THE REPLAY ZONE
By Jeff Polman
June ruminations from your trusty Strat-O-Matic replay addict. Check out “Twinbill”, my latest historical baseball novel, inspired by season replays of 1988 and 1941.
When Strat Fanatics Collide
It was a pleasure to take in much of the action at last week’s yearly convention of the ECBA (East Coast Baseball Association) outside of Baltimore. The league has been going for 42 years now, and new member Brett Carow, famous for winning the Ultimate Strat Fan competition at the game’s 50th birthday party a few years back and setting the Guinness World Record for consecutive Strat play, was on hand for the first time, along with eight other league members. I’ll tell you, though, sitting in the grandstand of Larry Fryer’s miniature Woodstock Field is something every Strat-O-Matic baseball fan needs to experience.
The park is a thing of beauty that took 45 hours to hand-craft, complete with light standards, trees, part of a neighborhood and “Jake’s Green Gravy Diner” across the street. The fans seated around me were a little stiff and didn’t make much noise during the games, but whenever Larry’s dice were dropped into the high tower beside the bleachers, the entire wooden grandstand would shake and make the game even more exciting. Larry’s East Division-leading Woodstock Sabres went a convention-best 34-16 this year, mostly against their West Division foes the Surf, Dynamic Duo, Rock ’n Rollers and Fisher Cats, and I was on hand to witness most of the games—except, of course, when things weren’t going the Sabres way dice-wise, and he would revert to a smaller, older stadium for an inning or entire game. I would just sit there in my grandstand on a table in the corner of the room and keep to myself, hoping I wouldn’t be knocked on the floor by a flying die or the family dog.
Sadie Gimpkins, an equally short neighborhood lady who spent the entire convention standing in an alley outside Woodstock Field talking to a policeman, filled me in on some of the more entertaining convention highlights from time to time. Like when Yoenis Cespedes, Curtis Granderson, and Nelson Cruz clubbed three consecutive home runs off Sabres pitcher —after it was announced he would be pulled if a Dynamic Duo “reached base” (None of them did!) Mark Gratkowski’s Maryland Mayhem dropped a game to Jim Sebastian’s Surf 17-2 to win the 1st annual Woodshed Award and T-Shirt for being “taken behind the woodshed,” then proudly wore the attire “like a yellow jersey at the Tour de France} for the remainder of the convention. After Tom Beltz’s Bootleggers swept a five-game series from Jeff Polman’s Dynamic Duo on the strength of walkoff home runs by Alex Rodriguez and Jhonny Peralta, Jeff fulfilled his pre-convention promise by giving Tom a free copy of his new baseball novel with a not-too-kind inscription scribbled within.
The Sabres’ skipper had his winning paws all over the event. In the annual Wiffle Ball Home Run Derby, Larry edged out the Rock ’n Rollers’ John Ford for top honors, and also played the longest game of the week, an 18-inning loss to the Surf in which the Sabres struck out 26 times and the Surf 18, for an ECBA record 44 whiffs! (Jose “The Outlaw” Altuve went an inglorious 0-for-9 in the affair.)
As usual, Larry and Sandy Fryer were also gracious hosts, and an armada of custom T-shirts designed by Larry (or as he called them, “convention robes”), were handed out to league members, including a special Jackie Robinson shirt to honor ECBA Convention Number “42”. I, unfortunately, was far too small to receive a shirt, being a size .06, and had to wear the same paint-scented top and pants I was originally supplied with.
Being so tiny in stature made much of the Strat field action twice as dramatic. One series at Woodstock Field against the Dynamic Duo was particularly tough to make it through, because the Duo’s manager insisted on placing his giant cup of hot coffee close to the stands, causing me to feel faint by the third inning. Luckily the subsequent games gave me a chance to cool off behind his glass of ice water, though I had to dodge the occasional hailstones of salt from a giant pretzel in his hand.
After the convention finally ended over the weekend with 244 games played, Woodstock Field was carried back downstairs to its shadowy home, where it will await its next moments in the sun. I won’t mind it down here: it’s cool, and I’ve come to know the motionless fans around me, and I can sleep peacefully without the thunder and clatter of tumbling dice in my ears…
1934 WORLD SERIES PREVIEW?
Happy to be back home in Southern California and rolling the final month of my 1934 Freaks League, I journeyed down to Fountain Valley Monday night to witness the final three games of our two first-place teams, the Robert Johnsons, leaders of the Hoover Division (managed by John Borack and Chris Witt) and the Nine Stooges (managed by Donald Gordon and Greg Jezewski). John and Donald did the rolling, yours truly did the scoring, and the season-long trend of the Johnsons taking two of three from the Stooges continued. Despite coming back from an 8-1 deficit to win Game One on a shocking 8th inning home run by Hack Wilson, the Stooges dropped Game Two 9-4 and the finale 6-3 on two clutch late home runs by Lefty O’Doul. The Johnsons have a frighteningly deep attack filled with on-base and high batting averages that includes Al Simmons, Charlie Gehringer, Mickey Cochrane and other assassins, and have thus far been able to withstand a flood of injuries early in the season. The Stooges, who were fortunate to receive the number one draft pick and select 1934 triple crown winner Lou Gehrig, are also up by seven games in the Coolidge Division, and the Iron Horse has been more than heroic. Check out this fabulous race for league MVP honors:
Gehrig (Nine Stooges):
.357, 46 HRS, 167 RBIs, 19 game-winning RBIs, 1.144 OPS
Jimmie Foxx (Our Gang):
.363, 55 HRS, 137 RBIs, 15 game-winning RBIs, 1.213 OPS
Rip Collins (Bogie’s Bashers)
.324, 42 HRS, 154 RBIs, 17 game-winning RBIs, 1.067 OPS
I’ll report on our World Series and major awards in a future column.