Saturday, April 21, 2018

Sleeve Memories

Maybe as you get older, small things remind you more of the past and a time when life was easier and more subdued. Little events, glimpses of moments, suddenly bring back memories.

It happened the other night when I was rolling an APBA game, of all things. And this may be just some random occurance that hit me at a time when nostalgia has lately been featured heavily in my brain's playlist. It's definitely not a big event and I feel sort of silly even sharing it. Regardless, it made an impression and it brought back a flood of memories of playing this game at an earlier age.

Because Arkansas has unpredictable weather, I didn't really know what to expect the temperature to be when Holly and I prepared for our nightly dog walk the other day. Lately, the climate has varied. One day, it's 65 degrees, as it should be in the southern climes of the U.S. this time of year. Then, it rains and gets cold and the temperature drops to 40 degrees at night. We even had a dusting of snow a few weekends ago which is not ordinary for this area.

I grew up in northern Minnesota and I understand the concept of cold weather - in places it's supposed to be cold. However, down here, you get lazy with the temperatures and don't expect it to be chilly in April.

So, I threw on my Bemidji State University hoodie, a large green hooded sweatshirt bearing the logo of the university where my father taught years ago. Holly got it for me for Christmas a couple of years ago and I've worn it a lot since. It's warm, but not too warm. It's got the hood in case the wind comes a-blowin' and it's got the long sleeves that can either be pushed up or rolled down depending upon the night air chill. It's big, though, even on me and the long sleeves tend to get floppy.

After we walked the dog in the neighborhood, I decided to roll a couple of games in the 1991 replay I'm still doing. I rolled up my sleeves, sat at the APBA game desk in what we call the "baseball room" because I've got all my baseball books, cards, collections and APBA stuff in it, and began rolling the dice.

As is to happen with large, droopy sleeves, they slid down my arms and this is where the memory took over.

When I was a kid in Minnesota, and for a time in Arkansas when my family moved here, I would wear long-sleeved flannel pajamas and a bathrobe. I'd play my sports games late into the night when my parents were asleep (although the clacking of the dice in those old, plastic yellow shakers would often wake my father), and, because it was so late in the evening, I'd be decked out in the pajamas.

The thick, flannel sleeves would invariably get in the way of the dice tosses and I'd constantly roll them up. Back then, I played the APBA basketball and football games, which require a lot of dice rolling. I did the "quick" version of the NBA game, where you'd roll four or five times to finish out a single play. The sleeves became a burden and I'd try to develop a way to keep them out of play. I'd rubber band them up or use a paper clip or try to be conscious of keeping the sleeves up when i rolled. Still, they'd slide down, interrupting a rebound by Kareem Abdul-Jabbar or a slam by Julius Erving or a long rainbow shot from the E-range (APBA basketball fans - all two you- know what I'm talking about) by George Gervin.

All that came back to me the other night when the hoodie sleeve got in the way of the dice roll. More than 40 years later and I've still got sleeve issues. The memories flooded back to a time when I obsessively played the basketball game, tossing long into the night to complete a game. Despite playing the faster solitaire version of the game, it took a long while to finish one contest. I sat in a wooden chair and played the game on the bed rather than the desk so I'd be motivated to finish the game before retiring for the night. I had a rule as a kid - you can't quit until the game is finished. (I find I do that now with the baseball games as well. You never leave a game in mid-iinning).

Back then my only worries were school homework, girl problems and what we'd all do on the weekend for fun. Now, those worries include home mortgages, health issues, finances, if I turned out well enough in life, being a provider, et al. It was an easier time back then; the only real static in those days was the clacking of the dice in those plastic shakers.

So, the other night, I pushed the sleeve back up, rolled a few more plays and noticed it slid down yet again. I didn't stop, though. I didn't get a rubber band or paper clip to secure the sleeve in the upright position. I just pushed them back up every so often and remembered.

Sometimes, it's best just to let things happen for the memories.

Saturday, April 7, 2018

Changes

There's been a lot of changes since last time I filed something on this blog.

I no longer work as a hotel desk clerk. Don't ask for extra towels during the 3 p.m. to 11 p.m shift at one of the town's hotel, 'cause I ain't there. After five months of checking guests in, scrambling to ensure the rooms were clean, folding towels and sheets in the laundry during down times and worrying that the dude who kept coming to the fourth floor, which allows smoking, would trip another fire alarm because he was smoking something besides cigarettes, I'm out. Long story not worth telling, but the scheduling guy quit when I took a week off to go to Chicago in February. When I returned, I noticed I was not on the following week's work schedule. Nor the following week. I had been forgotten, but I saw it as divine intervention in a way and I didn't question why I was left off. I didn't like the job, it paid horribly and the hotel, I presumed, was always on the verge of being shut down for some crisis or another.

But I'm not lamenting the loss of my part-time job in an unstable profession because I finally obtained a full-time job in yet another unstable profession. Yes, I am back in the newspaper business. After I was laid off in October by the newspaper where I had toiled alone as a bureau reporter for nearly 20 years, I was picked up by the daily paper in the town in which I live. I was out of news for four months and two days, but I stumbled my way back in, poised with my reporter pad in hand and an inquisitive "How do you feel?" question a-ready. In a sense, I am working for the paper I competed with for two decades. Talk about odd allegiances.

This time I sit in a newsroom with other reporters and I cover a local beat, rather than the entire quarter of the state. It'll take some adaptation; since there are fewer reporters at this paper, we are expected to crank out more dailies on a quicker pace. There's really not much time to develop a story. We just write. I am truly shovelin' words at the News Factory this time.

And I also work as a part-time security guard during 12-hour shifts on weekends at a local retirement apartment complex. It's mind-numbing work. For the most part, I sit at a desk and answer phones, read books and try to find magazines on line that take freelance writing. But occasionally it gets busy. I've had to help a few residents after they've fallen and I've summoned paramadics a time or two when things really got serious. It is a rewarding job helping older folks.

So, I work seven days a week, trying to carve out some semblance of financial stability for Holly and I. I have no more weekends, I have to mow the yard quickly in the evenings, hoping I have enough stamina to beat the fading sun. And I can't just drop things and haul off to Chicago like I used to love doing.

But it's a job. Actually, it's two jobs.

Despite the 65 hours a week at work, though, I'm finding I do have some time remaining in the days for the continuing APBA replay of the 1991 season I began in 2015. In August, it'll be three years since I began rolling this replay. There's been a lot of life changes since I began, and I've written of that here before. Whenever you start a replay, you know things will cross your life during the replay's duration. This one has been the most eventful I've done in the 20 years of rolling games: Meeting the love of my life, traveling to Chicagoland now 23 times and back, getting a new car, losing a job, struggling, dealing with health problems, shutting off the cable and internet to save bucks and fearing money issues have all been part of this replay.

The other night, though, all that was put aside and I rolled several games in a row. Minnesota beat Detroit and the Twins continue their lead in the American League West. Boston clubbed Texas and Oakland out-homered Cleveland (Canseco was on pace to hit 61 homers for the As, but has cooled off lately). The Cubs swept Houston in a three-game series and St. Louis is getting closer to National League East leader Pittsburgh after going on a winning streak. The problems, while still lurking around the corner, waiting for me to face them head on again, were at least secondary during the game play. It was a moment of peaceful bliss.

I get home earlier at my new newspaper job, so there's more time in the evenings. I'm also learning again to sleep for only 4 to 5 hours a night, so that frees up time for an extra late night game or two.

Life changes, but the APBA game stays the same. It's really one of the main reasons we play this game.

Friday, February 16, 2018

No No-Nos

I am over halfway through the 1991 APBA baseball replay and I've only had one no-hitter so far during the season. For some, rolling a no-hit game is extremely rare, so having one after playing   1,100 games may not be so odd.

But I've had several no hitters during the past 19 years that I've been doing APBA season replays. Maybe it's the way I roll the dice; maybe it's pure luck and I have the right pitcher with the right rating on the mound when batters face him. Maybe it's that I've played thousands and thousands of games over the past two decades and, simply because of statistical occurrence, no-hit games are bound to happen. You know, that ol' put an infinite number of monkeys in a room with an infinite amount of typewriters and one chimp eventually will pound out the works of Shakespeare over time.

In this 1991 season, though, a no-hit game is as scarce as a clean, steroid-free Jose Canseco stepping up to the plate for the As. And that may be why the no-hitters are so few. The APBA game company cards each player, giving him numbers to replicate his actual seasons. I've noticed at least one or two starting batters on several teams have a '7' on their cards, which is a pretty much a universal number for a base hit regardless of who is pitching most of the time. Put 'em in and their apt to get a hit.

These 1991 games are not hitfests, though. There are very few games where teams score in the double digits. Instead, teams average from eight to 12 hits a game. Scores like 5-3 are common.

Bob Tewksbury of the St. Louis Cardinals has the only no-hitter so far in this replay. He walked two and struck out five in San Francisco, leading the Cards to a 4-0 victory. His two walks came in the first inning.

Tewks was no Johnny Vander Meer in his next game. Vander Meer, fans know, tossed consecutive no-hit games in June 1938 when he beat Boston and then Brooklyn. Instead, Tewskbury went six innings against San Diego, giving up six runs and 10 hits before he was mercifully relieved.

I've had a few games get close. Chris Nabholz of the hapless Montreal Expos was perfect through four innings in a recent contest against the Mets. He lost his bid when Howard Johnson blooped a single in the fifth and then Nabholz shut down New York, leading the Expos to one of their few wins of the season.

Dennis Martinez, also of the Expos, took a no-hitter into the eighth inning before giving up a hit to the Cubs.

I wanted to compare similar seasons to see if the rarity of no-hit games was common. The last comparable season I did to 1991 was 1981 a few years ago. In that replay season, I saw eight no-hitters. Ron Guidry shut down the Rangers; Doc Medich led Texas over the White Sox; Tom Seaver of the Reds edged Houston, 1-0, in 10 innings; Burt Hooten of the Dodgers shut down the Cubs and his teammate, Jerry Reuss, no-hit Atlanta; Rick Rhoden of the Pirates didn't give up a base hit to Cincinnati; John Denny no-hit Minnesota for Cleveland; and Cubs' pitcher Doug Bird shut down Houston.

In the 1981 replay, I averaged a no-hitter every 263.25 games.

I looked back on the past 100 games in the 1991 replay to see when teams got their first hit of the game. Visting teams recorded their initial hit in the first inning of a game 48 times. The home team did the same in 41 games. Visitors got their first hit of a game 17 times in the second inning, compared to 18 times for the homers. Basically, 65 percent of the time, visiting teams will get a hit by the second inning and the home team will get one 59 percent of the time in the first two frames.

Tonight, I reached Game No. 1107 in the 1991 replay. If I stay on this pace, I'll be lucky to have two no-hit games for the year. In the real 1991 season, five pitchers tossed no-hitters, including Nolan Ryan who hurled his seventh of his career.

I'll keep rolling, and I'll get anxious if a pitcher gets into the later innings without giving up a hit. I know talking about a no-hitter in progress is bad luck, but they are so far and few in this replay season, that I'll have to take notice when one nears.

Thursday, February 1, 2018

I Must Be Getting Tired

I must have been tired the night I rolled the Cubs vs. Cardinals game in my 1991 APBA replay.

Either that, or I'm beginning to lose my faculties, and there's plenty of recent evidence to support that theory.

The Cubs were trailing, 4-2, to the Cardinals in the top of the seventh inning when my mistake occurred. Chico Walker opened the inning with a double and then scored when Jose Oquendo bobbled a grounder hit by Shawon "Thunderpup" Dunston. The Cubs then went down in order, but I failed to note the team's run on my score sheet. The Cards added two runs in the bottom of the seventh and I had St. Louis leading 6-2 instead of the real 6-3 tally.

Ryne Sandberg hit a home run in the Cubs' eighth and reliever Chuck McElroy held the Cardinals hitless in the bottom of the eight. According to my stats, the Cubs had to score three runs, rather than the actual two, to tie the game in the ninth. Walker hit a bases-empty home run to lead off the top of the ninth and, after Dunston struck out, catcher Rich Wilkins added his own homer. Lee Smith then got the remaining outs and I thought he picked up the save for the Redbirds.

When I tallied the stats, I noticed the additional run that the Cubs had scored. The game was actually tied. I played on. Paul Assenmacher pitched a scoreless ninth for the Cubs and the contest went into extra innings.  Sandberg hit his second home run of the game in the 10th and the Cubs won.

Had I not caught my mistake, Chicago would have erroneously lost. They need all the help they can get in this 1991 replay. I'll call in Holly, a long-suffering Cubbies' fan (until redemption in 2016), to roll for the team on occassion. When slugger Andre Dawson is up, she will even imitate his batting stance before rolling the dice. (She's a keeper, she is).

I've made mistakes before, mostly because I was sleepy. I think all APBA players have done that at times. Life competes with our time and mental energy. There's only so much time to play APBA. I used to play late into the night when I was alone. Or, I'd wake up at 3 a.m. or 4 a.m. and, after not being able to return to sleep, I'd toss a few games. When I'd get groggy, I'd catch that I inadvertently gave one team four outs in an inning. I'd have to go back and replay from where the error was made or I'd postpone the game on account of drowsiness.

I was glad I noticed the Cubs' mistake, but I wondered if there were other goofs that I may have missed. And I wasn't too ensured about my mental status after a series of events that happened these past few weeks after that game.

First, I found I couldn't punch in my time card at the hotel where I work part time one afternoon. I struggled, until I realized I was attempting to slide the card into the coffee machine sitting next to the time clock. I marked that dumb one to just being tired.

Part of my job as a second-shift desk clerk includes making sure the hotel is clean. I decided to vacuum the elevator rug because guests had tromped mud into it. After I cleaned it, I began looking for an extension cord and wondering how I'd plug it into the first-floor outlet to power the vacuum on the second, third and fourth floors. It took a while before it dawned on me: It's the same elevator cab that goes to each floor. Once I cleaned the rug the first time, I was done.

And finally, last week we went to northern Illinois to visit Holly's mother. Early one morning it snowed about 4 inches, covering our car in the hotel parking lot. I went outside to sweep the snow off the hood, headlights, windshield, side windows and back window with a thin hotel towel. I was doing a fine job, clearing the snow and making the car safe to drive, despite not wearing any gloves in the cold. When I was about 80 percent done, I swept off a pile of snow on the driver's side of the windshield and noticed odd stickers adhered to the window. It was a parking pass for the nearby Great Lakes military base. I don't have a parking pass for the Great Lakes military. I also don't have a Pennsylvania license plate, which this car did.

I had swept off the wrong car. It and our car were parked beside each other. Both cars were gray Nissans. Maybe it was a simple mistake. Maybe I am an idiot. I don't know. I hope the guy who owned that car appreciated my work.

I began the same process on our car and when finished, I stumbled back into the hotel; my fingers were frozen into gnarly claws.  I looked like an over-emoting actor trying to horrify viewers with his campy Dracula-stalking-his-victim role. Holly had to pry the soaked towel from my hands.

I plan to continue playing games late into the night when I have a chance. It's 1:30 a.m. now and I hope to roll a game or two before retiring for the night. I won't post this on the blog until later - when I have a chance to read over it and make sure there are no really dumb errors.  I'll really try to focus on the game to ensure the outcome is correct. And when the Cubs play again, I'll double check the score after each inning. They don't need a sleep-deprived moron helping them lose games. They can do that on their own.

Thursday, January 11, 2018

1991 Replay Update: July 5, 1991

Despite losing my job recently and worrying about the consequences of such, there is one mantra that I, along with all APBA players follow. "The games must go on."

And go on they do. I've picked up the pace some in my 1991 baseball replay. I've found that being unburdened by the nasty contraints of a job, I have more time to roll games. (I say this facetiously, because if I don't find fruitful employment, I realize I will eventually end up rolling APBA baseball replays while living in an old refrigerator box under a train trestle, eating from a Dumpster and selling aluminum cans).

But for now at least, I am tossin' the games in the comfort of my home. I have an electric space heater turned on and aimed at my bum knee, a glass of Pepsi by the scoresheet and a 1991 season that if it continues the way it has so far should have a great pennant race or two at the end.
I've reached July 5, 1991 - just two days before the All-Star break - and there are several interesting story lines I'm following.

 
First, the standings.
 
American League

EAST        W    L    GB
Toronto     54    27     -
Boston       42    36  10.5
Detroit       42    37  11
Milwaukee 36   42 16.5
New York  31   45   20.5
Baltimore   30   48   22.5
Cleveland   25  52    27

WEST       W     L   GB
Minnesota   49   32    -
Seattle         47   33   1.5
Chicago      45    33  2.5
Kansas City 40   38 7.5
California    40   39  8
Texas          34   41  12
Oakland      34   46  14.5

National League
 
EAST         W   L    GB
Pittsburgh   54   23     -
St. Louis     48   31    7
New York   42  36    12.5
Phil'phia      36  44   19.5
Chicago       33  47   22.5
Montreal     23   57   32.5

WEST         W    L   GB
Atlanta         51    26   -
Cincinnati    45    33  6.5
Los Angeles 43    35  8.5
San Diego    41    40  12
Houston       29    50   23
San Fran.      28    51  24

As they do in replays of most seasons, teams' personalities are starting to develop. Pittsburgh, led by Barry Bonds' 11 home runs as of July 5 and Doug Drabek's 13-4 record, has the best record so far. Atlanta is also playing well, fueled by Tom Glavine's unbelievable 17-0 record on the mound.

In the American League, Toronto remains solid. After being swept in a three-game series in Minnesota, the Blue Jays returned the favor and beat the Twins in all three games in Toronto a week later. In each APBA replay I've done, there always seems to be a team that can win in many ways. Either the team will score a lot of runs, have good pitching or come from behind with clutch hitting. Toronto does all of these to win.

There are other notables: Detroit is 10-1 in its last 11 games. The Yankees have lost 11 of its last 13 games. Seattle, which led the American League West for a while, has dropped eight of its last 12 games. And the Cubs, oh, the woeful Cubs, at first seemed to be a competitive team. Andre Dawson has clubbed 20 home runs and Chicago was actually playing above .500 at the end of April. But in the last 30 days of play, the Cubs are 8-22.

And there's Montreal. The Expos lost its first 14 games to open the season and dropped 19 of 20 by May 1. Since then, Montreal has gone 22-36. Three of the Expos' pitchers each have lost 11 games already and the entire pitching staff has only four saves among relievers. But there is some life perhaps in the team, albeit faintly. The Expos took three of four games in Cincinnati and two of three in New York before being swept by the Pirates at home. After finishing a three-game set in Pittsburgh, the Expos will play West Division teams for a while after the All-Star break. The team has gone 15-23 against Western foes so far, which, considering the Expos, is not that bad. It beats going 0 for 14.

Here are league leaders so far.

American League
Home Runs- Canseco, Oak, 32; Tartabull, KC, 25
Wins - Candiotti, Tor; Erickson, Min; Tapani, Min; Wegman, Mil, 13 each
Saves - Harvey, Cal, 18; Reardon, Bos, 16' Eckersley, Oak, 15

National League
Home Runs - Mitchell, SF, 25; Dawson, Chi and Strawberry, LA, 20 each
Wins - Glavine, Atl, 17
Saves - Belinda, Pit, 16; Howell, LA, 15; Dibble, Cin 14
 
So, we've reached near the midway point of the season. The American League West looks like a dogfight. Can Minnesota hold its lead? Will Seattle surprise again? Will Canseco hit 61 home runs for the season? Can Boston or Detroit challenge Toronto? Will Pittsburgh maintain its dominance in the National League? Will Glavine keep on winning? Will the Expos find a way to win sometimes? It's sizing up to be another good replay season and a reason to roll games at a steady clip to answer these and many more questions.


Thursday, January 4, 2018

The Lay-Off

Nineteen years ago in December, I began playing APBA's baseball game. After 21 years prior of playing the company's other games - football, basketball and hockey - I felt it was finally time to try out APBA's most popular product.

Eight months earlier I began work as the northeast Arkansas bureau correspondent for the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette. It was a good time in my life. I had a good, stable, reputable job and a new hobby.

I began work at the newspaper a month after two children pulled a fire alarm at the Westside Middle School near Jonesboro, Ark., and fatally shot four students and a teacher as they exited the school building. It was the biggest story I'd ever cover and I competed with national media. It was nerve-wracking and stressful, but I held my ground and realized I could do that job.

I began replaying the 1998 baseball season on Dec., 28, 1998, replicating the steroid-laced home run race between Mark McGwire and Sammy Sosa. McGwire ended up hitting 77 home runs in my game, I recall. The Yankees beat the Braves in seven games in my World Series.

The newspaper and game became synonymous. When the stress of work got too much, I found the game provided a relaxing escape, a respite from the bad news I'd seen during the day.

The newspaper and the game. One of those venues ended recently. It wasn't the game.

On Oct. 24, the powers-that-be at the newspaper decided to lay off 27 people. I was one of them. In the declining economic world of journalism, the employees cut were seen as financial burdens, not enhancers. My editor drove from Little Rock to Jonesboro and sat outside the office that morning waiting for me. I was surprised to see him, but more surprised, of course, when he told me why he had come.

Nineteen and a half years gone in a blink. The editor took my laptop and company-provided cell phone and within about three hours of my notification, I was out. I was stunned, lost, confused.

The paper was really all I had and was the only identity I knew. When my wife died in 2006, I returned to work three days after her funeral- too soon, I later realized - but only to try to regain some sense of routine and normalcy. Now, that routine was shattered.

The next morning, for the first time in nearly two decades, I didn't have anywhere to go. I went through the five stages of grief identified by Kubler-Ross: Anger, Denial, Depression, Bargaining and Acceptance. I wavered among them, mostly depression and anger.

I realized, though, that the 26 others who were laid off also felt the same. And there've been so many more over the years. Hundreds of newspaper reporters all cut because of finances. It's a dying business. The paper was in my driveway the following morning. Life was going on; the paper still came out despite my absence; I was a blip, there and gone in its history.

I filed for unemployment a week later on Halloween, which was fitting. "Trick or Treat. Give me something good to live on." Holly had gone back to Illinois to visit her mother that week and I slunk home alone that evening, avoiding the trick or treaters that proliferated the neighborhood. I didn't want to see them at the door; the only difference between them and me was that the horror on their faces were masks. Mine was my own.

But, like APBA game players do so often, I returned to the game for the only semblance of peace I could find. That first night, while worrying what I was going to do next, I rolled a few games in my 1991 baseball replay. Boston beat Baltimore, 8-7, despite two home runs from Orioles' DH Sam Horn. The Red Sox won it in the eighth when Wade Boggs doubled in shortstop Luis Rivera. And Pittsburgh edged Montreal, 3-1, continuing the Expos' woes as the worst team in the replay and dropping them to a record of 21-52.

I'm looking for a new job now, but I also keep playing the game, I resurrected this blog, perhaps, as a way to still feel a writing deadline of sorts. I've not completely stepped away from the keyboard. I've also written some pieces for magazines and I had a thing published recently in a Chicken Soup for the Soul book. And I covered a first-degree murder trial as a stringer for the very paper that dumped me a few weeks ago. Wells Fargo Home Mortgage doesn't care where the house payment comes from as long as it is made, I've found.

So, I seek employment in this area and contemplate moving somewhere else if necessary and feel lost. But the game, the APBA dice and cards game, provides at least once thing that is stable and lasting.

Monday, December 25, 2017

Forty Years of APBA

Forty years ago today, Dec. 25, 1977, I began the APBA journey when my father slid a large package from beneath our Christmas tree and handed it to me. I had been hoping for the game company's football game that provided the means to replay the 1976 NFL season, but I wasn't completely sure if I my parents had gotten the set.

That was the season the Minnesota Vikings went to the Super Bowl only to get trounced by the Oakland Raiders. I grew up in Minnesota and,of course, the Vikes were my favorite team. I had to play the season if only to avenge Minnesota's loss to the dreaded Raiders.

So when my father handed me the package and I felt its heft, I knew, I knew it was the game. Kids' toys didn't weight that heavily. I tore off the wrapping paper, opened the box and pored over the players' cards. Fran Tarkenton, Alan Page, kicker Fred Cox, the wonderfully-named Wally Hilgenberg, Roy Winston, Chuck Foreman. They were all there. Hereos of my youth right there in my hand.

The game was complex; there were lots of rules and it was a far cry above the games of childhood. The previous gridiron contests I had were either a Tudor electric football game or the Mattel Talking Football game in which players inserted mini-records into a player, chose their offense, let the opponent select a defense and pushed a button to hear the play.

This APBA game was far more advanced and it was the first step into the life of APBA. I remember staying up late that Christmas night digesting the rules and finally rolling a game between the New York Giants and the Washington Redskins. Larry Brown returned a kickoff for a touchdown for the Giants, leading his team to a high-scoring victory. I am sure I didn't follow the rules exactly, but the die was cast, the seed was planted. APBA that day became a mainstay in my life.

I was hooked. A year later, I got the basketball game. I loved it; most didn't. It was a ploding game that took hours to play a single contest. I learned to play a shortened version that eliminated passing and strategy and instead became a simpler version of a shooting-rebounding game. But I played that game constantly and it stayed with me for years.

I bought the hockey game when it was first offered in the early 1990s and then, finally, I bought the baseball game in 1998 when, as an adult, I decided to buy myself a Christmas present of my own. I did the process backward - most APBA fans begin with the baseball game. But I became initiated with the company four decades ago my own way and remain with it.

Nothing else has lasted this long. Although I've slowed tremendously in rolling games in whatever replay I'm engaged in, I still toss them. I'm still on the 1991 baseball replay, a season I began in August 2015. Changes in life slowed that pace; I began traveling to northern Illinois a month after I embarked on that season to meet a girl I became enamored with and, when a year later, she moved to Arkansas, I started yet a new chapter in my own life. The game took a back seat. I worked as a daily newspaper bureau correspondent in my town for 19 years before the trend of print journalism took a personal toll and the managing editor opted to eliminate 28 positions at the paper including mine in late October. I was a victim of journalism economics Now, I have to find a new job and fear is prevalent. I spend time seeking new employment and writing freelance pieces for various publications to appease Wells Fargo Home Mortgage, my utility companies, my car financer and my family of Holly, a Siberian huskey and two cats.

But the game is still there as always.

Tonight, shortly after midnight when children everywhere fell asleep anticipating Santa's visit in the morning, I played the July 4, 1991, contest between New York and Montreal. The Mets won big; Howard Johnson hit his 19th homer of the season and the Mets clobbered the Expos, 14-4.

For 40 years this game has been part of my life. In some cases, it's been a major part. Nothing else has lasted with me that long, jobs, friendships, relationships. Nothing. During the APBA journey, I've had eight jobs, lived in three states, gotten married and widowed, lived through seven presidential administrations and went from being a peppy 17-year-old high school kid to an old, sarcastic, 57-year-old.

It's a different world now, 40 years later. Most youngsters aged 17 now vie for computer games, the Nintendos and X-Boxes and whatever else is popular, rather than a game featuring printed cards, dice and cardboard play outcomes. But that style remains with me and each Christmas, I think back to 1977 when it all began and thank Santa for placing that APBA game beneath the tree that year.