mandarin Pirates of the Shikoku Island League, 2018 back in the BC League with the Shinano Grandserows and 2019 with the Tochigi Golden Braves (also BC League).  A Dodger scout discovered him with Tochigi last year and signed him to a contract.  He spent about six weeks playing for the Dodgers Arizona Summer League team, getting into 13 games and going 0-1 with a 7.20 ERA.  He struck out 21 and walked 17 in 15 innings pitched.  Here's the front and back of his Tuatara card along with a card from when he was a Baystar:

2013 Front Runner Baystars Rookies & Young Stars #12
Kyohei Muranaka was no longer a member of any NPB team when he joined the Tuatara last season.  He also had been a first round draft pick, having been selected by the Swallows out of high school back in 2005.  He was a Swallow for 14 seasons (although he only pitched with the top team in 11 of those seasons) and ultimately went 46-55 with an ERA of 4.30 in 199 games.  The Swallows released him after the 2019 season and after he drew no interest at the 12 team tryout in November he signed a deal with Auckland.  He went 2-2 with a 2.73 ERA in nine games during the regular season and (as the back of his baseball card says) he started the Tuatara's first ever playoff game in Melbourne.  For 2020 he has joined the Ryukyu Blue Oceans, the new Okinawa-based independent team.  Here's the front and back of his Tuatara card along with a card of him from his Yakult days:

2011 Swallows Team Set #YsS06

Wednesday, July 15, 2020

2020 Calbee Series Two

Series Two, the second of the expected three Series of Calbee sets this year, was released just about two weeks ago.  It was a slightly later release than usual - early July instead of late June - but I don't know if the delay was related to the COVID crisis.  There's a couple things in the make up of the set, however, that are related.

The base set contains 87 cards - 72 player cards (6 per team), 12 "AVG Leader" cards (1 per team) and 3 checklist cards (instead of the usual 4).  As usual the set has the same design as Series One and continues the card numbering of the player cards (Series One had card numbers 1-72 while Series Two has card numbers 73-144).

It's always hard to talk about player selection for a Calbee Series since no Series really stands alone but I will say that this Series seems a bit light on having "regular" player cards of big stars.  Probably the biggest names in the set are Seiichi Uchikawa, Takeya Nakamura and Munetaka Murakami.  There's a number of foreign players (Wladimir Balentien, Brandon Laird, Neftali Soto, Brandon Dickson and Po-Jung Wang) included along with four rookies (Roki Sasaki, Masato Morishita, Takaya Ishikawa and Yasunobu Okugawa) - all of whom were first round picks in last fall's draft.

I thought Calbee was doing better with their photos in the Series One set this year but I feel like they back-slid some with this set.  I think they've fallen back into the "batters batting, pitchers pitching" rut a bit too much although there are a handful of decent photos.  They've also back-slid on using a horizontal foramt - there are only two horizontal cards in this Series after there were five in Series One.  Here's some example cards:

#079 Seiichi Uchikawa

#125 Ryutaro Umeno 

#138 Kento Fujishima

#144 Munetaka Murakami

#118 Haruhiro Hamaguchi

#075 Tatsuya Imai

#094 Roki Sasaki
The set includes a 12 card "AVG Leader" subset that features the top hitter from 2019 for each team.  As you'd expect there's a bunch of big names in the subset - Seiya Suzuki, Tomoya Mori, Norichika Aoki, Kensuke Kondoh, Hayato Sakamoto and Yoshio Itoi for example.   This is kind of an odd theme for a subset in a Calbee set - this is the kind of thing Calbee typically would do in one of their boxed sets that you win via a "lucky" card redemption - but I'm guessing with the season not starting until about two weeks before the set was released they didn't have a lot of options (although they COULD have done a subset featuring all 12 first round draft picks from last fall which they've done in the past).  Here's an example "AVG Leader" card:

While the topic for the subset might have been affected by the delay in the start of the season, the checklist cards were definitely affected.  Usually there are four checklist cards and the fronts of them show highlights from games in March and April.  Since there were no games in March and April, Calbee had to come up with something else.  What they decided on was to feature the new managers for this season - Hajime Miki of the Eagles, Shinji Sasaoka of the Carp and Shingo Takatsu of the Swallows.  Since there were only three new managers they only did three checklist cards.  Here's Miki's card:

I should mention that the checklists are numbered 5 to 7 since the checklists in Series One were 1 to 4.

All the cards can be seen over at Jambalaya (including the Star insert cards and the limited edition box set called WINS Leaders).  And Sean wrote a little about this set the other day as well.

Tuesday, July 14, 2020

2020 Epoch NPB set

For the third year in a row Epoch has issued a "flagship" set called "NPB".  The set came out towards the end of May but I just received it last week.  I had purchased the set when it came out through Noppin, the proxy company I usually use to bid on Yahoo! Japan Auctions, but since shipping from Japan is a bit of a cluster---- right now I waited until I had picked up a Calbee Series Two set as well to save a little bit of money by shipping both sets together.

The previous two editions of the set each had 432 cards but this year the set has grown to 444 cards.  Once again though there are 432 "regular" player (and manager) cards in the set - the additional 12 cards are a subset called "Legendary Player" the features OB players.  The 432 "regular" cards are split evenly among the 12 teams (36 cards per team) and the 12 "Legendary Player" cards are also split evenly among the 12 teams (1 card per team).

Every year I've compared the players who appear in this set with the players who appear in BBM's 1st Version set and I'm always surprised at who is in one set but not the other.  There are 140 players who appear in the NPB set but not 1st Version which is the most in the three year history of the set.  This includes fan favorites but failed prospects like Louis Okoye, Yuki Saitoh and Shintaro Fujinami along with other players like Kenshi Sugiya, Daisuke Yamai, Atsushi Nohmi and Kazuki Tanaka.  There's a handful of Westerners - Spencer Patton, Ernesto Mejia, Alan Busenitz, Raidel Martinez and Livan Moinelo - along with someone I was surprised wasn't in 1st Version - T-Okada (although I had not previously noticed this).  There are 32 players in 1st Version who do not appear in this set.  The bulk of these (28 of them) are Westerners, especially ones who are in their first season in Japan like Tyler Austin, Gerardo Parra, Alcides Escobar, Jerry Sands, Matt Moore and Cory Spangenberg or who switched teams over the winter like Frank Herrman and Stefen Romero.  That's not to say there are no foreign players in the first year in Japan in the set - it does have Justin Bour and Adam Jones in it. 

Like BBM's 1st Version set the set also includes all 12 managers plus all the non-ikusei 2019 draft picks for each team.

I really like the design of this set.  I prefer borderless fronts on my baseball cards and for the first time Epoch has done a borderless design for this set (after two years of white borders).  My main gripe with the set is that Epoch still really hasn't broken away much from the "batters batting, pitchers pitching, catchers catching" monotony of photographic poses - at least not as much as BBM did in the 1st Version set this year.  Still there's a handful of at least slightly more interesting photos.  Here's a bunch of example cards:










Here's what the card backs look like.  These have been pretty much the same in every NPB set so far - they have a cropped version of the photo from the front on the card and the player's stats for his last three years (at most) in NPB with no stats for any other leagues (MLB, KBO or CPBL).  Here's an example back:

#208 (Masataka Yoshida)
I mentioned that there were 12 "Legendary Player" cards that featured OB players.  Eleven of those twelve players are actually retired - Shijiro Hiyama, Masumi Kuwata, Nobuhiko Matsunaka, Shinya Miyamoto, Eishin Soyogi, Hitoshi Tamura, Yoshitomo Tani, Kazuyoshi Tatsunami, Kiyoshi Toyoda, Teppei (Tsuchiya) and Shunsuke Watanabe - but the other one is still active in MLB - Shohei Ohtani:

I'm pretty much convinced the only reason the "Legendary Player" cards are in the set is so that Epoch can include autographed cards of them in packs.

As always you can see all the cards (along with the parallels and inserts) over at Jambalaya.

Sunday, July 12, 2020

Card Of The Week July 12

Last Friday was the first day that fans were allowed into the ballparks in Japan.  The teams are limiting the crowds to no more than 5000 people with plans to go to half capacity on August 1st (assuming the increase in cases in Tokyo and other places doesn't continue).  One of the games on Friday was called on account of rain (Swallows at Giants in Kobe) and another was called after five innings because of the weather (Baystars at Tigers at Koshien Stadium) but all of the remaining games were decided in the final inning.  The Lions pushed across the winning run in the top of the ninth in Chiba but the other three games sent all the fans home happy as they all ended on dramatic sayonara home runs.

In Osaka, the Fighters had a 3-1 lead on the Buffaloes with two outs and two on in the bottom of the ninth when Aderlin Rodriguez did this:

About 10 minutes later and 300 miles to the west, Yuki Yanagita led off the bottom of the 10th with this prodigious blast:

Over in Nagoya (and I'm not sure where it falls in the timeline of the evening) the Dragons had a bottom of the ninth rally to tie their game with the Carp at 1 before Dayan Viciedo made it a 2-1 final with with a solo home run in the bottom of the 10th:

According to John E. Gibson and the Japan Baseball Weekly podcast, this is the third time in history that there were three walk off home runs in one day in Japan.  The most recent time was last September 4th and the other time (according NPB Reddit) was September 10, 1967.

I thought I'd share cards of the three players this week.  I just got the new Epoch NPB and Calbee Series Two sets the other day and I'll be doing posts on them in the next few days so I thought I'd show cards of Yanagita and Viciedo from the sets as kind of preview.  Rodriguez isn't in either set so I'm just going to show his BBM 1st Version card - it's the only card I have of him so far.

2020 BBM 1st Version #151

2020 Epoch NPB #063

2020 Calbee "AVG Leader" #AL-11