I’m finally in Pirate gold, with a yellow bat to match. It feels good in the hands, with a thin grip and extra weight on the end so momentum can help make up the strength my arms lack. The pitch comes in looking big and fat, and I take a whack, knocking it deep in the alley between the left and center fielders.
After the jump, I’ll Show you mine if you Show me yours…
“Where’d that come from?” the first baseman jokes loudly as I round first. The ball is rolling to the fence, so I dig in and head for third. I make it in safely before the throw which goes errant, and I scoot home on creaky knees. Alberto is among several to offer me a congratulatory low-five.
“We’re gonna have to up your power numbers in The Show,” he says.
Obviously, this is not The Show, because no teammates in my video game are able to joke with me, sadly. I am in long-awaited Pirate gold, but the Roberto Clemente replica jersey is my own, and we’ve all been
waiting for spring to return so we can trudge out there and get our old bones moving again. I have no idea how my Road to the Show player’s knees feel when he runs, but I assume they’re just fine. He’s eighteen, and still playing for the Double-A Altoona Curve.
Alberto is a tall, slim, older gent with a really good arm. He claims to make the best thin-crust margherita pizza, and his girlfriend often comes to watch him play. We throw for a bit when I first arrive at the park, trying to get loose. Alberto plays The Show too, and is in the process of recreating our weekly softball group as players in-game, putting us on the Yankees so he can start a franchise with the virtual ‘us’. He thinks he’s got our respective skills pretty well modeled, but there are still a lot of folks whose last names he doesn’t know. Here and there throughout the day I see him ask people their surnames, then write them down in his notebook.
“So I started my Road to the Show player,” Alberto says, launching a dirty gray Clincher softball in my direction.
“Oh yeah?” I reply. The balls hits my glove with a smack as I catch it almost in self-defense.
“You’ll never believe what happened, listen to this. I hit .340 with my guy–”
“Wait, are you in Double-A?”
“Naw, I went straight from Double-A to the majors.”
My eyes widen. I’d heard reports that the developers had made it easier to get to the majors now, but Alberto’s scenario of skipping Triple-A in its entirety still seems out of the ordinary.
He continues. “So, you know how it is, they’ve got me as a sub, coming off the bench, but in a hundred-sixty at-bats I hit .340 with 9 home runs.”
“That’s pretty good,” I say. That’s a home run every eighteen at-bats or so, a pace that would translate to around thirty-something homeruns over the course of a season (with regular playing time). I have yet to hit one over the fence in my own game.
“So you know what they did?” he asks, incredulous. “They trade for some guy with a .260 average. I was so pissed, I asked for a trade but they wouldn’t give it to me. You know you can buy points now?”
Albert is speaking of the ability to buy developmental points for your Road to the Show player’s skills from the Playstation Store, with real money. I wince a bit.
“Yeah, I don’t mess with that,” I say, trying not to lay on my distaste too thickly.
He ignores my ideological discomfort and goes on. “So I bought points and put ’em into my player, and now I’m starting again. See, it’s the overall rating they’re looking at,” he explains, which makes sense.
There are several attributes I feel somewhat wasteful putting points into, like baserunning ability for instance. When I’m playing, I don’t see how my player’s ability to run the bases amounts to anything beyond his primary speed rating, my timing with the left thumbstick, and perhaps my choice of direction when sliding, but many of these second-tier ratings would come into play were I simming some portion of my plate appearances (which I am not). They do contribute to your overall rating, however, and can therefore influence the management’s personnel decisions.
I decide to share my own progress. “I’m still in Double-A, hitting around .280.”
Alberto looks baffled. “Huh? Why’s that?”
I try and drum up a hypothesis for our divergent experiences. “I don’t know. I’m playing on All-Star.”
He smiles, suddenly understanding. “Ah,” he says, “Then I’m not even gonna tell you what level I’m playing on.”
“Veteran?” I ask, hazarding a guess. That’s one difficulty level down from All-Star.
“Nope,” he says, shaking his head and grinning.
“Rookie!?” I laugh.
Alberto nods. “I like to build up my character and then turn up the difficulty later,” he explains.
That sounds like an empowering approach, albeit one I’m unlikely to ever take.
Later that afternoon, our game gets held up as Alberto accuses one of the organizers of calling him a liar over a disputed foul ball, and I let three catchable balls drop before me in the outfield as the old, dead Clinchers we’re using conspire with the steady wind to kill their normal trajectories.
For better or for worse, there are no personalities to gum up the action in The Show, and I skip the fielding altogether, letting the game simulate it for me off-screen. I make sure to toss points into my fielding skill from time to time. Now that I’ve given it up, it’s a useful trait.
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.