Tuesday, January 27, 2015

The APBA Bond

We come from different cultures and upbringings, different careers and educations, those of us who play the APBA replay games.

We live across the country, alone or with families. We earn varying wages, root for different teams, have opposing political beliefs. We even alter in how we play the APBA game — basic version or a more complex master game for those who use the dice and cards to replay baseball (and other sports) seasons, or computer programs.

Yet there is one thing that bonds this eclectic group together and it's something that became very evident to me in the past few weeks of a trying time.

Each one who plays the game, who meticulously records contests either in tournaments or replays of complete past seasons, has heart. It's the common ground, and, as corny as it sounds, no matter who the APBA player is, those hearts beat in unison when it comes to kindness.

I noticed this a few weeks ago when I received an email from the APBA game company. David Yamada, an APBA player from Jamaica Plain, Mass., sent me an electronic gift certificate for a set of cards. I met David through the APBA Facebook page and we later connected as Facebook friends of our own. David is the director of the New Workplace Institute at Suffolk University Law School in Boston. He may be the most intelligent Facebook friend I have. (Sorry to all my other friends who send me funny fart jokes and whacky animal videos). He's a professor, I'm a reporter. Remember what I said about varying careers and education?

He sent it because of the common bond we have for the game. I used it to buy the 1961 baseball season — something I've wanted to get for years.

Then, two weekends ago, David Moss, the owner and optometrist at Eyecare Center of Memphis, messaged me and said he had an extra ticket to a Memphis Grizzlies basketball game if I wanted to go.

I had never met a fellow APBA player before. I live only an hour from Memphis, so I headed to the game. I met David for the first time in the Club 3 section, row E, of the FedEx Forum. And, as the Grizzlies built a double-digit lead over the Portland Trail Blazers that night, we talked APBA. I'm replaying the 1950 season now; David played it before. While Marc Gasol hit hook shots and Zac Randolph grabbed rebounds, we compared notes of that season six decades ago.

At one point, I mentioned that I had played a Yankees game earlier that day and Joe DiMaggio had hit two home runs in the contest. “Single or double-column card?” he asked, referring to the game card Joltin' Joe had for that season.

Others around us may have listened in, but they had no idea what we were talking about. We talked about our APBA history and gaming obsessions. For me, despite only having met David for a few minutes, I felt like I knew him for years. I had found a new friend.

Then, last week, I posted a note about my beloved APBA cat May. I had the cat for nearly 8 years, but she began suffering seizures and things were pretty bleak for a few weeks. I suffered with her; it was constant on my mind. I couldn't help May and it kept bringing me back to when my wife was in kidney failure some 10 years ago. I was helpless and frightened I'd lose yet another family member.

 On Saturday, after May was wracked with multiple, violent seizures I took her to the veterinarian where they had to put her to sleep. It was heart-breaking; I wept in the clinic, dealing with death again. I posted a note on the ABPA Facebook page about my loss later that night. It was probably somewhat narcissistic in doing so, but these were the friends I turned to.

(A friend invited me to his home Saturday night for dinner with his girlfriend and said they had a movie to watch that would help me through this. It was a Nicholas Sparks film. A freakin' Nicholas Sparks film! Why not just put on Ol' Yeller for someone who was grieving the loss of a pet?)

Within minutes of my post, the APBA community responded. Several gave condolences. They offered prayers. And they were not patronizing; they were serious.

And then a funny, touching thing happened. Some began posting pictures of their own APBA cats. Pictures of the cats on the APBA playing field, laying among the game cards and in boxes.

They understood. The bond.

A few weeks ago, one of the APBA guys posted a notice that his mother had passed away. Again, within in minutes, heartfelt comments poured in. We didn't know the guy personally, but we each felt his sorrow and pain.

We come from all over and from different demographics that have made us individuals. Those outside the APBA community may see us as “geeks” playing a kid's game with dice and cards. But these past few weeks, I found a strong likeness among all of us. A bond, I feel, that's stronger than many I have with people I've known for years.

Wednesday, January 14, 2015

Game No. 725. Why We Play Each and Every Game

It was just one game. An unimportant contest late in the season between two American League cellar-dwellers in my 1950 APBA baseball replay. But it turned out to be a compelling game and it's an example of why us replayers do each and every single game in a season.

It was Game No. 725 for me. The Chicago White Sox visited the Philadelphia As on July 21, 1950, for a game that had little draw. In the real contest that was played that year, 1,512 showed up at Shibe Park. I can understand why.

As my replay has progressed into the early dog days of the 1950 summer, I've seen a few things. The St. Louis Browns are lucky, having compiled a better record than they should; the Philadelphia Phillies are a very frustrating team to play with; the Cardinals are over achievers; and the American League Philadelphia team is pretty awful. They find creative ways to lose quite often.

Chicago came into the game with a less then stellar 35-56 record. They went 1-9 since the All-Star break, winning only once at Washington. The As were nearly as bad, going 2-7 since the break and losing once to Cleveland, 23-0, a week earlier.

So the table was set. This was bound to be a humdrum game, one to knock down quickly so I could get to the next game. Game 726 featured the Boston Braves, a team that has played well so far. And Game 728 was a clash between the AL-leading New York Yankees and the Detroit Tigers, who were 5.5 games behind.

Joe Coleman, a D-rated pitcher started for the As, and Ken Holcombe, another pitcher with a “D,” took the mound for the White Sox. Already, the game looked bleak with those two starters.

Chicago scored one run in the first and then blasted seven runs across in the second inning, including six after a double play. Coleman threw four walks in a row at one point. So, the White Sox led 8-0 going into the bottom of the second.

Philadelphia responded with four runs of its own, mainly on a three-run homer by pitcher Coleman. I guess he thought he'd have to help himself out, what with the poor play of his As.

Philly scored three more in the fifth and took the lead in the sixth on a home run by pinch hitter Robert Wellman. But, because it was Philadelphia, the As gave up three runs in the top of the eighth on four singles and a walk, and trailed 11-9.

Then, in the bottom of the eighth, Elmer Valo, a meek 5-10 outfielder from Ribnik, Czechoslovakia, smashed one over the Shibe Park wall and the As took the lead yet again. All Bob Hooper, a C-rated reliever, had to do was get three outs for the victory.

Didn't happen. Second baseman Billy Hitchcock threw wild and White Sox catcher Philip Masi scored, tying the game at 12. Luis Aloma shut down the As in the bottom of the ninth and the game headed to extra innings.

Again, a reminder: This game had little meaning in the standings. If NBC was doing the Game of the Week back then, this would be on the bottom of their schedule. But it was entertaining.

After Carl Sheib shut down the White Sox in the 10th, Ferris “Burr” Fain led with a double for the As off of Chicago pitcher Randy Gumpert. Sam Chapman then squeezed a single past Sox second baseman Nellie Fox and Fain sped home, giving the As the win.

Philadelphia “improved” to 32-60, still in last place three games behind the 35-57 White Sox. 

It had the making of a simple game, one to be generally overlooked as I am heading into the pennant drive and watching for the headliner teams like the Yankees, the Cardinals and the Brooklyn Dodgers.

Instead, this game, No. 725, turned out to be a fun and entertaining tilt. Two teams mired in last place with virtually no chance of evening making it to the upper tier of the standings played a great game. It featured four lead changes, extra innings, home runs by a little-used pinch hitter and a pitcher and 30 hits in all.

It's why we play each and every game of our replays.

Wednesday, January 7, 2015

I Need Space ... Heaters

I'm realizing something now that I'm getting older.

No, not that I spend a lot of time yelling at kids to get off my yard, or I'm closely reading obituaries in the local paper, or finding that the things my parents said to me way back when they were my age now actually made sense.

I am realizing that I'm cold a lot.

And that's a wimpy thing for a former Minnesotan who currently lives in Arkansas to say.

But this year, I've noticed the chill more and I've taken steps to deal with it.

I now have a space heater in the room where I write things and play the APBA baseball replay. I keep it on the lower setting so it won't ever shut off, and I place it right next to me. I may catch on fire, but at least I won't be a-shiverin'.

This week, our temperatures in the balmy south will drop into the single digits and when factoring in the wind chill — the mathematical formula that allows people to complain even more about the frigid temps by considering the wind speeds and what would happen if you stood outside buck-ass naked — it'll dip below zero.

Crank up that space heater!

I've also got one at work. I am a bureau reporter for a newspaper and have a small office downtown near the courthouse. The windows in the archaic building where I'm in face north and west — the directions where the colder winds come from. So, I'm chilly there as well.

I used to handle the cold well. I never wear long-sleeved shirts and I sport a thinner jacket during the winters. The locals claim cold here is worse than, say, the North Dakota plains during an Arctic blast because it's a “wetter cold.” Yeah, and those people who freeze to death while walking to their mailbox in Fargo are apparently blocks of “dry” ice, I suppose.

When I was a kid in Bemidji, Minn., we'd go outside and play when it was 20 below. That's 20 marks below the zero and it doesn't include any wind chill. I remember walking to school on days when the chill factor dipped to 50 or 60 below, so this near zero stuff ain't much in comparison.

But, I'm still cold. I just turned on the space heater and dragged it over while I typed this because thinking of the cold makes me cold.

Maybe it is because I'm older. Something about slower circulation? Less tolerance? More opportunity to gripe? A good friend of mine gave me a fleece blanket to wrap up in while watching television for Christmas this year. Years ago I would have scoffed at such a gift. This year, I greatly appreciate it. I won't resort to that weird Snuggy thing, the cross between a marketing guru's joke and a cult leader's robe, because I'll never get that cold. But I do wrap in the blanket when watching ESPN. If I start knitting or constantly thinking that things were so much better in the days of yore while enwrapped in that thing, I may be in trouble.

I could blame this on my weight loss, too. This past year, I've lost 100 or so pounds. Strip off that much insulation on a house and the rooms get cold, I say.

Whatever the reason is, I've given the cold shoulder to the impending cool in the air as I reach for that on switch for the space heater. Low setting, of course, so it won't ever go off.