Friday, February 8, 2013

Opening Day

It may only be the 8th of February, but it’s still Opening Day. That is, if you have Strat-O-Matic Baseball.

Like most kids, I played board games when I was growing up. My own interests ran toward sports games – games like All-Star Baseball, which featured real players and was designed to reproduce their performance with deadly statistical accuracy. The first game of this kind I ever bought was called Negamco Golf, which was made by a company in Duluth.* I suppose the fact that my first game was a golf game indicated I was going to grow up to be a Republican, but at the time it was more likely because I was a fan of Arnold Palmer, Jack Nicklaus, Lee Trevino and the other giants of the game.

*I always liked ordering things from that company; not just games, but books, posters, sports cards. This was back in the days when mail order meant four to six weeks, but because of their proximity to Minneapolis, I’d have my order by the end of the week.

In my early teens I came to a rite of passage: my first Strat-O-Matic baseball game. I’d played the game with some of my friends and enjoyed it, and so I saved up my pennies and ordered one, back when you could only get it through the mail. It was, I believe, a replay of the 1974 season – I can verify this because it was for the season when Hank Aaron broke Babe Ruth’s home run record, and as I set out to replay that season, Aaron hit three home runs in the season opener against Cincinnati, thus breaking the record right then and there.*

*Which would never have happened in real life. The Braves opened the season with three games on the road against Cincinnati; Aaron homered in the first game to tie Ruth, and the Braves sat him down, wanting him to break the record in Atlanta. They were warned by the Commissioner about this and Aaron did play in the series closer, but still broke the record at home. Obviously I hadn’t yet developed my obsession with accuracy.

Strat-O-Matic was a great game, but eventually I lost interest in it. It was a combination of things; I was for the most part a solitary kid, which meant that most of the time I was playing by myself, and that can only take you so far. The baseball season was also very long – 162 games per team, 12 teams (at that time) per league, and since I was playing all the games myself, it was likely that most of these players would, in real life, be long since retired by the time I completed the season replay.

One of the coolest games ever
I was also at an age where I preferred football to baseball, and since I also had a football game – NFL Strategy Football, which didn’t have real-life players, but was strategically quite advanced (hence the name). Replaying a football season meant I could start my own league, with fewer teams playing fewer games. A 12-team league each playing 16 games was easy enough to manage, and manage that I did, for nearly 20 years.*

*Or until I got married. Having my own football league was fun, but having a wife is more fun. 

The emphasis in today’s gaming world is on electronics, hyper realistic graphics, joysticks. Those can be fun, but I feel sorry for kids who don’t know the drama that comes from flipping a card over, rolling a pair of dice, spinning the arrow on the dial, waiting to see what statistically accurate cards combined with random chance can combine. I never needed all the fancy stuff; the stadiums, the fans, the announcers, the players – they all existed up here, in the mind, and that was a greater, more vivid thrill than any video game could ever produce.

So have at it, Strat-O-Matic fans. And if you ever need one more player to fill out the league, I just might be able to be coaxed out of retirement.

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