Confession time. For a series that I count as among my all-time favorites, I’ve never finished a season, or played a Road to the Show career through to retirement. I went years-deep on the latter back in 2007 on the old Playstation Portable version before my locker was broken into at the YMCA and my system stolen. They tried unsuccessfully to purchase thousands of dollars worth of sneakers with my debit card, but ultimately had their purchases invalidated. The career of Mets second baseman Seth Berkowitz was tragically cut short, however. Unless they kept playing it. That would be weird.
After the jump, a subway series
Last year I went all-in on a Playstation 3 Mets franchise (despite giving reasons in my last outing as to why I would avoid such a thing), determined to play every moment of every game, so that I’d feel full ownership over the stats and accruing player histories. Here’s the problem; one-hundred sixty-two games, at about an hour a pop (more if a game goes into extra innings) is a daunting commitment of time, and it began to wear on me. By season’s mid-point, I felt like the game was taking over my life, and after a particularly crushing extra-innings loss (one of the game’s strengths is the way it accurately models how cruel, drawn-out and inexplicable baseball can be) I pulled the ultimate rage-quit, hitting eject and folding the disc like a taco shell until it snapped in half. A more measured man would have mailed it off to Amazon for credit towards printer ink, but the actual baseball season had ended by then, and the game’s trade-in value was quite low (or so I like to think).
The absurdity wasn’t lost on me as the excitement for the current iteration’s release somehow bubbled up again inside me this past winter. I was banking on a new twist, however, that would help smooth the interface between the game’s demands and my own mental health. March would mark the release of Sony’s new Vita handheld, and the promise of shared, pick-up-where-you-left-off saves between the home console version of The Show and its spiffied up road cousin.
I’m a public transportation commuter, forty to forty-five minutes each way, to and from work each day. I wouldn’t call it dead time, as it’s a fine venue to watch movies on a tablet, or even do some writing if I can find a seat, but it’s definitely a guilt-free zone in which to play handheld games and make the commute fly by. My hope is that I can get an occasional taste of sedentary video baseball on the couch, but put the vast majority of my time in while hurtling over Queens on the elevated 7 or under the East River on the E express.
After a night breaking in my career player on the PS3 that my cat likes to jump on so much to communicate his disapproval over my lack of attention, I upload my Road to the Show save to ‘the cloud’ so it’s ready for retrieval on the Vita. Some people are disappointed that a mid-game save state can’t be tossed back and forth between the two systems, but that’s more of an impediment to franchise or season mode (where you have to complete a full game before the file can be transferred) than it is with Road to the Show, as a ‘game’ that features only your player’s moments is very brief indeed.
I start up my Vita and navigate to the “play next appearance” tab I’m so familiar with, whisking me past all the boring stuff (i.e. everything that doesn’t involve me) and into my first moment of participation. Yup, that’s me kneeling in the on-deck circle. God, this looks good for a handheld. Wait, what’s up with my face? That doesn’t look like the visage I spent an hour carving out of ones and zeros last night. It does, however, look uncannily like my best man from my wedding. Did I do something wrong? No, it seems all the fictional players look a bit more ‘stock’ on the Vita. They’re no great shakes on the PS3 either, infused with the odd, flat-faced look of secondary characters in the Mass Effect series (you know what I’m talking about) but here most of my Altoona teammates like Joe Lawrence and Chase D’Arnaud have bulging chipmunk cheeks and blotchy complexions. No big deal, I can live with all this. The announcers still say my name.
At home I drive my thumb into the mushy nub of the Dual Shock’s ‘X’ button, knowing full well that the force applied isn’t commensurate with the strength of my swing (you use a different button altogether to hack with power) but feeling as if it were. On the Vita it’s like the dainty click of a tiny, hardened nipple, which then launches my player’s arms forward. To me one feels concurrent, the other initiated.
There’s a thin strap tethering the new hardware to my wrist, because I don’t want to drop this new investment and besides, they’re always making subway announcements asking you to keep your electronic devices hidden to prevent theft (where are you supposed to use said devices if not on a boring train?). My wife says you’re particularly at risk if you sit near the train doors, as the perperators will snag your stuff as the doors are closing and then slip out, making pursuit impossible. I admit to giving my fellow inhabitants a once over, to see who might be covetous. Are you going to steal my shit? Wrist strap!
It’s hard to keep my balance and play at the same time. At any given moment I’ll have to shoot my right hand to the nearest pole to steady myself. God, this game is hard. Okay, quickly down two strikes to the pitcher, runner on third with less two outs, just need to put it in play and get that runner home. Switch to contact swing. Foul the next pitch off. Okay, we’re stopped at a station. C’mon, give me something I can hit before this thing pulls out again. Ball one. The train lurches underneath my feet, and we’re off. Darn. The pitcher winds up. So much depends on my judging the trajectory and speed of that ball out of the pitcher’s hand, but everything’s vibrating and I’m trying so overly hard to steady my hands and focus my eyes that for an odd moment I can’t see anything at all. I manage to relax and spot the white speck heading over the middle of the plate, put my bat out and poke it past the pitcher on the ground and into center field, bouncing irregularly like a real ball would. Phew.
Now I’m on first base. I take a one step lead and lean towards second while holding the analog stick to the left so I’ll automatically retreat if the pitcher tries a pickoff move. He does, and I dive back in safely, headfirst. Hey, that girl is cute. Wait, what? I’m caught in a rundown between first and second, apparently having absent-mindedly flicked the analog stick to the right while, ahem… taking in my surroundings. I try and make it hard for the opposing fielders, but it’s just a matter of time before the first baseman runs me down and slaps the tag on me. How frustrating.
If there were some way to pull up the statistical splits between my literal home and road performance, it seems clear to me that success would trend homeward. This game demands more attention than my cat.
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.