The Hunker Down Chronicles, Part 7: July 2017 TTM Report

Aug. 28, 5:00 pm: It's been raining all damn day. Not heavily, though there were some bursts. Specifically, right after I wrote last night's blog entry, we got nearly 3" over the course of an hour. Here's the past 24 hours at the nearest gage.

And here's, well, the past week, though really it's just the past 5 days we're looking at here:

Yes, we've gotten nearly 31 inches of rain altogether. By the time I finish writing this post, we'll probably have breached that. Again, RTA HQ is still high and dry. My parents are in Sugar Land, where their neighborhood is in part of the voluntary evacuation zone as the authorities expect the Brazos River to continue to rise until cresting Tuesday evening at 59 feet. Mainly because at that point, it can't really get any higher, it will just spill out over the watershed. The next neighborhood over is part of the significant mandatory evacuation zone in Fort Bend county, but my folks are just upstream and while they may get stuck in their neighborhood for several days, it looks like they should be fairly fine. It's possible they see a small amount of water in the house, but fingers are crossed that we won't have any problems. They're well supplied, so they're planning to just wait it out.

The constant rain has made us a little stir crazy here. The poor dumb mutt refuses to go out into the rain to go to the bathroom, so he's just been sleeping the entire day. I wish it would clear for a good 15 minutes even, so that I could get him out. I'd like to go help, or try to scrounge up some more groceries, or do anything, but with enough uncertainty about clear roads and the never ending rain, it's just not feasible. If the baby weren't here, Mel and I would probably have made our way over to the nearby George R. Brown Convention Center to volunteer - it's only about a five minute drive normally and it's being used as a massive shelter at the moment.

Enough frustration. Let's find some positivity, shall we? While I've been pretty bad at updating the blog prior to this storm, I haven't let down my torrent of TTM requests. Now seems like a pretty good time to start catching up.

Steve Yeager: 2/2.
Sent: 6/17, Received: 7/13, total time: 26 days.
I'd seen a Yeager success or three reported at SCN and figured, what the heck, why not? I knew he was in the '81 Fleer set, (which I'm casually working on getting as much as I can signed) and scooped the '73 RC when I came across it while digging on an LCS trip. These were sent c/o the Dodgers, where Yeager is a coach.

Sam August, er, Jeff Juden: 4/4.
Sent: 2/7, Received 7/18, total time: 161 days.
At the time, Juden was one of the guys I needed for my Astros all-time roster autographs. I'd picked up a signed card in a swap while these were out, but I was really happy to see these come back. I remember meeting Juden as a little tike back in 1992 at the Astros FanFest. I'm glad he signed that "Sam August" card - it's Juden in a batting pose (odd part number one, right?). Classic didn't do so hot with the 1991 Generals roster - August's card features Juden, Juden's card features Shane Reynolds, Reynold's card features Orlando Miller (no idea how they messed that up), and Miller's card features the real Sam August.

Jorge De Leon: 1/1
Sent: 7/17, Received 7/24, 7 days.
Another random reliever from the roster down! DeLeon is pitching with the Gary Southshore RailCats this year, so I sent this one c/o the team. He must have had a translator that helped with answering the questions I asked. While his stats with Houston weren't impressive, he did something amazing when he came into a game against Cincinnati on Sept 18, 2013 in the 12th inning, getting three outs on just three pitches.

Jon Matlack: 2/2
Sent: 7/17, Received: 7/24 , 7 days.
I've been slowly adding some of the big annual award winners to my list, so when a Matlack second year card dropped into my lap, I filed it in my "to write" box. After it sitting there for a while, I finally dug it out and the '81 Fleer and dropped them to him. He was very kind, adding the 1972 NL ROY inscription I requested.

Tommy Helms: 1/1
Sent: 7/17, Received 7/25, 8 days.
Helms has been a frustrating one for me - he's got a decent reported success rate, but this was my third attempt and first response from him - and it smudged, to boot! Oh well. I may try once more. Helms also checks off a ROY slot on my list, as he won the 1968 NL ROY with Cincinnati.

Dave Borkowski: 2/2
Sent: 7/17, Received 7/28, 11 days.
Dave was with the 'Stros for a hot minute from 2006-2008. He's now the pitching coach for the Astros' AA affiliate, the Corpus Christi Hooks, where these were sent.

Doug DeCinces: 2/2
Sent: 7/17, Received 7/31, 14 days.
DeCinces was a fine third baseman for the Orioles and Angels. I'm not sure why he got a "Golden Glove" designation in the 1981 Fleer set, given that he, uh, didn't win one. He did finish third in the 1982 AL MVP voting and won a Silver Slugger that year, however. These two checked off a couple more signed cards from the '81 Fleer list. At the moment I've got somewhere around 35 cards from the set signed.

More posts (and rain) to come,

 - Marc


The Hunker Down Chronicles, Part 6: Trading Tornadoes

Aug 27, 10:00 pm: Rain was fairly sparse for us throughout the day, relatively speaking. Don't get me wrong - it rained the entire day, but in our location it was light most of the time. Thankfully, much of the city caught a break throughout the day, so that would have given water some opportunity to move along. However, we are by no means out of the woods as a city. In fact, they are going to release water from one of the two reservoirs on the west side of the city tonight - releasing more water into an already flooded system, something they have never done before. The risk in not doing it, though, is that the reservoir dam (built in the 30s by the Army COE) will eventually fail, causing an even larger catastrophe. As it is, they're trying to time the release for after the strong bands pass through tonight.

Remember the rain gage I showed in my earlier post? Well, here's a nice little graph showing the rain at the nearest gage over the past week. Those are 12 hour totals, and it's about to pick back up. Yes, we've gotten about 22 inches at our house so far, and it's just starting for the night.

For a little background on the way Houston's drainage works, I think you should all read this thread. It's a really good primer. I even learned some things while reading it, and it'll explain why they're going to release water from the reservoir.

On to some cards. This is from a trade I made way back at the beginning of the year on TCDB, when I was really trying to get rid of some significant amounts of cardboard. Note: I still am, but I just can't prioritize it at the moment, so I'm moving them when I can. This was a great little trade with Nick, who's handle is Hittinaway. I sent a little grip of Griffeys over and requested a few 'Stros from the '96 Zenith set, including this Biggio.

I also asked for this Ripken and a Nomo from the checklist, for a pair of PCs. Nick sent along a few more, including this nice Upper Deck Game Face card.

Nick was kind enough to throw in some extras as well, like these rad Upper Deck Black Diamonds.

There were some more spare 'Stros as well, including two great 80's Fleer oddballs of Glenn Davis.

More shiny goodness from Upper Deck.

We'll close it out with this great Biggio card from The Big Show subset in 1997 Collector's Choice. Check out that primed bunt. Insert joke about Houston being the Big Show at the moment.

Thanks again for the trade Nick! Let's do it again soon.

- Marc

The Hunker Down Chronicles, Part 5: A Bucket of Rain and a Bevy of Bregmans

Aug 27, 1 pm: Storm update - we had an absolute ton of rain last night. A map of the many various rain gages across the Houston area is here on the right - the numbers listed are the total rainfall in the past 24 hours. Yes, there are places that saw as much as 20 inches or more over the past day.

Harvey has thrown us beyond the 500 year flood marker in some spots, and this is going to be the new benchmark storm for the region. We're due for even more rain in the next few days, with the storm center due to circle back south before tracking straight up through Houston. Hopefully, the worst of the rain is over and there will be enough abatement throughout the days that we can handle the extra rain over the nights.

Here at RTA HQ, we've been fortunate. We still have power, and while we've seen around 15 inches by us, our block and the few blocks nearby drain swiftly once the heavy bands of rain subside. At a sustained rate of about 2 inches per hour (heavy thunderstorm), the storm drains here in Houston can't keep up, and that's when we see street flooding. Well, we saw rates of 3-4 inches per hour, even 5-6 inches in some areas. That's led to the emergency situation you've seen on TV. When the bands let up, we still have constant rainfall, but the drains are able to start allowing more water out. Fortunately, as I said, the several blocks around us drain extremely well and quickly. Other areas not far from us have not been as lucky. Commishbob reported a couple hours ago that he is ok.

If you've sent a trade package here, you might know that we live on Clay Street now. We're pretty close to where it says the street name on the map. Those are the two gages near us - I selected the one at Lawndale and Brays Bayou - which is 5 feet over its banks now - as it's probably the most accurate. It's a gage from the Harris Country Flood Control District, reporting 15.52 inches of rain across the past 24 hours (the 17.92 below us is a Texas Dept. of Transportation gage, but I think they're more influenced by some of the infrastructure as they're almost all along the highways.

As I said, the street's clear at the moment, and other than a dog who doesn't like to venture out in the rain, we're all fine. Lil Bru sleeps through thunderstorms like a champ, apparently!

Alright, time to write about some cards - I had been hunting down a few things on eBay, and came across a big lot of Bregmans. You know, one of those big packages where someone's thrown together a whole bunch of base cards and inserts, etc?

Well, this one was too good to pass up - it was going to fill a bunch of 2017 holes that I'm sure I could have sourced through trades, but there was a little something extra that made me pull the trigger.

First up is a 2017 Bowman base card. Fairly nice. No real complaints, other than the odd fractures coming out of the lower left ball. I'm fine with this design.

There were other base cards from Flagship, Opening Day, Heritage (w/ Gurriel) and GQ, but I'm going to show off the inserts that I landed.

There were some pre-Stros Bregmans in the lot! Look at that baby playing for Team USA.

I got some shiny inserts from this year's Bowman Chrome. I really like that they pulled out the 1997 "Rookie of the Year Favorites" insert out for a rehash.

There were Gypsy Queen inserts as well, with a purple border and the Fortune Teller making their way to my collection.

This is one of those fancy Silver Pack cards that was inserted into boxes of Series 2. It's shiny! And while it might seem like the rarity that made me pull the trigger on the lot, that distinction is actually held by our next card...

Woohoo! A certified Bregman auto from Gypsy Queen! Given the number of cards in the lot and this baby, I put in a best offer and after a little back and forth, the seller and I found ourselves at a deal. I'm particularly excited because this serves as my Bregman signature for the Astro-graphs project, at least until I possibly manage to get a card signed in person.

More updates later to come,

 - Marc


The Hunker Down Chronicles, Part 4: Saturday Night Five

Aug. 26, 8:30 pm: Well, the rain began rolling back into our part of town about half an hour ago. We'd been clear since about 11 am, but tonight is going to bring a hefty amount of rain.

Let's show off a five pack of vintage cards from a pair of eBay pickups.

In my quest to get an Astros/Colt .45s card signed by each member of the all-time roster, that means tracking down some tricky cards - in particular, I've put off these two pesky 1966 high numbers for quite some time. But Kroll and Mantilla have great success rates, so I finally dropped a little coin on eBay to secure a pair of nice looking ones for some signatures. Now, neither of them is actually in an Astros uniform on their hatless appearances, with Kroll in Mets pinstripes and Mantilla wearing a Boston collar, but I've lucked into two fabulous photos of them that I can shop into some customs. These were each about 10-15 bucks.

Any seasoned eBay card shopper knows the majesty of combined shipping. So I went hunting briefly through the low-priced cards under the "Seller's other Auctions" section and found this gem, which I need for my '68 team set, for a scant extra $1.20. Yes, you read that right. Three HOFers and the Toy Cannon for just over a buck. Aaron said that Wynn would have had him beat for the HR title that year if it wasn't for the cavernous Astrodome.

My "Houston" search also turned up this lovely gem, a second-year card of basketball HOFer and Rockets legend (and the basketball annoucer's equivalent of Don Cherry when it comes to attire). This '72-'73 Topps is Calvin's first Houston card, as he's still show in the formerly San Diego Rockets green and gold uniforms. This added less than a buck to my total at the whopping price of 95 cents!

But the best bonus pickup of the lot was the next card...

This '65 NL Batting Leaders is now my oldest piece of vintage Clemente cardboard, and I was able to add it to my digital shopping basket for just $2.10, and it is in fabulous shape. Seriously, I even knew this card was in the package and I was still giddy when I opened it.

Alright, time for some soup and more hunkering. More dispatches later.

 - Marc

The Hunker Down Chronicles, Part 3: Legends Weekend!

Aug 26, 2:30 pm: we saw another band come through around 10 am, but it left fairly quickly and moved north of us. It's been calm ever since, but the radar shows that the rain should pick up here soon and hang around for a few hours. At any rate, it hasn't been the deluge that we thought - at least not yet, which is good. It's good that the bayous have had some time to drain before the next onslaught.

Time has been a bit of an enigma lately, what with the baby and all sorts of other life factors. So while it was just a scant week ago, the Astros' annual Legends Weekend feels more distant. I suppose prepping for a hurricane will do that to you. I went to the game last Saturday with my pal Craig, and we met up early in order to hit up the "Legends" autograph sessions. Here's a quick peek at my haul, before we delve into the details:

Not too shabby! Again, it was a mixed bag as far as "legend" status goes, but that's to be expected. They pulled a fast one on us this year, though - in the past, signings have been on the lower concourse, and last year they were in the Union Station lobby, beyond the left field wall.* Since last year's was fairly successful in that location, I'd assumed it would be back in the same spot.

But, that's not how it worked. Instead, they (a) put the signing on the top concourse level and (b) only allowed people with (free) autograph vouchers to attend - fortunately I'd spotted when those were made available a few weeks back. This was much better than last year, where they arbitrarily cut the line off after a certain amount of people, and meant that you didn't have to be first in line at the stadium to get to the signing. They did cut off vouchers at some point.

What they also did, though, and did not announce, was split the Legends into two different groups, based on the last name of who reserved the vouchers. So if you were A-K you got one group of guys, and L-Z got another. This was annoying, and I ran into many disgruntled autograph-seeking fans who were unhappy about the endeavor. We were in the A-K line. Here's the problem - 3 of our allotted 12 Legends were missing. So the group started off with Ron Cook, a fine lefty who pitched a great season in 1970, then hurt his arm in winter ball and saw some limited time in 1971 before his big league days were done. He was also at last year's signing, so I took the time to whip up a custom for him this time around. Ron really dug it, and told Craig and I that this photo was from Spring Training in Cocoa Beach, FL.

Next at the table was Shane Reynolds, a bonafide Astros legend who spent a decade in the rotation. We were supposed to be limited to one item, so I opted for the 1999 Topps - the Astros were celebrating the 1997 NL Central Championship team, so they were wearing the late 90's uniforms, and it just seemed appropriate. I told Shane it was a difficult decision not to go with the 1992 Donruss Rookies rookie card though, and he goes, "hey, I'll sign another. Gimme that." When I told him thanks because I knew we weren't supposed to get more than one, he said, "oh, I'm doing something I'm not supposed to do? Whoops, oh well. Let them get mad at me." Then he told me to take one of the postcards he'd been signing before I walked off - what a guy!

After Shane, it was Carl Warwick - not quite an original Colt .45, but close. Warwick was acquired in the first trade the club ever made, when they traded away Opening Day starter Bobby Shantz. He was also at last year's signing, so I went custom for him this time as well. He thought this one was really cool, so I gave him a spare copy.

Dickie Thon was one of the guys I was most excited about meeting. I've got a certified auto of his from 2013 Hometown Heroes, but you know - no logo, and it's always nice to have something that was signed in person. I went with this classic 1983 Fleer of the then-phenom shortstop, before he took a career-derailing fastball to the face from Mike Torrez. Thon had racked up 13.5 WAR over the 1982-83 seasons after becoming a full-time player, but the fifth game of his 1984 season would forever alter the course of his career. Here's a great Vice Sports (RIP) article on Thon's career and struggles. Thon was all smiles at the event, chatting with fans and hamming it up with his fellow alumni.

Scipio Spinks and Billy Smith were the next two at the table - both of them were at last year's event as well. Smith only had one Astros card, the 1982 Topps Astros Prospects which he shares with Danny Heep and Bobby Sprowl - both of whom were on the '81 card as well. I was out of stuff for him, and unable to find a good photo couldn't make a custom. But I did find another great Spinks image, and he thought the custom card was really cool. Thon saw it hit the table and said, "Look at that handsome fella! Who's that?" with a big grin. Spinks had speed both on the mound and on the basepaths, enough so that the Cardinals took advantage of the latter by having him pinch run while he was there. Unfortunately, this led to him winding up in a play at the plate with Johnny Bench in mid 1972, and he tore several ligaments in his right knee while scoring. He made it back for 8 games at the big league level in 1973, but wasn't ever quite the same and toiled a few more seasons in the minors before hanging them up.

Another true legend, Larry Dierker, was next to Smith. Larry made his debut with the Colt .45s as a September call-up  in 1964, starting on his 18th birthday. He pitched for the 'Stros through 1976, tossing a no-hitter, and after retiring went on to several other positions in the organization, including broadcaster and managing the club from 1997-2002. He's almost synonymous with the club's history. I've been fortunate to get Larry's autograph on several occasions, so I took the time to try out one of my new custom designs for this - it again went over very well. These customs are based on the 1962 Topps Football set, and is one of the first prototypes I've made of it. Hm, I ought to detail more of my customs in some posts.

Last, but certainly not least of all the Legends at our table was the Toy Cannon himself, the original slugger for the club: Jimmy Wynn. I'd prepared one of those '62 football customs for him as well, but I'd also brought a pair of balls to get signed, just in case. Again, Mr. Wynn has been at the last few of these events I've been to, between Legends Weekend and FanFest, so I've already got a few cards signed by him. I was nervous about how a ball would turn out, though - he's in a wheelchair and while he takes a very deliberate and determined approach to signing, I know that sometimes with the older guys balls and flats are completely different stories. However, I noticed a guy a few spots up in line getting a ball signed, and it looked good, so I hurriedly rushed to get one out. It turned out amazing, and he even added the Toy Cannon inscription I requested. I'm so happy to add this one to the shelf in my office.

"Wait - he said last at the table, but there's clearly more than that in this post!"

Yes, indeed - you are correct! The A-K voucher table was at one end of the top concourse, the L-Z voucher tables were at the other end. Craig and I decided that since the game didn't start for another 45 minutes, we might as well test our luck at the other end and just see if we could get in the line anyway. Well, the guy there was a stickler, and despite our protest and the very light line, he wouldn't let us past the stanchions.

I took a gander to see who had actually made it, as there were still a few guys missing at this set of tables as well, including Bob Aspromonte, the original fan favorite of the .45s. Still, there were a few guys I wanted, so we stepped to the side, and I pulled out some cards in case the situation changed. It did, and the ladies that took over the line monitoring originally gave us the same rejection - but when we lamented the fact that they split the group and hadn't announced it, and pointed out that there were only ten people left in line, they - well, they still said no. But then they had pity on us and relented. So here's to more autographs! I'll try to be a little quicker on these.

First up was catcher Johnny Edwards. I'd written him in the past and received several extra photos from him - he's tremendously nice. I found a spare '74, and whipped up another Wilson-Franks style custom. He obliged me to take one of the team provided postcards as well.

Next was Jackie Moore - bench coach for the middling 2008 club helmed by Cecil Cooper, and former manager of the Round Rock Express. Moore spent one season in the majors with Detroit and has decades of coaching and managing experience. He remarked that someone must have "hit a real big home run" in the moment depicted on the custom I made.

Another early Astros catcher, Bill Heath, was on hand as well. I'd acquired him through the mail after he was a no-show at last year's event, so - yup - more customs! 

Gerald Young, speedy centerfielder for the club at the time my fandom was just beginning, was up next, and he could not have been more excited to chat with fans. When I walked up with this pair of rookie cards in hand and asked how he was doing, he immediately reached out to shake my hand and said "Good! How about you? How's things going?"

Craig had opted for the '89 Upper Deck, which I got signed by Young at last year's event. That card shows Young making a fabulous home-run robbing catch at the wall, which Craig remarked was one of his favorite cards as a kid. Gerald went into story time, telling us, "oh yeah - at Dodger Stadium! I saw my first game as a kid there, with my brother," and went on to recount the memory. He handed me a postcard as well.

Former Astros first baseman - and skipper of the club during my formative years of fandom - Art Howe was up next. I asked when the last time he'd seen one of the SSPC cards was, to which he remarked, "Hey, my rookie card! It's been a while!" I couldn't resist the '81 Donruss with the tequila sunrise striping so fabulously on display either. He handed me a postcard as well.

Next to Art was right-handed reliever Ryan Bowen, one of the young pitching prospects on the club when I first started watching the team. I got another card and postcard, but Craig got a story. He'd selected a spare '92 Upper Deck of mine, which shows Bowen being carried piggyback by the late Darryl Kile (again, a card I got signed last year). Craig said something about DK, and Bowen told him that he had a copy of the card signed by Darryl.

Last at the table was my only true frustration of the day - one Louie Meadows, of whom I know I have some nearly two-dozen junk wax cards sitting in my dupes box. He wasn't on the announced list, and doesn't appear to answer mail requests. I'd come prepared with a box featuring cards of nearly 80 guys that might have shown up, but Meadows wasn't among them, so I was resigned to getting this 1987 Fleer Team Sticker back signed, and another team-provided postcard. Gah! Louie was super nice though, so many thanks to him.

To get back downstairs, we decided to walk to the other end once again, as that's where the escalators were, and I decided to check and see if any of the missing 'Stros had shown up. A couple had, so I asked politely if I could go back through just to get them, and the line attendant said yes.

Short-term 'Stro Philip Barzilla was first. He's got one Astros card with varying parallels - the 2006 Topps '52 Edition, but I was unable to locate one. Perhaps next time.

Barzilla was at the very first table. Since the other guy I wanted was next-to-last among the signers, I decided it would be kind of a jerk move to cut down the tables just to get him. Since I was waiting patiently in line, I got another pair of cards signed by Warwick and Thon. I'd pulled the '63 Topps out of my binder, so now I'll need another for the collection.

Another short-term 'Stro, backup infielder Jerry DaVanon was the last guy I needed at the table. He doesn't answer his mail either, from what I can tell over at SCN, so this was a nice opportunity to land him.

Finally, I was left with one more Jimmy Wynn card in my collection (I'd given him the other '62 football custom), so I went ahead and got that signed as well.

Phew! Well, I certainly killed some hunker time with that post. It's now 4:00 pm and still no sign of that next band of rain. Perhaps we won't see any more until tonight. We're still ready, though.

Until the next update,

 - Marc
P.S. Oh, I almost forgot! They gave away a bobblehead - and not just any bobblehead, but a TRIPLE bobblehead of the celebration moment after the Astros clinched the '97 NL Central title, featuring Bagwell lifting Biggio in the air and an excited Mike Hampton running over to embrace them. It looks great!