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The following was written and / or photographed by league members of the Pittsburgh Pinball League.
Season 19 of the Pittsburgh Pinball League is in full swing! Over 110 players have joined up for the fun and competition. From husbands and wives to brothers and sisters, many families have taken part in the league. This month, we are going to focus on a select few parents who are passing the league experience down to their children.
Josh Armstrong is playing in league with his young son Caleb. Josh is a skilled player who has won the league title once (on the greatest tiebreaker game of Argosy ever), and each week his son continues to improve his skills. Josh wrote the following about his experiences in league:
I accidentally stumbled into the Pittsburgh pinball subculture in August 2005, when I read about the upcoming World Pinball Championships. I had to check out this event. Like anyone whose had the good fortune to visit PAPA, I became an instant pinball enthusiast.
When PPL 1 started in the fall of 2007, my son, Caleb, was a newborn. He was still sleeping a lot, so I could slip away to try out pinball league. As Caleb grew my league attendance became less regular as I was faced with the decision to spend time with my family or play pinball. Fast forward to PPL season 18, Caleb was now 6 years old, league has grown to over 100 players and now has three weekly sessions in a variety of venues.
The Sunday afternoon session has been held in a family friendly locations creating the perfect opportunity to introduce Caleb to the Pittsburgh Pinball League. Caleb and I went into league with the common goal of spending time together and having fun. To this end it was a tremendous success. Caleb says his favorite part was getting to play a lot of different games, choosing a game for his group to compete on, and multi-balls of course. Caleb’s favorite games include Batman and the Avengers, while this Dad likes the X-men. Like father, like son, we both appreciate those super hero pinball machines.
Initially we had some reservations about league. I didn’t know if I would be able to play while providing support and supervision and Caleb wasn’t certain about playing pinball with a bunch of grown-ups. It turned out that league was extremely supportive. Someone from Caleb’s group was always willing to step in and provide assistance while I was playing, and those grown-ups Caleb was nervous about were always friendly, and in fact there were often other kids there as well. When the opportunity came Caleb had a great time playing with the other kids. He especially enjoyed the kids tournament that was held at league finals.
Most weeks we played on Sunday afternoons, but it turned out that our favorite week was when Caleb and I stayed up way past his bedtime and enjoyed a guys night out at Pinball Perfection. It was a beautiful fall evening with a wide selection of games and even included a surprise visit from the reigning World Pinball Champion. Caleb and I were thankful we weren’t drawn to play in his group. Caleb and I felt that the perfect conclusion to the season was cheering on Team PPL against the FSPA and we’re hopeful that next time, Team PPL will bring home the win.
The Pietrusza family has made the PPL into a family activity. Melinda, Joe and their four children enthusiastically come out each week, battling against each other for family bragging rights. Joe has qualified for the A division a few times, and Melinda has placed high in finals of other divisions. Linus finished in the top 4 of C, and has been an early surprise this season. Joe and Melinda wrote about what got them started in pinball and how it has been spread to their children.
As a family of six, the Pietruszas may well be the largest family unit in the world’s largest pinball league. Season 19 will be the first season we all have played together in PPL. We generally play on Sundays, and despite the usual bickering and teen angst, nobody complains when it it’s time to go to pinball.
Melinda: I started playing pinball when I was a little kid during the height of the 1970s recession. In order to support our large family, my dad worked between his regular jobs as a route serviceman for pinball and arcade games throughout Myrtle Beach and tiny rural towns in the woods of South Carolina where you might get lost in a swamp and eaten by an alligator.
Often, over the summer, as the oldest child, I was allowed to tag along in his red El Camino to remote locations as he collected money, delivered and serviced machines. I was hooked. I loved spending those special hours on the road with my dad and having access to unlimited free play.
Joe: I started playing pinball in the 1970s arcades of hometown Manor, PA, and at Greengate Mall in Greensburg. I thought I was being a bad-ass, smoking and hanging out with older kids at the pool hall. I especially enjoyed the artistic renderings of women on pinball backglasses from a very young age.
Among my favorite machines in the little pool hall on Race Street were Wizard and Captain Fantastic. As I played more, I started liking pinball for the challenge of getting a free game and not just for the artwork. Fast forward to the mid-1990s when we were newlyweds living in Pittsburgh. We met some new friends and found out that we all shared a love of pinball and beer, so we spread the word and joined together with about 10 regular players to form a league in a downtown storefront. After some of the friends moved away, and life got in the way, the league dissolved. But we still spent a lot of leisure time playing pinball at the Beehive in Oakland and South Side and in downtown dive bars like Sammy’s and the Lantern.
We acquired a few machines, and kids, of our own. Our kids were destined to love pinball too. We heard rumors of a new pinball league in town. Once the kids got a little older and he got over his aversion to meeting new people, Joe joined PPL in Season 6. Melinda followed in Season 7. We were kind of amazed at how friendly and welcoming everyone was, and how so many different people were joined together by pinball.
We alternated playing on different nights of the week, but for the rare occasions when we were able to score a babysitter. Linus was begging to join league from the get-go, but there were no kids in the league. Finally, when he was turning 12, we asked Petey for special dispensation for him to join. Petey was in favor, and everyone welcomed Linus into the fold and was encouraging him as he got better and better. Of course as these things go, our other kids started begging to join the league as well. We were reticent to overwhelm anyone with our army of children, but one by one, we signed them up.
At first, we were going to torture them and make them each wait until they turned 12, but after Lidia joined, it seemed easier for all of us if everyone played. And it made sense for us to play together as a family and share the game we loved so much as we were growing up with our kids. Now all 4 kids play. Linus is 14 and loves fast cars, record albums and he built his own minibike from parts he scavenged on tradio. Lidia is 12, and is a visual arts major at CAPA, sings, dances and acts in community theater, and runs cross-country. Link is 11, and he is all about baseball, and is frequently playing the leading man on stage (ask him to sing My Girl ). Lene is 10. She plays softball and wants to be an opera singer and a fashion designer and an artist when she grows up.
They are each holding their own pretty well in the league (Linus is outranking us all this season), and they are making many new friends of all ages. We are so happy that there are more and more kids joining PPL each season, and we appreciate the warm reception everyone has offered to our kids, and especially that the love of the game is being shared with a new generation.
A huge thank you to the Armstrrongs and the Pietruszas for taking part in league and writing about their experiences. The PPL is just past half way. If you are interested in joining, check out coinball.com, or our facebook page at
Photos 3 & 4 – Melinda Pietrusza