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‘Pitching Ninja’ Rob Friedman’s Topps 2020 Allen And Ginter Baseball Card Gives Him A Taste Of The Big Leauges

Collectors excitedly await Topps’ Allen and Ginter baseball card set not only for its vintage design, but also the colorful personalities represented throughout the series. In addition to highlighting present and past stars, 2020 Topps Allen and Ginter Baseball makes sports card dreams come true for those who never touched big league soil.

Rob Friedman, who is better known as PitchingNinja to his 240,000 followers on Twitter, is one of the baseball related celebrities collectors will find in this year’s Allen and Ginter set. The pitching analyst, who The Athletic named one of the top baseball accounts to follow on Twitter, jumped when Topps offered chance to have a nationally distributed baseball card.

“The folks at Topps were fans of my account on Twitter and said, ‘Hey, we’d love to have a card with you on it,’” Friedman said. “It’s one of those things when you’re a kid you always wish you had a baseball card, but you never thought it was going to happen. I thought it was awesome; I said, ‘Yes!’ in about two seconds.”

With COVID delaying most of Topps’ product line, Friedman kept quiet about its release. The industry uncertainty caused him to wait until he received the cards to publicly share the news. Once the cards finally arrived at his house to be autographed for special pack inserts, the emotions hit him all at once. Adhering to Topps’ rigorous procedures while signing the cards made him feel like for one day, a big leaguer.

“It was awesome to get boxes of cards and have them to sign and all that stuff,” he said. “You actually have to sign an affidavit saying that you signed them and have a witness to you signing them. You get all those cards, they tell you what to do, and they give you the pens to sign with … they just map it out really well. You have to admit, they take it all very seriously. They put tamper seals and all that stuff on it so it’s absolutely legit. It made me feel like a major leaguer.”

Friedman, who collected the likes of Nolan Ryan and the recently deceased Tom Seaver as a kid, was recently drawn back into the hobby with this year’s Topps Project 2020 baseball cards. As Friedman’s collecting focus will only intensify after his card hits the masses, ironically, he’s not the only one in the house with a baseball card.

His son Jack, who is now a pitcher at Georgia Tech, was featured in the 2017 Leaf Perfect Game set. Despite his son beating him to the punch on cardboard, the elder Friedman feels his new card prevails under their roof.

“I can guarantee you there was a ton of trash talk and there still is,” he said. “He has a baseball card from back when he played at Perfect Game, but it’s not nearly as cool as my baseball card. I definitely gave him a lot of crap about it. I can be humble, but [with] something like that, I’m gonna be bragging like crazy.”

So how did a lawyer with no professional baseball playing experience become a respected pitching analyst who now has his own baseball card? He asked questions. As the answers came, both fans and players took notice, growing his reach within the baseball community.

“It wasn’t like a plan,” he said. “I just put stuff out there because I had been coaching. … As I kept learning more and more stuff, I just shared it. I asked a lot of questions, and luckily, I was surrounded by a lot of good people to ask questions to. My way of learning is to challenge other people and to see what sticks. [I] look at what major leaguers do and compare it to what I’m hearing from folks and say, ‘Well, that’s not what this guy does.’”

Friedman’s ability to break down mechanics using clever visuals helped to bridge the gap between him and his peers with professional playing experience. Current MLB players started to come to him for footage and advice. He recognized an opportunity to engage amateurs and professionals in a dialogue that would push the game forward.

“I think both sides need some stability,” he said. “I can’t tell you what it’s like to be on a mound in a World Series, but John Smoltz can. Anything about that I would listen, but [with] pro guys, the problem is the game is almost too easy for them. It’s very hard for them to teach or take it apart. When the game is harder for you, sometimes it’s actually easier to teach it because you had to learn it. … People that are just gifted … maybe they take it for granted and don’t look at the smaller parts of the game.”

In 2018, MLB temporarily shut down his Twitter account, filing a DCMA complaint against his pitching GIFs. MLB has fiercely protected their online content, enforcing restrictive policies on social media sharing compared to their NBA counterparts. During the ensuing negotiations, MLB realized it was in their favor to let Friedman continue to promote their brand. Shortly thereafter, they did what any smart entity would do in this situation, they brought him on board.

“I think that’s one of the areas where I feel like I’ve had kind of inadvertently the biggest impact,” he said. “I knew I was in the best position to get them to change. … After they contacted Twitter and had my account suspended, they actually said, ‘No, we like what you do, we just want to make it more official.’ I thought that was a big change. It really changed the way they look at the game, because they understand now when they have people talking about it and sharing clips, it actually makes people more interested in the game.”

With MLB in his corner, Friedman utilized his expanded influence to innovate. In 2019, he developed the FlatGround platform to harness the power of social media to help young pitchers get seen by college and professional scouts. It was one way Friedman felt he could break down the sport’s growing financial hurdles after going through the travel ball circuit.

“I can afford to take them to tournaments and to take time off work, but a lot of families can’t, and it makes baseball an exclusive club,” he said. “Baseball shouldn’t be a rich kid’s sport. It should be available for everybody like it is in the Dominican Republic or other places where it’s not about money; it’s about how much you want it. There has got to be a way to take my followers who are baseball coaches, schools and scouts, and turn it for good. I just basically gave everybody my Rolodex by tweeting them out there on FlatGround and making sure everybody had an opportunity for free.”

As Friedman’s 2020 Topps Allen and Ginter baseball card hits the market, he realizes the card will expose his work to a new group of fans and collectors. While he is preparing a system to deal with the resulting fan mail, the increased attention is one more part of the big league feeling in this entire process.

“I think it’s just awesome to have a card,” he said. “If anybody else thinks it’s really cool to have a PitchingNinja card, God bless them. I want to encourage that; I’m not gonna be the guy who’s like, ‘No autographs, please.’”

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