12 March 2010

Baseball Stars – NES

It’s been a long time since I’ve played video games with my dad.
When I was a kid, my family was the first one that I knew to own a Nintendo. In retrospect, I’m sure the system coming into our house was my dad’s doing because when we got the thing, I was way too young to have even known what it was, my mother had no interest in it and my sister was about three-and-a-half days old.
By the time I was got to four or five though, I spent more time on the thing than anyone. I was a kid, it was the late 1980s and we owned a Nintendo. It was perfect. In the mix of hours upon hours spent in front of the TV playing Super Mario Brothers, my dad and I would share the thing every now and again.
We started with Contra, the classic side-scroller shoot-em-up title. We’d usually get a level or two in and then get really frustrated and turn it off. Sports games were a different story. There were some epic match-ups we had that would span the NES and SNES generations. At the time, I needed, not wanted, to win every match-up. You see when I hit my teenage years I gave up on any dreams I had of being a pro baseball player or basketball player, but when I was a kid, all I wanted to be was Tom Glavine.
I wasn’t ever very good at athletics. I wasn’t bad, I was never picked last, but I was never picked first either. In a baseball line-up, I usually hit sixth. My dad, however, he was one of those guys who made it look effortless. He played softball and basketball and volleyball and everything he did just looked like the right way to do it. I couldn’t hit the ball as far as he did, throw it as hard as he did or make the catches he could and to be honest I still can’t.
But man I could kick his ass on video games. Especially with titles like Madden, I would beat him down every time … unmercifully. I’m talking 11 rushing touchdowns in a single game with Emmitt Smith. I’m talking about a glitch that made sure the fake field goal play work every time.
But baseball games were a little different. Yes, I won probably 90 percent of time, but it was never a blow out. Always a close game. Back then, there wasn’t a lot of nuance to baseball titles. You pressed A to swing. You pressed A to pitch. You pressed A to run. So regardless of how much time I spent playing the thing the relatively non-existent learning curve made baseball match-ups between me and Pop an evenly matched affair.
For awhile, we played Bases Loaded. Then we got Baseball Stars, which is considered by many to be the best NES sports title ever.
And for good reason.
As an avid sports gamer, there’s a lot me and my brethren take for granted today. You know, things like create-a-team and season mode. But in 1989, these things were other-wordly. Not only was Baseball Stars easy to play, the new features of trading players and season modes made it fun to play over and over again.
Which is probably why my dad and I played it so much.
But much, much more important than game modes or graphics, Baseball Stars has a direct tie to one of the most vivid memories of my entire life. I had to be six or seven tops. Me and my dad, we’re in my room playing a game of Baseball Stars. My dad pauses the game, asks me if I hear “that.” I ask him if I heard “what.” He said it must be nothing. We go back to the game. Play for a few more seconds. Then he stops the game again. Gets up and leaves the room. I follow him.
When you walk into our kitchen, you can see down a few steps to a landing by our back door. When we come around the corner, there’s a guy dressed all in black running out the door from our basement.
Its 7 o’clock at night and every light in the house is on. Me and my dad, we were talking so loud the neighbors could hear us, but apparently it didn’t stop some idiot from propping open our back door with a bucket and sneaking into our basement.
So my dad, he takes off after the guy. He would have caught him too, except he remembered I was in the house and who knows if there’s anyone else in the basement. So he comes back inside. Takes a look into the basement from atop the stairs.
And then it happened. A moment that has been repeated and a story that has been re-told at Thanksgivings and Christmas dinners for the last decade-and-a-half. Trying to scare the unknown thug who could still be lurching in our basement, my dad looks at me.
He says: “GJ. Get my gun.”
And me, the bright, earnest, good-hearted seven-year-old I was, I respond honestly.
I say: “Dad. You don’t have a gun!”
I said it because the fact of the matter was my dad did not own a gun. Never has. But now, not only did me and my dad know it, the unknown lunatic creeping around downstairs did now too. So my dad descends into the basement, unarmed but unafraid and thankfully, there was no one down there. After a quick inspection, we found nothing was taken. I still live in the same house now and while no one has broken in since, I’ll never forget that game of Baseball Stars.
Especially since after we checked the house one more time, I won.
by George Morse

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