Thursday, November 27, 2014

APBA Thanksgiving

For the past eight Thanksgivings since my wife passed away, I've celebrated the holiday in eight different places.

The first year was spent with my in-laws. A year later, I ate at a Burger King in West Memphis, Ark. I was adopted by a few friends in the ensuing years and I even cooked a turkey once for my cat and me. Once, mind you. I worked one holiday at the newspaper where I write and last year I walked 11 miles around a city park after eating lunch with a friend.

Being an orphan has its drawbacks come holiday time. I feel I burden other families who take me in, much as an adoptive family may take in a stray dog on a trial basis.

But, as the season suggests, I am thankful for all the generosity shown over the years and the fact that others want to share their lives with me during a time most families gather.

I am thankful that despite the differences each year I've gone through, it seems at the end of every Thanksgiving Day, while stuffed with food from wherever I managed to find a meal, I play the APBA game that I write about here all the time.

It's become the theme of Love, Life and APBA, but the game is the one constant in the changing life I have.

And for that I am thankful as well.

So, I thought I'd list my Thanksgiving thanks for things of the game we all play.

Obviously, I am thankful that Richard Seitz invented the APBA baseball board game in 1951 so that now, 63 years later, I toss a few games and escape into the 1950 replay I've been working on since March. He invented the game that uses player cards and dice when he was a youngster in Lancaster, Pa., and took it with him when he went to war in the 1940s. Thanks to the 1950 Philadelphia Phillies “Whiz Kids” run to the World Series, interest in baseball in the Lancaster area skyrocketed and Seitz decided to share his game. The APBA company has thrived since.

I am thankful that the game has the staying power to keep me playing since 1977 when I first rolled the football replay game and then turned to the basketball game. Most APBA fans hated the basketball game. I loved it. I know, I am weird. The game has to have some magical hold in order to maintain my interest over all these years. I have changed and my circumstances have changed in the past 38 years. The game has stayed the same.

I am thankful for the APBA community that has been created. There's a Facebook page for the baseball game where nearly 1,400 people have joined. It's a great place to share ideas, information about games and replays and other things. It's like a social gathering or bar where the like-minded hang out. I've only talked to two APBA players on the phone in my life and I've never met another player in person, but I know I am not alone in my obsession of the game when I visit the Facebook page.

I am thankful for the mathematical upbringing I had with my parents. While I don't do APBA game statistics like I should, I can figure averages and ERAs quickly because my mother was a math teacher and my dad was just really smart. Genetics, I hope, are passed on. It is from them, I believe, I can set up a replay quickly with schedules, team pages, pitching rotations and quicky stats for home runs and pitching records.

I am thankful for the “7” on some players' baseball cards when their team is tied in the eighth or ninth inning and they are facing an A relief pitcher. That “7” has driven in a few runs and avoided an extra inning game, and when you play 1,230 games to do a complete season, there are times when playing — say a meaningless Washington Senators vs. St. Louis Browns game late in the year — extra innings are more of a bane.

I am thankful for the childhood glee we all get when we buy a new set of cards and then we wait for them to arrive in the mail. Seeing the box by my garage door when I come home from a stressful day at the newspaper makes things better. I am an adult (some would differ) for the most part, but I become a kid when I open the box and delve into the cards.

Finally, I am thankful for the spirit of the game. It's more than just rolling dice and looking at numbers. The game lives and it keeps an innocence. Fans often replay seasons of ago that were their favorite ones, recalling memories, perhaps, of better times. It's also a diversion to real life when we really need one.

Tonight, while the country digests its turkey and stuffing and most are watching football or the onslaught of Christmas commercials that will plague television, I'll be back rolling a few APBA games. Despite all the different places I've been to during the day since my wife's passing, I know I'll return to familiar territory by day's end.

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Cuckoo For Kokos

He had a lifetime batting average of .263 and his team never finished above sixth place during the five years he played, but Richard Kokos, an obscure outfielder for the 1950 St. Louis Browns, is making an impact on the APBA replay I'm currently engaged with.

That's one of the benefits of our game. We learn of players who may otherwise be hidden in the history of baseball. There have been more than 18,000 players who took the field in major league baseball games and Kokos didn't stand out in the real game. But I've noticed him in this 1950 season replay.

I've found with the APBA game, players sometimes play far above their potential; I've written about overachievers here before. And, the replayers have also seen players expected to do well fall short. Mickey Mantle played pretty poorly in my 1957 replay for example. That's part of the draw of the APBA game. It's based upon statistics. Each player receives a card that is based upon his real statistics of that particular season. We roll the dice, match up results with results on the card to determine the outcome of a play. Usually, players play rather closely to what is expected, but there are variations. And those variations are what lead us to play the game.

Kokos, in my 1950 replay, has suddenly become hot, drawing my attention to an otherwise lackadaisical, boring team in St. Louis. He's drove in runs in eight consecutive games before going 0 for 2 against Cleveland the other night.

In real life, he drove in 67 runs in 1950. After 71 games, he's driven in 57 runs in my replay and is well on his way for at least 100 RBIs. Kokos is also batting .293 in my game so far with eight home runs. In the real 1950 season, he batted .261 with 18 homers.

I decided to seek information on Kokos. Born as Richard Kokoszka, he was began his professional career with the Cleveland organization in 1945, although he never played for the Indians. He was traded to the St. Louis Browns on Nov. 20, 1947, and on July 8, 1948, he played in his first major league game in Detroit. He went one for four and recorded five putouts and an assist in a 12-2 loss to the Tigers that day.

Like other players of his time, he was called to war and was drafted in 1950.

Kokos returned to the field in 1953 for St. Louis and made the trip when the Browns moved to Baltimore and became the Orioles a year later. He only played in 11 games in 1954 before he was traded to the New York Yankees. His last game in the big leagues was on May 10, 1954, when he pinch hit for Don Larsen against the Philadelphia As.

Fittingly, to represent his less-than-stellar career, Kokos walked in that last at bat. Only 8,455 saw him play that day, according to a box score on He never played with the Yankees.

So, Kokos only played four seasons and part of a fifth; the war robbed him of a few years like so many other players of that era. He played in a total of 475 games.

Not a career worth noting, really, I guess. But, he did make it to the big leagues and that is an accomplishment most of us cannot say we've done. I made friends years ago with Bill Bethea, the former coach of the Arkansas State University baseball team and a former professional player. His wife and my wife were church buddies and that's where we met. While neither Bethea nor I were well versed in Biblical history, we did know the blessing of having a good shortstop to complete a double play, and we crafted our friendship on baseball.

He played with the Minnesota Twins in 1964, debuting in Boston on Sept. 13, 1964, and starting in 10 games that season. He was sent down at the end of the year and ended up with the Yankees organization a year later.

Bethea downplayed his professional career, but I took out the sixth edition of the Major League Baseball Encyclopedia, opened it and first showed him Henry Aaron's listing. Then, on page 703, between Frank Betcher, a St. Louis Cardinals player from 1910, and Larry Bettencourt, a Browns outfielder and third baseman, was Bethea's name.”You're in it,” I told Bethea. “Not many can say that.”

Kokos is also in the registry. He took the field in 1948 and now, 64 years later, I'm replaying his season with the 1950 replay. And I'm taking notice of him.

Kokos died in Chicago in 1986. He lives on, like all the other players we roll the dice for, in our replays and tournaments and APBA games we play.

Monday, November 10, 2014

Another Reason Why We Play

Reason number 9,201,496 why we play APBA sports replay games:

Some may think rolling dice, checking numbers on players' cards, writing down the results and recreating games from the past is silly, child's play and a waste of time.

But, aside from the fact that those of who play the game enjoy sports and love recreating games played by the heroes of our youth and of historical seasons of long ago, the game also provides some soothing, familiar ground in an otherwise whacked world. Maybe it's the control of a replay world that brings things together and provides the proverbial oasis in a sea of troubling life.

That became pretty evident the other day when, within an hour, I felt things spinning out of hand and needed the safety net the game provides.

I work as a newspaper reporter, meeting daily deadlines, so the day was already tight and by evening I had achieved my normal stress-headache when two telephone calls sent me over. First, I called the Internal Revenue Service about a $23 mistake I made on my taxes in 2008. The fine folks there didn't want to bother me with the small amount back then, so they waited until they could accrue interest. I received notice that they would charge $147 in interest for the six years they held onto the error.

So, I called them to discuss where I would sent the payment. “Oh,” the agent said. “I thought you were calling about 2009. That's a bigger issue.”

When an IRS representative agent says something like that, it's time to stockpile the food, barricade yourself in a bunker and work up some hope.

Seems like I made a mistake in 2009 as well. I failed to properly include mortgage interest on my returns. Hey, I'm a newspaper writer, not a math whiz. The frustration built when I tried to find my income statements for that year on the IRS' website. When the website failed, I called the number provided on that site for help. The first advice provided on the automated phone service? “Check the website.” Thanks, IRS.

Then, I called my doctor's office to refill a prescription for my pain medication. I have a deteriorated C-5 disc in my neck that wreaks havoc. I can only take one prescription; other medications either don't work, make me sick or make me groggy. I can't be medically altered, what with this job and having to figure out math and spar with an IRS agent.

The nurse told me my doctor would no longer prescribe me Vicodin, fearing addiction would occur, and instead said I had to go to a pain specialist. (I didn't help my cause when I made the inane statement to the nurse, “I've been on Vicodin for 15 years. I'm not addicted.” The nurse actually laughed.) We've had changes in our company's insurance and the deductible has risen greatly. I don't want to pay 100 percent of a $700 fee for a pain specialist to wiggle my head and suggest not turning my neck much. I just want the medication so I can continue on.

The nurse refused. It's policy, she said. I don't know how this will play out.

Within that hour, I felt the day slide down the pipe. I was frustrated, angry and hurting.

But when I got home, I sat at my APBA table and rolled a few games of the 1950 baseball season I'm playing. The issues of the day faded as New York Giants' pitcher Sal Maglie shut out Brooklyn for six innings before the Dodgers scored three runs in the seventh — one on Jackie Robinson's stealing of home that was pretty cool. But then in the ninth inning, Bobby Thomson hit a double and started a rally, leading the Giants to a 5-3 victory. Joe DiMaggio hit yet another home run to lead his Yankees over the Washington Senators, 14-2, and the hapless Philadelphia Phillies finally (phinally?) put a solid game together and beat the Boston Braves.

Chid's play? Maybe. But as I rolled these games, the IRS agent and the stubborn nurse were far away, and for a time the only concern I had was watching how these games turned out. The problems will exist; there will always be something out there to create angst and Fear. The game, though, takes a bit of the edge off of it.

I'll do the math for my 2009 taxes and I'll probably end up at a pain specialist and beg for Vicodin. But first, I need to roll a few more APBA games. On days like those, even pointless clashes like the St. Louis Browns hosting the Philadelphia As take on meaning.