Hi, my name is Sam Adams... and I'm a baseball strataholic. Ever since I was in middle school, I was obsessed with baseball strategy games. My first foray came with the board game "Strat-o-matic Baseball," before I graduated to the PC universe with "Tony LaRussa Baseball." I loved constructing a super team of baseball players long before LeBron and Curry were building their super teams in the NBA. Whether it was my 1987 mega-lineup of Mark McGwire, George Bell, and Ryne Sandberg, or an all-aces rotation of Roger Clemens, Frank Viola, Jack Morris, and Dwight Gooden, I didn't just want to win... I wanted to create a team for the ages.
Fast forward to 2017, and I have a game that matches my pursuit of greatness on the baseball diamond. The venerable desktop computer franchise "Out of the Park Baseball" is back for another jog around the bases with its best installment yet, "Out of the Park Baseball 18." The game that baseball stat geeks have grown to know and love is better than ever, as you play your way through endless baseball seasons any way you deem fit. You can take control of the 2017 Mariners to see if this is finally the year they go to the World Series. Or perhaps you want to channel your inner Theo Epstein and replay the 2016 season in hopes of experiencing the thrill of victory as the Chicago Cubs one more time. You can go all the way back to the year 1871 and play out historical seasons, or make up your own fictional league and play decades into the future. The possibilities are truly endless.
Personally, I've tried just about every scenario. I've tried keeping together the Mariners teams from the early 2000's, guiding a dynasty led by Ken Griffey Junior, Randy Johnson, Alex Rodriguez, and Ichiro. I've also created my own fictional league of made-up cities and teams. This time around, I was bound and determined to end the longest current playoff drought in MLB. That dubious honor belongs to -- you guessed it -- the Mariners, who haven't reached the postseason since 2001. Let's get started...
This simulation was completely "hands off the wheel." I had no hand whatsoever in the outcome of the season, simply sitting back and watching the action (and chaos) unfold from the comfort of my office chair. Suffice it to say, it didn't go well. At least for the Mariners. Offseason acquisitions Jarrod Dyson and Jean Segura were disappointing to say the least. Dyson swiped 48 bases (2nd-best in the American League), but slumped to a career-low .226 batting average, while Segura saw a 73-point drop in his batting average, diving from .319 with the Brewers in 2016 to an abysmal .246 in his first season with Seattle. With those two falling short of expectations, it was up to the Mariners stalwarts to pick up the slack. Unfortunately, they were right in line with Dyson and Segura. Nelson Cruz was mediocre at best, batting .241 with 33 homers. Robinson Cano (.279, 23 HR, 69 RBI) and Kyle Seager (.264, 22 HR, 82 RBI) had respectable but unspectacular 2017 campaigns.
The pitching staff wasn't much better. Only one starter, Hisashi Iwakuma, finished the season with a winning record, while Felix Hernandez lost a career worst 15 games with a 3.94 ERA, his highest since his first full season in the bigs in 2006. The computer-controlled Mariners made one significant trade, sending outfielder Guillermo Heredia to Oakland for pitcher Sean Manaea. All around, not a good season in MarinerLand.
END RESULT: 76-86 (4th place in AL West)... Astros beat the Dodgers to win the World Series in 6.
***Each team’s home screen gives a snapshot of the season, from the current standings and statistics to a look at the team’s farm system and injuries. Unfortunately for the Mariners here, their 2017 season didn’t go so well.
TAKE 2: This time, I took the reins as the team General Manager (sorry, Jerry DiPoto), but left the managerial duties to Scott Servais. I then went to work, clicking top prospect Tyler O'Neill and selecting "Shop Player Around." It's a very handy feature in the game. Instead of initiating trade screens with individual teams, I basically got all the teams coming to me. Teams were lining up to try to trade for O'Neill, especially those teams in rebuilding mode. Chief among them were the L.A. Angels. They offered a choice of three players, and I greedily asked for all three. The Angels asked me to up the ante, and I obliged by adding pitcher Yovani Gallardo to the mix. Knowing just how atrocious the Mariners bullpen is right now, I also made a play for two Angels relievers, enticing the deal by adding three low-level Mariner prospects. The farm system depleted in one fell swoop, I acquired two starting pitchers, a new rightfielder, and two arms for the bullpen. The trade seemed to good to be true, and it was when outfielder Kole Calhoun and pitcher Garrett Richards missed the first month of the season. Things got worse when Andrew Bailey suffered a torn UCL, finishing his season prematurely after pitching just 10 innings without surrendering a run. It was nice knowing you, Andrew!
***The bottom line is the bottom line in OOTP. If you can bring in fans and turn a profit, you’ll have a happy owner, which could mean a bigger budget in future years. But pinch too many pennies, and you risk losing ballgames.
An early season stay atop the AL West standings was short lived, thanks to a 2-8 swoon in mid-May. That prompted yet another trade, landing veteran Mike Napoli from the Texas Rangers. Quirky news updates flooded my inbox throughout my season, including a story about Jean Segura selling cars. I guess Jay Buhner lost his job? "Tell 'em the Bone - er, Segura - sent ya!" Surprisingly, I found our team leading the AL West at the half-way point of the season. Nelson Cruz had clubbed 21 homeruns. The bullpen had posted the second-lowest ERA in the league. What was going on here? But in the words of former SWX producer Neil Stover, "Don't worry, they'll blow it."
***The gaming world’s most accurate baseball simulator isn’t without humor. Players can be part of ongoing storylines or quirky news clippings. Apparently Jay Buhner isn’t the only Mariner with a penchant for selling cars.
***Every major transaction is accompanied with a story in your manager’s inbox. Here, the Mariners have made a midseason trade for veteran slugger Mike Napoli.
Or would they? A 9-game win streak in late July kept the team in the division lead right before the MLB Trading Deadline. Despite a season-ending injury to Hisashi Iwakuma (boy, this game IS realistic!), I was greeted by a headline on September 24th informing me that my ballclub had sewn up a playoff spot with seven games to spare! Four days later, we wrapped up the AL West crown. James Paxton pitched brilliantly down the stretch, earning Pitcher of the Month honors in September, pushing the Mariners to a 94-win regular season. The drought was officially over. After a 16-year wait, we were going to the postseason.
***Players can earn individual awards just like in the real thing: Cy Young, MVP, and Player of the Month. James Paxton’s sensational September is newsworthy for the Mariners.
After a sweep of the Toronto Blue Jays in the Divisional Series, we were summarily dismissed by Houston in the ALCS, and could only watch as the Astros beat the Cubs for their first-ever World Series title.
END RESULT: 96-66 (1st place in AL West)... Astros beat the Cubs to win the World Series in 5.