Park Ridge pinball wizard pursues passion full-tilt
NAME: Jason Werdrick.
BEST KNOWN AS: Flipper Pinball Association’s World Pinball Championship, 9th place.
HOMETOWN: Park Ridge
Updated: July 29, 2012 6:02AM
Jason Werdrick sure plays a mean pinball.
Like the principal character of The Who’s iconic rock opera, “Tommy,” Werdrick is something of a pinball wizard. From Schaumburg down to Chicago he’s played them all — leading to national and world acclaim.
Werdrick, whose Park Ridge basement is lined with pinball machines from vintage to modern, recently competed in the International Flipper Pinball Association’s World Pinball Championship in Seattle, where he finished 9th place out of 64 players.
It’s all part of being a competitive pinball player. Werdrick, who ranks among the Top 25 of the world’s pinball professionals, competes in about a dozen tournaments each year, both locally and across the country. It’s largely a hobby for the 38-year-old Chicago native who, as a teenager first played the silver ball at a neighborhood 7-Eleven.
“I would go there and play video games. Then they got a pinball machine,” he recounted. “This game called High Speed is what really drew me into pinball.”
Werdrick would watch with interest as other players racked up high scores on the game. He then taught himself how to play, which in turn led to friendships with pinball-game designers and programmers, as well as opportunities to test out new games before they hit the market.
Werdrick has been playing professionally since 1991 when he took part in his first tournament while still in high school. Along the way he’s racked up points in local, regional and national tournaments by playing pinball machines that range from 1950s models to the modern-day variety.
One of Werdrick’s favorite hangout spots as a young adult was an arcade in Lincolnwood called Diversions, which had three pinball machines and a pinball league. Today he recommends Gameworks, 601 N, Martingale Road, in Schaumburg, as a good place for aspiring pinball champs to play and take part in monthly tournaments.
“It’s a great experience,” he says of the tournament circuit. “It’s not only meeting new people at some of the out-of-state tournaments, it’s about having fun. I’d never been to Seattle until now and I met a bunch of people from the Seattle pinball scene.”
One championship back in the 1990s even won Werdrick tickets to the stage adaptation of “Tommy.” He’s a fan of the rock opera about a deaf and blind pinball player, but acknowledges he never listens to the soundtrack while playing his machines.
“They did play ‘Pinball Wizard’ at my wedding, though,” he said of the soundtrack’s signature song.
For Werdrick, pinball playing is a sport, with some luck thrown in.
“I would say it’s 75- to 80-percent skill and 20- to 25-percent luck,” he said. “The skill is the ball control, knowing how to be accurate on your shots, catching the ball, stopping the ball, passing the ball from one flipper to the other, knowing when to nudge or shake the machine.”
Mastering the game takes years of practice and good hand-eye coordination, Werdrick added.
He also has plenty of opportunities to practice — his home contains 10 pinball machines.
“That’s about the most I can fit in my basement,” he acknowledged. “When I got this house here I had in mind to have a game room/Transformers room. I’ve got a pretty big Transformer collection with probably over 1,000 Transformers in display cases.”
Werdrick’s current ambition is to improve his worldwide ranking and make it into the Top 10.
“My ultimate goal is to win a world championship,” he added.