Strat-O-Matic faithful begin 40th season

AP Sports Writer

   GLEN HEAD, N.Y. (AP)  _  Just days before pitchers and catchers report, Strat-O-Matic baseball loyalists lined up in a railroad station parking lot on Friday for Opening Day of the popular game's 40th season.
   This is a ritual, followed annually by players who travel from as far away as Ohio and Florida, Canada and Kentucky, addicts to a game Hal Richman invented 40 years ago.
   ``We had 75 people in a blizzard one year,'' he said.  Friday's climate was kinder and the crowd much larger than that.
   Opening Day is no small matter in the Strat-O-Matic world and this one was extra special because of the anniversary.
   Bill Sindelar, one of Richman's first customers, made a nine-hour drive from Cleveland for the occasion. ``It's my first Opening Day,'' he said, sounding solemn, almost emotional about the occasion.
   Over the years, the game has attracted a loyal following. Some of the customers are celebrities. Moviemaker Spike Lee and actor Tim Robbins are players. So are sportscasters Bob Costas and Jon Miller. Ex-major leaguers Jim Kaat, Dale Murphy and Cal Ripken, Jr., too.  
   An hour before the faithful were allowed in the small building to pick up their games, Richman unveiled a 3-foot mock-up of the new Barry Bonds card _ the most prolific offensive card in the game's history.
   Richman is in awe of Bonds' 73-home run season. ``Bonds hit a home run every 6.5 at-bats,'' he said. ``Babe Ruth was one every nine at-bats. The average is one every 30.5. Barry Bonds is Roy Hobbs.''
   And so Bonds' 2001 card is weighted accordingly. The fans in the parking lot recognized that immediately. There were appreciative oohs and aahs from the crowd.
   Kenny Marino would have been hooting and hollering. He played Strat-O-Matic religiously, enrolled in a number of leagues. He kept meticulous statistics and even built a model ballpark. Each year, he made the 90-minute drive from Monroe, N.Y. for Opening Day.
   On Friday, Katrina Marino made that drive for her husband, a New York City fireman who was killed in the World Trade Center attacks on Sept. 11. Richman presented her with the game her husband would have been picking up.
   One of the Strat-O-Matic loyalists is Philadelphia Phillies outfielder Doug Glanville. ``He complained one year about his defensive rating,'' Richman said. ``I gave him a two and he wanted a one.''
   The lowest defensive rating in Planet Strat-O-Matic is a five. That was the number assigned to Gregg Jefferies when he was unfortunate enough to try playing left field in Philadelphia.
   In a town where they have booing down to a science, this was unbelievable ammunition.
   ``The fans kept yelling at him, `You're a five! You're a five!' '' Richman said.
   Poor Jefferies stood there with a quizzical look on his face, wondering what that was all about. Glanville knew, though.
   ``He was over there in center field,'' Richman said, ``doubled over laughing.''


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