Sunday, December 25, 2016

The Christmas Tree


It had to be Bumble, the abominable monster in the 1964 Rankin/Bass animated show Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer, that topped the first Christmas tree in my home in 11 years.

The blue, toothy creature that terrorized Rudolph, Yukon and Hermey, but who actually had a heart of gold, is perched atop the branches of our small tree, replacing the angle, star or snowflake that most use to adorn their displays.

A tree had always been a festive part of my holiday fare as a youth and it became a tradition when I got married years ago. In fact, there was a time when I was as enthusiastic about Christmas as the Clark Griswold character from the movie “National Lampoon's Christmas Vacation.” I'd go to a nearby farm a cold day each year and cut down a nice fir tree while snow flurries fluttered and then haul it home and set it up.

I'd string lights galore from the house, around bushes and along the driveway. If something was stationary in the yard, it got bedecked with strings of thousands of blinking lights. It was Christmas, the most manic time of the year!

But that ended when my wife got sick with kidney failure. It's a debilitating disease and Christmas cheer was not on the forefront during the last of her life. We moved to a small house in 2005 and hastily put up an artificial tree in December, more for appearance than for tradition.

She died seven months later and her relatives, as relatives always do after a death, swooped in and picked over my stuff. They took clothes and shoes and books. Someone got my nice carpet steam cleaner. Her aunt took the Christmas tree. I was in the mourning stage at that time and was not really aware of all that was cleared from my home.

That year, the editors at the newspaper where I work had me come to Little Rock during the holidays, fearing my first Christmas alone would be rough. I usually work in a one-person bureau, covering northeast Arkansas. But that year, I worked in the newsroom for eight days, some 125 miles from my home, and lived in a hotel. I spent Christmas eve in a U.S. 167 convenience store, trying to convince a drunk couple not to continue driving because I'd have to write about their fatalities if they crashed.

Since then, I've worked four or five times on Christmas day. Last year, I wrote about an arson fire at the boyhood home of Bill Clinton in Hope, Ark. A year earlier, I covered a community dinner for a rural town where more than 300 showed up. In 2009, I did a story about people who had to work on the holiday and then followed that with an article about an evening snowstorm.

I lost the Christmas spirit. The holidays were depressing; I'd leave the my bureau office in the evening of Dec. 24 and sulk back to my house, watching others scamper to their homes full of family and cheer.

But then, this year. Those who've read Love, Life and APBA know about the Illinois girl and my changes. After I became smitten and drove to northern Illinois 17 times this year to see her, Holly moved here. And, because she is one of the most positive, spirited persons I've known, she decided we needed a Christmas tree.

We opted for a small 6-foot fake tree with colored lights and set it up a week before Christmas. It sits in the corner of our living room. There's some gaps in it; we've not manipulated the folding branches properly yet to cover the spaces. We also put on ornaments that she brought down with her during the move. She got a wreath made of real fir branches. The thick scent of pine permeates the living room and it makes an even more ambient season.

The tree looks great. It wouldn't have been there if not for her. And, hence, this is the “love” part of Love, Life and APBA. (There is APBA still: The first time I ever saw an APBA game — the 1976 football season — was underneath my parents' Christmas tree.)

In fact, Holly has been a great influence on a lot of things. I couldn't stand the classic movie “It's a Wonderful Life” because of its smarmy, warm felt message that, despite not having money, we are all wonderful. It went against my grain because I measured worth based upon my financial status. We watched the movie together the other day and for the first time ever, I liked it.
Bumble atop our Christmas tree

And Bumble.

I enjoyed the Rankin/Bass production of Rudolph as a child. I'd watch it each year and, full disclosure here, I'd tear up as an adult watching it because of the innocence of the show, the meaning behind it and the nostalgia it brought. But like all else that was Christmas, I stopped viewing it after 2006.

Holly and I watched it the other day for the first time in a decade and I loved it. And, yes, I teared up.

She knew of my fondness for the creature and when we saw a version of Bumble in a Christmas stocking at the store, she picked it up. It was the obvious tree topper. And for those who remembered the show, you'll get the symbolism. Far be it from me to overanalyze anything (I say sarcastically), but there is a deeper meaning to Bumble in our home.

Toward the end of Rudolph, prospector Yukon Cornelius sacrificed himself to save the reindeer and Hermey. He pushed Bumble toward the edge of a chasm and then, when Bumble fell, Yukon went with him.

“He's gone. Oh, he's gone,” Rudolph said as he looked over the cliff's edge.

But later, when Rudolph returned to Santa's place, there came a knock at the door. Yukon burst in with Bumble. The abominable monster fell, but didn't perish because, Yukon said, “Bumbles bounce.”

After more than a decade of dreading the Christmas holiday, I'm looking forward to this Christmas.

Maybe we all bounce, if you think about it.

Wednesday, December 21, 2016

American League Best Division

The California Angels are 15-3 against American League East teams so far in my 1991 APBA baseball season replay. They are 6-14 against their rivals in their American League West division.

Seattle is 13-5 against East division foes and have won 12 of 20 games against rivals in their own division.

It's been that kind of season so far as I've reached May 20, 1991, in this replay. It's still early. Very early in the season. But the American League West could change its name to the Best, while on the other side of the standings it's the American Least. So far, the West division teams have feasted on the East division teams, boosting their records and making the seven-team division far superior than their counterparts.

Only Toronto, with its 27-12 overall won-loss record so far, is playing above .500 in the Eastern Division. Detroit and Milwaukee are both 18-18. 

The rest have lost more than they've won; hapless Cleveland is 9-25. Indians outfielder Albert Belle, with his 10 home runs, is the only bright spot for the team. If I were a headline writer for the Cleveland Plain Dealer newspaper in 1991, I'd be tempted to refer to the team as “Eerie by Erie.”

But I have strayed off the subject as I often do.

Those of you who are not initiated with the APBA sports replay contests, it's a statistically-based game that replicates real baseball — and football, hockey and basketball as well — seasons by using cards and dice. Each player receives a card with a variety of outcomes based upon his actual season production. Gamers roll two dice and match the results to corresponding numbers on player cards. If a real player is prone to strikeouts, chances are you could roll numbers resulting in a “13,” which is a strikeout. Inversely, Belle and other power hitters are more apt to have plenty of “1” results, which is the universal number for an APBA home run.

It takes me a long while to do a season replay. More so lately, I've discovered. Used to be, I could complete a full season, rolling the 2,106 games in about 16 to 18 months. I began this 1991 season in August 2015. Now, 16 months later, I am about 24 percent complete. I have excuses for the slower play. Those who've read prior posts know I've had a huge change in my world. My Illinois girl has moved down here and my time is taken up with the bliss of all that.

But, I still find some time to roll games. (Because Holly is a woman, it takes her a long while to chose what to wear, apply makeup, fix hair, change clothes, reapply makeup, debate about what coat to put on and fuss more with her hair anytime we go anywhere. Because I am a guy with limited looks and less fashion skills, I can be ready to go in five minutes. I can take advantage of her prep time to get a few games in while waiting for her).

And while I play the games I do notice the trends. The Angels have lost only twice to Baltimore and once to New York. It's enough to propel them to third place in the West, four games behind division-leading Seattle and half a game behind Minnesota.

All teams but Oakland in the West have winning records.

Overall, the West is 94-77 against the East so far. Texas is 17-15 against the East and have yet to play a West division team. The As, at 8-9 against the East, and Minnesota, oddly 6-12 when playing the East, are the only team with losing records against them.

And there's more. Seattle's ace Randy Johnson is 6-2 overall. Jay Buhner leads the league with 11 home runs and Mariners teammate Ken Griffey has eight dingers. Frank Thomas has belted 10 home runs for the White Sox and Kent Hrbek of the Twins, Royals' Danny Tartabull and As Jose Canseco each have nine homers.

Only Belle's 11 home runs and Toronto third baseman Kelly Gruber's nine homers are standouts in the East.

The West surely is the best so far.

But, I've reached May 20 in the replay, which means there's a shift in the schedule in 1991. Most teams now are playing their division rivals. Can Seattle maintain its lead playing West division teams? Will California fall back to reality and finish 81-81 like the Angels did in the real season? Can Minnesota dominate their foes and take back the lead as they did in the real season?

It's one of the reasons why we play these games. I've got to see what happens.

Wednesday, November 30, 2016

A Small Car …

My Honda Pilot, the vehicle that got me to and back from northern Illinois 17 times this year, has died.

It gave up the ghost as a mechanic was looking at the vehicle's rear gasket while checking a major oil leak. I guess I'd die, too, in that predicament. A stranger poking around your rear while you're hoisted up on a rack is probably not the most dignified thing.

The mechanic had put two other gaskets in the Honda earlier in an attempt to stop the gush of oil, but it continued on. The Honda bravely took me on one last trek after that first costly repair — a late night trip to the train station some 30 miles from here to pick up Holly, my Illinois girl — before blinking on the Check Engine Light and then lapsing into a coma. Her return trip here was delayed a day and I was afraid the Honda would conk out before I could get her home. It didn't, although the oil light came on and the Check Engine Light began flickering that night, foreshadowing its demise.

Maybe I could have put in a new rear gasket, but the transmission was going fast, the brakes were bad and it was simply time to get another car. The expenses of repairing a car with over 180,000 miles was high. I had the Honda for eight years and it served its purpose. It will be missed.

Its last voyage was to limp to the Honda dealership in my town. I bought the Pilot eight years ago under similar circumstances. I had just bought an Izusu Trooper that September 2008 and was headed to cover a news story about 50 miles from home. The remnants of some hurricane blew into northern Arkansas then, toppling trees and smashing homes. There was one fatality and I was headed to the destruction.

The Trooper threw a rod in Weiner, Ark., 30 miles from my home, which, when looking back, is kind of ironic. I mean, “rod” and “Weiner” in the same sentence is somewhat appropriate, I guess. But I digress. I had the car towed, and later Honda took it in as a trade on the Pilot. I got a great deal on the Pilot, but in the trade, I lost the second CD of The Tragically Hip's double album “Yer Favourites,” which was apparently still in the CD player when I switched cars.

Flash forward eight years and the Pilot sat outside the same dealership while Holly and I agreed to six more years of car payments. I bought a 2016 Nissan Versa, a small, 4-cylinder car with great gas mileage.

It's not the Honda; it sits pretty low and it takes a while to get up to speed. And it's a tiny car. And I'm a fat guy. Watching me crawl out of the car is like watching a rhinoceros giving birth on one of those National Geographic Channel shows.

But the Nissan is easy to handle, it's got a good CD player and because the car is so small inside, it's easy to warm up when the heater kicks in. We're hoping to hit the road and head back to northern Illinois next week for a quick visit, and we'll see how the car does on the long haul. I am sure it will cost less in gas money to make the 547-mile trip there than it did with the Honda.

It's taking some getting used to, though. When we come out of the grocery store, we instinctively look for a white SUV at first, rather than a small grey car. I do have a thing on the key, when pressed, it makes the headlights come on. I do that so I don't look so stupid forgetting which car I have.

And loading the groceries is different. We used to toss 'em in the back of the Honda and then, routinely, I'd complain when the bottles of tea escaped from the bags and rolled around in the back as we drove home. Now, the groceries either sit in the back seat or in the trunk. The tea bottles roll no more.

But life rolls on and everything takes getting used to. And those car payments will take some getting used to. I had paid off that Honda a few years ago. Maybe I can sell video of me getting out of the Nissan to the National Geographic Channel or Animal Planet.

Wednesday, November 23, 2016

A Thanksgiving Tradition

Since my wife died 11 years ago, I've spent Thanksgiving day in a variety of places.

I went to her parents' home the first holiday after her passing. A year later I sampled the cuisine of the season at a Burger King in West Memphis, Ark, after picking someone up at the airport in Memphis, Tenn. Nothing says festive more than chomping down a Whopper with cheese and then driving another hour to my home. I think my stomach,while digesting that flame-broiled monstrosity, made noises akin to those of a turkey just before beheading time.

I also worked at the newspaper where I'm employed on a Thanksgiving and I've gone to some friends' homes for the day. I also stayed home and cooked turkeys at least twice for my cat and I.

This year will be different again. Holly, my Illinois girl, is with me. It'll be the first time in a long while that I'll cook some holiday fare and eat with someone other than a cat.

But despite the changes, there's always a constant of the day and it's become as much a tradition as carving the turkey, watching football and sleeping most of the afternoon while processing the mass of chow we gobbled down,

I may have been in many different places during these past 11 Thanksgiving days, but I always ended up playing an APBA game before the day was over. It's an occurrence that began long before I started playing the APBA replay baseball game in 1998. As I mentioned here before, I came into this hobby somewhat backwards, or at least different than the majority of us who have loved this game for decades.

I first got the football game when I was 17. Back then, we were out of school for a few days, so that offered me plenty of time to play several games. A year later, my parents got me the basketball game and, again, while in college and home for the holiday, I'd play those games as well on the day.

It even began years before I got into the statistical-based sports replay game. I had an electric football game as a child that got plenty of usage on Turkey Day. My father and I would watch the Detroit football game on television and then he'd konk out in his chair in the living room and I'd end up playing electric football, trying, somehow, to be as quiet as I could while clicking the switch and watching as 22 plastic guys vibrated across the green metal field as he slumbered.

It was a peaceful time, playing those games through the years. I tended to worry about a lot of things back then — still do, come to think about it — but those Thanksgiving day games provided a nice break from school homework, issues with friends and the angst of being young back then. Now, the holiday serves again as a respite. There's no mail on the day meaning no bills. I've gone from worrying about making semester grades to worrying about making monthly mortgage payment. Telemarketers generally don't call on holidays, either, so there's relief from that as well.

This Thanksgiving will be different. It'll be the best one in years what with Holly being with me. I'll cook dinner and we'll watch television and just enjoy each others' company. But I'm sure at some point in the day, I'll roll a game or two in the 1991 APBA baseball season I'm replaying just to keep with tradition.

Happy Thanksgiving.

Friday, November 11, 2016

Short-Suffering Fandom

I never really liked the Chicago Cubs until this season began so I didn't fully get 108-years-of-futility mantra diehard fans bemoaned all the time.

Sure, I was aware of their history. Like any baseball fan, I knew the highlights of many teams' histories. I watched the Bartman Ball game on television in October 2003, but I was more entranced then by the New York Yankees since my father had grown up in New York and instilled a love of the Bronx Bombers in me at an early age. Just a few days before Bartman's mishap, the Yankees' Aaron Boone belted an 11th inning home run in Game 7 of the ALCS to beat the rivaled Boston Red Sox.

I was also knew about the black cat episode in Shea Stadium in 1969. I even interviewed former Cubs shortstop Don Kessinger in 2003 for a newspaper story about how a cat scampering across the New York Mets' field jinxed the Cubs into blowing an 8-game lead in the National League East Division late in the season. Kessinger, by the way, denied that the cat caused that run of bad luck back then.

When I lived in Minnesota, I was a Twins fan. The National League was out of my focus at the time. Plus, the little brother of my best friend, who was an obnoxious twerp then, was a huge Cubs' fan. It had a Pavlovian effect on me: See the Cubs, remember the kid. I moved to Arkansas later in life and, although I'm not embedded with the culture, this is St. Louis Cardinals' country. The Cubs are not well loved down here.

I didn't actually feel the struggles of being a Cubs' fan until I became enamored with my Illinois girl last year. She had been a life-long Cubs' supporter and lived through the disappointment of the 1984 season when the San Diego Padres beat Chicago in the NLCS after the Cubs took the first two games of the five-game series.

She warned me that this team could break my heart. We began our relationship late in the season of 2015; I followed the Cubs' playoff run only to be disappointed by the Mets in the NLCS.

So, the Cubs' fandom became part of our courtship in a sense. I was with her at a Waukegan laundromat washing quilts when Addison Russell hit a home run in the eighth to beat the Cincinnati Reds in Chicago's home opener in April. (EDITOR'S NOTE: Blatant name-dropping ahead) I e-mailed former Chicago Tribune columnist Bob Greene about a piece he wrote on traveling to the grave sites of Harry Carey, Jack Brickhouse, Ernie Banks and Ron Santo to tell them the Cubs were in the Series for the Wall Street Journal. In mentioning the season, I referred to seeing Russell's home run amidst the rinse cycle of the North Green Bay Road laundromat in lovely Waukegan. I've corresponded with Greene, my only real writing hero, for more than a decade, so writing about that was natural. He wrote back today saying he really liked the idea of me “being in a laundromat as the Cubs took their initial step toward the championship."

I'd keep Holly updated on scores during the season and, since we lived apart during the first half of the season and she didn't have cable television, I'd on occasion give her play-by-play over the phone when Chicago was playing on ESPN.

She moved down here in June and the Cubs kept playing, and winning. We'd watch games together and then, when they made the playoffs, we changed our nightly routine to watch each of the contests.

And she kept warning me of their potential for upsetting fans. She'd preface the Series opener by saying that if Cleveland won, at least Chicago made it to the championship for the first time since 1945. I began understanding. When I was in northern Illinois a lot this year, I'd see people wearing Cubs' shirts. They all had looks of confidence, but hidden underneath was an underlying sense of fear and apprehension.

In Game 7 of the Series, I finally understood what that 108-year mantra was about. The Cubs were up 8-6 in the eighth inning when Rajai Davis hit a two-run homer to tie the game. Davis drove in another run in the 10th, and that Fear became a reality. Could the Cubs lose again? Was there about to be another Bartman incident? Was there a goat bleating somewhere in a farm, miffed that one of his relatives was shunned from being in Wrigley during the 1945 Series?

But finally, finally, the Cubs had their championship when Kris Bryant fielded a Michael Martinez dribbler and tossed it to Anthony Rizzo on first.

In a sense, it was easy. Follow a team for the first time, basing it more on the love for a fan than for the team, and watch them win the World Series. I wish that concept would work with the Twins.

Sunday, October 30, 2016

1991 Replay Update: May 14, 1991

Despite the many changes in my life this past year, I still find some time to roll a game or two every so often in my APBA baseball replay of the 1991 season. It's a much slower process now that I have other things vying for my attention and responsibility, but, albeit, I have not given up on the replay.

It's a slow process, however. For the first time since I began playing the statistically-based replay baseball game in 1998, I'm averaging playing less than one game a day. I began this replay on Aug. 16, 2015. I reached Game 409 on Day 448 of the replay. Used to be, when I had no life, I could easily toss five or six games each day, making for a quick season replay. Why, I could roll a full season (prior to 1969 when fewer teams played 154 games rather than 162) in less than a year.

Now, I figured at the pace I've undertaking, it will take at least six years to complete the 1991 season.

But, I still play on, grabbing a game or two whenever I can.

And the 1991 season is shaping up well. Each team has only played about 30 or so games, but, like all seasons I've replayed, I'm seeing the personalities of the teams develop. For instance, one team in each of the four divisions is really, really bad. While every other team has won at least 11 games, Cleveland, Oakland, Montreal and San Francisco have yet to log double-digits in the win columns.

Also, Minnesota, which won the actual 1991 World Series in one of the best, closest contests in Series history, is a somewhat frustrating team to play in this replay. Of course, I say this because my heart is in Minnesota. I grew up with the Twins, watching them in their heyday of the mid 1960s and then the futility of the 1970s and 1980s before Tom Kelly brought them to their first Series win in 1987. I was kind of hoping for a 162-0 season in the replay for the Twins.

Here are the standings in my replay as of May 14, 1991. Remember, it's early and it takes a long while for me to play. I'll be writing about this season for a few years yet.

East           W    L   GB
Toronto       24  10   -
Detroit        16  15   6.5
Boston        14  16   8
Milwaukee 14  16   8
New York   13  16  8.5
Baltimore   11  18  10.5
Cleveland    8   20  13

West           W    L  GB
Seattle         20  12   -
Minnesota   19  13   1
Kansas City 18  13  1.5
Chicago       16  13  2.5
California    17  15  3
Texas           14  14  7
Oakland        9   22  10.5

East             W    L    GB
St. Louis      21  11      -
New York    18  13    2.5
Pittsburgh    18  13    2.5
Phil'phia      17  16    4.5
Chicago       15  18    6.5
Montreal        6  26    15

West            W    L    GB
Atlanta         20     9      -
San Diego    19    14     3
Cincinnati    17    14     4
Los Angeles 17    14     4
Houston        12    18    9.5
San Fran.        9    23   12.5

I am keeping the basic stats: Home runs, wins and losses and saves. So far, in the American League, Frank Thomas, the White Sox designated hitter, and Seattle outfielder Jay Buhner each have 10 home runs. Albert Belle, the fiery Cleveland Indian, has nine homers and four are tied with eight dingers each including Rob Deer of Detroit.

Deer is an all-or-nothing kind of player. He'll either hit a home run or strike out. In the real 1991 season, he hit 25 homers, but also lead the American League with 175 strike outs. His APBA card reflects that. He has a “1” on the 66 roll of his card, indicating a home run when checking the game's play board. He also has a “5” on his 33, meaning he has a good chance of homering with a player on base if that number shows up. But he also has 10 “13s” on his card. A 13 is indicative of a strike out. There are 36 play numbers on a card. Deer has a 27.7 percent chance of striking out whenever he's at the plate in the APBA replay.

Andre Dawson of the Cubs leads the National League with 11 home runs and Jeff Bagwell of Houston, Darryl Strawberry and Howard Johnson of the Mets and Kevin Mitchell of San Francisco all have 10 homes runs apiece.

So, the games roll on. Slowly, but surely.

Sunday, October 9, 2016

Righting a Wrong, APBA Basketball Style

Sometimes, it takes a long while to right a wrong.

This one took more than a quarter of a century.

And while it may seem insignificant to some, the wrong that was done to me back then continued to build on me, festering and making me upset whenever I thought about it over the years. The longer it went uncorrected, the more it pained me when I remembered it.

On New Year's Eve 1989, I left a doomed relationship, moved to another town and began a new life. I won't get into details about why this union was not good other than to say it had all the making that, if we had continued, the next time anyone saw me would be when I was a victim profiled on NBC's Dateline mystery program.

So, I left her, saving my dignity, my sanity and possibly my life.

A few weeks later I tried to get some of my stuff back. I had left a small stereo and some records at her place, along with some books and magazines. I got them back.

But I also had a set of 1985-86 APBA basketball cards there that I replayed that NBA season with. A majority of people familiar with the game would have left them at the girl's home, rationalizing that giving the card set to an ex would be vengeful and almost inhumane.

Alas, most people hate APBA's basketball game. It was a plodding contest that took hours to play a single game. Whenever you made a lineup change and brought in a bench player for a team, you had to stop and figure out math problems to set up templates for the team's fouls, rebounds, assists and scoring for the newest lineup. Make a change again, figure out a completely new template.

Even the game's instructions noted the slow play. It suggested a player use both hands to roll two sets of dice at a time to speed up play. Perhaps Kali, the mythological Hindu goddess of time with her four arms, could knock out a game in an hour or so. For the rest of us, the game took much longer.

There was even a version that shortened play. A player eliminated dice rolls for passing the ball among player and instead just tossed the die to determine who shot the ball. The instructions almost apologetically offered that option for which I embraced. Using the quicker style of play, I could finish a game in about two hours, provided I made few lineup substitutions.

Still, I loved that game. I got into the APBA gaming hobby with the football contest in 1977. A year later, I began playing the basketball game, and it was a mainstay with me for two decades. It was with me during the angst of high school and again when I got my first newspaper job in the northeast corner of Arkansas. I'd come home after a long day at the paper, sit in my sparse rent house and roll games on the floor late into the night.

The game was there for me as a crutch when my father passed away in 1987, giving me a distraction from the loss.

I bought the 1985-86 ABPA basketball season at the highlight of my fan mania for the NBA. A year earlier, I drove to Kansas City to watch the Kings' basketball team host the Boston Celtics in their last year in Missouri. I was hooked. The following year, the Kings moved to Sacramento.

It was Michael Jordan's second year in the NBA during the 1985-86 season. Larry Bird, Dominque Wilkins, Hakeem Olajuwon and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar were stars in the league. It was a great time to be a basketball fan and that APBA game helped convey the fandom for me.

So, when I left the awful girl, I got most of my stuff. But I didn't get the set of 1985-86 APBA basketball cards. She did not return them to me. It may have been an oversight, but I tend to think it was more out of spite. She knew I loved that game.

Since then, I bought a few other basketball seasons. But I got into APBA's hockey and baseball games and the basketball game took a back seat for years.

I still wondered about that 1985-86 season, however, and when I thought about it, I became upset. What kind of person would withhold something that meant so much to someone?

Then, recently, my Illinois girl whom I've often written about here, gave me a package for our one-year anniversary for meeting each other. I opened it slowly and … it was the set of 1985-86 APBA basketball cards. I told her about the loss of those cards once and she remembered!  She tracked a set down and I was stunned.

Again, some cynics of the game would say that any girl who gives her guy a set of the basketball game cards probably isn't that into the relationship. I say that my Illinois girl righted a wrong. After 27 years, I was holding perhaps my favorite season in my hands again.

Since getting the cards, I've taken them out of the envelopes and made lineup changes on index cards. I fully intend to play some games. I won't complete a full season replay; I won't live that long. But I will be able to recapture a great feeling of youthfulness with that season, watching to see how many points Bird can put up on the hated 76ers and Moses Malone; how many rebounds the Twin Towers of Olajuwon and Ralph Sampson can grab for Houston and just how bad the Knicks really were that season.

There are always wrongs in life. Live long enough and you'll see plenty. But there are times when some can be corrected. This was one of them.

Monday, September 26, 2016

How a Decision Affects: A Year Later

This one is about how a simple decision, a mere choice, an action, can change the direction of your life and set you on totally different path.

It's the old drawn out series of connections: “If a butterfly flaps his wings in the Amazon jungle and scares a bird that drops a nut that hits someone in the head who jumps and avoids a poisonous snake...” That sort of thing.

A year ago today, I put down the APBA dice and set aside the 1991 baseball replay game I had started about a month earlier, filled the car's gas tank and before the sun even rose, embarked on the 554-mile trek to northern Illinois to meet a girl I had only spoken to by telephone for the previous month. We had talked about her putting her home on the market and I offered to help her prepare the house for sale by raking her yard, cleaning up the outside, doing whatever was needed.

There was no real intent by me other than to help someone I cared about. Romance? Are you kidding? My confidence level in that sort of thing always had me asking potential dates if they wanted to be my next ex-girlfriend.

She could use the assistance and I needed to get out. That was pretty much the entire motive. Since my wife passed away in 2006, all I had done on my own before was make a few jaunts to St. Louis some four hours away to watch Blues' and Cardinals' games. It was time for a change.

So, I made the decision. I offered.

Obviously, it was weird. A guy suggesting he drive that far just to “help” had all the markings of some episode of Dateline NBC. Reporter Keith Morrison would open the show about mysterious murders by stepping through my Illinois girl's neighborhood, “He was a nice guy who wanted to help,” Morrison would say. “... Or was he?”

But she made her own decision after some brief thought and she accepted, and I headed north.

I arrived in her town shortly after 3:30 p.m., registered with the hotel and called her. She was still getting ready and was a tad late. I watched the end of the Florida-Tennessee football game and waited.

At 5 p.m., she was still getting ready.

At 5:45 p.m., she called and said she was fixing her hair and I could come over in 10 minutes.

At 5:50 p.m., I waited in her driveway for her to come out.

At 6:03 p.m., she came out and I was promptly smitten.

We drove to Wal-Mart and bought toilet seats for her home on our “date.” Despite that blissful first venture, I first felt she didn't like me that much and that I was pretty weird. (Actually, I was weird. I was pretty exhausted from the drive, extremely nervous like a junior high school kid on the first date, way out of practice for even commencing with small talk with a woman and totally out of my league in class. I had about as much chance impressing her as I had of winning a Pulitzer Prize at the newspaper where I worked). I thought I'd clean her yard the next day and then head home, defeated but at least having the chance to have seen Lake Michigan.

But then, I made another decision. I didn't give up. At least I'd have a friend, I thought. And I soldiered on. I decided to stay for the entire five days I had booked the hotel.

The decision worked. After our Wal-Mart venture, we ate at a Cracker Barrel and then she showed me around her town. The following day we went to church and the lake and then watched for a lunar eclipse that night. It was cloudy and we never saw the moon disappear, but I did see love begin to appear slowly.

During the next 10 months, I drove up there 16 times. She sold her house, we moved her stuff out, I hauled her cats down here in May and on June 7, she and her dog moved in with me.

It's been tough at times. The first night we were together, ants invaded the dining room and kitchen, doing a conga line from a patio door to the bowls of cat food. A week later, my air conditioning unit went out which is not a good thing in the steamy climes of Arkansas. Last month, I got sick and ended up in the emergency room with a massive renal infection. Doctors took a CT scan to see if my kidney was trying to crawl out of my body and they pumped morphine in me because of the pain. The bill for that li'l folly is going to be fun.

But it's also been great. We watch Cubs' games on television a lot. We've binge-watched the game show Family Feud and Naked and Afraid to the point of tired hilarity. We play a Trivial Pursuit game we found at a flea market. We cook dinner together and we make bets on where her dog will poop when we walk him around the neighborhood each night. This is my life now.

I still find time to roll the APBA games, albeit at a much, much slower pace.

A year ago, other than noise from the television or the occasional blast of music on my stereo, I had lived in silence for more than 10 years.

Tonight, one of the cats is in heat and yowling like a banshee on crack. The second cat is chasing the first cat around the house. The dog wants to go for his nightly walk and the washing machine is chugging like it does on most days. There is noise in my home now. Blissful noise that signifies I actually have a life. A year ago, I was resigned to the fact I would be alone.

Tonight, I realize how one minute decision, one sudden thought, can change everything and make everything better.

Thursday, September 15, 2016

Finding Time for a String of Games

Despite the changes in my life and the lack of as much free time as I once had, I still manage to roll a few games in my 1991 APBA baseball season replay. I used to average four to five games a day played. Now, I'm lucky to toss five games a week. (And, now, I average a blog posting only about once a month.)

But I'm not complaining. It's been three months since my Illinois girl moved down here with me and my life has been enhanced greatly. I mean, the APBA game is great, but my new lifestyle has been amazing.

Still, though, I find time to play the game every so often and last week a run of games I rolled showed me yet again, as it has many times, why the APBA game is so good and why it remains a staple in most of us game players' lives from childhood through our adult years. It's the only game I've found that continues to do that.

I opened the string of games with Detroit traveling to Minnesota. I lived in Minnesota and have been a Twins fan since I was about seven years old. I saw Kirby Puckett and Dan Gladden and Kent Hrbek play in Minneapolis and in the 1987 World Series in St. Louis. Their 1991 World Series victory over Atlanta is the reason why I am replaying the 1991 season now.

In the game against the Tigers, Mickey Tettleton hit two home runs and drove in six runs, pacing Detroit to a 9-5 win. The loss dropped the Twins to 18-13 and a game behind American League West leader Seattle. Minnesota is 3-9 in its last 12 games as well, giving me a bit of a panic feeling and, have I been playing the four- to five-game pace each day, I'd be feeling it more, I'm sure. When you immerse yourself into seasons like I had, you begin to feel their intensity more.

I followed that game with a quick 1-0 win by the New York Yankees over Oakland. Yankees' pitcher Tim Leary gave up only four hits and struck out 10 in the victory.

Montreal continued to lose, dropping yet another game against San Diego and falling to 5-25. Fred McGriff hit a home run for the Padres.

Dennis “Oil Can” Boyd struck out 11 for Texas as he defeated Boston, 7-5, and Rafael Palmeiro, probably stocked up on steroids, hit a three-run home run for the Rangers.

Danny Tartabull hit his eighth home run of the season to lead Kansas City over Milwaukee, 4-0. Hal McRae added a two-run shot for the Royals.

And it was a bad night to be a catcher in Cleveland on May 12, 1991, in my replay. Ron Tingley struck out five times in six at bats for the Angels in their 12-inning win over Cleveland. Meanwhile, Indians catcher Joel Skinner K'd three times in four at bats.

Kal Daniels hit two home runs for Los Angeles and the Dodgers improved to 16-13 after their 5-3 win over Philadelphia. Bob Ojeda is now 5-0 for the Dodgers.

And finally, the New York Mets —  vast over-achievers so far in this replay with a 17-12 season record — pounded San Francisco, 10-0. Dwight “Doc” Gooden recorded a complete game and every Met in the starting lineup either scored a run or drove one in, including Vince Coleman. I invoked his name only because somewhere in my possessions I have a photograph I shot of Coleman giving me an international finger sign. I got a press pass to see a double header against Atlanta in St. Louis in 1989 and I was able to go onto the field of the old Busch Stadium during batting practice. I shot several photographs of Braves' outfielder Dale Murphy for the daughter of a friend where I worked. I spotted Coleman in a tunnel leading from the Cardinals' dugout where scores of bats were stored in a rack. Coleman was selecting a bat but noticed me shooting his photograph. He promptly raised his middle finger, ruining my pictures and being, well, being himself. Remember, this is the guy who threw the firecracker at fans in Los Angeles in 1993 and injured three children.

The games I managed to fit in last week brought back a lot of memories. It was fun seeing the names of those players I had watched 25 years ago, including Coleman's. The games took on meaning once again and, although it will take me a long, long time to complete this replay, I was able to briefly get that feeling again of the personality of the teams and the progression of the season. Usually, because I had no real life, I could complete a full-season replay in about a year and a half. This time, at the rate I'm on, it'll take five years to finish the 1991 season.

But every so often, I'll find time to get out the dice and cards, toss a few games and get back into the magic that APBA had on us even as youngsters.

Wednesday, August 17, 2016

Rolling Games With Someone

Other than a brief time when I let a friend stay at my home while he recuperated from a rough divorce, I've played the APBA replay baseball games alone in the stillness of my own solitude for the past 10 years since my wife passed away.

At times, I may have played music in the background, or left a ball game on the television set while tossing the games, but for the most part the games were done in relative quiet. Other than the noise of the tumbling dice of the game on the rubber mouse pad I use to roll the die, there was mostly silence.

All that has changed and it gives some excuse as to why I've not written anything here in the past four months, and why I've not really fully delved into the 1991 baseball replay I began a year ago.

Frequent readers know about my Illinois girl — the girl I met in northern Illinois last September who changed my world and brought my heart back to life. I spent the ensuing nine months traveling to see her. There wasn't a lot of time to roll games or to update the replay when I was constantly on the road making the 554-mile trip to her home. I used up my vacation days at work by mid-year and on a few occasions actually drove up there on a Saturday and returned late Sunday. It was a 17-hour round trip to see her for about 20 hours then. Such is love.

I made the trip up there 16 times. On the 15th trip back, I learned what true love was, too. It's not the hand-holding in the park, starry-eyed gazes at each other, sharing food and giggling romantic montage while some upbeat Monkees' song plays in the background.

No, I learned the real meaning of love at 10:45 p.m in Effingham, Ill., on May 29. I was heading back home with my Illinois girl's two cats in carrying cases in my back seat. I brought them with me to help her out; she was in the process of selling her home and we felt they didn't need to be part of the chaos of moving.

They had dumped over their water bowls and cat litter boxes, making a thick muddy paste. The smell of cat pee, scented litter and Fear (both theirs and mine) sweltered in the car. Their yowls were loud enough to drown out my own. I looked in the back seat to calm the cats and I saw one's paw reaching out of her cage, clawing at the other cage in an attempt, it appeared, to free her brother cat. I still had more than four hours left to drive. I offered a prayer to the huge cross that serves as a tourist stop alongside I-57 at Effingham for peace and serenity among cats and drove on.

Other than the time with my cat passengers, I made the trip home alone 15 times. On the 16th trip back, I didn't travel alone. My Illinois girl came with me. She sold her house, packed her things, loaded the dog in the car, hopped in and and moved south.

I went from being totally alone to having a person, a dog, two cats, shoes and clothes galore, makeup all over the bathroom, healthy food in the refrigerator and noise. Blissful noise. And I've spent a lot of time learning how to care for someone again.

So, there's not been much time for APBA games as we adjust to life together. We walk the dog each night in the neighborhood, go to Wal-Mart and the grocery store often. We've joined a gym and watch movies and television (Some day I'll tell you about our binge watching of the Discovery Channel's “Naked and Afraid” program — that odd “reality” show where people drop their pants and live in some Amazon jungle for 21 days eating grubs and building things out of sticks).

But I did find time to roll a few games. And once, my Illinois girl who I will hence refer to her by name since she is now in Arkansas, actually rolled part of a game with me. It was a contest between Kansas City and Detroit in the 1991 replay I'm on.

I showed Holly how the game worked and explained in part my obsession of the APBA games for the past 39 years. Terry Shumpert was at bat for the Royals with one out in the bottom of the ninth. The Tigers were winning.

She tossed the dice on the mouse pad and the result was a “24” on Shumpert's card. The second basemen grounded into a double play, ending the game.

I'm still playing some games. The 1991 season replay is on the slowest pace I've ever done. But it's okay. The game has always been part of my life, regardless of where I was or who I was with. This time, it fits in between two cats, a dog and lots of love.

Friday, April 29, 2016

The Game Never Really Leaves Us

Sometimes you leave the game.

But the game never really leaves you.

On Aug. 16, I began rolling my 1991 baseball season replay with the APBA dice and cards game. A week later, I made the phone call to my Illinois girl that changed a lot of things. I've written about all that here before. The point is, the game took a back seat to life; since September, I've made the 554-mile trip to her northern Illinois town 11 times. I'm headed there again tomorrow and will probably go there each weekend in May. It doesn't leave much time for replaying the games.

In the seven months and a day since making the call, I've played 297 games in that 1991 replay for an average of about 1.3 games a day. I used to play four to five games a day in previous replays. At this rate of just over a game a day, I'll finish the 1991 season in about four and a half years. And, as evidenced by this blog, I've not had much time to even write. This is the first posting in over a month.

That's okay. Obviously, I'd much rather be with my Illinois girl than rolling games all day.

The APBA game works that way. It waits for us to have a life and then welcomes us back when we return, either for a brief visit or for the respite we need when life changes yet again. I think that's what draws us to this game.

Most of us became acquainted with the game as youngsters. It replaced the more “childish” games that included spinners or playing cards or, in the case of the newer generations, the video sports games — I'm not talking about those games now that look like you're watching the action on television, but those old Mattel electronic handheld sports games that beeped and booped while we pushed buttons. The move to the APBA game, which features a more statistically-based concept using cards that replicate players' seasons and dice, was a step closer to adulthood.

So, we played those games, rolling dice late into the night, recording games and recreating seasons. But life stepped in and we put the game aside. Maybe it was a girl in high school, maybe it was college, maybe a job. Most of us, I dare to venture, took a break from the game for some time.

But those of us who came back later understood the concept of the game and its lasting.

And now, after playing the games at a rapid pace for years, life has come to me.

And I only roll 1.3 games a day on average, and that's only because I may toss four to five games at a time when I find myself at the table with the cards in front of me.

But on occasion, we find ourselves back at the table and we realize why the game never leaves us. The other day I sat at the table and played several games of my 1991 replay in a row and found that magic again. I got back momentarily in the groove of the season, remembering the players and how the teams are faring in this replay.

For example, Lloyd Moseby of the Detroit Tigers struck out each of the six times he was at bat against Kansas City. The Royals won the game, 10-8, and are challenging the Twins for first place in the American League West Division.

Montreal continued to lose, dropping a contest to the Los Angeles Dodgers, 6-2, after taking a 2-0 lead in the bottom of the first when Marquis Grissom, the second batter of the Expos' frame, clouted a two-run home run.

Cincinnati beat Pittsburgh in the tenth inning when Chris Sabo hit a game-winning single and drove in Paul O'Neill. Names from the past. Names we remember watching when we were younger.

Life came back. Work beckoned and I've spent a lot of time on the phone with my Illinois girl. And, early tomorrow, before the sun even wakes, I'm off on my journey again to her town for a few days. The game will remain here, waiting as it always does for life to slow down and then the games will roll on again.

Tuesday, March 8, 2016

1991 Season Update - April 30, 1991

After seven months of replaying the 1991 season with the APBA baseball game, I've finally finished the games scheduled that year for the month of April. At this rate, I should finish the replay in about four years — the slowest I've ever completed one.

However, I have a good excuse for the slower pace. I began this replay on Aug. 16. A week later, I called a woman for the first time who I now call my Illinois girl and I have fallen hard for her. I've written about all that here before; frequent readers know the story.

All that to say it's hard replaying games when you're traveling. I've made the 554-mile trip to north of Chicago and then back to Arkansas eight times since Sept. 25 to visit my Illinois girl, and I'm headed there again at the end of the week. For years, I never used all my allotted days at the newspaper where I work. Now I covet them and use them strategically so to visit her whenever I can.

Such is long-distance love.

Still, I've been able to average rolling about 1.3 games a day since I began the season. And it's been good so far. Each of the actual divisional winners of 1991 are in first place as I enter games for May 1. Atlanta, Pittsburgh, Minnesota and Toronto each lead their respective divisions.

There have been some surprises. Minnesota, my favorite team because I grew up in the state, is a fun team to play games with. Kent Hrbek leads the American League with 8 home runs so far.

On the inverse, Montreal continues to be horrible. They've won one game out of the 20 they've played during April. They trail the Pirates by 14 games already.

Here are the standings as of April 30, 1991.

East          W     L  GB
Toronto    14    7     -
Detroit       9   10    4
Milwaukee 9   10   4
Boston        8   10  4.5
Cleveland   6   11   6
New York   6   11   6
Baltimore   5   12   7

West          W    L   GB
Minnesota  15    5    -
Kansas City 14   5  .5
Seattle         14   7   1.5
Texas           9     7   4
Chicago       9     8   4.5
California    7     13  8
Oakland       6    14   9

East            W   L   GB
Pittsburgh    15   5    -
St. Louis      14  7   1.5
Chicago       11 10  4.5
Phil'phia      11 10  4.5
New York   10  10   5
Montreal       1  19  14

West           W      L   GB
Atlanta         13    5     -
Los Angeles 12   8     2
San Diego     11  10    3.5
Cincinnati      9   10    4.5
Houston         7    13   7
S. Francisco   6    14   8

The Twins are dominating with Hrbek's 8 home runs. Jack Morris is 5-0 as a starter for Minnesota and Scott Erickson is 4-0. Jeff Montgomery leads the league with eight saves for the Kansas City Royals

In the National League, New York Mets' third baseman Howard Johnson's nine homers are tops and Matt Williams has eight home runs for the Giants. The Cardinals' Bob Tewksbury is 5-0 and has paced the surprising St. Louis team.

So, the first month is over. May games are up next and it will take a long while to finish the month, I'm sure. Those trips to visit my Illinois girl take time, but it's well worth it. And the APBA game, like it always has, will wait for me to come back.