by Sam Sowl
I’d like to start this column with a prediction that will hopefully bode much better with my critics from San Diego than my previous predictions did: the San Diego Chargers will not make the playoffs this year. Now that we’ve gotten that out of the way…
Strat-O-Matic Baseball. To those of you who know what this means, the sentiments expressed in this column will surely resonate deeply in your soul. When I was about eight years old, my dad introduced me to the world of Strat-O-Matic Baseball, which is exactly what the game gave you – a whole other world. A world in which baseball never stops, games can be played in as short as 20 minutes, and it always manages to feel as though what was happening in the game could just as easily be happening in real life. That makes Strat-O-Matic what it is; it prides itself on realism. Years later, when the makers of the game put it out as a product for computers, seasons could be simulated with astoundingly accurate results. It was a dream come true for the young statistician that I was.
Then there was my eternal foe. In a house of two baseball fans and one set of Strat-O-Matic Baseball, a rivalry that exceeds Yankees/Red Sox is born. My dad had played the very same game himself when he was a kid, and had probably been counting the days until my baseball knowledge had reached a proficient level for playing Strat-O-Matic. The very first game we played, I hit a home run with my first at bat. Well, Tim Raines hit the home run, but I don’t think I had ever been happier. By the end of the first game, my dad had beaten me (of course), and I was in tears. So maybe I wasn’t ready to play the game just yet, but that’s beside the point: I was in tears! This game was so fun, realistic, hard, dramatic, etc., that I was in tears!
As the years passed, we played hundreds, maybe thousands of games. We would attempt to play the whole season of the Milwaukee Brewers, taking turns playing as their opponents. In typical childlike fashion I would try to lose when it was my turn to be the opponent, and become furious with my dad when he won as them. Strat-O-Matic provided a realm for me to be a kid, playing and living in a world that revolved around baseball. I wasn’t the only kid either. One night when my mom was out late, my dad put my brother and I to bed, but gave me specific orders to sneak downstairs after fifteen minutes. When I arrived, the game was ready to go, with both teams selected in my dad’s typical fashion. When my brother snuck down himself, he made it into the scandal of the century, and still brings it up. I never understood why, because hey, we let him watch.
There are plenty of things for sons to do with their dads. Some go hunting, fishing, or camping. Some drool over cars and watch them go fast (around a track – which is pretty cool, I’ve heard). Others watch baseball games together. Then there are the few father-son combos that share Strat-O-Matic baseball, and I can assure you that it has changed my life (hey look, I write a column at a baseball website!). Not surprisingly, I’ve already begun counting the days until I play Strat-O-Matic with my own son (who doesn’t exist yet). Hopefully I can recruit him as a fellow rival against his grandpa.
Sam Sowl's column, "Sowl's Surmisings", appears alternate Wednesdays