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My guilt-filled quarantine gift for me: “MLB The Show”

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In which I make the fiscally and morally unsound choice to buy a new toy.

Chris Gill (Cq) in motion capture suit at Sony Computer Entertainment’s Motion Capture Studio in Sa
Chris Gill’s failed tryout for Gollum in Lord Of The Rings.
Photo by Irfan Khan/Los Angeles Times via Getty Images

This was my original lead:

I’ve long thought that workers should be able to pick their own holidays. Most employers, even the crummy ones, either give employees the day off or some extra pay on a few holidays; Christmas, Thanksgiving, New Year’s, and so on. But I don’t especially celebrate any of those days, and neither do many Americans. Some might prefer Eid, or Chinese New Year, Yom Kippur, etc.

Which days would I pick? My anniversary, my wife’s birthday. Maybe the first day of baseball season. And definitely the first day when MLB: The Show comes out.

Well, that was my lead. Until the devious invisible hand of viral mutation forced about 25% of Americans into a month of Saturdays (at least). So now, instead, I’m going to have to make excuses why I bought the dang thing anyways.

Feeble excuse: because I always have. I’ve been playing baseball video games since 2000, and The Show since 2006 (I still wear a Show baseball cap from that year). If I see a Twins game on TV at a bar (remember those?), I practically tune out Dick-n-Bert for replacement with Matt Vasgersian’s “bit of a high throw but the first baseman’s able to haul it in” and such. (New commentary is added in The Show each year; old commentary is never, ever retired until the announcer gets replaced.) My favorite TV shows are on hiatus, there’s no Twins games, I need to have something entertaining.

It is quite silly for a middle-aged man to play video games. But it’s not like I play tons of them; only sports, and only one sport at a time. I learned in college that me and open-ended games are a bad fit, hours can evaporate quickly. Sports games end. (And I have a strict rule never to go past 10 innings in baseball.) Besides, Lindy West recently put it this way: “As I get older, as life gets more complex and the future of the planet grows more uncertain, I find that I increasingly value this escape to a closed, fixable universe.” She’s an author of actual books and TV shows and stuff, so there’s that.

Better excuse: because not only are most of us stuck in life’s holding pattern for the time being, we’re stuck there with whomever’s sitting next to us – AKA, anybody living in the same house. In China, after quarantine restrictions were slightly eased, large numbers of people filed for divorce. I’ve seen loving long-term couples who are close to tearing off each others’ skulls. And it’s only been little over a week. With few exceptions, any time someone says “my grandparents were married for 50 years and never had an argument once” it’s because either A) their grandparents lied to them or B) one of grandma/grandpa had just given up. (Often, both of them gave up.)

On a normal weekend, neither I nor the Mrs. feels any need to amuse the other; if there’s something we both want to watch or do, great! If not, to each their own. Right now, however, it feels like we should be constantly engaged in together tasks. It’s clearly wearing her down. If I like playing a silly video game for a little time each day, she absolutely needs me to not be in her space for a little time each day. Couples therapy via button-mashing.

Lamest excuse: it keeps me from total friggin’ panic. We have no money coming in; none. My wife is a substitute teacher through a temp agency, and if you think there’s any benefits for lost hours (not to mention health insurance!), you’re one of the fortunate souls who’s never worked for a temp agency. It’s quite scary. Outside of sex and The Show, I’m in a constant state of dread. Those things amount for at least 90 minutes where I can forget to be fearful. (90 minutes total, not each, I’m not Sting.)

Should I have blown $60 on a feel-good purchase? No. But I figured if we’re going to lose everything, it won’t be that $60 what does it.

Of course, there are other reasons I should feel selfish and terrible about buying the game. Going out for a frivolity when, absent testing, none of knows if we’re infected or not, is one of them. However, I had to go to an office-supply joint next door to the game store, anyway. Our printer was out of ink, and we need to get our tax refund, that’s around $1200 bucks right there. (Never, ever, ever, ever, use a pay-service tax-prep company like H & R Block. I’ve worked for them, they’re largely ripoff artists, a few honest employees aside. If your taxes are too intricate to do yourself, hire a CPA. They will be cheaper and more accurate.) Our return has some oddities you can’t file for free through the IRS website, so I needed that ink.

It’s not like I sneezed on the video-game-store worker, who was the only other person in that place. Nor did I sneeze on the office-supply worker, although I did comment on how empty many shelves were (because of interrupted supply lines, not hoarding, I’m sure, unless Americans have been panic-buying 9x12 Manila envelopes for some reason). “Wow,” I said, “it’s a little like that Will Smith movie I Am Legend everywhere you go.” He responded, “not quite, we’re not all vampire zombies yet... but viruses can mutate.”

I did get home and, via pure habit, ripped open The Show’s plastic wrapping with my teeth. I felt like a dumbcluck exactly one half-second after biting it. Wow, what if that’s it. What if we have to sell the house to cover our medical bills, and all because in one instant I stupidly started opening some plastic on a dumb sports game with my teeth. That’s legitimate grounds for divorce, right there. “You got me sick because you opened plastic on a video game with your teeth!”

And I’d done everything else right! I hadn’t touched my face the entire time I was out. (Amazing how much your eyes itch when you’re conscious of not rubbing them.) I put the game by the PlayStation, washed my hands thoroughly, watched several hours of streamable stuff together, kissed goodnight, then ran to the PlayStation and bit right into that plastic...

I’m imagining a Coronavirus-affected afterlife, where my sins are judged. “Um, God, ma’am/sir, Your Honor, I’m sorry. I’ve told the occasional lie, I’ve sometimes been too chickenfart to stand up for my fellow humans when I should have, and I repeatedly promised to You between my ages of 13-16 that I’d stop doing that activity I always kept doing.”

”Forget that noise! You bit plastic wrapping on a video game for a half-second, and got your wife sick! It’s eternal hellfire for you, doomed fiend! Say hi to Hitler!”

(And if that idiotic brain slip does get my wife sick, I’d absolutely think I deserved this.)

For another thing, I could have given that $60 to charity. I know I did wrong. In repentance, I do plan on donating blood every time I make a grocery-store run (unsurprisingly, donations are way down right now). If only they gave you something else as a refreshment besides a cookie. I hate cookies.

Since this isn’t sponsored content (I only wish!), I’m not going to review the game. Those who love it, love it. Biggest change this year is they have licensed minor-league players, which is super-cool. Gordon, Rooker, Kiriloff, all the major names are in there. Even though part of the fun is in creating MiLB players and customizing the heck out of them, I usually only did so once they reached the majors. Now I can quickly play as Rochester if I wanna. Go garbage plate, go!

And, like in most sports games, players are given skills from 1-100 in various areas, such as fielding, throwing, etc. Nelson Cruz’s power against left-handed pitchers is rated at 109. Out of 100. This is also super-cool. Would be cooler if we knew for sure that real baseball will happen again before Cruz retires.

Bottom line is, I can’t excuse buying this. I can’t excuse almost any foolish thing I do — and as I’m older than most of you, I have done more dumb. Sometimes by accident, more often as a result of poor decisions.

One of my favorite optional settings in The Show is a thing called “API,” for Adaptive Pitcher Intelligence. Basically, the little CGI catcher-guy tells you what pitch to throw and where to throw it. You don’t have to do what he says, you can throw anything you want.

Now, this API isn’t a real catcher with a real knowledge of game-calling, it’s just essentially a random number generator. I usually do what it says anyway. Because it saves me from having to make the decision, possibly making a bad one.

I don’t mind making difficult decisions, I’ve done so, but I do mind it when I don’t know what the different probable outcomes are. That’s when I get really frozen. “Is this the exit ramp we’re supposed to use?” “I DON’T KNOW!” (Then invariably the next exit to turn around is ten miles down the freeway.)

We’re all sort of in that situation, right now. We don’t know, exactly, what the different probable outcomes are. We’ve heard the best-case and worst-case scenarios, so I won’t repeat those here (although on Friday I had the joy of listening to a viral pathologist saying “this isn’t even the bad one yet.”)

In my home’s scenario, we need money. I’m sure grocery stores are hiring (and, to Minnesota’s credit, grocery workers are getting the state to cover free child care for their children 12-and-under). Is the money worth the risk? “I DON’T KNOW.” If only there were an Adaptive Pitcher Intelligence setting for life, where a CGI Mitch Garver could tell me what to do.

Well, at least I know, and can share with you here, not to open wrapping with your teeth anytime soon, if you can control yourself in such fashion. Beyond that, as the saying goes, “when people make plans, God laughs” (insert “Fate” for any of our atheist friends out there).

And we can all hope that as many of us as possible are around to make good/bad decisions for years, yet. Maybe even when Nelson Cruz sees a bad pitch decision from a lefthander and goes full Power 109.

To rip off a show on hiatus, anybody who read this depressing thing deserves a happy video finish. So here it is: a reminder from 2019 that, someday, toilet paper will go back to being slightly less valuable than pirate gold.

Enjoy the weekend, everybody.