It’s August, hot as balls in Altoona (play-by-play announcer Matt Vasgersian likes to tell me the game-time temperature), and the season is scooting along. At some point along the way, I’ve lost my starting status and been demoted to the backup second baseman for the Curve. I’m getting spot starts at second base and right field (my secondary position is as an all-purpose outfielder) but sometimes a couple games will fly by without my insertion, the schedule’s calendar boxes filling in with simulated results I took no part in. What have I done (or not done) to deserve this?
Afer the jump, absentee landlord
My batting average is bouncing between .270 and .290 (not terrible), and I’m meeting two to three of the four advancement goals they’re giving me in a given month, things like “improve contact versus left-handed pitching,” “draw two walks,” “maintain a fielding percentage of .990,” and so on. They keep requesting that I hit a home run, but I’ve hit exactly zero thus far, possessing only warning track power for the time being, i.e. enough to knock the ball just short of the wall and into an outfielder’s glove for what they call a “loud out.” Still, for an organization that claims to have great depth at the second base position, virtual Berkowitz is somehow rated third overall behind the guy who starts for the Triple-A Indianapolis Indians and of course whoever the major league Pirates are running out there every day. Widespread injuries seem to have forced a shuffling of the deck, with several Curve players suddenly manning their secondary positions. The aristocratically named Chase D’Arnaud is getting the lion’s share of starts at second base. I hate his guts.
I search the menus for some record of a conversation pertaining to my demotion, but find nothing. I remember how the manager in the old Playstation Portable version of this game was a chatty one, prone to repeat himself but always clear in his intent.
“Alright, you’re always talking about what an R.B.I. guy you are, here’s your chance to prove it. Knock that run in from second base!”
I don’t remember making those claims, but if you say so, skipper!
Everything was results-based with that guy, and little was left up to your judgement. If he wanted you to steal second base, never mind that the current pitcher had a quick delivery out of the stretch (the shorter windup most pitchers use with a runner on base) and would be impossible to steal on. Failure meant a pop-up box exclaiming “FAILED” in the upper left hand corner, but failing to at least attempt said steal would yield a disappointed, chastising note in your mailbox after the game. Alternately, success meant a dopamine drip of experience points earned, often accompanied by a rousing post-game communique.
“Way to come through with a clutch at-bat when we needed ya!”
Our relationship was complex. I longed for his approval, but pure hatred bubbled up in me when he would prioritize some useless attribute like ‘baserunning ability’ in my advancement goals when I’d be in a deep slump, scrambling to earn experience points, and in danger of regressing in key areas like ‘contact’ and ‘power’ (attributes begin to drop when left untrained for more than four weeks). I busted my ass to assign points according to his bullshit recommendations, only to receive vague threats after falling just short of his expectations. In my anger I vowed to ignore his prescriptions from then on, relying on my own instinct and desires for self-development, sure that if I performed at a high level, my place on the team would prove unassailable and his threats empty. I raked the ball, hitting over .350 but ignored and subsequently missed all the specific developmental attributes he’d assigned me to improve. I lost my starting job. Lesson learned.
My new manager is the silent, ineffectual type. After games on the home console he comes over to me and pantomimes a reassuring pat on the back or the giving to me of a stern talking to, depending on my day’s achievements on the field of play (these cutscenes are absent in the portable version). He also has cornrows and looks not a day over twenty-seven, another unfortunate product of the random-baseball-dude generator this game employs, cobbling together an unreal panoply of faux athletes from suspect parts. Really though, I know he’s just a puppet, as there’s a new benevolent overlord in Road to the Show, and its name is Performance Evaluator.
Less draconian than its predecessor, the Performance Evaluator understands the nuances of a good at-bat, even divorced from the end result. Fall behind the pitcher quickly to the tune of no balls and two strikes? Just switch to your contact swing and foul balls off for as long as you can, stretching out your plate appearance to seven or eight pitches before the pitcher manages to retire you. This is a Good At-Bat. Hey, if you can couple that with the discipline to lay off anything out of the strike zone and fight your way back to a walk? That is a Great At-Bat. Even a brief effort, well-hit but straight into a fielder’s glove is probably an OK At-Bat, worth three or four experience points. Performance Evaluator wants to give you points! Just do your best and you will be showered with them. Hell, I often have weak, uninspiring games, and still somehow walk away with the minimum forty points necessary to train a given skill. If my old Road to the Show manager was an angry, demanding Yahweh, Performance Evaluator is a kinder, gentler New Testament deity, eager to reward your devotion to smart baseball.
Like the pre-recorded confession booths in THX-1138 however, Performance Evaluator has no real answers for me and no hints as to why I was demoted to backup player, as it can’t be conversed with. Meanwhile, in the ‘locker room’ menu, there’s usually an option to ask my manager for more playing time, and I work up the gumption to complain directly to Cornrows. After a week of trying (the option disappears inexplicably for a short while), he finally speaks to me.
“Sorry, we’ll try and get you a start here and there, but for now Gonzalez is getting the job done.”
Who’s this Gonzalez? I don’t know no Gonzalez.
Fernando Gonzalez, it turns out. He’s a shortstop, with stats a bit worse than mine. What’s this got to do with me, the second baseman? Have injuries really fucked things up to such an extent that I’m losing my job to this French guy D’Arnaud and someone who doesn’t even play my position? What’s going on in this cockamamie organization?
In the weeks that follow, I’m never re-instated as the starting second baseman, but my playing time does increase somewhat. On August 27th, a mere six days before the end of the season, I hit my first home run, an inconsequential ninth inning shot over the centerfield fence on a hanging slider during what would end up an 8-6 loss to the Akron Aeros. I’m so happy, as they’ve been asking me to do this all year, and frankly I’d given up hope of it ever happening.
I scroll to my advancement goals, expecting to see that box finally ticked. There are no goals. It’s empty. I guess they stopped expecting anything of me in mid-August. I’m on my own now, able to choose my skills as I please. Free, but feeling a tad abandoned.
Does anyone in there care about little old me? Is there anyone even in there to disappoint?
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.