Monday, May 11, 2009
When I was growing up, my general sports awareness expanded with the ascendance of the Cincinnati Reds. These were the Bench-Rose-Sparky Anderson-Ken Griffey Sr.-George Foster Reds. In 1975, they played a thrilling World Series against the Boston Red Sox that everyone in Kentucky must have watched. In 1976, the Reds swept the New York Yankees for back to back championships.
Cultural osmosis worked its magic. All that anyone could talk about at school were the Cincinnati Reds. Slurpee (or Slushie, I can't tell the difference) had a promotion where there slushie drinks would be sold in plastic replica baseball caps, one for each team. I rode my bike 20 minutes a day to the store where the caps were sold, and slushie by slushie I had the entire collection. I purchased a plastic replica Cincinnati Reds batting helmet. (My best friend at the time, inexplicably, became a Dodgers fan in the late 1970s. Maybe it wasn't inexplicable after all.)
I had always wanted to play baseball, but this was the first time I understood that there was a whole culture and history behind the game.
It was also then that I purchased my first sports-based game. It was Ethan Allen's All-Star Baseball. For those unfamiliar with it, the game consisted of circular cardboard disks. At the perimeter of each disk was a set of numbers. "1" stood for a Home Run. "10" stood for a strikeout. The disks were inserted into a disk holder, upon which was mounted a spinner. You spun the arrow and when the arrow stopped spinning, the arrow to which the number pointed indicated the result.
I was obsessed with this game. I played two entire seasons with it, making up my own schedules. Of course, I played the Cincinnati Reds. That's 328 games of All-Star Baseball. I only recorded the inning by inning scores. Batting stats were not included. I began to pick up copies of the Baseball Digest and read on my own.
Somehow, I learned about a game called Statis Pro Baseball. This game was a little more complicated. In the Ethan Allen game, there was no pitching component of the game - it was entirely offense driven, and you wanted pitchers with hitting stats since their pitching abilities would never enter the game. (Don Drysdale was highly valued.) Statis Pro, however, had Fast Action Cards that switched the action between a pitcher and a hitter, depending on how good (or bad) a pitcher was. There was a complicated chart involving rainouts, fights, and other ephemera.
I didn't really understand the rules of baseball very well, so my enjoyment of the game was limited. However, I appreciated the game's complexity.
When I was 15 years old, I rediscovered comic books. I had collected comics - sporadically - from the ages of 6 to 12. DC Comics only of course, the ones with Superman and Batman. I met someone at high school who would become my new best friend, who happened to be a much more serious comic collector. This was way back when Chris Claremont and John Byrne were writing the X-Men, introducing new compelling characters like Wolverine and writing the Dark Phoenix saga. Any interest I had in sports or sports gaming simply disappeared for a few years, smothered in my interest in comic books. I don't think I was interested in sports much from between the middle of high school to the end of my college years. Except for an attempt to try out for high school football, I was definitely not a sports kind of guy. And as for basketball, it was off the map completely.
Let's move on to graduate school. I found graduate school frustrating, because there was no way I could obtain the sheer white hot singularity of focus it took to succeed (my graduate major was mathematics). My attention not only started to wander, but I enjoyed myself more when it wandered, which was a bad sign. I began to look for diversions that would relieve the incredible tedium of grad school.
I was still following baseball, if but from a distance. I remember sitting in a dorm lounge where a friend and I mocked Kirk Gibson hobbling up to the plate during that Dodgers-A's World Series, and then sitting silently when Gibson hit the home run off Dennis Eckersley that won Game One for the Dodgers. My interest in baseball had picked up again, and around this time - my memory of when is unclear - I began to look for a new baseball game.
I found it in APBA. APBA is a card-based game not unlike Statis Pro Baseball. APBA, however, had a more devoted following. I played through another APBA season of games with the Cincinnati Reds of 1990.
I was also looking for other sports gaming diversions. Avalon Hill - a wargaming company owned all of the Statis Pro sports games - had a boxing game which I tried for a while. Then, while at a comic book/gaming store, I found a game with an intriguing title.
Statis Pro Basketball. More on that later in Part III.