Still, I was treating myself. But I still wanted to get cards I needed. So, I looked at my want lists for a set that I needed a lot of cards for, found a box from over a decade ago where I had a significant list, and hit the purchase button.
I chose 2004 SP Prospects. It's a colorful set -- lots of blues and reds and golds and reflective stuff going on. The box promised five autographs on average and one or two relic cards. I looked at the autograph list and knew I wouldn't be pulling anything special, so I went into it looking for fun.
It wasn't too bad. It wasn't as fun as I had hoped, though.
The obvious reason as to why it was a Stooge box: One single Brewer card.
One. Jeff Bennett, from Donelson, Tennessee. Bennett was a 19th round pick of the Pittsburgh Pirates out of high school. The Brewers picked him up in the Rule 5 draft after a 2003 season where Bennett pitched pretty well for Double-A Altoona before getting bombarded at Triple-A Nashville. He stuck for the whole year in 2004 with the Brewers. In 2005, he was back at Triple-A Nashville but with the Brewers organization. He missed 2006, and the Brewers cut him after that.
His odyssey did not end there, however. He pitched in 2007 in the Braves organization and with the Braves before making 72 appearances -- including 4 starts and racking up 3 saves -- in Atlanta in 2008. 2009 was a nightmare, though. Though he pitched pretty well for the Braves superficially (3.18 ERA), he walked 21 in 34 innings and found himself first in Triple-A and then on waivers. The Rays picked him up, and he made his last appearance in the majors in the 2009 season.
But, he kept plugging away. He was back in the Brewers system in 2010 after getting cut. He absolutely sucked in 2010, though -- 15 games, 21 innings, 11.14 ERA, 21 walks, 15 Ks, 26 earned runs. So, in 2011 at the age of 31, he pitches in the Atlantic League. The Diamondbacks pick him up for Triple-A insurance midway through June and cut him in August. He goes to Venezuela and Mexico for the winter, and then back to the Atlantic League in 2012.
2013 -- more of the same. He gets an NRI with Colorado, but it leads back to the Atlantic League again, and then to the Mexican League with Tabasco and the Mexican Winter League.
The next year, he starts with Reynosa in Mexico and pitches well in 7 starts. That gets him a Triple-A gig with the Dodgers -- 21 starts in Albuquerque. In the end, though, and at the age of 34, he can't find anywhere to hook on for the 2015 season and perhaps finally called it a career.
They won't all be this long. I promise.
So, my autographs? Well, I got them.
These four were just the pedestrian, run-of-the-mill draft pick autographs. Swarzak actually pitched in the major leagues last year with the New York Yankees and has made 217 appearances in the bigs. He was the Twins 2nd round pick out of Nova High School in Davie, Florida. He, too, has gotten to travel around a bit, though he spent all of 2012 through 2014 in the majors. He washed out in 2015 after the first few months of the season in Cleveland and ended up with Doosan in Korea for 20 starts. The Yankees picked him up, and he split time between Scranton and the Bronx last season.
Speaking of Yankees, Brett Smith was the Yanks second round pick in 2004 out of UC-Irvine. He got as far as Trenton in the Eastern League before he lost a season to injury in 2008. He came back in 2009 and pitched 6 games in the independent Golden Baseball League in 2010, but that was it.
John Anthony Raglani was the Dodgers 5th round pick out of noted baseball hotbed George Washington University. He played from 2004 through 2007 for the Dodger organization as an outfielder with some pop. His last year in Double-A Jacksonville was not bad -- .248/.369/.461, 21 HR, 85 BB, 139 K in a league that hit .259/.334/.392 as a whole -- but Raglani decided that his future would require his brain rather than his braun. He went back to GW, finished his undergrad degree, worked for a couple of years in insurance, and then went to law school. He's now an associate at Arnold & Porter in DC (and yes, those of us in the legal world call that firm A&P like the old grocery stores).
Finally, Sean Gamble was a sixth round pick in 2004 for the Philadelphia Phillies out of Auburn University. He only lasted 3 years in the minors before playing two seasons of independent baseball. By the way, yes, his dad is Oscar Gamble. Sean now lives in Atlanta and serves as a scout for the Rockies. His Facebook profile photo is a picture of him under a banner showing his dad. Spitting image.
Okay, one more autograph -- and I bet back in 2004 this one would have been a pretty decent pull:
Bill Bray AND Collin Balester! Bray didn't get to pitch in Montreal, though he was the 13th overall pick and the final first round pick for the Montreal Expos in 2004. The Expos could have selected Billy Butler, Stephen Drew, Gio Gonzalez, or Yovani Gallardo, among others. Bray last pitched in the majors in 2012 and now is in law school at William & Mary.
Balester was the Expos 4th round pick in 2004. He made it to the major leagues in 2008 with the Nationals, and stayed there through 2011. In 2012, he pitched 11 games for the Tigers. He spent 2013 in the Texas organization, but I'm guessing he was hurt -- only 6 appearances. In 2014 and 2015, he spent time in the Pirates organization, but never made the majors. Midway through the year, the Reds bought his contract from the Pirates and gave him a shot to play a bit. He ended up in Korea for three games in 2016 and got hammered there -- 12-1/3 innings, 20 hits, 12 walks, 5 strikeouts. Now, it appears that he is a Pac-12 troll on Twitter.
The other two cards worth showing are my relic cards. The SP Prospect relics were from Team USA Baseball. Who did I get?
Clement was the Mariners first round pick -- third overall -- in 2005 and he got a $3.4 million bonus. The video at this link has him saying that he threw that money into the stock market and watched it evaporate in the Great Recession. At least my 401(k) wasn't the only one taking a hit. Like all scrub catchers are required to do, he spent time in Pittsburgh, and it was in 2012 with the Pirates that he played his final major league game. In 2015, he served as a volunteer assistant with the Iowa Hawkeyes baseball team.
Last one was at least someone whose name was instantly recognizable:
Gordon was drafted one slot before Clement in 2005 -- the Royals took him 2nd overall out of the University of Nebraska. Dude is making serious coin now -- he signed a free agent contract after the 2015 season of four years for $72 million. The Royals may have fallen victim to overvaluing their own players when they did that -- his first year's return was to hit 17 homers with a .220/.312/.380 slash line -- an OPS+ of 84. Yeah. Not so good.
In the end, this box was not all that bad. It was fun getting to see early cards of guys like Gordon and "Benjamin" Zobrist, among others. I was not following the American League for much of the time I was out of collecting, so it was cool to see names I should know but don't pop up as well.
Would I buy another box? Probably not. But it was a fun rip.
As always, if you need something from this post or from that set, let me know and I'll see if I can help.