You never know what the most important day of your life is going to be. Even when it happens, it may be years before you realize it. For me, it wasn’t the day I met my wife. Or the day we got married. Or the day our children were born.
It was the day that made all those days possible. It was July 28, 1967. I was nine years old.
Bear with me, it takes a little while to connect all the dots.
My parents, younger brother and I lived in Louisville, Kentucky. In 1966 I became a baseball fan, and I saw my first major league game at old Crosley Field that year when my parents took us on a family trip to Cincinnati. We made another trip in July 1967.
I needed help remembering the exact date. Fortunately for me, our visit coincided with an even more memorable occasion than a ballgame: The Monkees were in town for a concert, and we were staying in the same hotel. They were at the height of their popularity, with the first season of their TV series having just concluded. Somehow I found out what floor they were staying on, and I made a journey there in hopes of catching a glimpse of one of them. Security guards were camped out by the elevator when I disembarked, and I made some lame excuse about thinking there was a pop machine on that floor, but I was immediately sent back where I came from. That evening my family went to the lobby to head for the game, only to find the Monkees were leaving the hotel at the same time to head for their show — through the same lobby. The place was mobbed, completely packed with Monkee fans, and I remember seeing Mickey Dolenz’s head bobbing above the crowd of shorter youngsters.
No, it wasn’t The Monkees that made this the most important day of my life. It wasn’t seeing the Reds play the Cubs that night, either. It was something that happened that afternoon, when I was killing time at the hotel newsstand. I bought a copy of a publication I had never seen before, something that looked like it was all about baseball: The Sporting News. (The photo at right is the cover of the issue I bought…alas I no longer have the one I purchased.) I was already in love with baseball and newspapers, so the combination of the two was irresistible.
I don’t remember how much else of the contents soaked into my brain that day, but in paging through the issue an advertisement drew my attention:
Yep, I wanted to bring the major league players right into my home and manage them all myself. I had already played Ethan Allen’s All-Star Baseball with a neighborhood friend who had a copy, but this looked ever so much cooler…all the teams! All the players!
As soon as we got home from Cincinnati I sent off for that full-color brochure, which got me even more excited. The only thing that wasn’t exciting was the price. There was a reason APBA didn’t list its prices in its advertising so you could just order straightaway — it was expensive, and most people needed more of a sales pitch before parting with that kind of money. APBA was good at sales pitches. I don’t remember the exact price, but it was surely in the neighborhood of $12-15…the equivalent of about $85-100 today. Not something a 9-year-old takes on lightly.
Lucky me…my parents were kind, and I talked them into buying the game with the promise that I would pay them back with household chores. Of course, I was too lazy and sullen to actually do the chores, but as I recall I paid my debt by cashing a few tickets when my father took me to Churchill Downs (I was even more into horse racing then than I was into baseball).
Once APBA arrived I immediately immersed myself in it. But we’re still a few steps away from me getting married and having kids.
The next year, 1968, Dad got a new job and we moved to Port Washington, New York…coincidentally, the home of APBA’s major competitor, the Strat-o-Matic Game Company. Their office/warehouse on South Bayles Avenue was within walking distance of our house. Before long I was making that walk on a regular basis, first to buy their football game and later to buy their baseball game, both of which I played avidly.
In 1971 two Strat-o-Matic fans in Kalamazoo, Michigan (well, one of them was in next-door Otsego) started a monthly publication, the Strat-o-Matic Review. Of course I subscribed. The next year, the Review’s editors announced they would host a convention in Kalamazoo and invited other Strat-o-Matic devotees from around the country to come, play some games and get to know each other.
Ah, the kindness of my parents…yes, I talked them into letting me go. Dad and I flew to Kalamazoo. When we arrived and I checked in with the organizers, I was told a guy named Brad Furst had hitchhiked to the convention from Spencer, Iowa and was looking for a place to stay. My father — another act of kindness — said Brad could stay with us…the way I remember it was Brad and I shared a room and Dad got another room for himself. Brad was a few years older than I was, but we hit it off right away and spent a lot of time talking that weekend, developing a friendship that continued for several years.
Hang on, we’re getting warmer…
Brad went on to attend Grinnell College, a superb school in his native Iowa, and when I was preparing to apply to colleges he told me about a school in Northfield, Minnesota he thought I would like, Carleton College. (The way I remember it — and this absolutely may not be true — Brad told me Carleton had a bigger and more established group of Strat-o-Matic players than Grinnell. Although I think Brad remembers it as he just wished he had gone there himself.) I had never been west of Chicago (well, DeKalb, Illinois) and this sounded pretty exotic.
I was accepted at three other schools, and each of them was my first choice for a while, but in the end I decided a small campus in a small town with severe winters was exactly what I wanted, and I chose Carleton. And I feel pretty certain that I never would have heard of it, or at least never given it much consideration, if I hadn’t heard about it from Brad.
Literally everything else that has happened in my life stems from that decision.
I loved Carleton, I loved Northfield, I loved Minnesota. When I was finished with school I wound up in Boise, Idaho, but after about a year there I realized Northfield was home and I moved back in the summer of 1981. Soon after that I met the woman I married in 1983 (at Skinner Chapel on the Carleton campus); our twin daughters were born two years later. We stayed in Minnesota until 2005, when we moved to California. (Oh, and two of the ushers in our wedding were guys I played in a Strat-o-Matic league with when I went back to Northfield.)
And one other thing…Peter Tork, the bass player for The Monkees, attended Carleton in the early 1960s, thus bringing my story full circle. (We named the pinball room in the student union in his honor while I was a student.)
So, to review…I never would have been in Minnesota to meet my wife if it hadn’t been for Brad Furst…I never would have met Brad if I hadn’t gotten interested in table sports games…and I developed my interest in table sports games when I bought a copy of The Sporting News on July 28, 1967 at a hotel newsstand in Cincinnati.
Kind of weird the ripples that run through a life, huh?
I got to thinking about all this the other day when I had lunch with Brad, the first time we’d seen each other since 1973. (That’s me on the left.) I thanked him for giving me my wife and children and a happy life in Minnesota. Who knew all that was going to come from an accidental night in a motel room in Kalamazoo?