Eric Stone is a TV weatherman by day, pinball wizard by night

Eric Stone is a TV weatherman by day, pinball wizard by night

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Local TV weatherman Eric Stone discusses his path to pinball mastery Thursday, February 14, 2019.
Ricardo Rolon, Fort Myers News-Press

Eric Stone is a local TV weatherman by day, but in front of a pinball machine, he’s a world-class competitor.

At a local tournament recently, he’s intensely focused as he controls the flippers to direct the small silver ball around the various components of the game. He bounces the ball from one flipper to the other and hits the sides of the machine to help control the ball’s movement, as the point tally at the top of the game climbs.

It’s a talent the 43-year-old meteorologist wasn’t supposed to have. Doctors told his parents when he was a toddler that an issue with his nervous system would mean he’d have poor hand-eye coordination. So his mother bought him a pinball machine when he was 4.

“With no hand-eye coordination, I wound up being fourth in the world in pinball in 2019,” Stone said. “So that’s pretty cool.”

Local TV weatherman Eric Stone participates in a monthly league tournament at The Pinball Asylum in Fort Myers Thursday, February 14, 2019. (Photo11: Ricardo Rolon/The News-Press USA TODAY NETWORK – FLORIDA)

An early love

Stone, who works for Fox 4  and previously for WINK News, said he took to the game right away. That first pinball machine was called Captain Fantastic, an Elton John-themed game that Stone had to use a step stool to reach as a kid.

He soon branched out to other games, accompanying his dad to 7-Eleven on weekends to play pinball there. His dad would give him 50 cents, enough for two games, to play for about an hour while he drank coffee and read the newspaper in the car. Stone said he’d stretch his game play time for the duration of their stay.

“Most of the time, I’d keep the other quarter,” Stone said.

Local TV weatherman Eric Stone won the 2016-2017 IFPA (International Flipper Pinball Association) Championship for North America. (Photo11: Ricardo Rolon/The News-Press USA TODAY NETWORK – FLORIDA)

His family eventually moved from New Jersey to New Hampshire, just a mile and a half from Funspot, which holds the Guinness World Record as the largest video game arcade. He said he set about 20 world records on pinball games at that arcade, adding that he wishes he would have known about pinball competitions then so he could have built up his ranking.

Stone went on to get his masters degree and work for a local TV station in Salt Lake City, before eventually arriving in  Fort Myers. It wasn’t until after The News-Press published an article on his bowling and pinball accomplishments in 2012 (he said he has bowled 53 perfect games) that he was approached by the organization he regularly plays with now.

The email was from an organization called Pinball Asylum, and Stone was confused.

“I didn’t really know what it was — asylum?” Stone recalls thinking. “Like a jail, or insane, or … what’s going on?”

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Like a family

Founded in 2011, Pinball Asylum is a Fort Myers-based nonprofit for pinball enthusiasts. The group’s 5,000-square-foot space is like a hidden oasis for those who love the game, featuring more than 100 privately-owned machines, fridges and a lounge area, and several TVs hooked up to cameras positioned above games so more people can watch. The space is intentionally kept under wraps, one of the group’s directors said.

This is where Stone’s first Captain Fantastic game is now, and where about 40 people from across south Florida gather each month to play in tournaments. 

Asylum’s Matthew Barlow, 48, said he was the one who initially reached out to Stone after learning about all his pinball records. Stone said he was in awe when he first visited the space and saw all of the games.

Local TV weatherman Eric Stone participates in a monthly league tournament at The Pinball Asylum in Fort Myers Thursday, February 14, 2019. (Photo11: Ricardo Rolon/The News-Press USA TODAY NETWORK – FLORIDA)

Getting involved with the Asylum Inmates Pinball League helped Stone rise in the global rankings, and he went on to win the International Flipper Pinball Association’s North American championship in 2017. He said he had never before seen the first game that he played at that event, but that the score he got on that game was the highest score all weekend in the tournament. He won a pinball machine valued around $6,300, he said.

Stone said people called him the weatherman when he was starting off, adding that he had a lot of cheerleaders around the country because he was an underdog. Now that he’s had more success, he said that national support has waned.

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