“My first experience with pinball was when I was 9 years old,” says Mike Bradley, owner of Sparks Pinball Museum on 23 Mile Road in New Baltimore. “I ran into a pinball called FunHouse at a bowling alley in Warren called Pampa Lanes. After playing it, I was so enamored with it and would later beg my parents to take me there to play it.” Today, FunHouse is still Mike’s favorite game to play, and as he says, “the only one I understand the rules to.”
Mike’s early interest in pinball grew. “My dad purchased our first pinball machine called Space Shuttle from a bar in Roseville called Tip Top Tavern back in the early 90s. After that, my dad and I would go to various arcade auctions over the years, where I would drag a large extension cord to play the games that were to be auctioned off. It was like a free arcade to me. We ended up with a small room in our basement with a few pinballs and video arcade games, where I would pretend to operate my own arcade.”
Mike’s family ended up selling most of the games purchased in the 90s, but in early 2011 Mike started to buy them again after finding his childhood favorite, FunHouse, for sale on Craigslist in Toledo. Today, his collection of 100 pinball machines is rotated through Sparks Pinball Museum for guests to enjoy, located inside of Premier Lanes. Premier Lanes, says Mike, is a family-owned bowling alley with its roots in the Liberty Bowl, once located in Roseville. “When the K-Mart Corporation wanted the spot where their bowling alley was, the family moved the bowling alley (even the enormous pinsetters and wooden bowling lanes) to a shopping center on 23 Mile that was once a small mall. The family converted the mall into a bowling alley and bar. Today the bowling alley is run by brothers Frank and Joe Sgroi and their Uncle Joe Sgroi.” Mike lost his father in 2009 and the Sgroi’s lost their father, who started Premier Lanes, a few years later, but notes they are “continuing our dads’ legacy with the bowling alley and pinball museum.”
Among Mike’s collection of pinball machines are Joust, “a tabletop pinball where two players battle each other from each end.” According to Mike, it is based on the popular video arcade game Joust, and only 400 machines were made. Another unique find is Banzai Run, a game from 1988 with a normal horizontal playfield and a vertical playfield for the backglass, he adds.
When planning a night out at Sparks, says Mike, “it can be as low key or as eventful as you want it to be.” In addition to pinball and games, he continues, “you can start your night out in the on-site restaurant called Motor Café. You can swing by to throw a few games of bowling and retire to the pinball museum to relive the nostalgia of a vintage arcade. You can also check out the Diesel Concert Lounge where you can catch a live concert or event.”
“Pinball brings people together,” says Mike. “While playing at Sparks or at the tournaments we have once a month, you see many different people come together who may not typically socialize outside of pinball. It lets you get to know different groups of people you may not normally mingle with.”
Mike adds that as fun as pinball is, it wasn’t always legal. “Pinball was made illegal in many American cities and towns because it was considered a form of gambling and therefore immoral. Since the games are typically all made in Chicago, it became associated with organized crime,” he says. “New York City Mayor Fiorello LaGuardia initiated a ban on pinball games in 1942 as a way to crack down on mob activity. It wasn’t until 1976 that pinball became legal again in NYC, which ended the 35-year ban. There’s a new movie based on this story called, ‘Pinball: The Man Who Saved the Game’ that was released this year.”
Outside of Sparks Pinball Museum, Mike is a 17-year resident of Mount Clemens and has been involved with organizations in the city, including as a board member of the Macomb County Historical Society. Consistent with his love of vintage games, Mike also owns a 1964 Airstream camper and enjoys camping all over Michigan with his partner.
Despite his love for the game at an early age, these days Mike finds more pleasure in repairing pinball machines and arcade games. “I’m actually a terrible pinball player when it comes to competing,” he laughs.
“My dad purchased our first pinball machine called Space Shuttle from a bar in Roseville called Tip Top Tavern back in the early 90s. After that, my dad and I would go to various arcade auctions over the years, where I would drag a large extension cord to play the games that were to be auctioned off. It was like a free arcade to me."