ROCHESTER HILLS — John Kosmal got his first taste of pinball at the age of 9, and he quickly fell in love with it.
“I went on a camping trip when I was 9 years old, and they wheeled in a brand-new “Centaur” in 1981, and I waited for all the bigger kids to play, and then I finally had my chance on it, and I fell in love with pinball and have been in love with it ever since,” he said.
Kosmal, who now hosts the Michigan Pinball Expo at Oakland University, said he grew up as an “arcade rat.”
“I was always at the arcade spending my quarters on games — pinball and video games — and as I got older, I just got better at pinball and started playing in tournaments, started collecting games, started restoring them and fixing them. Now I promote a show, and I actually do some design work with them,” he said.
Today, Kosmal owns over 165 pinball machines, 30-40 of which are on display in his hometown, inside Avon North Hills Lanes bowling alley in Rochester Hills.
“There are over 2,000 unique titles in pinball that were designed, and I own over 165 of them. I actually own the first one they made, which was ‘Humpty Dumpty’ in 1947, which was the first game that had flippers on it, and I also have the latest game to come out, which is the Jersey Jack pinball ‘The Hobbit.’”
Like Kosmal, Clarkston resident Greg Byrnes said he too fell in love with the game as a child.
“I was exposed to pinball at someone’s house and at the arcades, and I just thought it was far more attractive than a video game, because you have a physical process. There is a real ball hitting real targets that you have to manipulate across the playfield, which is completely unlike video games, which is a virtual world,” Byrnes said.
Byrnes now has a collection of over 25 pinball machines.
“I always wanted to own a pinball machine, but it wasn’t until the early 2000s that I really found myself in a position to be able to do so. What I found very quickly was (that) as soon as you get one, you don’t stop at one. You end up getting another, and then another, and it is a complete addiction,” he said.
Many games from Kosmal’s and Byrne’s collections, and a number of others from various collectors and businesses throughout the area, will be featured at the sixth annual Michigan Pinball Expo July 7-10 at Oakland University’s Oakland Center.
Kosmal started the event in 2010 to get collectors together and help spread the love of pinball to a younger generation. The expo is typically held in April, but this year the venue was booked, so he had to move the event to July.
Kosmal expects the pinball expo to draw a crowd of thousands this year. He said the event is a great family activity.
“Pinball is something that kids today never really got a feel for or never saw. Every time parents bring their kids in, it’s literally something brand-new for them to see rows and rows of pinball and video games. (Back in the day), we didn’t have home consoles, so if you wanted to play games, you had to go to the arcade, and each game was like a full life-sized thing. It’s just grown over the years because people enjoy it. It is a super fun, family-friendly event. Anyone from a 2-year-old to a 92-year-old can play,” he said.
Kosmal said there’s no need for eventgoers to stuff their pockets with quarters when they visit. After paying the entrance fee, attendees of all ages will have access to more than 200 pinball and video games, set on free play, from all eras of arcade history.
“We grow every year. People are so awestruck when they walk in. There is such a shock factor,” he said. “Usually, the front room we will make the electromechanical room — anything that is from the 1970s or below. In the main hall, we will have anything from the 1980s and up, so all the video games and the louder pinball machines.”
Tournaments for all skill levels will be going on throughout the weekend, and more than $20,000 in cash prizes and trophies will be awarded to the top players in each division, including a children’s division.
The event, sponsored by Environment by Design, will run 9 a.m.-11 p.m. July 7-9 and 8 a.m.-4 p.m. July 10 at Oakland University, 2200 N. Squirrel Road in Rochester. For more information about the event or to purchase discounted single-day or four-day show passes, visit www.mipinball.com or call (248) 895-8805. Full-price tickets will be available at the door. Single-day tickets for adults range from about $17 to $20, with discounts for seniors, veterans, students and children ages 4-15. Children younger than 4 attend for free.