Martin Baker used to travel from his Fullerton home to Los Angeles, Long Beach and San Fernando Valley to play Scrabble, but the long drives finally got to him. So he started his own group.
He established Club 464 this spring, and the members now spend Friday nights enthusiastically flipping the lettered tiles and crowing over the points they score with each rarely used word.
"The game has been around since the 1930s," said Baker, 32, a sign painter. "Along with growing popularity, clubs have steadily been growing as well."
Baker, director of the new North Orange County Club, emphasizes that the game is recreational.
"It's not the winning or losing," he said. "I like to strike a balance between encouraging players to improve in a nonthreatening, non-intimidating atmosphere."
Though this country has no professional Scrabble league, there is a U.S. champion, chosen each year at a competition sponsored by the National Scrabble Assn., Baker said.
At the 1996 contest, held in Dallas later this month, the winner will get the title and $25,000.
Eventually, Baker said, "we're hoping that a national champion will emerge from our club."
Baker attributes the growing popularity of his favorite pastime to its addictive nature. "Every game is different, and while there is a chance element, there also is an element of skill," he said.
Club 464 is open to anyone interested in playing Scrabble, Baker said. The cost is $2 for four games. Games begin at 6:30 p.m. Fridays at 1805 W. Orangethorpe Ave., Fullerton. Information: (800) 474-4677.