Thursday, May 27, 2010

Homer Tracy's Road to the Show

By David Tracy

Have you ever heard of baseball great Homer Tracy? No? That's probably because Homer Tracy is the character that I play in MLB 10: The Show and he is not very good.

It's not that he isn't trying. He attends batting practice multiple times a week, he warms up well before each and every game. It's just that when it comes right down to it, he chokes. He consistently swings at the worst pitches and when he does make contact, the ball goes foul or it dribbles pathetically towards the infield for a very easy out. At least he looks awesome in his uniform and cool shades. Even the laces of his glove match the team colors.

One of the great things about The Show is the "Road to the Show," during which players get a chance to build a character and work through the majors, theoretically becoming one of those baseball superstars that kids aspire to be. Easy, right? I dutifully spent a good amount of time making Homer look like me. I named him after my wiener dog. And then I started Homer on the road and was quickly reminded that baseball is hard.

And so, "Road to the Show" is also a challenge. On top of the game's already steep difficulty, I always feel like my team and manager are counting on me, like I'm letting the team down when I play poorly. Which is often. In fact, I have no idea why the Trenton Thunder drafted Homer, but I can't imagine them wanting to keep him for long unless he cleans up his act really soon. In one game he hit into two double-plays and threw to the wrong base when the ball came to him. Poor Homer. Poor Trenton Thunder.

Clearly, The Show is the type of game that requires practice. I need to spend more time working on my batting and fielding, and I have no idea if I will ever be competent enough to actually try to steal a base. Before games I hit some balls and try to get my groove on. When game time arrives, I am a gigantic fail.

The odd thing is, I actually don't mind. I can see just a tiny bit of progress, and it feels good. Slight stat increases, a long, slow improvement over the course of a season - really, the game feels like baseball. The Show rewards patience, practice and knowledge of the game. Strategy is just as important as reaction time. What's more, playing the game, listening to the excellent announcing and watching the weather slowly change on the field, it really puts you there. I can't think of another sports game that makes me feel like I'm in the middle of a telecast, let alone also has such a deep and rewarding single player career mode. Recently, the Oakland A's pitched a perfect game against the best offense in the league, The Tampa Bay Rays. Replicating this in the Show would be amazingly difficult, just like it should be.

For the record, I am not really into sports games. They're fine and all, but I frequently get bored or frustrated. Many sports games reward crazy fast reflexes and there is little time to relax. Take football for example - part of the fun of football is having to deal with the clock, but when I'm dealing with scrolling through plays and selecting the right receiver at the perfect time, I find myself thinking more about the game and less about the sport.

The Show proves to be the exception to the rule. I'm sure it's partly because I am a baseball fan - it scratches that baseball itch for me like no other baseball game. The Show bleeds baseball, I think through every pitch, every at bat, I get a little nervous as I step further away from the first base. It can also be a great stand in for when my real-life teams fail me.

And so the more I play, the better I get. It's slow going, but wow is it rewarding to finally feel like a threat at the plate. I notoriously said once that two things I was looking forward to this spring were my wedding and the release of The Show. I stand by that statement.

One of these days the world will know Homer Tracy.

Above: The real Homer Mansfield-Tracy


Jay said...

David, I'm with you 110% on everything from Road to the Show mode to MLB being more about the sport and less about the game. I haven't played a sports game besides the Show since NBA2K (notice the lack of a number after the "K"), when it was just called "MLB 200X" on ps2. There is definitely something about the franchise that just rings so much truer to me than the rest (other baseball games included).

Like Homer, my RTTS character has been progressing VERY slowly but as you say, it's enjoyable. After putting in WAY too many hours I finally managed to move up from the AA Tennessee Smokies to AAA and FINALLY to my home town zeros: the Chicago Cubs.

Around the 4th or 5th game of my major league career I broke my arm sliding head-first into third. 60-day DL. Demoted to AAA. I was devastated, but you know what? It felt REAL. It hurt to watch the AI simulate 2 months worth of games on the schedule while I rehabbed, but I healed up, got out there and worked my way back to the majors.

Jump to Minute Maid Park where the Cubs battle the Astros and I take my first at bat returning to the big show.
Home run. Over the wall in left-center. VINDICATION.

I finally felt like I had earned my spot on the roster, and more importantly, contributed to the success of my team. I've rarely felt such a sense of accomplishment and duty from playing a video game. The regular grind through the season can be rough, but moments like these make it worth all the slow-going and heartache.

ezradenney said...

You should try RTTS mode as a pitcher. Totally different game. I'm a knuckleballer starting pitcher, and finally made it to the majors after 3 years of the Indians dicking me around.

David said...

Thanks Jay. Your experience with the Show is fantastic. I love it when you get to recount playing a game and it makes for a pretty amazing story.

A group of us all played Morrowind at the same time and it was really interesting to see how we weaved our own tales in that world.

Ezra, I will have to see how well I do as pitcher in RthS. I can see how that would really change the game. I don't think Homer would want to go to bat against you.