Sunday, August 30, 2015

1991 Replay Begins; Leaving Lubbock Memories

Like every good story, this one involves a girl. And a dust storm, a failed attempt at earning a PhD, a sports bar, a trailer hitch, heartbreak, Texas-style flatulence and a return trip home.

But, there was also sports and, as any sports obsessed fan will say, there is always sports. In the unsteady horizontal projection of life, sports is on the stable conveyor belt that accompanies our path and weaves into our own lives.

So, as I begin replaying the 1991 APBA baseball season, I think back on that year now. It's what we do. When APBA baseball game replayers chose seasons to replay, we often give weight to those we grew up with or that we had some important connection with. Sure, the game company offers every season ever played, and the lure of rolling games with the 1927 New York Yankees or the 1906 Chicago Cubs — two seasons that, despite my shock o' grey hair, that I was not alive for — are intriguing.

For the past two years and four months, I replayed the 1942 and 1950 baseball seasons and while they were they were fun and historically educational, there wasn't that personal context. Now there is.

In 1991, I was teaching English at a university in my town and entertained the idea of advancing that vocation by earning a PhD. A girl I was seeing at the time had just been accepted to a masters program at Texas Tech University in Lubbock. Because I am a romantic idiot, I applied there and was promptly denied because, well, anyone who has read my stuff here for a while can get the idea. An English PhD involves Shakespeare, critical analysis of classics and couth. I write about sports, stinky worms and farts.

When I was rejected, the girl seemed saddened. I thought maybe, just maybe, it could be the fact she thought of missing me. Later, I learned she feared missing the Draw-Tite receiver trailer hitch with full lighting package that I installed on the back of my vehicle to haul her stuff westward.

I wrote a pleading letter to the folks at the university and actually bluffed my way into the PhD program. They gave me tuition, room and board in a dorm and a teaching position. I was soon to be a Texan.

When I arrived in Lubbock, I was promptly greeted with a sand storm of epic proportions. It was one of those events where three days later you were still emptying sand from your shoes and spittin' grit. I sought refuge in a mall bathroom during the crux of the storm and a cowboy father-son combo suddenly jingle-jangled in, taking two stalls. One — I'm not sure which — made a noise akin to a Browning 686 over and under shotgun on the west Texas prairie. The other responded with the sound of a brahma bull's last words before castration.

Of course, I laughed. (Admit it, you would, too). Tex, or maybe it was Tex Jr., asked from behind the stall what was the source of my amusement. “Dang,” I said. “They're right. Everything is big in Texas!”

Despite my intro to Texas culture, I began teaching English I and II while taking courses of my own there. I'm not making this up, but I worked on a research project that involved the beginning of internet messaging and the use of grammar. (You can thank me the next time you chat a friend and ask “Wht r u doin, dawg.") I lived in a dorm with a roommate 10 years younger. I graded students' essays, panicked on my own assignments and tried to become accustomed to the routine.

Meanwhile, the girl had developed her own new routine involving another student. She basically told me to take a hike; she was infatuated with the guy. The guy, who was in her class, was the son of a rich cattle farmer. I couldn't compete with that. He also wore shorts, sandals and black socks a lot. I thought I had him beat there, but such is the folly of love.

So, in that lost, heartbreak way, I started heading off campus a lot to drown my sorrows. I found a golf course bar where I ended up, watching sports on the television, and downing heavy-vermouthed martinis with Hispanics.

But as all of this hit the fan, baseball kept going on. And the Minnesota Twins, my favorite team, were winning a lot. They were in first place that fall and, despite the troubles I endured, I was aware of it. I would catch games on television at times or read about it in the local paper. When the girl's parents came to the airport, I went to pick them up and I fed quarters in the coin-operated televisions there to watch games while waiting for their plane to arrive.

And I saw most of the American League playoffs at that sports bar as the Twins dispatched Toronto in five games.

Finally, I had enough and quit school in October and, on a travel day between Games 2 and 3 in the World Series, I hit the road and fled back to my mother's home in Arkansas to regroup.

The Twins won the Series and it eased the transition a lot. Sports came through yet again. I watched Kirby Puckett hit the Game 6 homer in the 11th inning that is the Twins' greatest moment in team history. And I stayed at my mom's for Game 7 to see Jack Morris go 10 innings to beat Atlanta. I left the next morning for my new journalism job.

A few months later, the girl got married to the guy, but it didn't last. I mean, who couldn't see that coming? The guy was wearing shorts, sandals and black socks. That's grounds for annulment in 16 states.

At the time, it was hurtful, but baseball and the Twins were there ... as sports teams always are for their fans. Now, looking back and beginning this 1991 season, I see that Texas adventure more as annoyance and silliness. It gives me more sources for writing about stuff. So I will enjoy replaying this and really seeing how the Twins' season developed more closely.

And hopefully, I won't be interrupted by any dust storms or Texas-sized farts.

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