Wednesday, August 19, 2009

ESPN Baseball Tonight

Yes, I am speaking about the video game, rather than its namesake that appears on the four-letter network every night at 10 PM. As a kid, it was one of my favorites, even though it is quite possibly the most unrealistic 'simulation' baseball game ever created. It was great when I was 11 (I'm 27 now), but I find it to be pretty amusing still.

Set Up

The game was made sometime in late 1993/early 1994, and players have the option of either a 2 division or 3 division league - there are no regular seasons to be played; only single exhibitions and playoffs, and so the division alignments make the difference as to whether you play a division series and LCS, or just the latter. The flaw is that you get to pick your opponents. Theoretically, you could be the Braves representing the then-NL West and play against the expansion Marlins and beat them to a pulp.

Game Play

It is remarkably simple to play on the Sega Genesis - A for pitch, A for swing with the D-Pad being used to guide the pitch or whether you swing up or down. It's the fielding and playing view that can be absolutely maddening. Sometimes the ball is hit so hard that you only know the general direction in which it goes. On any fly ball a shadow will indicate where the ball will land, but it isn't always clear which fielder will get it, either. Realism isn't this game's best friend by any stretch. Any ball hit to the right fielder or directly to the center fielder can be thrown to the first baseman for an out. Triples don't occur at all, and home runs can be hit by anyone at any time regardless of whether they have 500 career homers or 5.


Being part of the ESPN platform, it uses Chris Berman as the introducer - canned speech, and because so many home runs are hit, it will feel like the Derby in July - 'Back Back Back Back...Gone!' incessantly. It has Dan Patrick saying 'the whiff' whenever someone strikes out swinging. It also contains a home run derby function - 15 pitches, and I even hit 11 with an American League pitcher! Again, realism is not ESPN BBTN's friend.

Yet, I love it. I am in the World Series (as the Phillies, of course) against the A's, and am winning the series 3 games to none at this point. The game itself is MLB licensed, but not MLBPA licensed. Ergo, it has the teams and numbers of the players, but not names or likenesses of the players. I have won games 5-1, and 27-10. I can pitch Curt Schilling in every game and never get tired or hurt. In this day of uber-realistic games like MLB: The Show, ESPN BBTN is just a fun throwback to play and have a good time remembering when Chris Berman wasn't a self-righteous, narcissistic piece of sh*t.

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