Saturday, August 30, 2014

What a Buzz

The first mosquito dive bombed me the other day while I was replaying the June 7, 1950, baseball game between Brooklyn and Chicago with my APBA game. Initially, the incessant buzzing could have provided a backdrop to the game -- the buzz of the crowd or the vuvuzelas at some sporting contest.

But this was Wrigley Field in 1950 and I'm pretty sure the bleacher bums would have whacked anyone who brought the annoying noise maker to a game.

I continued on with the game, swatting at the pesky insect as it tried to make my arm his dinner.

Soon, another showed up. I had gone outside to toss trash that evening and thought I must have brought a few in with me. I live in Northeast Arkansas. This area is a red light district for amorous mosquitoes; seeing a score of them near doorways is not uncommon. I've seen many hanging around outside, reading newspapers and smoking. When I go outside, I hear them. “Hey, Buzz,” one would say. “We got one comin',” And then they'd swoop.

When I went to bed, several more began buzzing me. I smacked a few, but gave up, ducking under the covers and hoping they'd move along during the night.

They didn't.

When I woke the following morning, there were more perched on the wall. Others were doing holdover patterns above my head, flying reconnaissance missions to see when I would be available to dine upon. Something was wrong.

I soon discovered the problem. I had left the door leading from the kitchen to the garage open all night. The good news was my cat didn't get out. The bad news was 42 billion mosquitoes got in.

The bugs formed a giant arrow, like in the cartoons, and aimed for me. The war began.

I spent the next three days battling them. I charged around the house, clapping at the insects in a frenzied manner, like some addled madman who couldn't keep the proper beat to a Brittney Spears ditty. I didn't have any bug spray so I used Lysol cleaning fluid to knock them down. I employed my vacuum cleaner in an attempt to suck them out of the air. I found an old fly swatter and smacked them, leaving smears of warfare on the walls and ceiling.

It became an obsession. They regrouped after battles in the evening, buzzing me again. APBA games were cancelled because of the infestation.

It was the Civil War, but rather than the smoke of infantry cannon fire, the fog of Deep Woods Off wafted across the battlefield. The Battle of 'Skeeter Ridge was a particularly bloody warfare. I had left a light on in the small bathroom in hope of drawing them in. It worked. For 30 minutes, we fought in the confines of the bathroom. I flailed with the flyswatter and a wadded towel, they continued to bomb me, seeking that last meal before being squished. The Battle of Shower Curtain Run was very horrific.

At about 3 a.m. that night I saw in the bathtub three mosquitoes emerge from the bug spray fog. I think they were playing the drum and fife. The fight hadn't left them. Even as I annihilated them, others continued to swarm, biting, feeding. We were battle-worn. They lay injured, twitching, their tiny proboscises sticking from mangled heaps. I itched as red welts popped up on my arms.

I also worried some. I've written several stories in the past at the newspaper where I work about mosquito-borne diseases. West Nile, malaria and chikungunya — a particularly lovely ailment that creates fever, joint pain, muscle aches and sudden love for the North American Soccer League (the horror, the horror!) I didn't want to become afflicted with any viral infections.

By the third day of battle, the mosquitoes' numbers were dwindling. They had heavy casualties in their ranks. There may have been some army deserters, too. The guy next door to me was barbecuing in his back yard that evening and some of the pesky soldiers may have marched on over to his place.

I pulled back the shower curtain in the bathroom and saw two lone mosquitoes left. As I went in to squish one, the other took off and soon I heard the annoying whine as he (or maybe it was a she; aren't female mosquitoes more of the biting kind?) bore down on me. Smack. One down. Swat. Another gone.

It was over by the third evening. I persevered, waving my fly swatter like confederate Gen. John Sappington Marmaduke brandishing his saber. (I had to look that name up. I was educated in the north where our brief Civil War lessons consisted of “Yeah, we won. Moving along...”) The mosquitos were dead and my life returned to prewar status, albeit, a bit more scratchy. The APBA games resumed with nary a noise.

It's all quiet on the western front of my home; I check the door all the time now to make sure it's closed. Despite the victory, I don't want to have any more of my replay games cancelled. I always hated that vuvuzela noise anyway.

Saturday, August 23, 2014

A Walk in the Park, a Year Later

Like most things, this began with a single step. Albeit, it was a hesitant step and a step in a direction I was not sure where it would lead back then.

But now, a year later and 300 miles later, the steps come easier.

It was a little over a year ago I began walking around a park in the town I live with a friend. I wanted to try to get somewhat healthy and lose weight. Too much potato chip chomping and sedimentary life left me, shall we say, “blobby.” The most exercise I was getting was typing news stories at work and rollin' the dice in whatever APBA baseball replay I was engaged with.

So, when a girl who works in the same building as I told me she wanted to walk but was leery of strolling in the park alone, I offered my services. I'm sure she was surprised; I'm sure she thought my idea of exercise was waddling back to the refrigerator for another Pepsi.

But on Aug. 17, 2013, I took that first step. And after about 100 steps I really wondered what I was getting into. The trek was flat, but I felt I had scaled the side of a mountain. I was wheezing, gasping and sweating. I still had three-quarters of the trail left to walk. I forged on, though, and tried not to die.

We made it and returned the following week and looped the trail again.

It became a weekly thing and we logged the miles we hiked. We usually made 5 to 6 miles each time. Sometimes we walked twice in a week, and during the Thanksgiving weekend, we made 22 miles in four days.

As we continued walking in the park, the struggle to take steps lessened and the miles became easier. Walking became easier and was, well, a walk in the park, I guess.

I hit 300 miles earlier this week when I walked a trail by myself. It was the first time I hiked it alone and I spent the two hours thinking of the trees, flora and nature I saw; failed relationships; and the path I had taken in my life. It was a combination of David Thoreau and Cheryl Strayed that day. Well, throw in Curly Stooge to that mix of deep thinkers — I failed to bring water and only had a Diet Pepsi to quench my thirst on a hot, humid Arkansas day.

The best thing: I began losing weight. Lots. This sounds insane and like I made this up, but in the year I've walked, I've lost 100 pounds. I still have another 40 to lose to be where I need to be, but it is a huge accomplishment to me. It's also an indication of just how dang big I was. To lose 100 pounds and still be what doctors refer to as obese fattassicus kind of gives one the impression that I was a tad big. Big as planetary big, big as in my girth needed at least two ZIP codes, big as in blocking the sun and scaring children and dogs.

I also gained a good friend. Walk 300 miles with someone and you get to know that person well. We talked about work, life, sports, writing ideas and whatever else fell out of my brain. She showed great patience, too, with my ramblings and observations — enough patience to make me wonder if the friendship could advance to something more. But, it didn't. Like I said, walk 300 miles with me and you get to know me well.

We're going walking again tomorrow and I'll log the miles when we're finished. I'm stunned I kept at it for a year, but the weight loss has been a big motivator. And the knowledge that a year ago, as I wrote in a previous piece here, getting out of the car winded me. Now, it's just a walk in the park.

Monday, August 11, 2014

20 Years Ago — When Baseball Changed

Twenty years ago today the game ended and I was able to say “I told you so,” to two of my friends.

The 1994 baseball season abruptly stopped on August 12 that year and didn't resume until the following spring, some 232 days later. It was the worst baseball strike; the World Series was cancelled for the first time in 90 years — the contest wasn't played in 1904 because New York Giants' owner John Brush felt his American League opponent, the Boston Red Sox, were “inferior.”

Two weeks earlier, on July 31, 1994, I called it as I and two friends drove around Busch Stadium in an endless loop while the Cardinals played Chicago inside. I begged my pals to go to the game, saying it would be the last chance that year we would have to see them. The Cards were scheduled to hit the road after playing the Cubs, heading to Montreal, Pittsburgh and then Florida. I knew it would be over soon.

They made it to Miami when the game ended.

My friends and I drove up to St. Louis for the day. We stopped at the train station just to the west of the stadium and saw the crowd decked in their Cardinals' wear preparing to head to the last game of the team's home stand.

I asked my friends if we could go, too. We weren't in my car, even though I drove. (One of the Guys Rules is that you do what the owner of the car wants, regardless who is behind the wheel.) They both wouldn't go and they placated me, saying I could go some other time that year. That's when I told them there would be no “other time.” It was either that day, or forget it. The baseball season would soon end. I may have even forecast the cancellation of the World Series.

But they still held back. I went for a more direct approach, asking them if they maybe had a quilting bee they needed to attend then, or some cooking show they wanted to watch. I said they could drop me off and then pick me up a few hours later after they stopped at their favorite dress stores. I asked the guys if their husbands knew they were out.. that sort of thing. You know. Hit 'em where it hurts.

Still, no game.

So, I drove around the stadium several times, peering inside in hopes of catching even a slight glimpse of baseball. Eventually, we left downtown, went to some inane mall and headed home, defeated, dejected and depressed.

And baseball changed. When the players returned in April 1995, attendance dropped by 20 percent, according to U.S Bureau of Statistics. Regardless of who was wrong in causing the strike, fans stayed away. It took the 1998 baseball home race between Sammy Sosa and Mark McGwire to bring them back. And then we learned those home runs were aided by steroids and, perhaps, baseball commissioner Bud Selig may have turned a blind eye toward PED usage in an effort to garner more fan support.

I, like a lot of people 20 years ago today, lost a part of the love of baseball I had since I was a kid. As we get older, we lose trust in lots of things, but we shouldn't lose it in the sport that is supposed to keep us young. I still embrace the history of baseball and that's where our APBA games come in. We can replay seasons of ago that still maintain that trust and, if we want, we can replay the 1994 season and ignore the strike and keep it going like it should have done.

Rolling the dice in our APBA game — sure beats driving around a stadium all day.

Monday, August 4, 2014

Update, June 1, 1950

After some delays and distractions, I've returned full steam to the 1950 APBA baseball replay I'm doing and it's well worth it. And, although I'm only about 25 percent finished with this replay, this season is shaping up as one of the best and closest replays I've ever done.

I slowed down a bit when life butted in. I helped a friend move over a period of a few weeks, I dealt with some weird medical deal that left me tired and I bought the APBA hockey season which pulled me away from the baseball game a bit. But, I chugged on, rolling a few of the hardball games just to keep the replay active.

And now I've reached June 1, 1950, in the replay and the personalities that we see in every replay we do are taking shape in this one.

In the National League, St. Louis has won six of seven and is now tied for first place with Pittsburgh. The Boston Braves are 1.5 games behind and New York, which has its own hot streak of winning nine of its last 10, is 2 games out of first place.

The Phillies, which won the National League in the real season, are mired in sixth place in my replay and are one of the more frustrating teams to play with. Eddie Waitkus leads Philadelphia with a batting average of .333 (I've not updated my stats in a bit, so the numbers aren't current). Maybe Waitkus is still reeling from being shot a year earlier by an obsessed fan at the Edgewater Beach Hotel in Chicago. He did receive the Associated Press' “Comeback Player of the Year” after the 1950 season, however, and there's still 75 percent of the season left for him to help kick the Phillies into gear.

Brooklyn is also a frustrating team to play. The Dodgers hit plenty of home runs. They've clouted 56 in 42 games, and Don Newcombe is the best pitcher in the majors with an 8-0 record as of June 1. But the rest of the team is dismal. Jackie Robinson is batting an anemic .289 and Gil Hodges has an average of .234.

In the American League, three teams are vying for the lead. Detroit, led by George Kell's 14 doubles and Art Houtteman's 8-1 record, are in first place by 1.5 games over the Yankees and 2.5 over the Red Sox.

Just as I deemed the Philadelphia A's American League team as the worst one I've ever replayed, they reel off six wins in a row, including a three-game sweep of the Yankees.

So, it's good to get back into the swing. The hockey replay I began can wait a bit. Baseball takes precedence again. And, as is the mantra all of us APBA replayers say, “There's never enough time to do it all.” We have to make time and the 1950 season is priority for now.

Here's the standings:


Detroit        29   11   -
New York   28   13   1.5
Boston        29   16   2.5
Cleveland   22   20   8
Washington 18  24  12
St. Louis     16   26  14
Chicago      14   29  16.5
Philadelphia 13 30  17.5


Pittsburgh     24   18    -
St. Louis       24   18   -
Boston          23   20  1.5
New York     22   20   2
Brooklyn       20  22  4
Chicago        18   21  4.5
Philadelphia 19   25   6
Cincinnati    17    23  6

Games on tap include a three-game series between Detroit and Philadelphia. Can the Tigers cool off the hot As? Boston travels to Pittsburgh for three games to begin the month of June in a clash of two over-achievers and Brooklyn heads to old rival St. Louis for three games as well.

It's a good replay, and well worth making time to keep on rolling the games.