Tuesday, July 23, 2013

Olde Timer

I was talking to a young television reporter in the hallway of a courthouse last week waiting while lawyers hashed out details during a closed evidentiary hearing when I realized I was an old-timer.

We sat on a bench and whiled away the time all day, sharing tales about news we have covered in the past. Well, news I have covered. The television guy was extremely young, having graduated college only about 8 years ago. He didn’t have as many things to talk about.

I talked of court cases I’ve written about, people I interviewed, and jobs I’ve held in the 32 years I’ve been in news. The tv kid was 25. I was writin’ news 7 years before he was even born!

And that made me feel old. 

I tried to joke it off, telling him that I was so old that I once covered a trial in the courthouse we sat last week that ended with a guilty verdict and a sentence of hanging.

I felt like an old pitching coach, sitting on the bench and regaling the young up-and-comer with yarns of olde. If I was in baseball, rather than news, I’m sure I’d be telling the kid that I recall playing baseball with twine wrapped around rags. And how I stuffed cardboard in my thin baseball glove to give it extra padding. And how I rode trains as far west as St. Louis where we played doubleheaders on consecutive days against the Browns. And how  I once saw Joe DiMaggio hit a ball out of Seals Stadium in San Francisco when he was 18 years old.

I’m sure the television reporter did the same thing last week to me that I did when I was young and was trapped hearing the stories from old geezers. He nodded politely, offered a few comments of his own and thought, “When will he shut up? Maybe when he takes his afternoon nap ...”

But that may be one of the draws of baseball, and sports in general. We are all alive during a segment or era of the game. When we pass on, baseball continues. The games are played, teams are crowned champions each year. It’s an endless cycle, and we’re blessed to be alive during part of that.

I’ve often joked that if I ever ended up in a coma for several years, the first question I’d ask upon awakening is who won the World Series that I missed. Some friends have told me that it may be more of a reality than a joke.

So, we move along the timeline of life and experience our share of sports and, in my case, news stories. And one day, that young television reporter, if he stays in the business, will be sitting there sharing his olden tales to yet another youngster. Just as today’s young baseball stars will someday sit in the dugout, grizzled, stooped and worn, and provide their own offerings of life way back when.

Wednesday, July 17, 2013

A Sports Friend's Support

A friend of mine who lives in Baltimore called me last week and told me his wife wanted a divorce after three years of marriage. As a guy and a sports fan, I offered him condolences in the best way I could.

I told him I would no longer root for the Orioles or the Ravens. 

Hey, it’s the least I can do for him. Forget about halfhearted allegiances to teams that, had he not lived there, I would only have had a passing interest in. These are trying times.

It’s a sad situation. They have a young child and my friend uprooted from his home and career in Missouri in 2010 to move to Baltimore to get married. And what makes it worse is the way he found out. 

He told me he went to his doctor that fateful day for a colonoscopy. For the uninitiated, that’s when sadists run a plumber’s snake up your tailpipe and take pictures of your inner workin’s. (My former mother-in-law once had this done. She was offended for some reason when I asked if she had any wallet-sized photos of the procedure that I could have to remember her with.)

Anyway, my friend had that done and, because he was under anesthesia, his wife drove him home. There, as he continued to recover, she told him she wanted to end the marriage.

“So,” I told him. “You had a pain in the butt twice today.”

I know. I am a sensitive guy.

There’s nothing you can really say to someone in a situation like this. The ol’ “It’ll get better” isn’t appropriate. We’re both old enough to know it won’t get better for a while. “Hang in there” is old hat, and the trite “See this as an opportunity, not a pitfall” is too cliche, too Up With People sweetness that neither of us believe.

So, I can only do what I can do. I followed the Orioles for the past three baseball seasons, hoping for a decent year for him since he lived there. My friend is not much of a baseball fan, but he did go to Oriole Park at Camden Yards to watch a game or two. He also saw the city celebrate the Ravens’ Super Bowl win in February.

It’ll be a bit tougher to drop the Orioles. Their team looks good this year and I’ve always liked manager Buck Showalter. Chris Davis is having a career year at the All-Star break and the Orioles’ history with Palmer and Boog and Brooks Robinson is fun to read about. 

The Ravens will be a bit easier to forget. I was born in Pittsburgh and grew up on football during the Bradshaw years with the Steelers. Now I can fully root for Pittsburgh to trounce Baltimore.

Dropping a team or two in honor of a friend who is going through tough times may be a bit harsh, but it’s what sports friends do. And, although it may be a pain in the butt to do this, it won’t be as bad as what he went through.

Sunday, July 14, 2013

The July 14 Clock

I spent today watching the clock, marking all that happened on July 14 seven years ago when my life changed drastically.

At 4:30 a.m., in 2006, I told my wife I'd take her to the doctor later that day because she wasn't feeling well. I told her I loved her and said things would be okay. At 6:30 a.m., I found her unresponsive on the floor in our bedroom. At 9:30 a.m., a doctor ushered me into a private room at the emergency room of the hospital an ambulance rushed her to. He looked at me somberly and said they tried all they could do, but she was gone. It was something he probably said often in rote fashion to families, but to me it was the most impacting thing I've ever heard.

My wife had kidney disease and the last three years of her life were spent in hospitals; it was hell. The doctor said her heart wore out; she was probably dead before she collapsed, he said. Consolation, I guess, because later people offered the “at least she didn't suffer” saying they do when there's no real words to say.

“What about me?” I thought. “I'm suffering.”

I plowed on without her, lost. I have no family at all. I am truly an orphan, a ship with no keel.

I did that destructive run that those who lose spouses always do. Some gamble, some seek companionship in wrong places. I turned to Dewars scotch and beer. The newspaper where I worked ordered me to get grief counseling.

My counselor told me to lay off the booze and get a dog for company. I kept drinking and got a cat. I don't follow instructions well.

Eventually, I tried dating again, but that was futile. I bombed. Two of the women later told me they thought I sabotaged the relationships because I feared they would end anyway. Well, no shit. Fear of loss is a major motivator in my world.

Here's where the APBA comes in, and gives this blog part of its title. Some have told me they were impressed with the number of baseball games I replay each day. I average four to six a day at times. I'm a third of the way through the 1942 baseball season now, after three months of playing.

I love the game, but the frequency of games picked up after I lost my wife. I work, come home, fix something to eat, watch some television and then roll a few games. I don't sleep much, so I can play late into the night.

As I've said a few times here before, the game is the one constant in my life. Things change, but the game remains the same. Different seasons, but the world that I create by tossing the dice and logging the wins of each game remains the same and gives me a safe, serene world that I can control and understand. I've been playing some form of the APBA game since 1977.

So, I move on. I reach landmarks. This time it was seven years. Ten years looms ahead, and then 12, which will be longer than we were married. A minister at the church my wife and I attended told me a week after my wife passed away that to get through this I had to “wake up each day and breathe.” I quit the church soon after. (He probably borrowed that insight from that sappy Tom Hanks move "Sleepless in Seattle").

But, maybe he was right. Maybe you get through these things day by day. You wake up. You breathe. Another day passes, then another year. Another landmark. But for now, each July 14 I watch the clock.

Friday, July 5, 2013

Snack Time

As an avid APBA baseball game replay player, I spend a lot of time sitting at a table and rolling dice. And, despite the limited activity, other than tossin' the die about 100 times per game, a fellow often gets hungry.

Snacks are big in replay land.

But you've got to pick the correct ones. Eating those cheese-flavored chips, while good, leave your fingers coated with a yellow dust that could mark up the APBA cards. Pizza and chip and dip aren't good either. It would be annoying not being able to read a number on Joe DiMaggio's card because a glob of Rotel or a dried chunk of pepperoni is adhered to it.

So, the player has to be discriminant and think these things out. Pretzels are good, although by the 7th inning of a game I've got to sweep the table clean of salt like a Zamboni machine clearing the ice after each period of a hockey game. Cookies are decent as well, as long as they don't contain those huge chunks of chocolate that melt on the cards.

Cleanliness may not be next to Godliness in APBA, but there are not many things worse than a food-stained player card in my book.

Getting these specific snacks, though, creates somewhat of a problem for me. I have to go to the grocery store, and I really hate shopping. I do it each week, stocking up on food for me and my cat, but it's a chore that I really dread. I grab a cart and hit the routine, picking up the same thing each week: Chips, water, some meat for when I pretend to actually cook, frozen pizza and other microwave stuff, some fish or burger thing I can broil when I think I can be healthy and cans upon cans of cat food. I probably follow the exact same motions each week in the store when I shop, following my same pattern much as a beginning dancer follows those Arthur Murray feet-movement maps.

Before my wife passed away, she did the shopping. Although I live in Arkansas, I'm not that much of a redneck and I never felt it was her “job” to do the grocery gettin's. Instead, she always knew how to find the really exotic foods in the store. You know, like vegetables.

But she's been gone for seven years now, and you'd think I could figure out a better shopping pattern.

I can't.

But I do find the snacks and there's plenty to nibble on during the games.

And therein lies yet another problem. Doing replays is not strenuous; I play a lot of games each day, and, hence, devour a lot of junk food. If I keep up this pace, I'm sure after knocking out my 1942 season I'm doing now and then perhaps 1991 or 1919 next, I'll end up like one of those guys you see on Discovery Channel who paramedics have to remove a wall of his house to get him out and transport him to the hospital.

At least I'll leave a clean, non-stained table when they take me away.

Monday, July 1, 2013

Sports Talk

Planning is not my strong point apparently, as evidenced when I called a former girlfriend during Game 7 between Boston and Toronto in the first round of the NHL playoffs to tell her I was seeing someone new.

I didn’t owe her the call; we had broken up a while ago. But once, in 1992, another former girlfriend called me to tell me she was getting married and she didn’t want me to hear about it elsewhere. This was in the days before Facebook and Twitter — I really didn’t know where I would hear about their union other than from her, but I guess she felt it was standard procedure to inform me of such. (As an afterward in that marriage, she was a vegetarian and he was a Texas cattle farmer. The thing didn’t last long. Who couldn’t see that demise coming?)

I felt I should pay that concept forward and called this girl during the Bruins-Maple Leafs hockey game.

Toronto had a 4-1 lead halfway through the third period and seemed poised to win the series. I thought I was safe in making the call.

But two things happened. One, the girl began reviewing my mishaps in our past relationship and I, not wanting to miss a chance for a post game interview, asked her about my issues. And, two, Boston began their amazing comeback.

The conversation went something like this:
HER: You just weren’t motivated enough.
ME: I thought I was okay and ... holy #@*! Lucic  just scored.
HER: You weren’t focusing on the right things.
ME: Yeah, well ... Ohhh, Bergeron tied it up!

My attention was diverted. The post game with her was put on hold and I watched as Boston made their miraculous comeback. Priorities, you know.

Sports has always been a vital part of my life. Maybe too much so. It sometimes enters my everyday world and I’ll say things sports-related out of context for the situation.

For example, when I finish writing a story for the newspaper where I work I will revert to a sports phrase when my editor calls to ask if it’s in. I’ll  acknowledge that I filed the story and then add, “Scores and highlights in a moment,” in a nod to former KMOX broadcaster Jack Buck, who would say that each time a St. Louis Cardinals’ game was over.

As deadline approaches on a news story, I’ll say the cliche, “It’s the bottom of the ninth and there’s two on and two out.”

I once told a girl when our relationship hit that dead zone between tolerance and eminent breakup that she was “treating me like yesterday’s box score.” She didn’t get the baseball reference. But on the same token, I didn’t get to continue the relationship.

So, I generally remain on the fringe of the normal world, trapped in sports land and uttering things that really don’t make much sense in realm of what’s going on.

But it’s sports and it’s familiar territory for me.

Looking back now, I’m sorry I blew that post game interview, but it was Game 7 and there was no tomorrow, the winner advances and the loser goes home and we had our backs against the wall and ...