I have this very clear memory of a thought I had growing up. I was playing a video game. It was probably "Heroes of Might and Magic" or "Knights of the Old Republic," and I thought to myself, "I really like video games. I am going to play them my entire life. This is just going to be something I do." Well, the future is much different than this adolescent thought.
I haven't played video games consistently since my freshman year of college. Since then, I dabbled here and there with "Metal Gear Solid" play-throughs with my friend Alex, making universe-defining choices in "Mass Effect," and dropping 45 a game with a rookie Michael Jordan playing for the post-Decision Cavs in "NBA 2K11." Now this dabbling has come to a complete hault. Instead of clicking buttons, I spend my free time writing, talking to BFD an hour every Tuesday Night, reading, exercising, and putting back together the pieces after Saturday night.
That being said, there is one game I play occasionally. I'll blow the dust off the controller ports, plug in the red, white, and yellow cords, insert a see-through-blue-Dual-Analog controller, and smile as We Got the Noise by the Donots wails away (SWING FOR IT). If you don't already know what I'm talking about, then you have lived your entire life without playing the greatest Sports game ever made. If you do know what I'm talking about, then we're already best friends, and I love you.
For those of you who don't know, I'm talking about "MVP Baseball 2005."
For a sports game to be an integral part of your life for a year, it needs to do one thing. It must blend great game-play with a deep franchise mode. "MVP Baseball 2005" did both these things, and did it better than any game ever made.
The game play is based around the pitch meter and full swing control hitting; both these things set the foundation for "The Show" and every baseball game that came after it. Instead of just pressing a button corresponding to a pitch and watching it flutter towards the camera, you can control the speed and accuracy with a "PGA Tour 2003" meter. The longer you hold the button, the harder the pitch is thrown. This added dynamism makes it more difficult to stop in the center for accuracy. Like reloading in "Gears of War," it turned a passive action into something active.
Hitting allowed you to see the type of pitch it was with the hitter's eye. For example, a splitter blinks purple before it comes at your face, while a breaking ball is green. With this info, you can just focus on where the pitch lands and have an idea of the velocity. Which, in real life baseball that most of us never played, is like when the hitter can tell the type of pitch by how the seams move. It's perfect. This, plus the timing of your swing, and the ability to pull, slap, hit for power, and ground balls with the direction of the right analog stick, creates the most entertaining yet realistic hitting experience I've ever had.
These two things are what have led to what we currently see with less fun and worse baseball games. "The Show" took this same idea and moved it further with complicated hitting and pitching that just uses the analog sticks. Sticks, instead of buttons. No matter how far we go in the future, nothing will be able to replicate how perfect a baseball video game in 2005 was.
In addition to this, the animations are charming. The bat flips, the fireworks after every home run, the Derek Jeter jump throws, the cuts to nonchalant hanging out in the dugout, the digs from the dirt, Mark Teixera's giant head, and most importantly, the ability to charge the mound once you've been beaned all morph together into its own, unique representation of baseball.
This makes the game fun to play, but the Owner Mode is why it's a deep game you can keep picking up. You have an entire farm system from A to AAA to play with; it took what "Madden 2005" did and made it better. Instead of just changing the price of a beer and have it not mean anything, MVP takes it to another level. In Owner Mode, you have to stay profitable. You have to balance your prices, assets, and payroll to keep playing. You can sign every player you want, but you can't afford it. Once you fall into deep debt, it kicks you out forever like Diablo II's hardcore mode.
It's perfect, but it takes a personal connection to keep playing a game here and there for ten years. Aside from creating a perfect team by stealing prospects that aren't properly valued by the games' guts (I love you, Willis Valerde), I am still trying to get 3,000 hits with my favorite player of all time, Michael Young--THE FACE. He's the one connection from the frustrating, all hitting, no pitching (Kenny "The Gambler" Rodgers is their Opening Day starter), mediocre Texas Rangers teams to the ALCS champion buzzsaw. He sneezed out 200 hits a season. He played the game the right way, which was very, very important to me at 15 years old. He moved around the infield without complaining until he did. He was the cornerstone of the franchise for ten years.
Sadly, time flows on and great players suffer the fate of attrition. Towards the end of his career, Young couldn't field (every broadcast had a "PAST A DIVING MICHAEL YOUNG" moment), and he stopped hitting for power. He was unplayable. Younger players took over and was traded for nothing to the Philadelphia Phillies.
The beautiful thing about playing past sports games is that Young, and others, never age like they do in real life. Time doesn't exist. They sit as snapshots of the past and can be virtually resurrected underneath a soulless sun. Unlike real life, where these integral parts of our lives and fandom fade away to make room for others, they can keep playing as long as the On button gets squished every once in awhile.
Since college, I've been nibbling at the same franchise mode. I've won a couple of championships. The Rangers, just like in real life, are baseball's model franchise (Ed. note: We interrupt this post for a reaction from Houston fans.)...
...and are financially stable. Now there's only one goal left.
I grew up wanting for Young to reach 3,000 hits. He finished with 2,375 in 14 years. My unfulfilled adolescent dream is a possibility in this game. It is the year 2012. Michael Young has 2,300 hits and can still bring it. He can barely throw the ball to first anymore and is a liability at third base. Unlike his time in the National league, Young's ability to slap singles the other way will never die. Consistently, he goes 3-5 with three singles and is the exact type of player that sabermetrics hates. I don't know what I will do when I get there, but I do know that something that has never happened can and will.
Now even if you don't care about Michael Young, I'm sure if you picked it up and turned it back on, it could keep you hooked long enough for you to find some sentimental value in it there will be worth the $2.99 it costs. Maybe John Dowd is your favorite player of all time, or Jeff Bagwell should pick up the 50 home runs that left him short of 500, or you have an undying need to hit St. Louis Cardinals' Albert Pujols in his fat ass every chance you get, or maybe you just miss seeing baseball in the Astrodome.
So if you are enjoying the weather and sifting through the flea market, or pawning everything you own to pay off your student loans, or it pops up in an Amazon recommendation, and you see this beautiful game sitting there for less than three dollars, pick it up. Mess around with it. And play the greatest sports game ever made to enjoy the newfound happiness of the Spring and prepare yourself for baseball coming back again.
Now I pass the mic over to you. Feel free to discuss this, or anything else that you can think of this fine Saturday night (within the community guidelines, of course).