Cold Doesn’t Deter Hundreds
from Strat-O-Matic’s Opening Day
By Glenn Guzzo
About 220 devoted gamers (plus accomplices equally devoted to their game-playing friends and family) braved bitter cold Friday to be the first to get their new Strat-O-Matic Baseball cards and computer products at the company’s annual Opening Day.
The turnout was larger than SOM creator Hal Richman had expected on a day when gusting winds dropped 10-degree temperatures to wind-chills well below zero.
Gamers described it as “painful cold.” Instead of the first arrivals showing up before dawn to claim bragging rights, Bill Neiman of
“We were very busy all the way to (closing time at) ,” Richman reported.
The baseball fans took planes, cars, trains and buses on the annual pilgrimage that some gamers consider a trip to their hobby’s
Hank Smith, winner of the recent 2006 Star Tournament World Championship, might have expected to have traveled the furthest. He made his maiden voyage to Opening Day from
But Smith was outdone this time. Bruno Bruns from
As usual, Richman worked the line well before the doors opened. He greeted fans and listened to them describe the passion that brings them across country under harsh conditions – often many years in a row – just to share the experience with other Strat-O-Matic fanatics and to get the goods a few days before UPS could deliver them.
Here are some of the tidbits Richman collected:
Nieman, whose first Strat-O-Matic game was a no-hitter pitched by Dennis Bennett 43 years ago, did not have another no-hitter for 30 years.
Next in line: Roland Klee of
Gamers found various ways to deal with the cold. Some had friends hold their places in line by trading off 20-minute intervals in their cars. Dave Tortorici brought a propane heater.
James Grigaitis covered himself with a sleeping bag. He and traveling mates John Grace and Allan Maier are not the types to be deterred by weather. Grace told Richman he once called in his draft picks from a hospital on the day his wife was giving birth. Then he described one of his greatest accomplishments: Andruw Jones won three consecutive games with homers in the ninth inning of each game.
Barry Cohen wore a blanket. Accompanied by friend Danny Van Delsor, Cohen told Richman he plays in eight Strat-O-Matic leagues (four baseball, two football, one hockey and one basketball).
Paul Crane, making his third journey to Opening Day, has another tale of baseball devotion: He was married at
Others coped with the cold by gratefully accepting the hot coffee and donuts offered by Richman’s son Adam, who returned to the line repeatedly with new supplies.
“I think the folks at Strat-O-Matic must have traded a 2006 set and a 1971 set (of baseball cards) for unlimited Dunkin’ Donuts,” one gamer in line quipped, marveling at the bottomless well of cakes Adam Richman kept showing up with.
Marty Les France from
Those in line also felt warm about the number of young children they saw.
Allan Horowitz brought son Bengie who, at age 11, represents the third generation of the Horowitz family to play Strat-O-Matic.
Jeff Tudor of
Father-and-son team Michael and Paul Resigno shared the Opening-Day experience, just as they have shared Strat-O-Matic since Paul was 7.
And 33-year-player Mark Wheatley of
For many of the Strat veterans in line, the hobby connects them with their own youth. Tom Hagopien, a Tigers and Mets fan from
Harold Berg of
Jimmy Jay of
Tim Turner, a retired teacher, told Richman about the Strat-O-Matic club he ran at school that attracted more than 100 kids (30 of them girls).
“The boys hated to lose to the girls,” Turner said.
He arranged three Strat-O-Matic field trips for the kids.
Turner, Steve Cooper and Jeff Valentine of
The females in line always attract interest, since they are so scarce on Opening Day and are still the exception in the hobby.
Bill and Ann Marie Hoyson from
Peter Lopaci, a 35-year player, was in line with daughter Kellee, 16, who learned the game from dad and still plays the basic game with him.
Other long-time Strat players in line included Steve Tepper of
Charles Waller made the nine-hour drive from
Philadelphia was well-represented by Vinny Mancini, who retrieved cards for his league; Ken Mandell, an employee of the Phillies and a friend of ex-Major Leaguer and long-time Strat player Doug Glanville; and George Waidelich, whose 12-year-old league will conduct its draft in a suite where the Camden River Sharks (Waidelich’s employers) play their games.
Vince Torre, Mark Schmidt and Rick Moritz flew, then rented a car to represent their five-man league in
Kevin Thomas, a repeat pilgrim from
A bit like playing Strat-O-Matic, and surviving the wait on Opening Day.