Saturday, March 31, 2012
Time: 8 Days
Address: c/o Philadelphia Phillies Spring Training
Item Sent: 1987 Topps Traded, 1988 Topps, 1989 ProCards Portland Beavers
Item Received: 1987 Topps Traded, 1988 Topps, 1989 ProCards Portland Beavers. All signed in black Sharpie.
Les Straker was a 28 year old minor league free agent who became the default #3 starter on the 1987 World Series champion Minnesota Twins. Although his career resume pales in comparison to the Twins top two starters that season (World Series MVP and Cy Young winner Frank Viola and Hall of Famer Bert Blyleven), Straker started two games in that World Series. In one of the great forgotten performances in Twins history, he shut out the Cardinals for six innings in game three before being lifted for a pinch-hitter with a 1-0 lead. Juan Berenguer came in, promptly gave up three runs, costing Straker a World Series victory.
Straker has been one of the more difficult autographs from the 1987 Twins team to obtain until recently. He works as a Latin American pitching coordinator for the Phillies, spending much of his time in Central and South America. The best time to get his signature through the Phillies is during spring training. I finally remembered to write this year and was quickly rewarded.
Wednesday, March 28, 2012
Time: 157 Days
Address: c/o Dallas Stars
Item Sent: 2008-09 Upper Deck, 2010-11 O-Pee-Chee Retro
Item Received: 2008-09 Upper Deck, 2010-11 O-Pee-Chee Retro. Both signed in black Sharpie.
Minnesota's own Toby Petersen had a long journey toward a regular role in the NHL. Now in his thirties, he has finally found a home with the Dallas Stars. For the last five seasons, the speedy, low-scoring forward has been a stable presence on the Stars' fourth line and penalty killing units.
Monday, March 26, 2012
Time: 77 Days
Item Sent: 1993-94 Stadium Club, 1994-95 Ultra, 2002-03 Upper Deck Vintage
Item Received: 1991-92 Upper Deck Czech, 2000-01 Upper Deck Vintage, 2001-02 Upper Deck Vintage. All signed in black Sharpie.
Rochester, Minnesota native Shjon Podein played in the NHL for eleven seasons, winning a Stanley Cup with the Colorado Avalanche in 2001. He was an excellent defensive forward, regularly ranked amongst the top penalty killers in the league. He's now back in Minnesota, coaching the St. Louis Park High School hockey team.
Time: 6 Days
Item Sent: 1986 ProCards Prince William Pirates
Item Received: 1986 ProCards Prince William Pirates, signed in black gel pen.
Larry Melton spent five years in the Pirates organization, reaching the AAA level before calling it a career. As with many former minor league players that I've written, Mr. Melton included a wonderful full-page letter with his reply. He is now a mortgage specialist in the Portland area, has a wife and two daughters, and stays involved in baseball by teaching private lessons in his spare time.
As a side note, I love these 1986 ProCards team sets. It was the first year I collected minor league cards, and it's such a simple, classic design. I'm definitely going to try collecting more, from all teams.
Time: 76 Days
Address: c/o Minnesota Wild
Item Sent: 1991-92 Upper Deck Czech, 2000-01 Upper Deck Vintage, 2001-02 Upper Deck Vintage
Item Received: 1991-92 Upper Deck Czech, 2000-01 Upper Deck Vintage, 2001-02 Upper Deck Vintage. All signed in black Sharpie.
Brad Bombardir has done a little bit of everything for the Minnesota Wild since the franchise's formation. He was part of the original expansion roster in 2000-01 and spent four years as a player in St. Paul as a steady defender and strong leader on the young Wild roster. Shortly after his retirement, he took a position as a studio and in-arena analyst for Wild telecasts. He then became the Wild's Director of Community Relations (a position he still holds), and in 2010 he was named Director of Player Development. Along with these cards, Mr. Bombardir included a nice handwritten note on Wild stationary.
Sunday, March 25, 2012
Time: 161 Days
Address: c/o Minnesota Wild
Item Sent: 2008-09 O-Pee-Chee Retro, 2010-11 Upper Deck 20th Anniversary
Item Received: 2008-09 O-Pee-Chee Retro, 2010-11 Upper Deck 20th Anniversary. Both signed in black Sharpie.
The Minnesota Wild acquired Latendresse from the Montreal Canadiens in 2009 for Benoit Pouliot. It was a classic challenge trade. Both were high draft picks who had not lived up to expectations and had fallen out of favor with their original clubs. The change of scenery immediately changed Gui's game. He scored a team leading 25 goals in just 55 games for the Wild and seemed to have a spot locked up as a top-six forward for years to come. In the two years since, though, injuries have limited him to a mere 27 games. With a slew of prospects on the way and plenty of free agent cap space, there is no guarantee Latendresse will be back in St. Paul.
Time: 443 Days
Item Sent: 1983 Vikings Police, 1984 Topps, 1986 Topps
Item Received: 1983 Vikings Police, 1984 Topps, 1986 Topps. All signed in black Sharpie.
Turner spent nine of his ten NFL seasons with the Vikings and remains one of the their all-time leaders in interceptions. After his career ended, he moved into coaching and then education. He is currently an administrative assistant at Park Center High School in suburban Minneapolis.
Time: 13 Days
Item Sent: 1982 Fleer, 1982 Topps
Item Received: 1982 Fleer, 1982 Topps. Both signed in thin blue Sharpie.
Weak-hitting shortstop Chuck Baker's Twins career lasted for only 40 games in 1981. In those 40 games, he only accrued 70 plate appearances as most of his work came as a defensive replacement. He is definitely one of the more obscure Twins players of the 1980s, but he still managed to find his way into the 1982 Fleer and Topps sets, and those two cards were two of the very first Twins cards I ever owned.
Time: 36 Days
Item Sent: 1979-80 O-Pee-Chee, 1984-85 O-Pee-Chee
Item Received: 1979-80 O-Pee-Chee, 1984-85 O-Pee-Chee. Both signed in black Sharpie.
Côté was a wonderfully consistent and extremely underrated player who spent his entire 12 year career with the Quebec Nordiques. He was good for about 35-40 points per year, but his calling was as an elite defensive forward. He was so adept at defending, in fact, that he would often seamlessly transition to the blue line when called upon. With these cards, Alain becomes the second player who shares my surname to join my autograph collection!
Friday, March 23, 2012
Time: 9 Days
Address: c/o Detroit Tigers Spring Training
Item Sent: 1991 Topps Traded, 2007 Topps Heritage
Item Received: 1991 Topps Traded, 2007 Topps Heritage. Both signed in black Sharpie.
Phil Nevin was the #1 overall pick in the 1991 amateur draft by the Houston Astros, taken over prospects such as Derek Jeter and Johnny Damon. Coming out of college as the Golden Spikes Award winner, it was widely assumed that Nevin would be on the fast track to the big leagues. It took him three years to make it to Houston, though, and when he did he hit a paltry .117 and was discarded to the Detroit Tigers for aging reliever Mike Henneman. After four more years of floundering as a spare part and utility player, trying to fend off the "bust" label, Nevin wound up in San Diego. He blossomed offensively with the Padres. He peaked in 2001 with 41 homers, 126 RBI, and a .976 OPS. In 2006, he came to Minnesota at the August trade deadline. He only played 16 regular season games for the Twins, but finally got a taste of the playoffs for the first and only time in his 12 year career. Since moving into coaching, Nevin has quickly climbed the Tigers organizational ladder. He just started his second season in charge of the AAA Toledo Mud Hens.
Time: 35 Days
Address: c/o Minnesota Twins Spring Training
Item Sent: 2010 Topps Heritage, 2011 Topps Heritage
Item Received: 2010 Topps Heritage, 2011 Topps Heritage. Both signed in black Sharpie.
The Twins' offseason signing of Ryan Doumit mirrors their typical bargain basement free agent gambles, but I'm a fan of this one. Doumit can hit. Flat out hit. He can't field much, but he's willing to play anywhere. Health has been a recurring problem over his career. That's undeniable. But he's a switch-hitter with a lot of pop and is a huge offensive upgrade over the Twins usual utility players and backup catchers.
Time: 33 Days
Address: c/o San Jose Sharks
Item Sent: 2008-09 O-Pee-Chee Retro, 2011-12 O-Pee-Chee, 2011-12 Score
Item Received: 2008-09 O-Pee-Chee Retro, 2011-12 O-Pee-Chee, 2011-12 Score. All signed in black Sharpie.
Vlasic came to San Jose as a 19 year old rookie in 2006 and showed a world of potential with his smooth skating and crisp passing. Two years later he had a career year with 6 goals and 30 assists and appeared to be on the cusp of joining the NHL's elite blueliners. In the three seasons since, he has held his own as a solid member of the Sharks defensive corps, but his point totals have regressed. Still, he just turned 25. There's still time to become an All-Star. But even if that doesn't happen, he has the chops to be a steady player for another decade.
Time: 46 Days
Item Sent: 1973-74 Topps, 1977-78 O-Pee-Chee, 1979-80 O-Pee-Chee
Item Received: 1973-74 Topps, 1977-78 O-Pee-Chee, 1979-80 O-Pee-Chee. All signed and personalized in black gel pen.
Dennis O'Brien, by all accounts, was one of the roughest and toughest North Stars of the '70s. Though he only had modest point totals, he was a solid puck mover. His asset was his physical defensive play, though. He annually was among the North Stars' leaders in penalty minutes and fights and became a fan favorite. Along with the kind personalization on each of these cards, he included a great hand-written note mentioning his fondest memories came as a North Star and expressing disappointment at the "bad trades and bad decisions" that led to the team's downfall in the middle of the decade.
Saturday, March 17, 2012
Time: 26 Days
Item Sent: 1989-90 ProCards Muskegon Lumberjacks, 1991-92 ProCards Salt Lake Golden Eagles
Item Received: 1989-90 ProCards Muskegon Lumberjacks, 1991-92 ProCards Salt Lake Golden Eagles. Both signed in black Sharpie.
Tough guy Rich Zemlak only spent one full season with the North Stars, but he made it count. In 54 games during the 1987-88 campaign he spent a whopping 307 minutes in the penalty box! He appeared in three games for the Stars the next season before moving on to Pittsburgh. He finished his NHL career with 587 penalty minutes in 132 games.
Time: 13 Days
Address: c/o Nashville Predators
Item Sent: 2008-09 O-Pee-Chee Retro, 2010-11 O-Pee-Chee
Item Received: 2008-09 O-Pee-Chee Retro, 2010-11 O-Pee-Chee. Both signed in red Sharpie.
For a few years now, Ryan Suter has teamed with Shea Weber to make the NHL's best defensive pairing. That could change after this season, as Suter is an unrestricted free agent and is expected to be courted by just about every team in the league. But, for now, he and Weber and Pekka Rinne and the rest of the Preds are gearing up for a run at the Stanley Cup. They are one of the most complete teams in the league, and it wouldn't shock me a bit to see them take the whole damn thing.
Time: 23 Days
Address: c/o Calgary Flames
Item Sent: 1981-82 Topps, 1982-83 O-Pee-Chee, 1984-85 O-Pee-Chee, 1985-86 7-11 North Stars
Item Received: 1981-82 Topps, 1982-83 O-Pee-Chee, 1984-85 O-Pee-Chee, 1985-86 7-11 North Stars. All signed in black Sharpie.
The first ever North Stars Alumni Reunion is coming up in a couple of weeks and one of the key names who will not be in attendance is Craig Hartsburg. The Stars' former captain and all-star defenseman is now an assistant coach for the Calgary Flames, meaning his NHL duties will preclude him from joining his former teammates.
It's a shame, as Hartsburg was the best all-around blueliner in North Stars history. He was fast, he was an outstanding checker and positional defender, and was an unbelievable passer. Injuries interrupted and ultimately ended his career while he was still in his prime. It's a shame. There is no doubt in my mind that had he stayed healthy he could have been a Hall of Famer.
Friday, March 16, 2012
Time: 61 Days
Address: c/o Connecticut Whale
Item Sent: 1991-92 Pro Set, 1991-92 Score Canadian
Item Received: 1991-92 Pro Set, 1991-92 Score Canadian. Both signed in black Sharpie.
J.J. Daigneault played for 10 NHL teams during his career, but before he became a journeyman he spent six full years with the Montreal Canadiens, including one on their 1993 Stanley Cup team. His final game was a lone appearance for the Minnesota Wild during their expansion year of 2000-01, making him one of the more obscure players in Wild history. He is now an assistant for the Connecticut Whale of the AHL.
Saturday, March 10, 2012
Time: 182 Days
Item Sent: 1991 Pro Set, 1991 Score, 1991 Stadium Club, 1991 Topps
Item Received: 1991 Pro Set, 1991 Score, 1991 Stadium Club, 1991 Topps. All signed in black Sharpie.
Jamie Mueller spent four seasons with the Buffalo Bills as a blocking back and special teams ace. He was Thurman Thomas' lead blocker during the Thurmanator's first three years in the NFL, and was the starting fullback on the first Bills Super Bowl squad in 1990.
Time: 42 Days
Item Sent: 1969 Topps, 1973 Topps, 1990 LSU Collegiate Collection
Item Received: 1969 Topps, 1973 Topps, 1990 LSU Collegiate Collection. All signed in black Sharpie.
Roy Winston was drafted by the Vikings in 1962, their second year in existence. He became a mainstay on the great Vikings defenses of the '60s and '70s, playing for fifteen years and appearing in all four Vikings Super Bowls. During the team's 50th anniversary festivities in 2010, Winston was named one of the 50 Greatest Viking of All Time.
Friday, March 9, 2012
Time: 110 Days
Item Sent: 1983 Fleer Team Action, 1983 Topps
Item Received: 1983 Fleer Team Action, 1983 Topps. Both signed in black Sharpie.
Leaks was an All-America and College Football Hall of Fame inductee for the University of Texas. He spent nine years in the NFL as a punishing fullback (five for the Baltimore Colts, and the last four with the Buffalo Bills). Two of his finest years came in 1981 and 1982 for Buffalo, as Joe Cribbs' lead blocker and the Bills' short yardage specialist, when he combined to score 11 of his 28 career rushing touchdowns.
Time: 34 Days
Item Sent: 1977-78 O-Pee-Chee, 1979-80 O-Pee-Chee
Item Received: 1977-78 O-Pee-Chee, 1979-80 O-Pee-Chee. Both signed in black Sharpie.
I didn't see Pete LoPresti play, and I really don't want to sound like a homer. But I know he was a better goaltender than his statistics would indicate. Yes, it's easy to look at the 43-102-20 career record at 4.06 career GAA and deduce that he was the worst #1 goalie the North Stars every deployed, but you have to take the teams around him into account. The North Stars of the mid-to-late '70s - before the merger with the Cleveland Barons - were bad teams. He didn't have much in front of him, and those days were a lot more high scoring than today's NHL. The Virginia, Minnesota native remains a fan favorite to old school North Stars fans, and is still one of the winningest Minnesota-born goalies in NHL history.
Time: 49 Days
Address: c/o Manchester Monarchs
Item Sent: 1993-94 Ultra, 2000-01 Upper Deck, 2000-01 Upper Deck Vintage
Item Received: 1993-94 Ultra, 2000-01 Upper Deck, 2000-01 Upper Deck Vintage. All signed in black Sharpie.
Scott Pellerin capped an incredible collegiate career at Maine by winning the Hobey Baker Award after his 1992 senior season. He was in the NHL the following year with the New Jersey Devils. Over the next several years, he was a solid role player and complimentary scorer for the Devils and Blues, and was one of the most recognizable names in the initial Minnesota Wild roster following their expansion draft. Pellerin didn't disappoint for that first Wild team, as he ended up the team leader in scoring with 39 points, despite being dealt to the Carolina Hurricanes at the trade deadline.
Friday, March 2, 2012
Time: 22 Days
Address: c/o Washington Capitals
Item Sent: 2008-09 O-Pee-Chee Retro, 2011-12 Score
Item Received: 2008-09 O-Pee-Chee Retro, 2011-12 Score. Both signed in black Sharpie.
Brooks Laich played in one NHL game for the Ottawa Senators before being shipped to the Capitals as part of a trade-deadline package for Caps legend Peter Bondra in 2004. Bondra was one of the greatest players in Capitals history, but Laich has been a pretty solid return. Make no mistake, Laich is not a glamorous player in the mold of highly-skilled teammates Alex Ovechkin, Nicklas Backstrom, and Mike Green. He's as hard-nosed as they come. He has benefited from playing with those guys, tallying three 20 goal seasons and two 50 point campaigns. He's at his best as a third-line checker, but has demonstrated the ability to score when needed. Laich even put in a few games as a defenseman earlier this season when the Caps' blue line was decimated from injury. He's not exactly the kind of player you draft for your fantasy hockey team, but he's one of my favorite players in the NHL. Awesome return!