After a delay due to rain out, Diehard BaseballFAN is back for a fourth week of America’s Pastime. With the month of April almost over, the season is heating up and Diehard BaseballFAN will be here every week with all the disturbed ramblings you rely on us for.
First, a little update on my season. As you may or may not remember, I use Ken Griffey Jr. Present MLB for the SNES as my weapon of choice. As I said last week, I sucked. I had a losing record, I could barely score points and the game was basically laughing at me.
HA! The difference a week can make.
I am now playing above .500 with a record or 16-10, good for third place in my division. The Expos of the past are slowly becoming the powerhouse they have been for one, measly, shortened season. Marquis Grissom and Moises Alou are my main sources of home runs, with 11 and 9 respectively. On the opposite, Larry Walker, who I expected to be my go-to power hitter, has one homer, but still manages to bring in the RBIs. Look at me, talking in baseball terminology and actually understanding what I am saying. (Still, I bet I’m using the terms all wrong)
Last but not least, I want to say that I am ALMOST starting to care about real life baseball again! You see, my morning routine used to be to get up, make myself breakfast, eat it while watching Sportscenter and then do the rest of my morning routine as soon as the baseball recaps start. This is usually toward the end of the broadcast since I watch the French version of Sportscenter, and not many people care about baseball around here. However, in the last two weeks, I have actually sat down and watched the baseball updates. I discovered that Cecil Fielder apparently had a child who is just as fat as he was. I also saw that ex-Expos Brad Wilkerson has announced he was retiring. Another sad day for Expos fans the world over.
As for this week’s question, my answer is simple. Since I have not really played a lot of recent baseball games, I cannot really say what’s lacking in them. However, what I can say is that I want a new version of Ken Griffey Jr., but in 3D and for the Wii. I want the same arcade gameplay combined with stats tracking and name editing fun. I want a full season mode, but games that are played fast enough to be over in 15 minutes. Is there anyway that this could happen now that Mr. Griffey is back home in Seattle after his long journey ÃƒÂ¬n Cincinnati and Chicago?
The main thing I hate about baseball games today, even The Bigs, is that the games take too damn long. Do you know how hard it is to clear out a consecutive hour to play a game of baseball with a wife and a kid? Even if you can save in the middle of a game, you can never pick it up the way you could from the start. I grew up on Ken Griffey, where games are as quick as I’ve ever seen them. That’s what I’d like to see in the future.
The problem is, that’s not going to happen. Today’s games are totally steeped in realism, which is understandable. With the graphics technology available, companies would be foolish not to push the envelope. But as baseball games have gotten more real, a lot of the fun has been lost. The ideal game would be an enjoyable, brisk, simple game that anybody could pick up and play. At the same time, the game should have layers that advanced players can discover and use to their advantage. The actual game of baseball is so simplistic, yet so complex, and the perfect baseball game should combine these two elements. It’s crazy to think that the closest I’ve seen a game come to this was released fifteen years ago.
One thing I’ve felt that baseball games don’t communicate particularly well is the different ways players handle adversity; in short, they don’t have an effective composure rating. This makes baseball games more predictable, in my eyes, because it doesn’t really take into account who a “good” or “bad” big game player is, or even if a team can choke or not.
For instance, what I’d like to see the people at SCEA or Konami try (and not the people at Visual Concepts, who should be forbidden from working on baseball games for awhile until they get their act together) is a rating that fully encompasses the highs and lows a player and team go through in a game; if a pitcher starts hot, I’d like to see him stay hot. On the other hand, if a pitcher starts getting rocked, I want to see it accurately reflect if that pitcher can pull themselves out of it or not. Same with a team in a big spot or against a buzz saw; will a team pick it up against a pitcher that’s on? Or will they be intimidated and pack it in? And will a pitcher step up to the spot in a big inning, or against a top team?
Obviously, there are kinks that would have to be worked out; for instance, I would call this the Oliver Perez Rating, because that man is freaking daffy. You never know what you’re going to get; he can go through the first five innings giving up three hits, throwing a nasty slider, and not giving up a run, then come out for the sixth and walk four batters, give up six hits, kill a bat boy with one of his sliders, and end the day being taken out by Jerry Manuel, just after he curls up into the foetal position and starts sucking his thumb like a lost child. Of course, Ollie’s record in big games and against top teams is stellar; a winning record against the Yankees, and the game of his life in Game 7 of the 2006 NLCS. Go figure. Naturally, video games try to adjust to this and take Ollie’s peaks and valleys, and make him a statistical average; the virtual version of Perez is a mediocre pitcher with average stuff. That’s as far from the truth as possible; Oliver Perez’s stuff is so hot and so sharp that even he can’t handle it consistently. It’s like taking a chimpanzee in the forest and giving it a flamethrower, then wondering why the area smells like burnt foliage.
I know that’s the best way to measure in a video game what would really happen if Josh Beckett and A.J. Burnett – two similar pitchers – faced in the playoffs. Beckett’s had a history of coming up big in the clutch, while Burnett’s proven to be a flake with a killer curveball. Video games that strive to be realistic should encompass the mental game as well as the physical, and no one’s pulled it off quiet yet.
My Power Pros season is going slow, but well; I started a week behind the curve due to the 2009 season starting a week later than the 2008 season (because of the World Baseball Classic), but so far, playing a game on a slightly higher difficulty level than default, my Seattle Mariners are 5-2, with my pitching staff being a huge positive. In next week’s update, I hope to have my roster put up, hopefully with one huge addition.
Chasing 85: My Year With the Kansas City Royals
Last Monday, I went to my first game at the newly renovated Kauffman Stadium, home to the Kansas City Royals. When I started going to Royals games a few years ago, Kauffman seemed kind of outdated and quaint. The early 70’s architecture, the narrow walkways, and the over all grayness of the facility lent the Royals a feeling of being resigned to also-ran status. The new K screams out Kansas City pride!
The biggest change happened in the outfield. Where there were once pickup trucks on pedestals, there are now seats. These fountain seats are cheap at $7 and cannot be purchased until 2 hours before the game. This bleacher seat experience is one of the charms of other ballparks and I was glad to see the Royals borrow it. Also in the outfield area are batting cages, a miniature golf course, and a carved wood carousel. No, really. The other major change was the food.
In past years, the K was home to a number of independent vendors, but now the whole stadium’s food comes from the same company, excluding the Sheridan’s Frozen Custard stand. I tried the Crab Fries and Pulled Pork Sandwich. The Crab Fries were pretty blah, but the Pulled Prk Sandwich was a revelation and the free rib they included will most likely cost me more money and calories upon my next visit.
One more, brief, word. If you plan on attending a Royals game at the K, do yourself a favor: come early. Kansas City has a reputation for tailgating and the barbeques were in full effect, even on a chilly Monday afternoon. There are few pleasures greater than a Boulevard Unfiltered Wheat Beer, a freshly grilled sausage, and a ball game in Kansas City.
So, Kansas City Royals, my hat is off to you for putting together a magnificent new ballpark and a great way to spend an afternoon.
As far as video game baseball goes, things have been rocky for me the last week and a half. After waiting for the post- Nick Adenhart Roster Update, I was horrified to discover that, despite a winning record in the real world, the Royals were down graded statistically. Even worse, the April 20th Roster Update knocked them down further. How a team can do so well, but be ranked so poorly statistically evades my comprehension. What I ended up having to do was make a compromise. I went back to Ridins’ Roster.
Ridins’ Roster has the Royals at a much more realistic, and playable, rating. I simulated the first nine games of the season and found that the virtual Royals were at the same 5-4 record as the real ones, even to the point of having the same win-loss record in each series. With that as a base, I played through the Indians home stand and racked up a record of 6-6, one game back of the real team.
The biggest difference, thus far, between the real Royals and my own, is the injury bug. In real life, Jose Guillen and Alex Gordon have both been sidelined with hip injuries. These injuries have lead to the increase in playing time for Willie “Bloomie” Bloomquist and a call up for Mitch “M&M” Maier. In my Franchise, beloved Center Fielder and lead off man, Coco “No Nickname Needed” Crisp is out for half the year. Ugh. Luckily, I can call upon… Mitch Maier. Dude has destiny on his side.
Statistically, the real Royals are beating the pants off of my digital ones. Thank goodness. Real Mark “Tea Bag” Teahen is hitting .318 with 14 hits. Virtual Mark Teahen is batting .262 with 11 hits. Real David DeJesus is batting .234 with 11 hits. My little digital David has a BA of… .130. No, I am completely serious. One hundred and thirty. Oy vey. Anyway, the real Royals seem to be able to at least score some runs. It’s almost like I suck at this game or something.
The real case for improving the in-game Royals to match real ones comes from Zack Grienke. In game, Zack is 3-0 with a 3.79 ERA and 14K. Not bad. Not great, either, when compared to the real Zack Grienke: 3-0 0.00 ERA and 26K. Wow! If someone told me they had pitched 20 straight scoreless innings in this game, I would assume they were lying or using a difficulty level a little lower than needed. For a real life pitcher to pitch that way is simply amazing.
So, here I sit, 3 weeks into my little project. My Royals Franchise is on pace to win 81 games and the real Royals are on pace to win 87.
This week, I checked out Leo Koppett’s Thinking Fan’s Guide To Baseball from the library. To say that is helped me understand the game of baseball better is an understatement. If someone had put this book in my hands when I was younger, I might have been a more engaged baseball fan at a younger age. If you want a nice little primer on the way pro baseball really works, this is a great book to pick up. The chapter on pitching has already lowered my MLB 09 The Show ERA by a few points and made me a better hitter.
From the onset of this column, I wanted to talk about my path to being a Royals fan, the Bad News Bears of the MLB, as I was informed early in the process of launching this thing. I was an Army brat, so my first real baseball memories are of watching the Braves and Cubs on TBS and WGN, since I had no affiliation with a local team. When I was a boy in Washington, D.C., the Baltimore Orioles lost 27 straight games to start the season. This was not conducive to distracting me from basketball, which was the coolest sport of all in the late 80’s, and football, which I was a huge fan of in the 90’s. By high school, baseball was nothing more than an assemblage of names, like Griffey and Sosa, than an actual sport. It was my wife that made me sit and actually watch a game of Royals baseball when I discovered how great the game really is. There really is no reason not to be a baseball fan in Kansas City, so I was just being obtuse by not watching it. This is the home to the Kansas City Monarchs of the Negro League. This is were Buck O’Neal and Satchel Page and Jackie Robinson played the game. This is were the Kansas City A’s were established. Roger Maris got his start right here. Hell, the best baseball museum in the world, the Negro League Museum is right down the road from my house. I even went to high school a few miles from were the greatest pitcher of all time, Walter Johnson, was born.
So, this is part of my continued education in the game of baseball. What should I read next? What should I do to learn more about this great game?