Ever been thumbing through a stack of cards from a set that (you thought) you knew like the back of your hand when you stumble across a card you swear you’ve never seen before?

It happens all the time to me, even after all these years of collecting and after having spent a decade or more as a kid pouring over every card I could get my hands on.

It’s an amazing phenomenon and one that leaves me in disbelief every single time. But it also makes me feel giddy … there’s a new 1981 Topps card out there?

Well, no, probably not. But in that moment, it’s new to me.

That’s sort of what discovering baseball is like for the new fan — you know the game has been there all along, but by golly, it’s so new and exciting to you that you’re on Cloud 9.

So I knew I  had to include this treasure-from-the-mundane thing in my 2019 Spring Training Baseball Card Challenge, and that’s what this Day 15 post is all about — a baseball card that I’ve never seen before.

Most of the time, I stumble on these babies when I least expect it … like the aforementioned stack-thumbing.

This time around, though, I consulted my local Google machine to help me pan through a few hundred cards of various topics … Reds cards … Hall of Fame cards … 1980s Donruss cards … 1978 cards.

And that’s where I saw it — the 1978 Topps Zest Willie Montanez.

1978 topps zest willie montanez

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The what what?

You heard me — the 1978 Topps Zest Willie Montanez. The one that jumped off the page at me like the baseball on a 1975 Topps wax pack wrapper.

Now, Willie Montanez himself is no stranger to me. I vividly remember pushing his early 1980s cards around my bedroom floor during sorting sessions that lasted deep into the night. I marveled at the long line of stats on his card back.

I also remember that he played for the Philadelphia Phillies, Atlanta Braves, Pittsburgh Pirates, and New York Mets, though a couple of his other stops don’t register at all (for me).

Finally, I get an instant mental image when I think of “1978 Topps Willlie Montanez” — an image of Willie leaning in with his reaching left-handed batting stance, wearing a Braves warm-up jacket on the grass, looking off to his right rather than at the camera or toward the “pitcher.”

By the time that card made its way to collectors, though, Montanez was with the Mets. We’d get a Montanez-Mets card courtesy of 1979 Topps, but collectors were doomed to stale Willie cards in the summer of 1978.

Except …

Except that Topps teamed up with Zest soap to make a five-card set that collectors in certain states could nab through the mail, in exchange for some proofs of purchase from Zest. (There is a discussion of the cards and even a big old picture of the original order form in this thread at Collectors.com.)

Besides Montanez, the Zest-y players included Ed Figueroa, Manny Mota, Joaquin Andujar, and Bert Campaneris.

Cards were identical to those in the base Topps set, except their numbering (1-5) and the fact that they included both English and Spanish text on the back.

1978 topps zest willie montanez (back)

Oh, one other difference …

Willie Montanez is pictured in a smiling head-shoulders-and-bat pose, and he’s wearing his New York Mets hat and pinstripes.

And just like that, at least a few collectors had an updated Montanez cards … and, 41 years later, I stumbled across another card I’d never seen before.

Wonders never cease!

Check out the entire series of 2019 Spring Training Challenge posts here.