By DAVID GREEN
With the World Series over, America’s baseball season is defunct.
At least that’s the case for most people, but not for Craig Pillow. He just might replay that series someday and see how it plays out the second time around.
The Clayton resident is one of the diehard baseball fans who enjoys taking a second look at seasons past with the simulation baseball game called Replay.
Three dice, a pack of player cards and a fold-out chart. That’s the only equipment needed for the basic game, along with a pencil to mark down the progress off the contest.
“It’s kind of a niche hobby,” Craig said. “But there are a lot of dedicated players.”
Craig never played organized ball, except for that one Little League game. Not one season; just one game.
“Some guys invited me to join their team, but after the first game, the other team found out that I was the only one eligible. Everyone else was too old.”
“I was always a baseball fan,” he said. “I can’t remember ever not being one.”
When he was 12 years old in the early 1960s, he remembers playing APBA—the leading simulation baseball board game of the time, and still one of the top choices today.
He played games with a couple of friends that first year, then never again. After that, when he got the game out, he played alone.
“I stopped after high school, then played some in the 1970s, then stopped. It seems that about every 10 years I’ll pick it up again.”
He doesn’t recall how he found out about Replay, but the discovery came in 2000.
“I purchased it, I tried it out and I was hooked,” he said. “I started playing cooperatively in 2002 and that’s what really hooked me.”
No longer did he feel like an oddball with a set of dice.
“I discovered this community.”
What’s the appeal of Replay? It’s the realism, fans will tell you. It’s about entering into every facet of real baseball. A particular batter’s skills against a lefty. The changing winds of Wrigley Field. A catcher’s passed ball rating. The tendency of a pitcher to tire through the innings.
Replay came into being in 1973 when a couple of players were looking for a better baseball game. They produced a set of cards for each player in the majors from the 1972 season.
The chief difference between Replay and other games was a unique interplay between the skills of the batter and those of the pitcher.
As the seasons progressed, the system was fine-tuned and additional factors were added, such as fielders’ ratings for range, arm and error percentage; pitchers’ ratings for holding batters on base and for throwing wild pitches.
Each players’ card was based on his actual statistics from a particular season of the past.
A roll of the dice determines the outcome of the play which is found on a chart—a fly-out to center field, for example, or a single to right. The dice also determine what happens to any runners on base.
There are several optional rules that can be used, such as a stolen base system or characteristics of major league ball parks in relation to foul territory or home run frequency.
Craig throws six dice at once rather than re-throw just three if needed for the options that he uses.
Before his wife, Lorraine, retired from teaching, he often got a game in while she showered in the morning. He didn’t want his play to disrupt family life. Now, when she heads to the computer for e-mail, he’ll often get out the dice and cards.
The basic Replay game comes with only two teams, but fans of the game buy season packages. A new set will be available in January to cover the 2007 season. One older season will also be released.
“I think the vast majority of their business is done with recent seasons,” Craig said. “It’s fresh in people’s minds.”
He owns several of the older sets from his favorite era—the 1960s to the 1980s.
Many Replay fans are involved in leagues. In larger cities with several players, they often get together to play face-to-face. For Craig, it’s a matter of playing a game alone and reporting the outcome.
Cooperative leagues are formed to play a mini-schedule with as few as 16 games per team. Craig is currently involved in a league using players from the 1971 season. The person in charge—the commissioner—assigns pitchers and each participant chooses a lineup for the game.
Who plays this game?
Craig met a few players over the summer when he attended a Replay convention in Pittsburgh.
One of the most interesting parts of the convention was simply watching how other people played the game, Craig said. Everyone had a slightly different twist after playing alone at home.
“It’s as varied as the individual.”
He found a wide range of careers and backgrounds among the players, and learned they’re mostly male and age 35 and older.
The common thread running through everyone is a fanatical devotion to major league baseball.
“Many of us thought we were lone wolves and no one else was involved,” he said.
That changed with the growing popularity of the internet. That’s when communities began to form.
Few players come from the younger generation and that concerns many Replay aficionados in regard to the game’s future.
“We all started as kids,” Craig said. “As a youth, there were few televised games. We listened mostly on the radio and you visualized the game in your mind. And that’s what you do with Replay.”
Not to worry, says his son, Vance. He sees a lot of similarities with fantasy baseball.
”I have no interest in fantasy baseball,” Craig says, “and Vance has no interest in simulation baseball.”
They can talk baseball, but they can’t play it together.
Vance would like to see an electronic version, perhaps one where a player punches in the numbers from the dice rather than looking up the results on a chart.
Work has begun on a computer software version, and that would offer a feature that appeals to Craig—let the computer tabulate statistics.
What kind of person would spend time replaying baseball games?
Craig is a little concerned about people asking that question.
“I’m reluctant to tell people about it because they might think I’m a little weird,” he said.
But it’s just a game and lots of people play games of one sort or another.
For Craig it’s occasional entertainment. It’s nothing like the guy from the United Kingdom who got hooked on Replay and adopted the Minnesota Twins—and plays an entire season of Twins games.
It’s just a great way for a baseball fanatic to spend a few minutes with his favorite pastime.
“It’s a hobby that’s not for everybody, but I find it relaxing,” Craig said. “It allows you to tune out from the world for a few minutes.”
Mickey Lolich’s wild pitch led to Chicago’s Tommy McGraw taking second base and drawing a throw from Tiger catcher Bill Freehan.
It’s all there in the throw of the dice.