‘APBA’ of their eyes

By on April 24, 2019

Despite illnesses, turnover, local baseball league still going strong at 50

How ironic it was that in their 50th anniversary of their APBA League, Randy Walker (center), who is suffer-ing from ALS, won the league championship for the first time. Seated with Walker is his wife Lisa. League members (left to right) include John Steffy, John Trego, Carmen Muckle, Dave Leid, Darrell May and Tom Snader. Photo by Missi Mortimer

How ironic it was that in their 50th anniversary of their APBA League, Randy Walker (center), who is suffer-ing from ALS, won the league championship for the first time. Seated with Walker is his wife Lisa. League members (left to right) include John Steffy, John Trego, Carmen Muckle, Dave Leid, Darrell May and Tom Snader. Photo by Missi Mortimer

 

It is a love story.

It’s a tale of two friends, a devoted wife and a baseball game that has gone on for 50 years.

Larry Burkholder, of Ephrata, started playing APBA Baseball, a board game based on real baseball player statistics and actual game strategy, when he was a senior in high school.

He and five of his Ephrata classmates started a league in 1970, playing half the year with cards from the 1969 season until the 1970 cards came out.

Fast forward to 1979 and Darrell May saw an advertisement in a local newspaper for openings in Burkholder’s APBA League. On draft day, the league was still short one owner/manager.

May said he knew a guy. He and several members of the league jumped in a car and drove to Akron Pond, where Randy Walker was fishing with his father.

It was like one of those stories where a fledgling band is short a bass player and recruits one from down the street and the rest is history.

Walker, a childhood friend of May, joined the league and for the last 40 years the Ephrata residents have competed against each other in this league, which turned 50 this year. Burkholder is the only original member still in the league.

May and Walker became friends in seventh grade; the same year May introduced Walker to the game of APBA, where players manage a team based on stats and rolling dice. They estimate that they’ve played more than 15,000 games together.

As teenagers, May said the two would play APBA from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. They’ve remained friends after graduating from Ephrata in 1982, staying close through marriage, divorce and remarriages.

They played softball together, as did several members in the league. They watched their children grow up together. Their wives are close and the couples enjoy being together. In fact, when May and Walker play each other, the wives role the dice.

May’s wife, Missy, said the bond between Walker and May is strong.

“It is special,” she said. “I think they are closer than brothers.”

In his 39th year in the league, Walker finally won his first World Series last year, but he did not do it alone.

There, by his side, was his wife, Lisa, who faithfully rolls his dice and watches for him to shake his feet, move his head or blink which pitcher he wants to use.

Six years ago he started showing symptoms and five years ago Randy Walker was diagnosed with ALS.

In 2015 Lisa, who married Randy 12 years ago in April, started playing APBA with him, a partner in every way.

During the early stages, he could talk, but Lisa needed to be his hands, to roll the dice. He would tell her which player or pitcher to put in the game.

A few years later he lost verbal skills and now communicates through an eye reader and computer, body gestures and Lisa can read his lips.

She is not a fan of the game, but plays because her husband enjoys it.

“I do it because he loves this game,” she says, affectionately referring to herself as one of the dorks. “He was going to quit and I said, if you want to play, I’ll do whatever I have to so you can play. So that’s what I did. …It gives me a chance to actually talk to somebody. It is companionship. And I love these guys.”

APBA is a game for individuals who not only like baseball, but are passionate about statistics; hence Lisa referring to members of the league as baseball dorks.

When Randy and Lisa won the World Series, she had to stand up in front of the guys in the league and say, “I’m the dork.”

She’ll proudly accepts that label, knowing how happy Randy was to win the World Series, after 38 years of playing the game. He says his 40th year in the league will be his last, making the win last year all sweeter.

“I wanted to jump up and down, but I settled for kicking my legs,” Randy said through the eye reader on his computer. “I smiled for days. Kudos to Larry; the last man standing 50 years later, 10 years behind Darryl and myself. This league has been to hell and back. Thinking back at all that we’ve been through, it feels amazing to still be here. There were times when I had my doubts. We just went through another contraction and I just can’t do it any more. Stick a fork in me.”

When they won the World Series – coming from two runs back in extra innings – Randy burst into tears, May said.

“It was great,” Lisa said. “It was exhilarating, to be honest.”

Lisa knows enough about the game now, that when Randy wants to change pitchers he’ll shake his feet or move his head. He’ll blink which pitcher he wants.

APBA baseball began in 1951 in Millersville before relocating to Atlanta, Georgia. Many members in the league said they’ve played the game since at least 1954, playing when they were children.

“We like to general manage and the strategy and scouting,” said May, who is currently in first place this season and is known for his competitiveness and multiple trades to get his man. “I always have the Baseball Network on.”

Speaking of trades, Tom Snader, who lived in Akron for 30 years and now lives in Manheim, is called “Trader Tom” because he likes to trade players. Now in his 10th year in the league, he said he’s played APBA since 1958.

He started playing with a friend in high school. Snader said this league is special because of the people.

“You got to talk smack,” he said. “It’s fun. I enjoy playing, trading and being a general manager.”

John Trego, of Brownstown, is in his 28th season in the league. He’s won the World Series twice, the most recent three years ago behind great pitching with Jacob deGrom, Sonny Gray and the hitting of Joey Votto.

“We’ll sit down and play six or seven games in about three hours,” he said. “If it weren’t for APBA Baseball, I probably wouldn’t follow baseball as much as I do.”

Dave Leid, of Ephrata, has 20 years in the league and has yet to win the World Series. He moved to Texas and when he came back they made a spot for him in the league. APBA has a computerized game, but Leid said he likes the face-to-face, talking smack and being around the guys and their families.

“We’ve grown up with families, watched kids grow up,” he said, “and as time has gone on and kids come and go and we just keep playing every year.”

John Steffy’s parents bought him his first APBA set when he was six years old. Now 62 and in his second year in the league, Steffy, of Ephrata, said he had not played the game since 1995, but missed it tremendously.

Carmen Muckle, of Ephrata, loves putting a team together and trying to build a contender and hopefully winning a World Series, something that’s eluded him in his 11 seasons in the league. He’s been to the World Series once and made the playoffs four times.

Each team starts with eight draft picks, which can be traded. Teams have a 40-man roster with 27 active players and 13 players in the minors.

The schedule runs March through January. The draft is in February. This year there are 13 teams, but for the previous 10 years they had 16 teams. They’d like to add owners to reach 16 again and be as realistic to Major League Baseball as possible.

Jason Witmer, who plays via Skype on his computer, lives in Palm Beach, Florida and comes to Ephrata every year for the draft.

The league had two original members until last year. Now Burkholder is the last man standing.

He’s had a lot of success with only three or four losing seasons in 49 years. He has seven or eight World Series titles, he said and he lost a number of times in the World Series as well.

“It is easier to stay in the league when you are winning and competing,” Burkholder, 62, said. “I was fortunate enough to pick some good players. The competition is really stiff with the younger guys; they really check things out and know who is coming up. …I knew how to put a team together.”

Lisa is learning the game, too. She knows the numbers on the cards. She knows if a dice roll results in a 13 it’s a strikeout. Even though Randy says this is his last year, Lisa will keep rolling as long as Randy wants to play the game.

“I love spending time with my husband,” she said. “He loves the game.”

It’s a shared love affair in a league that turns 50.

 

2 Comments

  1. Paul Pavao

    May 1, 2019 at 12:02 pm

    I read this because I am an APBA player. I have been since my first set in 1971. I have had two cancers in my 50’s, and I have survived and thrived, trusting in God. Recently, I decided to try out a functional medicine doctor. His plan is simply to check everything he can and use died and supplements to optimize all the things blood tests can check. He recommended I at least read Terry Wahl’s book, the title of which I forget. She is an MS sufferer who got out of a wheelchair through diet. She has a TED talk on Youtube at https://youtu.be/KLjgBLwH3Wc. I am an avid researcher, and I know how to examine a person’s sources. She used good sources from scientific studies you can look at on PubMed to find the best diet to help her stop declining. Surely, at least the TED Talk is worth hearing. I have been reading the book, and it is very reasonable, not crazy. Lots of greens, etc.

  2. James Dougherty

    May 1, 2019 at 4:46 pm

    This is a terricic and loving story. It is so wonderful to see that this group played for so long. I started to play the game in about the year 1961.Introduced to me by a neighborhood friend, who became my best friend growing up. WVhile in the service I played in a league , and I lost. The fellow soldier who won had the most amazing luck with the dice. The other players always checked them.
    God bless Randy and his wife for being so loving. That is a great group of friends.

    By the way I still play the game. I love it!!!

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