Eleven is the age at which athletics begin to evolve from a communal gathering into a selective pursuit. At 11, Little League is nearing its end and giving way to real baseball, with 90 feet between the bases and 60 feet, six inches to home plate, and those of us who possess the desire but lack the physicality and coordination are shunted aside. And so we seek substitutes, a way to replicate the experience that is still somehow tethered to reality. In the modern age, of course, this is the purpose of fantasy baseball and video games; but during my childhood, Rotisserie sports were the domain of New York editors, and Atari baseball featured pixelated stick figures with monikers invented by Japanese software engineers. What was the point of spending time with a re-creation that possessed no authenticity?
Hence, The Game: STATIS PRO BASEBALL, published by the Avalon Hill company, 4517 Harford Road, Baltimore, Md., and endorsed on the box by Sports Illustrated magazine. The cost, I believe, was 30 dollars, and this was either the best or the worst money my parents ever spent, because the game consumed my life for five years. I don’t remember the first time I played, and I don’t remember the second, and I don’t remember the third. What I remember is this: Before I knew it, most of the summer of ‘84 was gone, and I had hardly seen the sun. I slept until 11, played the game until 2, prepared/consumed a box of Kraft Macaroni & Cheese, played the game until 6, ate dinner in silence while totaling box scores and perusing the four-page sports section of the Centre Daily Times, played the game until midnight, watched the David Letterman show, dozed off to a B-movie on the USA Network, went to bed, woke up, and did it all over again. My objective: To play a complete 162-game slate, to replicate the entire 1983 baseball season, to keep meticulous track of statistics and box scores, to quantify everything on yellow legal pads that my father brought home from the university at which he worked. There was nothing sentimental about it. This was the first job I ever had, to serve as manager and commissioner of an alternate universe, laboring each day to fulfill a quota that existed only in my own head.
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