RBI Baseball 17 is Randy Johnson, and I am the bird.
A few days ago, I was gripped – no, seized – by an unflinching desire. It was powerful, it was overbearing, and it led me to spend £26 (roughly $35) on the Switch eShop. This desire was to play some baseball. Little did I know that this innocent craving would lead me on a journey far more intense than I had ever expected.
I had to find a new baseball game to scratch this inexplicable itch, and so my search began. It was a pretty short search, because my immediate thought for any game right now is “is it available on the Switch?” And so, a quick dip into the Switch eShop revealed to me RBI Baseball 17, bathed in radiant light and calling to me in a way that I simply couldn’t resist. So I bought it.
Little did I know how much my life was about to change.
I’m an English person, born and raised in the UK. The UK doesn’t do baseball, it does cricket – an interminably slow and methodical game in which huge hits are often discouraged and traditional matches last up to five days and can still end in a draw. I do, of course, love cricket because it’s a stupid and ridiculous sport – but baseball has always had an allure. It’s fast-paced, it’s hugely popular, and snacks are mandatory. The thing is that because the UK doesn’t do baseball, I know not one goddamn thing about it. My understanding of the rules of baseball are this: person pitches ball, other person attempts to hit ball very far, people then run. I don’t know how long an inning is, or what RBI even stands for. Turns out that this is a pretty big problem if you want to play RBI Baseball.
RBI Baseball is a series which first appeared back in the ’80s, and friends of mine have very fond memories of playing it on their chunky grey Nintendo consoles of the day. It disappeared for years, to be revived recently as the official MLBPA baseball game, overseen by people who actually work in the baseball industry. This is great if you want realism and accuracy, and the game has been applauded for the efforts it goes to in getting small details correct. However, as a pick up and play experience, it’s… baffling.
The first thing that happened when I started up RBI Baseball 17 was that it asked me if I wanted to update my roster. Good of the developers to keep the available players up to date, and I did download the update despite each name being as incomprehensible to me as a Lovecraftian horror. I didn’t know any of these people, what they do, how good they are or how badly one might wish to yell abuse at them from the stands. Not me, of course, I’d never do that – the UK doesn’t do baseball. Once the updated roster had been downloaded I was offered an opportunity to customise it – a further experience in bewildering futility to someone as clueless as me. Each screen has an absurd number of statistics that you can use to judge a player and a roster – or could, if they mean anything at all to you.
My next choice was to choose my favourite team. An array of incredible names are available, including the familiar Cubs and the unknown-to-me-but-doubtlessly-huge Orioles. I opted for the Pirates, simply because it was the coolest name on the list. At this point, eager to escape the utterly awful menu music, I ploughed into my first game – a “full 25 / 9 innings” game, which means literally nothing to me. My first opponents were the Cleveland Indians, and reader? They absolutely destroyed me.
You see, RBI Baseball 17 has no tutorial. It offers little on-screen hints (press B to swing!), but there’s absolutely no indication about, you know, when to do that. This led to me seeing this a lot:
Eventually I sort of got into the swing (har har), and even managed to get myself one whole run on the scoreboard, when it switched me to pitching. I guess that that’s how baseball works? Maybe this is what an inning is? I was absolutely none the wiser, but I ran with it and actually managed to get one of the other team out. I had barely got the cork out of the champagne when this happened:
It would appear that RBI Baseball 17 for the Switch is a very, very buggy game. This crash was a very small part of the issues that I experienced – the screenshot that serves as the header image for this article is one that I shared directly from my Switch, using the Gallery’s text function to draw a big red arrow to the fielder that had decided to try and make a break for it and escape the stadium, or the game, or reality itself, completely ignoring all of my attempts to steer him back to the field. While I respected his bid for freedom and his slightly alarming resistance to control, it did mean that the match had to be abandoned as it was entirely unplayable. So far, not so good.
Despite the crashes and the bugs, I still really wanted to play baseball – not, I think, an unfeasible request. The thing is that I was still completely mystified by all of the names and the numbers and the acronyms. J. Jay has an AB of 347. What does this mean? Obviously it has a meaning to a true baseball fan, one who studied the bat while I was busy collecting rings on Mobius. It seemed that there was nothing for it. In order to truly enjoy this game, I would have to walk the path that was in front of me.
I would have to become a baseball fan.
Luckily, the excellent name of the (Pittsburgh, I have learned) Pirates means I already have a favourite team to support. Doing a little research I discovered that they haven’t won a title since 1992, and they haven’t won a World Series since 1979. They finished last season in fourth place of their division – out of five. Luckily, I’m all in favour of the underdog, so it was decided – I’m now a Pittsburgh Pirates fan. Luckily for me, the new baseball season started on March 29th, shortly after I first sat down to write this article. In order to get ready for this, I knew I was going to have to dip into some baseball lore. I dipped into the ultimate source of knowledge – Wikipedia – and found that there are articles specifically about a single team’s baseball season. I present to you the 2017 Pittsburgh Pirates season, in which: one of their infielders was found guilty of driving under the influence and missed the whole season, they lost their opening day match 5-3, and one of their outfielders was suspended for testing postive for performance-enhancing nandrolone. Clearly I had chosen well. Upon telling a friend that I had selected the Pirates as my team of choice, they congratulated me on picking “the losingest team in sports history”.
The main difficulty with getting in to any sport is the terminology. Start watching a random game of a sport you don’t understand and you’ll be baffled by words casually thrown around by commentators – in cricket, for example, the bowler can throw a googly down to offside leg, and if the batsman is unlucky he’ll be caught at third man. Maybe he’s going to be more casual because he’s a nightwatchman, and perhaps the crease is a little dry. None of these words mean anything to you if you’re not into cricket, and so here I was attempting to understand the lingo of baseball. What does RBI even mean? I decided to crowdsource a little help, namely by going to Autosave’s very own Charles Wheeler: British fan of American Football. Just how, exactly, is one to get past the initial wall of exclusive jargon?
I had hoped that the conversation would be a little more helpful, although it did lead to us both learning of the existence of the dog sport Flyball, which has improved both of our lives to no end. If someone were to make a videogame of that and put it on the Switch I would buy it in a heartbeat, because I make poor decisions.
And so, dear reader, you meet me here at a turning point. A simple whim to play a baseball game has led to two things. Firstly, I am now a die-hard fan of the Pittsburgh Pirates and will follow their progress this season with deep interest. I’m deadly serious about this, and I invite you to check in with me on Twitter if you’d like to know how I’m doing. Secondly, if I’m being honest it sounds like they’re having a pretty rough time of it and I’m determined to get good at RBI Baseball purely so I can lead the Pirates to victory in a wholesome, drug-free way. Of course, it does rely on the game not crashing or bugging out on me, which really is a perfect metaphor for how the Pirates do in real life.
Ah well. RBI Baseball 18 came out recently. Maybe I’ll give that a try…
Since writing this article, further attempts to play the game have been stymied by it crashing literally every time. Caveat Emptor.