Today is October 27, 2010. Twenty years ago today, I began to play a board game called Pursue the Pennant. Last year I revisited the game and played the final game of a season that I had started. I wrote the following article as an epitaph to a childhood game that I’ve played for the better part of my life. Over the years my passion for baseball has waned. I no longer follow each box score the way I did when I was following my favourite team the New York Mets, but in wake of the steroids scandal the integrity of the game has been lost for me. Playing this game reminded me of what I like about baseball and I want to preserve that feeling, which is why I wrote this article. Today also marks Game 1 of the 2010 World Series which features for the first time in baseball history: The Texas Rangers. This is significant, as you will read, because in my 20 year season it was the Texas Rangers that made the World Series which went against all the stats and the odds. So it feels appropriate to revisit the journey again.
Pursue the Pennant
On October 25, 1990 I received the board game “Pursue The Pennant” for my 13th birthday. PTP is more of a role-playing baseball game than a standard board game. It basically involves elaborate player cards for all the players as well as charts to determine the outcome of each play as a result of rolls from three 10-sided dice. Two days later on October 27th, 1990 I would play my first PTP game, actually the first game of a season that I set up for all the teams. I created a schedule that would have all 26 teams play a ten game schedule. Doing the math that means a 260 game regular season, plus an all-star game and the playoffs. For the next 3 years (1990-1993) I would play pretty consistently, the game itself didn’t take that long to play, but I did keep track of all the stats, and quite often would just spend time looking back at the past games and reliving the game stories. In the last ten years every once and while I would find the game in a closet and be reminded of a season of Pursuing the Pennant that was never completed, so I would play a few games slowing inching towards the World Series. Inevitably as I got older, my drive for playing a board game essentially created when I was 13, didn’t have the same excitement. I’d wonder to myself why I wasn’t putting my free to time to better use or even getting out of the confines of my bedroom and this solitary game that I’ve been playing for the past 20 years. The other day I found PTP in my storage as I started to clear some things out. I looked through my game log and realized that I had left the season in the midst of the World Series. With the Texas Rangers up 3-0 on the Atlanta Braves, it meant that I could be one game away from finishing the game that I started almost exactly 19 years ago.
Example of a player card
To describe “Pursue the Pennant” to someone can prove challenging, especially for those that may have never played a role-playing or a CCG (customizable card game). It strives to be a realistic portrayal of a baseball game that gives you the experience of the game but without the cold beer or hot dogs. Fantasy sports have thrived in the past 10 years with the aid of the internet to help teams interact, but fantasy baseball has roots that go back to the early 80’s with Rotisserie Leagues. Daniel Okrent is credited as inventing it, as the name comes from “La Francais Rotisserie”, a restaurant they would meet and play at. Since Pursue the Pennant is designed for two teams to go against each other, 2 players would seem to be necessary, but I actually found it more fulfilling to play solitaire style. I had gotten used to playing games alone, or finding ways to take on two personalities when playing a game. There were a few games that I did play against friends, but the game was always at its best when I sat alone next to my bed with the game layed out on the floor. My Dad would walk in to my room with the classic joke “Who’s winning?” when he saw me like this. It took a while for self humility to sink in for me. That’s part of the reason that there is a large gap when the game was buried and not played for years at a time.
In commemoration of Game 4 of the World Series of my Pursue the Pennant season, I will detail inning by inning the results which potentially could be the last game of my PTP season.
Game 4 World Series
Atlanta Braves vs. Texas Rangers
Rangers lead 3 games to 0.
Arlington Stadium, Arlington, Texas
Weather Conditions: Warm, Clear, Wind Blowing In
There is an actual board used mainly for reference purposes and a place to throw the dice. There is different stadium backdrop for every ballpark. Arlington Stadium is a deep stadium, not conducive to many home runs. The weather conditions were determined with dice rolls referenced against charts that would accurately depict temperature and wind conditions in Texas in October. These conditions do affect the game slightly.
Tom Glavine vs. Nolan Ryan
I am happy with this matchup as both of these players are very distinct and different and are quite clear in my mind. Tom Glavine is a left-hander with a slow smooth side-step. Nolan Ryan is a old school right handed fastballer, who brings his hands above his head and follows through with a big leg kick. I like to envision each play as it happens, and it’s important to me to be able to visualize the pitcher pitching to the batter. A quick depiction in my mind of a pitchers windup and batters stance are necessary for me to get a handle on my world before I throw the dice to figure out the outcome of the play.
Atlanta jumps on top of Nolan Ryan right away with a 2 run double by Lonnie Smith to kick things off. I am not cheering for either team, in fact it’s kind of ironic that after 19 years it would be Atlanta and Texas to make it here because in fact they’re probably two of my least favourite teams, but right now they are the only teams that matter to me.
Atlanta 2 Texas 0
I suppose in the back of my mind I am kind of hoping that Atlanta can pull through, as I am fully aware that this could be the last game of Pursue the Pennant I ever play. That thought starts to become clear in the second inning as Atlanta fails to capitalize on having the bases loaded. Opportunities to score on Nolan Ryan don’t come often, but Tom Glavine is shutting down the Rangers hitting so far.
Atlanta 2 Texas 0
When things happen that are rare, it lends to the belief that it is manifested destiny. When Moses parted the Red Sea it took rare occurrences to miracle levels. In reality the parting of the Red Sea may have just been a rare occurrence of “wind set-down effect”. Florida scholar Doron Nof estimated that the likelihood of such a storm in that area of the world would happen less than once every 2,400 years. So when Rangers catcher Mike Stanley lead off the bottom of the third with a solo homerun, such a rare occurrence can just be chalked to pure numbers. Pursue the Pennant uses stats from the 1989 season, and in that year Mike Stanley hit only one homerun. Upon the roll of my trusty three ten-sided dice, there were a series of 9 numbers out of the possible 1000 while facing a left-handed pitcher that would enable Stanley to hit a homerun, and such he did. Perhaps miracles are rare mathematical variables, or on the other hand since those variables happen eventually, it’s conceivable to think that miracles happen all time. In plain sport talk, Stanley’s homerun may mean that it’s going to be good things to come for Texas.
Atlanta 2 Texas 1
Moses was the also head of the NRA.
Nolan Ryan mows down the Braves for a 1,2, 3 inning and I know right away that the Braves won’t get another sniff from him. Call it gut instinct, or call it a trigger from the million of nerve cells in the stomach that informs the brain. All Pursue the Pennant is, is rolling dice and determining results based upon a list of variables. While that is pure science, gut instinct is not thought of as a “good science”, yet it is used every day in decision making. Perhaps the gut instinct is just a scientific nomer that we haven’t figured out yet. Dr. Michael Gershon wrote a book called “The Second Brain” which goes into groundbreaking studies about this very subject. It’s amazing how many things other than baseball I think about when I play this game.
Atlanta 2 Texas 1
Rafael Palmeiro, First Baseman/Gay Porn Star.
Rafael Palmeiro comes through for the Rangers with an RBI single to tie the game. I’ve never liked Rafael Palmeiro, in fact you could say that I despise Rafael Palmeiro. There could even be a correlation now that I think about it with all players from 80’s that wore mustaches. Mattingly, Boggs, Eckersley, even Keith Hernandez who was on my favourite team of all time the NY Mets, rubbed me the wrong way with their fur lip. Recently I was confronted by a friend’s child who upon seeing my face after a couple weeks worth of growth, exclaimed that he “doesn’t like it at all.” Perhaps mustaches serve as frightening glimpse into the future of a boy, and the “manhood” which lies dormant within, waiting to be unleashed with the onset of puberty. Maybe young boys can relate easier to larger versions of themselves that have faces similar to themselves. Now I just sound racist. Just so you know my favourite baseball players have fruit names.
Atlanta 2 Texas 2
Steve Buechele hit a solo homerun to bring the inevitable Texas come back to fruition. Who is Steve Buechele you say? Well when Steve Buechele hit that home run, what he didn’t know was that that would be the last time his alcoholic Dad would see him. A tumultuous relationship at best, Ron Buechele left his family when Steve was young, but did periodlly spring back into his life, especially when Steve started to show promise as a high school baseball player in Lancaster, California. Steve took resentment for his Dad’s new found interest in his life, but only passively kept his distance from his father. Perhaps Steve did secretly enjoy impressing his father with his prowess with hitting home runs, especially solo home runs, because every time he did it was symbolic of how he could succeed without him. Steve would get word of his father’s death from a messenger that came to the dugout at the end of the inning. Steve was neither sad nor happy to hear the news, but suddenly seemed confused as to why his teammates continued to congratulate him on his home run that put in the Rangers in the lead. (The only part of that story that is true is Steve was famous for hitting solo home runs.)
Texas 3 Atlanta 2
Palmeiro again. Another RBI single. Some men have legacies. Real legacies. Maybe not our fathers, but our father’s fathers. They had war to contend with. Some men are artists. Real artists. They have the reality of living with others to contend with. Since I’ve been playing this game for almost 20 years, this is perhaps the closest thing to a legacy that I have. Here I am sitting in my apartment playing PTP and I’m actually getting sad that Texas is building on a lead that could lead to me never playing PTP again. I said before that I never pick sides, or cheat myself when I play. The roll of the dice rules all. Yet here I am having to watch stupid Rafael Palmeiro get RBI’s. I feel agitated, and it’s bothering me, because it’s going against everything that I stood for in this game, and yet after 20 years I’m feeling myself becoming dissatisfied with the result. Every single game that I played has lead to this game. Every result that has happened before, that has excited and thrilled me, has left me bewildered with emotion. I’m going to have to stop and take a break. It was quite common for me to stop a game midway and continue later, but I don’t think I ever have wanted to do so quite so badly as in this instance.
Texas 4 Atlanta 2
The end is near, it’s so near, but I don’t want the party to end. Each roll is immediately nostalgic. I start to look to the future, like I always do. Wonder what I’m going to be doing later, today, tomorrow, next year. All the projects I want to work on, all the fun creative places my mind can wonder into, because I know: this is it. It’s not really, Atlanta is only down by two. Miracles happen, but I know. Atlanta makes some great defensive plays in the bottom half of their inning. They’re playing right till the end. Perhaps the players that live inside these variable numbers, their personalities that are inside my brain, know my plight. That’s probably because they are me. Every single insecurity I have is self-inflicted. If I could just stop thinking, maybe I wouldn’t need this beer to calm it. If I could just stop rolling the dice, this game would end and I could move on. The 8th Inning for some reason usually and always is uneventful, Just get to the 9th so we can decide this.
Texas 4 Atlanta 2
I focus nothing more on the game, it’s the reason I play in the first place, to escape. Anyways it’s best not to get all emo like I was back in the 8th. There are actual decisions to be made in PTP that are outside of random chance. When to steal a base, go for home on a double with a man on first, when to pull the starter, and so forth. In fact, making the rosters I would probably say is the funnest part about playing, because it makes you really feel in control. Who’s going to bat in that #3 spot? If two guys are equal in power would you put a guy with a little more speed in that spot as opposed to the #5? Trying to explain the nuance of that part of the game is hard to do if you don’t know the game of baseball. It’s hard to explain why I’ve been playing this game for twenty years, if you haven’t been dreaming of these esoteric variables in the midst of sleep. When I was younger, and trying to last longer during sex, I would try to recite baseball lineups. This was before I even saw “Singles” too, so imagine my surprise when I saw the Xavier McDaniels scene.
All of these actors were considered "it" at the time.
I told myself before the inning started that Nolan Ryan, who had been dominant all game but well past his fatigue mark, that I would leave him in until the first sign of trouble. The Braves were only down by two so it was the prudent thing to do. He got the first two outs, with Otis Nixon at the plate. I suddenly remembered Otis Nixon actually being in that exact position in the 1992 World Series, so on instinct, before I rolled the outcome, I called for a bunt. Unlike in ’92, Nixon actually legged it out for a hit. So finally some drama in this game, something that I didn’t expect to happen. I brought in Jeff Russell, for the final pitching change I would ever make because Terry Pendleton would ground out to Julio Franco for the final out.
So it was over, and suddenly another surprising emotion peeks its way into my body: relief. Instead of being sad over the end of a game that I’ve known for most of my adult life that’s ended with one of my most disliked teams winning the World Series, I’m relieved that I’ve actually completed a long running creative project. I could never have know at the time that I would still refer to typed out rosters that I completed on a Word Perfect program on my IBM compatible 386 , printed out on a dot matrix printer. The first game I ever played was October 27, 1990. The Pittsburgh Pirates at the St. Louis Cardinals. John Smiley vs. Joe Magrane. My Grade 8 juvenile printing style is a stark contrast to that of the final game played October 22, 2009. I write this now as a 32 year old with no more Pursue the Pennant games on the schedule. I could condense a much shorter schedule if I were to keep playing.
Would I start a new season? Should I start a new season? Do I want to start again?
As I type this out alone in my apartment thinking about this, I can hear my Dad saying “Who’s winning?”