Video game numbers. This is a turn of phrase you see employed by sports journalists often when a player is on a particularly hot streak. Their performance exceeds the expectations of our living world and exists in a realm of superhuman ability. However, because we are bound by the constricting natural laws of the world we live in, the athletes eventually, and inevitably, stop performing.
But what if they didn’t?
If a player maintained these absurd statistics, would the culture shift around them? Would every news cycle contain at least a fleeting mention of the basketball player who just completed his 9th consecutive 100-point game? Would the baseball player who has hit 12 home runs in the last week get one of those trending topics on Twitter that has its own little emoji? Would we grow tired of the extraordinary? Would the players?
There’s only one way to find out. I’m seeking to test the limits of MLB The Show 18’s “Road to the Show” mode. I’ll be creating a character modeled after several different legends in an attempt to make a postmodern Frankenstein’s monster whose sole purpose is to smash the ever-loving shit out of baseballs.
Is the game prepared to cover a phenom the likes of which the world has never seen?
The most important thing to me in creating a character I could connect with is giving him a truly inspiring backstory. I had to tap into a narrative that would be impossible to ignore, whether or not you were a baseball fan.
Thankfully, the character creator filled in the blanks pretty easily for me. There was a birthplace option for “At Sea,” and I have a brain, so of course I picked that. I imagined my player being born on a fishing vessel adrift in the Atlantic. He spends the first 18 years of his life baking under the sun and playing long toss with turtle shells before the ship is capsized in a tragic accident that kills everyone else on board. He washes up on the shores of Florida and weakly walks his way onto the premises of ESPN’s Wide World of Sports, before collapsing next to a Disney employee in the parking lot.
“Hey kid, what’s your name?” the Disney employee would say, ignoring how sun-bleached and dehydrated my player looked.
“E– Elvis,” he croaks, blood dripping down the corner of his mouth onto the beard he was forced to keep due to the rule on the ship that said all razors could only be used to gut fish. “Elvis Superbone.”
That Disney employee would be the first person on dry land to hear that name spoken, but he would not be the last. Not if Elvis had any say in the matter.
The Disney employee adopts him, allowing Elvis to use the training facilities at ESPN all he wants, as he is exempt from school due to not having a social security number and being born in a bin of gutted tuna. He grinds his way to local recognition, his powerful displays in batting practice drawing onlookers. Everyone would come to see the shipwrecked boy with sun-bleached hair and amazing hip power.
I’m so stoked on this backstory I’ve conjured for Elvis that I glaze over the rest of the creation process. I make his jersey number 69 – you know, like the sex number. Classic Superbone.
With the important stuff out of the way, it was time to send my young player to the first test of his abilities: an amateur showcase that I assume he got invited to after showing off in Florida to some baseball scout who came up to him to compliment the scent of sea salt that follows him everywhere.
Elvis makes easy work of the first two events, batting and fielding practice. He shows off his turtle-throwing arm, hits some balls over the fence, and looks damned good while doing it, every action slightly raising his draft stock.
The simulated games are another story, and Elvis finds himself struggling for the first time. Could it be that I got overeager and swung at some pitches I shouldn’t have? Entirely. Is it also possible that Elvis was perhaps just nervous and a bit confused due to never being able to play a full game of baseball before on the ship? Even more likely.
Elvis goes a horrible 1-8 over the two showcase games. He misses almost everything he swings at, and when he does make contact, it’s weak. But it’s not all bad. He put on a damn clinic in batting practice, his draft stock was still high, and I went into the draft with tempered expectations. Sure, we might have botched his chances at a first or even second round pick, but Elvis had no qualms in proving himself.
The first round of the draft goes by, nothing. Second round, same. Third, fourth, and fifth, all go by with no announcement. The dread starts creeping in. Surely, some team saw enough value in a resilient 18 year old with a full beard and an inspiring back story.
Turns out, that team was the Arizona Diamondbacks. They just didn’t see the value until the 22nd round.
It’s a whirlwind after that. The despair of ruining Elvis’ draft placement with the game performance was washed away with the exhilaration of being on the road to the major leagues. Elvis was on his way to playing on the fields he used to hear described in such vivid detail by radio announcers when listening on the barge’s radio with the crew. I didn’t even care that I watched the draft in real time and essentially watched a computer spit out fake names at me for almost an hour until it read me the fake name that I wanted.
It was time to play ball.
The path to the majors was long, and it was filled with obstacles. I’d have to prove myself in the minor leagues, prove that Elvis was worth playing with the big dogs. Then I’d have to set off on Elvis’ lifelong quest: dwarfing every record imaginable, laying waste to the sport’s norms, and forever altering the game of baseball.
His first game is a fever dream for me. I’m over eager and strike out in three pitches in his first ever professional at-bat. An embarrassing showing, no other way to put it.
But then, it changed. Elvis showed a flash of what he could be. With his team down by 1 in the 5th inning, he locked in on a pitch and sent it rocketing over the right field wall for a home run. As he rounds the bases, I notice something spectacular.
It was the 69th pitch of the game. This had to be a sign from the divine. While I’m not particularly spiritual, and I think Elvis worships a collection of seashells that look like a manatee he saw once, I saw that pitch count and just knew that this man was on the right path.
He was on his way.