I went to one of the last Spring Training games played this past March. My birthday is in March and every year, my birthday present has been a trip to Spring Training for a week. So on March 12th I was sitting in the stands in Port Charlotte, Florida, watching the Rays. I was looking forward to that evening, when I had a ticket to see my beloved Flyers play a hockey game in Tampa against the Lightning. Life was good until about the fifth inning when I got a text from my wife that the NHL was suspending its season. The NBA and NCAA seasons had already been put on hold and soon after, it was announced that there would be no more Spring Training baseball either.
That began what became an incredibly difficult time for our country. Things we had come to take for granted were no longer sure things. We have had to adjust almost everything we do and how we do it even though it has seemed that often the experts don’t really have much of a handle on things. Part of that adjustment has been finding things to fill in the time we would normally have spent watching sports and rooting for our favorite teams.
I decided I was going to feed my baseball void by playing the Out of the Park (OOTP) baseball simulation and I was committed to playing through as many seasons as I had to in order to have the Mets win the World Series. I’ve been a Mets’ fan since 1964. I originally grew up a Phillies’ fan, and 1964 seemed such a great season for them. They had a good team and I remember so many great moments that year. I watched Jim Bunning pitch a perfect game against the Mets on Fathers’ Day. A month later, my favorite player, Johnny Callison, hit a walkoff home run to cap a four-run rally and win the All Star game in Shea Stadium. Entering September, the Phillies led the National League and seemed well on their way to their first pennant since the Whiz Kids in 1950. They held a 6 ½ game lead with 12 to play when the wheels came off. They finished a game behind the Cardinals, who went on the beat the Yankees in the World Series.
I was still young enough to have had my sports fan heart broken by that collapse. I was also young enough that I could still not consider myself a bad fan for abandoning the team that had crushed my hopes. I looked around for a new favorite baseball team and chose the one I was fairly certain would never break my heart like that again. The Mets were so bad, they would never have the chance to disappoint me. Any success they might have at all would be gravy (I was young; what can I say?). By the time the Mets began to indeed disappoint me (for long stretches of time on a basically yearly basis) I was too ‘mature’ to abandon them, so I’ve just hung in there.
All of that to explain why I had that particular goal in OOTP. I’m sure there may be other, better baseball simulations, but I enjoyed OOTP. There are a ton of options as far as playing the game and it is mostly realistic, though you can get lost in trying to control every nuance.
I started playing in early April and had trouble putting the game down at first. I frustrated my wife multiple times when I got caught in the vortex and played until three or four am some nights. I’d sleep until noon and get up and get right back at it.
The less realistic parts of OOTP are the front office aspects. If you are willing to put in the time to do the research and comb through every player profile, you can make a lot of favorable trades and that had been my goal from the start. As a long-suffering Mets’ fan, I was/am convinced that they would/will never have any great success as they are presently constituted. I targeted a few players that I felt would not likely be part of a winning team and was determined to get rid of them, even if it meant taking an initial loss to do so (I’m looking at you, Robbie Cano). I got PMs from players who were hitting .220 who felt they weren’t being used properly and demanding trades. I obliged them. I promoted young players aggressively to see what they could do, and I traded players who were highly regarded, but I considered flawed in some way, to acquire players who I considered more complete. Eventually, I made such a total transformation of the team that I had an actual major league caliber center fielder on the roster and at least two other guys who could play competent outfield defense. I could go to the bullpen without crossing my fingers and knocking on wood. The Mets had become unrecognizable. They were consistently good. I imagined Nationals’ and Braves’ fans dreading playing the Mets the way I dread the real Mets playing those teams.
These new Mets were a Wild Card team after the 2021 and 2022 seasons, losing in the wild card game in the former season and losing in the division round in the latter. In 2023, they lost in the LCS to the Dodgers and, finally, beat the Athletics in the World Series in 2024. I finished five seasons in a little more than 14 weeks and got to my goal. It was fun, addicting, exhilarating and maddeningly frustrating at times. I have not played a day since. It was a nice way to fill the baseball down time, but I’m glad the real players are back (for however long it lasts), though it would be nice if the Mets really did have a major league caliber center fielder.