Glenn Guzzo

 

OPENING DAY 2004

 

Gamers Pursuing 2003 Baseball Cards and Disks

Share Timeless Stories of Their Common Bond

 

 

By Glenn Guzzo

 

            This year’s Opening Day crowd of about 200 Strat-O-Matic fanatics came from near and far, braving windy, 20-degree weather to fulfill various pledges to themselves and to others.

 

            Paul Crane drove six hours from Boston for his first look at what he called “Valhalla.” There is nothing inside or out of Strat-O-Matic’s headquarters to compare it to the royal hall in Norse mythology – except the Opening Day weather, perhaps. But when it comes to Strat-O-Matic and baseball, Crane does not lack for imagination or inspiration. He has replayed Red Sox seasons, mostly solitaire, for 17 years and soon will be married atop the Green Monster at Fenway Park.

 

            Jim Nancarrow said his pilgrimage to “Mecca” from Torrance, Calif., was his first Opening Day in 39 years of Strat-playing. He and New York friends Stu Blake and Vinny Mancini arrived about 11:30 a.m. (90 minutes before the cards would be available) and had the urge “to take out our prayer rugs (in the form of the infield board from the baseball game) and kneel down while facing 46 Railroad Plaza.”

 

            Distance did not stop Steven Dufresne, either. He made the eight-hour drive from Montreal over two days to retrieve cards for his six-team, 14-year-old league. Similarly, Don Leigen made it a two-day drive from Richmond, Va., on behalf of his 22-man face-to-face league that has been intact for 20 years.

 

      Ed Griffin of the 24-man Fly-By-Night Baseball Association, awoke at 3:30 a.m. but still wasn’t first in line. He’d had to drive from Burlington, Mass. Distance driving for Strat is nothing new for Griffin. When the league schedule calls for games against players in the far end of Connecticut, he drives 240 miles roundtrip to play head-to-head.

 

      Weather was a factor – league members Jim Sarrantonio of Brooklyn and Tom Retta of Mineola on Long Island were the first in line at 9 a.m. In years past, it was more common for the first arrivals to show up well before dawn and sleep in their cars, even though the Strat-O-Matic doors aren’t unlocked for Opening Day card sales until 1 p.m.

           

      But those freezing in line saw things that took their frosty breath away and other things that warmed their hearts. For instance, 20 degrees in late January apparently was just a breath of fresh air for Greater Philadelphia Beer League champion James Warrington, who decided that a T-shirt was the proper attire.

 

            In 180-degree contrast to the huddled masses who typically show up in hooded sweatshirts and jeans, four league members from New Jersey showed up in Glen Head an hour after leaving the funeral for long-time Strat gamer Tom Swank (see separate article on Strat-O-Sphere). “We were the ones in suits,” Alan Rowland said of Kevin Gibson, Erik Johansson, Chris Potter and himself. This also was the first Opening Day for Gibson and Johansson.

 

Given the off-season defections of Yankees pitchers Roger Clemens and Andy Pettitte to Houston, not many New Yorkers would go out in public with an Astros cap, but Billy Vanson did so without fear – he’s a New York policeman. Meanwhile, Army Master Sergeant Dickie Lochren traveled from Macon, Ga., to get the early advantage on competitors playing Strat-O-Matic via The Sporting News internet game.

 

In another spot, 8-year-old Brendan Mallon of Carle Place, NY was the youngest gamer in line. He’s been playing Strat-O-Matic with his father for two years. Brendan is a crowd of one watching dad in face-to-face league play. Brendan’s early start in the hobby is not so extraordinary in his view. Another boy in his school class plays Strat with his dad, too.

 

            Old and new came together last week in other ways.

 

            Alan Horowitz, a 30-year-gamer, was in Glen Head to buy a game for his 8-year-old son. And Cole Doty, a board gamer since 1967, trekked from Newark, Del., to buy the computer game for the first time.

           

            But for Jim Colquhoun of Long Island, this year’s festivities continued a tradition that began in 1975 – he has been an early arrival for every Opening Day at Glen Head.

     

Whether they come to get their Strat-O-Matic cards on Day One for a competitive edge or for the pure joy of it, for the novelty or out of habit, gamers invariably say they love sharing the personal stories of others who share their passion. It makes the time pass quickly, the weather bearable and the expense worthwhile. It’s the second best part of their trip – right after the moment they tear open their new set of cards.