Thursday, May 30, 2024

Lions Mini-Shikishi Cards

I had mentioned a few weeks back that one of the things I was going to be on the lookout for in Japan were the "mini colored paper" or "mini shikishi" sets issued by a company known variously as "Hits", "TIC" or "216 Co., Ltd.  These are team sets of oversized (5 1/2 inches wide by 4 3/4 inches high), blank-backed cards.  Ryan and I actually found some on my first full day in Japan - the Lions were selling packs of them in their store out at their ballpark.  We each picked up two packs which at 700 yen a piece was probably more than either of us really wanted to spend on them.  Ryan was generous enough to give me the Takeya Nakamura that he pulled.  Here's the Nakamura and the two cards I got:

The only other place I saw these was at Mint Hiroshima - they had several boxes full of singles from various Carp sets.  The cards were relatively cheap, mostly 200 yen.  I would have picked up a couple but I was going to the Carp game after visiting the store and I wasn't sure if I'd have been able to keep the cards undamaged in the small shoulder bag I was taking with me.

Wednesday, May 29, 2024

More Epoch One Cards

Continuing my posts about the cards that I brought home from Japan...

As usual I asked Ryan if he wouldn't mind ordering some of the Epoch One cards as they became available.  If you're not aware, Epoch One is Epoch's version of on demand cards a la Topps Now although they are cheaper (500 yen) and are available for three days.

Ryan has requested a bunch of cards on my behalf so far this year but by the time I last saw him last weekend, he had only received ten cards.  I selected these either because I liked the photo or because it featured an alternate uniform (or both).   It's kind of a coincidence that there's so many Ryuki Watarai cards - I wanted cards highlighting his historic Opening weekend but I also liked the photos on the cards.

Here's all ten cards - note that the first one is actually from spring training:

2024 Epoch One #079

2024 Epoch One #118

2024 Epoch One #120

2024 Epoch One #145

2024 Epoch One #172

2024 Epoch One #215

2024 Epoch One #222

2024 Epoch One #255

2024 Epoch One #260

2024 Epoch One #271

The highest print run for any of the cards was 1011 for Watari's Opening Day home run (#118) while the smallest was for Takayuki Kajitani's catch (#145) - 39.

I made a point of getting Epoch One cards for the games I went to on my last trip to Japan but I was disappointed that there were only three.  So far there have been seven eight issued for the games I went to and I've asked Ryan to pick them all up.  

Older Epoch One cards were available in many of the stores I went to.  I resisted the urge to buy any of them with the exception of this one:

2018 Epoch One #423

I came across this card at Coletre and I had absolutely no memory of this player.  As it turned out, he played with Yomiuri in both 2018 and 2019 although the only card I have for him was from the 2019 BBM Giants set.

Tuesday, May 28, 2024

GPBL Cards

Since I feel like I have a big backlog of cards to deal with, I'm going to kick off my trip-related posts with some posts about the cards I brought back.  This first post deals with some cards from the Girls Professional Baseball League (GPBL) which was the original name of the Japan Women's Baseball League (JWBL).  I had seen a four card lot of BBM's cards from the league a few months back and asked Ryan to pick it up for me.

There were four cards in the lot - two from 2010 and two from 2011.  Let's talk about the 2010 cards first:

2010 BBM Hyogo Swing Smileys #H08

2010 BBM Hyogo Swing Smileys #HS03

From just looking at the cards, it's not entirely obvious that they're from the same set.  The card number of the first cards has an "H" prefix while the second one has an "HS" prefix.  Luckily, the lot contained the envelope that the cards were distributed in and it has a checklist on it:

The Matsumoto card is in the first column while the Hagiwara card is in the second.  It looks like the "H" checklist and the "HS" checklist are the same.  I'm guessing the "S" in "HS" stands for something like "shiny" as the Hagiwara card has a foil finish on it.

These are the first 2010 GPBL cards I've gotten.  I assume these cards were distrubuted in the envelope at games that year but that's really just speculation on my part.  I know that that in 2011 there were essentially three GPBL sets by BBM (a Hyogo Swing Smileys team set, a Kyoto Asta Dreams team set and a 70-ish card set featuring all the players from both teams) but I have no idea if that was the case in 2010 also.  All I know for sure is that they did team sets for both Hyogo (which these cards came from) and Kyoto (which Ryan has the envelope from).  

Moving on to the 2011 cards...

2011 BBM Hyogo Swing Smileys #H21

2011 BBM Hyogo Swing Smileys #H15

It again is not completely obvious that these cards are from the same set but the checklist that Ryan sent me previously shows both of these cards.  It looks like cards 1-17 and cards 21-37 have the same players but have a slightly different design.

It also appears that BBM did not reuse the same photos for the team set and the 70-ish card GPBL set as neither card of Nonomura from the GPBL set (one of which can be seen here and the other can be seen in this post of Ryan's) use the same photo as the Nonomura card I have here.  Of course, that's just a data point of one so maybe it doesn't hold up for the rest of the cards.

I'd love to get more of these cards but it's so rare that I come across any.

Monday, May 27, 2024


This year's trip to Japan is over.  I arrived home late last night - two and a half hours lster than expected due to weather delays in Chicago - and I'm spending a leisurely Memorial Day relaxing and trying to get some things organized.

Above are the cards I brought home.  It's not quite the haul I had last time but it's still going to keep me busy for a bit.

The trip itself was fantastic.  I saw 15 games in 13 different ballparks - 11 NPB games, 2 Tokyo Big Six games, 1 NPB ni-gun game and one corporate league game.  I went to 21 different card shops (or at least shops that had cards) in seven different cities.  I got to see Kazuma Okamoto hit a home run and Roki Sasaki pitch.

I had some disappointments too.  The Dragons ni-gun game I planned on going to was canceled due to poor field conditions.  A card shop that I went out of my way to visit was unexpectedly closed.  And my favorite player - Takeya Nakamura of the Lions - had the day off the one time I saw the Lions play.

I got to spend time with friends over there as well.  Ryan and I attended a couple games and hit some stores.  Deanna and her boyfriend Noel were visiting Japan as well and I got to hang out with them some, including sitting in the Marines ouendan with them and Steve at the aforementioned Sasaki game.  Sean and I met up for dinner at a Dragons-themed Chinese restaurant in Nagoya.  A late running Baystars game in Yokohama last Saturday disrupted plans for John E. Gibson (of the Japan Weekly Baseball podcast) and I to meet up for dinner that evening but we were able to meet up briefly for coffee the next morning.

I'll try to get started on the posts about the trip later this week but there's a lot to catch up on after being gone for two weeks.   The biggest thing is that I became a grandfather while I was away - my oldest daughter gave birth to a little girl!  I had hoped to be home before she delivered but babies don't care about your plans.  Mother and daughter are doing fine and I'm looking forward to spending time with the latest member of the family.

Sunday, May 26, 2024

Card Of The Week May 26

Today was my last day in Japan and I am currently flying home.  It's been a great trip and I'll be doing a lot of posts about it over the next few months.

I picked up a lot of cool cards but I need to mention this card in particular:

This is card #642 of the 1996 BBM set.  It's a short printed "Late Series" card of Yonetoshi Kawamata and it is the final card I needed to not only complete the 1996 BBM set, it is the final card I needed to complete the full run of BBM sets from 1991 to the present.  It's been the final card I've needed for a few years now and I was thrilled to find it.

It's kind of funny, though, I'd had daydreams of finding this card at BITS or Quad Sports but that's not what happened.  Three days before I left for Japan, I discovered someone selling the card on Mercari and asked Ryan to pick it up for me.  He had already received it by the time I arrived and he was able to hand it to me when we met up in Tokyo.  Maybe it's not as good of a story as finding it at one of my favorite shops but I'm happy to finally be done.

Sunday, May 19, 2024

Card Of The Week May 19

This will be quick as I'm still in Japan.  I'm writing these ahead of time but if everything went according to plan, I saw the Swallows play the Tigers at Koshien yesterday - and even did a pregame stadium tour!  Tickets for the Tigers have been tough to get this year, between the team's championship last season and the stadium celebrating its 100th Anniversary, so JapanBallTickets could only get me a ticket for the game if I sat in the Swallows cheering section.  I don't mind much but I am disappointed that I'm not going to get to root out loud for one of my new favorite players - Shota Morishita of the Tigers:

2024 Calbee Star #S-01

Sunday, May 12, 2024

Card Of The Week May 12

Last Monday Yoshitomu Tsutsugoh played his first NPB game since 2019 and it had a storybook ending.  The Baystars were down 5-3 in the bottom of the eighth when he stepped to the plate with two runners on.  Tsutsugoh drove the ball into the right center stands for a three run home run that proved to be the game winner in the 6-5 Yokohama victory.  Here's his card from the 2013 Front Runner Baystars Rookies & Young Stars set (#05): 

Posting is going to be pretty light over the next few weeks as I am back in Japan!  I'll be going to lots of games and card shops and I'll have a lot to talk about once I get back.

Tuesday, May 7, 2024

Team Sets, A Food Set And The Return Of Topps

Once again, time has flown by since the last time I did a round up of the newly announced sets so without further ado, let's get to it...

- BBM has announced four more of their annual "comprehensive" team sets.  Each set has a base set of 81 cards, most of which are "regular" player cards featuring the manager and the players on the 70 man roster plus a couple subsets (which may not be fully defined yet) to fill out the set.  Each set also has 18 non-premium insert cards split into a variety of sets which also may not be fully defined yet.  The Treasure, Esperanza and Magical inserts are all serially numbered.  (If it's not obvious, the "Regular Cards", "Treasure", "Esperanza" and "Magical" columns are the total number of those type of cards in each set.) 
Release DateTeamRegular CardsSubsetsNon-Premium InsertsTreasureEsperanzaMagicalOther
Mid JuneFighters68Newcomer(4), Main Pitcher (4), Main Batters (5)Main Players(9), New Players(3), Promising Young Players(3), Reliable Helpers(3)2415
Autograph  cards
Mid JuneBuffaloes68Orimen(5), Combination Cards(5), New Forces(3)Main Players(9), Evolution of High School Graduate Pitchers(3), Promising Young Pitchers(3), Rookie(3)241524Autograph & memorabilia cards
Mid JuneDragons69Year Of The Dragon(5), New Dynamics(3), Native-born Aichi Hero(4)Go Be Brave(9), Rising Dragon(6), Bright Future(3)241524Autograph cards
Mid JuneSwallows69New Forces(4), Promising Young Sluggers(4), Veterans(3), Mascot(1)Core Players(9), Featured Breakout Candidates(6), Rookie(3)2415
Autograph cards

This brings the total number of team sets BBM has released or announced this year to ten with only the Carp and Eagles, which coincidentally are two of the three teams that Epoch has just announced sets for...

- Epoch announced two more of their "Premier Edition" team sets - the Fighters and the Carp.   The Fighters set will be out on June 1st and will have 45 cards in its base set - I think nine of those are OB players.  The Carp set will be released on June 29th and has a base set of 39 cards, only one of which is an OB player (looks like it's a card of manager Takehiro Arai when he was a player - Arai also has a manager card in the set).  All the base cards have a "holo foil" parallel and both sets have the usual gazillion insert cards that are too numerous to list here.  Both sets feature five different types of player autograph cards - "Authentic", "Star", "Rookie", "Legendary" and "Combo".

- Epoch and the Eagles are continuing their team up with what had previously been a Eagles team issued set.  The Eagles 2nd Version set will be released on June 29th and will have a base set of 76 cards.  This is essentially a "comprehensive" team set that not only has cards for all the players on the team's 70 man roster but also the ikusei players.  There's two insert sets - a six card set that I'm not positive but I think has OB players and a seven card "Crimson Heat" set.  There's a bunch of different autographed cards available and "rookie bib" memorabilia cards.  There's also a special version of Epoch's ubiquitous "Gem" serially numbered insert cards.  

- Topps is returning for their fourth year of doing NPB sets.  Their "flagship" NPB set will be released on May 24th.  Like the previous three sets, this one has a base set of 216 cards (18 cards per team) and features a design that is similar to the MLB flagship set's design.  (Actually just eyeballing the sample cards in the promo materials, it looks like the design is nearly identical this year.)  There's the usual plethora of parallels and five different insert sets - "Topps1959", "Superstar Blueprints", "Sokkyu", "Warp Speed" and "Sayonara!".  The "Topps1959" (which I assume puts current players into the 1959 Topps design) has 24 cards while the other four have 12.  There will be "featured legend" autograph cards again although they haven't announced who the players are yet - I'm assuming that again there will be no current NPB players among them, just retired players or active in MLB.

- Bandai is issuing an interesting looking food issue set in July.  It's a set of 36 "metallic placards" that will be given away in packages of what I think are rice crackers.  I'm assuming that there's three cards per team.  What's kind of cool about these cards is that they don't have photos - they have player caricatures.  While that's normally not something I'm a big fan of, I find these to be really appealing:


Sunday, May 5, 2024

Card Of The Week May 5

Do you know who the first Western player to hit 40 home runs in a season in Japan was?  The answer is Dave Roberts, who did it with the Sankei Atoms in 1968.  If your response to that is "who?", well, you're not alone.  I think Roberts is one of the least known foreign stars in NPB history.  He played for the Sankei/Yakult Atoms from 1967 to 1973 and hit over 30 home runs in three seasons, won two Best 9 Awards and made the All Star team four times.  He departed the team under odd circumstances although not because he did anything wrong.  The Swallows signed Joe Pepitone a month or so into the 1973 season.  Since the roster rules at the time only allowed teams to have two foreign players and Yakult wanted to keep Art Lopez around, they parted ways with the 40-year old Roberts.  He signed with the Kintetsu Buffaloes but only played for them for about a month before a chronic issue with bone spurs ended his career.

What's odd about Roberts is that he has almost no Japanese baseball cards!  He had the misfortune to play at a time when there were very few baseball cards printed in Japan so as far as I can tell, he only had two cards.  Both of the cards were from a kind of oddball menko from roughly 1972 that Engel lists as "JCM 15a".  One of the cards shows him wearing a Pittsburgh Pirates hat which is kind of odd seeing as he hadn't been part of the Pirates organization since 1966.  The other card depicts him hatless in a Yakult uniform.  I just picked up the latter card this past week off of Ebay:

The other player on the card is Hall Of Famer Taturo Hirooka.  If you had not realized that Hirooka had ever been with the Carp, well, join the club.  He spent two years coaching for his hometown-ish Carp (he was born in Kure, Hiroshima-prefecture) in 1970-71, apparently having been recruited by Rikuo Nemoto.  He would go on to manage the Swallows to their first ever Nippon Series championship in 1978, then go on to succeed Nemoto as Lions manager in the early 80's and lead the team to two Nippon Series titles.

Thursday, May 2, 2024

Back History

I've been wanting to do a post on NPB card backs for years but I've never gotten around to it.  I started working on one today but it's morphing into something else so I'm just going to go with the flow.  You might need to forgive me for getting kind of deep in the weeds here.

One interesting aspect of the back of BBM's cards is that they have a list of the teams that the player has played on.  Now, I don't mean just the teams listed in the player's statistical record, I mean...well, it'll be easier to show you what I'm talking about.  Here's the back of Hideaki Wakui's card from last year's 1st Version set (#303):

I put a red oval around the part I wanted to highlight - this lists all the teams that Wakui has played for:
横浜高 = Yokohama High School
西武 = Seibu
ロッテ = Lotte
楽天 = Rakuten
中日 = Chunichi

It also indicates that he was drafted in the first round and his first season with the Lions was 2005.  This is a little confusing as he was the team's first round pick in the fall, 2004 draft.  But since the draft is held after the season is over, his first season would have been the following year.  It also indicates that he went to the Marines in 2014, the Eagles in 2020 and the Dragons in 2023.

So big deal, you may be saying to yourself, besides the high school and the draft position, I can see all that in the statistical record.  True but what about other teams that don't show up in the statistical record.  Take a look here at Daigo Kamikawabata's data from his 2023 1st Version card (#148):

This lists his high school (倉敷商高 = Kurashiki Commercial High School), his college (日本大 = Nihon University), his industrial league team (NTT東日本 = NTT East) and then that he was the ninth round pick of the Fighters (北海道日本ハム= Hokkaido Nippon-Ham) in the 2021 draft with his first season with the team being 2022.

The independent league teams are included in these histories too.  Let's look at Katsuya Kakunaka's 2-2023 1st Version card (#127):

The first blurb again is his high school but the second one is for the Shikoku Island League's (四国IL) Kochi (高知) Fighting Dogs from where he was drafted by Lotte in the seventh round of the 2006 draft.

The history doesn't just indicate which team but whether the player is on the 70 man roster or the development roster.  Consider Takuya Kai's 1st Version card from last year (#038):

You can probably recognize now that this is saying he was a sixth round pick for Softbank (ソフトバンク) in 2010 but what's that 育 symbol mean?  That indicates that it was the development player (ikusei) portion of the draft.  The "14" indicates that he was signed to the 70 man roster in 2014.

BBM includes these histories on the card backs in almost all their sets.  Check out Shota Fukushima's card from the 2023 Dragons set (#D28):

What happened here?  Fukushima was drafted by the Dragons in the fourth round in 2020 but got injured during the 2021 season.  Chunichi basically released him and resigned him as an ikusei player after that season which explains the "22 育".  Once his rehab was complete, the Dragons brought him back to the 70 man roster which is reflected in the "23" here.

It's not just teams in Japan that are listed.  Check out Norichika Aoki's list from his 1st Version card last year (#182):

So what we have here is high school (日向高 = Hyuga High School), college (早稲田大 - Waseda University) and his first stint with Yakult (ヤクルト) from 2004 to 2011 followed by his MLB odyssey - Brewers (ブルワーズ), Royals (ロイヤルズ), Giants (ジャイアンツ), Mariners (マリナーズ), Astros (アストロズ), Blue Jays (ブルージェイズ) and Mets (メッツ).  He then returned to Yakult in 2018.  I do find it interesting that BBM treats MLB the same way they treat any non-NPB team in that they don't indicate the years that the player was with that particular team.

What if the player went to MLB but only ended up playing in the minors?  Hiroyuki Nakajima had signed with Oakland in 2013 but spent his two years in their organization in the minor leagues.  Let's see what the back of his 2023 Giants card (#G37) looked like:

So after his stint with Seibu from 2001 to 2012, he's listed as being with the Athletics ( アスレチックス) but in the minor leagues (マイナー) before going to Orix (オリックス) in 2015.

Does BBM do this for foreign players?  Yes, they do.  Let's take a look at the back of Marwin Gonzalez's 1st Version card (#338):

Not only does it list his major league teams, it also has his Venezuelan high school (ラ・セイヨ高 = La Seillo High School although the Google translation might not be correct) which his Baseball-Reference page doesn't even have!  The next team listed is the Cubs who he originally signed with.  He only played in their organization though, he was traded away before reaching the majors.  The remainder of the list has the Astros (アストロズ), Twins (ツインズ), Red Sox (レッドソックス), Astros (アストロズ) again, and Yankees (ヤンキース) before listing him joining Orix (オリックス) for 2023.

The back of Dayan Viciedo's card (#311) isn't quite as complete:

We've still got his high school (エスクエラ・デポルテ・エスパ高 = Escuela Deporte Espa High School in Villa Clara, Cuba I think) but instead of listing the Cuban team he played for (Villa Clara) it just generically lists "Cuban League" (キューバリーグ).  It also only lists his time with the White Sox (ホワイトソックス) and not the time he spent in the Oakland organization.

Courtney Hawkins's career has seen him move back and forth from independent ball to MLB organizations a couple of times and the back of his card (#047) kind of just gives up and describes it generically:

So after the usual listing of his high school (メアリー・キャロル高 = Mary Carroll High School) it simply lists "US minor league" (米マイナーリーグ) and "US independent league" (米 独立リーグ) before it has him joining Softbank (ソフトバンク) for 2023.

BBM does this sort of thing for managers too.  For them, they list the teams that he was with as a player as well as the teams that he coached for.  That's "coached" for, not "managed" for, so the listing of teams after the manager's playing days is not just the teams he managed.  Let's look at Akinobu Okada's card (#217) to see how this works:

So we've got Hokuyo High School (北陽高) and Waseda University (早稲田大) and then he was the first pick of the Tigers (阪神) in the 1979 draft and started his career in 1980.  He finished his career with the Orix BlueWave (オリックス which is literally just "Orix") in 1994-95 and then became a coach for them in 1996-97.  I'm not sure what "引" after "95" is for as it is literally translating as "pull" but I think it's meant to indicate the end of his playing career.  He moved on to "coach" for Hanshin from 1998 to 2008 - note that there's no distinction between between his stint as a coach for the team from 1998 to 2003 and his managing the team from 2004-08.  Since 2009 his "coaching" stints have only been managerial roles, running Orix from 2010 to 2012 and Hanshin starting in 2023.

As you might expect, some of these can get really complicated.  Let's look at Shingo Takatsu's card (#163):

Takatsu's career took him from NPB to MLB, back to NPB and then to Korea, back to the US (the Giants organization) and then to CPBL before it ended in the indy Baseball Challenge League.  So we have the following:
広島工業 = Hiroshima Tech High School
亜細亜大 = Asia University
ヤクルト = Yakult (third round pick in 1990, in the organization from 1991 to 2003)
ホワイトソックス = White Sox
メッツ = Mets
ヤクルト = Yakult (in the organization from 2006 to 2007)
韓国/ウリ = Woori Heroes of the KBO (literally "South Korea/Woori")
米マイナーリーグ = literally "US minor league" (he pitched for Fresno, the Giants Triple-A team)
台湾/興農 = Sinon Bulls of the CPBL (literally "Taiwan/Sinon")
BCL/新潟 = Niigata Albirex of the Baseball Challenge League (literally "BCL/Niigata") where he pitched in 2011 and 12.  He also coached for them in 2012 although I don't think that's clear here.

With the "引" denoting the end of his playing career, he started coaching for Yakult in 2014 although he did not become the team's manager until 2020.

Here's another busy one.  See if you can figure out who this is:

Here's his list:
箕島高 = Minoshima High School
近鉄 = Kintetsu (second round pick in 1983, in the organization from 1984 to 1994)
ヤクルト = Yakult (in the organization from 1995 to 1997)
メッツ = Mets
ロッキーズ = Rockies
エクスポズ = Expos
オリックス = Orix (in the organization from 2003 to 2007)
ロッテ = Lotte (in the organization in 2007 when he retired as a player - I think that symbol is meant to indicate he joined the team mid-season but I'm not sure)
He was then a coach for:
北海道日本ハム = the Fighters from 2008 to 2012
ソフトバンク = the Hawks in 2015
北海道日本ハム = the Fighters again from 2016 to 2018
ロッテ = the Marines from 2019 to 2021 and then again starting in 2023.
This is, of course, Marines manager Masato Yoshii.

I've probably beaten this subject to death but I just wanted to share something that I find really cool on the backs of BBM's baseball cards.