Topps Offers Fans Ability To Create Custom Trading Cards

Johnny-SmithThe Topps Company, Inc., official licensee of Major League Soccer and Major League Baseball, today announced a revolutionary new digital offering for fans which will give everyone the chance to create his or her authentic looking and customized trading card on Topps.com.

“We have tried for years to come up with a way for fans to create their own official product that looks and feels exactly like what we create for leagues like MLB and MLS, and we are pleased to say that the time has come,” said Jeff Heckman, Brand Manager for Topps. “Now fans will have the opportunity to get their own Topps trading card just like their favorite players they grew up collecting and we feel they will quickly become a ‘must have’ for all looking to enhance their fandom or create a special gift that will last a lifetime.”

Fans will initially be able to select to use one of the following Topps card designs; 2015 Topps MLB Series 1,1952 Vintage MLB or 2015 Topps MLS. Fans will be able to upload their picture and enter their name on the front of the card, choose a MLB or MLS team logo or upload a logo for their own organization and on the card back, fans will be able to enter their hometown, choose a position, and fill out a brief description.

The cards will be delivered in packs of 8, with the same quality look and feel of the MLB and MLS cards. The packs will retail for $9.99 and will be available to be customized and purchased immediately on Topps.com.

Women’s Wrestling, Baseball Share A Stage

Wrestling-Yankees gameBaseball and women’s wrestling go together? No, not WWE Divas-type wrestling but the old school, roll around on the mat type, the Olympic type. That’s what we had this past week when the U.S. Olympic Women’s Wrestling Team, in town for a week of training and team building at Columbia University, took time out from their schedule to venture across the Harlem River and take on the Yankees-Athletics game as guests of the Bronx Bombers.

The group, which included world number one Adeline Gray, took in lots of sights around New York, even the Women’s World Cup Parade, in addition to their training, but a stop in The Bronx was a big, and unexpected highlight.

“I grew up a Diamondbacks fan but coming to Yankees Stadium and meeting Coach Girardi before the game on the field was very special,” said Gray, who this week is competing in the Pan American Games in Toronto in advance of September’s World Championships in Las Vegas. “I have been to New York many times, but coming to see the Stadium really makes it pretty special.”

The Steinbrenner family have long been supporters of all United States Olympic Committee athletes, and the visit was made possible by the Yankees Randy Levine after he received an outreach from Dr. Harvey Schiller, former head of YES Network and Executive Director of the United States Olympic Committee, who was notified that the Olympians were in town. The wrestlers even came up with some creative support for the Yankees on their own, purchasing Yankees pinstripes sweatpants and wearing them as a group during their Thursday practice at Columbia.

“We are always around elite athletes from our own sport, so to get to take a few hours out and actually see baseball players up close, especially watching batting practice from the field, gives us all an even greater perspective on what we can accomplish,” Gray added.

Several of the team members also dropped in on another baseball personality per se last week, with teammates Leigh Provisor and Helen Maroulis visiting Robert Wuhl’s radio show at CBS. Wuhl, famous for portraying both Arliss Michaels and the pitching coach in “Bull Durham,” made it an enjoyable experience for all.

Maybe baseball and wrestling do mix after all.

Buster Posey and New York Made A Great Fit This Week

Buster-Posey-CardBuster Posey loves New York, especially when the Giants are winning. This week as the former inhabitants of the Polo Grounds took three of four from the Mets, the soft-spoken Georgia native was in and about Gotham, catching no-hitters, hitting home runs and signing on as the 2015 Ambassador for Topps, which he formalized with a little get-together in lower Manhattan in mid-week.

“Our organization has done such a great job in connecting with our fans wherever they are it’s not surprising to see people turn out, but New York is a little different because of the history with the franchise here,” he said. “You see people who are Giants fans because it was passed down from their parents and grandparents, and older people recognize you on the street. The last few years as we have done well in the postseason it seems like there are more and more of them here. And you certainly see and hear them when we are at CitiField.”

Posey is a great role model and spokesman for baseball, and was selected by the fans as the 2015: Face of the Game: this past spring, edging out the Mets’ David Wright. That impact wasn’t lost on Topps, who chose Posey for their spokesperson as much for his work off the field than on. “We welcome Buster as our official ambassador for 2015,” said Clay Luraschi, Topps’ Vice President of Product Development in a statement. “There are few people, let alone athletes, who are better role models than he is, not just in the way he plays, but in his dedication to off-field activities such as family and community service. We are looking forward to working with him to help us continue to grow and engage our brand.”

As far as the new cards which are out next week, Series Two Baseball, features  a 350-card base set that combined with February’s Topps® Series One Baseball makes this year’s card set the company’s largest in 10 years. The set includes new  First Pitch cards with actor Jon Hamm, comic and pop culture icon Stan Lee,  Bill Kreutzman and Mickey Hart of The Grateful Dead, and actor Chris Pratt all mixed in.

The set will also have the first flagship Rookie Cards for Cubs standout Kris Bryant and Diamondbacks star Yasmany Tomas. In addition, the “Highlight of the Year” autograph and relic subset, which brings the past alive by highlighting iconic moments in baseball history, returns with Rickey Henderson, Nolan Ryan and Cal Ripken Jr., featured on cards. The release of the set comes on the heels of another popular celebrity Topps offering, a full lineup of Will Ferrell cards coming off his nine teams, one day spring training jaunt that will be part of an upcoming HBO special.

Back to Posey, could the All-Star catcher ever find his way to New York permanently, either in Queens or The Bronx? He deflected the question with ease. “I love the Giants organization and what we are doing and that’s where my focus is,” he said. “Our goal is to keep winning on the field and do the best we can to cultivate and engage with our fans, and this opportunity with a great brand like Topps is a big part of that outreach.”

Spoken like a true champion.

Breuer Proving His Mets Fandom Is No Joke

Jim-Breuer-73-CardThere are few things that comedian Jim Breuer takes seriously. One, for sure, is his devotion to the New York Mets. The Valley Stream native will make light of his family, friends, pets and colleagues, but the Mets? He sighs, his eyes get wide, and he just starts going…and going…and ranting…and because of all that ranting he has become to this generation of Mets fans what Jerry Seinfeld was to older diehards; the comedic face of the franchise.

“In so many ways I’m like ‘Rain Man’ with the Mets,” Breuer said recently while out promoting his latest special, “Comic Frenzy,” to air on EPIX and EPIX.com starting on Friday May 29. “Bud Harrelson getting pummeled by Pete Rose, Joel Youngblood and John Stearns, Hubie Brooks hitting streak, those were the way I measured my childhood, and boy did it leave scars. It’s a habit that just won’t quit.”

Bob Apodaca getting hit in the head, George “The Stork” Theodore’s first homer, Robbie Alomar’s bobblehead, The Dykstra homer in the ’86 NLCS, they are all part of the former “Saturday Night Live” star’s memory bank. Sometimes they have made it into his hugely popular standup routine, other times, “It’s going to a dark place to talk about being a Mets fan,” he joked.

Through the years Breuer has had season tickets at Shea Stadium, moved gigs to watch the playoffs and like so many of the rank and file, has shook his head at the revolving door of talent over the years. But, he cautioned, “I think good things are coming…if we just stay healthy.” The nets for their part have had a healthy respect for the comedian’s work over the years. He threw out a first pitch at Shea and will again this Friday, “softening the mound for Matt Harvey,” he added, when the team, EPIX and Topps will officially unveil his own trading card to commemorate his fandom and the comedy special.

For his part, Breuer has taken his fandom viral, sporting short videos that have been a huge hit with Mets fans as they went through the elation of the team’s fast start, and the doldrums of their recent drought. He has also signed on with SNY to be a guest correspondent in and around the team from time to time this year.

“We have been there for Dave Kingman and Lee Mazzilli, suffered through Beltran in the playoffs, and now we have the worst thing possible…hope. Nothing worse for a Mets fan to have hope, but it’s nice to be involved if it works out. Hell, ’86 wasn’t THAT long ago,” he half joked. Hope a bad thing?

Mets fans can relate, especially to their latest and maybe most genuine, celebrity voice of the fan.

Jeter To Be Honored With The Legend Award At Nickelodeon’s Kids’ Choice Sports 2015

Derek Jeter

Derek Jeter

After an historic 20-year career with the New York Yankees, former team captain, entrepreneur and New York Times best-selling author Derek Jeter will be honored with the Legend Award at Nickelodeon’s Kids’ Choice Sports 2015 in recognition of his unmatched talent, integrity and sportsmanship on and off the field. Hosted by Seattle Seahawks’ two-time Super Bowl quarterback Russell Wilson, Nickelodeon’s Kids’ Choice Sports 2015, which returns for its second year, will air live on Thursday, July 16 (8 pm ET/PT) from Pauley Pavilion in Los Angeles.

The Legend Award honors athletes who are the ultimate role models to kids across the globe, inspiring generations year after year.  Last year, worldwide superstar David Beckham was presented with the first Legend Award, and celebrated by being doused in golden slime with his kids.

“I am incredibly honored to receive Nickelodeon’s Legend Award at this year’s Kids’ Choice Sports awards,” said Jeter. “Inspiring kids to follow their dreams and live a healthy lifestyle is so important to me, so I want to take this opportunity to tell all aspiring athletes out there to work hard, love what you do, put your best foot forward and never forget the kid in you.”

By the time he stepped away from baseball in 2014, Derek Jeter had established himself as one of the most respected men to ever have played the game. Jeter is a five-time World Series Champion and joined baseball’s exclusive 3,000-hit club on July 9, 2011. He has received numerous accolades in recognition of both his on-field skill and his commitment to community service, including: World Series MVP (2000); 14-time MLB All-Star; 5-time Gold Glove Award; 5-time Silver Slugger Award; AL Rookie of the Year (1996); Roberto Clemente Award (2009); Sports Illustrated Sportsman of the Year Award (2009); the Sporting News Good Guy in Sports Award (2002); Michigan Association of School Administrators Champion for Children Award (2005); Joe Torre Safe at Home MVP Award (2010); Lou Gehrig Memorial Award (2010). In 2012, Siena College recognized Jeter with a Doctor of Humane Letters degree for his leadership, accomplishments on the baseball field and dedication to improving the lives of young people through the Turn 2 Foundation.

In retirement, Jeter now focuses on transitioning a storied career into a variety of successful business ventures. Most recently, Jeter announced The Players’ Tribune, an innovative multimedia digital company where world-class athletes share their honest and unique perspectives, bringing fans closer to the games they love. In November 2013, Jeter and Simon & Schuster announced the Jeter Publishing imprint. Jeter also serves as Partner and Brand Development Officer of Luvo, a transformational lifestyle food brand where he is involved in product development, brand awareness and strategic partnerships. Jeter continues to be the driving force behind the Turn 2 Foundation, which he established in 1996 to give back to the communities with which he has a close connection, including West Michigan, Tampa and New York City. He satisfies his passion for inspiring young people through initiatives – like the Jeter’s Lea ders program – that promote academic excellence, leadership development, positive behavior, healthy choices and social change. During Derek’s baseball career, the Turn 2 Foundation has awarded more than $20 million in grants to create and support signature programs that motivate young people to turn away from drugs and alcohol and “Turn 2” healthy lifestyles. It remains committed to continuing this mission well into the future.

With special guests, performances, outrageous competitions and unique categories to be announced in the coming weeks, Kids’ Choice Sports 2015 will be bursting with fun, unforgettable moments, epic slimings and sheer ‘fan’-demonium that can only happen on Nickelodeon.  Kids from around the country will show their support for their favorite athletes, teams and sports moments and decide who will take home a cherished, one-of-a-kind Nickelodeon orange mohawked blimp trophy.

Kids can gear up for game day across all of Nickelodeon’s digital platforms including Nick.com and the Nick App on iOS, Andriod, Fire OS, Xbox 360 and Windows 8.  Nick.com/sports is the official destination for everything Kids’ Choice Sports where fans can get their fill of funny short form videos, flip through photo galleries featuring all-star athletes, take quizzes to prep for the big game and more! Beginning June 8th, kids can root for their faves, pick the pros they’d like to see walk away with a blimp, and multiply their votes by playing the Slime Sports Multiplier game. Then on July 16th, Nick.com  and the Nick App will be the place to score a court-side seat for all of the Orange Carpet and live show action with a live photo stream and loads of video clips, straight from the main event! Plus, kids will be able to get in the game like never before, with a live vote that impacts what goes down in the show itself!

Kids’ Choice Sports 2015 Presenting Sponsors include Verizon.  Associate Sponsors include Nationwide and Popsicle®.

Nickelodeon’s Kids’ Choice Sports 2015 is produced by Done + Dusted in association with Nickelodeon Productions. Jay Schmalholz and Shelly Sumpter Gillyard are executive producers.  Constance Schwartz and Michael Strahan of SMAC Entertainment will serve as executive producers, alongside Ian Stewart and Hamish Hamilton of Done + Dusted with Hamilton also serving as director of the show.

Wise Guy On Stage, Mets Fan In Real Life

Mets OF Curtis Granderson with the cast of Dinner With The Boys

Mets OF Curtis Granderson with the cast of Dinner With The Boys

When you meet actor Ray Abruzzo, you still think “Sopranos,” and when standing around a batting cage, baseball bats may have a different meaning with wise guys than when they are in the proper hands of the home standing Mets (Remember DeNiro playing Al Capone on “The Untouchables”?). But the veteran actor was all baseball on Monday night, when he and his fellow cast members from the new Off-Broadway play “Dinner With The Boys” paid a pregame visit to Citi Field as the Mets opened a series with the St. Louis Cardinals.

“My first memories of what was Shea Stadium was the year it opened, 1964,” the Queens native said. “We came to a doubleheader against the Giants, my mom was working across the street at the World’s Fair, and the two games went on forever. We stayed to the end I will never forget it.”

Neither will Mets fans, it turns out, as that doubleheader Abruzzo referred to, May 31, 1964, ended up being the longest doubleheader in terms of time and innings in baseball history, with the second game going 23 innings and the visiting Giants winning both ends, 5-3 and then 6-4. His knack for attending long games didn’t stop on Monday, as the Mets took 14 innings to oust the Cardinals 2-1, with the cast staying all the way through, even though it was their only off night of the week from performing.

Abruzzo is putting in a marathon of himself these days, doing eight shows a week with Dan Lauria and Richie Zavaglia in the comedy at the Acorn Theater, which is billed as a fun takeoff on wise guys, almost a lighthearted look at the dark comedy that he was part of for so many years on HBO where he played “Little Carmine” to such rave reviews.

Despite spending so much time in Los Angeles, Abruzzo remains loyal to his Mets, and got a great kick out of meeting Mookie Wilson while standing around the batting cage on Monday night.

“Man, 1986 seems like yesterday, and when that ball went through Buckner’s legs…,” he laughed and smiled when chatting with Wilson.  As far as this year’s team goes, like many Mets fans he seems optimistic. “They are young, fun to watch and have pitching like the old days I remember growing up,” he added. “In this town we love our baseball, and when the Mets, and the Yankees, are good it can be so much fun.”

Fun is also what “Dinner With The Boys” is bringing nightly to the Acorn Theater, with Mets fans and Yankees fans alike turning out to see the show that opened May 4. Hopefully come October both Abruzzo’s regular show and the one he likes to follow in Queens will still be running. For details on the play visit   http://dinnerwiththeboysplay.com/

Yankee Dynasty Started With Hall Of Famers Ruppert, Huggins

ColonelAndHugBabe Ruth gets due credit for his well-known role in turning the Yankees from second fiddle in the Big Apple to what would be the biggest success story in sports. But despite their enshrinement in the Baseball Hall of Fame, Yankees owner Colonel Jacob Ruppert and manager Miller Huggins have received vastly disproportionate accolades for having launched the transformation. And while Ruth’s play on the field and larger-than-life personality off it have been the subject of dozens of books (and two mostly regrettable feature films), Ruppert’s and Huggins’s stories have rarely been prominently featured.

Steve Steinberg and Lyle Spatz have done their part to remedy that in The Colonel and Hug (University of Nebraska Press, 521 pps., $34.95), positioning the duo as integral to the first sustained Yankees success. It was the Colonel’s commitment to putting the best team on the field regardless of the cost (sound familiar, Yankees fans?) and his “Mite Manager’s” resolve that laid the groundwork before Ruth’s exploits put Murderer’s Row over the top.

Steinberg and Spatz reveal more than a few interesting notes along the way, including the Colonel’s pursuit of Joe Jackson, Tris Speaker, Ty Cobb, Eddie Collins and other stars; had any of these been successful, Ruth may have never even been a Yankee. Or, imagine a Yankee outfield of Jackson and Ruth (with no 1919 Series to throw, Jackson’s story would clearly have been far different).

All of the familiar Yankees characters of the era are integral to Colonel and Hug, from Ruth to Gehrig and even DiMaggio towards the end of Ruppert’s days. And new life is breathed into the likes of Fritz Maisel (did the Yankees really reject a Maisel-for-Shoeless Joe deal? And we’re lauded for it?), Ban Johnson, John McGraw and plenty of others.

Huggins was a product of the dead ball era, a 5’6″ shortstop who hit a grand total of nine home runs in nearly 7000 plate appearances in 13 Big League seasons for the Reds and Cardinals. After five years as St. Louis skipper, the first four as player-manager, Hug was brought over by Ruppert, who had not met the diminutive Huggins but who liked his style immediately.

Though of quite different backgrounds — Ruppert was the heir to a dominant brewery, politician and member of the social elite, while Huggins had more hardscrabble roots — they shared a desire to win, were lifelong bachelors and teamed to put together a franchise that dominated for decades.

There is recognition of the two titans at Monument Park at the Yankee Stadium not built by the duo (a monument in honor of Huggins and a plaque for Ruppert), dwarfed in size by that of the other owner to bring a seemingly failed manager — Joe Torre — from St. Louis and win multiple titles eight decades later in George Steinbrenner. Hundreds and sometimes thousands of fans walk past those remembrances before every Yankee home game, the large majority blissfully unaware of what those two men’s contributions meant to the century of success since.

Perhaps Steinberg and Spatz’s work can change that.

Mets GM Sandy Alderson To Discuss Team, New Book Saturday At Yogi Berra Museum

Fred Wilpon and Sandy Alderson

Fred Wilpon and Sandy Alderson

With big expectations for the 2015 season and the team off to a fine 6-3 start at press time, New York Mets General Manager Sandy Alderson will be discussing the team he has rebuilt at the Yogi Berra Museum & Learning Center in Little Falls, N.J., on Saturday at 2 p.m.

Alderson, the subject of a much-discussed new book, Baseball Maverick: How Sandy Alderson Revolutionized Baseball and Revived the Mets, will attend with bestselling author Steve Kettmann, with whom he cooperated on the book.

Alderson took over the Mets in 2010 with the team in turmoil. After suffering an embarrassing September collapse and two bitter losing seasons, the Mets were in even worse trouble off the field. The Wilpons, the team’s principal owners, were embroiled in the largest financial scam in American history. To help revive the franchise, they turned to Alderson, a former marine who served in Vietnam and graduated from Harvard Law, and had helped pioneer using statistical analysis with the Oakland A’s in the late 1980s. When new owners slashed payroll in the 1990s, Alderson’s creativity was thrust into the spotlight. Alderson’s renewal of the Mets, despite a limited budget, has come through big trades that brought back high-profile prospects and the development of young aces including Matt Harvey, Zach Wheeler, and Jacob deGrom. Without question, the widespread perception is changing about the Mets, who are now a competitive and up-and-coming team.

To RSVP for the Alderson event call (973) 655-2378. Books available for purchase at the Museum.

Marucci Sports Names Bat Industry Icon Chuck Schupp To Top Big League Player Relations Position

Chuck Schupp

Chuck Schupp

Marucci Sports announced today that bat industry icon, Chuck Schupp, has joined its team as Head of Big League Player Relations, bringing with him decades of baseball clubhouse knowledge and relationships.

“Chuck’s 35 years of clubhouse expertise is a priceless addition to the Marucci team,” said Kurt Ainsworth, Marucci co-founder and CEO. “Chuck has a unique understanding of this industry, its evolution, and the challenges ahead and we are excited to have him continue building our brand in the Big Leagues.”

The hiring of Schupp, who retired from Louisville Slugger in 2014, comes in the wake of the recently announced sale of Louisville Slugger to Wilson Sporting Goods Co. Over the past few years, Marucci Sports has matched and surpassed all of its competitors as the baseball bat of choice among Big League players. Over one-third of Big Leaguers swing Marucci and the company is still majority owned by current and former Big Leaguers, including Jose Bautista, who is on the Marucci Sports Board of Directors, and Player Advisory Board Members David Ortiz, Chase Utley, Albert Pujols, and Andrew McCutchen.

Schupp, 60, joined Louisville Slugger in 1979 and has spent the last 30 years traveling to stadiums across the country to connect with veterans and rookies alike at all levels of professional baseball, building relationships and providing them with product. Big Leaguers view Schupp as the unparalleled expert in the bat industry and the go-to guy for their individual needs. His relationships in the sport extend to all levels of professional baseball and include managers, coaches and front office staff throughout.

“I admire Marucci’s rise to #1 in such a short time. Marucci has not only grown to its dominant position in the Big Leagues, but continues to grow by setting the gold standard of quality,” said Schupp. “I am looking forward to being back in the clubhouses with Marucci, renewing old relationships, gaining some new ones and strengthening Marucci’s already stellar Big League relations.”

March Madness And MLB Linked By CEO Pool

HarlemRBIHow can baseball benefit from March Madness? It’s In The Pool.

As we head toward the Final Four and Opening Day of Baseball there is an interesting mix we had previously talked about that ties both sports together in an unusual way. At the beginning of March Madness, Bloomberg announced a pool with 32 high level CEO’s each kicking in $10,000, with the winner getting the whole pot, $320,000 to go to a dedicated charity of their choice.

The list of CEO’s ranged from Michael Bloomberg to AOL’s Tim Armstrong, and from the Milwaukee Brewers owner Mark Attanasio to Under Armour’s Kevin Plank, all chipping in for the cause of their choice. From education to food banks, cancer charities to wrestling programs, the help would be for a wide range of programs.

The Final Four has little Cinderella and lots of favorites, all of which could lead to a compelling finish to a great event at Lucas Oil Stadium. Who in the Bloomberg pool could cash in? One unique mix has baseball potentially benefiting, while the other may have some good karma for basketball and LeBron James.

Gary Cohen, CEO of Goldman Sachs, leads the group with all four of his Final Four intact, but needs Bo Ryan’s Wisconsin Badgers to win it all. If Frank Kaminsky and Co. make it past Kentucky and through the finals, the windfall would go to Harlem RBI, the not-for-profit that works with Major League Baseball to grow the game in inner cities.

Cohen’s 144 points places him ahead of Quicken Loans founder and owner of the Cleveland Cavaliers Dan Gilbert, who is second with 139 points and has 3/4’s of the Final Four left. The difference is Gilbert has overwhelming favorite Kentucky winning it all, which would move him to the top spot as he plays for the Children’s Tumor Foundation.

EBay President and CEO John Donahoe is third, with Milwaukee Bucks owner Mark Lasry fourth, although neither appear to have the mix to leapfrog the top two.

On the bottom, keep fretting Lakers fans, as it looks like CEO Jeanie Buss will be bringing up the rear with just 90 points, although she does have Kentucky winning it all. Plank sadly is just ahead of her and with no one left in his Final Four, he may hit bottom as well. All in fun and philanthropy though.

The new concept by Bloomberg could bode well for giving elsewhere as well. How about a Women’s World Cup pool coming up as well, with some global heads putting $10 K in the kitty?