Thursday, June 26, 2014

Early Christmas

The white box with the red football-shaped APBA logo sat on the doorstep and I smiled like a little kid does just before tearing into Christmas packages

And it was like a Christmas present, in a sense. The box contained 810 cards for the 2013-14 hockey game the company just released; those who get the cards can replay the entire season, rolling the dice for the game, pitting teams against each other by following last year's schedule, or they can create their own tournaments.

I hadn't bought any hockey season cards for nearly 20 years from APBA and the last baseball season — for which APBA is best known for producing — I bought was a couple of years ago.

So, I was due for fun. I ordered the set and while I waited for the delivery to arrive I did the paperwork involved in creating a new season. I handwrote the schedules down for each team on sheets of lined paper, leaving spaces for logging the scores after I play the games. I got line ups ready and set up more pages for keeping the stats.

Like I said, I was acting like a little kid.

And what other thing can get a grown person to act as such? Ask any APBA player and he'll tell you the same thing. Seeing that package is akin to an early Christmas morning years ago. At my age now, the postman usually only brings bills; AARP membership applications; home refinancing deals; recalls on my car; and, in heartfelt, caring letters, special discounts on burial insurance. The Pavlovian response I generally get when I see the mail man come a-knockin' is not a good one.

That's what makes getting an APBA box in the mail even more special. Maybe it's the onslaught of bad that comes with being an adult that makes getting a package of cards even more enjoyable. In the semantic scale of life, the majority of all mail received is on the “strongly dislike” category. It contrasts greatly with the box with the APBA logo.

There is a reason why we play APBA long into our adulthood, too. Most of us became acquainted with the game as a youngster. I did, first playing the company's basketball game when I was 17. I knew it was a fun game, but I didn't know the lasting value of it until now. A lot of the APBA players, like me, are into their 50s or more now, and we still hold onto the game, grasping that memory of life when things were better and the mail wasn't so dismal.

I opened the package on the kitchen counter; I didn't even make it into the living room before tearing in. And I looked at the cards. They are simple productions. White cards the size of playing cards with a player's name on each, along with numbers that correspond with dice rolls. There are no pictures on them. Just numbers. But that's all we need to play

It had been several years since I had played a hockey game. I took out two teams — Chicago and St. Louis — and played a practice game, rekindling the memory I had of the game and working out any kinks before I actually began the real 2013-14 NHL season. The game was great. St. Louis won, 2-1, and in the third period of the game, Chicago fired 14 shots at Blues' goalie Ryan Miller. He stopped each one. Again, I reiterate: These are white cards with red numbers printed on them. That's all. But rolling the dice, playing the game, brought the intensity of the real game.

I'll start the season replay soon, but for now I am still reveling in just looking at the cards. Christmas came early to my home this year and it made all those burial insurance offers, bills and junk mail addressed to “occupant” seem just a bit further away.

Wednesday, June 18, 2014

Bankruptcy Ended

After five years of financial bondage that crushed my soul and removed what little self-esteem I had, I am free.

The Chapter 13 bankruptcy I was forced into in 2009 because of the vast medical expenses accrued during my wife's illness ended Saturday. And a new life began.

For five years, the U.S. District Court's Eastern District of Arkansas took more than 70 percent of my paycheck every two weeks, leaving me very little to survive with. I don't make much, but on Saturday when I accessed my online bank account and saw a balance for the first time in years that was more than what I usually keep in the change holder of my car, I felt a bit liberated.

It may be wrong to base one's worth merely on financial status, but that's the world we live in. I learned these past five years that if you don't have money, you really are not a viable human being. Even the court process in filing was dehumanizing. We were led into the federal court, sitting on the wrong side of the courtroom barrier that separated the attorneys from those seeking bankruptcies. It was the dividing line of the haves and the have-nots. On one side, the attorneys laughed, conferred, negotiated. On our side, we sat, stoic, depressed, fearful. The game of life was over and there was no reset button. We hit tilt, we crapped out, we lost.

There was sorrow. I heard people's tales of woe; one was losing two of his vehicles, another had the IRS breathing down on him, wielding a Michael Myers machete of back taxes and penalties. Yet another had driven in from Oregon to attend his hearing. When some complication arose, he was told he had to return to the court months later. He said he couldn't afford it. The judge told him to be there.

That was the first day of my financial imprisonment. It didn't get any better.

For five years I received my paycheck and tried to figure how I would pay bills and have enough for food. Entertainment? Forget it. I did have basic cable and my library card was active. I could watch television and read books.

And the biggest issue I had was the constant reminder of the loss I suffered. My wife passed away in 2006. I was reliving that heartache every pay period.

I wasn't a bad person, I rationalized. I didn't end up this way because of stupid financial planning or wasteful spending. It was an unavoidable illness that dropped us. I became even more bitter about it all and I made excuses for myself.

And I learned to cope.

So, what does this all have to do with APBA, you ask? During these past five years, I, like I always do, relied on the game to get through the bleak times. You can buy the player cards for a baseball season for about $40 or so. It takes a year or more to replay a season. That breaks down to about a dime a day — something even I could afford. The game helped me get through that.

And then, today, after checking my bank account online yet again in a learned paranoia behavior to make sure the court didn't rescind and deplete my balance, I made a call. I dialed APBA's company and ordered player cards for the 2013-14 hockey season. It's an act that most people with expendable income take for granted. For me, it was totally liberating and a step into a new life that I thought I had lost five years ago.

Tuesday, June 10, 2014

Pinch Hitting For Love

Quick. What begins with infatuation, excitement of the newness, hope springs eternal and eventual love? What reaches the middle point of the season with comfortability and acceptance, but as it continues, begins to crumble under pressure and strife? And then, as the six-month point arrives, what fails to make the playoffs, so to speak, and eventually is put on waivers or traded?

If you said baseball, you're a fan.

If you said 99 percent of all romantic relationships, you're a realist.

Equating the love cycle to American's pastime makes it easier to understand the process, I've found. Why do you think guys back in high school always referred to their making out prowess to the accorded bases they reached? The popular guys, the sluggers, would come to school bragging about making it “to third base.” Me, on the other hand, seemed like every time I stepped to the plate with some potential girlfriend, I'd be pulled for a pinch hitter. Or, if I was actually afforded a chance to swing the bat, the manager would flash the sacrifice bunt sign my way. 

Yes, to continue the baseball as love metaphor, I've struck out a few times.

Relationships start with the same optimism that fans of really bad teams have. On the very first day of every season, Minnesota is always tied for first in the American League Central with their 0-0 record. But, like love, they play the game and soon they are mired in a losing season.

And breakups are akin to sending a player to the minors. I've been told I was too fat and too broke and had too sarcastic of an attitude before. I sure wasn't the five-tool player of love. That girl's scouting report must have had me at no hit, no field.

So, she dumped me for a boyfriend to be named later and I was optioned out. Sadly, no one wanted someone with abandonment issues and no money. I was placed on the 60-day Disabled List and then sent down for a rehab assignment with the minors.

But the game is grand. Each year, despite finishing poorly, Minnesota, and Cleveland, and Arizona and Florida and, yes, even Houston, all field teams again. And, we all try at relationships anew as well. There's always another season and there's always that chance. Why, Minnesota won two World Series, after all. Hope does spring eternal on occasion.

So, even if you are cut, traded for someone with more money or who is more fit or sent on that rehab assignment, keep trying. A decent relationship is elusive, but so are no-hitters and players who hit for the cycle. But it happens and it keeps us heading to the ball park on the chance that we may see something of the sort.

Play ball! And maybe some day the manager will let you swing away.

Tuesday, June 3, 2014

Update: May 18, 1950

The pace has slowed in the 1950 APBA baseball replay after two months of rolling and I'm finding myself in an odd situation: I'm tired at night. I never used to be, but now, after slogging home and eating whatever chow I can dig up, I zonk out, it seems.

I still won't go to bed until after 1 a.m. Old habits die hard. But I'm more of a zombie than I used to be in the wee hours. And that doesn't bode well for replaying the baseball game. Sure, I've done games before when tired; there have been those moments when I forgot how many outs there were in an inning, and I've failed to accurately count runs scored when sleep approaches, but I catch them quickly.

This time, I'm too tired at times to even start a game on occasion. Nap time tends to slow the replay down.

But, all that said, I've reached May 18, 1950, in the baseball season and I've picked up on a few facts. There's parity in the National League. The Boston Braves are leading the NL! In real life, Boston finished fourth. Pittsburgh is second; in the actual season, they finished dead last.

Part of the Braves' success can be attributed to catcher Walker Cooper who is batting .392 with six home runs and 27 RBIs. Yes, I am still keeping stats! Outfielder Roy Hartsfield, in limited action, is batting .454 with 4 home runs and Warren Spahn is 5-0 with 36 strikeouts.

After a slow start, Ralph Kiner is leading the Pirates with a .349 batting average, 7 home runs and 25 RBIs.

I'm a bit behind in updating my stats, so these are the latest available. Being tired at night doesn't just keep me from rolling the games. The stat loading is also on hold at times.

Here are the standings for the 1950 APBA replay season

Team          W  L   Pct           Team            W   L   Pct.
New York   21 8  .742           Boston          19 12   .613
Boston        22 11 .666           Pittsburgh     17 11  .607
Detroit        18  9  .667           Philadelphia 16 15  .516
Cleveland   18 12 .600           St. Louis       14 15  .483
Washington 14 16 .467          Brooklyn      14  16  .467
Chicago      11 19 .367           Cincinnati     13 15  .464
St. Louis      9  19 .321           Chicago        11 15   .423
Philadelphia 6 25 .194           New York     12 17   .414

Other outstanding NL players so far: Stan Musial is batting .406, Ted Kluszewski is batting .395 for Cincinnati and Duke Snider is playing far ahead of his real season for the Dodgers by batting .380. On the inverse, I'm disappointed with Jackie Robinson. He's batting .280, but only after a couple of decent games. He was hitting at about a .230 clip for a while.

In the American League, Dom DiMaggio is pacing Boston with a .419 average and Vern Stephens has knocked in 30 runs for the Red Sox. George Kell has an average of .340 for Detroit and Joe DiMaggio is living up to expectations with a .413 batting average with 9 home runs and 25 RBIs.

Again, it's still early in the season and a couple of good games, or bad games, will drastically change batting averages.

I'll update the averages soon — I'm about 40 games behind — as soon as I can stay awake.