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.