Wednesday, August 17, 2016

Rolling Games With Someone

Other than a brief time when I let a friend stay at my home while he recuperated from a rough divorce, I've played the APBA replay baseball games alone in the stillness of my own solitude for the past 10 years since my wife passed away.

At times, I may have played music in the background, or left a ball game on the television set while tossing the games, but for the most part the games were done in relative quiet. Other than the noise of the tumbling dice of the game on the rubber mouse pad I use to roll the die, there was mostly silence.

All that has changed and it gives some excuse as to why I've not written anything here in the past four months, and why I've not really fully delved into the 1991 baseball replay I began a year ago.

Frequent readers know about my Illinois girl — the girl I met in northern Illinois last September who changed my world and brought my heart back to life. I spent the ensuing nine months traveling to see her. There wasn't a lot of time to roll games or to update the replay when I was constantly on the road making the 554-mile trip to her home. I used up my vacation days at work by mid-year and on a few occasions actually drove up there on a Saturday and returned late Sunday. It was a 17-hour round trip to see her for about 20 hours then. Such is love.

I made the trip up there 16 times. On the 15th trip back, I learned what true love was, too. It's not the hand-holding in the park, starry-eyed gazes at each other, sharing food and giggling romantic montage while some upbeat Monkees' song plays in the background.

No, I learned the real meaning of love at 10:45 p.m in Effingham, Ill., on May 29. I was heading back home with my Illinois girl's two cats in carrying cases in my back seat. I brought them with me to help her out; she was in the process of selling her home and we felt they didn't need to be part of the chaos of moving.

They had dumped over their water bowls and cat litter boxes, making a thick muddy paste. The smell of cat pee, scented litter and Fear (both theirs and mine) sweltered in the car. Their yowls were loud enough to drown out my own. I looked in the back seat to calm the cats and I saw one's paw reaching out of her cage, clawing at the other cage in an attempt, it appeared, to free her brother cat. I still had more than four hours left to drive. I offered a prayer to the huge cross that serves as a tourist stop alongside I-57 at Effingham for peace and serenity among cats and drove on.

Other than the time with my cat passengers, I made the trip home alone 15 times. On the 16th trip back, I didn't travel alone. My Illinois girl came with me. She sold her house, packed her things, loaded the dog in the car, hopped in and and moved south.

I went from being totally alone to having a person, a dog, two cats, shoes and clothes galore, makeup all over the bathroom, healthy food in the refrigerator and noise. Blissful noise. And I've spent a lot of time learning how to care for someone again.

So, there's not been much time for APBA games as we adjust to life together. We walk the dog each night in the neighborhood, go to Wal-Mart and the grocery store often. We've joined a gym and watch movies and television (Some day I'll tell you about our binge watching of the Discovery Channel's “Naked and Afraid” program — that odd “reality” show where people drop their pants and live in some Amazon jungle for 21 days eating grubs and building things out of sticks).

But I did find time to roll a few games. And once, my Illinois girl who I will hence refer to her by name since she is now in Arkansas, actually rolled part of a game with me. It was a contest between Kansas City and Detroit in the 1991 replay I'm on.

I showed Holly how the game worked and explained in part my obsession of the APBA games for the past 39 years. Terry Shumpert was at bat for the Royals with one out in the bottom of the ninth. The Tigers were winning.

She tossed the dice on the mouse pad and the result was a “24” on Shumpert's card. The second basemen grounded into a double play, ending the game.



I'm still playing some games. The 1991 season replay is on the slowest pace I've ever done. But it's okay. The game has always been part of my life, regardless of where I was or who I was with. This time, it fits in between two cats, a dog and lots of love.

Friday, April 29, 2016

The Game Never Really Leaves Us

Sometimes you leave the game.

But the game never really leaves you.

On Aug. 16, I began rolling my 1991 baseball season replay with the APBA dice and cards game. A week later, I made the phone call to my Illinois girl that changed a lot of things. I've written about all that here before. The point is, the game took a back seat to life; since September, I've made the 554-mile trip to her northern Illinois town 11 times. I'm headed there again tomorrow and will probably go there each weekend in May. It doesn't leave much time for replaying the games.

In the seven months and a day since making the call, I've played 297 games in that 1991 replay for an average of about 1.3 games a day. I used to play four to five games a day in previous replays. At this rate of just over a game a day, I'll finish the 1991 season in about four and a half years. And, as evidenced by this blog, I've not had much time to even write. This is the first posting in over a month.

That's okay. Obviously, I'd much rather be with my Illinois girl than rolling games all day.

The APBA game works that way. It waits for us to have a life and then welcomes us back when we return, either for a brief visit or for the respite we need when life changes yet again. I think that's what draws us to this game.

Most of us became acquainted with the game as youngsters. It replaced the more “childish” games that included spinners or playing cards or, in the case of the newer generations, the video sports games — I'm not talking about those games now that look like you're watching the action on television, but those old Mattel electronic handheld sports games that beeped and booped while we pushed buttons. The move to the APBA game, which features a more statistically-based concept using cards that replicate players' seasons and dice, was a step closer to adulthood.

So, we played those games, rolling dice late into the night, recording games and recreating seasons. But life stepped in and we put the game aside. Maybe it was a girl in high school, maybe it was college, maybe a job. Most of us, I dare to venture, took a break from the game for some time.

But those of us who came back later understood the concept of the game and its lasting.

And now, after playing the games at a rapid pace for years, life has come to me.

And I only roll 1.3 games a day on average, and that's only because I may toss four to five games at a time when I find myself at the table with the cards in front of me.

But on occasion, we find ourselves back at the table and we realize why the game never leaves us. The other day I sat at the table and played several games of my 1991 replay in a row and found that magic again. I got back momentarily in the groove of the season, remembering the players and how the teams are faring in this replay.

For example, Lloyd Moseby of the Detroit Tigers struck out each of the six times he was at bat against Kansas City. The Royals won the game, 10-8, and are challenging the Twins for first place in the American League West Division.

Montreal continued to lose, dropping a contest to the Los Angeles Dodgers, 6-2, after taking a 2-0 lead in the bottom of the first when Marquis Grissom, the second batter of the Expos' frame, clouted a two-run home run.

Cincinnati beat Pittsburgh in the tenth inning when Chris Sabo hit a game-winning single and drove in Paul O'Neill. Names from the past. Names we remember watching when we were younger.

Life came back. Work beckoned and I've spent a lot of time on the phone with my Illinois girl. And, early tomorrow, before the sun even wakes, I'm off on my journey again to her town for a few days. The game will remain here, waiting as it always does for life to slow down and then the games will roll on again.



Tuesday, March 8, 2016

1991 Season Update - April 30, 1991

After seven months of replaying the 1991 season with the APBA baseball game, I've finally finished the games scheduled that year for the month of April. At this rate, I should finish the replay in about four years — the slowest I've ever completed one.

However, I have a good excuse for the slower pace. I began this replay on Aug. 16. A week later, I called a woman for the first time who I now call my Illinois girl and I have fallen hard for her. I've written about all that here before; frequent readers know the story.

All that to say it's hard replaying games when you're traveling. I've made the 554-mile trip to north of Chicago and then back to Arkansas eight times since Sept. 25 to visit my Illinois girl, and I'm headed there again at the end of the week. For years, I never used all my allotted days at the newspaper where I work. Now I covet them and use them strategically so to visit her whenever I can.

Such is long-distance love.

Still, I've been able to average rolling about 1.3 games a day since I began the season. And it's been good so far. Each of the actual divisional winners of 1991 are in first place as I enter games for May 1. Atlanta, Pittsburgh, Minnesota and Toronto each lead their respective divisions.

There have been some surprises. Minnesota, my favorite team because I grew up in the state, is a fun team to play games with. Kent Hrbek leads the American League with 8 home runs so far.

On the inverse, Montreal continues to be horrible. They've won one game out of the 20 they've played during April. They trail the Pirates by 14 games already.

Here are the standings as of April 30, 1991.

AMERICAN LEAGUE
East          W     L  GB
Toronto    14    7     -
Detroit       9   10    4
Milwaukee 9   10   4
Boston        8   10  4.5
Cleveland   6   11   6
New York   6   11   6
Baltimore   5   12   7

West          W    L   GB
Minnesota  15    5    -
Kansas City 14   5  .5
Seattle         14   7   1.5
Texas           9     7   4
Chicago       9     8   4.5
California    7     13  8
Oakland       6    14   9

NATIONAL LEAGUE
East            W   L   GB
Pittsburgh    15   5    -
St. Louis      14  7   1.5
Chicago       11 10  4.5
Phil'phia      11 10  4.5
New York   10  10   5
Montreal       1  19  14

West           W      L   GB
Atlanta         13    5     -
Los Angeles 12   8     2
San Diego     11  10    3.5
Cincinnati      9   10    4.5
Houston         7    13   7
S. Francisco   6    14   8

The Twins are dominating with Hrbek's 8 home runs. Jack Morris is 5-0 as a starter for Minnesota and Scott Erickson is 4-0. Jeff Montgomery leads the league with eight saves for the Kansas City Royals

In the National League, New York Mets' third baseman Howard Johnson's nine homers are tops and Matt Williams has eight home runs for the Giants. The Cardinals' Bob Tewksbury is 5-0 and has paced the surprising St. Louis team.

So, the first month is over. May games are up next and it will take a long while to finish the month, I'm sure. Those trips to visit my Illinois girl take time, but it's well worth it. And the APBA game, like it always has, will wait for me to come back.


Tuesday, February 9, 2016

The 294 Takes A Toll

There is a controlled chaos on the Tri-State Tollway, the 78-mile toll road that wraps around the western side of Chicago.

Cars and trucks vie for position, often barreling along at an 80-mph clip, zipping between each other, doing two- or three-lane shifts and being motorized versions of angst and anger. Drivers swoop among lanes, doing a dance of mayhem to get ahead of the slower cars ahead of them, to make their exits or to reach the cash lanes of the three toll stops.

More than 1.4 million motorists dare the stretch each day, according to the Illinois State Highway Authority.

I've been on the tollway, or “the 294” as some locals call it, 12 times now. It's the last leg of my journey to visit my Illinois girl whom I've written about here a lot lately. After a lengthy 7.5 hours on the road that leads to the entrance of the 294 off of Interstate 57, it wakes me up. You have to be alert to navigate the 294. And, on the inverse, the first stretch of my return trip is on the tollway and it keeps the sadness of parting with her at bay for about an hour. The sorrow of leaving her hits hard when I see the large green highway sign indicating the exit for I-57 and Memphis is a quarter mile ahead and the frenzied pace of the tollroad is over.

I'm not a veteran of the 294 and I've not driven the entirety of it. It begins at Interstate 80, some three miles south of where I join it. And it ends at the Wisconsin line after becoming I-94. I exit about 10 miles south of its conclusion. Despite its name, the Tri-State does not cross into Indiana or Wisconsin.

l don't have the battle scars of those locals who use the toll road each day — the dented fenders, the refillable prescriptions for xanax or the handful of gun misdemeanors in Illinois district courts. But since I've logged more than 750 miles on the thing so far, I feel compelled to discuss it.

I've driven the 294 in sunny weather and at night. During sleet, snow and rain. I was on it during the Groundhog Day Thunderstorm on Feb. 2 this year that knocked out power at the Waukegan police station and made the Chicago news that night. On that same run, a tractor-trailer rig caught on fire in the southbound near where 94 becomes the 294. Traffic backed up for an hour in heavy rain. At least the truck driver had the decency to pull over into the emergency lane before the cab of his vehicle totally burned. I can see the 294 drivers, though, as they pass by: “Pull off the road, why don'tcha,” they'd snarl as they zip by.

It's a far cry from the roads we have in Arkansas. Sure, we have concrete, but I don't know of anywhere in the state more than three lanes of road exist. The 294 has a minimum of four lanes and at times, near the O'Hare Airport and the Willow Lane exit, for example, there are six lanes. Cars swirl around, looking like the hovering dances of hummingbirds at feeders. The last time I was on it on Monday, I saw two trucks move from Lane 3 to Lane 2 while a car switched from 2 to 3, threading between the two trucks. It was death defying and a daring display of driving deft.

For those uninitiated with the tollway, you can simulate the experience. Sit in your car and imagine passing 30 orange Schneider trucks on the right and left, and clench your butt so tight you could break 10-penny nails. Constantly check your rear view and side mirrors, Twist your head back and forth like a maniacal ventriloquist doll and still doubt any moves you may want to make. But don't hesitate. Hesitate and you're a goner, stuck behind some ol' truck creeping along only at about 55 mph.

The cash lanes are also a pain to contend with. There are three toll stops along the stretch, each offering either the I-pass lane that allows motorists to buy their way around the booths or the traditional toll booths. Drivers have to pull off the 294 to the right, drive down a 100-yard wide concrete apron and chose a booth lane to pay the $1.50 to continue. If you're trapped in the outside lanes when the cash exit approaches, you must maneuver to the right. (I later learned after making such a maneuver to make the cash lane that had I missed a payment, I could later pay on line. This was after I nearly cut off a semi and made a Lane 3 to 1 shift quickly, yet smoothly.) The toll booth operator raises the gate and the driver is off, immediately revving up to 70 mph or so to gain the proper speed to access the 294 again. It's akin to a pit stop during the Indianapolis 500.

So, it's controlled and chaotic. I've done it a dozen times now and I'm sure I'll do it dozens of more times. Even the hotel where I stay when visiting my Illinois girl sits beside I-94. The whine of the tires is endless and at times, while in my room, I can hear the road beckoning for me to get back on it and negotiate the lane changes, the tolls and the insane drivers.




Sunday, January 24, 2016

Woe, Canada

In honour of our colourful neighbours to the north, I'll use Canadian parlance when describing the play of the Montreal Expos so far in my 1991 APBA baseball replay.

They're not doing too well, you betcha. Eh?

To put it more succinct, and more American, the Expos simply “suck.”

Since I began this replay in August, the team has won one game out of 18. They are 1-17, 12 games behind first-place leading Pittsburgh, as of April 27, 1991. In the real game, the Expos were 5-13 at that point. Their style of play rhymes with their orange mascot of the day — Youppi, an orange fuzzy thing akin to the Philadelphia Phanatic. Alas, the Expoos have been “poopy” during this 18-game stretch.

Six of those loses have been by one run.

Those of you who are not initiated with the APBA replays, the game company issues cards for each player of various sports seasons. The cards contain numbers, based upon the players' actual performances of that particular season. Players roll dice, match results with the numbers on those cards and compare them with pre-printed game results. Those more compulsive and geeky — i.e. me — replay entire baseball (or football, basketball and hockey) seasons, using actual schedules, lineups, etc.

Usually, the game-results somewhat mirror the results of the actual season. But on occasion, as in this case, there are those anomalies. I've found while doing these replays since 1977, that one team either plays well above its real-life potential, or falls short in a season. In a 1957 baseball replay I did a few years ago, the Chicago White Sox blew away everyone, including the real American League winner New York Yankees, to take my replay World Series that year. In a 1987 replay, the Minnesota Twins, the actual seasons' champions, lost the American League West Division by 10 games to Kansas City. In fact, I've only had one replay season out of nine feature the actual opponents of a real World Series. In 1942, the replay St. Louis Cardinals defeated the New York Yankees in five games to take the World Series as they did in real life. And, as an oddity, the Cards edged the Yanks, 4-2, in the fifth game of my replay Series — the same score as the real St. Louis team won in their fifth game.

And maybe Montreal is not such an anomaly, winning 71 and losing 90 during the real 1991 campaign. At this rate, though, the replay Expos will end up winning only 15 or 16 games.

Larry Walker leads the replay Expos with a .312 batting average and two home runs. Lead off hitter Delino DeShields is batting .164 with eight stolen bases and Marquis Grissom, while leading the team with 11 swiped bases so far, is clubbing .284. The entire Expo team is batting .222. (I know... me keeping stats is an anomaly in itself!)

The pitching is also a tad weak.

Starter Chris Nabholz has an ERA of 7.62 and relief ace Barry Jones' 6.13 ERA doesn't shore down the bullpen.

Dennis Martinez has Montreal's lone win, a 4-0 victory over the Pirates on April 24, ending their opening 14-game skid. The Expos, revved by the accomplishment, promptly went out the following day and, when finding themselves trailing, 2-1, to Pittsburgh, gave up eight more runs to lose, 10-1.

It's like the team was hit by a "monster poleax" whenever it takes the field, which, by the way, is what you get if you rearrange the letters in “Montreal Expos.”

It's still early and the reverse anomaly could fire up. Montreal could run off a string of victories and balance out that won-loss record before too long. Probably not the next game, though. Nabholz is taking the mound in St. Louis and that 7.62 ERA of his won't keep the Cardinals from scoring a few runs.


Thursday, January 21, 2016

The Vacation


It was the way vacations are really supposed to be, I guess.

We travelled over 1,600 miles through five states in 11 days and crossed four rivers in full flood. We saw palm trees in balmy Shreveport, La., and I shoveled snow in shivering northern Illinois. We were stuck in Interstate 55 just south of St. Louis for five hours because of the rising Meramec River and we watched a DVD on New Year's Eve at my house while the burning oak logs in the fire place provided a stress-free ambience. We tried on glasses at a Memphis optometrist's business and we bought a nasty chocolate fried pie at a central Arkansas convenience store that I feared would be robbed while we were there.

And, we even played an inning of APBA baseball.

Yes, it was a perfect vacation and it solidified my notion that my Illinois girl — the woman that frequent readers of this blog thing have met over the past few months — is probably the best person I've ever known. If you can sit in a car inching along an interstate for five hours while cement mixers and police cars sped by in emergency lanes without either going crazy, leaving the car or beating me senseless, you may be as close to perfect as you can be.

After I visited my Illinois girl twice since late September, we decided she should come down to see me in my own element. So, on Dec. 30, as I wrote about the flooding Mississippi River at the newspaper where I work, she boarded a train from her home and headed to a town near me. Unfortunately, because of the flooding of which I scribed in the paper, the train could only make it to St. Louis. Further south the train tracks were underwater, making rail travel impossible. I headed to the Gateway train station in downtown St. Louis to pick her up that evening.

And we began the adventure.

Traffic stalled on I-55
On the return trip home from the station, we became stuck in stalled traffic in the southbound lane of I-55 10 miles south of St. Louis due to the rising waters. Authorities funneled five lanes of traffic down to one lane that was yet to be encroached by the flood. We inched about 2 miles in those five hours, and watched as at least 12 cement mixers roared past us to supposedly build emergency levees and helicopters hovered overhead. It was like being in some Irwin Allen disaster movie, but at no time did my Illinois girl lose her patience. Instead, she joked about it all and looked beautiful despite having not slept for nearly 24 hours.Officials finally shut the roadway down and turned us around. We crossed the Meramec in Arnold, Mo., just before the bridge there was closed and we eventually made it to my home at about 6 a.m.

A day later, we hit the road again, heading to Shreveport to pick up an antique bookcase she left when she lived there three decades ago.

Fish at Bass Pro, Memphis
And then, three days later, we drove to Memphis and got an appointment with the eye doctor. We later went to the Bass Pro shop in the former Memphis Pyramid, looked at huge catfish and other things in tanks and ate in a restaurant.

There was some slow time where we weren't in the car for hours. One day, I showed my Illinois girl how to play the APBA baseball that indirectly led us to getting together. (See http://lovelifeapba.blogspot.com/2015/10/leaving-swamp.html ) I let her roll an inning of a 1991 replay game between Philadelphia and New York. She seemed vaguely interested in the mechanics of the game, but it may only have been because we are still in the early, polite stages of this.

Still, she is a sports fan and the interest in the game may have been honest. Later, after the vacation, she called me up to ask about former Cubs' outfielder Andre Dawson and his odd batting stance and if Atlanta burned out pitcher Greg Maddux' arm before he returned to the Cubs in 2004. I know. Cool, ain't it?

Originally, our plan was for her to take the train back from a nearby town. The flooding kept the trains from running there for several days. But, rather than have a tearful departure at the St. Louis train station, we decided to drive back to my Illinois girl's town 554 miles away where we spent three more days together.

In all, it was the longest vacation I ever had. It was also the most adventurous, the most rewarding, the most fun thing I had done in decades. I was later teased by a friend when I told him how I even enjoyed going to Wal-Mart with my Illinois girl because we could turn it into a bonding, fun experience. Guys don't normally talk like that, I guess. Supposedly, when the guys gather, we're all supposed to banter about clubbing buffalo on the plains while wearing loin cloths and not share memories about buying lotions and makeup.

The APBA replay was far away those several days, but like always, it still was waiting for whenever I returned. I've been on the 1991 baseball replay for about six months and have only rolled 210 games so far. It's the slowest progress I've ever made in a replay, but I've made much more progress in another realm.



Wednesday, December 30, 2015

2015: Year of the Heart

In less than 18 hours, I'll be in St. Louis at the train station across from the Scottrade Center picking up my Illinois girl and bringing her back here for a week. I've been doing the countdown for seeing her for the past few days, constantly checking the clock and acting like an over-anxious kid before Christmas.

The countdown shifted suddenly today when we learned the train would not make it all the way into Arkansas because of flooding on the Mississippi River. It would only go as far as St. Louis. Oddly, and ironically as it were, when I discovered this tidbit of information, I was writing a story for the newspaper where I work about flooding and how the swollen Mississippi River was delaying crests along the Arkansas River.

Instead of picking her up in a town about 30 miles from here at 3:30 a.m. (depending upon Amtrak's promptness), I will now be in St. Louis at 7 p.m. It gives me eight more hours with her than had the train made its full journey and for that I am glad.

It's been that kind of year lately with unexpected changes and as 2015 draws to a close, I reflect upon the events of this year, the top stories of my life and whatever theme I can come up with that encapsulates the way this run went.

I do it every year. It's probably a news thing; each year the Associated Press sends out ballots to editors to select the top stories of the year. The state wire service does the same thing and, although us reporters don't vote, we do consider the year's legislative actions, the sensational trials, the horrific crimes, the deadly storms and all the other news when debating about the impacting stories of the year.

My personal year, my tour of 2015, has a simple theme. It's “Heart.”

I opened the year with a heavy heart. On Jan. 24, my cat, May, had to be put to sleep after she suffered scores of seizures. I had that cat for seven and a half years and, although I didn't consider myself a cat person at first, I bonded with that pet more than I've done with most humans I've known. It was yet another loss that I seemed to be getting quite experienced with. I deal with abandonment and sadness a lot; it broke my heart losing her.

Later in the year, a friend of mine had a series of medical issues that was somewhat nerve-wracking. Another friend became seriously involved with a woman and I became his consultant during their two-step dance of love, regret, reconciliation and angst. Then, my editor at the newspaper, the best person I've ever worked with, quit and moved off. The heart took a beating with all the changes.

But life soldiered on and in the late summer, my heart woke again. I began talking with my Illinois girl on Aug. 23, and in September I drove the 554 miles to see her for the first time. Everything changed after that. Not to get all mushy here (People can see in the bio on the right side of this post about me being a romantic dreamer), but this girl has made my heart beat again.

The APBA game realm, for which this blog is named, has seen some changes as well. I began a replay of the 1991 baseball season in August but, because of my own changes in life, the pace of the games has slowed. That, in itself, is a change from the norm. But the heart is still there when I do play the occasional contest or two on some days.

So, 2015 began with a broken heart and is closing with a mended one. I will be with my Illinois girl on New Year's Eve and she will be the first person I speak with in 2016. That's a good sign for the upcoming year.

How will this relationship play out in 2016? I have no idea. I am sure there will be many unforeseen changes ahead for the upcoming year, but at least it's beginning with a good heart.