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Saturday, March 16, 2013

A Dying Breed - Brick & Mortar Card Shop Review

About a month or so ago, while perusing the latest installment of Beckett Hockey (yes some of us still read the articles, I swear), I noticed that there was an addition made to the Indiana Dealers.  As long as I can remember, there was only one on there and that was More Fun Sports in Dyer, Indiana.  That was my shop of choice for a long time and still is.  Unfortunately, I haven't made the trek out there in a while, with being on hiatus for some time and since I no longer live in the neighboring town. 

At any rate, I found a new name added to the list.  That shop is The Sweet Spot located in Valparaiso, IN.  It is a small storefront located across the street from the fairground baseball/softball fields, a decent location considering the traffic that passes by regularly.  After checking out what I could online and reading the article published a few months back in the Northwest Indiana Times, I decided to trek over there, since I work nearby, and see what it was all about.

As you enter, you find an interesting mix of sports cards, memorabilia, and...CANDY!  Yes, this is also a candy shop of sorts as there are bins upon bins of Albanese Candy (another locally manufactured product).  It's a great idea that fits well with the goals of the owner, getting kids back into the hobby.  But I wasn't there for the candy. 

The store layout is very similar to that of most brick & mortar shops in that it is horseshoe shaped with display cases around the perimeter and a few display racks/tables in the middle.  There are wax boxes with packs behind the counter directly to the left and every collectors' favorite "bargain bin" boxes are on the cases themselves so collector's can browse till their hearts content (or until the store closes).  A small section of supplies awaits near the back and a sitting area in the corner has chairs and a table so collectors can sit down and bust their new packs, sort through singles boxes, or just take a load off.

One cool thing is that the left wall is almost entirely filled with canvas paintings done by Sports Art Illustrated and the artist Justin Farano.  If you ever get to one of the larger shows, usually sponsored by TriStar or Mounted Memories, you will see his work as SAI generally has a booth.  It's is some great stuff that would be perfect for any man-cave.  I wish I had the cash for one, and a man-cave to put it in, and house to put a man-cave in. 

As a new business (fairly new since they opened last summer), its one of those catch 22s as far as carrying product.  You can't stock to the rafters with new product because you basically can't afford to take the loss on the unopened boxes (and that is a huge loss if you have to take it that far).  You can't stock with old product either because you don't know what is going to be in demand and if you go too old, you lose a chunk of your audience.  You also don't know where the clientele are going to be coming from so it's hard to fill your cases with anything but the "HOT" list products and plenty of local sports team items.  As you can imagine, there was an abundance of Cubs/Sox/Bears/Bulls/Blackhawks stuff.  Plus, the owner, Chad Siewin, was more than accommodating, offering to try and obtain anything we were looking for that we may not have found in stock ( product).

I think Chad and The Sweet Spot have the right idea.  They are utilizing social media advertising, which most dealers/hobbyist/shop owners need to be these days.  They have a Facebook page which has much of the pertinent info you need as a consumer and they also use it well by announcing product releases, upcoming shows, in store promotions, store hours, and community box/case breaks which were a big hit the last time they held one.  Check out their page to see some photos of the shop as well as product photos, previews, and big "hit" pulls from the customers. But mostly, Chad seems committed to staying as active in the hobby as he can and keep the clientele engaged, both young and old. 

I will definitely be a return customer.  Anyone in that area should check them out.

I wouldn't be much of a collector if I didn't show you a few of the items I picked up while I was there.  I didn't have a lot of time as I was on my lunch break but I did quickly go through one of the counter boxes to see what I could find.  Here are eight cards I picked up for my PC.


                                #/249                                                                            #/25



Mostly Steelers (unfortunately some now EX-Steelers).  I picked that DeCastro rookie out in hopes the he will actually pan out (barring another injury).  The Polamalu R&S is numbered #/25 which is really cool.  I found the Quad-Diamond Jagr in there that I didn't think I had.  Plus I added another modern Pops card to my unofficial Stargell collection that I neither confirm nor deny I am accumulating.

Friday, March 15, 2013

Box Break - - 2008-09 Be A Player Blaster

You know when you are in your local {enter retailer name here} and you happen to walk by the "card aisle", or "wall", or "4' Gondola" and you get the feeling of adrenaline rushing through your veins?  I haven't had the feeling in quite a while because I have made it a point to not go over to those areas.  They have been a bane to my collecting existence for a long time and caused much heartache (walletache).

Well the other day, I happened to find myself face to face with the trading card aisle and really had no idea how I got there.  But when in Rome, right?  I proceeded to look over the wares, to which I found very little that peaked much interest.  That was until I found the shelf-o-blasters that lurked at the end of the aisle.  These were no ordinary blasters with the traditional $19.99 price tag.  No these were the "discounted" ones with the $5.99-$11.99 personal favorite.

Strangely enough (that was sarcasm), there wasn't much by way of hockey.  A couple of last years Score, a box of 2009-10 Upper Deck Series I, and a 2007-08 OPC box that looked as if it had been returned by a Pit Bull.  But on the bottom shelf, behind some weird Pete Rose cards, there was this...


It's not often that you find BAP cards in a retail store so for $10 I figured why not.  You can see there are 2 packs, 5 cards per pack with 1 guaranteed autograph (that comes out to $1 per card for the math challenged).  Since there are only 10 cards here.  I figured I'd show them all since I'm sure there are many of you out there that have never seen this set before.

Here is the pack...looks just like the box except it is commanding me to "Grab Autograph Cards!"  Ok, I will.

Here are the base cards that were pulled.  I figured I would scan all of them since there really aren't that many.  Nothing really fancy here in the design other than the team color coordinated, rasterized photo of the player in the background and the matching name stripe down the side.  Simple and clean.

Drum roll please......ddddddddddddddddddd...My "guaranteed" autograph card...

Which is technically two autographs, I guess.  We have Matthew Lombardi and Dustin Boyd, both from the Calgary Flames at the time.  Lombardi is now in his second stint with the Coyotes and Boyd has since played for the Predators, Canadiens, and now is in the KHL (last I looked).  I'm not sure I understand how you get either of these two's names out of that chicken scratch mess but I suppose there are much worse examples out there.  

Worth $10?  Probably not, but getting an auto in a blaster is always fun and dual auto cards are even better.  There are also triple autos available out there too if anyone was interested.  The best deal on these is if you can get to a show where some dealers usually have these available for about $7-$8. 

Thursday, March 14, 2013

New PC Pickup

As some of you already know, I decided to hang onto my Eric Tangradi personal collection even though his time with the Penguins had expired.  He is now with the Winnipeg Jets and still hasn't really done much, being relegated to the Jets fourth line.  But all hope is not lost, as he finally scored his first goal since October 2010 against the Tampa Bay Lightning the other night.  Hopefully that is a sign of good things to come and with the Jets having an outside shot at making the playoffs, maybe he will get his shot at winning a permanent roster spot.  Who knows?

At any rate, I picked up a few new Tangradi's over the past month or two (although I probably have a ton since the last time I posted about them).  Here they are...

I have sort of updated my Eric Tangradi collection page over on the side panel.  If you want to check out my "Wall of Tangradi" click through that link and you will see some of that collection.

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

The Real DFGs Half-Way NHL Awards

This past Sunday marked the halfway point to this years shortened NHL season.  With half the year gone already, I thought it would be a good time to go back and look at what has been accomplished thus far.  I decided to take the NHL Awards and break them down for half season winners.

Let's get the non-player award out of the way first.

Jack Adams Award - Coach of the Year

First of all, the Jack Adams award for Coach of the Year so far, in my honest opinion should go to Joel Quenneville from the Blackhawks.  As much as I am not a Hawks fan and am mostly a "everything opposite of the Blackhawks" type person, you can't deny what has happened this year.  Regardless of whether they win a Cup this year or not, the team has the record win streak to hang it's hat on.  No one can deny them of that.  I think what is more impressive is that they have such balanced scoring and have done it on special teams as well.  Quenneville deserves the award, hands down.  Plus look at the epic Whaler card over there.  He uses a PIMP stick (not really).  That alone deserves the award.

And now the awards people care about (assuming you care about awards)

Vezina Trophy

My vote here is going to Craig Anderson.  I know that isn't going to be a popular vote with the way Tuuka Rask, Antii Niemi, and that guy from Chicago are playing but this is the best goaltender award.  No one has been better than Anderson up until his injury a week or so ago.  He is the sole reason the Senators are even a viable contender for any playoff hopes at all.  Going into the injury, he has a 1.49 GAA and a .952 save percentage.  Both of those stats are good enough for best in the league.  Plus, I like Anderson better than those other guys.  It's time he gets his due.  I doubt he will be able to keep up the pace, even after coming back from injury but this isn't the year end awards, it's the half-way awards.  So there.

Hart Memorial Trophy & Art Ross Trophy

Sidney Crosby is the Hart winner this year and the Art Ross winner.  My apologies go out to all the haters out there but you can't deny the contribution he has made to this years' Penguins team after being out so long last year with the concussion.  The guy is the team MVP, the league MVP, the universe MVP.  I don't really know what else to say.  He has 45 points in 26 games so far this year, and is on pace for 83 points on the year (*considering the truncated season, that would be about 141 points if he played all 82 games).  That is one of the best seasons on record in recent NHL history, my friends.

He is averaging 1.269 assists per game which is top 20 in highest ratio for a single season.  Look at the other night against the Islanders...he had 5!!  He is averaging 1.731 points per game, which is highest in over a dozen years.  But the best in my book is that he is making his teammates look like superstars.  Even Gretzky said he "is the best player in the game today".  I'm not going to argue with that.

Calder Trophy - Rookie Of The Year

This is an interesting pool of players to choose from for this award. With Conacher, Tarasenko, Yakupov, and Schultz all making a case for their claim to the Calder, I think Jonathan Huberdeau is my pick so far. Huberdeau was a beast in the minors and that's why Florida went for him in the draft. If you compare the top scoring rookies in this years class of guys, Huberdeau is the only one without the supporting cast playing around him. He doesn't have the talent on the ice that players like Conacher or Yakupov have. Even still, he is logging the ice time, he is taking the shots on goal (71) and he leads the league in rookie goals with 12. He is also second in points to Conacher (20) with 17. With less to work with and the fact he is still excelling, I give JH the nod for the Calder at mid-season.

Frank Selke Trophy

This is one of those confusing awards that many people really don't understand.  It goes to the best defensive  minded offensive forward.  I think so far the nod for this one would go to Eric Staal in Carolina.  They guy has righted the ship from his awful start last season.  After 24 games last year, he had 10 points and was a minus-17.  This year at the same point, he is a plus-19 with 30 points.  That's a big improvement when you consider what has happened with the Canes defense.  He scores, he kills penalties, and he is winning in the face-off circle.  Staal is my vote although there are quite a few other guys out there that will most likely come away with this award by the end of the year.

James Norris Memorial Trophy

If this award was completely based off the best defenseman on the ice, I would easily say the Zdeno Chara would run away with this award.  But guess what?  It's not.  This award almost always goes to the best offensive defenseman and this year, Kris Letang is that guy.  He is having the best offensive season of his career.  He leads all d-men with 26 points and has missed 3 games.  He is also averaging more than 26 minutes of TOI per game.  At this pace, he could put up 50 points in the shortened 48 game season.  When that happens, the hardware is his.

And my two wildcard spots are being left up to the readers...

Bill Masterton Memorial Trophy

These are the guys that perservere, that overcome adversity, that prevail when all hope seems lost.  I'm not really sure I have a pick for this award.  There are so many "feel good" stories each and every year that it is hard to choose who is most deserving of an award that is so objective.  So with that being said, I'm going to leave that up to you to decide.  If anyone has a choice for this one, leave a comment and tell me why you think they are the best choice for this award.

Lady Byng Memorial Trophy

This is the sportsmanship award.  Sportsmanship in hockey is one of those things that I think most fans take for granted because it is simply just part of the game, which is a paradox because the sport is considered by many as a violent, hard-hitting, blood-inducing sport.  With that being said, it's going to go to a player that doesn't fight, doesn't commit penalties, doesn't speak out, and doesn't do things off the ice that are questionable.  Here's another one that I have no idea about because I don't really think about it.  Just like the Masterton, if any readers can think of a deserving player, post a comment and tell us why.

So that's all I'm picking for now.  Agree to disagree.  Or just agree.  Either way I'm right.  

Sunday, March 10, 2013

End Of An Era...Don't Say Rebuilding

I would be remiss and not much of a fan for that matter if I didn't address the off-season movement by my beloved Pittsburgh Steelers.

To start, the James Harrison era in Pittsburgh has ended.  On Saturday, the Steelers announced that they would not be resigning Harrison and that he would be released before the start of free agency this week.  Although the organization had given James credit for being a pivotal member or two championship teams, they felt his age and $10 million cap hit was too much to keep in in Black & Yellow forever.

For those that may not know, Harrison has for years been one of the most hated linebackers in football because of his intensity, high level of play, and his reputation for "playing dirty".  We aren't talking Ndamukong Suh level nastiness here, but enough to garner some unwanted attention from the league and his best friend, Commissioner Goodell.  He isn't the kind of guy that would willingly stomp a mud hole in somebody after the whistle but he will sure make a guy pay in between them.  In other words, Harrison was a beast.   

He was elected to five consecutive Pro Bowls and was a first-team All Pro.  They guy had 60 sacks between 2007 and 2012 but his production has been waning over the last few years.  He missed eight games over the last two years with injuries and I think that is mainly what kept him from being invited back to the team (although his constant diarrhea of the mouth didn't help his case either).  There were negotiations toward a contract but the team wanted a very incentive laden contract and Harrison wanted more cash as a guarantee.  So without an agreement, they let him go.

I guess what bothers me the most about this is that Harrison, despite the injuries, lack of production, etc., he was still a fixture on the team.  Together, him and LaMarr Woodley were probably one of the best linebacker duos in the NFL.  Just the thought of Harrison, staring you down from the opposite side of the field, scared the [BLEEP] out of offenses around the league.  And to let him go over money is always something that gets to me because I foolishly always think its a family affair and not a business when it comes to my Steelers.  But that's exactly what it is...a business.  Harrison said yesterday, "I definitely have three years left, possibly four, but I'm going where the wind blows.  You obviously want to play for a Super Bowl contender, that's the first thing. Good weather, that wouldn't be a bad thing. ... I'm not closed to playing for any team or any area."  James, if you are reading this, please go to the NFC.  Please.  I can't take watching you on another AFC team, or worse, a division rival.  

The only thing I can relate this too is the last time one of my favorite Steeler linebackers left the team for free agency and signed with Carolina for one year before retiring...

On the horizon, it's only going to get murkier when the free agency period begins in two days.  The Steelers have what most NFL "experts" consider to be the best free agent available in Mike Wallace.  This was the same issue last year and his legend has only grown with another year under his belt. 

Wallace is fast, period.  The guy blows the doors off most other defenders on the field and the only guy in the league that has proven to be faster is Darius Heyward-Bey from Oakland (and that's because he barely beat him at the combine their rookie season).  He isn't a huge receiver but he has still been able to amass over 4,000 yards in the four seasons in Pittsburgh, mainly due to the fact that he is THE deep threat on the team.  Using 2010 as a statistical example, about six times a game, Big Ben threw it to Wallace. About four times a game, Wallace would catch it. Every time he caught it, the Steelers gained an average of 21 yards, and every sixth catch was a touchdown.  As the Bleacher Report put it, "That's speed at its most lethal."

My only criticism of Wallace has always been that he pass blocks like my grandma and last year, he showed he wasn't immune to the "uncatchable" ball.  He had more drops in critical situations than I have seen since Limas Sweed.  It was starting to get highly frustrating at times when a normally routine route on a third and eight or red zone opportunity turned into a field goal or giving it over on a punt.  But still, Wallace has shown without a doubt that he was a big time player down the field.  He is going to be missed if they can't find a suitable replacement in the draft, and frankly, there isn't anyone.

Keenan Lewis may also seek another home in free agency.  Lewis became the starter when William Gay left for Arizona last year.  The Steelers still have Ike Taylor and Cortez Allen available, although I'm not sure Allen is starting caliber.  Knowing the potential for Lewis' departure, the Steelers made a couple phone calls and William Gay is now back in his old spot, signing a three year deal last week.  If the Steelers had any intention of keeping Lewis, I doubt they would have reached out to Gay. 

Keenan was a guy that I had a lot of hope for.  He was a highly touted in 2009 when the Steelers drafted him but I think that his slower development and lack of interceptions has led to his potential departure.  If I was to guess, I'm thinking you will see him suiting up next year for a division team, possibly the Browns or Ravens, which will suck, but is typical.

In other moves, the Steelers got Big Ben, Lawrence Timmons, and Antonio Brown all to restructure their contracts in order to add some cap space.  Add that to the already reworked deals for LaMarr Woodley, Ike Taylor, and Willie Colon and the Steelers could have enough room to go after a couple guys in free agency.  We always have a need on the O-line and with Harrison gone, there is a spot the might need some tweaking.  Plus, you can't forget about Big Ben and his health issues lately.  There is no denying the fact that quality backup QBs in this league are invaluable. 

I'm a little more concerned with the draft though.  The Steelers have shown that they are comfortable with older players but not committed to them by any means.  The last few seasons have shown a want by the team to start getting younger and developing talent.  The older guys have taken on the role of mentor, training their future replacements.  I'm all for that and I'd like to see some aggressive draft strategies so that we might finally be able to fill holes we need with quality draft picks and guys that could one day be "the next ones" and become franchise type players.

Is it football season yet?