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!