Among those that have played the games for years, sometimes decades, it’s easy to forget the stories and beginning players share. When longtime Floridia competitors Antonino De Rosa and number 22-ranked Hall of Fame member Ben Stark sat near each other in the feature match area, their friendship and fireworks lit up.
Ben Stark was a member of the Pro Tour Hall of Fame, but even he had to find his first start on the Pro Tour.
Midway through Stark’s match, he and his opponent discussed a critical play and what was motivating it. Stark, after hearing more about his opponent’s hand, conceded his idea. “I was wrong about that,” he said.
De Rosa perked up immediately and chimed in from his match: “Ben Stark said he’s wrong? I think that’s the first time I’ve ever heard him say that.”
“Well, you’ve never said anything right!” Stark jabbed back without missing a beat. Both laughed and put their attention back on their matches, though Stark made a point to explain. “I needle him because we go way back. Did I ever tell you the story of how he got me onto the Pro Tour?”
It was a story we couldn’t turn down.
“What happened was my parents drove me to Tampa for a PTQ,” Stark said. “They never expected me to win but I did and qualified for Pro Tour London. They said I couldn’t fly alone so I ask ‘What if Antonino qualifies?’ since he traveled back and forth from the country so much. He’s from Italy but he was living in Florida, and he was older than me.”
“At the time there was only two or three PTQs in Florida and I just won the first one, so I thought ‘What are the chances?’ Sure enough a few weeks later Antonino won the last won – qualified for his first Pro Tour too – and we got to go to London. I never would have gone if it wasn’t for him,” Stark said.
“And to this day, years after my Pro Tour days,” De Rosa jumped in, “I go to the coverage, control-F Stark, and look at the standings and see where here is.”
“After that we decided to go to Grand Prix together,” Stark continued. “I probably wouldn’t have been a professional player if it wasn’t for him.”
Antonino De Rosa got his Pro Tour start with the same trip to London, though his story was a little different.
DeRosa, however, had a story of his own that explained just how deep their friendship goes. “On that trip out for the Pro Tour, Ben tried to sell me out to customs!” If that sounds like an exaggeration, De Rose was deadly serious: “We were in line and one of the dogs barked at us so they pulled us into an interview room. They said ‘If you just tell us upfront what you have we’ll be more lenient on you.’ Without waiting, Stark just said ‘Give it up, Ant.’”
“I’m like ‘Give what up?’” DeRosa continued. “I come to find out that he wasn’t sure he’d like the food in London so he had a whole bunch of Beefaroni in his bag.”
Fortunately for them both the end result was as simple as it seemed: “The dog was just hungry!”
While new stories and friendships are forged every weekend at events, it’s stories like these that will carry on through the years long after the moment passed. Have you written your own tale of friendship yet?