Making the Off-Season Suck Less

Probably one of the most famous baseball quotes ever is the Rogers Hornsby quote concerning the off-season: “People ask me what I do in winter when there’s no baseball. I’ll tell you what I do. I stare out the window and wait for spring.”

I think we can all relate to that right now. Winter definitely arrived in Iowa this morning, but I’m not all that excited about staring at it out my window. On the other hand, there is very little going on with the Twins worth discussing. I mean… how many posts can a blogger possibly write on the subject of the Twins’ slashing their payroll? (I believe the count for my posts, personally, on that topic currently sits at 12… but that is unlikely to be the final number.)

All of this snow made me think back to how I managed to survive the off-seasons during the winters of my younger years. Of course, the most obvious answer to that question is that I played basketball… lots of basketball.

But even as a kid, I needed regular baseball fixes as the snow piled up outside my window. How did I survive? There were no blogs. There was no Twitter or Facebook. There was no internet. There were no cell phones. There was no “ESPN Classic” showing old MLB replays because there was no ESPN. There was no Fox Sports North (of course, for most of us in Iowa, there remains no FSN, but I’ll refrain from letting this post devolve in to another blackout rant). There were no DVDs or even VHS tapes of old World Series games… or any other games. There was no cable television.

So what did I do?

I played baseball games, of course. No, not really… but kinda. They were baseball BOARD games.

I had a friend with Cadaco-Ellis All-Star Baseball. The game involved cardboard discs for all of the top players of the day plus a number of “All Time Greats” that dictated the result of each at-bat. The discs slipped over a spinner and each disc had a sort of “pie chart” that was based on the player’s career statistics. I also had a friend with Strat-O-Matic Baseball, but I don’t recall playing that much more famous game a lot. All-Star Baseball allowed us to pit teams of “current” players like Killebrew, Mantle, and Mays against teams with Ruth, Cobb and Hornsby or even mix and match them so that Killer got to play alongside The Babe.

Those are great memories and they got me thinking about all of the other sorts of baseball games I enjoyed over the years. About at the same time we were playing All-Star Baseball, another friend showed me a dice baseball game that you could play by yourself real easily. It was a much simpler game and I don’t even recall that it had a name, though I’m sure it was pirated from some company’s commercial venture.

The next baseball board game I remember playing was Avalon Hill/Sports Illustrated’s Statis-Pro Major League Baseball. It was kind of like Strat-O-Matic on steroids. There really were almost no defensive settings, though, so it was a great game to play solo. This worked out well, since I believe I got this game shortly after moving from Albert Lea MN to Webster City IA. I didn’t really have a lot of friends and even fewer who were as much in to baseball as I was. As a result, I spent a lot of time over the winter in seclusion playing Statis-Pro.

Of course, a short time later, I grew in to the teenage years and became moderately more sociable. That didn’t mean I had to leave baseball behind during the winter, of course. There were always pinball games with a baseball theme and while it didn’t take long for my interests to move from pinball to foosball, I still kept an eye out for the baseball pinball games. In fact, even today, I’ve got a version of “Full Tilt Baseball” as an Android app on my cell phone.

And then it happened. Electronic games. Atari. Nintendo. It was amazing. We could play baseball by hooking game consoles up to our televisions and, eventually, even with handheld game devices.

But, trust me kids, these games bore no resemblance to what you’re accustomed to today.

The first baseball game I remember was little more than an advanced version of the original PONG. Before too long, however, we had Intellivision games that actually involved NINE players on defense! Wow. How much more realistic can you get?

 

Then there were games that involved the names of REAL Major League baseball players! Of course, that didn’t necessarily mean those players played for real MLB TEAMS. One of the first versions of these “real player” games was a Nintendo version that was actually licensed by the MLB Players Association, not MLB itself. So the players were associated with “Boston” and “New York”… not the Red Sox and Yankees. Yeah… the players didn’t exactly LOOK a lot like the real deals either, but we had come a long way from All-Star Baseball!

Of course, the handheld games weren’t that sophisticated. They primarily involved using a couple of buttons and direction keys to make little LED lights move around the basepaths. Realism be damned, those were addictive!

And then I had a son who found baseball video games to be fun, too. Which was great… until he got so good at them that he wiped me off the face of the earth every time we played. I think that he was about seven years old when we got to that point. It may have been sooner than that. I didn’t play a lot of video games after that. My son may tell you it had something to do with me being a bad loser and I realized it would be bad to have to explain why I was beating up a 7 year old. Don’t listen to him, though. He lies.

Today, of course, while we continue to whine about how there’s so little to hold our interest during the off-season, we really have it pretty good. I won’t even spend any time on the advances in video game technology over the past couple of decades, but will just hope that the phrase, “Well played, Mauer,” will soon once again become more than just a catch-phrase from a video game commercial.

Even those of us who no longer play either the board or electronic baseball games during the off-season don’t have to simply go in to hibernation. In addition to all of the real-time coverage by mainstream media, we have more bloggers than we can possibly count, all providing avenues for not only gathering baseball information but discussing and debating it. We have practically minute-by-minute coverage of MLB’s winter meetings. I watched Francisco Liriano pitch two innings in a Winter League game last week. How cool is that?

In two months, I’m hoping to be on my way to Ft. Myers for a week following the Twins and Orioles around the Florida Gulf Coast and I’m already plotting out potential itineraries. But in the mean time, we’ll continue to discuss what the Twins have done, should do, won’t do, and why.

It sure beats just staring out the window and waiting for spring. Rogers Hornsby would be very jealous.

- JC

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