Note: Every few months I do my best to drive away readers with my baseball sim obsession. Here I go again.
Al Simmons is my idea of a superhero. No, not that Al Simmons. I'm talking about the man, born Aloisius Szymanski in 1902, who accumulated 2,000 hits in only 1,390 games - the fewest games needed to attain that mark in major league history. I'm talking about the man who made only 94 errors in 21 years.
I'm talking about the man who blasted a 425-ft. grand slam in the top of the 9th-inning last night to cap a come-from-behind victory against the Seattle Mariners. The guy who gave me my biggest thrill as a gamer - I'm talking fist-pumping, jig-dancing, "Honey, you'll wake up Zoe" glee - in quite some time. Yeah, that Al Simmons.
But as sweet as that homerun tasted, my joy wasn't derived from a single moment of victory. As most sim fans will attest, the road you build to get there is what it's all about. To some, such a construction project may look like a lot of tedious work; but to a sports sim nut, hours spent methodically building a franchise, customizing it to suit your preferences, and (importantly) modding the game itself to make it look and behave like you want it to - well, that's the whole ballgame.
Playing out each game is fun too, of course, but mainly as a test of my theories and team-building prowess. Prior to last night's game, I moved Al Simmons into the 6-hole, hoping to give Reggie Jackson better pitches to see. In the 9th-inning Reggie loaded the bases, and Ol' Al made me look like a genius.
So what does all that fiddling, tweaking, and modding look like? Well, in my case it mostly involves relying on an incredibly helpful and generous community that produces historical databases and player photographs dating back to the 19th-century, ballpark data and images, league templates, and all sorts of other useful and customizable tools.
If you'd like to see an impressive example of such a community effort underway, check this out. 277 forum pages (and counting) of uploaded photos provided by volunteers, filling in database gaps with old players, many long-forgotten.
Out of the Park Baseball doesn't have a Major League Baseball license, so you won't find team logos, ballpark photos, or real-life players in the game. And, believe it or not, that's actually a very good thing. The work of producing accurate historical data - Sean Lahman's baseball archive is the prime example - is being done by teams of volunteers (aka, my nerd heroes), and nearly all this work is freely available and open to peer review.
These databases (and modified versions folks have created to account for statistical variables produced by the 'deadball era,' for example) are far more detailed and generate more accurate results than commercial graphical baseball games. In the case of a game like OOTP, the community steps up to provide the assets the MLB witholds, and the developers are free to do things like incorporate Negro League players and teams - something MLB 10: The Show and MLB 2K10 seem unwilling or unable to do.
And so, in the many hours that led up to Al Simmons' grand slam, I built my Cooperstown League of all-time franchise greats based on a template I downloaded from this invaluable hub for baseball sims. I found a slick logo collection and an archive of ready-to-use ballpark photos dating back to the '20s. I relied on the photo database I mentioned above, and I found a season schedule archive that looked good to me. Installing all these resources wasn't easy (OOTP is getting better in this regard, though it still has a ways to go), but I found lots of helpful advice in the game's online forums.
Once I had the assets I needed, I devoted myself to building a team to win. I assembled an Oakland Athletics (formerly Philadelphia Athletics) franchise all-star team and began studying each player's attributes. OOTP produces a nearly overwhelming array of analysis tools, and if you take the time to learn how to use them, you will make informed choices.
I built my lefty-righty lineups, my depth chart, my pitching rotation, and I moved several players on and off the active roster. I adjusted AI settings for games I would let the computer sim for me, and I played through the pre-season to get familiar with my players. I made a few more roster changes, and finally I was ready. Five games into the season, Al Simmons capped a 9th-inning comeback with that grand slam. Booyah!
It's early, but I'm in first-place. Ricky Henderson is burning up the basepaths, Mickey Cochrane is pounding the ball, and I've got my eye on the pennant. There is joy in Mudville.