On a drizzly fall morning in Central New Jersey, sixteen PLAAY Gamers (and two "significant others!") from seven states (Arizona, Colorado, Connecticut, Massachusetts, New Jersey, New York, and Pennsylvania) gathered to determine who would be 2016's big league champions, as the Fourth Annual HISTORY MAKER BASEBALL Fall Classic Pre-PLAAY got underway at The Gamer's Realm in East Windsor!
The guest list included Dan Van Antwerp and his son Andy, Joe Petrafassi, Richard Kaufman, Bill Heller, Chris Dinkins (and Nikki), Joe Runde, Steve Tower, Al Wilson, Matt Poulter, Chuck Gustafson, Bill LeBlanc (and Denise), Peter Tyson, Tom Sforza, Bob Haas, and myself (Keith Avallone).
We spent the first half hour getting acquainted. This phenomenon never fails to energize me: people who have never met one another quickly become a "band of brothers!" It's one of the amazing things about the sports board game hobby. Much laughter, many great stories, lots of light-hearted moments.
And then, it was time to PLAAY BALL!!...
What follows is a quick, thumbnail description of each game played—to capture in FULL the fun and drama of this event would take many, MANY paragraphs! (And would never make the newsletter press deadline!)...
ALCS Game Seven: Indians 8, Rangers 2 (Joe Petrafassi vs. Chris Dinkins)
Ramirez' run scoring double in the third inning and two-run homer in the fifth staked the Indians to a 4-0 lead. The Rangers loaded the bases with one out in the sixth, but Kluber managed to get out of the inning with only one run allowed. Cleveland iced it with a four-run eighth inning, highlighted by Napoli's three-run HR off Claudio.
NLCS Game Seven: Cubs 3, Nationals 2 (Dan Van Antwerp vs. Andy Van Antwerp)
Cubs scored three in the first, Rizzo with a three-run HR, that's all they would get—and all they would need. Zimmerman's two-run HR in the top of the eighth drew the Nats to within one, but Rondon came in to close it out and send the Cubs to the series.
Game One: Cubs 3, Indians 1 (Joe Runde vs. Peter Tyson)
Montero's second-inning double scored Zobrist and Soler, and Jon Lester made it stand up with a three-hitter as the Cubs took game one. HIGHLIGHT of the game was the official Seventh Inning Stretch, where Steve Tower got out his ukelele and led the whole room in a rousing rendition of "Take Me Out To The Ball Game!" It really was awesome!!
Game Two: Cubs 5, Indians 2 (Richard Kaufman vs. Joe Petrafassi)
Another fast start for the Cubs, Rizzo with a two-run first inning blast. Chicago scratched out runs in the third, sixth and eighth inning. Napoli's two-run dinger in the bottom of the eighth gave the Tribe hope, but Rondon closed it out with a hitless ninth inning, to put the Cubs up two games to none!
Game Three: Indians 7, Cubs 2 (Chris Dinkins vs. Dan/Andy Van Antwerp)
The road team won for the third time as Cleveland struck for four runs in the third inning, three of them on a Lindor home run. Kipnis' triple in the fifth scored Napoli, and Gomes drove in Kipnis to extend the lead to 6-2, chasing Lackey. Kipnis almost hit for the cycle (single, double, triple), and his run-scoring single in the seventh gave Cleveland some extra cushion.
Game Four: Cubs 1, Indians 0 (Richard Kaufman vs. Joe Runde)
Pitchers Kendrick and Bauer were incredible, each scattering three hits and walking just one. Bauer rang up eleven strikeouts, Kendrick had six, in this riveting pitchers duel. The home team finally won, with Russell ripping a double in the third and scoring the games only run on Zobrist's ground out as the Cubs moved to within one game of winning the World Series.
Game Five: Indians 6, Cubs 1 (Joe Petrafassi vs. Dan/Andy Van Antwerp)
With a chance to close out the series in front of the faithful at Wrigley Field, it was 1-1 entering the seventh inning. The Indians then strung together five hits, and also benefited when Zobrist bobbled a routine grounder, and suddenly it was 6-1, Cleveland. Otero and Miller shut the Cubs down in order in the eighth and ninth and the series headed back to Cleveland.
Game Six: Indians 3, Cubs 1 (Peter Tyson vs. Chris Dinkins)
A rematch of Salazar and Arrieta did not disappoint. Napoli's solo HR in the third broke a 1-1 tie, and he drove in a crucial insurance run with a deep fly out in the eighth, scoring Kipnis. For the game, Salazar scattered six hits and struck out nine in seven innings of work to force game seven!
Game Seven: Indians 3, Cubs 1 (Chris Dinkins vs. Steve Tower)
With the whole gang watching, and all the marbles on the line, this game featured an interesting early twist. With the Cubs semi-dissonant and needing a morale boost in the third inning, Steve played the "Argue with the Umpire" card, jawing with home plate ump Jeff Nelson, who then gave Steve the heave-ho! (Steve rolled a "6!") To the showers! Chicago got the needed spark, as Fowler doubled in Ross for a 1-0 lead, but the Cubs were left in a tough spot with no more manager strategy cards. Hendricks, pitching brilliantly, made the lead stand up with five innings of shutout ball, but Davis, Naquin and Lindor roughed him up in the sixth inning with consecutive hits. He managed to strike out Napoli, but Kipnis singled, Chisenhall walked, and Perez singled to drive in Naquin and Lindor to make it 3-1. At that point, Hendricks got the hook, and Strop got Santana to hit into an inning-ending double play—but the damage was done. Kluber pitched a strong seventh inning (he ended up scattering just four hits) and Miller came on to close it out with two innnings of hitless pitching. Just like that, the Indians had erased a three-games-to-one deficit and come all the way back to win the World Series!
In the post-series excitement, we forgot to name a series MVP! I think Napoli would be a great candidate, but I'm open to suggestions from the other guys who were there.
Game One: AL 8, NL 7 (Bill Heller vs. Chuck Gustafson)
The inaugural series with these teams in Phoenix back in March featured a series of fierce pitching duels. Not today! The two teams combined for 31 hits before Frank Howard blasted a pinch-hit, walk-off HR in the bottom of the eleventh to give the AL a memorable 8-7 win.
Game Two: AL 9, NL 4 (Bob Haas vs. Matt Poulter)
The hitting continued, especially from Cal Ripken, Jr., who hit a home run and a triple to give the AL a 6-0 lead through seven innings. Ernie Banks sparked an NL rally in the eighth that closed the gap to 6-4 but Ripken struck again, a three run homer that provided the AL's final 9-4 margin.
Game Three: AL 2, NL 1 (Bob Haas vs. Chuck Gustafson)
The final game of the HOF series unfolded into the kind of pitching duel that we've come to expect, Nolan Ryan vs. Sandy Koufax. George Brett's two-run shot in the bottom of the fifth provided just enough offense for the AL to take game three and sweep the series.
To put an exclamation point on the event, we held a "Decider Die HR Derby" with the winner getting the keep the set of Kickstarter "100 Greatest Baseball Players" cards that was used in the Hall of Fame exhibition series. We kept this SIMPLE: Roll a decider die: bullet, you stay in! Last one in wins the cards! It was really fun, pretty crazy: at one point we rolled eleven bullets in a row!! Eventually, though, it came down to Joe Runde and Andy Van Antwerp—and when Andy rolled a blank, it was all over! Congrats, Joe!
Afterwards, eight of us headed over to the Town Diner in Hightstown for some post-game food and game-talk. Steve continued his new habit of sampling exotic fruit drink concoctions: (cucumber, lime and—whaaa?) We discussed baseball, baseball history, video games, sports games, sports in general, careers (Richard Kaufman is a copy-writer, Joe Petrafassi works for a firm that makes aerosol spray containers!), and a bunch of other stuff while enjoying some good ol' fashioned American "comfort food!"
Alas, the time arrived (too soon!) for everyone to head home. I'm so grateful for everyone that made time to be part of this year's pre-PLAAY! Special thanks to Katrina from the Gamer's Realm, who graciously accommodated us despite a huge Magic the Gathering pre-release event going on the same day! (She moved that event to an adjacent facility so that we could have the game store space to ourselves!)
Also heartfelt thanks to Steve and Al who really made this event "sing" (in Steve's case, literally!) with their enthusiasm, grace and overall helpfulness.
Already looking forward to the 2017 Fall Classic Pre-PLAAY...