Game on

This is it. The time is at hand. As foretold by the prophets, a great event is about to transpire that will signal the end of a Great Evil. The season for celebration is within our grasp. The glory is ours to seize.

Pitchers and catchers report.

A baseball, in case you need a reminder.

A baseball, in case you need a reminder.

In the entire, vast universe of sports there are few moments so heavy with anticipation as the beginning of Spring Training. Maybe the opening of an Olympic games comes close (even when one of the Giant Flaming Doobies fails its hydraulics check). But that’s about the only thing I can think of. Nothing else, really, is in the same class with baseball’s hallowed First Workout.

From the depths of winter, Spring Training salvages a renewal of hope. Every team is a contender. Every ballcap-topped face is a potential phenom, a Career Year waiting to happen, a World Series MVP in waiting. Every cleated foot that claws the infield dirt or shreds the outfield grass portends the demise of that hated season of cold despair and gives life to the promise of summer’s sun-drenched embrace.

Spring Training is the sporting world’s physical manifestation of one of humanity’s most enduring and admirable qualities: Hope. At least until the 25-man roster is finalized, every baseball fan can – at least in some fashion – find a way to maintain hope for the season to come. This year, the expensive free agent won’t totally fizzle, last year’s biggest flop will redeem himself, the pennant race will stay interesting at least through August and the team’s Radio Color Guy won’t get busted at the airport with a ziploc full of snop.

Soon enough, Spring Training games will begin. It’s time for me to plan the pilgrimmage. There’s a ballpark out there with a real, live, green outfield. It’s just waiting for me to sit as close to the field as physically possible and breathe in the moist, heady aroma of freshly-cut ballfield grass: Grass that isn’t frost-bitten grey or brown, sun-soaked grass perfumed with the memories of a thousand ballgames, a hundred golf courses and 20 years traipsing the now-distant athletic fields of my youth.

Time for cold and rain and aching joints to pass. Summer beckons.

Baseball and time travel

In my distant and misspent youth, I was a lousy baseball player. An unfortunate circumstance, certainly, but it wasn’t anything that ever interfered with my love of the game.

(Then again, I suppose your passion for baseball is clearly unquenchable when you can claim to have personally witnessed 12 of the Braves’ losses during their miserable, 101-loss 1977 season…)

The sport itself is fascinating enough – the skills, strategies, personalities, history – but baseball’s place in the Circadian rhythms of the universe lend it a special significance. The arrival of baseball season – that long-awaited moment when pitchers and catchers report – signals both the demise of winter and the end of the ugly sports doldrums that strike our little, blue speck of a planet during those miserable months following the end of the regular football season.

APBA Baseball

APBA Baseball

A couple of weeks ago I was making my usual rounds on the Internet when it popped up right there on Tanga.com: A time-travel machine built of paper and cardboard – the APBA tabletop baseball game. And at half-price, too.

Ring up another sale, you merciless bastards.

It’s serious flashback material. Back in my college-johnny days I was an APBA maniac. Years (YEARS) before personal computers and the Internet arrived on the scene, I participated in multiple APBA play-by-mail leagues. Full-blown Master Game with scoresheets in triplicate insanity. Several 3-game series played out every weekend, details duly noted and everything mailed off to opponents scattered all over the US (and the ‘league office’) each weekend. Drafts, trades, budgets. All of the stuff that any decent computer baseball game can tick off in a matter of minutes these days.

I’m not exactly clear on when my big box o’ Master game stuff and 5 or 6 seasons of player cards disappeared from my game inventory, but during one of my moves the whole kit drifted off into the gaming aether.  Maybe when they released their first APBA Baseball for Windows? I don’t remember.

Regardless, it was a mistake. Yeah, sure, the PC game kept up with a lot of minutiae and eliminated a lot of bookkeeping – but it never seemed to generate the same quality game narrative I enjoyed with the tabletop version. I remember to this day some of those ancient PBM league games: Steve Carlton losing a no-hitter 1-0 on a sacrifice fly in the ninth; Jerry Royster scampering home on a short fly ball for a playoff win while I listened on the radio as the ‘real’ Jerry Royster powered the Braves to a loss against the damned Dodgers when he booted a routine groundball.

So here in the swamp is the starter version of the game again, ready to take a run at becoming a ‘family game’. That’s right. Lucky me. TRULY lucky me. I married a lifelong baseball fan.

The game’s format has changed a bit over the years. Years ago all of the play results were printed on over-sized boards. The basic and master games had separate sets of boards, just to increase the storage demands. The contemporary version of the game has all of the play results conveniently packaged on cardstock pages in the back of the spiral-bound rule book.

Now here’s a truly geeky observation: The new game set contains two dice: One large red 6-sider, one smaller white 6-sider. Back in the day I recall that the game shipped with dice that were the same size. One thing that is unchanged: The game still ships with that odd, thumb-sized, yellow plastic dice-rolling cup. Yeah. I’m THAT much of a geek.

Included is the 1953 ‘Fall Classic’ player card set. That’s 25-man rosters for both the ’53 Yankees and the ’53 Giants. My wife has already informed me that she absolutely will not play the Yankees, so I guess I’m stuck with Yogi and The Mick for now.

Play ball!