Best (ballgame seats at a) convention yet!

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In the 34 years of the I-75 Strat-O-Matic league, many annual conventions have competed for title of Best Convention Yet.

But to kick off our 35th season, there’s little doubt that this year’s convention featured one element that topped all previous: Best Seats at a Ballgame Yet.

Former league manager Ken Kuzdak secured four front-row seats to Astros-Nationals in Viera, immediately behind the visitors dugout, about 60 feet from home plate, and in an unprotected screen zone. Fortunately, no screaming line drives came off the bats of left-handed hitters, and so the five I-75ers in attendance enjoyed the rare treat of being up close and personal with major leaguers for 3-plus hours.

That outing set the stage for another classic convention, marking the start of our 35th year. Ten of our 15 managers made their way to Kissimmee, Fla., this year. Kuzdak, who claims to have just bought those Nationals tickets on StubHub like anyone can just log on and buy front row seats, returned to serve as draft moderator. Destin manager Mark Gergel brought along son Keith to assist with the drafting process. Five other managers drafted remotely.

The tension built throughout the weekend as managers tried to unearth others’ drafting plans. Deals were swung just prior to and during the draft, but ultimately the draft played out almost precisely the way mock draft prognosticator Phil Roselli said it would, starting with Hickory’s selection of Marlins starter Jose Fernandez. Phil nailed 14 of the 15 first-round picks, missing only on Wisconsin’s selection of Ervin Santana, a pick borne out of a last-minute trade that sent Jordan Zimmermann off to Savannah.

While some clubs clearly emerged from the draft as division-champ contenders, we may see some new blood making pushes for the top of their divisions this year, as clubs such as Iowa and South Grand Prairie have assemble talented teams. There seems to be more teams with a reasonable shot at making the playoffs than in recent past years.

Sunday saw many managers revive, or attempt to revive, long-lost softball glories, and some are still paying the price for those efforts. But the day was just too nice to waste on a Blue Jays-Astros game. Plus most of us slept in too late.

March play is under way and another successful convention is in the books!

Two words: LET’S DRAFT!!!

League managers pose after enjoying best-seats-ever at Saturday's Astros-Nationals game.

League managers pose after enjoying best-seats-ever at Saturday’s Astros-Nationals game. Pink-shorts girl is photo-bombing us.

OK, technically, “Let’s Draft” is three words, as “Let’s” is a contraction for “let us.”

But must we turn everything into a debate?

Through Friday, half of the managers who will be drafting Saturday night have already assembled in Kissimmee, and are ready for Saturday’s I-75 League draft, marking the start of the 35th annual season for the fourth-longest-running Strat-O-Matic baseball league in America. (Or fifth-longest running, depending on … OH STOP IT.)

Hickory will be on the clock at 6 p.m. sharp, and the Nuts will be picking both first and third, following a recent trade with Destin that shipped Evan Longoria to the Beach Bums. In-between, the resurgent South Grand Prairie Warriors will pick second.

Pre-draft prattle has a general consensus on top players to be selected including Jose Fernandez, Yasiel Puig, Will Myers and Josh Donaldson. Some managers also favor Gerrit Cole; others like Shelby Miller. And Xander Bogaerts is in the mix too.

It all plays out Saturday night with 10 managers drafting in person and five drafting remotely.

Many hours of preparation have already been devoted to this year’s draft, including eyewitness scouting at Nationals-Braves and Astros-Nationals games — where on Friday we landed perhaps the best spring training seats in the history of I-75 League spring training games.

Other early topics of discussion include a prediction of 105 wins for Savannah (from Gary, not Steve), admiration for the beastly Chatfield lineup, and an educational exercise of a three-round simulation draft conducted Friday night among the managers who were already present.

There’s one more ballgame on tap before the draft — Mets at Tigers in Lakeland, then it’s time to get busy. Managers who are drafting remotely, make sure you have access to the draft grid, as that is the document we will be adding live picks to during the draft. Moderator: Former league manager Ken Kuzdak. Also in attendance will be Keith Gergel, son of Destin manager Mark Gergel .

Maybe Springfield manager Dave LaMont will give us a shoutout during his broadcast of Saturday’s Mississippi-Vanderbilt game on ESPN3 (2:30 ET).