I miss baseball. The Twins’ front office isn’t giving me anything to think about, so I’ve found myself turning to baseball video games and reflecting on my life, in an odd way. If you’ll indulge me, come learn about your beloved blog overlord through the lens of baseball video games.
First of all, I love video games. They’ve always run in a parallel path to baseball for me. I grew up in a small farm town in the middle of nowhere Minnesota, so baseball and video games were my two constants as a kid without much to do.
My family was also fairly poor growing up. I was in middle school when my dad lost his job in the 2008 financial crisis, which he took as the opportunity to start his own business. It ended up working out for him, but I spent the rest of my teen years helping my mom care for my four younger siblings while my dad traveled the country getting his business off the ground (side note: my mom obviously did way more than I did, and did it while being terribly sick and going in and out of the Mayo Clinic. She’s truly a saint).
Don’t get me wrong, I know I still had it better than many people. I had two parents who loved me, worked hard, and did everything they could to support our family. But it was still a stressful role to take on when you're a kid with undiagnosed anxiety and younger siblings oblivious to the seriousness of the situation.
Between school, work, church, youth sports, and home responsibilities, I rarely got to choose how I spent my time. The few times I did, I turned to video games to escape. We couldn’t afford much, but on two separate Christmas mornings, I opened up a Nintendo Wii and an Xbox 360. To this day, I still don’t know how my parents swung those. Games became my coping mechanism. The little kids went to bed and finally, FINALLY, I could have some time to myself.
With four young children in the house, my mom banned violent video games, understandably. Unfortunately, that meant no Halo or Call of Duty with my friends, which has largely kept me out of multiplayer gaming to this day. I spent a lot of time on family-friendly titles like Super Mario before I discovered sports games and lost countless hours to NBA 2K and Madden.
Since we only had the Wii and Xbox, I was kept out of the largest baseball franchise at the time, MLB The Show. I was heartbroken when I realized I couldn’t get the game with my favorite player on the cover, future first-ballot Hall of Famer Joe Mauer, of course. And then had to relive that heartbreak when he became the only player to appear on the cover of MLBTS in back-to-back years.
I played a bit of Backyard Baseball and Mario Super Sluggers on the Wii, but it never scratched the same itch as 2K or Madden. The first baseball game I really fell in love with was MLB Power Pros 2008, which I will admit is fairly obscure. I probably never would have played it except that our local video store offered free rentals for each A on your report card, of which I took full advantage. Eventually, I rented Power Pros so often that the manager just asked me if I wanted to buy the game from him for $2 because I was the only one interested.
The main hook for me was the game’s Success Mode, which combined RPG, life sim, and, of course, baseball elements. You play as your created player working your way up through the minor leagues with your best friend, Marvin. You had to train, eat, maintain a relationship, butter up your coaches, and try to acquire new skills all within a set amount of time to make it to the Bigs, and it was even fairly challenging! If you weren’t playing up to par, you would lose your progress and have to start from the beginning. If you made it to the end, you could keep your baseball dreams going in MLB through a simplified career-style game mode. There was also the classic franchise-style mode which was surprisingly detailed for an obscure title, letting you control everything from offseason workouts to ticket prices, and all the fun baseball in between.
Of course, as I was thinking about this topic, I saw this tweet from Foolish Baseball which perfectly explains why I love Power Pros so much. I’ve never been so exposed in my life.
SHOCKING: It turns out the best baseball video game is STILL the one that came out when you were 10 years old.— Foolish Baseball (@FoolishBB) January 2, 2024
Fast forward a decade and I was one of the lucky few to get a PlayStation 5 on launch day in 2020. With my own job, house, and a bit of disposable income, I splurged and was able to get it with a few games, including MLB The Show. I’ve since put in an embarrassing number of hours to the series, especially given my aforementioned distaste of online multiplayer modes. But how else am I supposed to get Juan Soto, Shohei Ohtani, and Mookie Betts on the Twins?
Despite the amount I’ve played, I’ve found the game to be a bit boring as a true MLB simulator. The single-player career-based Road to the Show mode lacks the story elements that I loved from Power Pros. The franchise mode is better but has baffling limitations. Trades are limited to three players, you can’t trade cash, and contract structures are frustratingly simple. In general, player valuations are fairly broken. In one sim, I was able to acquire Gerrit Cole for Trevor Larnach, presumably because of Cole’s age and salary. The baseball itself is unmatched, but so much about sports games are the features outside of the actual ballpark, which MLBTS has never been great at.
The GM-style features are significantly better in Out of the Park Baseball, which is next on my list. While there’s not the same in-game experience, I’ve heard nothing but good things about OOTP as a simulator, including our friend Matt who did his own Twins-filled tournament for the site a few years back. However, it’s odd that in 2024 you still have to choose between one set of features or the other.
Nowadays, I probably have a healthier relationship with video games, treating them more as a hobby than an escape. Part of that is due to the general stagnation of sports games. But another is life related now that I’m older with a stable job, an amazing spouse, and an adorable little dog that loves to nap in my lap while I play. I’ve expanded my game selection to give me some new experiences (shout out to God of War: Ragnarok and The Last of Us Part 2, my two favorite games of all time). However, I still find myself drawn back to sports games for the same reason I love baseball: the monotony.
I mean that in the most complimentary way possible. Some people dislike both baseball and sports video games because they’re so repetitive. But the world around us is so chaotic and unpredictable that the things you can rely on become so much more valuable. For me, that’s baseball and video games. For my wife, that’s books and our dog. For you, hopefully, that’s a bit of the fun we bring at Twinkie Town.
When I’m having a hard day, a good day, or anything in between, I love that I can watch the Twins nearly every day all summer long. There’s a comfort in their constant presence that reminds me of home, even after I’ve been away from Minnesota for over a decade. Similarly, I love that at the end of every night, I can sit down for 30 minutes and live out whatever imaginary fantasy is calling to me, whether that’s fighting zombies, slaying dragons, or taking a perfect game into the 7th inning with Dallas Keuchel.
Wait, that one actually happened???