In 2007, my parents bought my brother and I a video game for the holidays. The game, which was for our beloved Nintendo Wii, was called MLB Power Pros, and featured cartoon versions of MLB stars playing a childishly amusing series of exhibition games. In a somewhat weird aesthetic choice, the players had floating heads, statically magical hair and mouthless faces that emoted only when hitting a walkoff home run; it was a striking departure from other sports video games at the time, but boy did we love it.
In truth, the game was not particularly well developed or coded. It glitched on occasion, didn’t have the most complex mechanics, and always featured the in-game commentator, who presented himself as Jack Merluzzi, endlessly mispronouncing even the simplest of player surnames. If you’d like to get an idea of how amazingly unique this game truly was, I suggest taking a look at this gameplay clip.
Looking back, it wasn’t the game itself that proved to be so incredibly important to my brother and I, it was the opportunity to learn about the stars of the game and to have a blast putting Yadier Molina in left field or having Tom Glavine turn double plays at second. It was all about the game, the players, and the atmosphere.
“It was all about the game, the players, and the atmosphere.”
Recently, inspired by the retirement announcement of beloved Minnesota Twins catcher Joe Mauer, I looked up the rosters that MLB Power Pros presented to players. In scanning the list of names, I was surprised to see that the vast majority of the players we grew up idolizing and commanding on the screen are no longer playing.
The cover of the disk case featured Vladimir Guerrero (Sr.), Ivan Rodriguez, Daisuke Matsuzaka, Alex Rodriguez, Ryan Howard and Ichiro Suzuki. Beyond that, I have vivid memories of enjoying the dominant fastballs of Troy Percival, Heath Bell, Chad Qualls, and Trevor Hoffman, and screaming in immense excitement as Justin Morneau, Derek Lee, Alfonso Soriano and Lance Berkman smashed doubles down the right field line.
Now that I think about it, I haven’t seen any of those guys play in years. That era of baseball is from the past, and while some of those names, mainly Morneau, may make occasional TV appearances to offer insight or analysis, most of them are no longer relevant to baseball fans of today. While Mauer was never an absolute favourite of mine, (he was never comparable to my prefered base-stealer Juan Pierre or my brother’s arm of choice, the ever-elusive Francisco Rodriguez), his retirement illustrated a confoundingly stark reality in my life as a sports fan — the players I grew up with are gone.”
This didn’t, despite my initial perception, scare or shock me. It’s just natural; once one group of athletes retires and moves on, another group of passionate, competitive individuals join the ranks to entertain and invigorate. Actually, it sort of made me happy. “There are new players to learn about!” I thought tremendously curious and childlike in tone. “I can mess around with new positional alignments in video games!” I often think.
“Now that I think about it, I haven’t seen any of those guys play in years.”
The question remains though, will the new era of baseball stand up to the old era that I’ve so majestically built up in my own warm nostalgia? If not, why will it fail to provide me with the same passion that Vernon Wells, Johnny Damon and Tim Wakefield did in ‘07?
In a certain sense, though, it doesn’t matter at all. There’s a reason nostalgia is as powerful as it is. If I were to experience the supposed thrill of learning about the new players today, I’d probably be underwhelmed and scoff at the amount of hype I’d given my childhood. Maybe it’s just better to let the past be the past and the take the new for what it’s worth and enjoy it all the same.
Yes, that’s what I’ll do. I’ll make Francisco Lindor my new Chone Figgins and make Jacob deGrom my new Roy Oswalt. The hot headed Lou Piniella I enjoyed watching so much can now be reincarnated into Clint Hurdle, who, although may not match the steadfast and intrepid nature of ol’ Lou (who I once amazingly saw scouting at a Spring Training game in Dunedin), has enough yell-power to compensate in spades.
So, perhaps my acceptance of the new generation will be marred with never ending associations to my childhood, and maybe I’ll always pretentiously and annoyingly offer my remarks about the current state of the game. “You’re a 75-year-old trapped in an 18-year-old’s body”, a close friend once snickered at me. Maybe that’s true, that’d certainly explain my penchant for obsessing over the keyboard settings of my favourite prog rock keyboardists.
Tangents aside, Mauer’s decision to move on from baseball means much more to me than the simple fact that he will no longer be appearing on a baseball field. Honestly, his departure represents the ushering in of a new group of players, unique and special in their own way. So, maybe Mauer is the last of an era to remain, and maybe, that’s not such a bad thing after all. All in all, I’m excited to see what the future of this beautiful sport brings, but I’ll be sure not to forget the names and numbers that shaped my passion for it in the first place.