New Yorker seeks pinball immortality

Sean "The Storm" Grant, 43, introduces himself as The Best Pinball Player of All Time Who's Never Owned a Machine in His Life.

"There are four truly great players in the world," Grant said. "Two of them are American, one of them is from Italy and one of them is from Sweden."

Grant hopes to count himself among those greats some day, perhaps as soon as next month when he represents New York in the National Pinball Championship in Dallas, Texas, after beating out the other 15 best players in this state over the weekend.

"Coming in first is a really big deal to me," Grant said.

Frederic Asher, 15, was the youngest player in Saturday's tournament.

"I have pretty good reflexes," he said.

Beth Centuria was the only woman.

"I think [my reflexes] were kind of bred into me from years of playing with my father," she said.

All three of these pinheads met us at Modern Pinball on 3rd Avenue Thursday, and thanked their fathers for teaching them to play the silver ball, Grant's at a Dairy Queen 40 years ago.

"Sky Jump," Grant said, "it was an old electromechanical game

Every pinball machine is calibrated a little differently, and every game -- with its lights a-flashin' and varying buzzers and bells -- demands different skills and strategies, leaving players with games they like and games they don't.

"Right now I'm adoring Fun House," Senturia said.

"I'm terrible at that game," Asher said.

"Nobody wants to play me in the Twilight Zone," Grant said. "That's my game."

Every tournament works a little differently but generally players are seeded and play head-to-head matches to determine who advances. In New York's state championship, every pairing played a best-of-seven series with the loser of each game choosing the machine for the next one.

"At this point, the tournaments are competitive enough that people know which games I like and which ones I don't," Grant said.

Grant's competed at nationals once before, losing 4-2 in the round of 16 to the best player in the world. On March 16, he'll try for a different result, he hopes flipping his way through machines with soft bumpers and a bracket that allows him as many matches in The Twilight Zone as possible.

"It's all about patience," he said. "Once you get to a certain level it's an entirely mental thing."