By Michael Reuben aka mreuben

Because it’s not one of the major companies, Tristar doesn’t get enough credit for its Obak sets. Far from the most attractive set, it does what amateur historians of sports want to see. While the major companies, Topps, Panini and Upper Deck, allow us to look to the present to see the best and the brightest of our day, Obak baseball offers us two views – to our distant and interesting past and to the bright potential of our future. Where else can you pull a pack that has both Josh Gibson and Mike Trout, back to back. A set that highlights the gentleman that developed specific pitches, and prospects who are still learning to effectively battle against those pitches.

Let’s break down the specifics of the set for the moment. 110 card base set, with ten short-prints that follow. Even if the short prints only come a few to a box, this is a set that is incredibly buildable for any set builder, especially when you factor in the retail availability of the set. The cards’ design is stark. White border. monotone ink separating the border from the picture. The player’s last name is in the same color ink. The designers do a good job of hiding any logos that Major League Baseball would forbid, which has been done very poorly by some of the other companies they compete with. Following the tradition of the modern era, Obak offers a rainbow of parallels that the collector can grab – this rainbow is just the simple bar of ink that separates the white border from the picture. Very simple.

The beauty of the set isn’t the design on the front, but the narrative of baseball that it weaves on the back. The set-list features dozens of names that are most familiar to even the casual baseball fan. Nolan Ryan, Cal Ripken Jr.,  Ken Griffey Jr… It also includes some of the emerging stars that the devoted fans would be excited about. Paul Goldschmidt, Brandon Belt and Zach Britton. But Obak is special because of the figures of baseball history that baseball historians revel in. Unlike a set like Allen & Ginter that finds any sort of historical figure or object to inject into a set to entertain the consumer, Obak connects everything in its baseball product to baseball. Where there are presidents, the paragraph written on the back of the card reminds us of the connection to baseball. Soldiers are highlighted, not only for their service to the country, but their skills on the diamond. Names obscured by history – Pete Grey, Jack Chesbro, and Johnny Vander Meer – come alive again in this set. While it’s fun to pull a video gamer or an ancient Egyptian pharaoh in Allen & Ginter, it is nice to have a classically-based set focusing on the sport it claims to identify with.

This has been an incredibly fun set to build. The hobby boxes themselves come serial numbered, highlighting the care that came into the creation of the product, if not the beauty of the design. The boxes themselves offer excitement on multiple levels. Each card requires its own time to sort through – to quickly read through the back to refresh one’s memory. This is not a set however that doesn’t contain the possibility of some very exciting pulls. 2011 offers four hits per box including a cut autograph. The autograph list combines both the impressive and the cruelly funny. In the two boxes I opened, the cut autographs came from Joe Sewell (a Hall of Famer for multiple teams that passed away years ago) and Jerome Walton (famously one of the biggest post-rookie busts in the modern era). Even the minis that are seeded one per pack add an additional perk per pack. Not wasting any time on relics, the rest of the hits are autographs. Again, Tristar is able to secure signings from some impressive figures to couple with the disappointing.

While I’m still a few of the short prints shy of finishing the base set, it’s a beautiful sight to see them lined up in their pages. Year after year, and now sport after sport, Obak has proven its ability to create a worthwhile product that gets overshadowed by the flashiness of the current industry.