(Note: If you want the review, just go to the jump)
September 8, 2015. Another lost season for the Buffalo Upstatesmen, the long-time butt of jokes in the Northeast Division of the Eastern Association of the Unified North American League. 38 games out of first, over 24 games out of the Wild Card. They were going to, barring some sort of 0-for-the-rest-of-the-season streak, finally finish with fewer than 100 losses, the first time in god-knows-when, but, still, a lost season. All that was left now was to avoid having the worst record in the league and maybe give some of the young guns some good September-callup experience.
Now, they were in the top of the 10th, tied 5-5 against the Atlanta Georgians. At one point, they’d held a 5-2 lead, but then a 3-run homer by Barry Davis off Bryan Absher tied it up. If there was one thing that the Upstatesmen had going for them, though, it was their bullpen, so the team’s skipper was hopeful. Jorge Apodaca, the star reliever of the Upstatesmen who’s stamina on the mound was good enough where he had been used as a starter once or twice, now was going to begin his second inning. Just in case, Shawn Gardner had begun warming up in the ‘pen.
The inning didn’t start well- Juan Martinez got to first on an infield hit and then was replaced by the speedier Jorge Gonzalez, who’d been rated as a 20-20 threat on the basepaths by the scouting department. Thankfully, Zachary Jenkins then had a weak flyout. Next came a pinch-hitter for the pitcher-spot (which had moved up to the 6-slot earlier in the game on a double switch): Gabriel Garcia. An okay hitter, batting .280 on the year with four homers.
He wouldn’t do anything, however. On the first pitch, Gonzalez stole second. Immediately, Apodaca was ordered to walk Garcia to set up a double play. Now up to the plate came Jorge Lujan, a September call-up. The first pitch was a strike… and Gonzalez stole third without a throw. For a second, Buffalo’s skipper considered walking Lujan to set up a force at any base. But he had faith in Apodaca, and he was rewarded with the strikeout.
2 outs, men at the corners. The light-hitting Juan Lopez coming up. Apodaca wouldn’t let him reach base- he struck him out.
To the bottom of the 11th they went, facing righty Jorge Rodriguez: Jeff Cochran flew out, pinch-hitter Bill Hatcher grounded out. Up came Bruce Cunningham. Once the number two prospect in the league, he’d been disappointing during his previous stints in the bigs. This was his third September call-up, and he’d yet to get a permanent position.
Whack! The ball chopped on the ground, past the second baseman, and into right. A man was now on with two out. Walt McKay was now coming to the plate. Like Cunningham, McKay was a top prospect who had had trouble in the big leagues, although his ability to hit righties had kept him with a constant position ever since he had been drafted. There would be no heroism here, however, as he grounded out to end the 11th inning.
Shawn Gardner came in for the top of the twelfth, along with Hayden Caswell, the ordinary 2nd Baseman, who was being brought in as a defensive replacement. Gardner worked around a leadoff single, and to the bottom of the 12th the game went. Cornell Goodwin grounded out, but then Vicente Candelaria, the slow-moving slugger from Massachusetts, somehow got on with an infield hit, and was pinch-hit for by Mike Dunn. Ricardo Gonzalez, the hard-hitting Puerto Rican 3B, stepped to the plate… and fanned. Bryan Castle didn’t fare much better.
Gardner pitched a scoreless top of the 13th. Meanwhile, some of the starters ran out to the bullpen. Collin Perry came out to pitch for the Georgians, and promptly walked Hayden Caswell. Cochran would line out and then Christian Martin- pinch-hitting for Gardner- grounded out (moving Caswell to second), but Bruce Cunningham flew out, ending the inning.
Eugene O’Neal pitched a scoreless top of the inning, and then the bottom half started promisingly, as McKay doubled. The Georgians intentionally walked Cornell Goodwin, and then came Mike Dunn, who had earlier pinch-run for Candelaria. The skipper for the Upstatesmen regretted the move, as he could have used the big bat that had hit 25 home runs so far this year. Thankfully, he had another bat on the bench: Manuel Leon, a big slugger they’d found doing well in the Venezuelan League and had given a shot… and had not been disappointed, at least at the plate: with 18 HRs this year despite a pitiful .238 batting average.
He shot the ball on the ground through the box and into the outfield. The speedy McKay was waved home, but the good arm of centerfielder Jorge Ortiz was ready. It was a close play, a slide, a gasp going through the stadium….
and then the Umpire’s call: OUT!
The Upstatesmen had gambled, trying to get a final victory… but had failed. At least for now. Ricardo Gonzalez came to the plate, with two men still on and one out. He too, hit a sharp grounder, but unlike Leon, his ball wouldn’t find the outfield, as the Atlanta 2B snagged it and got him at first. There were now two men in scoring position, but now there were two outs. Brian Castle stepped to the plate… and popped out.
Out of the bullpen now came Jack Hoffman, a crummy starter with an okay cutter but not much else. Two years ago, he’d lost 21 games. The hope, the manager for the Upstatesmen had, was that maybe he could go an inning before he was pinch-hit for in the bottom half.
In a minor miracle, Hoffman just gave up one hit, and the game went into the bottom of the 15th tied. Not like it mattered, as the Upstatesmen went down 1-2-3. Jack Bray, a lefty picked up from St. Louis earlier in the year, worked a scoreless top of the 16th.. but, once again, the Upstatesmen couldn’t capitalize.
Ty “Tank” Edwards, a long-reliever who also was the Upstatesmen 5th starter on weeks when the starting rotation was being hit by injuries. He sent down the Georgians one-two-three. To the bottom of the 17th the game went. Leon struck out, Gonzalez walked, and then up came Brian Castle, who quickly worked a 2-1 count.
AND THEN HE FOUND A GOOD FASTBALL!
The ball flew deep, deep into the night to right-center… and over the fence! The Upstatesmen had won it 7-5 in 17 innings!
The above really happened in a game of Out of the Park Baseball ’14, the latest version of the OOTP franchise, released a few months ago and available from this very site.
Oh, I added in some flourishes here and there, but for the most part, it’s exactly as it was. Because, you see, in OOTP, just as it has always been, you are the manager, you are the GM, and the game is what you make of it, with countless options, from the number of leagues running, to whether the players you are using are real or fake, to whether there is a DH or not, to… basically anything. Really, the only things missing from OOTP are the ability to have publicity stunts, the ability to have a World Baseball Classic (sort of- you can make rosters yourself if you want), and the ability to actually swing the bat or pitch (this is, after all, a management simulation). But other than that, there is little that cannot be done in OOTP- and I’m sure they are working on the publicity stunt portion as we speak.
As an example, take a look back up to the little game story at the start of this: almost every part except for the ultimate outcome of the game and players themselves are my creation:
The Unified North American League (so named because it also has teams from Canada, Mexico and Puerto Rico) and it’s teams were made up and named by me. I purposely made sure the Upstatesmen wouldn’t have a good team to start with (by making sure they didn’t have as many draft picks to start off) in order to increase the challenge. I had simulated the first 9 innings of the game above- hence the more scant details, but from that point on, everything was on me. Pitching changes? Me. Pinch-hitting and pinch-running assignments? Me. Defensive substitution? Me again. Heck, even the ill-fated decision to send McKay home in the 14th inning! What happened there was that there was a pop-up that asked if I wanted McKay to try and go for home, noting that Ortiz has a good arm.
And that was just stuff in that one contest itself, but that game against the Georgians was but one part of the season. You could, if you wanted to, play the entire game without seeing the managerial field view (right) even once, simply acting as a GM trying to build a championship team or even just watching the world develop. You can call up or send down players, manage the waiver wire, scout out talent, and countless other things.
For example, look back up at the tale of the 17-inning victory. Manuel Leon is mentioned as having been found doing well in Venezuela. Well, my game has a Venezuelan Winter League, and I noticed that Leon had hit well in it. I gave him a shot, and while he hasn’t hit well for average, he still has enough pop to be a good player to have. Bruce Cunningham had worked his way up through the minors but was usually only called up during the 40-man roster period.
See what I mean?
What OOTP does well:
Okay, so enough meandering, time to really cut to the chase: OOTP does basically everything well, featuring, as I have said earlier, basically every part of being a baseball GM and/or manager. To list everything would require me to be here all day, so here are some things that stick out:
- New this year is the addition of international free agents. Previously, occasionally a scout would find a hot Dominican prospect that you could add, and you had Dominicans, Venezuelans, etc. in the draft, but now it’s possible to have a more realistic set-up, where you are bidding the rights to 16-year-old players and then having them go to team-run complexes until they are ready to play in the minors.
- Similarly, you can now change the draft pool of your leagues. Do you want to create a league in Zimbabwe but you inexplicably want all the players to be from Portugal? You can do that now.
- The endless customization tools for your leagues have returned, allowing you to not only make the league in your image but determine it’s level of play and how much they pay their players. For example, my game has the UNAL at MLB level, a Japanese league a little below that, a Mexican league that is about AAA in level and so on and so fourth until there is one league in Guam that that I created that is about the level of a High School and where the best player is paid about 10 bucks. You can also set “foreign player limits”, much like those that are had by actual leagues in Japan and Korea, to make sure that, for example, you don’t have a Japanese team made up entirely of Americans.
- You can, as I mentioned above, use either fake players or real players. But that just scratches the surface: you can replay old seasons, or even make a “best of” league where the best players in each team’s history face each other (in a surprising result, a simulation of this I did had the Minnesota Twins winning it all– mainly because they had Walter Johnson due to it also including their Washington Senators years– beating out the Pirates). For the most part, doing this is very easy (unless you are an obsessive like me), often only a few clicks of the mouse away. If you wanted to, you could simulate the entire history of baseball, with the game adding in players and expansion teams as you go.
- The interface for in-game decisions, such as whether to pitch to or around a batter or whether to go for a hit-and-run, is also extremely simple.
- Also, the little things continue to be awesome: players getting angry if the team is bad, news stories that tell you about how player X is now hurt because of some weird circumstances or how player Y is holding a charity golf tournament.
- Finally- and I’m still leaving lots out here- the customization is not just in game, but also with modifications- you can get plenty of new ballparks, uniforms, rosters and other neat things off the internet, or even through the OOTP application itself.
OOTP doesn’t do so well:
First off, OOTP is not a series for everyone. If you want to actually see the graphics and control exactly how your players are swinging the bat, this isn’t for you. It’s a management game. If you want to play as the players themselves, go and find a different game. However, as a baseball management simulation, it is excellent, to the point where many of the problems I have had with it have been more because of my own idiocy or are minor problems that will probably be fixed in future patches.
For example, one problem that happens if you don’t “associate” your leagues (put them together as a way to have a “real” World Series and share certain settings) is that you often see players from those other leagues becoming available as free agents during the MLB season, meaning, for example, the MVP of a league in Mexico or Taiwan could show up in the middle of a pennant race.
However, if there is one ultimate complaint I have with OOTP, both this year’s installment and the previous ones, is that it’s a total time suck. You could get lost trying to simulate one more season or play one more game, or work on your universe until everything is exactly right. Like a black hole, it can take up your time. And if you are like me, you will like every second of it.
Therefore, I give Out of the Park Baseball 2014 a 9.5 out of 10.
(And don’t forget if you are interested to go and order it through the Continuum if you are interested!)