While working from his Centreville home for the past month, Angelotti has knocked out a handful of Strat-O-Matic games every few days. As much as possible, he has used the actual lineups from each of the Nationals’ 2019 games during his simulated season, but not every player is included in the set. For instance, Kyle McGowin, who made a spot start for Washington in late May, doesn’t have a card, so Angelotti pitched Austin Voth instead.
Angelotti plays by himself and therefore manages both teams. Games take about 20 minutes, with three dice and the corresponding player cards determining the result of every at-bat. Outcomes on the cards are based on a player’s actual performance in the previous season, so the probability of a dice roll resulting in a home run is higher for Juan Soto than, say, Adam Eaton.
“Once I start my game, I just use whatever substitutions I see fit,” Angelotti said. “I’ve tried to stay true to injuries, so when [Trea] Turner wasn’t starting because he was out [with a broken right index finger], I wouldn’t pinch-hit him.”
Angelotti keeps track of the score, inning by inning, on a sheet of paper for every game he plays.
“I root for the Nats, but they don’t always win,” said Angelotti, an Indians fan from Cleveland who moved to the D.C. area with his family in 2001 and later adopted the Nationals as his National League team. “It helps me pass the time, for sure, and just helps me stay a little closer to baseball during this crisis.”
With the baseball season suspended indefinitely due to the novel coronavirus pandemic, Angelotti isn’t alone in turning to Strat-O-Matic, the predecessor to fantasy sports, to fill the void. Strat-O-Matic President Adam Richman, whose father, Hal, founded the company in 1961, said sales of Strat-O-Matic’s baseball board game and downloadable Windows game were up 50 percent during the second half of March compared to the same period last year. New members on Strat-O-Matic 365, the company’s online simulation platform, were up 75 percent from a year ago.
“Our goal has always been to give people an escape, give people some joy and connect people to sports,” Richman said in a phone interview. “Right now, when there are no sports, that’s more important than ever. … We’re thrilled, but having it in the context of what’s going on, it’s strange. We want the world to get better, and get better quickly.”
Traffic is also up on the Strat-O-Matic website, thanks in part to the simulation that the company is running for the 2020 baseball season. Results, including box scores and a computer-generated recap for every game, are released daily at 2 p.m. Eastern time. Several news outlets, including the Akron Beacon-Journal and San Francisco Chronicle, have published stories about simulated games.
Through Tuesday’s games in Strat-O-Matic’s simulation, the Nationals were atop the National League East with a 7-4 record. Victor Robles was hitting a blistering .405, while Trea Turner was tied for the league lead with four steals. In the simulated home opener, which presumably featured a simulated World Series banner unveiling, Stephen Strasburg hit a solo home run and struck out 10 in a 2-1 win over the Mets. There’s no word on whether he also danced in the dugout.
In 1981, by which point Angelotti was organizing Strat-O-Matic leagues with his high school friends, the board game was at the center of another baseball simulation in his hometown of Cleveland. After the MLB All-Star Game was postponed due to the players’ strike, Jon Halpern, a TV producer at Cleveland’s WKYC, pitched the idea of playing a Strat-O-Matic game on the field at Municipal Stadium. On July 14, the date the real All-Star Game was scheduled to be played, Halpern rolled the National League to a 15-2 win over the American League managed by fellow producer Jim Schaefer. Indians legend Bob Feller threw the ceremonial first dice, an announcer called the action and a Strat-O-Matic employee donned umpire’s gear and stood watch behind the oversized board.
Angelotti’s games don’t have the same fanfare, but he has an excuse, with two of his kids home from the University of Virginia and finishing their semester via online classes.
“I need to stay quiet and not bother them, so [Strat-O-Matic] is what I can do,” he said.
So far, Angelotti’s simulation isn’t following the script of the Nationals’ 2019 season. Through 50 games, his Strat-O-Nats were 30-20, while the eventual World Series champions were 19-31.
“The starting pitching is so strong with [Patrick] Corbin, Strasburg and [Max] Scherzer,” Angelotti said. “It’s kind of weird to say this, but if they get a lead, it’s almost like the game’s over. That’s what stands out to me most so far.”
On that note, Angelotti has one huge advantage over early-2019 Dave Martinez, besides the fact that fans and media members aren’t calling for his job. Reliever Daniel Hudson, who was acquired at last year’s trade deadline, has been in Angelotti’s virtual bullpen from the start of the season and Trevor Rosenthal — he of the infinity ERA — didn’t appear in enough games for the Nationals before being released to qualify for a card in the latest set.
“It would be horrific if he did,” Angelotti said.
Angelotti’s wife, Terry, said the cards cost more than she expected, but they’ve made a perfect birthday gift, even if her enthusiasm for dramatic dice rolls doesn’t match her husband’s.
“There was one game where Victor Robles hit a walk-off double,” Neil Angelotti said. “I was telling her about it, and she said, ‘Oh yeah, that’s nice. Sounds like an exciting game.’”
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