"I tried. "
I meticulously crafted my roster out of the best Triple-A caliber players at my disposal, building a ragtag band of has-been's and never-would-be's that'd make even Rachel Phelps's Indians of the film Major League fame snicker as we took the field. I made tremendous cuts in payroll much to the dismay of my overcharged fans, axing the Scott Rolen's and Bobby Abreu's from my roster -- and even the Doug Glanville's and Marlon Anderson's too. The Daily News bellowed that I was now the Donald Sterling of the East, an owner out to reap every dollar he could get from his fans without even a consideration as to the quality of product put forth on the playing field. When burly columnist Bill Conlin tried to put me in the hot seat when we sat down for a face-to-face interview, demanding I explain my ''ridiculous'' actions to the blue-collar fans of Philadelphia, I calmly told him to wait at least one game into the season before passing judgment on my squad.
He could only shake his head.
One might think I was worried as my starting nine took the field that brisk opening night in April. One might surmise I'd be kicking myself for not pursuing someone with a bit more juice in his bat than Luis Sojo to be my clean-up hitter, or that I'd at least be worried sending the always-erratic Todd Van Poppel to the mound as my ace. One might call me crazy for assuming John Marzano would be a more than adequate big league catcher -- let alone dream he'd put up numbers rivaling Mike Piazza and Pudge Rodriguez -- or thinking that Denny Hocking would emerge out of obscurity to become the lead-off man of the most dynamic offense in baseball history.
When we won that first game against our divisional rival Braves 35-1, it pretty much silenced all the critics.
Luis Sojo cracked two home runs over the left field wall at The Vet, a solo shot and a three run blast as reigning Cy Young winner Greg Maddux couldn't find his way out of the first inning. Todd Van Poppel pitched a lights-out performance, allowing only four hits and striking out eight in notching a complete game, backed by a stellar, all-around defensive performance. John Marzano went six for seven, smashing three doubles and driving in eight runs, and Denny Hocking sliced a single in six of his eight trips to the plate, recording four stolen bases and scoring five runs to boot.
Everyone was shocked, awed, even aghast. Except for me, of course. I knew all too well the workings of Major League Baseball featuring Ken Griffey Jr.
What we see with Griffey is partially a thing of beauty: a refined baseball engine that maintains a quick, offensive-oriented pace while still keeping the player honest on the defensive side of the ball, chasing down smashes into the gap and balls ripped into the hole on the left side. Unfortunately -- and you knew there was going to be an ''unfortunately'' -- the difficulty of the game leaves so much to be desired, as we post astronomical offensive totals after only three or four games of adapting to the batting system.
This batting system sees the pitch hurtling toward the plate, a white cursor showing where it will cross at its current course, a blue box showing us the strike zone before flashing off as the delivery is made. The cursor can shoot drastically at the last second should Tim Wakefield be lobbing his knuckleball in, dart furiously if Al Leiter is slinging in cut fastballs, and break accordingly when curveball specialists like Darryl Kile take the hill -- there's no complaints on the repertoire of pitches in our arsenal. Our job here is to line up our yellow batting circle on top of the square white box and time our swing so to make contact with the ball at just the right moment and hopefully send it soaring into the third deck.
It's challenging at first, especially if we're using a line-up where no one has a particularly high batting average, but it doesn't stay challenging, not even for the duration of our very first game. By the fourth inning we're starting to get the hang of things, eyeing up our pitches and gracefully moving our cursor over them, foreseeing where they will break before they break. By the seventh we have the timing down, and nearly every hitter is smashing doubles into the gaps or over the outfield walls, chasing the batters ahead of him across the plate with each rocket he drives.
Mind you, this is the first game we've ever played. Imagine what we'll be capable of with practice.
But it's not worth practice. Griffey is so mind-numbingly easy at times we'll find ourselves ahead by ten runs at the end of the first inning, fifteen by the end of the second… and we're still looking at seven more monotonous innings of slugging until we can play the next game, despite the fact the current game is, for all intents and purposes, over. We try our best to extract some challenge from the title -- we assemble the most ragged teams possible, such as the one highlighted above, or search for the non-existent switch that will hopefully toggle the difficulty on -- but it never gets any better. Sorry, there is no mercy rule. We just keep scoring and scoring and scoring, until we finally grow weary and turn the game off in favor of something more stimulating or thought provoking, or just because we don't want to spend the next two hours playing a game destined to end fifty to three.
Griffey takes the fun out of winning, removing the chances of late inning rallies and heartbreaking extra inning losses, hoping we're so elated seeing the ball fly over the wall we forget it's missing the crucial elements -- the emotional elements -- that make us hold baseball so dear. I'll play a title with heart instead.
Community review by drella (September 12, 2007)
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