Friday, 25 January 2013

BBSing, Computing and Networking Before the Internet, and Softball in Tampa, Florida

Act I -- Setting The Scene

Computer geeks with baseball bats? Whose crazy idea was that?

Let us drop back in time to roughly 1987. There was no Internet, but we had the BBS scene. Some kind soul would buy a computer, hook it up to a modem running at 300 baud, and publish the phone number. Other folks who owned computers and modems would dial it up and post some stuff. Heavy on text, virtually no graphics.

Note that these aren't Mb or even Kb. These are b. When the BBSes began upgrading from 300 baud to 1200 baud, that was a major event for those of us who could afford 1200 baud modems.

Logging onto a BBS cost the same as a telephone call. Thus, the BBS would get a lot of local calls but not much long distance. CompuServe was the only nationwide service back then, but I was too cheap to use it.

I lived in Tampa, Florida, which had roughly 50 BBSes. For three months, one was mine. I wrote it myself, in BASIC, just to see if I could. Once I was sure it worked, I shut it down because I missed my old Commodore 64.

Yeah, I'm a computer geek. I remember fellow geeks like Steve Cramer, Jack Stevens, Keith Cooper, W.R. Caudle, Jim Moran, Don Johnson, Mark "The Zookeeper" Adams, Tandy Way, Anda Lee, Tom Preedom, P.J. Poyntz, and ET, initials for Eric somebody that started with a T. Plus many others who didn't run BBSes but who were regular users. Scattered BBS weddings and romances, but not many because most of these computer geeks were guys. And geeks.

Act II -- The Softball Tournament

One day, this here geek right here had an inspiration. Here we were, users of roughly 50 BBSes who had never met before, all living in the same city. Let's meet! Let's play softball, BBS vs BBS, and see who's the best.

We wound up with four teams. I coached MIS/Shamrock because nobody else wanted the job. One BBS was called MIS (Medical Information Service), and another was called Shamrock. It took both BBSes to generate a single team. No single BBS had enough users interested in softball to field a team by itself. All four teams were mergers.

The rules were simple. Just show up and play. Our opponent didn't follow the rules. A bunch of macho teenagers who practiced, assigned positions based on ability, and just tried to be quite professional.

My team didn't do that. Send me an email. What position do you want to play? It's yours. Oh, more than one guy at the same position? We'll rotate. I had lots of right fielders, and I was one myself. It's where everyone with no ability wants to play, because the ball never goes over there.

At age 24, I was the youngest guy on the MIS/Shamrock team. Earl was next. A jazz musician at Busch Gardens who turned me onto some great music, the only black man on the team, and just a damn good guy. A Facebook friend before I pulled the plug on Facebook.

I had Ed, from MIS, lined up as pitcher. But then Jim, the Shamrock sysop, showed up unannounced. (Sysop means it was his computer running the place, usually with software he wrote himself.) Jim also wanted to pitch.

Ed was a muscular sucker. Semi-pro softball player, as were some other MIS guys. Jim was a pear-shaped old dude. Ed, the only guy who resented me being coach in the first place, kindly stepped aside. He figured Jim could pitch the first inning and then he'd take over.

Jim struck out the first three batters on the other team. Inning over. What nobody knew was that, back when Jim was a military man, his team was all-European softball champions. And yep, Jim was their pitcher.

"Michael," said Ed, "let Jim keep pitching. I'll play catcher."

Okay. Our turn at bat. I did badly. Somebody or other on my team said, "Choke up on the bat." I HATE those words. I always have. Back in my school days, when I was the most unathletic kid ever, the one chosen after the fat guy, some bozo would tell me to choke up on the bat. I'd rather choke up on the screaming idiot. Anyway, I struck out. Choking up on the bat wouldn't have made any difference.

Next up, some of Ed's teammates from his semipro team. Sysop's kid, and some dude named Vince who I doubt can use a computer even today but who was deadly on a softball field. And Ed himself. Those dudes racked up three runs. I think we scored seven. Hard to remember.

Top of the second inning, Jim struck out three more guys. Bottom of the second, here's Michael again. The problem before, I'd decided, was that regulation-length bat. I went to the back of my old red Pinto and pulled out my secret weapon, a Little League bat. I used it to prop my hatchback open. It was battered and beaten, because little brother Barry had used it when he was an MP and then a cop. It had never seen action in an actual game. He used it one-handed to bust skulls. I used it two-handed in the softball game.

First pitch, wide right, and I didn't care. Wham! The ball flew funny, since I was using a Little League bat in an adult game. And I freakin flew to first base. As a student, I was slow on the sprint. But not today, baby! Age 24, and finally all my moves were coming together. Today a base hit, next week puberty.

Next up, the way I'd lined them up, the three semipro guys. Base hit, base hit, Vince's grand slam over the fence home run.

We would eventually beat this bunch of well-rehearsed teenagers 19 to 3. We quit keeping our own score after inning three of the seven, which is why we only scored 19.

Then a semipro team showed up because they had the field reserved for practice. We played against them and lost 2-1. Not bad for a thrown together bunch of computer geeks, eh?

Act III -- A Good Thing Falls Apart

There were some issues on the MIS/Shamrock team. Someone from MIS accused our pitcher of being a ringer. He was not. He ran Shamrock. If there were any ringers, it was Ed's buddy Vince.

Ed also thought I should yank The Punisher out of right field. The Punisher was 6'9" and big-boned. And stocky. And, let's just come right out with it, fat. And slow. And he let a ball or two get away. But when Ed questioned me as coach, I decided to leave The Punisher in all game. The Punisher tired easily, but I didn't care. Jim was pitching. There wasn't much else for the rest of us to do, except hit the ball and score more points than Peyton Manning.

Ed also asked, "Who invited the nigger?" That would be Earl, my mate, and very much a BBSer. Damn right I invited him. Strike three against Ed.

Finally, Ed had the audacity to claim that MIS won the game, not Shamrock. Pitcher Jim, The Punisher, Earl, and I all came from Shamrock. Plus, Ed resented that I was the coach of this misfit bunch. So that would be strike four.

The best-ever team in Tampa BBS history split itself in two. Another day, another contest.

The MIS team was full of youngish macho hunks. Shamrock, aside from Earl and myself, boasted the over-40 crowd. Both teams had picked up a few players from the team we vanquished, since they also used Shamrock and MIS anyway. I coached against embittered Ed, and I let him keep ringer Vince.

I got a base hit every time, but I was just a minor player in this drama. I stayed in right field on defense. And I coached, even though I'm a football junkie. I don't remember the final score, but I know we kicked some he-man butt that day. I suspect that when the game was over, and everyone had gone home, Ed broke down and cried.

Michael LaRocca has edited over 300 published novels and textbooks since 1990, along with thousands of white papers and other shorter works. Learn how he can help you at

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