When I was a kid I loved baseball. Loved it.
Well, I loved the idea of loving baseball, anyways.
What I actually did was get swept up in my uncle’s love for baseball, which was unbridled and infectious. I did play a summer or two of Little League, but otherwise most of my fandom was due to the collectability of trading cards (I once wrote to Topps and received a pamphlet about their history), the mental gymnastics and memorization of statistics on said cards (a precursor to my love of role-playing games) and a Tiger Electronic handheld game I absolutely adored. I never watching any MLB games or kept up with their rankings, that was too boring; I found myself immersed in a world without ever actually immersing myself in it.
These days I love watching my son play America’s greatest pastime; his love for the sport is unbridled and infectious. Watching his games are way more fun and intense than anything on television, which I imagine is part and parcel with the fact that I have a horse in the race, as it were. There’s something visceral to its simplicity, a team sport whose ebb and flow are dictated by individual feats. I enjoy it for the same camaraderie some probably get out of professional ball, but with a more personal community of friends, family and neighbors.
Booting up Nintendo’s Baseball is an interesting study in how you can satiate your nostalgia but also connect with your present. I grew up loving R.B.I. Baseball, but this take scratches that same itch to play 8-bit ball. It shares the same candor; it’s not muddled by any kind of statistical angle, instead content with letting you focus on the main tenets of batting, pitching and fielding.
I don’t know what baseball video games were like prior to this, but I have to imagine that it never even came close to being as intuitive. The d-pad is a perfect analogy for the bases; each cardinal direction being the corresponding bag from your viewpoint. It also allows you to move your batter in the box in order to get the type of hit you’re going for and gives you a healthy selection of pitches to choose from as well. The A button does all the main actions you can think of and B is for more advanced maneuvers once you get the basics down pat. Baseball looks rough by today’s standards, but it controls live beyond its presentation.
Fielding is a bit of a dark cloud to an otherwise solid outing; the controls are dictated by A.I. circa the early eighties and not by the player. It’s only noticeable if you’re playing against the computer, whose outfield plays with the utmost efficiency and catches every pop fly, grounder and foul ball that comes within their vicinity. In a glowing example of dirty design, your team bumbles around as balls soar or roll past them and slowly toss them back to the infield in what is most definitely a deliberate choice to screw you over.
All this is mitigated by playing Baseball the way it was intended – with someone else. When both teams make Abbott and Costello style mistakes the playing field is most definitely evened. Like most video game representation of sports it’s just infinitely more fun with a healthy dose of competition and fellowship with someone sitting next to you on the couch. Even with other options available to him, my son likes to come back to Baseball because it’s so easy to pick up and play. Sometimes his ambition and thus his mouth gets in the way, but then his dad quickly reminds him of a home run win he made and maybe posterizes it for him to hang on his bedroom wall.
It’s cool to be able to get wistful about relics of my past while making new memories with my son. I think my kids have a knack for looking past the archaic nature of classic games so long as the foundation is still solid, and Baseball definitely still holds up. Observing their reactions is always entertaining, but doubly so when we get to play something together.
Baseball may not be 1939 Yankees, but it’s definitely like the Bad News Bears.