OOTP15_review

One of my favorite Out of the Park stories of late is that of an internet poster who felt his father could have made the major leagues as a pitcher, were it not for college-age life choices which derailed that outcome. This individual created his father as a 19-year-old pitching prospect in a fictional version of the 1979 major leagues. Despite nagging injuries, his virtual father went on to win nine Cy Young awards and made ten All-Star teams. His career nearly overlapped with that of his son (drafted by the same team, by chance), before retiring and becoming a coach.

After the jump, Out of the Park Baseball is once again the holodeck of baseball.

Or, rather, it’s a holodeck that you can arrange and activate, but you’re relying on an erudite and exhaustively detail-oriented friend to relay to you the action within. We’re still dealing with a text simulation, although there are some lurches in the direction of more explicit visual depiction of events, notably in the form of a crude three-dimensional stadium and the flight of a physics-enabled ball within. The vibrant add-on community will likely take this ball and run with it down the road, but for now it seems superfluous in light of the breadth and specificity of on-field and off-field events, coupled with the varied and descriptive textual play-by-play. I particularly like when a pitcher, disgusted with himself for having run up a 3-0 count to the hitter, asks the umpire for a new ball.

For a long time I failed to see the appeal of text sims, but long-term participation in an online Out of the Park league has changed all that. The players on my fictional, perennially awful Brooklyn Sandwiches seem as real to me as they are disappointing. And as a time-crunched new parent, I’m more open than ever to a game that can, in a sense, play itself.

The ’15 edition of Out of the Park (released in 2014 and covering the rare major sport where the season does not spill into the following calendar year, but we’ll let that slide) adds small improvements like a more widescreen-friendly layout, and more game-changing additions like several new international leagues, Japan’s NPB (Nippon Professional Baseball) among them.

I became a fan of the Tokyo Yakult Swallows during a 2011 visit to Japan. While calling Japan’s largest city home, their stadium is an antiquated yet charming relic, and they play second fiddle to a far more popular and storied team across town. They’re the New York Mets of Japan, essentially. They also have an adorable mascot and are owned by a company that makes yogurt. Their Curacaoan slugger Wladimir Balentien broke Sadaharu Oh’s single season home run record of 55 by hitting 60 of his own last year. Plus, an ex-Met with the swell name of Lastings Milledge found second life with the Swallows after disappointing behavior and play drove him out of major league baseball. That I can now helm the Swallows in Out of the Park with all the foreign player limits (4 on active roster max) and comparatively diminutive Japanese payrolls intact pleases me greatly.

My first season at the helm of the Swallows went poorly, constrained by a penny-pinching owner and watching the team sink in the standings, where they eventually settled in fourth place. My only hope for improvement lay in the “shop player” function, perhaps my favorite aspect of the game, in which you can dangle players on the trade market and receive immediate proposals for them, in the hopes of spinning seven cents into ten. I was able to pry 26-year-old first baseman Ginji Akaminai from the Tohoku Rakuten Golden Eagles, who who then helped establish a formidable 3-4-5 in Yakult’s batting order alongside Balentien (who broke his own home run record twice in subsequent years, including an eye-popping 78 dingers in 2016) and Milledge. Their offense, combined with maturing starting pitching, led to three straight playoff appearances from 2015 to 2017, including a championship in 2016 after a thrilling finals rematch against the Saitama Seibu Lions. I tend to let playoff contests run at a slightly accelerated pace, playing out like abbreviated television broadcasts that provide a quick succession of thrills, or can be turned away from in disgust and then checked back in with later.

Out of the Park, particularly in fictional mode, often calls to mind for me Jack Kerouac’s obsession with an imaginary baseball league of his own devising. For much of his life, the writer apparently compiled seasons upon seasons worth of the fictional stats and exploits using his own card-based system for outcomes. His league had teams like the Philadelphia Pontiacs, and Phegus Cody among its players. He relocated teams to California before real life followed suit, and wrote grandiose recaps a la Ring Lardner which he handed to his mother. The post-game screen in Out of the Park ’15 and its predecessors includes a tab for you to write and append your own recaps. I look at it and sort of wish I had the energy and time to take advantage of it. Because this is, yet again, a game that deserves that energy and time.