Major League Baseball stadiums are dormant, but in a Hardwick Road trailer in Boothbay, the national pastime is being played. Pitchers are striking out batters, hitters are smashing homers and managers are either geniuses or chumps based on their in-game decisions.
Since 1975, eight Boothbay teams have competed on Thursday nights in American Professional Baseball Association (APBA). The simulated baseball game began in Lancaster, Pennsylania nearly 90 years ago. J. Richard Seitz and eight high school classmates devised the board game. It uses dice and a booklet filled with scenarios predicated on each Major League Baseball player’s previous season statistics. In 1951, Seitz left his job as a truck firm purchaser and began marketing the game full-time.
Famous APBA competitors include Presidents George H.W. and George W. Bush, presidential grandson and son-in-law David Eisenhower, actor Jeff Daniels, former New York City Mayor Ed Koch and former MLB players Jeff Sundberg and Bump Wills.
In Boothbay, there are two leagues with four teams. Senior League members are Don Lewis, Steve Lewis, Blaine Blackman and Mike Rowe. The Senior League has players with more seniority in APBA play. The Junior League members are Chuck Cunningham, Kirk Brewer, Steven Lewis and defending champion Bill Mansfield.
The Boothbay and other leagues buy cards for $80 a year with statistical information on 750 MLB players’ previous season. June 4 was Inter-League night pitting Steve Lewis of the Senior League against Junior League leader Steven Lewis. In one four-game series, it was father versus son as Steve Lewis, a 32-year league veteran, took on Steven Lewis who currently has his team atop the Junior League standings. The older Lewis took a 3-0 lead after five innings, but his bullpen couldn’t hold the lead and the younger Lewis won 4-3. “That’s just how it goes. You lead for a few innings, and after a few bad rolls of the dice, you’ve lost,” Steve Lewis said.
While the Lewises play a nine-inning contest, which takes about 15-20 minutes, two non-playing members keep a scorebook and the other announces play results from the corresponding dice roll. The other four players follow a similar procedure in an adjoining room. “We have a good time and all get along real well,” Steve Lewis said. “We complain, call each other names and throw the dice and card in frustration just like we were out on the field playing the game.”
Steve and Steven aren’t the only Lewises who play the game. Don Lewis, Steve’s father and Steven’s grandfather, is a player. Don has hosted the league for years. “My dad got me involved. Steven wanted to play for years before we allowed him to play,” Steve said. He also recruited Cunningham into the league when the two worked at Hannaford. “I’ve won one championship and been involved with the longest game in league history, 37 innings,” Cunningham said. “I also got so mad one night I threw a card, and we never found it. The real tragedy was he was my best player, and I had to play the rest of the season without him.”
In Boothbay, the season runs 160 games, playoffs and a World – or maybe better a “Boothbay Series” – crowns a champion. The season begins each January with draft, and for the next 42 weeks teams gather at Don Lewis’ home to play eight games a night. Unlike MLB, almost nothing stops play. Not rain, not snow, but it stopped briefly this year six weeks into the new season. From early March to mid-May, the league suspended play due to the State of Emergency resulting from the COVID-19 pandemic. But on May 21, Boothbay’s boys of summer returned to action. One player said it was the first interruption in league history. He admitted in past years he has missed birthdays, anniversaries and other family events to play APBA.
While luck plays a role in game results, there is also a lot of skill. Defending champion Mansfield’s team includes former Red Sox player Mookie Betts and current Boston shortstop Xander Bogaerts as his top hitters. Washington Nationals’ Max Scherzer and Houston Astros’ Justin Verlander are his aces. The Boothbay APBA League has eight teams which choose from 30 MLB squads. While the game is simulated play, it is a little skewed toward pitching due to the discrepancy in the number of teams between the actual and simulated leagues. “Over the course of the season, the number of extra base hits are right on for a given player, as are strikeouts and walks, but the biggest difference is the pitching. There is more pitching depth in our league so a .280 hitter bats more like .250,” Mansfield said.
There is also a place for good, old-fashioned baseball instincts. “You have to know baseball,” Rowe said. “You got to know when to hit and run, pinch hit, and use a reliever. All of that plays a big part in the game.”
Rowe was an original league member. Earl Purington asked him to join in 1975. “At first, I thought it was poker, but he told me it was a baseball game for fun,” Rowe said. While the game is simulated, feelings and memories are real. Rowe noted a moment he still vividly remembers. “It happened so long ago, I don't remember when, but I had a perfect game going into the ninth. My pitcher gave up a hit, an error and a walk. Then I lost the game 4-3 on a grand slam.”
Rowe added, the loss still hurts. For Cunningham, one memory is easy to remember. His one league championship came the year he got married. “It was a real good year,” he said.