The little guys of March have all been eliminated from the NCAA Tournament.Thanks for the memories, Stephen F. Austin, Middle Tennessee and Arkansas-Little Rock.In many ways, this postseason fiasco is all about the little guys. Their magic against the powerhouses never fails to appease college basketball fans’ morbid fascination with seeing their brackets crumble.And while this Sweet 16 features exactly zero real underdogs, there is one particularly intriguing team still hanging around.Of course we see you, Syracuse.The Orange racked up 13 losses on the season. This meant that Jim Boeheim’s not-so-star-studded team was on the bubble to even make the field of 68. However, after its self-imposed postseason ban just a year ago, ’Cuse squeezed its way into the tourney and now has officially completed its return to primetime.Because of Northern Iowa’s historic collapse against Texas A&M, Syracuse is really the last team remaining that truly feels like an enigma.Wisconsin, Notre Dame and Duke also finished with 10 or more losses this season, but these teams were grabbing headlines with regularity. The Wisconsin hype train was fairly calm this season after the Badgers’ postseason run a year ago, but Notre Dame and Duke always seem to find the limelight.Syracuse’s season was a different story.The Orange’s four-game skid in the middle of the season certainly didn’t help this group leap to the forefront of media attention, nor did the team’s losing five of its last six games leading up to the NCAA Tournament.Many fans likely saw the perennial powerhouse casually hanging out in the bottom right corner of the bracket and didn’t think much of it. Yet although Syracuse-Dayton appeared the definition of a tossup, the Orange clobbered the Flyers.Surely Boeheim’s team didn’t have the ability to compete with Michigan State in the second game. Well, the Spartans somehow lost by nine to a sneaky good Middle Tennessee bunch. This set up nicely for ‘Cuse, who wrecked the Cinderella team from Murfreesboro, Tennessee.Next up for Michael Gbinije and Malachi Richardson: Gonzaga. Gbinije and Richardson are Syracuse’s two leading scorers, but this team has flown so far under the radar that these names don’t really resonate like, say, Carmelo Anthony, Scoop Jardine or C.J Fair. The Bulldogs of Gonzaga cruised into the tournament as an 11-seed and simply dominated two quality teams in Seton Hall and Utah en route to the Sweet 16.While this may look like a friendly draw for the good folks from Spokane, the admonition from a completely neutral columnist at a student publication is very real. Proceed with caution. Syracuse does not have a tremendous amount of pressure heaped upon its shoulders. Its zone seemingly always gives opposing coaches headaches in March and its balanced scoring at the offensive end represents a well-rounded, versatile attack.The Carrier Dome, traditionally a cathedral of college basketball greatness, was seemingly just another gym this season. In fact, this middling ACC team was actually treated as such. ‘Cuse went .500 in conference play and looked perfectly average, yet these guys appear to be hitting stride at the perfect time.As a program, having storylines — or even a roster — begging for television exposure during December obviously gets you nowhere in March. ‘Cuse is a legitimately dangerous team that could manage to escape the Midwest region if this upward trajectory continues against a talented Gonzaga side.Josh Cohen is a sophomore majoring in broadcast and digital journalism. His column, “Cohen’s Corner,” runs Tuesdays.
Amsinger calls cards “sports art.” He explains how each card is a conversation. He tells me how he learned of Mike LaValliere as part of the Tony Pena trade — a catcher whose career spanned 12 years and 879 games — from the back of a baseball card.”It’s a commitment. Baseball cards are a commitment. It’s not a little game, that you can swipe away on and then put it away. You have to take care of your Mike LaValliere card. You have to take care of it, or it could be ruined.”And that — that’s special.” One of Greg Amsinger’s lifelong dreams come true, as his image is adorned on a Topps trading card in 2017. (Credit: Joe Rivera/Sporting News) https://images.daznservices.com/di/library/sporting_news/d4/53/greg-amsinger-mlb-network-joe-rivera-040119_tm80pg3v74ak1x4ybes06m9xf.jpg?t=-607973999&w=500&quality=80 She knows collectors far and wide from going to card shows and running her own blog dedicated to collecting cards. When she was younger, Lulgjuraj’s mom would send her to the local store, usually to buy milk. With the change, she would buy baseball cards, much to the confusion of her mother.MORE: Watch ‘ChangeUp,’ a new MLB live whiparound show on DAZNNow a mother and wife herself, it’s safe to say the culture of collecting baseball cards has influenced her life in a positive way.”When (my husband and I) were working at our newspaper in south Jersey, his opening line to me was, ‘Hey, I bought a box of baseball cards.’ That’s how we started talking.”You go through peaks and vallies of collecting, and I definitely was in a valley around the time we started dating,” Lulgjuraj added. “He made me appreciate cards again. That’s what we’ll do now. Some people watch movies, some people watch Netflix. We’ll sit there and open a box of cards together.”Now, Lulgjuraj walks the halls of The Topps Co. in New York City as its PR woman extraordinaire. Halls lined with poster-sized baseball cards adorn the office building in lower Manhattan, where Topps employees are already busy looking ahead to the next 10 months’ worth of card products.As with most companies, making money is obviously the point of Topps’ existence, but the company also aims for a high-quality products. But through that, there’s a certain care and love that goes into Topps cards that’s conveyed through the words and attitudes of its employees.So as the calendar shifts to a new baseball season, here’s a closer look at how the cards are made, and how the card crazies embrace the culture.The processInside the Topps office, from team to team and cubicle to cubicle, there are hundreds of moving pieces leading up to the baseball season’s card release.Just not this season.While MLB players begin the 2019 season, the Topps folks are already looking ahead to 2020. Simply and obviously put, it’s not easy to plan out the cards that hit the shelves in your local hobby shop every late January.In a meeting that takes place roughly four weeks after the Series 1 cards arrive in stores every January, the gears for the following season start to move. Different teams gather, from brand to creative, to discuss what Topps wants to see from its flagship product. During the meeting, certain things are discussed: how Series 1 is performing, what the roadmap for the rest of the year is and what’s coming the following season. About four weeks after that meeting, the design process for the next year’s card is set into motion. It can be a bit challenging.“Creative is a little bit like herding cats at times,” said Topps creative director Jeff Zachowski. “The reputation that the creative teams gets is well-deserved at times.”Zachowski laughs and smiles thinking of his creative team; four art directors, three associate art directors and three designers in total, not counting the packaging group. Topps creative is given an opportunity to play in its own sandbox, curating ideas and staying on the edge of the latest design strategies to try to keep products fresh and inventive at the turn of the season.After the meeting, the discussion shifts to what the teams will need in the coming year — autographs, licenses, photography and so forth — so the design team knows what to put on the card.MORE: Sporting News All-Stars return in Topps 2019 Heritage setWhile the task sounds difficult in and of itself, Zachowski said staying at the forefront of the latest design trends isn’t as challenging as you’d think.”Our group is a very competitive bunch,” Zachowski said. “They’re always trying to one-up each other or outdo themselves from the year prior. For my end, I don’t need to worry about motivation or keeping it fresh because I know those guys are on top of it.””It’s been around forever, so we’re not out there inventing new shapes or new colors,” Zachowski adds. “It’s more about taking something old and making it feel new and putting a unique spin on something.”There isn’t a real “a-ha!” moment when it comes to picking designs, Zachowski said. Between the design and brand teams, certain elements for cards are chosen to combine. Usually, the general design is accepted on first submission by corporate higher-ups with Topps, but some tweaks are typically needed.But creating cards isn’t without its challenges. Some designs — such as Topps’ Stadium Club cards — rely more on the front-of-card photography, making design’s job difficult, making sure the design augments and supports the photography on the front. The same challenges exist for Relic cards (cards which feature materials, such as uniform pieces built in), but with extra twists, including knowing how much space to work with on the front of a card, knowing how to support the real focus of a card rather than having the design become the dominant visual.It’s a delicate balance for the Topps design folks, but the toughest task for the design team isn’t the physical as much as it is the impossible.”Sometimes it is the ask: ‘Hey, do something that no one’s ever seen before,'” Zachowski said. “We, as designers, know that is impossible — that everything has been done before. Trying to take that direction and morph it into something that we can take and run with.”After going through a painstaking process of designing the cards, getting approval from editors and different teams within the company, the Topps’ flagship design for the next year’s cards is aimed to be ready by the August before.Before the design is given the OK and sent out to print companies, Topps has to focus on how to stay ahead of the game. Clay Luraschi, Topps’ global vice president of product development, underscores the company’s need to stay at the forefront of card collector’s minds.”I think the most important thing is being relevant,” Luraschi told SN. “People always ask, how do you make a design? What are the key aspects to a design?”You should be able to look at the 1987 wood card and be able to tell the year just by looking at the design. (That card) is very 1987. You can look at the ’60s designed cards and they’re very 1960s. They should feel relevant to what’s going on in the world of design during that time frame.”One of the ways Topps has been able to stay relevant is through its Topps Now line — cards that are based on specific events, made and shipped out to your doorstep in three-to-five business days. Some of those cards are featured on the walls of the Topps offices, including an Aaron Judge card of his record-setting rookie home run performance or Bartolo Colon’s solo shot in Petco Park.”I think the one really encouraging thing is that the company has really tried to focus on remaining innovative, and continuing to push the envelope, like Topps Now that launched in 2016,” said Dan Kinton, VP of sales and marketing.Kinton points out that the resurgent popularity of Topps cards also deals with the way baseball has been getting younger and more exciting. “Directionally, what we’ve seen since, probably ’08, is a rise and interest in the popularity of collecting,” Kinton told SN. “Part of it has to be with MLB and the young talent that is coming through the pipeline that a lot of the fans are gravitating towards.”The cultureGreg Amsinger’s desk is a baseball card utopia.Tucked away behind MLB Network’s Studio 42, Amsinger’s office is wall to wall with baseball cards. Thousands of cards, all shapes and sizes, are stacked on the MLB Network host’s desk in peaks and valleys. There are mini-cards. Tobacco cards. Cards that jumped straight out of a DeLorean. Cards adorned with the faces of his MLB Network colleagues. He has cabinets stocked with unopened boxes of cards. It’s baseball card heaven. A calamity of cards.Amsinger smiles wide as he scans his desk, looking for cards to hand me and stories to regale me with. Among the cards he howls over, a Keith Olbermann tobacco card — yes, really — John Hart, manager of the Rochester Red Wings and every Dan Plesac card known to man.“You know what one of my favorite baseball cards is, Joe?” he said, handing me a card with a grin. The face on the card is both familiar and not.“Madison Bumgarner smiling. That’s something you may never see again.”Amsinger’s jokes aside — as if the visual representation wasn’t too on the nose — the MLB Network host has a clear passion for baseball cards, and it dates back to his childhood.Rather than simply collect cards, Amsinger would put them to use on his back porch growing up in St. Louis: He devised a makeshift baseball probability game, using a pencil, paper, dice and baseball cards. He’d keep season stats of players and would even broadcast the games out loud — as long as his brothers weren’t around. Trying to find the common ground among collectors has resulted in one conclusion: The hobby and value of baseball cards is different to everyone. Amsinger’s love for cards stems from that game in his backyard and other factors. With age, he’s learned that there’s a beauty to the cards, a knowledge that’s passed down like sacred texts or family heirlooms.MORE: Ranking the best baseball cards of the ’80s and ’90sAmsinger’s immersive fantasy world is just one of the many focuses for the hobby that collectors have taken through the years. For many collectors, it’s not amassing as many cards as possible, a task that seems virtually impossible given the state of today’s card game.In fact, said long-time collector Ben Aguirre, a card collector of 31 years, collecting for volume is almost avoided in 2019.“I know a lot of people nowadays don’t even care about quantity,” Aguirre told Sporting News. “Heck, some people just throw away [the base cards].“You used to buy a pack of cards and you’d have 15 cards and a puzzle piece or a piece of gum,” Aguirre continued. “Now, people are chasing certain kinds of cards. Rookie cards, autograph cards, cards of pieces of jerseys or material. That’s what’s driving the hobby now.”Aguirre’s collecting passion was actually jump-started by his mother, who bought Garbage Pail Kids cards when he was just 7 years old — mainly for the humor. Through his years of collecting, Aguirre had upwards of 100,000 cards. Space issues — the arch-enemy of card collectors everywhere — got in the way of collecting, and Aguirre’s collection is now whittled down to a paltry 40,000 or so cards.With the seemingly infinite number of parallels, hit cards and chase cards available in the market today, most collectors shift to a singular focus. Some collect their favorite player, some try to complete a theme.To that point, Aguirre’s focus has shifted through the years. Originally, he was caught up in finding rookie cards of every player to play in the majors dating to the league’s inception. Then, he narrowed the focus down to just finding rookie cards of Hall of Fames — a task he’s “all but completed.”One of those is a Bowman Willie Mays rookie card, one of Aguirre’s most prized possessions. But beyond the chase for the rookie cards, Aguirre said he has a deeper connection with collecting.”In some ways, baseball cards are like the timeline of my life,” he said. “There are certain cards that I absolutely attribute to certain memories, good or bad.”Aguirre said the special inserts or “hits” in card packs have become more prominent through the years, with Topps’ Relic cards, autographed inserts and chase cards becoming a focal point of many collectors. Finding the variants of a favorite player has become the focus of the chase, with base cards taking a back seat to hits.The evolution of Topps’ has influenced change, and change has happened in a big way. One of the most dynamic new programs Topps offers is with the delivery of special cards via its Topps Now program. “If you look at today’s world of instant gratification and speed to market, (Topps Now) is reflective of what is happening,” Luraschi told SN. “You’re taking a process that you’ve been doing for years, and you’re completely flipping it on its head. Now, we need everyone to buy in that it’s going to be done in a tight timeframe. That’s people working around the clock to make that happen. It’s a very unorthodox way to deliver trading cards.”Topps looked at the rabid fan base of collectors and its — and society’s — need for instant gratification, which is was how Topps Now was born. In addition to the limited Topps Now cards, collectors go to hobby shop box breaks and rip parties, while others frequent conventions. Attendance for the National Sports Collectors Convention, one of the biggest card events of the year, has grown over the past decade, which Topps feels has helped bolster its internal numbers over the same span, with a big jump in growth coming in the past three-to-five years. Kinton said that the popularity boom has led to “double-digit growth” internally.Aguirre offers another perspective on the growth of the card hobby in 2019.”A lot of this hobby right now is about gambling,” he said. “You’re buying a pack of cards, a box of cards and you’re hoping that you’re basically buying a lottery ticket. Some of these packs can cost $40 or $50 with one guaranteed autograph and two regular cards, but there’s a very real chance that you can get an Alex Cobb, and it’s like a $2 autograph.”Those $40 or $50 cards are almost exclusively found at conventions or hobby shops — if you can find one. As the state of the economy and love for baseball cards have waxed and waned, hobby shops have been an unfortunate casualty in card game.”Some of our newer collectors — really, lapsed collectors who collected as kids and fell out of love with it — are starting to get back into it, and the question is, where do I go? Where do I find cards?” Kinton said.He adds: “They first turn to the local hobby shops to see if they’re still around. If they are, we have fantastic dealers that support us. Unfortunately, there aren’t nearly as many as there were back in the day.”When the card industry boomed in the late ’90s, local hobby shops and card stores were as common as a coffee shop or bodega on a street corner in New York City, but they take a bit of work to track down in 2019. The state of the economy played a big part in the closing of many stores in the area.”I remember being the kid, growing up, going to the card store. I lived in Verona, N.Y., we had three at one time,” said Tim, a local card collector and customer at Attack of the Baseball Cards in Union, N.J. “This was in the ’90s when the big boom was. Now it’s tough to find a shop.”MORE: The story behind Attack of the Baseball CardsThe stores that survive still thrive, including Attack of the Baseball Cards. The store, its brand in existence for the better part of four decades, is hidden away in Union, N.J. Steve Mandy, its owner, has various ways of getting his customers — new and old — involved with the hobby and keeping them there.In addition to forays into Facebook Live — broadcasting events at times to drum up interest in the store and its products — and special “Super Giveaway” lock box, Mandy hosts game-like events which further fosters customers’ obsession.Annually, on Super Bowl Sunday, customers of the store gather to attend its “Pack Wars” event, one of several times it happens over the course of a year, but the Super Bowl Sunday edition is its largest. The event is equal parts Jeopardy, Bingo and a card auction.At the start of each round, Mandy sells packs of cards to each contestant in the shop — about 25 in total — and asks trivia questions to those interested in participating during the round. Whoever has the card which best answers the question — largest player, player who’s birthplace is closest to the shop’s location — wins the round and an additional pack of cards. This year, the group that gathered are mixed: some young, some older, mostly men, most with their sons, sharing and passing down the hobby. Tim said his son recently started getting into cards — starting him young — with Christmas 2018 being a highlight in his card-collecting development.During the fervor of the event, Frank, another regular customer, turned to me between one of the rounds and said, with concerning deadpan honesty: “It’s like a drug.”It’s a small store where mostly everyone knows each other on a first-name bases. Some of the cards that were pulled during the event: a Jake Arrieta Donruss material card, autographed; a Patrick Mahomes rookie material card; a Robbie Lawler UFC printing plate and a Shaquille O’Neal Orlando Magic material card. Oh, and another customer — a 7-year-old — pulled a Lou Gehrig card, which contained two pieces of Gehrig memorabilia, a piece of Gehrig’s jersey and a piece of his stirrup, No. 6 of 7.”As long as they keep being creative and being limited, while still having cards that affordable to kids and adults, that’s the thing that’ll keep (collecting) going,” Mandy said. “As long as there’s still product out there for everybody, that’s the thing that’ll keep it going.”Throughout the event, when rare cards were pulled, other customers congratulate and shake hands with one another, wanting to get a closer peek at some of the cards. Mandy would whisk away the cards to place them in protective casing, careful not to damage some of the rarer cards. There’s a sense of family and camaraderie at Attack, with good reason.Mandy takes the time to point single out several regular customers of the store who have gone on to do great things with their lives. He shares newspaper clippings and the latest word on the street buzz surrounding those members. There’s a genuine sense of community and friendliness with the customers, a bond and authentic cordialness that can be hard to feign among people sharing a hobby.Throughout the years, Mandy faced many trials and tribulations while keeping his shop open, specifically when the card industry took a dip in the 1980s as product oversaturated the market, effectively rendering rare cards just common instead, hurt both the business and collectors.”The companies being aware that we (hobby stores) need the product to be limited,” Mandy said. “They’ve been aware of that recently, because of the problems of the 1980s, where they overstocked everything. They saw that the value wasn’t high and the cards went down in value instead of going up, and people stopped collecting because of that.”Now, with product made to order rather than in mass, Mandy said collecting has since corrected itself because of two things. Limiting the product has worked wonders for the business, as has regular customers entering the store.Echoing Mandy’s sentiments, Carl Henderson, owner of Carl’s Cards and Collectibles in Haverford, Pennsylvania, attributes regular customers to keeping hobby shops running — like the one customer who came in and bought two packs of Bowman cards in the middle of the interview with SN.“Regulars are what keep you going,” Henderson said. “On a day when you got nothing, one of your regulars always comes in. It might be five minutes to 7, and you’ve been here for 12 hours, and you’re like, ‘Man, I’m pitching a no-no.’ And then here comes a savior.”Henderson, in business for 23 years, opened his shop just after the ’90s card boom and has evolved with the card business as the card business has evolved. As a collectibles and hobby shop, Henderson is staying open on the backs of regular customers while keeping stock of as much card product as he can.”There’s so much of that stuff today,” Henderson said. “What’s the next big thing? What are we going to sell to the people? What’s going to get them excited? We’ve done autographs, we’ve got nine-million parallels. Where’s the next avenue that we can go?”‘Sports art’Amsinger, clearly moved by his own words and impressive collection of cards before him, speaks of the days of growing up in St. Louis with his makeshift baseball game. Never short of words — he’s a TV guy, after all — there’s a boyish naivete that Amsinger exudes when talking about his cards. Naivete and elegance.Amsinger’s main goal is to collect one full set of Topps Series 1 baseball cards for every year of his life — something that he’s accomplished to this point. He’s also made a point to collect Ozzie Smith cards — his favorite player — of which he has many, including spending maybe a bit too much for a Smith rookie card.The MLB Network host, who has been around baseball for a long, long time, knows something about the grind of the sport, being a fan of both teams and baseball cards.”Baseball is a different sport. It’s not a quick fix. … Baseball is a labor of love. Baseball cards are symbolic of that. They’re symbolic of the idea that you have to put a little work in of being a fan,” Amsinger said. “But it’s the most rewarding work at the end.” Susan Lulgjuraj is living the dream.Lulgjuraj spent years collecting baseball cards. She has boxes upon boxes filled with thousands of cards.
1 Wayne Rooney will turn out in Everton blue again next season Everton have revealed the number that will adorn the shirt worn by returning Wayne Rooney next season.The 31-year-old England star returned to the club where he began his career, from Manchester United on Sunday, and will turn out for Ronald Koeman’s side with the familiar number 10 on his back.Rooney will also be following in the footsteps of childhood hero Duncan Ferguson who wore the number during his second spell at the club.The previous incumbent of the number 10 shirt was Romelu Lukaku who is due to head in the opposite direction and sign in a mega-money deal for Jose Mourinho’s United.