Sunday, April 29, 2012
The 1980 Topps cards looked good. Though some debate exists whether action shots make the best baseball cards, this set might have had the best photos -- very few of them posed -- in the four years I had been collecting. The back of the cards included a cartoonish fun fact for every player. With it being 1980, it was simple to deduce the age of the player from his date of birth.
On top of the playing baseball, watching baseball, rolling dice to simulate baseball and reading about baseball, I was collecting baseball -- more than ever in 1980.
1977 and 1979, 1980 is still my favorite. Just digging up these three cards to scan for this post was a thrill.
With my decreased interest in baseball cards in 1981, I likely chewed my last packs of the pink, flavorless near-cardboard gum included in every pack. The gum would sometimes be crumbled into a few pieces as you opened the pack. Fleer, which produced baseball stickers before it started its own cards, produced more flavorful, juicier gum with their packs. Topps clearly hadn't caught up in 1980. But 32 years later, I can still taste that bland gum.
Just when I thought this series was over, I wrote an epilogue.
Friday, April 27, 2012
April is an unpredictable month in Salt Lake City as far as weather is concerned.It can be warm one day, cold the next. But this April, it's been mostly warm. Warm enough to put leaves on all the trees a couple weeks early. Warm enough to confuse our spring perennials. Warm enough to feel like summer had arrived.
Alas, it was too good to last. When a front moves through in April, the temperature just doesn't drop a little, it plummets with the accompanying rain. That's what happened over the last 30 hours -- the wind picked up, the rain poured for hours, the temperature dropped. Though the rain stopped, I felt underdressed outside all day, even with a sweatshirt. I was watching Michael's soccer practice, decided I had enough with the breezy chill, and retreated to the car for a half hour.
Temperatures are supposed to climb slowly over the next few days to at least be seasonal. Taking the good with the bad is the key to surviving April. And May is almost here.
Monday, April 23, 2012
Our patio, which I affectionately refer to as our "party pavilion," took a little bit of a beating over the winter, starting with the crazy windstorm that blew threw last December. I moved everything out of the patio, hosed the furniture down, swept out all the dirt, straightened out all the toys and returned everything to their rightful places. And it was worth it. Lori's meeting was a success, and though we need to find a solution to the bright sunset coming through from the west (the windstorm all but destroyed the long shade that shielded the sun), we are looking forward to entertaining out here all summer. We say we are going to do this every year, and we do manage one or two gatherings. This year, we want to utilize our party pavilion to the fullest.
And our patio isn't just for guests, but for us. Eating dinner out here is usually a joy. Tonight, I'm typing this post from the patio, with the patio lights shining just enough to be pleasant but not bright. I'm finishing off the bottle of wine opened at the committee meeting, listening to a baseball game off the MLB app on my phone, and enjoying the unusually warm April night. We have lived in this house for almost nine years, and despite my battles with the lawn and the weeds, the outside feels just as much home as the inside. Especially tonight.
Saturday, April 21, 2012
As I type, Ben is at a friend's house for his first sleepover. The two friends are brothers, so we did a prisoner exchange with Ben at their house and Michael's friend here. I'm hoping that as I type, Ben is at least asleep.
I remember my first sleepover, which never made it past 10:30. It was at my neighbor George's house when I was maybe 7, and I got freaked out and went home. Days before I turned 9, I enjoyed my first successful sleepover at my friend Chris' house for his birthday. It was a Friday night, and we ate pizza and watched TV ("The Lords of Flatbush" on Ch. 2 was the late show). The deal was when one person wanted to go to bed, the rest of us had to, and my friends lobbied hard for me to stay awake. In 1979, before Chicagoans had cable, there wasn't much on after midnight, but my friends managed to find something on PBS -- a rock band all dressed as robots. It was weird, so I turned in while my friends defied the directive and stayed up. I didn't have a sleeping bag, so I was just on the carpet with a blanket near the desk in Chris' small bedroom. I can still remember the nightlight shining from under the desk as I tried to fall asleep and not think about that I wasn't at home.
Chris would invite us over for a sleepover a couple times a year, and they were always fun. No giddiness or Truth or Dare like a girls' slumber party, but mostly board games, video games and TV (much like Michael's was tonight). WGN began showing movies all night, and to our amazement, on consecutive sleepovers, months apart, we watched the same World War II movie on Ch. 9.
As I type this, Michael's friend just let me know he couldn't fall asleep (Michael was almost out). I put a movie on for him, told him to get comfortable, relax and watch the movie, and in no time he'll fall asleep. I guess sleepover anxiety hasn't changed in 30 years.
Thursday, April 19, 2012
We moved Ben, kindergartner, into machine pitch with the thinking that he could handle it after hitting the ball well in t-ball and coach pitch last summer, as well as to make our Saturdays a little easier (just one baseball game instead of two). Since last summer, Ben has forgotten how good his swing was. So, we are working to get that back in order. He doesn't have to hit it far -- just into fair territory and run to first. Though I'm worried that maybe we're overwhelming him (though he's taller than maybe half the team), Ben always picks things up quickly, even if he gets frustrated along the way. Today during practice, he was playing second, and after telling him to cover the base when the ball goes into left field, he was doing it without us reminding him. He sometimes throws the ball really well and sometimes overthinks it, resulting in a not-as-good throw. It's going to take some practice, but I'm confident he's going to learn a lot this season.
We've had two practices and our first game last night. The Twins lost to the Red Sox 7-4, though we were winning going into the final inning. Ben struck out three times but did hit a foul ball. He also made a nice pickup of a ball hit to left field (though he missed two other ones that inning).
Michael struck out on his first at-bat, partly because he was still banging the plate and wasn't quite ready for his first pitch -- I think that threw him off. But he got two singles in his next two at-bats and drove in a run. I think he's going to have a great year -- there's only two second-graders on the team, and by far he's the tallest kid on the Twins (if not the league). He's catching and throwing well and made a couple good defensive plays last night. After crushing the ball at the end of last season, I think in a couple games he's going to be crushing it again.
As I've written before, I love helping with baseball practice -- today, I hit grounders for an hour. At the boys' first practice, Michael was wearing his Cubs jersey that used to be his Uncle Conner's, letting it hang out instead of tucking it in, and he looked like such a grown-up kid. It's good to know he, and Ben, if they keep enjoying the game, will have many more years to play ball ... and for me to be proud of them.
Tuesday, April 17, 2012
I had seen ads for Strat-o-Matic in baseball magazines (including the one I was engrossed in that spring), but it never struck me as something that absolutely looked cool. My father's suggestion came from a personal place: He played Strat-o-Matic in his youth. Dad had access to the then current game through some of his friends, and one night, he brought it home. It wasn't the whole set -- just a few times, a red binder that scoresheets, and two charts the game uses. Three dice were easy to find, and for split cards (Strat sometimes needs to generate a random number between 1 and 20; back then, the game used little pink cards with the numbers on them, but today, it uses a 20-sided die), he used a deck of cards, taking out the face cards and declaring one color as the numbers from 11-20. In retrospect, the instant split deck was a good indication that Dad knew the game well.
We sat down on the floor of our living room, by the love seat near a hanging lamp (our living room was so dark because of black paneling on one wall and no overhead lights; this spot was the brightest area and where games were often played and books often read at night). One game was all it took, and I was hooked. All the players' stats were right on the cards! With my attraction to statistics, this was a big deal. The game was easy to learn, too, but still complex when it needed to be.
We kept the game for a couple weeks, over which time I taught my friends how to play, and they were hooked. When we returned the game to Dad's friends (softball teammates, many of whom he'd known since he was a kid), one who hadn't played in years played again and remembered how much fun it was.
Of course, I wanted the updated game, with the 1979 player cards. I asked my father how I could buy it, and he said he would buy it for me, as a present for getting such a good final report card (6 As and a B). I remember the rainy June day, stuck inside the house, when the UPS truck pulled up to deliver the game. I remember opening the package and seeing the red box, then opening the box to find every team and these little pink cards with numbers on them. My friends and I played that game all summer. I played solitaire as well. My grandmother would Xerox scoresheets for me at her work, bringing them home in a big binder.
I probably went about six years playing a lot of Strat every summer. I enjoyed a little renaissance with the game in college (with a roommate from New Jersey who also grew up with the game), then rediscovered it with a vengeance in 2001. I bought the computer game a couple years ago and play that, and I have even introduced my sons to the game. And though there's a little part of me that wants to try one game of APBA to see what I passed up, I'm forever grateful my father steered me in the right direction toward Strat.
My baseball bonanza of 1980 wasn't just reading, batting and rolling dice, however. My other passion this summer came with a stick of gum.
Continued with Part 4.
Thursday, April 12, 2012
Some of the ads I ignored, like the Vitalis ad on the inside cover and the KOOL ad on the back cover (seriously, did every sports magazine once advertise cigarettes on the back?) But others were too good to ignore. The Renata Galasso Inc. ad for 1,000 mint baseball cards for $11.99. An ad for Sportcaster Sports Cards (I swear, we had some of these 30 years back in the day -- oh, no, guess what I'm going to look for on eBay tonight?). The Major League standings board with magnetic team logos. Giant baseball posters for $3 (plus $0.50 shipping) -- alas, Paul Molitor wasn't available in 1980. But what caught my eye the most were the ads for table-top baseball board games.
I already owned All-Star Baseball, which translated stats for real baseball players into a game that would re-create their performances. And my friends and I had toyed with a dice baseball game using our baseball cards, but it had no statistical accuracy whatsoever. I guess I was itching for something more substantial, and all these baseball magazine ads hawking board games were teasing me even more.
The first game that caught my eye was Baseball Manager. It touted "real-life accuracy." It was "great for solitaire or head-to-head." It could supposedly be played quickly: "a five-game playoff in less than an hour." You could rate players yourself. But what really jumped out at me was the number of teams it came with -- a gazillion! OK, not that many, but all the teams from 1979, as well as 1959 and 1967, 20 all-time great teams and six all-time terrible teams. It wasn't very expensive: only $9.95 with shipping and handling. I was so trying to figure out a way to order this. Ten dollars was a lot of 1980 dollars to a 9-year-old. In the meantime, I started devising schedules for all the teams I would be receiving.
Alas, Baseball Manager was not meant to be. A friend ended up buying this game, but I never played it, and I don't think he did much, either. Instead of individual player cards, which even All-Star Baseball had, the game was oodles of charts and ratings. You had to extract the players' ratings from the charts. Basically, you were looking in the booklet after every at-bat. Thankfully, I never figured out how to buy this game. But I also had another baseball game I was coveting from a magazine ad. One that would indirectly lead to hours of fun, even though I never actually played the game.
This is where the whole memory I'm drawing upon for these blog posts goes awry. I sent away for a free sample card and brochure for APBA baseball, one of the bigger-selling baseball board games. For years -- hell, decades -- I assumed I saw the ad in Baseball Stats Magazine and took APBA up on its offer from there. But looking through the magazine, repurchased off eBay, I can't find the APBA ad. The one here I scanned (badly) out of a Street & Smith's 1980 preview I also bought off eBay. So I'm not sure where I saw this ad first. Baseball Digest? Did I have another baseball magazine in 1980 that Baseball Stats Magazine pushed from my memory? I know my mom bought me a baseball magazine the summer before (of which my only memory was a story of predictions written by someone http://www.blogger.com/img/blank.gifcalling himself "Yitz the Prognosticator," and I didn't have any clue what a prognosticator was) -- did I still have that magazine in 1980 and ordered from there? Though I'm distressed I can't unearth that from my brain, the important part was that APBA sent me two free cards and a brochure.
I was impressed. The card stock wasn't flimsy, and the print was easy to read. The cards included players' vital statistics (height, weight, birthdate, nickname) just alike a baseball card would. The game used dice and seemed easy enough. I showed my dad, hoping maybe he would be excited as I was and let me buy the game. He said no because there was another baseball game I needed to try. A game he played and enjoyed when he was a kid. Dad was going to introduce me to Strat-o-Matic.
Click here for Part 3.
Wednesday, April 11, 2012
Being a baseball fan today is being able to read, watch and listen to the game almost at will. Websites, blogs, podcasts, MLB Network and more broadcast games than ever today supplement the primary sources of keeping up with baseball in 1980. Those sources for me were watching Cubs and White Sox games (and the occasional national game on ABC or NBC), reading about baseball in the newspaper and magazines, and baseball cards. Baseball Digest was an incredible source of baseball knowledge to the 20th century 9-year-old (and I love looking at old copies of the magazine -- I was never a subscriber then, but I do have a few years' worth I found cheap on eBay), and I liked other baseball magazines as well whenever I came across them (such as The Sporting News). Every spring, a few preview magazines would hit the racks in the spring. In 1980, I asked my mother to buy me one I saw at the Eagle grocery store on Montrose and Cumberland: Baseball Stats Magazine.
I don't know what drew me to this particular baseball magazine over others (it wasn't Reggie Jackson on the cover -- I wasn't a Yankees fan then or now). Maybe it was just the price: $1.50 might have been just reasonable enough that Mom wouldn't mind buying it for me (she didn't). It could also have been the format of the magazine, which emphasized statistics. Even when I was little, I loved the numbers that emerged from sports. I used to read them on the back of baseball cards and in the sports section, to the point that even today, I could probably give you a good guess about how many home runs Bobby Murcer hit for the Cubs in 1977 (about 24 is my guess). So perhaps the headline on the cover "Statistical Preview of the 1980 Season" drew me to this particular magazine.
I've collected some other baseball preview magazines from this era, and none quite takes the same stats approach to the game like this one did. Advanced number crunching is a basic part of the game now but was relatively new a few decades ago. This magazine was published by Dell -- not exactly a publishing company know for sports journalism (but so proficient at logic puzzles and sudoku). Maybe this was a way to distinguish itself from other baseball previews.
As you can guess, I soaked up every bit of information in this magazine. I went back to the team previews over and over as the spring and summer progressed. I pored over the 1979 statistics that took up several pages at the back of the magazine. I looked at the ads and dreamed about buying the baseball items being sold within (more on this in the next post). Simply, this was my favorite baseball magazine ever. I'm subscribed to Baseball Digest (more because I feel I should support the magazine after enjoying it as a kid), which has a nostalgic feel to it, but it's not quite the same, then and now, as Baseball Stats Magazine. And I almost wouldn't buy a baseball preview magazine (one that's not a fantasy baseball magazine) today because I can read many previews on the Internet.
I loved the magazine, but years later I couldn't remember the name. I scoured eBay and the Web trying to find it, inevitably finding other old baseball previews and Baseball Digests but never finding my ultimate goal. Finally, in 2005, I found one on eBay, in good condition no less. If you look at the scans, they aren't perfect simply because I'm worried about bending the magazine too much.
But the baseball fever of 1980 was just beginning. And my beloved magazine would turn out to be a gateway drug to that fever. (Oh, Bobby Murcer hit 27 homers in 1977; I was close. And the Cubs' projected 75-87 record in the scan was off by 11 games, in wrong direction).
Part 2 is live. Oh, I'm thinking this may go four installments, not three. I can be a concise writer when I want to be. For these posts, I don't want to be.
Monday, April 9, 2012
Today, however, was simply a good day.
I got a much-needed haircut. I ate healthier than I usually do. I got a lot of yardwork done, preparing the front lawn for another reseeding that every spring I'm optimistic about (and every July I'm resigned that it didn't work). The boys helped me get some stuff for the lawn at Home Depot. Made some good mac and cheese (using some extra whole milk we had in our fridge and real butter) to go along with leftover ham for dinner. Sat outside in the gorgeous evening as the boys got a little more playtime in before bed time. Took Popcorn for a walk of about 2 miles or so.
OK, the day wasn't perfect, but after the tiring and uneventful weekend, it was just what I needed. Here's hoping Tuesday is just as good.
Friday, April 6, 2012
The hikes we traversed were great -- two trails we had never ventured upon. The first we hiked, on Wednesday, was about 1.5 miles and took us to petroglyphs we didn't know existed (and Lori and I are big petroglyph fans). The second hike started out small but got more ambitious -- we walked about four miles after thinking we'd go no farther than two. Thursday's trail gave provided some great views of the lava fields west of St. George, as well as plenty of rocks for the boys to climb.
Michael and Ben did great on the long hike -- I was so proud of them. On the second half of the hike, I admittedly patted Lori and me on the back when I told the boys that they were lucky: Many of their friends' parents wouldn't take them on hikes like this with them. Lori somewhat corrected me that many of the parents we know take their kids hiking. I guess what I meant to say was that there are many parents out there who will do the bare minimum with their kids on vacation.
What spurred me to say that to the boys was witnessing families at the pools (one indoor, one outdoor) at our hotel. Michael and Ben were playing with two boys around their age with their mother, whose husband was working in St. George that week. The woman was nice, but in two days spending all afternoon at the pool, she barely swam with her kids, telling them not to splash her when she was in the water. There was another family who did this for three days -- the kids swam, the moms tanned. An abundance of pool time on vacation is great, particularly if the hotel has great pools (like the water park resort), but our Hampton's pools were nothing special. I can understand after a long winter wanting to relax by the pool, but all day for three days? And then to not even interact with your children for that long while they swim?
Before I continue my rant, I will disclose that Michael and Ben probably spent about seven hours swimming over three days . And yes, I was not in the water with them for a good chunk of that, especially after they found new friends to play with. Also, Ben's swimming skills have progressed so much that he is fine playing in water over his head, so he doesn't need us in the water with him all the time. But Lori and I did actually swim with the boys and enjoyed our vacation together with them. Michael and I had breath-holding contests, and Ben is so easy to flip (and he loves being flipped).
Why does this get me so annoyed? I wonder if it's because I didn't go swimming as a kid and wished I did. I think that's part of the reason, but I think another part is that some parents are so apt to distract their kids so they themselves won't be bothered. All parents are guilty of this sometimes -- I know I am -- but for hours upon hours during vacation? We didn't have to take the kids hiking. I didn't have to take them bowling (which Ben loved, by the way, asking if we could go again before while in St. George). We didn't have to go to a park to practice baseball (we missed the boys' first practice, so we had and enjoyed or own little practice). Lori and I only have so many years before the boys don't want us being so active in their vacation (I'm pegging this at about seven years to go). And when I see other parents essentially pushing their kids away, I want to scream at them: "Why are you wasting your precious time?"
Wednesday, April 4, 2012
Unbeknownst to us, by purchasing the "Spider-Man" punch card, we were entered to win a life-size Spider-Man sculpture that each Blockbuster had been sent to promote the movie. One day, I got a call from the store saying I had won a "Spider-Man" prize. I wasn't sure what to think of it, but went to the Blockbuster to claim whatever prize I had coming to me. I got there and was asked by an employee how I was going to get it home. "It" was the 6-foot Spider-Man sculpture. I was stunned when I fully realized what we had just won. Spidey was made of Styrofoam and dressed in a real costume. I told the store that I would have to come back -- Lori had the station wagon, which was the only way we were getting Spider-Man home. When arrived later that night, they brought out the box to pack the sculpture, and Lori broke down laughing after reading on the side of the box: "Contents: 1 Spider-Man."
We got the sculpture home and kept it in its box, fearing the cats would use it as a scratching post. Our goal was to sell it on eBay (the retail value, according to Blockbuster, was $600), but several were being sold on the website without a lot of luck. Shipping this was going to cost $100 in itself. So it stayed in the box, waiting for the day we'd sell it. I thought about consigning it at a comic book shop, or trying Craigslist or KSL classifieds -- I didn't care how much we got for it -- but never quite got around to it. We moved it to our new house, where it sat in our guest room, still boxed up.
Finally, we took action last weekend. Spider-Man returned.
The boys are old enough to appreciate Spidey. We had space for him in my office. The current cat isn't quite the scratcher our old ones were, and we are going to keep the office closed anyway. And selling Spider-Man was just going to be a pain. Why not keep it and show it off? After all, how many people can say they have a life-size Spider-Man in their house?
So out of the box, Spider-Man emerged, for the first time in almost 10 years. He was not as in mint condition as we thought -- either the moves or simply the wear and tear from being in the store slightly damaged the three-dimensional costume. The cat didn't know what to think of him but didn't try scratching. The dog was funny -- she thought it was another person in the house and even brought him a dog toy in the hopes he would play with her. I'm a little paranoid that Spider-Man is going to be watching me as I work at my computer, and Lori has double-taked a few times when she walks into the office, thinking another live person is in the room.
But the boys' smiles when they first saw Spider-Man were the best. No, it's not really a toy, but it is a superhero in their basement. I'm glad we never sold Spider-Man over all those years it was in the box. His presence, and the boys' enjoyment of his presence, is worth more than the few hundred dollars he might have brought.
Tuesday, April 3, 2012
It's been awhile since we've hit the lanes, but Michael, with a heavy ball (we couldn't find any junior balls and I didn't think to ask the front desk right away), rolled a strike with his first throw. It was downhill from there for him. He didn't want to play with the bumpers, and he was turning his wrist as he threw, resulting in a lot of gutters. I eventually got a light ball for the boys, but I think it was a little too beat up, because Michael would throw it straight, it would get about three-quarters down the lane, and it would make a sudden left turn into the gutter. I found him a 10-pound ball near the end of the second game, which he started throwing better and straighter, to the point he was rejoicing hitting any pins. We left with him asking if he could get his own bowling ball.
Ben played with the bumpers and did well, getting about six spares over two games. He tried the lighter ball with diminished results -- the 8-pounder didn't bounce off the bumpers so well when thrown as slowly as Ben throws. He switched back to the heavy ball with better success, even calculating where to angle the ball to get the optimum bounce off the bumpers. All that Wii Bowling (100-pin bowling, with bumpers) paid off for him.
I did not bowl well, missing too many spares and finishing with a 110 and 117. Ick.
We picked Lori up and went to Texas Roadhouse for dinner. After returning to the hotel, we went swimming again, with the boys splashing around for another hour. Needless to say, they zonked out quickly tonight.