Sony Computer Entertainment of America missed a trick. They could have partnered with Majestic (makers of fine baseball apparel) to allow you to purchase customized, real-life jerseys based on the ones you appear in throughout your Road to the Show career. Let the game creep into your real life as your in-game jersey appears in your mailbox with your name sewn on the back for the low, low price of $99. I would be powerless to resist. The ‘buy’ button that launches the PSN store could pop up during your first appearance in uniform, which in my case was batting practice before my first scheduled start at second base. Dusk was descending, and Wynton Marsalis’s rendition of The Star-Spangled Banner echoed from the stadium speakers. It was a stirring, pastoral scene, and would have been an opportune time for commerce to have its way with me.
After the jump, striking out on my own
When last we spoke, I had decided to not leave my team assignment to chance, for fear of winding up in some organization devoid of history and romance like the Arizona Diamondbacks (their victory over the Yankees in 2001 notwithstanding). The New York Metropolitans are my first love for better or worse (usually worse), but I anticipate wading so deeply in their stink come summer that to also choose them as my fantasy outlet might be a bit suffocating, like playing a dating sim starring my wife.
As I tick through the thirty major league teams, a graphic depicts each team’s depth at a given position, the logic being that the more fully stocked a team is at, say, second base, it will be more difficult to move up through the ranks and make the majors due to increased competition. The team I’m gravitating towards sports gold and black, has been terrible since the early nineties, and has a glut of players at second base, but I ignore the latter inconvenience in the hopes of someday stepping to the plate in the throwback cap pictured above: the yellow-gold ‘pillbox’ cap of the late 70’s Pittsburgh Pirates.
I have this cap in real life, its design even at the time being a throwback to a style originating in Chicago during the late 1800’s, making it in a way a throwback of a throwback. As I’ve never come across its like in a brick-and-mortar store, I had to order it from the internet, and when it arrived it was quite obviously too big for me, resting atop my dome snugly only if I wore it over the outside of my ears. I see plenty of youths around town wearing hats in such a fashion, clearly intending them to be oversized, but this is anathema to me personally. I count on a good fit to keep the cap from flying off my head when chasing down fly balls, and like the looks of a semi-tight fit and slightly curved brim. One of these days I’m going to dampen the thing again and throw it in the dryer for an hour to see if I can shrink it down, but that trick worked better when hats were comprised of a higher percentage of wool than they are now.
I throw in my lot with the Pirates (winners of five world championships) and am immediately assigned the starting second baseman for their AA-affiliate, the Altoona Curve. Whoa, was not expecting that. In previous versions I always began as a backup, clawing for playing time, getting thrown into thankless, high-pressure situations as a pinch-hitter, or getting a rare start when the other guys got tired. But okay, sure.
The Altoona Curve. Every time I see and hear it I think of tuna fish, a personal staple (I choose to remain ignorant of my mercury levels), preferably packed in olive oil. Can I divulge my ignorance in not knowing where Altoona is? Okay, I just looked it up. Turns out it’s in Pennsylvania, only five hours west of here (here being Hell’s Kitchen, where I work) and two-and-a-half hours east of the big league team in Pittsburgh. I had assumed it was in the midwest for some reason.
After batting practice, where a pitching coach lobs easy-to-hit fastballs at me (giving me a false sense of confidence that in no way prepares me for the in-game challenges to come), I’m whisked to my first real at-bat, wearing #29. It turns out #27 was already spoken for by a teammate. Oh well. Play-by-play announcer Matt Vasgersian says my real name as I stride to the plate, echoed shortly thereafter by the sonorous in-stadium announcer doing the same, a thrill that really never gets old. A couple years back, the developers put out the call on a popular sports gaming forum for people to request that their last name be added to the game’s audio database, to up the verisimilitude of Road to the Show mode in particular. I typed ‘Berkowitz’ into a reply field and added the pronunciation clarifier “like the serial killer.” It made it in and has been there ever since.
Befitting a sport where failure is the norm and success the exception, I ground out meekly to second base, then fast-forward to my next at-bat and do it again.
Seth Berkowitz is a film restorationist and musician living and working in New York City. He makes music with his wife and friends in the band Lucky Ghost, wakes up early to watch Japanese baseball, and is constantly reminding his cats to be patient because it’s not time to eat yet.