At one time the Coleco Head to Head Baseball game was the most coveted item in my life. It was my white whale, my holy grail, my Incredible Hulk (if I were Mr. McGee). I recall having to settle for the smaller, cheaper Mattel game which was just okay. There was something about that fake plastic stadium design on the Coleco that just spoke to me. I once was so close to “winning” it at a carnival I could taste it. It was the top prize for some dart game, which I played repeatedly in the hopes of obtaining my precious. Never came close, but I did find a winning ticket on the ground and quickly grabbed it before the carny working the table got wise. My plan was to come back later, throw the darts again and swap out whatever ticket I got for the big winner in my pocket. I either chickened out or my desire to do the right thing calmly took over. I returned the ticket without claiming any prize. The guy gave me some weird looking stuffed animal for being honest, though.
After all that, and several years of wanting, I have no recollection of how I ended up with the game. Somehow I did though, and was left extremely disappointed. Turns out, it was all form and no substance. What it lacked and what I really desired was actual rosters of players and talent based results.
On to the scene came the legendary Strat-O-Matic baseball game. Ok, it was around for quite some time before I discovered it. This is all about me, though. The game had all the players and teams you wanted…as long as they were part of the most recent baseball season. I’m pretty sure you could buy other seasons, but I only had the set that came with the game. Nevertheless, it temporarily satisfied my desire to play out games based on the underlying stats of actual players.
For some, the fun is trying to recreate as accurately as possible the real world major league season. I prefer to mix it up and see how things turn out in an alternate universe. Strat-O-Matic was pretty limited in that regard. The best you could really do is make “trades” with other teams. You couldn’t create fictional players and any customization of teams, stadiums, league setups, etc. existed solely in your own imagination. This game was basically roll the dice, check the card for result and keep score the old school way. Don’t get me wrong, it was a lot of fun. But, it did not allow you to compile statistics or keep a league history in any meaningful way without tons of time and effort.
Ah the computer age. The opportunity for improvements in so many areas of our lives. One of them of course, was to bring us a better baseball game. My first computer was the Apple II GS, which offered many entertaining software choices. Somewhere between Leisure Suit Larry and Carmen San Diego, I picked up MicroLeague Baseball. With it came graphics to help demonstrate on screen the plays resulting from statistics of each batter/pitcher matchup. It was form and function joining forces to bring me hours of unmitigated bliss.
The best part for me were the two add on disks that were available. The general manager disk allowed trades with other teams and the ability to create new players. And more importantly, a stat compiler disk let me save the results of every played game and compile statistics for each player. For the first time I was able to finish an entire 162 game schedule and track the leaders and standings the entire way. God I love the numbers.
I created a ten team league consisting of classic names like the Brooklyn Dodgers and the Boston Red Sox. These were mingled in with some made up names such as the Sarasota Giants and the Caribou Indians. I’ve always liked the idea of teams playing baseball in remote and very cold locations like northern Maine. I mean, who doesn’t want snow falling during games in the middle of May?
I played out every single game for every team in my league that first season. It was a bit tedious, but I enjoyed every minute of it. I even continued on into a second season. Only one thing could slow down the simulating machine that I had become. College. When I went away to school, there no longer was time for such trivial matters. My freshman year, I dabbled with some random game on my new Mac. But, I never got any sort of league going with that and quickly gave it up.
Fast forward about 14 years and you’d see Derek Jeter careening headlong into the stands at Yankee Stadium. On that July day in 2004 I was already frustrated with my beloved Red Sox and their inability to keep pace with the Yankees. The Jeter play put me completely over the edge. I vowed to never watch another game (yeah right) and decided to make a return to computer baseball instead. A little research on my part uncovered a hidden gem of a game.
Out of the Park Baseball’s latest version at the time, 6.5 was the most complex and detailed baseball simulation I’d ever seen. I figured it was more than enough to keep me busy and entertained throughout the rest of the MLB season. I dove right in and began setting up a league as close as possible to my earlier MicroLeague world. Before I could get too far though, some interesting things started happening in the real world of baseball. Nomar was traded, Varitek shoved a glove in Arod’s face, and I found myself tuning back in a little at a time. Before I knew it, OOTP was forgotten amidst the fairytale season that was 86 years in the making for Red Sox fans.
It was ten more years before I picked the game back up. Strangely enough, I owe that return to the birth of my second child. Soon after she was born, I realized that my goal of reading a biography of each U.S. president was going to have to wait. Those books required much more attention and focus than was possible with my new home dynamic. I needed to find some other hobby that would be better suited to “multi-tasking”. Naturally, I turned to Out of the Park and picked up 15 at a huge discount…knowing that the 16 version was just around the corner. I immediately took to it like a fish to water. I even traded my iPad in for a Mac laptop so I could play the game from anywhere. By the way, this lap stand I bought is the best thing to happen for laptop users since the touchpad was invented. It allows me to use the computer while reclining in comfort and prevents the heat buildup I used to deal with. For me it’s a valuable accessory for OOTP.
The improvements made to this game over the years are simply stunning. Every year it seems to get better and more immersive. Out of the Park Baseball is everything I wished those games to be from my younger days. There are so many great things I could discuss, but this is not meant to be an extensive review (read here for something more in depth). I love the numbers in baseball, and handling the data is the best thing OOTP does. However, it’s the customization that really makes it special. There is almost no limit to the things you can do or change. I’ve spent weeks just creating new uniforms, stadiums, baseball cards, etc. without actually playing a single game.
The coolest and most immersive part of it for me are the player faces that are generated. The randomly produced faces are great and the game also comes with a likeness for every current major leaguer. What’s even better though, is creating your own player faces using photos of real people. You do need a separate piece of software to do this which is not available for the Mac. Luckily, there are many people on the OOTP message board who can create them for you. In fact, any customization that you are not sure about doing yourself can be obtained from somebody on this board. It is a fantastic resource and one of the best free exchange of ideas around. These are some of my favorite player facegens from my own Brewer Patriot League:
From left to right: Don Draper, Woody Boyd, Julian Edelman, Johnny Ringo
Another thing I like to do with OOTP is create player names that have special significance for me. In my baseball universe I have everything from literary geniuses to hockey legends…from fictional movie characters to friends of mine from grade school. In some cases, they are the name without the true face to match:
And sometimes, I like to have the face to match the name:
In any case, it’s stuff like this which has me on to the 12th season of my OOTP league. I love watching the stats pile up, legends retire and championships won. I’ve had expansion teams, International leagues, World Baseball Classic style tournaments and so much more. Recently, they have added the option to use a soccer style promotion and relegation setup. This coincided perfectly with my new found love of football, not football. I personally believe the blending of these two sports is a match made in heaven.
I have come so far with the game and my league, that I actually have an inductee in the hall of fame now. I really enjoyed watching this man’s career unfold. I can only imagine what his numbers would’ve looked like if a gun shot wound hadn’t cut his career short. 😉
As I’m writing this, OOTP 19 has been announced. Boy, we’ve come a long way from the Coleco days. I’ve got my preorder in, I suggest you do the same. Just make sure you are prepared to devote some time, though.