Monday, August 26, 2013

The Long Walks

Playing the APBA replays doesn't require a lot of strength or endurance. Other than having a flexible wrist to roll the dice, there's really not a lot of exercise involved in the game. Couple the inactivity while doing the games with the sedimentary nature of my job and it's easy to see why I could quickly evolve into more of a blob than I already am.

That's why I jumped at the chance to get outside and walk a few miles with a friend.

Well, I didn't exactly jump. More likely, I pushed myself away from the table and rolled. When I was a kid I could dunk a volleyball flat-footed under a goal. Now, however, my vertical leap is a thing of the past. Dunking is out, but Dunkin' Donuts are in. Age is a cruel thing, along with Doritos, candy bars and other snacks. The abs of yore are now replaced with flabs amour. The only six-packs here are Pepsis.

So, I put on the sneakers, found an old shirt and headed to a city park when my friend suggested we walk recently. I knew it was going to be rough when I became winded getting out of the car. We still had nearly 3 miles to walk around a lake and I was ready for a breather. She took off at a spirited pace and I struggled to keep up.

The trail was level for the most part, save for a small incline about three-quarters of the way around. Normal people could make it easily. I was not normal.

There's that male pride guys have to deal with and it surfaced during our walk. I couldn't slow down or appear weak. Fortunately, my friend talked enough to where she didn't hear me wheezing and quietly cursing myself, the world and the concept of walking. I could see my car getting smaller as we walked further from it.

Part of the trail circled through a wooded area and I hoped for a wolf to bound out and put me out of my misery. Unfortunately, this was Arkansas and save for a few pesky squirrels and a really annoying horsefly, the predators stayed at bay.

We circled the lake after about 45 minutes and I could actually see my car ahead. We made it; I didn't embarrass myself by collapsing or crying. My friend even complimented me for making it. I guess I was really out of shape to receive accolades for not dying.

We opted to do it again and last week we drove to a nature center that featured a bit more rugged trail. My friend said the hike would be about three-quarters of a mile. I thought she meant three-quarters of a mile around a path. I learned that she actually meant three-quarters of a mile up.

We left a paved path and she pointed to a bluff looming across a field. “We go up there,” she said.

“Is that even part of the park?” I asked.

We walked across the field and then climbed the bluff. This time, I could not conceal the huffing and puffing. I sounded like the bellows of an accordion during a frenzied polka. When we reached the top, we climbed two flights of stairs on a lookout tower. As we gazed out across the vista, we could search for animals, neighboring towns and other dead hikers.

As soon as I caught my breath and could speak coherent sentences again, we forged on.

We eventually returned to my car, worn, tired and hot. But, again, I made it without expiring.

I drove home, took a shower, rested a bit and then rolled a few games in the 1942 APBA baseball replay. But as I reached for the Doritos during the contests, I thought of our two ventures and decided to forego snacking like a barnyard pig for a change.

We intend to keep walking each weekend. I'll keep the strong wrist from rolling the dice for the replays, but if I keep up the hiking I may someday regain something akin to a vertical leap and be able to get out of my car without pining for a nap.

Monday, August 19, 2013

The Sharon Tree

I have a tendency to overthink most everything and that drove my wife, Sharon, — and pretty much everyone else who's spent more than a few moments with me — stark raving mad. It was my habit to prod and question behaviors, to figure out motivations and seek meaning in places where there really wasn't any meaning.

Once even a counselor noted my proclivity for relativity. Two decades ago, a girlfriend and I were in such a severe relationship crash that coupons to Olive Garden couldn't even help. When she fell into some Lifetime Network fugue, she urged us to go to the counselor, thinking that talking it over it would work. He listened to me for a while and said I had an issue with overanalyzing everything. “What do you mean by that?” I asked. “See,” he responded.

And, despite my desire for answers, I seldom really find the meaning and instead just muddle along.

But I may have found a major answer perched in a Bradford pear tree outside my window.

When my wife and I bought the house where I live now eight years ago, two large Bradford trees sat majestically in the yard. It was small consolation for the move we made. When my wife fell sick, we left a much larger house with five bedrooms, an in-ground pool, a step down den and nice landscaping for a small three-bedroom home. The trees helped at the new house. My wife loved those trees.

Within the first month of living there, however, a windstorm toppled one of the trees and it made my wife cry. A couple of months after my wife died the following summer, I came home to see the other tree had blown over. I stood in my driveway and lost it. I shook my fist and blamed God, analyzing that the downing of the tree was symbolic of the complete collapse of my life. I had just lost my wife and now a tree? The meaning was too intense.

I placed that overthinking onto a tree, analyzing that it meant so much more, when in fact it fell simply because those types of trees are top heavy and tend to fall in high winds.

I soldiered on, though. The following summer, on Aug. 18, 2007, which would have been her birthday, I planted another Bradford pear tree where the fallen tree sat. I called it the Sharon Tree in honor of her and watched it grow. Again with the analyzing: I equated the tree's growth with my own recovery.

The tree continued to grow and this spring a bird built its nest in the branches and I overthought. The bird's nest and its baby chicks symbolized life. Things were turning around; I had restored life.

My reasonings would have driven my wife nuts.

And here's the answer to it all. The bird laid its eggs in the nest and I continued on my rant about life replacing death. The eggs hatched and I watched as the tiny birds grew. And as they grew, they chirped. And at first, it was cute.

But then, the chirping didn't stop. I played the APBA baseball games late at night and maybe the light I kept on while playing the game shined onto them. The tree was just outside the window. The birds continued to chirp well after midnight and I was often serenaded to attempted sleep by the shrill, pleading noises of a nest full of baby birds.

I think that my wife would have gotten a kick out of it all. I place so much meaning on everything when things probably just happen because it's the way it's supposed to. People pass away, trees fall over, birds chirp. It's just nature and we can't out think it.

Briefly, I toyed with the idea that the birds' calls symbolized my wife's reminder to quit thinking so much. But I quickly stopped that. More so because the birds were driving me insane rather than a complete understanding of how things worked.

And now, a day after what would have been my wife's birthday, and six years after I planted that tree, I think I understand something a bit more. Maybe I need to quit overanalyzing everything and let the birds chirp, let life move on.

But then, maybe I'm overanalyzing this too ...

Friday, August 16, 2013

100-Game Goal

It was a lofty goal I set, but a sinus infection, a special election and my own religious resurrection kept me from meeting the mark.

I wanted to see if I could pick up the pace while playing my APBA baseball replay of the 1942 season and aimed at playing 100 games in two weeks. I was mired in the dog days of June of that season, rolling games for teams like the Philadelphia As and the Chicago Cubs that, while enjoyable to watch, were not cliff-hanging, pennant-deciding clashes.

So, I aimed for 100 games and began the experiment on Aug. 1. Before any players out there with faint hearts begin palpitating and gasping at this massive proposal, take into consideration a couple of facts. First, I don't tally statistics as closely as many other APBA players do. I track home runs, won-lost records and saves. I keep those minimal records on notebook pages for each team. Once a game is completed, I log those three stats and move to the next game. Some guys record every statistic, including putouts and errors, and in essence create their own Elias Sports Bureau.

Not me. I've mentioned this before. I did stats and my computer has crashed each time. And, yes, I am aware of online deals that hold your stats, but I have yet to master that. Keep in mind I am computer stupid. The games in my replay are quick to play and quick to move on to the next contest.

Also, a second consideration is that I have a very limited social life. Work, come home, eat some quick gruel and hit the game. That's it. On weekends, I may really toss routine to the wind and let my hair down and mow the yard. I know. Crazy.

I began the quest whole-heartedly, rolling five games in the morning on that first day before work. I wrapped up the day with four in the evening and was ahead of the pace I had set. Seven games in 15 days would surpass the 100-mark. I was two games ahead.

The following day I played nine more games. But on Aug. 3, a Saturday, I slipped and only recorded five games. The following day, a Sunday, I went to a church for the first time in a few years. They held a homecoming ceremony with dinner and I ended up staying there for several hours. Only four games rolled that day. Briefly, I considered praying to meet the 100-game goal, but then realized that would be counterproductive. If I was that obsessive about playing the games, I wouldn't have gone to church and instead stayed home, religiously rolling the dice.

By August 8, the first week of the project, I had rolled 53 games and was still ahead of my pace. But then, I got sick. Aug. 9 was a Friday, a day I usually roll lots of games since I don't have to wake up early the following day for work. Instead, a vicious sinus infection felled me and I only played three games. It was my worst output of the two weeks. I rebounded on Saturday and played 10 games, but only because it rained all day and I was trapped indoors.

Then it slowed more. I realize the concept of burnout and diminished returns and just plumb tiredness. On Aug. 13, I worked at night, covering several special elections and writing news stories about them. I got six games in that day, but I played into the wee hours when I returned home after 11 p.m. that day.

By the end of Aug. 14, with one day remaining in the goal, I had played 87 games. I knew I'd not make 100 games, so I slowed the final day, opting instead to read a book rather than play games all night. I played only three that day.

I ended up with 90 games in two weeks. I failed to meet the goal, but still reached July 1, 1942, in the replay. The games also took more of a real feel during that two-week run since I often played games for teams on consecutive days as they do in actual life.

I continue playing on, perhaps not with the same fervor as I did during those two weeks. My next goal is to reach the halfway point of the season. I have about 23 more games to play for that landmark. Then it's the All-Star break and then the late August pennant drives.

And I looked back at the 100-game project. Had I not been under the weather with the sinus stuff — it's hard, and fearful, to roll games whilst always running for Kleenex — and had I stayed up just a bit later for only a few more games each night, and had I sought divine intervention for those Sundays, I may have hit 100.

Monday, August 12, 2013

Max West, 1942

I've done eight full season replays in the 15 years I've been rolling dice with the ABPA baseball game and I've found, as all replayers have, that most players perform in the game closely to what they did in real life during the season.

Of course there are the oddities. Each year, as well, there are players who don't meet up to their actual performances. Mickey Mantle's 1957 year for me was such the case. As good as he was in real life, the dice didn't do him justice in my game. Sandy Koufax was also a bust for me in my 1964 replay and Babe Ruth's statistics were far below his real numbers during my replay of the 1932 season.

But on the inverse there are also players who stand out and do surprisingly better in replays than what they did on the field. That's one of the attractions of the APBA game. If everything came out exactly as what really transpired, there'd be no point in playing the games over. The game is based upon statistical probabilities, but there's that thing some players call “dice magic,” the unexplainable way things turn out.

In the 1942 season I'm doing, Max West is that person. West, a first baseman and outfielder for the Boston Braves, is playing far above what he did that year. In 77 games so far in my replay, West has belted 18 home runs. In real life that year, he hit 16 for the entire season. He's also batting .283 in the replay — not outstanding, but nearly 30 points higher than his actual .254 average in the real 1942 season.

Also, an interesting note I found as I was tracking his stats in my game. In seven of the last 29 games I tallied, West scored runs in games he only got on base by walks. He took advantage of the situation and has led Boston to a record of 36 wins and 41 loses as of June 28, 1942. In the real season, the Braves were 32-43 at that point (I play all games scheduled and ignore any rainouts, hence more games for Boston in the replay than in real life at that date).

I looked up info on West to see what made him the standout in this replay. He was born in Dexter, Mo., about 80 miles from where I live. He played with Boston from 1938 to 1942 and then entered the service. In 1940, he replaced an injured Mel Ott and hit a home run for the National League during the All-Star game in St. Louis. He left the game injured in the second inning after crashing into the outfield wall while chasing a Luke Appling double.

According to his 2003 obituary in the Boston Globe, West was the epitome of the Braves' losing season in 1941. West was thrown out at first base during a game against Philadelphia that year. As he returned to the Braves' dugout on the third base side and crossed behind home plate, a ball rolled by his feet. West thought it was foul and tossed it back to Phillies catcher Mickey Livingston. The ball was actually live and he watched as Livingston tagged a Braves' runner out out who was trying to score on the passed ball.

His embarrassment wasn't over. West continued to the dugout to be berated by Boston manager Casey Stengel. As he went to the water cooler to escape Stengel's wrath, Braves' outfielder Paul Waner hit a foul into the dugout, catching West in the jaw and breaking his teeth.

West retired from baseball in 1948 and opened a sporting goods store in California until 1980. He passed away on Dec. 31, 2003.

West has been gone for nearly 10 years, but for some reason he is the standout in my 1942 replay. Maybe it's statistics, maybe it's the random way the dice fall whenever he's up to bat, maybe it's the baseball gods trying to make up for that bad day of his in Philadelphia.

Whatever it is, it makes for interesting baseball. I'm glad that a player who grew up some 80 miles from here is living on in this replay and that it gave me a chance to look up baseball history.

It's part of what makes this game so good.

Thursday, August 8, 2013

Broadcast Blues

I should have heeded the signs my career would take when, at 9 years old, I recorded my own play-by-play of an electric football game.

I had a large cassette recorder and as I played the game, setting up the players on the green metallic field, clicking the switch and watching them vibrate around, I called the action into the microphone as if I were doing a live game. I played the Minnesota Vikings against the San Francisco 49ers. Both teams had players named Gene Washington and I remember making reference to that fact numerous times on my broadcast. I was more annoying than Joe Buck for cryin' out loud.

I also did riveting action calls.

“Bill Brown takes the handoff and goes up the middle for two yards,” I chirped, sounding in my broken voice like a hyena on ether.

I remember I became bored doing the play-by-play and, since it was a Minnesota Vikings' game, I decided to end the broadcast fittingly and cancel the contest because of a blinding snowstorm at the half.

Fortunately my parents had enough sense not to save the cassette tape; my father on hearing my squeaky voice probably thought the cassette tape was stretching and tossed it away.

Yes, I should have paid attention to that. But instead, I blindly pursued, albeit briefly, a career in television news. After spending about six months as a weekly newspaper writer in a rural northeast Arkansas town, I made the leap and became a television reporter. I was awful. I still had my Minnesota accent back then and on seeing people who recognized me on television I was often told “You don't sound like you're from here.” That was the only compliment they could muster. It did beat that “hyena on ether” thing, though.

Fortunately, my plunge into broadcast was short-lived and I left the state for Philadelphia and then Lubbock, Texas, before I eventually returned to print news where I remain today.

It is much better this way. Television news was acting. To be successful in that medium, you had to sound good and look good. I had neither requirement. Now, I can write my news stories in my underwear if I so chose (I work in alone in a bureau office). I can guzzle Pepsis and cram chips in my maw while I type my tales. No one sees me. (Point of order, though. I don't write in my underwear at any time. I have standards. I do guzzle Pepsis and cram the chips, on occasion.)

And there's the anonymous aspect of being a newspaper reporter. Once at 6 a.m., I sat in a Waffle House in central Arkansas and watched as two people held that day's newspaper and discussed a story I wrote in it about a state politician who was involved in a motor vehicle accident that killed a woman. Police suspected the politician was drunk. The two people read parts of my story aloud and talked about its points as I sat nearby, unbeknownst to them as I drizzled my waffles with syrup. I thought about joining in the talk, but opted not to and instead basked in the anonymity

Another person told me that I “had a face for radio.” And then he added the twist. “And you have a voice for newspaper.”

Yes, I should have seen my career's path ahead of me when I tried broadcasting that fateful football game back nearly 35 years ago. Now, when I roll my APBA baseball replays, I think quick color commentary bits in my head, but I refrain from speaking them out loud.

I don't want people thinking I'm not from here and I do, after all, have that voice for newspaper.

Thursday, August 1, 2013

Update: June 19, 1942

For the past few weeks, I've rambled on Love, Life and APBA about being old, about a friend's divorce, about love and death and about the junk food I cram in my mouth while playing the games..

That's part of life and all, but, those of us who play APBA know the key point: The game is really the main thing. It's why we spend time away from other things. It's why we play. And with that in mind, I'm providing an update of the 1942 season I'm replaying.

I've reached June 19, 1942, and am more than 40 percent completed with the season. I'm finding it's a good year to replay, despite some of the players having been drafted for the war that year and not receiving an APBA card .

Here are the standings and leaders as of June 19
American League W L GB
New York            40 19   -
St. Louis              37 26   5
Detroit                 36 30   7.5
Boston                 31 28   9
Washington         29 32   12
Cleveland            29 33   12.5
Chicago               23 37   17.5
Philadelphia         23 43  20.5

Boston's Ted Williams and Rudy York of Detroit lead the AL with 15 home runs each. Charlie Keller has 11 for the Yankees. Denny Galehouse is pacing the St. Louis Browns with 10 victories so far, and Hal Manders has 10 saves for the Tigers.

National League W L GB
Brooklyn            41 16   -
St. Louis            38 18  2.5
Boston               32 26  9.5
New York          29 33 14.5
Pittsburgh          29 33 14.5
Cincinnati         27 34  16
Chicago            26 37  18
Philadelphia     23 38   20

There are two things bearing watching in the National League so far. The first is the competition between the Dodgers and the Cardinals. The two teams split victories on June 18 and 19 and have three more games to play, including a doubleheader on June 21. Dolph Camilli is tied with Max West of the Boston Braves with 15 home runs.

The second story is the Boston Braves. Along with West, Jim Tobin is a key for their surprising success. Tobin leads the league with 10 victories and Al Javery is second with nine wins for the Braves. In the real baseball season, Boston was 27-39 on June 19 (I play the full season and don't include rainouts. Remember my mantra: There are never rainouts or player strikes in APBA.)

The season moves along. There are the typical peaks and valleys, the enthusiasm and the burnouts that come naturally when doing a season replay game-by-game, inning-by-inning, dice roll-by-dice roll.
I should reach the halfway point of this season, perhaps, by early September, meaning I can possibly complete this season in 10 months. And when it's finished, like always, there are more seasons in the APBA closet waiting to come out. There are more stories in those cards like Max West's story and the rivalry like the Cardinals and Brooklyn. It's why we play this game.