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Play the Game You Are Good At

Jay Payton

The Only Truth I Have Ever Known:

I was born with a remote control in my hands. It was not long after that my hands began to form themselves to the definable shape of any video game controller that was nearby. In truth, it was the perfect time to be born. I was going to become the child of the video game era.

The old Atari sat in my parent’s room and I recall the staggering joy of River Raid, and how it was the quite possibly the hardest game I had ever played. I should have expected that, seeing as I was about three years old at the time. Little did I know, this would be the start of a dark obsession for me.

It was a quick and immediate love. The video game and I were meant to be together. Sonny and Cher, Antony and Cleopatra – they hold nothing to the love the sweet video game and I share with one another. Although, I must say that video games have created a displaced sense of reality for me. It did not take me long to find that the electronic world allowed me a tie to my other favorite thing in life, sports.

Some of the favorite classics from the good ole days of the NES were RBI Baseball and John Elway’s Quarterback. It is a given J.E.  did not hold a candle to Tecmo Bowl. That is a point that can never be argued. But, if you ever meet a person who tells you that, “It was all about Baseball Stars bro,” please know that person is a downright imbecile and you should remove them from your life.

The greatest baseball game ever created? Nick stamps his "yes" on it.

The greatest baseball game ever created? Nick stamps his "yes" on it.

First of all, as I age, I seek to eliminate the word “bro” from my vocabulary. Sadly my residence in Southern California makes it a difficult task to achieve.

Second, there is little that will ever reach the glory of RBI Baseball. When I got my first real work computer, I downloaded an emulator on it just so I could play RBI during the passing periods of class or when my students were working on projects on their own. I actually had my LAN technician try to get the emulator off my computer as she assumed one of my students had put it on there. Her hands almost met an unsightly end at the wrath of my Nintendo fingers.

I will forever recall the gorgeous sound of throwing a ball so far outside, it wilted on its way to the plate. That sound is engrained into the deepest recesses of my mind, as my father would intentionally throw it out there because I would swing every time. As I would cry down the stairs to my mom that, “Dad was cheating again,” he would simply tell me that it was the only way I would ever get better. I thank him, because now I too abuse pre-teen relatives at any video game they choose to play. There will really never be a game that locks my heart the way that one did. I still have a small allegiance to Pedro Guerrero and Andre “The Hawk” Dawson for how talented they were in that wonderful game.

These games also unlocked the greatest misconception that ever was introduced in my life, the talent of a video game player. Somehow, throughout all time, decent players were made great by their electronic counterparts while fantastic players never were given their true skills because Electronic Arts was destined to crush their souls, one year at a time.

The Beginning:

While I was enjoying the pure beauty that was Tecmo Bowl, my Nintendo finally met its untimely end. I must assume that the Nintendo died in peace, since it was so close to heaven, with Tecmo Bowl nestled comfortably inside its pouch. This brought about the Super Nintendo era, and with it, a great division in sports video games. Modern children may not recall the day in which anything besides Madden ever existed. I have seen many things come and go in my time. From the humble beginnings of Tecmo Bowl and John Elway Football, to Quarterback Club, the 2K series attempts and all the other nonsense that has been thrown at consumers.

If you played Tecmo Bowl as the Raiders, this was a sight seen frequently.

If you played Tecmo Bowl as the Raiders, this was a sight seen frequently.

Back when I was a young lad, easily swayed by bright colors and pixilated glory, I was divided between Quarterback Club and Madden. It was then that I learned my first lesson of video games, PLAY THE GAME YOU ARE GOOD AT. I sucked at QB Club. I was just utterly terrible. I could beat my buddy Dave at Madden all day long but I could barely score on him in that damned QB Club. As a result, we only played QB Club at his house and it nearly tore our sixth grade friendship apart. To think that a partnership formed over trades of Dave Justice and Juan Gonzalez baseball cards nearly met its match at this treacherous juncture. I saw that Madden was my future, and I knew he and I would be friends for life.

Our first real bond came in 1994 when I unlocked the greatest joy I had ever known: the unblockable blitz. For some reason, I used to always play as the Bengals and when you would run the MLB Blitz, the line could not pick it up and it was a guaranteed sack. Some may say that takes the fun out of the game, while others will see the joy in dominating and winning by 100. Needless to say, I am a faithful member of the second group.

That game – and that play – furthered that idea of the horribly overrated video game player in my mind. His name was Steve Tovar. He was a glorious beast, truly unable to be contained on that aforementioned blitz. Madden ’94 led him to glory in my life. Steve would turn in double digit sacks in every game. I so loved to see him crumple quarterbacks left and right and destroy any hopes and dreams Dave had of ever beating me again. I was so obsessed with Tovar, that I was overjoyed when the Chargers signed him a few years later, because I thought he would play how he did in Madden. It turned out that the real Steve Tovar was not the same talent. Unfortunately the best days of his life were executed through a few distinct commands on a far away controller. To think… if only the Chargers ran the MLB Blitz. I don’t understand why they never thought of this visionary play.

The College Years:

My statistical obsession persists in my adult life and college drove it to new heights. I loved playing on easy mode, winning by 65 and looking at the truly disturbing stats that my players could put up in a season. I guess it was my virtual HGH, but at least it has yet to be banned. There are few feelings better than knocking out a team’s whole pitching staff and making them use position players. Honestly, I appreciate that games of the past were programmed to allow that.

Baseball has always been a tough game to figure out on the platforms. It all began with RBI Baseball, and we know nothing touches a childhood memory. I struggled through the SNES days, but found a sweet joy in the Triple Play series for the original Playstation and  its sequel, PS2. That series pulled me through some dark times. The HR Derby in the 2002 entry will go down in the annals of history for its ridiculous nature. If you never had the honor of playing it, you missed the chance to play in a home and hit seagulls, windows, dinner plates, and family photos. Please honestly tell me that any graphical enhancement of the modern day could ever replicate the feeling of hitting a seagull with a towering homerun.

Thought so.

If you travel to the local GameStop, you will see that Triple Play has gone the way of the buffalo, to be replaced by the dominant 2K series and the somewhat interesting, “The Show.” The final day of glory for me came in the 2004 edition, a swan song of sorts for Triple Play. It was really the convergence of great things, senior year of college, absolutely nothing to do, and the freakish natural ability of… the San Diego Padres?

The Pads generally play as bad as these uniforms look.

The Pads generally play as bad as these uniforms look.

See, you don’t understand how difficult it is to live in San Diego. In theory, every time I play a baseball game I should play as the Padres. I am supposed to be a home town guy who has enough respect to play as his local team. The only thing is… they always suck. How could I actively choose to be such a terrible team? I could not bring myself to play as the Yankees or the Red Sox, that would be cheating.

Yes, a man who loves winning 65-0 has morals too. For some reason, in 2004 I just trusted the Friars, and I was rewarded.

His name was Jay Payton. He was born on a humble November day in Zanesville, Ohio and would only spend one fateful year with my hometown club. He had the talent of a Rueben Rivera and the follow through of a Mark Prior. Thankfully he had one glorious year in 2003 with the Rock show, and this led EA Sports to gratuitously over-hype his stats and make him an explosive power in center field. Payton was my cleanup hitter on a club that went 162-0 and he shattered the marks of Aaron, Maris, Ruth and Bonds.

In that year Payton hit a disgusting .578, drove in 245 runs and clobbered 112 home runs. I look back on that experience as the greatest thing I have ever done in my life. I knew when J.P. stepped to the plate; he would destroy the ball in every at bat. It actually got to the point where I was angered if it did not hit a homerun. It is funny to think that Jay hit nearly as many homeruns in that fateful year as he has hit in his ten-year professional career. He can still hold his head high and sit on an imaginary couch somewhere and know he and Tovar will always be All-Stars in my heart.

The Present:

Now I sit as a 26-year-old man whose video game library is still chocked full of sports titles from years gone by. I am the guy who keeps the video game industry afloat. I see no issue with buying sixteen consecutive years of Madden or the latest NBA 2K game, even if I will only play it about five times a year when my buddy Mike flies down from San Jose.

I always I wi know I will be that close to unlocking the ineffable talents of another video game god. Some splendid names have found their fifteen minutes of fame in my fabled grudge matches with friends.

NBA Live 2003 gave birth to Dan Gadzuric and his shot blocking prowess. This year (2009) Mike ended up on the wrong end of Francisco Garcia and Spencer Hawes as I led a disgustingly undermanned Kings team to victory against the Raptors. All I know is that as long as there is a sports game I don’t yet own, I will buy it.

Do not doubt my love for Jay Payton, because when he returns to glory in America’s past time, I may give him a shot on my fantasy squad. If only he could capture lightning in a bottle like that magical summer of ’04.

Oh Jay… we will always have Point Loma.

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