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.

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