YOUNGSTOWN, Ohio — A new event in northeast Ohio is scoring big with pinball players.
The inaugural PinBrew Fest combined pinball with Ohio-made craft beers for a weekend of fun at the Girard Metroplex Event Center. Organizers said it’s the first major event in the country for pinball enthusiasts since the COVID-19 outbreak began, welcoming those of all skill levels back to Youngstown, which is considered to be a birthplace of the game.
John Tomsich is one of those enthusiasts. The Ohio native, better known as “Jitter,” has been pulling back the plunger on pinball machines practically his whole life.
“My parents surprised me with a machine when I was 3 or 4-years-old, and I’ve been kind of addicted to it ever since,” he said.
The challenge of the game called him to start playing at a competitive level.
“Trying to control the ball and learning each machine and all the different rules there,” Tomsich said. “Also, just keeping your composure and trying to keep the ball under control.”
At 6-foot-10, the former basketball player has had to learn how to bend to reach the flippers.
“I’m used to it now,” he said. “I’m used to just bending down and having to get low to do this, so there’s probably a little bit of a disadvantage, but I don’t mind.”
The game on each pinball machine is different, and all much harder than they look.
“There are people that play well and then there’s people that like to restore games,” said Keith Campanelli. “I’m one of those.”
Campanelli is a co-founder of PinBrew Fest.
“These guys have been cooped up for a year and they were going to shows every two months,” he said.
He brings old games back to life.
“Personally, I’m around 120,” Campanelli said. “So, about the same amount that’s out here on the floor. I have some at breweries. I have some at home.”
Those games at home were a bit of an adjustment for his wife, Carrie.
“I’ve gotten used to it, but, it was a little overwhelming at once, " Carrie said. "But there are certain rules in the house — that his pinballs don’t go in my garage, and I have a certain place in the basement where he’s not allowed to put any pinballs.”
She’s a player in the pinball game by default, but proud of the event’s success.
“Overwhelmed by the amount of machines that people have brought and the amount of people that are coming here,” she said. “Yeah, it’s crazy.”
The event also scored points with Ohio craft breweries.
“It’s something you can do socially,” said Jason “Jugs” Jugenheimer. “You can stand around, drink beer (and) play pinball.”
But it takes a balance of skill and sometimes luck to become a “pinball wizard.”
“That solenoid smacks the ball, it hits over here (and) goes over there,” said Campanelli. “It’s so random that it’s just such a challenge and when you get a good game, it’s kind of like the golfers who get the hole in one. You just wanna go back and do it again.”
Event organizers are already planning for PinBrew Fest to return in April 2022.