Wednesday, December 30, 2015

2015: Year of the Heart

In less than 18 hours, I'll be in St. Louis at the train station across from the Scottrade Center picking up my Illinois girl and bringing her back here for a week. I've been doing the countdown for seeing her for the past few days, constantly checking the clock and acting like an over-anxious kid before Christmas.

The countdown shifted suddenly today when we learned the train would not make it all the way into Arkansas because of flooding on the Mississippi River. It would only go as far as St. Louis. Oddly, and ironically as it were, when I discovered this tidbit of information, I was writing a story for the newspaper where I work about flooding and how the swollen Mississippi River was delaying crests along the Arkansas River.

Instead of picking her up in a town about 30 miles from here at 3:30 a.m. (depending upon Amtrak's promptness), I will now be in St. Louis at 7 p.m. It gives me eight more hours with her than had the train made its full journey and for that I am glad.

It's been that kind of year lately with unexpected changes and as 2015 draws to a close, I reflect upon the events of this year, the top stories of my life and whatever theme I can come up with that encapsulates the way this run went.

I do it every year. It's probably a news thing; each year the Associated Press sends out ballots to editors to select the top stories of the year. The state wire service does the same thing and, although us reporters don't vote, we do consider the year's legislative actions, the sensational trials, the horrific crimes, the deadly storms and all the other news when debating about the impacting stories of the year.

My personal year, my tour of 2015, has a simple theme. It's “Heart.”

I opened the year with a heavy heart. On Jan. 24, my cat, May, had to be put to sleep after she suffered scores of seizures. I had that cat for seven and a half years and, although I didn't consider myself a cat person at first, I bonded with that pet more than I've done with most humans I've known. It was yet another loss that I seemed to be getting quite experienced with. I deal with abandonment and sadness a lot; it broke my heart losing her.

Later in the year, a friend of mine had a series of medical issues that was somewhat nerve-wracking. Another friend became seriously involved with a woman and I became his consultant during their two-step dance of love, regret, reconciliation and angst. Then, my editor at the newspaper, the best person I've ever worked with, quit and moved off. The heart took a beating with all the changes.

But life soldiered on and in the late summer, my heart woke again. I began talking with my Illinois girl on Aug. 23, and in September I drove the 554 miles to see her for the first time. Everything changed after that. Not to get all mushy here (People can see in the bio on the right side of this post about me being a romantic dreamer), but this girl has made my heart beat again.

The APBA game realm, for which this blog is named, has seen some changes as well. I began a replay of the 1991 baseball season in August but, because of my own changes in life, the pace of the games has slowed. That, in itself, is a change from the norm. But the heart is still there when I do play the occasional contest or two on some days.

So, 2015 began with a broken heart and is closing with a mended one. I will be with my Illinois girl on New Year's Eve and she will be the first person I speak with in 2016. That's a good sign for the upcoming year.

How will this relationship play out in 2016? I have no idea. I am sure there will be many unforeseen changes ahead for the upcoming year, but at least it's beginning with a good heart.

Friday, December 25, 2015

Christmas night 2015: 38 years later

Thirty-eight years ago tonight — at about this exact time — I began the APBA journey that I'm still on. Like many of us sports replay game-playing aficionados, we probably became acquainted with the APBA games on Christmas Day as kids.

I was 17 when I unwrapped the large box containing the APBA football game. It was the last gift my parents handed me from under the Christmas tree. It was the “headliner” gift of the holiday and it was well received. I had played electric football and baseball before, along with simple games that involved dice and spinners as a youngster.

But this game was different. The APBA games were far more complex; they utilized cards with real players' names on them and those cards replicated those players' actual statistics for the season. We could select our lineups, play the games and watch them as they unfolded before us. It was, in a sense, a step into being a grown up while still playing a game.

So, I opened the football game for the 1976 season and looked over the cards. There were Fran Tarkenton, Chuck Foreman, Gene Washington for the Minnesota Vikings, which, because I lived in Minnesota for a while, became the team I followed. Terry Bradshaw, Roger Staubach, Kenny Stabler, O.J. Simpson and others were also carded. I was holding in my hands the heroes of my day.

I stayed up late that Dec. 25, 1977, reading the instructions for the football game, rolling dice, checking charts, learning the game. I selected the New York Giants and the Washington Redskins to play. It was complex and it took hours to figure out. I wanted to play the Vikings, but I needed to first learn the flow of the game. Obviously, I wanted to replay the previous Super Bowl in which Oakland beat the Vikings. I had to set things right.

I have never been one to sleep much; when I was 16, I worked at a bar and restaurant deep into the nights, so I was fine with figuring out the football game during the late hour. My parents slept while I tossed the dice that Christmas night and referred to the cards. I knew I'd be playing it the next day, and the day following. Even then, I understood the lure of this game and the long journey it would take me on.

I am sure so many people embarked on similar journeys on Christmas nights. And I hope more are doing so this night, 38 years later. And that they will play the game for at least 38 years like I have so far. It's one of the mainstays in the life I've run through.

Today, like I've done five times in the 10 years since my wife passed away, I worked Christmas Day at the newspaper where I am employed. Today, I wrote a story about an arson fire at Bill Clinton's birthplace home in Hope, Ark. In the past, I've scribed stories about homicides, a plane crash, snow storms and other mayhem on the holiday. The Christmas night APBA games were always was a respite for the long day. While others spent time with their families on the evening, I came home, left the harshness of the news outside and rolled a few games.

Tonight, later, I'll roll a game between Pittsburgh and Montreal in my 1991 APBA baseball replay and then another game between Detroit and Toronto. I'm still playing the game 38 years later, the longest thing I've consistently done. I've tabled the football game and didn't get into baseball until 1998 when I bought the game — for my own Christmas present that year.

The games keep rolling. They've done so ever since that night in 1977.

Saturday, December 12, 2015

Life Happens

I'm not one to necessarily quote musicians much, but Beatles songwriter John Lennon is credited with a saying that is apropos, somewhat, of the APBA replays we all do. Lennon said, “Life is what happens when you are busy making other plans.”

The Fab Four guitarist could easily have been talking about doing these long-running APBA baseball replays that take months or even years to play out. Your own life happens while you're rolling a season that can go on for quite some time. 

Even the most enthusiastic replayer will spend nearly a year recreating one of the earlier baseball seasons that feature the eight-team American and National leagues. Later seasons — post 1968 that include two divisions for each league incorporates more teams and, thus, more games. So, it takes much longer to play those seasons. Hence, life has more of a chance of changing during a replay.

I've seen that in many of my previous replays, and it'll happen again as I am in the early stages of the 1991 APBA baseball season I recently began. We roll the games for seasons that have already happened; we know the real outcome of whatever season we're recreating, and we know the schedule of games, playing them one by one.

But then, life steps in with its unpredictable changes. To create a visual, metaphorical image of this, think of a linear procession of the games we play and the wavy lines of life, much like a seismograph that records earthquakes, or a criminal trying to bluff his way through a lie detector test. The games provide the baseline, life creates the waves.

Cases in point: I got married while replaying the 1992-93 NHL season that APBA released. Later, my wife's health deteriorated due to kidney failure as I did the 1957 season. I bought the house I'm living in now and moved while replaying the 1987 baseball season. And in the solitude after her passing, as I tried to adapt to a new lifestyle alone, I rolled the 1932 baseball season. The games go on as predicted, but the life side is always changing. Things are resolved over the length of a replay.

So, yes, life happens. Unforeseen things, changes, alterations. I covered a school shooting and its subsequent lengthy court proceedings in 1998 for the newspaper where I work that changed me all the while replaying the 1990-91 NBA season. I lost a lot of weight as I tossed the dice for the 1942 baseball season.

Even now, as I have just begun the 1991 season, things changed yet again for me and the wavy lines of my own life are moving yet again.

I began this replay on Aug. 16. One week to a day later, on the evening of Aug. 23, I called a girl I was interested in and talked to her for three hours. A month later, I drove 554 miles to see her and set change, I hope, in motion.

I am playing the games in this replay a bit slower than usual. For once, my own life has taken precedence over the daily routine of rollin' the games. I'll see how my relationship with my Illinois girl will grow during this 1991 replay.  The replay will take months, but life has time and will move along with it. This relationship I've embarked upon will be more defined and, I pray, a hopeful future will be ahead, by the time I roll the last game of the season. I'm doing a refinancing of my home as well and it, too, will be resolved well before this 1991 season ends.

So, we roll these games working a straight line in the season, knocking each game out one by one in that linear procession, while life comes at us with its wavy lines.