Thursday, August 27, 2015

LBJ, Bicycles and Bombs

There are times when a good story needs to be told the right way.  Many of you will remember, in our prior tournament, we conducted our first ever Fan-Vote to elect All Star teams made up of the players participating in the Lyndon B. Johnson Invitational.  Members of the APBA Facebook Group voted the starting lineups for Game 1, including the starting pitchers and one relief pitcher for each league.  My son and I picked 8 more position players and 8 pitchers, with each team having at least one representative.  The position players not starting in Game 1 would start in Game 2.  In Game 3, any player could be selected to start by the manager.

In Game 1, we tried to find an interesting place to play the game.  My son traveled with me on a working road trip, and we stopped at Fort Boonesboro State Park to roll the first game.  In a very tranquil setting and with no other people around to bother us, one of the picnic shelters worked great.  Well, except for a wasp who decided to plant a stinger into the American League manager's back during the game.  On the field, Johnny Bench led the Senior Circuit going 4 for 4 with 2 doubles, 2 home runs and 6 RBI as the Nationals stomped the American's 11-3.

In Game 2, Frank Howard had a 3 for 3 night, with a home run, 3 runs scored and 2 RBI.  The AL evened the series with a 5-2 win in a game that we played at home.

I think it rained in Kentucky the entire months of June and July.  Those rainy days delayed and postponed the American League manager's real life baseball participation in the State Babe Ruth Tournament in Lexington.  Every day was monopolized with it.  Finally, we had a day that I could arrange my schedule so that he and I could have some quality time to finish the LBJ All Star Series.  But where? 

Peace, quiet, solitude and a table are all we needed.  Mill Springs is the location of a series of Civil War battlefields with a very nice museum.  There are actually several different locations set up as a driving tour where you can visit and read about the different battles fought in this area.  There is also a national military cemetery there.  What says "peace, quiet and solitude" more than a cemetery??  And there are some covered gazebos that I thought might work for us to play our game.  This would have been fine, except on this morning that we chose to visit, the maintenance crew was working in full force to mow the grass to maintain its perfect manicured appearance.  Lawn mowers and weed eaters were not what we had in mind.

The Yankee Boy's mom and I used to go out to a little park in this area when we first got married.  We would pack a picnic lunch and travel to Cumberland Point where we could enjoy a peaceful summer day, before we had children.  The Boy and I decided to try that.  Upon arriving, I could tell it was almost identical to the last time I had visited, probably 15-20 years earlier.  There are camp sites, a couple of play grounds, a nice boat launching ramp, fish cleaning station, breath taking views of Lake Cumberland and a large, covered, unoccupied picnic shelter.  Perfect!!

We set up the game, and honestly, it could not have been more ideal.  The only sounds anywhere were the birds singing, the leaves rustling gently in a light breeze, Lake Cumberland's water gently crashing into the shoreline, and the dice being rolled on our table.  This was APBA heaven. 

During the game at Fort Boonesboro, Yankee Boy had mentioned the wasp nest above our heads.  I told him, "Don't worry about them, and they won't bother us."  When one of the vicious little winged devils started buzzing around him, I said, "Don't bother him, and he'll go away."  When the wasp stung him in the back, I said, "Hmmm, maybe not."  In the first inning of Game 3, a small but formidable yellow jacket came to inspect our table.  This time, knowing Yankee Boy would not trust my advice, with hat in hand and quick reflexes, I swatted the little stinging pest to the ground, found my prey squirming on the concrete floor and mashed him into eternity.  Don't mess with APBA players during a game.  We had learned how to identify things that might interfere with our game play and we knew how to eradicate them.

The game itself was a good one too.  Tom Seaver matched up against Sam McDowell.  If nicknames are any indication, there is little doubt who did better with the ladies: Tom Terrific or Sudden Sam.  Frank Howard connected on his second long ball of the series in the 2nd inning, and Bill Freehan added a 2 run shot to put the AL up, 3-0.  Hank Aaron and Glenn Beckert doubled home runs in the bottom of the inning, and Dick Allen's pinch hit single brought home another to tie the game 3-3 after two complete.

After the invasion by the yellow jacket, the piece and quiet of our scene was short lived.  From the corner of my eye I saw movement across the parking lot, coming from the direction of the campground.  A bicycle.  A small bicycle.  A small, pink bicycle.  This was not good.  This could be a serious problem to our peaceful game play.  A bicycle indicated another person, the size of the bicycle indicated a small young person, and the color of the bicycle indicated a small, young, female person.  None of that sounds peaceful or quiet.  Those normally like to talk.  As it approached the picnic shelter to investigate us, I considered using my hat again.  My better judgment told me, "No."

We continued to roll.  Boog Powell singled home Rod Carew in the 3rd, Freehan continued to rake singling home Frank Robinson in the 4th.  Neither manager mentioned the small person who had navigated and abandoned the pink two wheeled apparatus into the landscape of the picnic shelter.  We made no eye contact and no attempt to communicate with it.  We made no comment or reference of it to each other.  We made only silent and expressionless eye contact with each other that spoke more than any words we could say about the matter. 

But this lack of acknowledgment by two people at a picnic table, combined with the rolling of dice, calling of numbers, looking at pages in a book, and writing on paper intrigued this small person to the point that she walked slowly around the parameter to listen and inspect further.  She was scouting.  I considered the hat one more time.  Nope, not gonna do it.

Then, without warning or provocation, the small, previously quiet rider of pink bicycles took off in a full sprint across the parking lot as fast as her little pink tennis shoed feet could carry her toward the campground.  At full volume she screamed, "Justin!!!  Justin!!!  There are people over here!!!"  I should have used the hat.

In the top of the fifth, Powell smashed a solo homer and Freehan connected on his second two run blast of the night (5 RBIs), and the Boy's AL squad was pulling away, 8-3.  Johnny Bench picked up his third homer of the series to cut the margin to 4.

I knew he was coming.  With my concentration firmly on the game, and with the 5th inning passing which allowed for starting position players to come out, my attention was mostly on what managerial moves I needed to make next.  But in my peripheral vision, I saw him coming.  The bike was a little bigger than the pink model the first intruder had abandoned in the wood chips and azalea bushes.  The rider was much larger than his younger blonde predecessor.  Maybe he wasn't a lot taller, but was certainly much bigger around. Yankee Boy and I again said nothing of the impending invasion of our sanctuary.  Just knowing eye contact, dice rolls and results.

"What are you guys doing?", came the first question from the possible new poster-boy for Hostess snack cakes.  I considered my options carefully.  If I engaged in conversation, this would only encourage Kid Twinkie to ask more questions and further interrupt our father - son APBA time.  But to ignore him would be rude. 

"Playing a strategy game" came the answer, without eye contact, along with another dice roll and called play result.   "He'll get the hint," I thought to myself. 

"Have you ever been in a bike wreck?"  Dang it.  I should have used the hat.

Where to go from here could be tricky.  Our game was already running longer than most because of scoring by hand, a lot of offense and the large number of substitutions commonly made during an All Star contest.  The time we had to play and finish this project was running low.  I had no time for conversations of bike wrecks or to be asked if I had any Ho Ho's in the cooler.  Which I did not.

"I had a bad one when I was youn-"

"I crashed REALLY bad!  It got me all over!" he interjected.

For the first time, I looked directly at our newest pest.  His arms and knees were scraped, bruised and scabbed.  Even his jaw was discolored and darkened from the crash.  He was also too far for me to reach with the hat without getting up from my seat.  I reasoned that the best way to deal with this more aggressive intrusion, was to give him some attention and see where it went. 

"It looks bad," I said, hoping to let him get out the story he obviously wanted to tell.  I don't remember the details.  He was on the bike; he fell off the bike; he was on the blacktop.  Not a good combination, but one which most of us can relate. 

As he continued his rendition of a bike wreck that he probably thought worthy of a Steven Spielberg production, I returned my attention to the game.  At the time, we were somewhere in the middle of a stretch of 5 innings where Juan Marichal, Larry Dierker, Phil Regan, Don Gullett, and Bill Hands would face the minimum of 15 American League batters.  The wind was starting to pick up some.  Something rumbled and it wasn't Chief Big Wheels' stomach.  Even if a rambling kid couldn't stop our game, wind and rain just might.  I'm not one to take any chances on getting our APBA items wet.

As I monitored the sky, concentrated on the game, and generally ignored Justin's play by play of the world's greatest transportation disaster since the Titanic, I became aware of more movement entering the area.  These were not bicycles.  Trucks.  Two white ones.  One was a traditional 3/4 ton model Ford with an extended cab (4 doors).  The other was a bucket truck, similar to a model used by service men for a utility company.  Why a bucket truck?  There are no telephone lines in the park.  There aren't any electric lines in the area near us either.  Even the camp sites with electric service have under ground utilities.  This latest development concerned me far more than bike riding elementary school kids or even the impending rain.

Almost as soon as the wheels on the trucks stopped moving near the shelter, doors opened and eight men in work uniforms piled out of the vehicles on a mission.  Orders were yelled, equipment grabbed from the bed of the truck, pull cords yanked and the smell of 2-cycle oil filled the air.  Chain saws, weed eaters, hedge trimmers and an infernal deafening leaf blower all opened up their melodious tones in real life surround sound as the workers cut, blew and removed every low limb, weed and leaf within a 100' radius of our APBA table.  I momentarily considered the hat again, but there were too many of them, and these were pretty big guys.

Again, no words were spoken between APBA managers.  Eye contact only.  We both knew.  We were playing on! 

The equipment roared, and blared, and screamed at full throttle all around us.  "42!!  13!!  15!!  11!!  BASE HIT!!" we yelled to each other across the 3 foot distance of treated lumber that separated us.  Willie Mays homered in the 8th with Tony Perez on base.  Hoyt Wilhelm committed an error which led to pinch runner, Dave Concepcion, scoring.  8-7 after 8 innings.  The National League was coming back strong. 

With the "eight" horsemen of the apocalypse attacking, cutting and killing every growing thing in sight, and with us yelling out dice rolls and play results at full volume to each other, it became more than portly Justin could take.  He hurriedly made his way to his bike, mounted it and peddled as fast as his chubby little legs would take him back toward his family's camp site.  I could hardly blame him.  Just like the cliff hanger in the old Batman TV series, I could almost hear the voice in my head, "The worst is yet to come!"

Behind me I heard the distinct sound of the diesel engine of the bucket truck groan as the driver applied more fuel.  Then the familiar "BEEP-BEEP-BEEP-BEEP" as the large truck engaged reverse and began backing up.  It stopped at the entrance of the picnic shelter, only feet from where we sat.  One of the workers with a chain saw mounted the vehicle from the back and climbed into the bucket.  Up he ascended out of our line of sight.  This couldn't be good.

With significant desperation managerial changes having been made by me for pinch hitters and pinch runners, my bench and defense were becoming depleted.  In the 9th inning, I moved Johnny Bench to first base as Tim McCarver entered to catch.  With Joe Morgan already burned, and Concepcion (F) running for Beckert in the 8th inning, Davey was called upon to stay in the game and play Second Base. 

As the unseen man in the bucket blared his chain saw from somewhere above us, limbs suddenly started crashing against the metal roof of the picnic shelter.  Debris hit and slid down, falling onto the surrounding grass, landscape, pink bicycle and black top.  Other workers were there to scoop or blow these new found wooden fragments from the area.  2-cycle smoke and saw dust filled the air.  Men, near and far, yelled to each other.  The ceiling above us was bombarded by falling tree limbs.  Equipment roared.  My partner and I strained our voices to communicate over the pandemonium.  It reminded me very much of a battle scene from an old war movie.  We would not surrender, we were playing on!

McCarver walked and scored on a double by Tony Perez in the bottom of the 9th as Eddie Watt struggled on the mound.  The noise was likely distracting him.  With first base open, one out, the winning run now in scoring position, and Willie Mays up, the Yankee Boy signaled in the direction of first base indicating an intentional walk.  Good move.  And with his voice already strained, it was a nice reserve of his vocal resources too.  Concepcion wiffed.  With Willie Stargel due up, Yankee Boy brought in lefty Gary Peters.  With the platoon numbers, Stargel is killed by lefty pitching.  To the bench, and Lee May was called upon to hit to counter.  Chess requires no more strategy than our APBA games.  In a daring move, Yankee Boy again signaled for the free pass.  Two intentional walks in three batters!!  When Maury Wills hit into a 6-4 Fielders Choice to end the inning, the Boy breathed a sigh of relief.

We were going extras.  With the noise, distractions, potential rain and tree limb bombs going off all around us, more sensible players would have packed it up and finished another time.  For us, by now, this was a quest.  Similar to Clark W. Griswold leading his family to Wally World in California, we were on a trip that we would not abandon even if we had to tie a dead relative to the roof of the car or smack some kid with my hat.  Oh no.  We would finish.

Kaline walked to start the 10th, but was quickly picked off.  Boog Powell and Brooks Robinson made routine outs.  Bill Freehan's home run in the 5th inning was the last A.L. hit.  The noise and carnage around us continued.  A boat was now backing down the launching ramp and directions were being yelled from a helpful wife to her husband who was trying, and failing, to back the rig into the lake to her satisfaction.  You could only hear her during lulls in some of the equipment noise, which wasn't much.  Her off key, finger nails on a chalk board, screeching did little to help matters for us.

In the bottom of the 10th, Hank Aaron and Johnny Bench singled to put the winning run in scoring position.  Tim McCarver strolled into the batters box.  When McCarver delivered the third straight single of the inning, Hammerin' Hank streaked home with the winning run.  Almost as if on cue, something happened in the campground and an alarm went off with a sound so loud that it eclipsed even the Stihl equipment ensemble that we had enjoyed for the past 30 minutes or so.  The constant WOO-WOO-WOO-WOO of the alarm was a fitting end to a great game and a very strange day.

For the first time in what seemed like hours, I uttered completely unnecessary words.  "Let's go home."  The ride home was sort of quiet, as my passenger and APBA buddy took advantage of the first peaceful moments we had enjoyed in a long time.  I wonder if she ever came back for the bicycle?

No comments:

Post a Comment