Opening Day 2006





By Glenn Guzzo


            Gamers young and old(er), Strat-O-Matic lifers and newbies, drove, flew and took the train on the annual pilgrimage to Strat-O-Matic headquarters on Long Island, NY Friday, Jan. 27.


            The faithful began lining up at 3:30 a.m.  – 9 ½ hours before the Strat-O-Matic’s front door opens to some of the hobby’s most ardent enthusiasts. They arrived from the East, the South, the Midwest and Canada. At least one card set seemed destined for Korea. By the end of the day, about 300 gamers had shown up to be the first on their blocks (and in their competitive leagues) to have the new baseball cards and disks.


            As usual, Strat-O-Matic creator Hal Richman enjoyed chatting with some of them and making notes about their Strat experience. These anecdotes are from Richman’s conversations.


Bill Nieman of Waterford, CT likely had a claim to SOM seniority among the visitors. He has been playing for 42 years and has another claim that will be tough to top – pitcher Dennis Bennett hurled a no-hitter in Nieman’s first Strat game ever. Many other gamers have lamented that they have played for years without ever experiencing a no-hitter.


The numerous others with 25 years or more of Strat loyalty included Ed Griffin of Boston (36 years), who led members of the Fly-By-Night League to Opening Day; Mike Tuttle of Westboro, MA, a 34-year-veteran playing in three leagues; and Stan Koczkodaj, a 34-year vet from Ridley Park, PA who was the cartoonist for STRAT FAN magazine in the early 1990s.


Fathers and sons who showed up together had some of the most heart-warming stories. Fred and Jeff Goldstein of New York City showed up to get the goods they will be using together to play Strat-O-Matic for the first time this year.  It was also the first Opening Day for Kevin Armstrong and son William, at age 6 the youngest Strat player on the scene.


Steve Walker, a 34-year veteran, made the trek from Ellicott City, MD with his sons, ages 11 and 14. Walker has been sharing his love of baseball with them for years and they are starting a league together this season.


Others came from even further. Tom Farmer, a 29-year face-to-face play vet from Fairfax, VA, drove to Trenton, NJ then took trains the rest of the way. Michael Parker Marion, IN drove the entire way – 13 hours – to get a short jump on others he will be competing with in STAR Tournaments.


Opening Day always has been a day for leagues. If the whole league doesn’t show up, one member will be there to haul huge packages for the entire league. The longer the league has been around, it seems, the more likely this scene is played out.


Kevin Thomas, a 33-year vet from Wheaton, IL flew in to retrieve cards for himself, John Dewan and Bud Podrazik, and then promptly flew back. Dewan is co-founder of STATS Inc. and owner of ACTA Publications, the publisher of the Strat-O-Matic Fanatics book that came out a year ago. Posednik designed the Strat-O-Matic Fanatics T-Shirt.


George Avola of Toronto, a 17-year vet in a 10-team league, also tried the park-and-fly route, driving to Buffalo, then flying into New York. Steven Dufresne, a 26-year vet, drove the full seven hours from Montreal for cards to be used in his 8-team league


The cards that may travel the farthest were retrieved by Mike Myers of Quakertown, PA. He has a baseball-loving exchange student from South Korea who will learn Strat-O-Matic here, then take his present home.


Joette Pandolfo was the first woman to reach the door, there to retrieve cards for her boyfriend as his friends.


John Maggi of Agawam, MA is champion of the SBA League, a mail league with other members in California, South Dakota, Tennessee, Texas and Pennsylvania.


Eddie Eichholoz of Bear, DE is commissioner of a 20-man league that has been playing face-to-face in Delaware and Pennsylvania for 24 years.


            Then there is Matt Beagle of Bloomsburg, PA, who got his first SOM game when he was 12 and was so aghast to see Pete Rose’s “D” stealing rating that he gave up the game almost immediately.


“But as he got older and more knowledgeable, he realized that Rose deserved the D rating and returned to the game,” Richman recounted from his conversation with Beagle Friday.


Now, Beagle plays in three leagues and is commissioner of the CBL. He has been playing Strat-O-Matic baseball for 30 years.