There are surprises like "I have a surprise for you," and surprises that come totally out of the blue. The day my step-dad brought home the satellite dish fell into the latter category.
Anyone familiar with rural areas has seen them. Not these modern day, small puppies that don rooftops and have monthly bills.
All channels were free on the old-school big boys! That meant, well, everything imaginable—every cable channel from every cable TV provider.
In short, a dream come true for a 14-year-old from the sticks of West Virginia.
When baseball season rolled around, 99 percent of the games were televised. Only the rare occasions where neither team was doing a telecast were they not.
In the mid-80's, the Sporting News was still a moderately good magazine. Not nearly as cool as it was in the late 70's when they showed the entire week's worth of box scores and had a brief synapses of every game.
But still, it was better than today's version—just another of these glossy paged pieces of rubbish identical to every other mainstream sports magazine.
In 1985, there were ads in the back for these play-by-mail, own-your-own baseball team games where you would compete against other people—quite intriguing to a 14-year-old baseball fanatic.
By the time the '86 season rolled around, I was prepared to join one of these leagues. No spending of allowance and forgoing lunch to save money became the norm.
In February of 1986, I sent $120 worth of my hard earned dollars that my parents had given me to Des Moines, Iowa. Stat-Sports Baseball was the name of the game.
About a week later my draft sheets and instructions came in the mail. It was to be a twelve team, rotisserie style league.
The draft was a tier-system where all available players were lumped into 12-man categories according to position and their 1985 stats.
Say you wanted Rickey Henderson (like I did), you would mark the first-tier of 12 outfielders as No. 1, and Rickey as No. 1 of those 12, hoping no one else picked him as their one-one. In which case, it (supposedly) came down to a coin flip.
When I got my team back—along with the other member's names, teams, phone numbers, and addresses (for trading purposes)—I found myself excited about my team (I did score Rickey), but more curious about the other members of my league.
The next day a guy named Woody Compton called for me. He was in the Navy based somewhere in California.
He first asked about Rickey. I made it clear, "Rickey is off limits."
He then inquired about my backup first baseman, Andre Thornton. He told me he was a big Tribe fan.
This would be my first trade, I studied his roster while he went on talking about the big season he expected out of Cory Snyder. I had yet to hear of Snyder, but I liked Larry Parrish—so finally I asked, "How about Parrish for Thornton?"
He must have had a few more Indians that he wanted to pick up off waiver wire because, without my even asking, he threw in Scotty Fletcher.
I filled my team with players from those two teams; Kal Daniels, Tracy Jones, Tom Browning, Rob Murphy, Danny Pasqua, Wayne Tolleson, Dennis Rasmussen, Mike Pagliarulo—to name a few.
Weekly line-ups had to be postmarked by Wednesday.
I became a master of the remote. Which was a bit difficult—the dish outside physically moved when it had to hit different satellites in the sky. Luckily, most of the games were on the same satellite.
I'd flip back-and-forth between Pasqua, Fletcher, Daniels, ect.
I never missed a Rickey at-bat. He was my fave.
The best thing about watching the games on the dish was that they didn't break for commercials and most announcers stayed mic'd-up.
I remember a Yankee game where the guy announcing with Phil Rizzuto asked him, "It's only the fourth. Don't you think you might want to slow it down?"
Scooter replied, "Screw you."
It wasn't until a couple of years ago that I learned Rizzuto always had a bottle of Sambuca on (or in) hand during broadcasts.
While watching a Reds' game, the camera man shot Joe Nuxhall while he was doing the radio broadcast and Marty Brennaman was on the TV side.
Nuxy started picking his nose—not a casual pick, but obviously going for something deep.
Marty, being the Hall-of-Fame broadcaster that he is, didn't skip a beat and kept calling the game.
As soon as they broke to commercial, he went into a fit of laughter, ribbing Nuxy, laughing so hard he was barely able to say, "Diggin' for gold were ya, Joe?"
I kept playing Stat-Sports with most of the same core group of guys. Even my step-dad joined for the 1987 season. Those years were fun, but just not the same.
There was a sweet innocence to popping my fantasy baseball cherry during that summer of 1986. Having the chance to watch all of my players on TV only added more sugar.
And oh yeah, and that Parrish (28 HR), Fletcher (.300 BA) for Thornton (.229 BA) deal still ranks up there with my all-time greatest fantasy trades.