It was forty years ago today that my friend Bob passed away, struck down by leukemia at age sixteen, when he was just a junior in high school and had plenty of years still ahead of him. Besides being my friend, and being someone I could share a love of baseball and football with, and ride bikes and watch movies and simply hang out with, he was also the one who introduced me to Statis Pro Baseball, back in October of 1979, and it was his excitement and enthusiasm for the game that convinced me to buy one for myself.
Nowadays, it’s hard for me to fathom how long he’s actually been gone, and it sobers me to realize that I’ve lived more than two of his lifetimes since 1980. And then, it saddens me to think about all he’s missed—and all I’ve done without him—over those four decades. And how he’d visited me in Washington during that final summer, and how I eventually moved back to San Diego not long after he’d returned to the hospital for good, when my Dad and brother and I stayed with his family until we could find a place of our own. And how I got off the school bus that February afternoon with our friends Brent and Reid, and saw my Dad parked nearby, waiting to drive us home and tell us Bob had passed away earlier that day.
After we’d both purchased the games, Bob and I decided that we would each manage a league—he was a Red Sox fan, so he’d take the AL, while I was a Reds fan and would manage the NL—and replay the entire 1978 season, game by game, and mail each other the results of our daily or weekly match-ups. We’d keep track of stats and scores, and at some point down the line, when the regular season and league playoffs ended, we’d somehow find a way to get together and face each other in a four-to-seven game World Series. Sadly, it wasn’t too be, but a few months after his passing, I decided that I would honor that commitment and play the entire season—both NL and AL—on my own, no matter how long it took me. And here I am, forty years and 1,631 games later, still replaying that season, and getting ever closer to the World Series that would’ve finally allowed us to square off against one another.
If you’re a frequent visitor to this blog, you may have seen him in some of the posts or page headers on the site, in various photos of the game board; a small picture of him sitting on his bed, smiling happily, and wearing a red Hawaii t-shirt that for me now defines his look. Every now and then, and most often for Red Sox games, I’ll prop his photo up somewhere beyond the board’s outfield, so he can be a part of the game (and I’d like to think watch that game as well, but photo or not, I’m sure he’s there for every game I play anyway). I know that may sound silly, but for me, it makes me feel good knowing he can still take part in the fun.
A few years after he’d died, I had a very vivid dream where he was somehow alive again, magically returned in a way I didn’t bother to question, and I remember how elated I was when I saw him, convinced that he was really, truly back. As my dreams tend to do, the scene shifted without reason to an indoor shopping center in a neighboring town, and as he and I walked through the mall from store to store, I remember telling him about everything he’d missed the years he’d been gone, and all the things I’d done during that time. I distinctly remember telling him how the Moody Blues had released an album during his absence, but more importantly, I also told him about our replay season that I’d finally started, and how he could now take over managerial duties for the American League, just as we’d planned.
Of course, I still think about him all these years later, especially when playing a an SP78 game, or when his birthday arrives in August, or when I find old videos of the Red Sox or Steelers on-line. And sometimes I wonder if his parents and sister think about him as often as I do, and if they remember him on his birthday and at Christmas, and then I tell myself you idiot, of course they do, and more so and more deeply than you. And I’m sure Brent and Reid think about him as well, as do all the other friends and relatives who knew him throughout his sixteen years. So I decided today, on one of the many days I’m always reminded of him, that I’d take a moment and share this story of Bob with you. And when I play a Statis Pro game later this evening, I’ll place his photo in center field and think about him again, and wish he was there to manage the other team.