* This is going to be a very long, picture heavy post. You’ve been warned. There’s a lot of fun stuff here though.
It was getting late. Not late in particular, but late in card show terms. My back and feet were starting to talk to me. I was growing ever increasingly conscious of the time – my window was closing. It was time to find one last good table. I was roaming quickly around the back corner when I spied a dealer with a mound of 3000 count boxes laid out in front of him – one featuring current Astros, priced by base/chrome/parallel/refractors at blanket prices.
Meh, I thought. Probably some cool stuff, but I was looking for a quantity score. After all, it’s probably the only card show I’ll get to for several more months. I moved past said box and started rifling very quickly through some segments of the quarter boxes laid out next to it. Stars and recent base cards from newer sets. Flagship parallels and tons of Bowman prospects from a few years back, guys that mostly didn’t pan out. A beleaguered yawn crept out of my mouth. I set a few cards aside. Then I turned the corner: ten cent boxes, and a few more cards pulled out. Had I really wanted to rack up some non-Astros PC guys like Randy Johnson, I could have come away with a big stack. But that wouldn’t have satisfied my itch.
I couldn’t say no to these, however. Some fine cards that I know P-Town Tom and Nick Vossbrink will appreciate.
I must have sent a signal to the dealer that I wasn’t really finding much, because he turned to me and asked what I was hunting. I told him I was really looking to find some Astros in the 1995-2005 region.
“You’re in the wrong boxes,” he said, and proceeded to move a few 3000 count boxes around. “Here, these three are all Astros.”
Well, hell – I’d just wasted ten minutes of good digging time! I threw myself headlong into the first box, and it was precisely what I wanted.
Weird short-run Topps sets that I’d totally missed when I was out of the collecting game? Check.
Awesome Pacific issues that I’d never seen before? Check.
’90s inserts? Check!
Crazy 90’s inserts featuring rookies? Oh yeah… Loving the spacey Richard Hidalgo from 1998 E-X 2001. Yeah, that brand name isn’t confusing, either.
90’s rookie insert with crazy effects? YEP.
Mother’s Cookies of guys who were only with the team for short periods of time? OH HELL YES.
MINOR LEAGUE CARDS? OH YEAH, BABY!
More minor league cards from one of the best minor league sets out there? Check. Look at little buntin’ Bobby Abreu.
Even recent minor league cards were there. Jio Mier was a first round pick in 2009, 21st overall. He’s still toiling in the minors, and split last season between AA Binghamton and AAA Las Vegas in the Mets system.
And then there was this thing. Sweet, sweet cardboard glory – that’s a 1986 Jennings Southern League All-Star card of Larry Ray, the Double-A Columbus Astros outfielder who went 1-for-6 in 7 at-bats in his only 5 major league games – in 1982! Larry was on the way down at this point – a AA All-Star who’d spent three full seasons in AAA and 1985 in the Mexican League. Cards are so great, how else would I have found this out?
Oh, but we’re far from done here. Buckle up there Chewie, because we’re about to take a ride into the PARALLEL UNIVERSE.
Early Topps Gold! I’m getting really close to finishing up the ’93 Gold team set. That’s a Tiffany parallel from 1996 Fleer. Bobby’s still bunting. Not sure how Fleer managed to commandeer the Tiffany name for their glossy parallels from 1996 and 1997.
Bazooka 2003 Silver parallel, Bazooka 2004 Red Chunks parallel. Both of these are very thick cards. Also, I really enjoyed Wade Miller when he came up. We caught an Astros game in Pittsburgh in ’03 I believe, and he was the starter. He’s from nearby, so he had a cheering section of about 30 friends and family, banner and all. It was a fun sight.
Ah, the early, simpler days of Bowman parallels: the “International” versions, both regular and Chrome varieties from 1998. I’ll always have a soft spot for Scott Elarton in my heart thanks to how kind he was to me as an autograph-hunting kid down by the bullpen.
1999 Bowman is not a particularly great set. The international parallels got even more confusing by ditching the map format and going with photos from – hometowns? I don’t even know. That’s Houston, but Alou isn’t from Houston. It’s not just where they played, because there are guys with things like the Alamo in the background.
Gold Bowman rookies!
Parallels from throwback sets! The Pettitte is probably a bit bigger than that in comparison to a normal card.
I didn’t find a whole lot of recent Topps parallels, but I probably just needed to get into the other boxes. I didn’t have time to keep digging though. I know Ultimate Victory isn’t really a parallel, but we’re just going to call it one. Just think, Upper Deck could have inserted it into packs instead of breaking it out into its own set!
Phew, the parallel ride is over. But the rookies sure aren’t! Young dudes from my youth.
Early Hidalgo cards, including the 1995 Bowman, a set I hardly see, and an unlicensed Score Board multi-sport set from 1997.
Bobby Abreu has moved on from bunting and into ROY favorite by this point. Unfortunately, we’d let him slip away in the expansion draft, upon which he’d promptly be flipped to Philadelphia and become a star.
Hunter and Miller were all the rage in ’95. These two knocked out my Zenith needs from that year, I believe.
Ah, great looking late ’90s sets. These are harder to come by, so it’s hard to gauge what the rest of you think of them. I am a big fan of 1996 Leaf Limited, with its shiny yet simple elegance. 1998 Upper Deck Retro was a fantastic example of a well-designed, original artwork set with a throwback feel. The Hidalgo is from a prospect-centered subset called Futurama, and I like the Metropolis-style line work going on here.
1995 Leaf is a near-perfect set, and I will fight anyone who says otherwise. Sean Berry is ready to fight too.
I’ve seen some people give 1997 Stadium Club a hard time. I think that’s a pretty good set. While the ’98 set is my favorite from the era, the ’99 is probably second. The sublime team logos are fantastic, but the ball laces above the player name – not so much.
Ah, the most beautiful set of the ’90s: 1998 Topps Gold Label. FIGHT ME IF YOU DARE. There is not a prettier set, no matter what you may think.
1995 Stadium Club had this weird Team Stadium Club subset. The text just screams ’90s. Hampton was always one of my favorites – the little lefty starter was a dynamo for us, and he had some pop in his bat too.
Real vintage from an absolutely beautiful 1984 Donruss set. I wonder if the print run was higher if we would all still love this one as much. Everyone does love ’84 Donruss, right? Whatever you do, don’t stare too deeply into the soulless eyes of Mark Loretta, though.
More Heritage from when I was out of the game. The ’61 design is sublime. Sure, you could argue that there ought to be a logo somewhere, but where would you really put it?
Starting pitching studs on some rarely seen sets. ’94 OPC is great, but that border on 2003 Opening Day is just ugly, especially given how great the blue looks on ’03 Flagship.
Speaking of Roy O, here’s a nice pair of Fleer cards from early in his career. The Banner Season threw me for a bit of a loop – I hadn’t realized that Fleer had revisited it’s ’61 design again after the Vintage ’61 inserts from 1999 Tradition. This is a high numbered subset from 2003 Fleer Tradition. I got excited when I saw “Stadium Access” at the top of this Authentix card from 2004, but it turns out that’s just the base version. Still, I can dig it.
MOAR ROOKIES. The little Rookie diamonds on the 1999 Pacific cards just crack me up. This is one of the posed SP variations that are harder to find. I nabbed the regular version as well. The Scout’s Choice is a pretty cool insert from 2000 Upper Deck MVP. Hmm, Scout’s Choice – seems like that’s one that Topps copped recently as well.
El Caballo! Dig that crazy die cut. Good to know that there’s only like 20 cards from that Documentary set with that exact photo on it, too. Those’ll look great in the binder together. Sigh.
Some studs from the 2004 and 2005 playoff teams on some sets that don’t surface much. That’s ’05 Bazooka – I like the way the name and team are set up like the old Bazooka Joe comic bar, that’s a nice touch. The Ensberg is from 2006 Olan Mills, er, Topps Co-Signers.
My Astros Vinnies. Castilla got off to a slow start with Tampa in 2001, which led them to release him in late May. The ‘Stros picked him up and he hit .270/.320/.492 with 23 homers and 28 doubles in 122 games. Pretty good for a waiver claim! He’d re-sign with Atlanta after the season was over.
More guys from the 2005 World Series team. Playoff put out some really nice looking cards from 2002-2005. It’s a shame they didn’t hang around longer, but I feel like they blew their shot by going completely as high-end releases. They put out some spectacular sets though, and gave us plenty of relic cards to boot. Willy T shows up in a 2006 Sweet Spot, which looks surprisingly, well, low-rent for its set. Given that I’d only seen stuff from 2006 Sweet Spot Update, which looks very different, I was particularly surprised.
We’re close to the end, don’t worry. Here’s some more cards of everyone’s favorite dude that peed on his hands, Moises Alou. Gotta love the dudes that don’t wear batting gloves, right? That’s a sneaky ‘Stro on the right that I didn’t have on my want list, given that he’d already signed with the Cubs but was still in a Houston uniform.
Speaking of signings, J.D. just got himself a fat payday to play in Bahstuhn.
Topps sure does love it’s damn rookie cup. I get it, but how many times do we have to revisit this stuff? That’s a hell of a photograph, too. I sure hope Willy T wasn’t planning on using that ancient glove in center field.
Of course there was glorious Pacific craziness in the box. This isn’t even an insert, it’s just what 2000 Pacific Crown Royale looked like. I LOVE IT.
What in the hell is this? That is a supremely crazy game card if I’ve ever seen one. I’ve never really been one for the game oriented cards, but this acetate (yep!) beast was a completely new one to me.
If you made it this far, thanks for coming along for the ride. We’ll close out with a stellar card from the 2017 Heritage Baseball Flashbacks inserts. This beauty with a strapping young Joe Morgan is just what the doctor ordered. In fact, I’d argue that this is a prime example of how to do a throwback-style design with original artwork.
All told, I picked up some 300 cards from the dealer, and he charged me just 20 bucks. If you’ll recall, that’s a ten dollar discount, and makes this dime box more like a 6 2/3 cents box. Hell of a way to end the show, right?
There’s one last card show post to come, but I promise it’s much shorter than this one.