Cold Doesn’t Deter Hundreds From SOM Opening Day

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 Waterford, CT successfully defended his honor of being first in line by showing up at 9 a.m., four hours before the Strat-O-Matic doors opened at 1 p.m. Many customers hoped to shorten their time in line by showing up late. So many that they created a second long line at 3 p.m.


“We were very busy all the way to (closing time at) 4:30,” 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 Mecca – something that must be done at least once in life. They arrived at Strat-O-Matic headquarters in Long Island, NY from all over the East, but also the South, the Midwest, Canada and even further.


            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 Southern California, joined by fellow tourney player John Perez of Boston, who sported a sweatshirt proclaiming him to be Smith’s No. 1 fan.


            But Smith was outdone this time. Bruno Bruns from Brazil accompanied friends. Bruns told Richman that he is learning the game from those friends. Another international Strat-O-Matic colony is on the horizon.


            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 Vernon, CT, a 33-year-game in a 24-team league.


            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 Fenway Park.


            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 Montreal claimed the unofficial record by eating eight, though he fell short of one donut per year of Strat experience (12).


            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 Wapole, MA brought the youngest fan in line, 7-year-old son Sam.  Sam began playing at age 6 with dad and his 10-year-old sister.


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 Birmingham, MI did his part to pass down the hobby by purchasing a game for a young boy back home.


For many of the Strat veterans in line, the hobby connects them with their own youth. Tom Hagopien, a Tigers and Mets fan from New Canaan, CT, started playing at age 9 and has played for 40 years. His two sons (ages 9 and 11) play with him.


Harold Berg of Warwick, RI made it to his first Opening Day and told Richman that he began play as a child, stopped for several years, then resumed playing after 1994. Now he’s in four computer-baseball leagues.


Jimmy Jay of Waltham, MA told Richman how he got involved with Strat-O-Matic at age 8, pressed into action when a league of older players needed one more member. They let him learn the sport and the hobby the hard way. In his first game,Jay started a center fielder’s card as his pitcher – and got away with it for eight innings.


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 Springfield, OH were on their own baseball field trip. The members of a 25-year-league drove 10 hours to attend Opening Day, then were bound for Cooperstown, site of the Baseball Hall of Fame & Museum.  


            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 Allentown, PA were the only married couple in line. Bill has played Strat for 30 years. 


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 Merrick, NY (40 years), who has every baseball card set since 1966; Robert Leonardi and Paul Hartwell (31 years each) and Jim Calquhoun, a Long Island resident who has made every Opening Day since 1975.


Charles Waller made the nine-hour drive from Pittsburgh to take part in his 10th Opening Day. John Christie and Ed Eichholz made it up from Wilmington, DE. They play in the 26-year-old, 20-team John B. Wockenfuss League, named for the former major-league catcher who is a customer of Christie’s store.


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 Chicago.


            Kevin Thomas, a repeat pilgrim from Chicago, plays in a face-to-face league with Strat notables John Dewan, Bud Podrazik and Chuck Miller. He took a circuitous route – plane, bus and train. He found weather worthy of the Windy City, but was dressed for it – in a New York Rangers hockey jersey. Rooting for the Rangers in Chicago “builds character,” Thomas explained to Richman.


            A bit like playing Strat-O-Matic, and surviving the wait on Opening Day.