More on Swing Time

I’m happy to say that Swing Time: A Swing Dancing, Time Warping Story has been given a warm reception since its debut, including a nice feature by Gordon Freireich of the York Daily Record that includes a couple of excellent photos of the Valencia Ballroom in York. (For you York area fans, Gordon’s column will appear in the August 9, 2020 edition of the paper, that is, the paper which you can actually hold and in which you can wrap your lunch.)

This is the paperback cover.

Sharp observers will note that the e-book cover and the paperback cover contain different graphics. That is because the cover that I created for the e-book was not in a format that Amazon would accept for the paperback cover. (Weird, but whatever.) I was obviously able to use the same photo, which is the main element, and since I liked both sets of graphics, I kept both covers. You collectors will need to order one of each!

This is a scan of the Kindle cover.

The e-book version is a great value in any case, because it contains YouTube links to all the songs mentioned. (Be careful: Music has a way of transporting you through time, just ask Chance and Faith!)

Baseball usually finds its way into all my books, and it was tempting to make Chance and Mr. Tommy big baseball fans, especially since the latter can see FNB Field on City Island where the AA Harrisburg Senators play from his front porch. I resisted that temptation, but when it turned out that Mr. Tommy had driven a cab in Harrisburg, then it was natural for him to have worked for Spottswood Poles, a former Negro League star, who did, indeed, own a cab company in Harrisburg. Not only that, but Poles was born in Winchester, VA where I live, so I was able to make several little connections with just one detail.

I’m very surprised to say that a sequel is in the works. And by “works,” I mean in my head. Not a single sentence on paper yet, but then I had no thought about a sequel until driving up the Shenandoah Valley last Tuesday, when one idea was followed by two thoughts which were followed by three scenes, and before I knew it, an entirely new story was gestating. It opens with Chance and Faith dancing at the Mimslyn Inn in Luray, Virginia. There’s something about those grand old buildings and ballrooms from the swing era that attracts me! Give me six months to a year, though, to actually write it.

If you enjoy Swing Time, please leave a review. These are extremely important in the Amazon rankings and are a big boost to sales.

Again, thank you for your support and encouragement. Oh, and if after reading Swing Time you start thinking that you should learn to dance, why yes, you should definitely learn to dance!

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Swing Time, A New Novella, Now Available!

As a writer, I am always encouraged when people ask, “When’s the next book coming out?” which, I’m happy to say, I’ve been asked several times recently.

I’m also happy to have an answer. Swing Time: A Swing Dancing, Time Warping Story is available as of today in both paperback and Kindle formats. Swing Time is a 20,000 word novella and makes for an easy, one-sitting read.

As you all know, I love swing dancing, and I’ve always been fascinated by the nature of Time, that “stuff” of which life is made. We live moment to moment, of course, (even if we don’t always recognize that fact) and I have long had the sense that when those moments pass, they don’t just disappear. They must go somewhere! As it turns out, quantum mechanics suggests that they indeed, don’t just disappear, and that all points of Time, just as with all points of Space, are always present. All of which has led me to wonder how many moments of excitement and joy the old ballrooms such as the Valencia in York, PA or Pen Mar Park or the Spanish Ballroom at Glen Echo must have seen! How many first crushes and first kisses, and yes, final partings, especially during World War II, took place in those old dance palaces? All those intense moments can’t just disappear forever.

Chance and Faith, the two main characters in Swing Time, discover that, in fact, they do not. They found that if the song is right and the dance is right and you’re tuned in to the possibilities that the Universe presents, then you might just be able to touch one of those long ago, but not long gone moments. One of them might even touch you.

This is the Kindle cover. The paperback edition features the same photo, but different graphics.

Half of the book’s 8 chapters take place in one of the three venues that I just mentioned. Many of you have danced in those places, and, therefore, many will also recognize the cover, which is a photo of the Valencia that I took at the end of the Big Swing Thing in 2017. The other dancers that Chance and Faith hang with will be familiar to more than a few people as well, but the two main characters are not based on any one in particular.

If I see you semi-regularly, and you’d like to order a signed copy, please DM or leave a message in the comments. I’ll put together one order and save you the shipping charge. To have Swing Time delivered directly to your door—or to your Kindle—please click here, and you will be taken to the book’s page on Amazon.

I hope all of you will enjoy Swing Time. Just remember that reviews are most appreciated and that books make nice gifts.

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Sunday, D-Day, and These Days

This past Sunday, which was July 5th, Martha and I were returning home from a visit with our granddaughter, Riley, and we stopped at the Southern Kitchen in New Market, Virginia for lunch. Because it was Independence Day Weekend, I was wearing a shirt (pictured below) from the National D-Day Memorial’s commemoration of the 75th anniversary of D-Day. A gentleman about my age rose from his table and approached me. “I want to thank you for wearing that shirt on this day,” he said (and I’m paraphrasing.) “What those men did to keep us all free is inspiring and you wearing that shirt to recognize that actually makes me tear up.”

He was not kidding. His eyes were moist, and we shook hands not as a greeting, but in affirmation of a shared belief.

I shared this story with my good friend, Kurt, who pointed out that patriotism properly understood is bound to render one emotional, for patriotism is not a matter of waving the flag, it is a matter of understanding what it symbolizes and what has been sacrificed to keep its meaning relevant.

So, let me confess right now, that when I visited the site where Washington crossed the Delaware, I got teary. The silence that pervades national cemeteries makes me teary. Seeing 23,000 luminaries at Antietam National Battlefield on an early December evening makes me teary.

I get teary when I watch Hacksaw Ridge, The Best Years of Our Lives, 1776, Mr. Smith Goes to Washington, and other such films.

I get teary when I hear “Sentimental Journey” and think of what that song must have meant to my dad as he rode the train from Seattle back to Baltimore after being discharged from the Navy in mid-December, 1945. He made it home in time for Christmas.

There are many out there who may find it strange, that a grown man would approach a stranger and confess to emotions strong enough to produce tears. Well, it is not strange—or at least, it shouldn’t be, and if you find it so, or if you find it corny or not “woke” behavior, then the problem is yours. Read Private Yankee Doodle by Joseph Plum Martin, a private in the Continental Army or Richard Tregaskis’ Guadalcanal Diary. Visit Booker T. Washington’s birthplace and learn about what the individual is capable of overcoming. Or stand before the Iwo Jima Memorial and contemplate the fact that three of the six flag raisers never made it off the island.

America is an idea, and an ideal. Whether you are called to save the world as were the boys who stormed Omaha Beach, or you are called to simply be a good neighbor, see to it that you cherish that ideal.

That photo over my left shoulder features my dad (2nd from R) and other neighborhood men who participated in a bond drive at the Butler Brothers textile plant in Baltimore where my mother worked. November, 1943

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Independence Day 2020

Humanity advances on all fronts thanks to individuals who possess innumerable skills, ideas, beliefs, perspectives, and talents. Let there be no mistake: The United States of America is the greatest expression of the individual in the history of humanity. The Constitution is its political underpinning and capitalism is the economic foundation of the individual. Marxists have been whittling away at America and the ideal for which it stands for decades. In the past 6 months, the penknives have been put away for chain saws, and now the Marxists are cutting down everything in sight. If we allow that to continue it won’t be long before the only thing left for them to do will be to burn off the brush and bulldoze the stumps of what was once humanity’s greatest hope. If they succeed, the human race will be plunged into another millennial-long dark age, and the individual will become a greasy spot in the road to a Totalitarian utopia in which many must suffer for the good of the few. I realize that this post will one day put me in a re-education camp, but then I don’t plan to go quietly into that good nightmare. People such as I may even have the opportunity to walk in the footsteps of our Founding Fathers and unfurl our flag by some rude bridge.

Therefore, on this the actual anniversary of the passage of Richard Henry Lee’s resolution for independence in 1776, watch this dramatization of the signing of the Declaration of Independence, the perfect document written by an imperfect man. America was founded on the ideal of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. We must not permit the destruction of that ideal on the pretense that since we can’t perfect it, there is no point in pursuing it.

“What brave men I shall lose before this business is through.”~~ Geo. Washington

 

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Hunter’s Last Hit

Hunter Rains sighed as he clicked off the TV. Still no agreement between the Major League Baseball Players Association and the owners about starting the 2020 season, which of course, had been delayed because of the nationwide shutdown from the Covid-19 virus. I’m dying to play ball, and you guys . . . His thought trailed off. Well, I’m dying, sure enough.

Throughout the winter, Hunter had been looking forward to his own high school season, but then the cancer struck, and struck quickly. As he lay back on the bed, he recalled the entire sequence of events for the thousandth time: the symptoms, the visit to the family doctor, the first oncologist visit, then the second (how his parents both cried), the chemo, and now, here he was in hospice. At first, he cried, then cursed, then finally came to the conclusion that the Universe was a giant actuarial table and his name was assigned to the “Cancer, aged 18” box. Hunter shrugged to himself.

His doctor thought that Hunter might have until early April, but Hunter held on. He wanted to see one more Opening Day. April came and went with still no baseball, but a rumor made the rounds that the game would resume sometime in May. His doctors were amazed that he made it past Memorial Day.

Negotiations between the players and the owners sprang up again, but a July 4th Opening Day was pushed back to July 19th, and still they argued.

Hunter could wait no longer.

A couple of days ago, he had talked his grandfather into retrieving his uniform, and his grandfather had talked the coach into giving it to him. Hunter told his grandpa that it would make him feel better to see it hanging in the little closet, and oh, would he bring his glove and a bat and the ball bucket, too?

Hunter rose from the bed, taking a couple of steps toward the closet. Nope, he couldn’t wait any longer.

He called for an Uber driver, then changed into his uniform. He smiled. He knew he could count on grandpa, who may have been a bit suspicious about why he wanted these things, but grandpa never asked any questions. The entire uniform—the three-quarter length under sleeves, the belt, the stirrups, the sanitaries, even his jock were all there. So were his spikes, which he tied together and draped over his shoulder. He picked up his bat and glove with one hand, and tried to lift the ball bucket with the other, but it was too heavy now. He looked around and removed the pillow case, dropping in 10 balls. Quietly, he snuck out a side door and waited for his ride.

“What are you dressed up for?” said the driver. “There’re no games anywhere.”

“Oh, um, my little cousin is in hospice and he’s a big baseball fan. Thought it would make him feel better if I visited him in uniform.”

The driver thought about this for a moment, then said, “You don’t look so good yourself.”

“Take me to the high school, please.”

The car pulled into the student parking lot just before dusk.

***

It took a while for Hunter to walk from the parking lot down to the ballfield. Tired as he was though, he couldn’t help but smile. The bases were left out when practice had been shut down and no one had bothered to come out and get them. He sat on the bench and changed into his spikes, which crunched into the cinder warning track as he crossed it.

He loved that sound.

Hunter took the pillow case to the mound and climbed up on the rubber. He put a couple of balls in his glove and grabbed a third, then wound up and threw. He had nothing on the throw, of course, and it bounced weakly just past home plate. Hunter didn’t care. He threw the ninth ball and was about to throw the last, when he paused, shook off his glove, and went to the bench where he had left his bat. He strode to the plate, dug in to the right-hand batter’s box, and tossed the ball in the air. Swinging as hard as he could, he lofted a ball that landed softly in the grass in short left center.

Hunter suddenly found himself running to first base. Weak as he was, his instincts hadn’t failed him as he rounded into foul territory and hit the inside corner of the bag perfectly. As he touched second and made for third, he heard himself calling the action to an imaginary radio audience.

“Rains has rounded second and he’s steaming for third! The ball has rolled all the way to the wall. Trout has just now retrieved it and Rains is going for an inside the park home run!” He saw his third base coach waving frantically. Out of the corner of his eye, he was aware that everyone in the stadium, including his grandpa was standing and cheering. He saw the catcher lean towards the foul side of home plate to receive the throw, and so he angled his body towards the fair side and slid into home. He wasn’t going very fast, though, so it wasn’t exactly a slide.  It was more like he sat himself in the dirt, tucking his left leg under him as he scooted his right foot across the plate.

Lying there in the dirt, he could feel the dew begin to settle across the field. He saw the first star blink at him, and he blinked back. He was amazed as he realized that, for the first time in months, he didn’t hurt anywhere. He laughed at himself when he wondered if his home run had won the game or tied it or if his team had lost anyway. He shrugged. It didn’t matter.

***

Search parties had gone out just before dusk. Hunter’s grandfather arrived at hospice after the others, including Hunter’s parents, who had already gone out to look for him. He was frantic, of course, but he suddenly had a feeling, and he looked in Hunter’s closet. He said nothing and hurried out.

He pulled into the student parking lot and hopped out of his car just as the first stars were coming out. Even as he began to run towards home plate, he was dialing 911 to have an ambulance sent to the high school baseball field, but he knew. He knelt in the dust and lifted Hunter’s frail upper body out of the baseline, hugging him closely. His tears smeared the dust on Hunter’s cheeks. This was the last of many moments that they would spend in a ballpark together. He saw the ambulance pull into the parking lot and heard a voice call out, wondering if anyone was “down there.” Hunter’s grandfather finally answered, “Yeah. Down here.” He relinquished Hunter to the paramedics and called his daughter. Then, he gathered up the balls along the backstop and Hunter’s bat. He headed to the mound and picked up Hunter’s glove, and as he walked back to the parking lot, he spotted a lone baseball in short left field. He walked over to it and picked up Hunter’s last hit.

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Real Journalism

It is becoming increasingly important to separate the mainstream media from hard-working journalists. I have utter contempt for the former and great admiration for the latter. In fact, I have a deep and abiding love for one of the latter: Our younger daughter Sarah happens to be the Night Side reporter for ABC 27 in Harrisburg, PA. It’s not just a father’s pride that makes me say she is hard-working. More than once she has called to ask about using the exact right word. She has shed tears over the tragedies, large and small, that she has had to cover. She endeavors to get the story right, rather than angling to get the “right” story. In covering certain political rallies, however, she has had to endure the wrath of the crowd that sees her as simply another member of the media.

I see her and her friends and her colleagues at small and mid-market stations everywhere as the saviors of journalism because they are setting the proper example for the media “stars.” The real journalists in this country still follow the facts wherever they lead, and they doubt every story and every source until the story and the source are verified. That is a quality not only lacking in the national news, it is no longer even a value. If members of the profession such as Sarah don’t save journalism, it won’t be saved.

My favorite journalist.

There is nothing glamorous about covering the local school board meeting, or lugging around your camera when it’s 98 degrees only to have your shot ruined by a truck roaring past, or interviewing a surly person who doesn’t want to talk. Or having all that happen in one story and still have it written and edited for the 11 o’clock edition. It’s important for the rest of us to remember that when it’s done right it’s a dirty job. To you highly-paid blowhards on national television who think you are the story, pay attention to your local field reporters and learn how journalism is done correctly.

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Crashing Into Destiny

During an American Legion baseball game back in 1933, in Gastonia, North Carolina, a 14-year old shortstop named Lawrence Davis was chasing down a pop fly into left field. Then known as “Squeaky” because his infield chatter always ended with a rising, almost falsetto tone, Davis collided with the left fielder. It was a hard collision and “Squeaky” immediately became “Dynamite.” While Dynamite Davis makes for wonderful alliteration, “Dynamite” quickly transformed into “Crash.”

Yes, there really was a Crash Davis, just like in the movie, Bull Durham. When he reached age 18, Davis entered Duke University. Playing semi-pro ball after his freshman year, he caught the eye of Connie Mack, the owner/manager of the Philadelphia A’s, and the team picked up his tuition for his sophomore year. Davis made his major league debut that summer, in 1940. (Against future Hall of Famer, Bob Feller. He popped out.)

Davis served in the U. S. Navy and played on the Norfolk Naval Air Station baseball team; that was his official duty. Teammates included Pee Wee Reese and Dom DiMaggio. He was then assigned to Harvard University in 1944 where he served as the Officer of the Day for the ROTC program and one of his cadets was Bobby Kennedy.

As with so many other young men who served in the military, his baseball skills had deteriorated just enough that he was no longer major league material, and he was cut by the A’s in Spring Training, 1946. Playing minor league ball in New England for a couple of seasons, he returned to North Carolina, where he played for the Durham Bulls in 1948 and set a then league record with 50 doubles. Davis played in the minors through 1951 before retiring.

Gregarious and intelligent, he coached baseball and worked in personnel for Burlington Industries, destined to be a local legend with a major league pedigree. One day, however, Davis got a call from an unknown movie maker named Ron Shelton who had been thumbing through a Carolina League record book and came across the perfect name for the main character of a movie he wanted to film. Permission was quickly granted.

Crash Davis

That’s how Kevin Costner became “Crash Davis.” Not surprisingly, Shelton and Davis developed a friendship that would last until the latter’s death in 2001.

I came across the real Crash Davis because his player card is included in the A’s team set for my 1941 Strat-O-Matic game. Naturally, that was a name that I had to look up, and in doing so, I discovered a remarkable story and a remarkable man. Everyone has a story, and Mr. Davis tells his in a couple of interviews which can be accessed here. If you enjoy baseball stories from the old-days or if you enjoy good story-tellers, then I highly recommend clicking on that link.

Funny how Destiny may be dramatic and even world-changing—think December 7, 1941—or it can be as simple as a pop fly into left field.

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Pandemic Reveals a Truth Ignored

The current pandemic is revealing a fundamental principal of life, one which we often pretend does not exist: Life is uncertain. Inherent in, if not synonymous with the idea that Life is uncertain, is fear of the Unknown. Fear is a powerful tool whether trying to sell dandruff shampoo or persuading one to exchange liberty for security.

Our technology, which has kept us alive and functioning beyond what anyone could imagine 63 years ago (i.e. when I was born), combined with our innate hubris, has even led us to react with indignity at Life’s most certain prospect, which is to say death. We constantly try to negate this fundamental truth. If we compare our sense of uncertainty to a hole, we have tried to fill it with money, fame, cars, conquests, power, and entertainment. That hole of uncertainty that is inside society’s soul cannot, however, be filled for the very practical reason that it is bottomless. Life is uncertain.

Now, this pandemic has swept in and reminded us that people die. Randomly. I could be next.

Or you.

Back in the day (i.e. when I was born) it seems that everyone knew someone or had a family member who owned a farm. Death is all around on a farm, and we accepted it then as part of Life. Back then, if you were served a Sunday dinner of fried chicken while visiting the farm, you can be sure that someone had chased down dinner and chopped its head off right there behind the kitchen. Going back 100 years, people died suddenly from infections, accidents, undetected health issues. There were no antibiotics, trauma centers, CAT-scans. We accepted death because we had no choice. Everyone knew that Life was uncertain.

We still have no choice. We wear ourselves out and frustrate ourselves pretending that we do. We howl at the moon and sue the hospitals and attending physicians because we want to blame somebody rather than accept that people die. Right now many are telling themselves that “things” will be okay when a treatment for Covid-19 is developed or we develop a vaccine or the virus simply burns itself out. But what if there is no treatment or no vaccine? What if it doesn’t burn itself out? Medicine can’t fill that hole, either. Life is uncertain.

Until we decide, each one of us for ourselves, that we are going to step out of our houses, go back to school, go back to work, and face the uncertainty, we are going to be captives of the fear that has permeated parts our society. There are no guarantees, and there will never be any guarantees concerning Covid-19. There’s no guarantee that you won’t be diagnosed with cancer tomorrow. There are no guarantees that you won’t slip in the shower tomorrow and break your neck. There are no guarantees that one of the asteroids flying through our solar system on a regular basis will miss us, and if one say, a mile across, should collide with Earth, it would destroy civilization as we know it. Life is uncertain.

Face the uncertainty of the day. You can do it with a mask and 6 feet away from anyone else if you choose, but sooner or later, you are going to have to face the current uncertainty and the fear that goes with it, and the fear that has been injected into it. Money, power, vaccines, fame, medicine, glamor, none of it will render you less fearful. You can’t fill the hole.

You have to bridge it with Faith.

I’m not going to tell you what to have faith in, so long as it brings you to the idea that Life is Good and you will face what the Universe throws at you without question and with as much grace as you can muster. Understand this as well: At some point, hopefully, after a long and happy life, you will fall into that hole of Uncertainty, immediately reaching the level of the Unknown. That much of Life is certain. Embrace it. But there are no guarantees. “At some point” may be tomorrow; don’t waste today on fear.

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Orioles Win the 1971 Strat-O-Matic Tournament!

If you read my previous blog entry, then you know that I have created a “calm time” in my day by setting up a tournament with my old Strat-O-Matic baseball game, which features the American League teams from 1971. I am happy to say that the Baltimore Orioles, my team since 1964, won the tournament by defeating the Boston Red Sox in 7 games. The Birds had a 3 games to 1 lead, and then lost 2 straight, and yes–I would have been upset if they had lost that 7th game. They’re my team whether they are real players on a diamond, or stat cards on a table in my basement. (For the record, no shenanigans were employed to insure the outcome.)

The tournament took 44 games to complete, and I kept statistics on every team, compiled the league stats and individual leaders, and named an all-star team and a Most Valuable Player. (Actually, Ray Culp and Frank Robinson were co-MVPs. And all of this information is available upon request.)

I feared having more quarantine than tournament games, which has turned out to be the case, so as I suggested in that last post, I ordered the player cards from both leagues for the 1941 season. It’s been a great deal of fun sorting through those players. I found Boots Poffenberger’s catcher from his days in the Marine Corps, i.e. Gene Desautels as well as two players–Cliff Melton and Don Heffner–whom my mother had major crushes on when she was a girl and those two gentlemen played for the Orioles when they were a minor league team. There was also a pitcher for Cleveland named Al Smith, and regular readers of this blog will understand the significance of that.

So, in the next day or two, I will begin managing Ted Williams the year he hit .406 and Joe DiMaggio the year he hit in 56 straight games, and Pete Reiser before he crippled himself by repeatedly running into walls, and Mel Ott hitting in the Polo Grounds (yes, the new and improved Strat-O-Matic includes a “ballpark effects” chart) and Bob Feller and a bunch of guys you never heard of, but who played major league baseball and they have the Strat-O-Matic cards to prove it.

Of course, if I complete this tournament before the quarantine is lifted . . . Well, we just won’t think about that.

Ted Williams’ on-base percentage was a mind-boggling .553 in 1941, which is 3rd all-time.

 

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Maintaining My Sanity Through Strat-O-Matic Baseball

Early in this lock down, I realized that I needed more than mere distractions, such as movies and books. I needed to create my own little world, a safe place to which I could go, and thanks to the fact that I still have my 1972 Strat-O-Matic baseball game, complete with every American League team, I have done so. Each afternoon or evening, I head to the ballpark, er, my basement and play one game in the 1971 A. L. Championship Tournament. (I got the game in 1972 when I was 15, but that means the numbers on the player cards are from 1971.) I keep the statistics for each team, and send out game summaries to a select group of baseball junkies. This helps make my baseball world even more real. (Message me if you want to be added to the list. It will give you something to talk about.)

Boston is playing the New York Yankees and the Chicago White Sox are playing the Baltimore Orioles in the semi-finals, just so you know. The Yankees scored the biggest upset so far, by knocking the actual West Division champion Oakland A’s out of the tournament.

I began to worry, however, that I will run out of tournament before I run out of lock down, but then I discovered that the Strat-O-Matic Company has produced player cards for past seasons, and I’m beginning to think that I’ll need to purchase a set from another year, run another tournament, and pit that winner against my 1971 Champions. The dilemma is, what year? 1966, the year the Orioles won it all? But what if they lose in my basement? 1964, the year I first began following the game? Maybe I could get the first Orioles team that I ever followed (I was 7) past the Yankees. They almost won it that year anyway. Or 1957, the year I was born? And then there is 1941, the year DiMaggio hit in 56 straight and Ted Williams hit .406. Of course, if I got the 1941 set, I might have to play the entire 154 game season, at least in the American League just to see if Ted can hit that well in my basement. Let’s see 154 games times 8 teams equals . . . way more games than I better have time to play during this lock down because if it lasts much longer I’m going to take up the hobby of rioting.

What are you doing to maintain balance in your life?

Player cards from 1971. The game is very detailed statistically, yet my average time of game is around 25 minutes. And yes, I keep track of the time of game.

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