Vintage Baseball Ball

Sports Replays

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Playing APBA Rekindles Warm Memories

by Rick Woelfel

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I first played tabletop baseball when I was in the fifth grade. That was a long, long time ago. I played one season with Strat O Matic before switching to APBA a year later. I played the game through high school and into college when life got in the way.

I purchased the APBA game this spring in the hope it would help occupy my time in the midst of the Covid-19 pandemic. It turned out to be a Godsend. Playing the game has offered a much-needed respite from everything going on right now; it’s done wonders for my mental health.

The card set I purchased features the best players from each major-league franchise from the post-expansion era. That’s perfect for me because it brings together the biggest names in the game from the early ‘60s, when I first started to follow baseball, along with their peers from the years since. I’ve put together a league featuring the eight National League teams that existed prior to expansion.

I purposely stuck with the National League because I grew up in Philadelphia (we moved there from Massachusetts when I was five) and I could set the DH rule aside.

For me, playing the game is akin to taking a step back in time, to when Willie Mays, Sandy Koufax, Roberto Clemente, and Henry Aaron were the brightest stars in the constellation of baseball. With the passage of time, they were supplanted by names like Mike Schmidt, Steve Garvey, and later, Tony Gwynn, Barry Bonds, and Albert Pujols.

Each player’s card is based on his best season, so I’m ‘watching’ all these players at their peaks. Recently I experienced Clayton Kershaw trying to preserve a no-hitter by pitching to Mike Schmidt. For the record, Schmidt walked twice and Kershaw took the no-no into the eighth. The Phillies eventually prevailed 2-1 in 10 innings; Kershaw got a no-decision for his efforts.

But this league is about more than watching the all-time greats. It’s about watching players who were not necessarily superstars, but who had impressive major league careers and who were familiar names to me growing up.

Players like Johnny Callison, the Phillies’ right fielder who broke up the Kershaw no-hit bid described above with a game-tying home run but who in real life gave me one of my most vivid baseball memories by hitting a dramatic home run in the bottom of the ninth to win the 1964 All-Star Game at the brand-new Shea Stadium.

When I’m playing APBA, a host of memories of that sort come back to me, some baseball related, some not so much. But the game allows me to separate myself from today’s world and rekindle those memories.

I’m grateful for that.