Wednesday, April 19, 2017

1991 Update: May 31, 1991

I've been replaying the 1991 baseball season with APBA now for 609 days and I've reached June 1, 1991. I finished Game # 600— the last replay game for the month of May — late the other night when Nolan Ryan struck out 12 in a complete game and led the Texas Rangers over the Seattle Mariners.

Six hundred games in 609 days. That's less than a game a day with this replay. In the past, I've been able to play four to five games a day. In my previous life, I would have easily completed this 1991 replay and its 2,106 games within 609 days. But life changes and priorities differ. At least, though, the game is still part of that life as limited as it is now.

That said, I've recently picked up the pace of games and still find time to roll three or four games some nights. And, like I say during every single replay I've done, this is a good replay. The 1991 season is fun because it's a year I closely watched baseball. The Minnesota Twins, my favorite team, won the World Series that year. I'm hoping the replay replicates that success. However, the Twins have to get past Seattle first; the Mariners are a surprising team in this replay. In the real season, the team finished in fifth place. Currently, at June 1, the Mariners are three games ahead of the Twins and with 31 victories already, they have the second most wins of any team in the league.

Here are the standings through May 31, 1991:

East Division W   L  GB
Toronto         33   15   -
Boston           24   22   8
Detroit           24   22   8
Milwaukee    21   25   11
New York     19    25   12
Baltimore     19    26   12.5
Cleveland     12    32   19

West Division W   L  GB
Seattle            31   17   -
Minnesota      28   20   3
Chicago         24   20   5
California      24   23   6.5
Texas             22   21   6.5
Kansas City   22   24    8
Oakland        18    29   12.5

East Division    W   L  GB
Pittsburgh        30   15   -
St. Louis          27   19  3.5
New York        25   20   5
Philadelphia    24   23   7
Chicago          22    25   9
Montreal        10     37   21

West Division   W   L   GB
Cincinnati         31  15    -
Atlanta              28  16    2
San Diego         28  21   4.5
Los Angeles      24  23   7.5
Houston            16   31  15.5
San Francisco   14   34   18

And here are the leaders in a few categories as well:
American League
Home runs : Canseco, Oak., 16; Thomas, Chi., 15; Tettleton, Det., 13; Hrbek, Minn., 12
Wins: Wegman, Mil., 8-2; Stottlemyre, Tor., 7-2; Key, Tor, 7-3; Tapani, Minn., 7-4
Saves: Harvey, Cal., 10; Montgomery, KC, 10; Reardon, Bos., 9; Russell, Tex., 9
National League
Home runs: Strawberry, NYM, 15; Mitchell, SF, 14; Johnson, NYM, 13; McGriff, Atl., 13
Wins: Glavine, Atl., 10-0; Cone, NYM, 8-3; Smiley, Pitt., 7-1; Z. Smith, Pitt., 7-2
Saves: Dibble, Cin, 12; L. Smith, StL, 9; Franco, NYM, 8; Howell, LA, 7

Along with Seattle, there have been a few other surprises. The New York Mets have played well and are in third place, paced behind Howard Johnson and Darryl Strawberry's bats and David Cone's pitching. Even Mets' reliever John Franco is chipping in, saving eight games so far. In the real season, Franco saved 30 games in 1991.

Cincinnati won 12 games in a row at the end of May and winning 15 of 16, overtaking Atlanta for first in the West Division. Chris Sabo and Barry Larkin lead the Reds with seven home apiece.

Toronto is no surprise. The Blue Jays are running away with their division. During each replay I've done in the 18 years I've played APBA baseball, I've discovered that there's always one team in a season that finds a variety of ways to win. Toronto is that team this year. The Blue Jays could fall behind by three or four runs early in a game and then have an explosive inning and take the lead. Nine Blue Jays have hit homers already. (There are only 12 players carded for the Blue Jays in APBA's 1991 season, not including the eight pitchers.)

Montreal continues to be really, really bad and San Francisco is trying to mirror the Expos. The Giants lost 10 games in a row from May 21 to May 30.

Finally, in a stunning development, I have decided to keep more detailed stats in this replay. I've tried a few times before to compile batting averages and ERA only to have my computers crash each time. I had planned to use zip drives, but never got around to copying my stat results on them. This time, I plan to log batting averages, RBIs, home runs, innings pitched, walks and strike outs. I've gone back and recorded stats from about 170 games so far. It's opened an entirely new realm of this game and I understand why APBA players do it. For example, after the 170 games, I can see that Tony Gwynn is batting only .217 and Vince Coleman is hitting a stellar .377 so far.

It's still very early in the season. I am only 28 percent of the way done with this year, so things can change. I'm hoping the Twins taking over first place will be one of those changes.

Monday, April 3, 2017

Opening Day

It's Opening Day today, a time when, they say, hope springs eternal.

For baseball fans, it's an exciting day. We've waited for this since the last out of the World Series in November, enduring the cold of winter and watching only the endless run of NBA games and the occasional NHL telecast for our sports fix. In late January and February, we watched golf if only to see a hint of the green grass that is the staple of all baseball field summer viewings.

But it's here today. Actually, I am aware that the official Opening Day was yesterday when three games were played. But for the most part today is the day when it really kicks off. And for me, it's the one time of the year that I can say my favorite team, the Minnesota Twins, are tied for first place. Sure, they're 0-0, but so is everyone else.The Twins were also 0-9 before their first win last year. Yes, hope springs eternal for some. For me, hope sprung a leak by about the second week of last season.

That's what gives us that feeling today on Opening Day, though. We're all at the starting gate, each of our teams has a chance. Look at the Cubs' season last year. It took 108 years, but Chicago won the World Series. Of course, the Cubs took a few years to meticulously build the winning team through trades and drafts and a genius general manager in Theo Epstein (I'm reading The Cubs Way about last year's Cubs). But we're hoping our teams also have done the same thing during the off season.

Apparently, everyone does. In 2014, former Cardinals shortstop Ozzie Smith and Budweiser tried to make Opening Day a national holiday and gathered over 102,000 signatures on a petition they sent to the White House. That attempt was denied a few weeks later. But in that denial, Deputy Press Secretary Josh Earnest admitted Opening Day was a “state of mind where anything is possible.”

The Twins open today at home, hosting Kansas City. I've got on my work computer to keep an eye on the score. Ervin Santana will soon throw the first pitch to Alex Gordon and the Twins' season will embark. And I've found some Minnesota FM radio station streaming on line to be able to hear the game.

Within a few weeks, most of us baseball fans will be grounded, realizing our team won't win every game it plays. Being a Twins fan at this time means being excited for a third-place finish out of five teams. But there's always that hope and it begins today.

I think us APBA players get the Opening Day feeling as well whenever we start replaying a full season. There is a replica of the excitement of the actual season, of the voyage we will undertake when beginning a replay. And the same wonderment occurs with the game. Will our team do well in the replay? There's always that chance. Which team will surprise us? Which players will stand out? And, the fun part of APBA... we can have Opening Days any day. I've begun replay seasons in late summer, early spring, winter.

So now, it's the bottom of the fourth inning. Mike Moustakas homered for the Royals in the top of the inning to give Kansas City a 1-0 lead. But, Twins' third baseman Miguel Sano just hit one out and the game is tied, 1-1. The Twins remain tied for first. Hope is still springing.

**NOTE: at 6:03pm, Twins won their Opening Day game for the first time since 2008, beating Kansas City, 7-1. Hope keeps on springing.**

Tuesday, March 21, 2017

A Look at Mickey Tettleton; 1991 Replay

Every so often while replaying an APBA baseball season, you run across players who either closely replicate their performances in real life, or become anomalies and do something totally opposite of expected. As contradictory as it sounds, I may be seeing a case of both occurring at the same time with Mickey Tettleton, the Detroit Tigers' catcher, in my 1991 replay.

The games are coming at a slow pace — I began this season on Aug. 16, 2015, and have reached Game 549 some 18 months later — but I play enough to notice some things. I keep limited stats for the players because of a lack of time and because, invariably, no matter how I save them, I either lose the statistics on computer or I make some inane error when tallying and it takes forever to rectify the mistake.

So, I keep home runs for batters and won-loss records and saves for pitchers. But when some player, like Tettleton, stands out, I'll go back and check more of his stats.

As of May 27, 1991, in my replay, Tettleton has 12 home runs and is in third place in the American League homer race. Only sluggers Jose Canseco with 14 and Frank Thomas with 13 dingers are outpacing Tettleton in this replay so far.

Overall, Tettleton's stat line is thus: .230/ 12 HRs/ 31 RBI. In the real season, the catcher hit 31 home runs with 89 RBIs by season's end. He also batted .263.

The Tigers, by the way, are 22-21 in my replay. On the same date in the real season, Detroit posted a 23-20 record.

In the real season, Tettleton only had seven dingers by May 27. So he's on pace to hit more home runs in this replay than he did in the actual game, but his batting average is 30 points less. He got off to a slow start in the replay as well. He hit his first home run in Chicago on April 20, 1991. In the actual season, he hit one out of the park for the first of the year against the Yankees on April 22, 1991.

In my replay, Tettleton copied his performance of the real April 22 game, hitting a home run in a 12-3 win in New York. Then, he cooled off briefly. But May came and Tettleton took off — especially against my favorite team, the Minnesota Twins. On May 9, he hit one against the Twinkies to win, 5-4. On May 12, he hit two more homers — his fifth and sixth — against Minnesota in a 9-5 victory. Three days later, he did it again, hitting one against the Rangers in Texas.

He hit his 11th and 12th round-trippers in Milwaukee, pacing the Tigers to a 12-3 win.

So far in the replay, he's hit four against the Twins. Nine of his 12 home runs have come on the road.

Obviously, it's early in the season and things can change. APBA's baseball game is based on statistical frequencies. Players' cards are developed upon their actual performances for each season and mostly they produce closely in the APBA game to their real life production.

But then, sometimes, things happen for no reason. The dice roll differently for some. Maybe Tettleton will end up with 31 home runs by season's end as he did in the real game. But the path he takes to get there has been pretty interesting in this replay so far.

It's one of the reasons we roll each game in a replay, taking months and even years to finish a season, just to see how things all turn out.

Thursday, March 9, 2017

30 Years Later

My father has been gone for 30 years now, more than half my life.

Three decades of being without a father since March 3 when he passed away after fighting Parkinson's. It's hard to fathom that all that time has passed. I've changed jobs, got a master's degree in communications, moved to Pennsylvania and Texas before returning to Arkansas, got married, widowed, survived a medical bankruptcy and found new love all after he died.

And now, even though I'm adult — about 15 years from the age he was when he died — there are days when I still need my dad.

The disease robbed my dad of much ability to play sports with me as I grew. He'd shoot baskets with me on the driveway goal, but we never played catch with a baseball or tossed a football around. I could blame him for my inability on the sports fields as a kid, but that would be wrong. In reality, it was my inability to see and hit a baseball at all and my prowess on the basketball court was akin to that of a sloth with attention deficit disorder. No, my lack of sports skills was strictly on me.

Instead, my father taught me other skills. He tended to overanalyze everything which I find I do all the time. He taught me to read more advanced books at an early age which led to me writing a lot and he taught me to think. He also instilled the love of sports I have. I credit him now for my obsession for the APBA games I've played for the past 39 years.

I've written about my dad here before. He was a music teacher, earning his doctorate at the University of Wisconsin and teaching at Bemidji State University in Bemidji, Minn., before he retired in 1974 because of his health. He was a musical genius; he could pick up any instrument, figure it out and play it within a few minutes. He could also sing. Once, he told me, he sang at a New Jersey church for Easter services and then flew by helicopter to Manhattan in order to make it on time to sing on WABC radio.

I don't have that talent. I chew gum in church so it looks like my mouth is moving and I'm singing along with the others. If I actually belted out a tune in the sanctuary, I fear several churchgoers would immediately doubt God's existence and bail out.

I didn't pick up much from my father. Other than the overanalyzing skills, an ability to write sometimes and the fact that I, like my dad, find farts hilarious even at this age, I didn't take advantage of the gene pool he offered.

After my father died, my mother told me he was proud of me. I had worked at two newspapers then, one was a tiny weekly in the corner of northeast Arkansas where I spent much of my time taking pictures of people with the first cotton bloom, a freakishly large pumpkin or some other agricultural oddity of the area. Proud of me? I wasn't even proud of myself then. My mother said I was “the apple of my father's eye.” Funny, I didn't think I was equivalent to the worm in said apple.

So, it's been 30 years. Three decades. The Twins won two World Series since he passed, including the year he died in 1987. The Vikings have yet to return to the Super Bowl and Norm Green still sucks for letting the North Stars escape to Dallas back in 1993.

Thirty years softens the sadness. But there are times when I still roll APBA games and I think of my father watching me play the game when I was a youngster. Back then, I constantly played the ABPA basketball game which, some may recall, is plodding and takes hours to complete a full contest. I scaled the time of play down and could get two or three games in during a long evening. I'd stay up late rolling the games and my father would come into my bedroom and talk about the contests, asking for the score and highlights before he retired for the evening. He'd tell me about watching the Yankees when he was my age, regaling me tales with seeing DiMaggio and Berra and later a kid named Mantle.

He would go to bed early. I was a late nighter. The clacking of the APBA dice in the plastic cup provided by the game company was a lot louder in the stillness of the wee hours and, as concession to his slumber, I quit using the cup and tossed the dice onto a mat to muffle noise. I still do that.

In 1976, we watched the Boston Celtics play the Phoenix Suns in the NBA championship. Despite growing up in New York and New Jersey, my father was a Celts fan. Game 5, fans recall, went into triple overtime. My dad couldn't stay up for the end and bade me goodnight. I watched the game and, when our “namesake” Garfield Heard hit a shot at the buzzer for the Suns to tie the game in the second overtime, I ran into my parent's bedroom and woke my dad with the news. My mother was understandably upset, but my dad was glad for the sports update. I woke him again after the Celts won the game.

All this to say, make memories with your fathers if they are still alive. Talk sports, show him the APBA games we still play, talk about life. Laugh at farts if you're so inclined. Because, there'll be a day when your father may be gone and it gets tough at times.

Thirty years. That's a long time.

Saturday, February 18, 2017

51 Super Bowls

It was hard doing so this year, but I was able to see at least part of the Super Bowl, making it the 51st consecutive game I've watched. Sports have always been such an impacting part of my life and I remember where I've been during some of the games and how integral they were with my life at the time.

The fact that I've seen each of the big games since the Super Bowl's inception in 1967, (I realize that the game didn't taken on the name “Super Bowl” until 1969) is a testament to both my tenacity in watching the spectacle and the fact that I am an old fart. I mean, 51 games? That's a lot of years. If I were a chair, I'd be considered an antique. If I were a car of that age, I'd either be a classic or already crushed into a cube on the back acre of some rural junkyard.

This year's Super Bowl is considered the best one since it went into overtime for the first time ever. I almost missed it, though. Holly and I drove back up to northern Illinois on game day because both her aunt and her mother were in hospitals at the same time. We arrived at the Advocate Condell Medical Center in Libertyville, Ill., shortly after halftime and caught the fourth quarter in Room 4402 where her mother was, watching as New England clawed back from a 19-point deficit.

Her mother, though, was not that impressed with the game and we decided to leave when she needed to rest. We watched the brief overtime period in the hospital's hallway, peering through some patient's door and seeing James White score from 2 yards out to win the game for the Patriots. The patient quickly turned off the television set in his room before any postgame shows began; apparently he was a Falcons fan. It was a hospital, after all, and he did spare us the trauma and illness of hearing Joe Buck's after-game commentary. I had enough of Buck for a year after listening to him when the Cubs won the World Series last fall.

Despite the difficulties of getting to a television on time, and the sadness of visiting Holly's mom in a hospital bed, at least I got to see part of this year's game . The string of seeing them continues. As we drove back to Arkansas later that week — both Holly's mother and aunt are out of the hospitals now and doing well — I thought of all the games I saw and some of the circumstances and locations I was in during those contests.

My father was a huge sports fan and that's where I was introduced to the Super Bowl. It was a big thing in our house, even if we weren't rooting for either team. We had just moved to Minnesota when the first game was held; it was referred in 1967 and 1968 as the AFL-NFL World Championships back then.

Here are a few of the games and what I was doing at the time of them:

1967: Green Bay 35 Kansas City 10
I vaguely remembered this game as a 6-year-old only because my favorite player at the time, Bart Starr, was quarterbacking the Packers. My dad noted the irony that we had just moved from Wisconsin to Minnesota and now the Packers were in the game.

1970: Kansas City 23 Minnesota 7
My first venture into heartbreak. Minnesota was a heavy favorite to win and it was the first year I, at the age of 9, was really aware of football and its stats. Kansas City dominated and I learned true disappointment. Forget how life turned out as an adult, I was crushed deeply as a kid. My Vikes let me down that year. I had a hatred for Chiefs' coach Hank Stram for some time after that game.

1973: Miami 14 Washington 7
This was the Dolphins' undefeated season, but I also remember that one of my friends who lived on the block where I lived in Bemidji, Minn., was a huge Dolphins fan. My friend was small for his age but when we played football in his back yard with the neighbor kids, he tried to personify Dolphins' bruising running back Larry Csonka. He was tackled a lot and other kids often made fun for his small stature. But on that January 1973 day, when his team finished 14-0, he stood tall.

1977: Oakland 32 Minnesota 14
For some inane reason, my mother, who was our local church choir director, scheduled a performance on that Super Bowl Sunday. To make matters worse, she made me be an usher for the program. To make them even worse, I had to wear a yellow sweater she bought me for Christmas that had tufts of yarn that stuck out like feathers. I looked like a chicken. See: . I missed the second half of the game, but it didn't matter. The Vikings lost that day, their fourth Super Bowl loss.

1982: San Francisco 26 Cincinnati 21
I had just returned from a four-week college photography class trip to the southern end of Mexico. I had no idea who was in the playoffs. We lived in huts about 60 miles west of Cancun on the Caribbean Ocean and had no television. Visitors from a cruise ship to Cozumel stopped in the small town where we stayed a few days after the league championship games and I asked one person which teams were in the Super Bowl. Apparently, I looked a bit worn. “How long have you been down here?” he asked, incredulously.

1984: Los Angeles Raiders 38 Washington 9
I had applied for a newspaper reporting job in western Arkansas a few weeks prior to the game. Just as the game began, I got the call from the editor. I was hired.

1986: Chicago 46 New England 10
I was caught up in the mania surrounding the Bears. Yes, I even bought the record that the team cut, “The Super Bowl Shuffle.”

1988: Washington 42 Denver 10
I was wrapping up work on my masters degree and had to work on a thesis paper that was due the week after the Super Bowl. I was a decent student, but I was also a sports fan and couldn't miss the game. So, I hid a small television set in a carry-on flight bag and headed to the college library. I was able to watch the game and finish my school work at the same time.

1993: Dallas 52 Buffalo 17
The Jonesboro, Ark., fire department remembers this game. I was working for a weekly paper in the town when I was paged out on a large downtown fire at halftime of the Super Bowl. A short in the wiring of a meat cutter created a spectacular blaze in a restaurant. With camera in hand, I rushed downtown to take pictures; the game was already decided, so I knew I wouldn't miss anything special. I was shooting photos near the engulfed building when I saw a fireman kick open a side door. The air rushing inside created a flash-over effect and I noticed a billowing ball of smoke heading for the large plate glass window at the front of the building near where I stood. I turned to run and dropped my camera bag. As I bent to pick it up, the window exploded, sending shards of glass and a plume of flame into the street. Later, firemen told me they got their hoses ready to douse me because it looked like I was covered in fire. Instead, I was fine. I pulled one piece of glass out of my elbow and continued shooting photographs. I think I fared better than Buffalo did that day.

1998: Denver 31 Green Bay 24
This was a tough one. I received a call that morning from my mother's friend who told me she found my mother dead in her home of an apparent heart attack. I drove the 100 miles to her home and was pretty much in shock. My father passed away 11 years earlier and I realized that day I was truly an orphan. I turned my mother's television set to the game, more for some distraction or sense of normalcy that any intent to follow the game closely. I guess I was in shock. 

2009: Pittsburgh 27 Arizona 23
A devastating ice storm hit the state about a week before the game, knocking out power to thousands. My electricity was restored two days before the game, but I had to cover the storm for the newspaper where I work. I worked that Super Bowl Sunday, writing a story about a nearby town that opened its community center for shelter for those without service. But I made it home just before kickoff and was able to see the game. I usually skip the halftime shows, but on this occasion, Bruce Springsteen was the featured act and, for one of the few times, I stayed glued to the television during halftime. On a side note: I later interviewed a guy who, because he had no power at his home, ran his television set off his car's battery to watch the Super Bowl. He had to get a neighbor to recharge his car at halftime and he, unlike I, missed the Springsteen show.

2016: Denver 24 Carolina 10
I was on one of my many visits to Holly at her northern Illinois town last year before she moved down here when the game was on. We got a pizza, went back to the hotel and watched the game. I was so smitten with her that I really didn't pay attention to the game.

Fifty-one Super Bowls and, I hope, more to come. Maybe I'll be back in Illinois for the next Super Bowl. Maybe we'll be here. Maybe I'll be covering some news story on game day. I have no idea what's in store for the future, but I hope to continue the string of seeing every game so far.

Thursday, January 26, 2017

Game No. 500

I've finally reached Game No. 500 in my 1991 APBA baseball replay season.


When Boston outfielder Ellis Burks dribbled a grounder to Detroit first baseman Cecil Fielder to seal the Tigers' 11-0 victory over the Red Sox, I reached that milestone.

After what I counted as 513 days since this replay began, I hit Game No. 500. That's less than a game a day; it's a far cry from my old average of playing about four or five games a day. Used to be, I could finish a season-long replay involving the cards and dice of the game in 15 to 18 months. Now, based upon my less than stellar speed, I won't wrap this season up until well after the next presidential election.

We've all had those spells where life steps in and changes things and competes for the time we had for rolling APBA's games. For some, it's when high school dating began, or college days, or moving from home and beginning a career, or having kids. But the game will always stay with us, albeit at a much slower pace at times.

Since I began this replay on Aug. 16, 2015, I've driven to northern Illinois and back 18 times and almost went up there again last weekend. Work beckons often and I've been dealing with a medical issue of late that has gotten my attention some. It all takes up time. Time away from the game that we've loved since childhood.

But the game is there, always. And it provided some fun when I did finally reach Game No. 500 the other day. Detroit opened a 6-0 lead in the first inning when Andy Allanson hit a grand slam homer off Red Sox pitcher Joe Hesketh. Alan Trammell hit his first of two home runs in the second inning and by the third inning, the Tigers were leading 9-0. Walt Terrell held the Red Sox hitless until the fourth inning and gave up only four hits in his complete game outing.

The game was also the first of seven in a row where the home team won. Milwaukee upended Cleveland, 10-1, in the following game and later, Jose Canseco hit his American League leading 13th home run to give Oakland a 10-2 win over the White Sox. Seattle, Baltimore, Cincinnati and the Cubs also took home field wins.

I've found that the frequency of games occurs in frenzied spurts. I may not toss a contest for four or five days in a row and then spend an hour playing four or five games in a row when I find a wedge of free time. I hit No. 500 and several games beyond the other day when Holly, my Illinois girl who moved down here, called her aunt on the phone and talked for a while.

I still have 1,606 games to play to complete the 1991 season. I've reached May 24 in the replay and it's sizing up to be yet another good season to do. Right now, Seattle is leading Minnesota by three games in the American League West and the National League West is a dogfight early on. Montreal still continues to lose. The Cubs beat the Expos in 10 innings the other night, dropping the Canadian team to a record of 8-33. The Expos may be the worst team I've ever played in a replay; they aren't a bad team when you look at the players' statistics for that year, but as a team, they find so many ways to lose games.

One thousand, six hundred and six games left to go. At this rate, I'm still looking at four and a half years before completing this. I may have to step up the pace a tad.

Sunday, December 25, 2016

The Christmas Tree


It had to be Bumble, the abominable monster in the 1964 Rankin/Bass animated show Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer, that topped the first Christmas tree in my home in 11 years.

The blue, toothy creature that terrorized Rudolph, Yukon and Hermey, but who actually had a heart of gold, is perched atop the branches of our small tree, replacing the angle, star or snowflake that most use to adorn their displays.

A tree had always been a festive part of my holiday fare as a youth and it became a tradition when I got married years ago. In fact, there was a time when I was as enthusiastic about Christmas as the Clark Griswold character from the movie “National Lampoon's Christmas Vacation.” I'd go to a nearby farm a cold day each year and cut down a nice fir tree while snow flurries fluttered and then haul it home and set it up.

I'd string lights galore from the house, around bushes and along the driveway. If something was stationary in the yard, it got bedecked with strings of thousands of blinking lights. It was Christmas, the most manic time of the year!

But that ended when my wife got sick with kidney failure. It's a debilitating disease and Christmas cheer was not on the forefront during the last of her life. We moved to a small house in 2005 and hastily put up an artificial tree in December, more for appearance than for tradition.

She died seven months later and her relatives, as relatives always do after a death, swooped in and picked over my stuff. They took clothes and shoes and books. Someone got my nice carpet steam cleaner. Her aunt took the Christmas tree. I was in the mourning stage at that time and was not really aware of all that was cleared from my home.

That year, the editors at the newspaper where I work had me come to Little Rock during the holidays, fearing my first Christmas alone would be rough. I usually work in a one-person bureau, covering northeast Arkansas. But that year, I worked in the newsroom for eight days, some 125 miles from my home, and lived in a hotel. I spent Christmas eve in a U.S. 167 convenience store, trying to convince a drunk couple not to continue driving because I'd have to write about their fatalities if they crashed.

Since then, I've worked four or five times on Christmas day. Last year, I wrote about an arson fire at the boyhood home of Bill Clinton in Hope, Ark. A year earlier, I covered a community dinner for a rural town where more than 300 showed up. In 2009, I did a story about people who had to work on the holiday and then followed that with an article about an evening snowstorm.

I lost the Christmas spirit. The holidays were depressing; I'd leave the my bureau office in the evening of Dec. 24 and sulk back to my house, watching others scamper to their homes full of family and cheer.

But then, this year. Those who've read Love, Life and APBA know about the Illinois girl and my changes. After I became smitten and drove to northern Illinois 17 times this year to see her, Holly moved here. And, because she is one of the most positive, spirited persons I've known, she decided we needed a Christmas tree.

We opted for a small 6-foot fake tree with colored lights and set it up a week before Christmas. It sits in the corner of our living room. There's some gaps in it; we've not manipulated the folding branches properly yet to cover the spaces. We also put on ornaments that she brought down with her during the move. She got a wreath made of real fir branches. The thick scent of pine permeates the living room and it makes an even more ambient season.

The tree looks great. It wouldn't have been there if not for her. And, hence, this is the “love” part of Love, Life and APBA. (There is APBA still: The first time I ever saw an APBA game — the 1976 football season — was underneath my parents' Christmas tree.)

In fact, Holly has been a great influence on a lot of things. I couldn't stand the classic movie “It's a Wonderful Life” because of its smarmy, warm felt message that, despite not having money, we are all wonderful. It went against my grain because I measured worth based upon my financial status. We watched the movie together the other day and for the first time ever, I liked it.
Bumble atop our Christmas tree

And Bumble.

I enjoyed the Rankin/Bass production of Rudolph as a child. I'd watch it each year and, full disclosure here, I'd tear up as an adult watching it because of the innocence of the show, the meaning behind it and the nostalgia it brought. But like all else that was Christmas, I stopped viewing it after 2006.

Holly and I watched it the other day for the first time in a decade and I loved it. And, yes, I teared up.

She knew of my fondness for the creature and when we saw a version of Bumble in a Christmas stocking at the store, she picked it up. It was the obvious tree topper. And for those who remembered the show, you'll get the symbolism. Far be it from me to overanalyze anything (I say sarcastically), but there is a deeper meaning to Bumble in our home.

Toward the end of Rudolph, prospector Yukon Cornelius sacrificed himself to save the reindeer and Hermey. He pushed Bumble toward the edge of a chasm and then, when Bumble fell, Yukon went with him.

“He's gone. Oh, he's gone,” Rudolph said as he looked over the cliff's edge.

But later, when Rudolph returned to Santa's place, there came a knock at the door. Yukon burst in with Bumble. The abominable monster fell, but didn't perish because, Yukon said, “Bumbles bounce.”

After more than a decade of dreading the Christmas holiday, I'm looking forward to this Christmas.

Maybe we all bounce, if you think about it.