Glenn Guzzo

 

The Thrills – and Chills –

of Strat-O-Matic’s Opening Day

 

 

By Glenn Guzzo

 

            The loyalty that Strat-O-Matic earns was on display again Feb. 1, when nearly 200 of the game’s most ardent followers defied freezing rain and generally bone-chilling weather to be the first to get their new baseball cards and computer games.

 

            In a world that changes rapidly through technological advancement, some traditions are just good to die. Strat-O-Matic’s Opening Day tradition is now 40 years old. And for the die-hards, neither published ratings previews, next-day shipping nor online forums revealing news about the new products can substitute for the experience of connecting with other gamers, meeting Strat-O-Matic creator Hal Richman, and not waiting an extra minute to get their hands on those new cards.

 

            To the countless others who wished they could have been there, take heart in the devotion of others:

 

            The nearly 200 present on Opening Day represented many more, as some gamers were there to retrieve cards and computer products for their entire leagues.

 

            For instance, Joel Kaplan, a 30-year Strat player, traveled from Redwood City, Ca. to pick up for everyone in a face-to-face league that plays each Friday. Next year, Kaplan told Richman, the league member with the poorest record will make the cross-country trip to Long Island, NY. Call that punishment? Perhaps it’s calculated to re-inspire the cellar-finisher. If so, that’s good strategy. The league will just have to watch out for tanking.

 

            Husband and wife Steve and Kathy Pieracini drove 10 hours from Liberty Center, Ohio, for the cards and games needed for the Matson Mail League, their league for 30 years.

 

            Brent Schultz, a 17-year gamer, flew from Tampa to Philadelphia, where he met Tony Reed on their way to SOM headquarters in Glen Head, NY.

 

            Tough acts to follow, but the folks who traveled the farthest were not necessarily the most devoted.

 

            Karen Sandok of the Bronx told Richman that she was pregnant and playing SOM with her husband when her water broke. But her husband insisted they finish the game before she went to the hospital. She delivered a little girl – who today is a 27-year-old lawyer.

 

            Mike Rescigno feared that jury deliberations on a murder trial might interfere with this year’s pilgrimage to Long Island. He was on the jury. But the 33-year player was not so easily denied. He told Richman that he informed his fellow jurors that he had to leave to pick up his cards at 1 p.m., “So let’s come up with a verdict.” Fortunately, the judge also had requested a verdict that day – no word on whether the judge is a Strat player – so the jury cooperated and Rescigno made it to Glen Head. He had a backup plan. If Rescigno could not make it, his hobbling 70-plus-year-old mother would have come to pick up his cards.

           

            Steve Heinz, Paul Graziani, James Warrenton and Joe Moyer – a four-man league intact for more than 22 years – kept the inconvenience of Opening Day to a minimum. They arrived in a limousine. And that made it so much easier to spread out the cards and get playing right away.

 

            Richman encountered other husband-wife Strat-playing combinations. He reacquainted himself with such long-time gamers and Opening Day veterans as Kevin Thomas (a 35-year player from Chicago in the 10-man Chicago Area Adult Baseball League) and 28-year gamer John Christie of Delaware. Richman also got a hopeful glance at the future, when 22-year gamer Kurt Hunter of Holtsville, Long Island, arrived with his 18-month-old daughter, Tatum.

 

            Opening Day is always a special treat for Richman. The 71-year-old leader of Strat-O-Matic since its inception gets to live a bit of the thrills his creation has provided others. He can see the game company’s history walking through his doors.

 

            The cherry on that treat this year arrived in the hands of 41-year gamer Larry Fryer from the Baltimore area. Accompanied by 35-year gamer Tom Beltz from Reading, Pa., Fryer showed Richman one of his several laminated scrap books. They archive and chronicle all of Strat-O-Matic’s promotional material since the 1960s.

 

            “Outstanding,” Richman declared.