When asked to review the iPad version of Out of the Park 2014, (iOOTP) this was my initial reaction, in tweet form:
Dipping my toe into OOTP, which until a few moments ago I would have assumed was a type of coat rack from IKEA
I am a very big baseball fan. But I am not big on video games. I don’t even remember the last iteration of a baseball video game I played, but it was most certainly on a boxy console that currently populates the pawn shops of America. Nevertheless, I was eager to try my hand at iOOTP. For neophytes like me, iOOTP is a baseball simulation game. The user takes the reins of a baseball team with an actual roster from various angles. The user is responsible not only for managing the depth charts, daily lineups, transactions, a minor league roster, the disabled list, and strategic principles on offense and defense, but also the mood swings of personalities ranging from players to the team’s owner, the latter of whom is highly interested in the team’s finances. All of that might sound overwhelming, but the game affords the player the choice to do as much or as little as she or he wants over the course of a simulated season. The flexibility is one of the things that recommends the game—another endorsing feature is that it’s fun.
My way of having fun with the game (played on the iTunes version) was to attempt to revise a trying time in the collective experience of Colorado Rockies fans: the 2012 season. The course of my attempted revisionist history could have went in a variety of directions, but the parameters of what I could do was somewhat determined by the relationship to the fictional owner, Francisco Encarnación. His profile was of a patient penny-pincher with a modest amount of funds available for expenses and free agents. Mr. Encarnación was also “happy,” and initially had no expectations at all for the season. The 2012 roster was also a determinant, and as any Rockies fan can glumly recall, it left much to be desired. I began my game by revisiting some familiar names from the team’s recent past: Marco Scutaro, Jeremy Guthrie, Jamie Moyer, Guillermo Moscoso. Instead of assuming that my guiding hand could turn the 2012 Rockies into contenders, I decided to play the season with care, but with a touch of haphazardness. Ultimately, I wanted to see if I could turn a better season than the actual 2012 Rockies produced, who ended with a 64-98 record, without spending too much time mulling roster decisions.
One of the first things I did, which in retrospect was not really advisable, was try to advance the timeline of some Rockies. Namely, I wanted to see if Charlie Blackmon could emerge as a legitimate everyday player a couple of years ahead of time. He was, after all, 25 years old in 2012. The problem was a lack of a place to play him with Carlos Gonzalez, Dexter Fowler, and Michael Cuddyer entrenched. I decided to deploy him as a frequently used fourth outfielder. It did not turn out so well. Blackmon ended the season with an ugly .247/.286/.369 line. I do believe that things could have turned out differently if there was an option to order players to grow beards. Maybe that’s in the new edition.
Editor’s Note: The ability to add beards is in the PC “full” version of OOTP. I guess Steve Jobs didn’t want anyone to hack his stubble without signing an Apple TOS.
Another thing I did was try to create a lineup that I thought was more optimal. For example, I had Marco Scutaro lead-off, followed by Troy Tulowitzki, Michael Cuddyer, and Carlos Gonzalez in the clean-up spot. The rest of the order was some combination of whoever else happened to be healthy—with the exception of about a week when I think I accidentally played without a second basemen. Of course, my lineup strategy didn’t work because no order was going to make the team a winner. Coupled with what seemed to be an inordinate amount of injuries, no small successes were going to add up to anything larger.
One interesting peripheral result of this lineup strategy was that it caused some of the player’s to complain, complain, complain. Troy Tulowitzki, in particular, decided bring it to my attention that he felt he was being “wasted” by not batting in the middle of the order. Just like there is an inability for the user to dictate facial hair for individual players, there isn’t an option to respond to these messages with math that smart people have done. “You are not being wasted, Troy,” I wanted to say, “you will help the team more hitting second because in the end you will have more plate appearances.” Instead, I ignored the complaint and left the lineup as it was. But once again he conveyed dissatisfaction and said that if he continued to hit second he would “not be able to give 100%.” Fine, Troy—you win. I do wonder how much of the complaints had to do with the fact that the team was playing poorly. In simulations as in the events of daily life, I believe that players will accept any unorthodox strategy or management as long as they occur in the context of victory as opposed to loss.
My alternate 2012 also had a couple of interesting trades. The first was a knee-jerk reaction to a lot of injuries, and was probably ill-advised. Unsatisfied with starting Andrew Brown, Rafael Ortega, and Tyler Colvin in the outfield due to injuries, I searched for an outfielder unhappy in his current situation to try and put together a deal to improve the condition of my team. So this is what I did: I traded Rafael Betancourt, who was having a very good season as a closer, to Philadelphia for Dominic Brown. My rationale was that a closer was an asset that a losing team could do without, and a young outfielder would prove more valuable in the long run. I neglected to consider whether or not Brown was any good for the Rockies, then or now. He concluded the season with a .227/.307/.342 line, which was downright reminiscent of beardless Charlie Blackmon.
The other trade was much more beneficial. As the simulated All-Star Game approached, I learned that my team had a single representative: Dexter Fowler. After my almost immediate regret of trading Betancourt for Brown, I didn’t attempt to move any other players. However, because Fowler was having such a good season, I was able to entertain offers unsolicited. The first came from the Boston Red Sox. The offer was a one-for-one trade: Adrian Gonzalez for Dexter Fowler. I didn’t seriously consider this trade, but I did think about trying to recreate the blockbuster Los Angeles-Boston deal of 2012. In the end though, I couldn’t quite figure out the right pieces to trade for Gonzalez, as well as Carl Crawford, Josh Beckett, and (why not) Nick Punto. Additionally, even in the realm of fantasy, the enormous price-tag scared me off. I learned that the fan of a mid-market team, even in video games, is conditioned for frugality. That trade didn’t take place, but I received another offer for Fowler. This offer came from the Blue Jays: Edwin Encarnación for Dexter Fowler and Adam Ottavino. For this one, I pulled the trigger, and I admit that part of it was due to an imaginary nepotistic obligation to the team’s owner. I pushed a soft-bargain and had the Blue Jays add Sergio Santos to the deal. Of course, adding an all-star caliber first basemen created an immediate problem: what to do with Todd Helton. I did what would have been impractical emotionally, but beneficial in actuality. I demoted Helton to spot starter at first base. It was a wise decision: his .234/.238/.359 line couldn’t compare to Encarnación’s .275/.392/.501 triple slash. The season concluded with a message from my erstwhile future Hall of Famer first basemen. It was a message founded in anger, but one that generated sadness. He demanded to be traded. It turned out that I invested a bit of my fandom into the game.
I mentioned earlier that I wanted to see if I could complete a simulated 2012 with a better record than the Rockies’ actual 2012. It actually ended one game worse, at 63-99. I finished up my very first simulated iOOTP season with the sense that there is a whole lot more to discover. I don’t know if I’ll try to rehabilitate 2012 again just yet, but at some point I will. The pull to manage players, strategy, and finances in a fraught year of the past is just too great to pass up. Many of these non-seasons might end up worse than the Rockies actually performed in 2012, whether as a result of circumstance, decision-making, and luck, especially on the injury front. But I also know that there are better ones out there, too. iOOTP offers the chance to find and experience them in a seemingly endless number of ways. And for that, this video game novice endorses iOOTP and encourages you to explore and try to revise the past as you see fit.