Monday, December 25, 2017

Forty Years of APBA

Forty years ago today, Dec. 25, 1977, I began the APBA journey when my father slid a large package from beneath our Christmas tree and handed it to me. I had been hoping for the game company's football game that provided the means to replay the 1976 NFL season, but I wasn't completely sure if I my parents had gotten the set.

That was the season the Minnesota Vikings went to the Super Bowl only to get trounced by the Oakland Raiders. I grew up in Minnesota and,of course, the Vikes were my favorite team. I had to play the season if only to avenge Minnesota's loss to the dreaded Raiders.

So when my father handed me the package and I felt its heft, I knew, I knew it was the game. Kids' toys didn't weight that heavily. I tore off the wrapping paper, opened the box and pored over the players' cards. Fran Tarkenton, Alan Page, kicker Fred Cox, the wonderfully-named Wally Hilgenberg, Roy Winston, Chuck Foreman. They were all there. Hereos of my youth right there in my hand.

The game was complex; there were lots of rules and it was a far cry above the games of childhood. The previous gridiron contests I had were either a Tudor electric football game or the Mattel Talking Football game in which players inserted mini-records into a player, chose their offense, let the opponent select a defense and pushed a button to hear the play.

This APBA game was far more advanced and it was the first step into the life of APBA. I remember staying up late that Christmas night digesting the rules and finally rolling a game between the New York Giants and the Washington Redskins. Larry Brown returned a kickoff for a touchdown for the Giants, leading his team to a high-scoring victory. I am sure I didn't follow the rules exactly, but the die was cast, the seed was planted. APBA that day became a mainstay in my life.

I was hooked. A year later, I got the basketball game. I loved it; most didn't. It was a ploding game that took hours to play a single contest. I learned to play a shortened version that eliminated passing and strategy and instead became a simpler version of a shooting-rebounding game. But I played that game constantly and it stayed with me for years.

I bought the hockey game when it was first offered in the early 1990s and then, finally, I bought the baseball game in 1998 when, as an adult, I decided to buy myself a Christmas present of my own. I did the process backward - most APBA fans begin with the baseball game. But I became initiated with the company four decades ago my own way and remain with it.

Nothing else has lasted this long. Although I've slowed tremendously in rolling games in whatever replay I'm engaged in, I still toss them. I'm still on the 1991 baseball replay, a season I began in August 2015. Changes in life slowed that pace; I began traveling to northern Illinois a month after I embarked on that season to meet a girl I became enamored with and, when a year later, she moved to Arkansas, I started yet a new chapter in my own life. The game took a back seat. I worked as a daily newspaper bureau correspondent in my town for 19 years before the trend of print journalism took a personal toll and the managing editor opted to eliminate 28 positions at the paper including mine in late October. I was a victim of journalism economics Now, I have to find a new job and fear is prevalent. I spend time seeking new employment and writing freelance pieces for various publications to appease Wells Fargo Home Mortgage, my utility companies, my car financer and my family of Holly, a Siberian huskey and two cats.

But the game is still there as always.

Tonight, shortly after midnight when children everywhere fell asleep anticipating Santa's visit in the morning, I played the July 4, 1991, contest between New York and Montreal. The Mets won big; Howard Johnson hit his 19th homer of the season and the Mets clobbered the Expos, 14-4.

For 40 years this game has been part of my life. In some cases, it's been a major part. Nothing else has lasted with me that long, jobs, friendships, relationships. Nothing. During the APBA journey, I've had eight jobs, lived in three states, gotten married and widowed, lived through seven presidential administrations and went from being a peppy 17-year-old high school kid to an old, sarcastic, 57-year-old.

It's a different world now, 40 years later. Most youngsters aged 17 now vie for computer games, the Nintendos and X-Boxes and whatever else is popular, rather than a game featuring printed cards, dice and cardboard play outcomes. But that style remains with me and each Christmas, I think back to 1977 when it all began and thank Santa for placing that APBA game beneath the tree that year.

Wednesday, August 16, 2017

The Slow Pace

Sometimes, APBA replays go quickly. I've finished a full season baseball play — albeit a pre-1969 season when less teams played fewer games — in less than a year.

Sometimes, they take much longer. It took me 17 months to wrap up the 1950 replay I did.

It's taking me the longest time ever to advance the 1991 replay I'm doing now, but I have a valid reason.

Replay fans embark on journeys when they begin a replay. I've written about this here before. We elect new presidents, major news events happen, people get older, teams win championships in the real sports all while we continue playing our own replays game-by-game.

Two years ago tonight, on Aug. 16, 2015, I began rolling the 1991 season. Houston beat Cincinnati, 5-3, and Roger Clemens struck out 10 to lead Boston over Toronto, 1-0. The season was underway. I was back into the groove of another season and I figured I could knock this one out in about a year and a half, what with my limited social life and the fast pace I can maintain playing these games.

I start each season with anticipation. There are many games to roll and during the trek, players to get to know personalities of teams, winning streaks, losing streaks, players who achieve above their real life statistics and players who don't produce as well as they did in the real seasons. You really experience a season playing it one game at a time. And there's always the looking ahead factor. You knock out one season and start another. It's not that the games are tedious. By all means they're aren't. It just that there are so many seasons to experience, things to learn.

I began the 1991 season with all that in mind.

But a week after the first dice roll hit the table, I made a phone call. Again, I've written of that here before. I called a girl in northern Illinois on Aug. 23 that set my world a-spinnin'. A month later I drove up there, met her, fell butt over head in love and … voila! .. life change.

Holly has moved to Arkansas and a lot of my time is now divested in the new life. Where once I was a reclusive geek who remained at home after work, rolling games and listening to U2, Fleetwood Mac and Radiohead on the stereo, now I'm often zipping off to Wal-Mart to pick up bread, toilet paper and whatever lotion of the day the boss wants. Ah, life.

Tonight, I'll probably roll Game #800 in the 1991 season. There's 2,106 games in a full replay and I don't do rainouts. So, I'm 38 percent finished with the season. At this rate, I'll complete the 1991 replay in about five and a half years.

But the game is always there, and I find time occasionally to roll contests. It's shaping up to be yet another good season. Seattle is a surprise, leading the American League West Division and Minnesota, the actual World Series of that year, is two games behind the Mariners. The two Canadian teams are bookends of this season. Toronto, with a 43-20 record, is the best team in the league. Montreal, winning only 15 and losing 48, are far the worst. Pittsburgh and Atlanta are also taking big leads in their National League divisions.

And Jose Canseco is on pace to hit 66 home runs for the season. He's clubbed 26 in 63 games so far for Oakland, which otherwise is pretty dismal, anchoring last place in the American League West, 15.5 games behind Seattle.

I'll update the standings in a post soon. In addition to the change in frequency of games, I've not been writing Love, Life and APBA as much either.

Changes. We all have them in life at some point. I've been here before. I stopped playing the APBA football and basketball contests as much when I went off to college, maybe tossing a game or two on the weekends I returned home. And I once began a 1925 season and, after burning out on the errors and multitudes of walks each pitcher gave up, I went cold turkey and quit the season. I may have reached about 33 percent of the season and simply stopped. If I resume it, I'll start over since it's been so long.

But 1991 is on the forefront and I'll continue rolling at my slow pace, just enjoying the time I do have with the game when I do find time in my changed life.

Saturday, July 15, 2017

Enough time?

I turned 57 the other day and with that comes questions of mortality. I'm in unchartered territory. I mean, I've never been this old before.

The questions surface a lot while playing the APBA baseball game, too. I've been mired in replaying the 1991 baseball season for nearly two years now. I'm about 40 percent finished. In the past, I would have already completed this season, playing games at a rapid pace each night. This time, however, things are different. I have a new life; the playing of games is less frequent; my time is divested in other things.

But when I do roll a game or two, I tend to think ahead. I've purchased a lot of seasons over the years of playing this game and, as we always do, my mind wanders to the potentials of other seasons to replay. I want to do 1961 to see if Roger Maris can replicate his real-life 61-homer season. There's 1972 to play — a season I really became aware of baseball and followed it closely from start to finish. I have Black Sox' 1919 season in the wings and 1934 as well, and I'd like to replay the 1954 season with the amazing Cleveland Indians' pitching staff.

But is there time enough? Will I live long enough to do all of them? I think it's a question all the APBA players eventually come around and think about.

To accentuate the issue, on my 57th birthday, I received a message on my phone from the Arkansas Prostate Cancer Foundation. “We have your blood work. You need to call immediately about the results,” the person said.

Talk about a Happy Birthday message. I called immediately. Well, not exactly immediately. I first had to run around screaming in panic and frothing at the mouth. I had some issues late last year when I got pretty sick and ended up in the emergency room. Later, I told my doctor I couldn't pee worth a crap and, after apologizing for mixing the bathroom simile, learned that was common for “men my age.”

I had reached “that age.” The doctor did tell me that I had to monitor it, saying if things worsened, I could have early symptoms of prostate cancer.

So, the prostate foundation call was a bit of a shocker.

When I called back, the person said they use a 3.0 rating as a “marker” on PSA tests, which measures protein produced by prostate cells. “It's our cutoff,” she said. Anything above a 3.0 is red-flagged and the patient is notified, the association person said.

The words “cutoff” and “prostate” didn't go together well, I thought, but I digressed.

My rating was 3.09. Nothing to be too worried about, she said. But she advised that I “keep an eye on it.”

So, I was okay. For now.

When I returned to rolling games that evening, I thought about all the seasons I still have ahead of me. And, as I play those seasons, those collections of baseball eras, players and history, the APBA company keeps producing new seasons. It's an endless cycle.

I was a late starter with the baseball game. I was introduced to APBA with the football game in 1977 and didn't get into the baseball replay game until 1998. There are so many seasons and games left to play and my time, as dramatically as it sounds, is running out.

But enough pondering. Toronto is playing Cleveland next in my 1991 season and then Houston is hosting Philadelphia. I will continue playing, rolling games when I can and thinking about all the seasons I have yet to replay and experience.

Thursday, May 18, 2017

Playing the Game With Someone

I've never played an APBA game against someone in person before, but now I can say I played a game with someone.

Ever since I began playing the replay sports games with the football version of APBA in 1977, I did it alone. I never experienced the fun of competition with someone, the strategy of outthinking an opponent by using certain players at certain times. 

A year later, I graduated to the APBA basketball game, a plodding venture that took hours to play a single game. Had I been playing against someone else, my strategy would have been to stay awake longer than my opponent. In 1993, I bought APBA's hockey game and played it alone and in 1998 I finally obtained the baseball game.

I've probably rolled more than 50,000 games in my four decades with this game. All of them alone.

Until the other night.

I had reached June 2 in my 1991 baseball replay and was set to play San Francisco hosting Atlanta. The Giants were the second worst team in the National League in my replay and Atlanta was only two games behind surprising upstart Cincinnati in the National League West Division. It had all the makings of a rout, and it was.

But this time, I had company watching the outcome.

Holly, my Illinois girl, who moved down here nearly a year ago came into the APBA room when I began the game. I had tossed the first roll; Otis Nixon got a single and promptly stole second base while Mark Lemke was at bat.

Holly asked if she could roll the dice. She has tossed a few rolls before, maybe rolling an inning for me while I explained the nuances of the game and did a sort of play-by-play for her.

This time, she pulled up a chair and rolled the entire rest of the game for me. And I was enhanced by the conversations we had.

Lemke followed Nixon with his own single off Giants' pitcher John Burkett and the Braves took a 1-0 lead. After San Francisco failed to get a hit in the bottom half of the first, Brian Hunter hit a home run — the first “66” roll-inducing homer Holly had done — and Atlanta was up 2-0.

Then, it got ugly. In the fourth, the Braves scored six runs. In the fifth, they got six more runs and led 14-0. The Giants got only one hit off Braves' starter Steve Avery. Holly noticed how quickly San Francisco batters came to plate in their halves of the innings and then were retired.

At the end of the sixth inning, she realized there was no way the Giants would come back and she uttered one of the more horrific things an APBA player true to the game could hear.

She said her personality was not suited for playing games day after day after day the way I do in replays.

“No offense to the game, but I'd just make it so the team I wanted to win won and then call it a day,” she said.

“Make” the team win? You can't do that. It's all up to the dice rolls.

At one point, I tried explaining how the statistics of the game generally worked and how players carded by the APBA game company usually replicated their real seasons. But, there were always exceptions to the rules. APBA players call it “dice magic,” when players either produce way above their actual season performances or they fail to meet up to their real stats. Seattle Mariner's Richie Zisk in my 1977 replay played far better than he did in real life. And Mickey Mantle's 1957 season in my replay was a disappointment.

I was about halfway into my dissertation about the dice's fickle ways when I saw Holly's eyes began glazing over.

She continued to roll the game.

It was time for a pitching change again for the Giants in the seventh inning.

“Why?” she asked.

“Because Kelly Downs gave up four earned runs in less than two innings,” I replied. “His arm is tired and we need a new pitcher." Jeff Brantley, an A-rated reliever, got the call from the bullpen.

“You do realize these are virtual arms,” Holly said, pointing to Downs' APBA game card. “They can't really be tired.”

The Braves won, 15-0. Avery only gave up that one hit for the entire game and Atlanta improved to 30-16 on the season.

I thought I had lost her interest in the game. Making teams win and virtual arms sort of quelled the magic and ambience of the game; it shattered the make-believe world that us APBA players can escape to and avoid the travails of real life for a bit.

But, Holly did return to roll other games, sometimes tossing an inning or two for me before going to do something else.

And, that APBA magic, while perhaps deep within, hidden behind her sense of reality and literalness, did show up once. A few days later, I was rolling the June 4 game between San Diego and Chicago. Holly, a life-long Cubs fan, took interest and wanted to roll her team's first inning. Mark Grace got on base with a single and then Ryne Sandberg flied out.

Andre Dawson was at bat. Holly rattled the dice in her hand and tossed them on the mousepad I use. The dice tumbled on the mat and, of course, two sixes resulted. It was a home run!

Holly stood up, smiled and swung a virtual bat of her own, replicating Dawson's clout.

I think she'll be back to roll more games.

Wednesday, April 19, 2017

1991 Update: May 31, 1991

I've been replaying the 1991 baseball season with APBA now for 609 days and I've reached June 1, 1991. I finished Game # 600— the last replay game for the month of May — late the other night when Nolan Ryan struck out 12 in a complete game and led the Texas Rangers over the Seattle Mariners.

Six hundred games in 609 days. That's less than a game a day with this replay. In the past, I've been able to play four to five games a day. In my previous life, I would have easily completed this 1991 replay and its 2,106 games within 609 days. But life changes and priorities differ. At least, though, the game is still part of that life as limited as it is now.

That said, I've recently picked up the pace of games and still find time to roll three or four games some nights. And, like I say during every single replay I've done, this is a good replay. The 1991 season is fun because it's a year I closely watched baseball. The Minnesota Twins, my favorite team, won the World Series that year. I'm hoping the replay replicates that success. However, the Twins have to get past Seattle first; the Mariners are a surprising team in this replay. In the real season, the team finished in fifth place. Currently, at June 1, the Mariners are three games ahead of the Twins and with 31 victories already, they have the second most wins of any team in the league.

Here are the standings through May 31, 1991:

East Division W   L  GB
Toronto         33   15   -
Boston           24   22   8
Detroit           24   22   8
Milwaukee    21   25   11
New York     19    25   12
Baltimore     19    26   12.5
Cleveland     12    32   19

West Division W   L  GB
Seattle            31   17   -
Minnesota      28   20   3
Chicago         24   20   5
California      24   23   6.5
Texas             22   21   6.5
Kansas City   22   24    8
Oakland        18    29   12.5

East Division    W   L  GB
Pittsburgh        30   15   -
St. Louis          27   19  3.5
New York        25   20   5
Philadelphia    24   23   7
Chicago          22    25   9
Montreal        10     37   21

West Division   W   L   GB
Cincinnati         31  15    -
Atlanta              28  16    2
San Diego         28  21   4.5
Los Angeles      24  23   7.5
Houston            16   31  15.5
San Francisco   14   34   18

And here are the leaders in a few categories as well:
American League
Home runs : Canseco, Oak., 16; Thomas, Chi., 15; Tettleton, Det., 13; Hrbek, Minn., 12
Wins: Wegman, Mil., 8-2; Stottlemyre, Tor., 7-2; Key, Tor, 7-3; Tapani, Minn., 7-4
Saves: Harvey, Cal., 10; Montgomery, KC, 10; Reardon, Bos., 9; Russell, Tex., 9
National League
Home runs: Strawberry, NYM, 15; Mitchell, SF, 14; Johnson, NYM, 13; McGriff, S.D., 13
Wins: Glavine, Atl., 10-0; Cone, NYM, 8-3; Smiley, Pitt., 7-1; Z. Smith, Pitt., 7-2
Saves: Dibble, Cin, 12; L. Smith, StL, 9; Franco, NYM, 8; Howell, LA, 7

Along with Seattle, there have been a few other surprises. The New York Mets have played well and are in third place, paced behind Howard Johnson and Darryl Strawberry's bats and David Cone's pitching. Even Mets' reliever John Franco is chipping in, saving eight games so far. In the real season, Franco saved 30 games in 1991.

Cincinnati won 12 games in a row at the end of May and winning 15 of 16, overtaking Atlanta for first in the West Division. Chris Sabo and Barry Larkin lead the Reds with seven home apiece.

Toronto is no surprise. The Blue Jays are running away with their division. During each replay I've done in the 18 years I've played APBA baseball, I've discovered that there's always one team in a season that finds a variety of ways to win. Toronto is that team this year. The Blue Jays could fall behind by three or four runs early in a game and then have an explosive inning and take the lead. Nine Blue Jays have hit homers already. (There are only 12 players carded for the Blue Jays in APBA's 1991 season, not including the eight pitchers.)

Montreal continues to be really, really bad and San Francisco is trying to mirror the Expos. The Giants lost 10 games in a row from May 21 to May 30.

Finally, in a stunning development, I have decided to keep more detailed stats in this replay. I've tried a few times before to compile batting averages and ERA only to have my computers crash each time. I had planned to use zip drives, but never got around to copying my stat results on them. This time, I plan to log batting averages, RBIs, home runs, innings pitched, walks and strike outs. I've gone back and recorded stats from about 170 games so far. It's opened an entirely new realm of this game and I understand why APBA players do it. For example, after the 170 games, I can see that Tony Gwynn is batting only .217 and Vince Coleman is hitting a stellar .377 so far.

It's still very early in the season. I am only 28 percent of the way done with this year, so things can change. I'm hoping the Twins taking over first place will be one of those changes.

Monday, April 3, 2017

Opening Day

It's Opening Day today, a time when, they say, hope springs eternal.

For baseball fans, it's an exciting day. We've waited for this since the last out of the World Series in November, enduring the cold of winter and watching only the endless run of NBA games and the occasional NHL telecast for our sports fix. In late January and February, we watched golf if only to see a hint of the green grass that is the staple of all baseball field summer viewings.

But it's here today. Actually, I am aware that the official Opening Day was yesterday when three games were played. But for the most part today is the day when it really kicks off. And for me, it's the one time of the year that I can say my favorite team, the Minnesota Twins, are tied for first place. Sure, they're 0-0, but so is everyone else.The Twins were also 0-9 before their first win last year. Yes, hope springs eternal for some. For me, hope sprung a leak by about the second week of last season.

That's what gives us that feeling today on Opening Day, though. We're all at the starting gate, each of our teams has a chance. Look at the Cubs' season last year. It took 108 years, but Chicago won the World Series. Of course, the Cubs took a few years to meticulously build the winning team through trades and drafts and a genius general manager in Theo Epstein (I'm reading The Cubs Way about last year's Cubs). But we're hoping our teams also have done the same thing during the off season.

Apparently, everyone does. In 2014, former Cardinals shortstop Ozzie Smith and Budweiser tried to make Opening Day a national holiday and gathered over 102,000 signatures on a petition they sent to the White House. That attempt was denied a few weeks later. But in that denial, Deputy Press Secretary Josh Earnest admitted Opening Day was a “state of mind where anything is possible.”

The Twins open today at home, hosting Kansas City. I've got on my work computer to keep an eye on the score. Ervin Santana will soon throw the first pitch to Alex Gordon and the Twins' season will embark. And I've found some Minnesota FM radio station streaming on line to be able to hear the game.

Within a few weeks, most of us baseball fans will be grounded, realizing our team won't win every game it plays. Being a Twins fan at this time means being excited for a third-place finish out of five teams. But there's always that hope and it begins today.

I think us APBA players get the Opening Day feeling as well whenever we start replaying a full season. There is a replica of the excitement of the actual season, of the voyage we will undertake when beginning a replay. And the same wonderment occurs with the game. Will our team do well in the replay? There's always that chance. Which team will surprise us? Which players will stand out? And, the fun part of APBA... we can have Opening Days any day. I've begun replay seasons in late summer, early spring, winter.

So now, it's the bottom of the fourth inning. Mike Moustakas homered for the Royals in the top of the inning to give Kansas City a 1-0 lead. But, Twins' third baseman Miguel Sano just hit one out and the game is tied, 1-1. The Twins remain tied for first. Hope is still springing.

**NOTE: at 6:03pm, Twins won their Opening Day game for the first time since 2008, beating Kansas City, 7-1. Hope keeps on springing.**

Tuesday, March 21, 2017

A Look at Mickey Tettleton; 1991 Replay

Every so often while replaying an APBA baseball season, you run across players who either closely replicate their performances in real life, or become anomalies and do something totally opposite of expected. As contradictory as it sounds, I may be seeing a case of both occurring at the same time with Mickey Tettleton, the Detroit Tigers' catcher, in my 1991 replay.

The games are coming at a slow pace — I began this season on Aug. 16, 2015, and have reached Game 549 some 18 months later — but I play enough to notice some things. I keep limited stats for the players because of a lack of time and because, invariably, no matter how I save them, I either lose the statistics on computer or I make some inane error when tallying and it takes forever to rectify the mistake.

So, I keep home runs for batters and won-loss records and saves for pitchers. But when some player, like Tettleton, stands out, I'll go back and check more of his stats.

As of May 27, 1991, in my replay, Tettleton has 12 home runs and is in third place in the American League homer race. Only sluggers Jose Canseco with 14 and Frank Thomas with 13 dingers are outpacing Tettleton in this replay so far.

Overall, Tettleton's stat line is thus: .230/ 12 HRs/ 31 RBI. In the real season, the catcher hit 31 home runs with 89 RBIs by season's end. He also batted .263.

The Tigers, by the way, are 22-21 in my replay. On the same date in the real season, Detroit posted a 23-20 record.

In the real season, Tettleton only had seven dingers by May 27. So he's on pace to hit more home runs in this replay than he did in the actual game, but his batting average is 30 points less. He got off to a slow start in the replay as well. He hit his first home run in Chicago on April 20, 1991. In the actual season, he hit one out of the park for the first of the year against the Yankees on April 22, 1991.

In my replay, Tettleton copied his performance of the real April 22 game, hitting a home run in a 12-3 win in New York. Then, he cooled off briefly. But May came and Tettleton took off — especially against my favorite team, the Minnesota Twins. On May 9, he hit one against the Twinkies to win, 5-4. On May 12, he hit two more homers — his fifth and sixth — against Minnesota in a 9-5 victory. Three days later, he did it again, hitting one against the Rangers in Texas.

He hit his 11th and 12th round-trippers in Milwaukee, pacing the Tigers to a 12-3 win.

So far in the replay, he's hit four against the Twins. Nine of his 12 home runs have come on the road.

Obviously, it's early in the season and things can change. APBA's baseball game is based on statistical frequencies. Players' cards are developed upon their actual performances for each season and mostly they produce closely in the APBA game to their real life production.

But then, sometimes, things happen for no reason. The dice roll differently for some. Maybe Tettleton will end up with 31 home runs by season's end as he did in the real game. But the path he takes to get there has been pretty interesting in this replay so far.

It's one of the reasons we roll each game in a replay, taking months and even years to finish a season, just to see how things all turn out.

Thursday, March 9, 2017

30 Years Later

My father has been gone for 30 years now, more than half my life.

Three decades of being without a father since March 3 when he passed away after fighting Parkinson's. It's hard to fathom that all that time has passed. I've changed jobs, got a master's degree in communications, moved to Pennsylvania and Texas before returning to Arkansas, got married, widowed, survived a medical bankruptcy and found new love all after he died.

And now, even though I'm adult — about 15 years from the age he was when he died — there are days when I still need my dad.

The disease robbed my dad of much ability to play sports with me as I grew. He'd shoot baskets with me on the driveway goal, but we never played catch with a baseball or tossed a football around. I could blame him for my inability on the sports fields as a kid, but that would be wrong. In reality, it was my inability to see and hit a baseball at all and my prowess on the basketball court was akin to that of a sloth with attention deficit disorder. No, my lack of sports skills was strictly on me.

Instead, my father taught me other skills. He tended to overanalyze everything which I find I do all the time. He taught me to read more advanced books at an early age which led to me writing a lot and he taught me to think. He also instilled the love of sports I have. I credit him now for my obsession for the APBA games I've played for the past 39 years.

I've written about my dad here before. He was a music teacher, earning his doctorate at the University of Wisconsin and teaching at Bemidji State University in Bemidji, Minn., before he retired in 1974 because of his health. He was a musical genius; he could pick up any instrument, figure it out and play it within a few minutes. He could also sing. Once, he told me, he sang at a New Jersey church for Easter services and then flew by helicopter to Manhattan in order to make it on time to sing on WABC radio.

I don't have that talent. I chew gum in church so it looks like my mouth is moving and I'm singing along with the others. If I actually belted out a tune in the sanctuary, I fear several churchgoers would immediately doubt God's existence and bail out.

I didn't pick up much from my father. Other than the overanalyzing skills, an ability to write sometimes and the fact that I, like my dad, find farts hilarious even at this age, I didn't take advantage of the gene pool he offered.

After my father died, my mother told me he was proud of me. I had worked at two newspapers then, one was a tiny weekly in the corner of northeast Arkansas where I spent much of my time taking pictures of people with the first cotton bloom, a freakishly large pumpkin or some other agricultural oddity of the area. Proud of me? I wasn't even proud of myself then. My mother said I was “the apple of my father's eye.” Funny, I didn't think I was equivalent to the worm in said apple.

So, it's been 30 years. Three decades. The Twins won two World Series since he passed, including the year he died in 1987. The Vikings have yet to return to the Super Bowl and Norm Green still sucks for letting the North Stars escape to Dallas back in 1993.

Thirty years softens the sadness. But there are times when I still roll APBA games and I think of my father watching me play the game when I was a youngster. Back then, I constantly played the ABPA basketball game which, some may recall, is plodding and takes hours to complete a full contest. I scaled the time of play down and could get two or three games in during a long evening. I'd stay up late rolling the games and my father would come into my bedroom and talk about the contests, asking for the score and highlights before he retired for the evening. He'd tell me about watching the Yankees when he was my age, regaling me tales with seeing DiMaggio and Berra and later a kid named Mantle.

He would go to bed early. I was a late nighter. The clacking of the APBA dice in the plastic cup provided by the game company was a lot louder in the stillness of the wee hours and, as concession to his slumber, I quit using the cup and tossed the dice onto a mat to muffle noise. I still do that.

In 1976, we watched the Boston Celtics play the Phoenix Suns in the NBA championship. Despite growing up in New York and New Jersey, my father was a Celts fan. Game 5, fans recall, went into triple overtime. My dad couldn't stay up for the end and bade me goodnight. I watched the game and, when our “namesake” Garfield Heard hit a shot at the buzzer for the Suns to tie the game in the second overtime, I ran into my parent's bedroom and woke my dad with the news. My mother was understandably upset, but my dad was glad for the sports update. I woke him again after the Celts won the game.

All this to say, make memories with your fathers if they are still alive. Talk sports, show him the APBA games we still play, talk about life. Laugh at farts if you're so inclined. Because, there'll be a day when your father may be gone and it gets tough at times.

Thirty years. That's a long time.

Saturday, February 18, 2017

51 Super Bowls

It was hard doing so this year, but I was able to see at least part of the Super Bowl, making it the 51st consecutive game I've watched. Sports have always been such an impacting part of my life and I remember where I've been during some of the games and how integral they were with my life at the time.

The fact that I've seen each of the big games since the Super Bowl's inception in 1967, (I realize that the game didn't take on the name “Super Bowl” until 1969) is a testament to both my tenacity in watching the spectacle and the fact that I am an old fart. I mean, 51 games? That's a lot of years. If I were a chair, I'd be considered an antique. If I were a car of that age, I'd either be a classic or already crushed into a cube on the back acre of some rural junkyard.

This year's Super Bowl is considered the best one since it went into overtime for the first time ever. I almost missed it, though. Holly and I drove back up to northern Illinois on game day because both her aunt and her mother were in hospitals at the same time. We arrived at the Advocate Condell Medical Center in Libertyville, Ill., shortly after halftime and caught the fourth quarter in Room 4402 where her mother was, watching as New England clawed back from a 19-point deficit.

Her mother, though, was not that impressed with the game and we decided to leave when she needed to rest. We watched the brief overtime period in the hospital's hallway, peering through some patient's door and seeing James White score from 2 yards out to win the game for the Patriots. The patient quickly turned off the television set in his room before any postgame shows began; apparently he was a Falcons fan. It was a hospital, after all, and he did spare us the trauma and illness of hearing Joe Buck's after-game commentary. I had enough of Buck for a year after listening to him when the Cubs won the World Series last fall.

Despite the difficulties of getting to a television on time, and the sadness of visiting Holly's mom in a hospital bed, at least I got to see part of this year's game . The string of seeing them continues. As we drove back to Arkansas later that week — both Holly's mother and aunt are out of the hospitals now and doing well — I thought of all the games I saw and some of the circumstances and locations I was in during those contests.

My father was a huge sports fan and that's where I was introduced to the Super Bowl. It was a big thing in our house, even if we weren't rooting for either team. We had just moved to Minnesota when the first game was held; it was referred in 1967 and 1968 as the AFL-NFL World Championships back then.

Here are a few of the games and what I was doing at the time of them:

1967: Green Bay 35 Kansas City 10
I vaguely remembered this game as a 6-year-old only because my favorite player at the time, Bart Starr, was quarterbacking the Packers. My dad noted the irony that we had just moved from Wisconsin to Minnesota and now the Packers were in the game.

1970: Kansas City 23 Minnesota 7
My first venture into heartbreak. Minnesota was a heavy favorite to win and it was the first year I, at the age of 9, was really aware of football and its stats. Kansas City dominated and I learned true disappointment. Forget how life turned out as an adult, I was crushed deeply as a kid. My Vikes let me down that year. I had a hatred for Chiefs' coach Hank Stram for some time after that game.

1973: Miami 14 Washington 7
This was the Dolphins' undefeated season, but I also remember that one of my friends who lived on the block where I lived in Bemidji, Minn., was a huge Dolphins fan. My friend was small for his age but when we played football in his back yard with the neighbor kids, he tried to personify Dolphins' bruising running back Larry Csonka. He was tackled a lot and other kids often made fun for his small stature. But on that January 1973 day, when his team finished 14-0, he stood tall.

1977: Oakland 32 Minnesota 14
For some inane reason, my mother, who was our local church choir director, scheduled a performance on that Super Bowl Sunday. To make matters worse, she made me be an usher for the program. To make them even worse, I had to wear a yellow sweater she bought me for Christmas that had tufts of yarn that stuck out like feathers. I looked like a chicken. See: . I missed the second half of the game, but it didn't matter. The Vikings lost that day, their fourth Super Bowl loss.

1982: San Francisco 26 Cincinnati 21
I had just returned from a four-week college photography class trip to the southern end of Mexico. I had no idea who was in the playoffs. We lived in huts about 60 miles west of Cancun on the Caribbean Ocean and had no television. Visitors from a cruise ship to Cozumel stopped in the small town where we stayed a few days after the league championship games and I asked one person which teams were in the Super Bowl. Apparently, I looked a bit worn. “How long have you been down here?” he asked, incredulously.

1984: Los Angeles Raiders 38 Washington 9
I had applied for a newspaper reporting job in western Arkansas a few weeks prior to the game. Just as the game began, I got the call from the editor. I was hired.

1986: Chicago 46 New England 10
I was caught up in the mania surrounding the Bears. Yes, I even bought the record that the team cut, “The Super Bowl Shuffle.”

1988: Washington 42 Denver 10
I was wrapping up work on my masters degree and had to work on a thesis paper that was due the week after the Super Bowl. I was a decent student, but I was also a sports fan and couldn't miss the game. So, I hid a small television set in a carry-on flight bag and headed to the college library. I was able to watch the game and finish my school work at the same time.

1993: Dallas 52 Buffalo 17
The Jonesboro, Ark., fire department remembers this game. I was working for a weekly paper in the town when I was paged out on a large downtown fire at halftime of the Super Bowl. A short in the wiring of a meat cutter created a spectacular blaze in a restaurant. With camera in hand, I rushed downtown to take pictures; the game was already decided, so I knew I wouldn't miss anything special. I was shooting photos near the engulfed building when I saw a fireman kick open a side door. The air rushing inside created a flash-over effect and I noticed a billowing ball of smoke heading for the large plate glass window at the front of the building near where I stood. I turned to run and dropped my camera bag. As I bent to pick it up, the window exploded, sending shards of glass and a plume of flame into the street. Later, firemen told me they got their hoses ready to douse me because it looked like I was covered in fire. Instead, I was fine. I pulled one piece of glass out of my elbow and continued shooting photographs. I think I fared better than Buffalo did that day.

1998: Denver 31 Green Bay 24
This was a tough one. I received a call that morning from my mother's friend who told me she found my mother dead in her home of an apparent heart attack. I drove the 100 miles to her home and was pretty much in shock. My father passed away 11 years earlier and I realized that day I was truly an orphan. I turned my mother's television set to the game, more for some distraction or sense of normalcy that any intent to follow the game closely. I guess I was in shock. 

2009: Pittsburgh 27 Arizona 23
A devastating ice storm hit the state about a week before the game, knocking out power to thousands. My electricity was restored two days before the game, but I had to cover the storm for the newspaper where I work. I worked that Super Bowl Sunday, writing a story about a nearby town that opened its community center for shelter for those without service. But I made it home just before kickoff and was able to see the game. I usually skip the halftime shows, but on this occasion, Bruce Springsteen was the featured act and, for one of the few times, I stayed glued to the television during halftime. On a side note: I later interviewed a guy who, because he had no power at his home, ran his television set off his car's battery to watch the Super Bowl. He had to get a neighbor to recharge his car at halftime and he, unlike I, missed the Springsteen show.

2016: Denver 24 Carolina 10
I was on one of my many visits to Holly at her northern Illinois town last year before she moved down here when the game was on. We got a pizza, went back to the hotel and watched the game. I was so smitten with her that I really didn't pay attention to the game.

Fifty-one Super Bowls and, I hope, more to come. Maybe I'll be back in Illinois for the next Super Bowl. Maybe we'll be here. Maybe I'll be covering some news story on game day. I have no idea what's in store for the future, but I hope to continue the string of seeing every game so far.

Thursday, January 26, 2017

Game No. 500

I've finally reached Game No. 500 in my 1991 APBA baseball replay season.


When Boston outfielder Ellis Burks dribbled a grounder to Detroit first baseman Cecil Fielder to seal the Tigers' 11-0 victory over the Red Sox, I reached that milestone.

After what I counted as 513 days since this replay began, I hit Game No. 500. That's less than a game a day; it's a far cry from my old average of playing about four or five games a day. Used to be, I could finish a season-long replay involving the cards and dice of the game in 15 to 18 months. Now, based upon my less than stellar speed, I won't wrap this season up until well after the next presidential election.

We've all had those spells where life steps in and changes things and competes for the time we had for rolling APBA's games. For some, it's when high school dating began, or college days, or moving from home and beginning a career, or having kids. But the game will always stay with us, albeit at a much slower pace at times.

Since I began this replay on Aug. 16, 2015, I've driven to northern Illinois and back 18 times and almost went up there again last weekend. Work beckons often and I've been dealing with a medical issue of late that has gotten my attention some. It all takes up time. Time away from the game that we've loved since childhood.

But the game is there, always. And it provided some fun when I did finally reach Game No. 500 the other day. Detroit opened a 6-0 lead in the first inning when Andy Allanson hit a grand slam homer off Red Sox pitcher Joe Hesketh. Alan Trammell hit his first of two home runs in the second inning and by the third inning, the Tigers were leading 9-0. Walt Terrell held the Red Sox hitless until the fourth inning and gave up only four hits in his complete game outing.

The game was also the first of seven in a row where the home team won. Milwaukee upended Cleveland, 10-1, in the following game and later, Jose Canseco hit his American League leading 13th home run to give Oakland a 10-2 win over the White Sox. Seattle, Baltimore, Cincinnati and the Cubs also took home field wins.

I've found that the frequency of games occurs in frenzied spurts. I may not toss a contest for four or five days in a row and then spend an hour playing four or five games in a row when I find a wedge of free time. I hit No. 500 and several games beyond the other day when Holly, my Illinois girl who moved down here, called her aunt on the phone and talked for a while.

I still have 1,606 games to play to complete the 1991 season. I've reached May 24 in the replay and it's sizing up to be yet another good season to do. Right now, Seattle is leading Minnesota by three games in the American League West and the National League West is a dogfight early on. Montreal still continues to lose. The Cubs beat the Expos in 10 innings the other night, dropping the Canadian team to a record of 8-33. The Expos may be the worst team I've ever played in a replay; they aren't a bad team when you look at the players' statistics for that year, but as a team, they find so many ways to lose games.

One thousand, six hundred and six games left to go. At this rate, I'm still looking at four and a half years before completing this. I may have to step up the pace a tad.