One of the more interesting aspects of this gaming hobby, are the people who have been involved in the hobby for most of their lives, as participants, whether passive or active, and their desire to further the games by becoming involved in something more than just playing the games. As we move towards the 3rd decade of the 2000’s, blogging via the internet has become a means to “publicize” the hobby and games themselves, as well as the people who play them, whether it be solo play, league play, including face-to-face and more recently, organized tournament play. Possibly the first, one of the original APBA bloggers, is Tom Nelshoppen, creator of The APBA Blog.
Tom has graciously accepted my offer to be the Barn’s first “APBA’view” subject. Tom has published several of these fan profiles himself, so I figured if I was going to start doing the same fan profiles on my blog, why not ask Tom to be my first subject?
Onto the questions for Tom …:
Jimsapbabarn~ #1: Tell us about yourself, when you are not playing APBA?
Tom Nelshoppen: In short, I graduated from the University of Illinois with a degree I would never professionally use and never left Urbana. Afterwards though, I bought my very first personal computer back in 1992 in part to try the APBA Baseball for DOS game. That sparked my interest in computers. I eventually took courses in Computer Networking and one thing led to another. As of now, I am a Lead IT Field Consultant for Technology Services for the Urbana campus.
In 1989, I married my wife Joan. She loved me so much that on our honeymoon, she let us go see Johnny Bench and Carl Yastrzemski inducted into the Hall of Fame in Cooperstown. Yes, after 26 years, I am still married to her. I know a good thing when I see it. We have two children, one boy in college and one girl in high school. Interestingly, neither have any interest in baseball. That’s okay, they have their own interests which keep them quite busy.
I am an avid photographer and I love to write. Don’t even bother to make plans with me during the spring because chances are, there is an Illini baseball game in town.
(Tom with former U of Illini player, and current Indiana coach, Shawn Roof, son of former Major Leaguer Gene Roof and nephew of former Major League Phil Roof)
Jimsapbabarn~ #2: What is your favorite sport and sports teams?
Tom Nelshoppen: Favorite sport? That’s easy. Baseball. It’s always been baseball. I’ve loved it since I was a little kid and still do. While I liked the NFL for a while as a teenage boy, nothing has ever replaced the game of baseball.
I grew up in house that followed Chicago sports teams with the exception of my brother (While he loved the Cubs and still does, he is a Packers fan. I never could figure that out). So I grew up as a Cubs fan. Now my earliest memory of Cubs baseball was of Ernie Banks, Billy Williams, and Ron Santo but it was near the end of their careers. The Cubs would soon delve into a decade-long slump of mediocrity but we would still root for them since there was always “next year”.
However, my absolute favorite sports team is not a pro team at all. I am a die-hard fan of the University of Illinois Fighting Illini baseball team. I’ve attended pretty much every home game since 2006. I enjoy the team so much I started a fan web site and take photos at their games. I have thousands of photos of the Illini team on my Illini Baseball photo gallery (https://zealotphotos.smugmug.com/Illini-Baseball-Photos).
This year was an exciting one for us for us Illini fans. They had their single greatest season as they reached the Super Regionals after winning 27 games in a row.
Jimsapbabarn~ #3: Tell us about your APBA History?
Tom Nelshoppen: I blame my older brother Bill (yes, the Packers fan) for my love of APBA Baseball. As a little kid, I wanted to be just like him and he inadvertently introduced the game to me. I remember he had the National League teams from 1964 and the full sets of 1969 and 1970. He would let me play the game with him occasionally but it wasn’t long before I wanted to do it on my own. Mind you, I was pretty young at the time and still learning the game (even the result number zero still confused me). My first current set was the 1977 set. I remember it distinctly because I wanted to order it myself. This was near Christmas and Mom kept discouraging me from getting it and I didn’t know why. I ordered it anyway and of course, she had already ordered the game as a gift for me (sorry Mom!)
About that time, the APBA Company started coming out with past seasons and I gobbled them up. I ordered the 1949 season, then 1941 and of course, the 1930 season with its great hitting. I’ve always credited APBA for my knowledge of baseball history. I’d pore over The Baseball Encyclopedia and its stats then relate it back to each card.
Fast forward a few years and I was a sophomore in high school. One night, I received a phone call from this man named Tedd Mallasch from Chicago. He told me had seen my name in the APBA Journal Directory. He said he was in an APBA “league” and maybe I might be interested in joining them. Tedd and I must have talked for an hour or so. Sitting at my dad’s desk on the phone, my mind was reeling. Here I was a sophomore in high school and an adult wants me to play in their league! First though, they had to meet me. They sent another league member named Don Smith (some of you might know the name) to my house a couple days later to play a couple games of APBA Baseball. It was sort of an interview process and I was nervous. I must have passed because they let me in and that’s how I gained entrance into the Illowa APBA League way back in 1980.
As it turned out, I’m still in the IAL led by Commissioner-for-Life Mike Bunch. It’s no exaggeration to say this league has been one of the most consistent things in my whole life. They’ve seen me graduate high school and college, get married, and raise my kids. I’m proud to call them my friends.
Jimsapbabarn~ #4: Which APBA game is your favorite and why?
Tom Nelshoppen: No question about it, I enjoy the APBA Baseball Basic game. The concept of the game is simple. It also has a great rhythm and pace to it. For the most part, it is pretty accurate, too.
One of the greatest thing of all the APBA games is the simple act of the dice roll. So many of us roll them in so many different ways! Once you roll the dice, you have a good idea whether or not you did good or not. Sometimes we need to look up the results but we usually have good indication whether we should cheer. The game is designed such that we all want to roll two sixes because that is the ultimate roll. However if we roll just one six, the result is usually a negative result. It is such a beautifully-engineered game.
The APBA card is a thing of beauty as well. I know some Strat-O-Matic and APBA fans go back and forth on which game is superior but I’m not one to engage in a religious war. However, one bullet point in favor in favor of APBA is the arrangement of result numbers on the card. I can look at an APBA card and tell you right away approximately what that card will bat and how many homers it should hit in a full season. Every number is neatly arranged in its appropriate position starting with of course, 66.
Jimsapbabarn~ #5: What are your thoughts on playing computer versions vs playing the board versions of the same game? (There is no right or wrong answer here)
Tom Nelshoppen: A few years ago, Shawn Baier invited me to his Boys of Summer APBA league which uses Baseball for Windows. I’ll be honest. At the time, I probably came off as a “purist” thinking APBA on the computer wasn’t going to be near as fun as a dice APBA. Since I’ve been in the Boys of Summer League though, I’ve come around.
While I still prefer dice APBA, I definitely enjoy BBW especially in the Boys of Summer League. Shawn works his butt off to make that a good league. In particular, the Advanced Injury Management (AIM) brings an aspect that dice APBA just can’t offer. It probably helped that my Urbana Locomotives made the playoffs that first year, too.
I also know that people’s time is valuable in this day and age. Some people just don’t enjoy the arduous task of keeping stats. With Baseball for Windows, it’s all done for you in a complete package. Given enough resources, I would like to see the Game Company come up with a real time head-to-head BBW game.
Jimsapbabarn~ #6: A 2-part question – What inspired you to begin “The APBA Blog”? It appears you started the APBA Blog in 2011. Was this the “first” Blog about APBA that you are aware of?
Tom Nelshoppen: The APBA Blog began as a spin-off of another blog I maintained called The Baseball Zealot which I started in 2005. Go ahead and Google it. It’s still there but I haven’t updated it in years. I created TBZ to discuss general baseball issues. The thing was, I got the most feedback when I wrote about two topics, APBA and the University of Illinois baseball team. So I learned a lesson about web content. Don’t be too broad with your web site topic. As a result, I created The APBA Blog and the Illinois Baseball Report (http://www.illinoisbaseballreport.com). Both have gotten much more traffic despite their niche audiences.
And you know what? They’re both a lot more fun to write for. Instead of regurgitating headlines and stories as I was doing with TBZ, I’m writing content about something I’m actually experiencing. I like to think when people read the stories and articles, it comes through.
When I first started The APBA Blog, I was writing short tidbits and maybe some official announcements here and there. Eventually, I introduced fan and league profiles as well as regular features like Monster Card Monday which really seem to be popular. Feeding the blogs links to our Facebook page really seemed to increase the site’s popularity too and opened me up to a huge community of fantastic APBA fans.
Was the APBA Blog the first? It doesn’t matter. I can tell you that a long time ago before Facebook, Twitter and even before The APBA Blog, I had a static website called “Boxcars!” It was in a cheesy web format which I suppose was pretty advanced at the time. I remember having a Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ) about APBA. Maybe some the old school APBA folks might remember it.
I find the Internet a fascinating place to get information. However, I also am a big believer in being a part of that process and creating something that others can see, participate and maybe find some benefit. I’m loving that so many others are also becoming part of that process and writing about APBA on the web (like yourself, Jim). It’s important that we continue to write from the fan perspective. That can only help the game and the community.
Jimsapbabarn~ #7: You have made it to a few of the ChicagoLand tournaments, do you see yourself making it to an Official APBA Tournament in Alpharetta, GA in the future?
Tom Nelshoppen: First, let me say that I’m really impressed with all the regional tournaments that have sprung up in the last five years. A few people have really stepped up to organize tournaments to fill a niche and those of us who have participated have really been lucky to been part of it.
(Correction: Tom rolling the dice in ILLOWA league play in John Brandeberry’s basement)
I’ve actually attended three national conventions and tournaments in the days when they were held in Lancaster, Pennsylvania. The first time, Don Smith and I took a memorable train trip out. On our way out and back, we played some Illowa league scheduled games in the club car. I don’t remember the year but I remember APBA brought in a scout from the New York Mets to speak to the fans that attended. I also met Ed Zack who talked about his Handbook and I instantly bought one from him (I still have it all tattered and torn). The second time in 2001, four of us from the Champaign-Urbana area took the train out from Illinois for the national convention. I actually wrote an article about the trip and convention for the APBA Journal.
(Tom attended 3 national APBA Conventions, and wrote this article for the APBA Journal)
The last national convention I attended was in 2002. John Brandeberry and I took a road trip out there in his pickup truck. On the way there and back, Brando and I took in four minor league games and even a Pirates game at PNC Park. It was one of the most fun vacations of my life.
To your question, I really do want to attend the convention in APBA’s new headquarters in Alpharetta. At the last Chicagoland tournament, a few of us were talking about making it a goal to attend. For me, an ideal trip would be to go down a day early and spend an afternoon with Mr. Herson. Now THAT would be an interview!
Tom, thanks for taking the time to answer my questions and for accepting my offer to be my first APBA’view subject! And thanks for paving the way for us “bloggers come lately” … you are definitely an inspiration. One more newsworthy item … Tom Nelshoppen and Tom Fulton are organizing their first APBA Tournament, The Prairieland APBA Baseball Tournament. If you are in Illinois or surrounding area, make sure you check it out, April 16th of 2016 (this will be the 2nd Regional APBA Tournament in the month of April, as our own TCABT-V is April 2nd): http://www.apbablog.com/tournament-2/sign-up-for-the-april-16th-prairieland-apba-baseball-tournament