Why Backyard Baseball is worth revisiting after decades

By Alex Alusheff

I wasted a lot of summers playing Backyard Baseball in the late 90s and early 2000s. At times, it was better than playing the actual sport. Did anyone else just sit in the outfield and pick blades of grass because the ball never came to you?

Of course, Backyard Baseball was fun because you would stack your team with the likes of Pablo Sanchez, Kiesha Phillips, Amir Khan, and Pete Wheeler. I never bothered playing with the crappy kids like Kimmy Eckman or Ricky Johnson.

But who doesn’t like a good underdog story akin to Bad News Bears? After watching the 2005 remake of that movie with Billy Bob Thornton, I felt inspired to take a ragtag group of misfits and see if I could, in fact, polish a turd. It was time to revisit an easy kids game and see if I could make it a challenging experience for a veteran gamer. Spoiler alert: if you do this you will have loads of fun and loads of misery. I highly recommend.

I downloaded Backyard Baseball 2003, set the difficulty on hard, removed the pitch locator, and started picking the kids with the lowest overall stats in batting, running, pitching, and fielding. With the help of the Backyard Baseball subreddit, I chose the following.

Kimmy Eckman

Batting: 6/10

Running 4/10

Pitching 3/10

Fielding: 3/10

Total score: 16/40

Ricky Johnson

Batting: 1/10

Running: 8/10

Pitching: 5/10

Fielding: 5/10

Total: 19/40

Dmitri Petrovich

Batting: 8/10

Running: 7/10

Pitching: 1/10

Fielding: 3/10

Total: 19/40

Gretchen Hasselhoff

Batting: 2/10

Running: 8/10

Pitching: 6/10

Fielding: 4/10

Total: 20/40

Ashley Webber

Batting: 5/10

Running: 7/10

Pitching: 6/10

Fielding: 3/10

Total: 21/40

Billy Jean Blackwood

Batting: 8/10

Running: 6/10

Pitching: 4/10

Fielding: 4/10

Total: 22/40

Kenny Kawaguchi

Batting: 3/10

Running: 8/10

Pitching: 7/10

Fielding: 4/10

Total: 22/40

Lisa Crocket

Batting: 5/10

Running: 8/10

Pitching: 6/10

Fielding: 4/10

Total: 23/40

Maria Luna

Batting: 6/10

Running: 7/10

Pitching: 3/10

Fielding: 7/10

Total: 23/40

Crazy Melonheads average

Batting: 4.8

Running: 7

Pitching: 4.5

Fielding: 4.1

To show you how lacking my team is in comparison to most players in the league, here Pablo Sanchez’s stats:

Pablo Sanchez:

Batting: 10/10

Running: 9/10

Pitching: 5/10

Fielding: 10/10

Total: 34/40

And when you play on hard, most of the random AI players who aren’t playable are just as skilled.

I named my coach B Bob Thornton and tried to channel his drunken performance as I coached these misfits to glory. I dub them the Crazy Melonheads, and make their colors yellow and orange because that’s as close to Bad News Bears colors as I could get. For the homefield, I tried to find the most depressing backdrop and settled upon the junkyard, Scrapco. I chose to make games last six innings because nine are just way too long in this game.

After the first practice, Coach B Bob Thornton made the following 10-second assessment:

Game 1 vs Cincinnati Reds

The game optimized my players for the positions to which they are best suited. But you see how terrible they are at fielding so I need to rely on solid pitching.

Kenny Kawaguchi may have a 7/10 in his pitching stat, but his fast pitch radius is as big as a great pitcher’s radius when he is exhausted. I won’t be able to accurately throw pitches on the edge of the batter’s box to screw over the AI, unless it’s a slow pitch, which he excels at.

The Cincinnati Reds play at Cement Gardens, a parking lot surrounded by buildings with an alleyway leading out of left field, which is the ideal spot to hit toward for homeruns and ground rule doubles because there is no fence.

Let’s play ball! Or not. I quickly realized just how terrible my team was at batting. They could only hit weak grounders whether I put the batting setting to line drive or power.  It was easy for the AI to throw them all out at first base. This was going to be a long season of Backyard Baseball.

By the second inning, I figured I better turn this weakness into an advantage. I let them hit grounders and prayed for the best. It somehow was the answer. The grounders all died in that sweet spot in the infield –  between home and third. 

This strategy set up Webber on second and Kawaguchi on first. Lisa “Mad Dog” Crockett hit a perfect line drive into the gap over second base. Webber and Kawaguchi scored and I was up 2-0. I knew this game would be easy.

Later in the game, the AI walked Maria Luna with the bases juiced, making the score 3-0.

Luckily, the AI put up a fight thanks to Ken Griffey Jr, who hit an RBI single and then later scored himself, making the game 3-2. But they never got a chance to rally.

Dmitri hit a two-run homer, making the score 5-2. I scored another two runs thanks to AI fumbles and errors. The game ended 7-2. Team record 1-0.

So maybe this won’t be a challenging season?

Game 2 vs Houston Astros

WRONG.

The Reds were just a terrible team because the Astro’s destroyed me.

There were only two players on their roster as mediocre as mine. The rest had Pablo Sanchez-like stats and only swung for the fences.

Jeff Bagwell, who you will hear me complain a lot about in this article, hit a three-run homer in the first inning. WTF.

I answered back with one point thanks to an undergrounder power up. But in the fifth inning, I tried to get cute and have Kenny throw a zig-zag right down the middle. Some random AI player got a three-run homer again. And because they successfully hit a wacky pitch, it gave them a batting power up.

Back to back to back Aluminum Power home runs. Final Score: Astros – 9, Melonheads – 3.

Team record 1-1.

Games 3 and 4

I faced the Pirates and then the Reds again since they are in my division. After my first two games, I optimized my batting order and defensive lineup so I could have a better chance at winning.

I squeaked by the Pirates 3-2. They were a fast team and constantly tried to steal bases. But none of my fielders can throw the ball fast enough to stop them. I only won thanks to the crazy bunt power up and my runners being decently fast

The Reds were again terrible and I crushed them 6-0.

Team Record: 3-1

Game 5 vs Houston Astros: REVENGE?

This team is evil. Their homefield was Sandy Flats, where literally everyone runs three times slower and there is no outfield fence. Worst field in the game.

This game turned out to be a defensive battle. But in the fifth inning, Gretchen Hasselhoff missed a pop fly to right field. Who hit that ball? None other than JEFF BAGWELL. Oh how I hate him.

A runner advanced easily from second to home to make the score 1-0.

My best batters were up next and I needed to get something going. With Lisa Crocket on first, Dmitri hit a promising fly ball. However, the sandy course made her so slow she got thrown out at second. After Dmitri, the rest of the batters were way too slow and were thrown out at first.

I don’t know what’s worse – Losing in a blow out or losing at the very last minute? Either way,  this was the last regular season game I had against them so it should be easier from here on out, right? RIGHT?

Team record: 3-2

Games 6-9: Losing Streak

“These guys can’t seem to make up their mind. Are they a good team or a bad team? One game they look like they are going all the way to the top, and then the next game they look like they are going down the toilet.” –  Vinny the Gooch, literally every game.

Game 6 was my final divisional game against Pittsburgh. They nailed me on a double play because of a dumb grounder. When you get a double play, you earn a batting power up.

They used screaming line drive to get a two-run home run. It was hard for me to get any upperhand on these guys. But I eventually made a double play myself. This gave me screaming line drive as well. Kenny and Maria both got on base with it. Then Ashley used it and hit a three-run homerun. Phew. I won 3-2. Again.

That would be my last win for a while because I faced the Florida Marlins in Game 7. They were like the Astros, but on steroids. Every kid was swinging for the fences. They just kept hitting home runs.

By the end of the game, my team was running on fumes. They were so slow to run after the ball and to weak to throw the ball that the last batter hit an inside the park homerun. I was so embarrassed. I didn’t even record the score.

Game 8 against the Bombers went the exact same way. My team had no answer for them.

Game 9 versus the Monsters seemed to have promise. We were tied 0-0 through 12 innings. That’s really impressive, because if you remember, games only last six innings. So these kids played two games in one. The energy bar on every single one of my players was hovering around 30% full. It was only a matter of time before someone slipped up. A two-run homer by the Monsters mercifully ended the game.

Team record: 4-5

Games 10-13: The Wild Card Race

Despite my dismal record, I was still a contender for the wild card race in the National League. I really needed to shake this slump if I didn’t ant this to be a major waste of time.

Game 10 against the Dodgers became another scoreless battle. Thankfully it wasn’t a repeat of the Monsters game. I scored one point thanks to two crazy bunts and held on for the win to snap my losing streak. Still in the wildcard race, baby!

I faced the Tigers in Game 11, which nearly destroyed my season. Bobby Higginson kept hitting home runs. I was down 4-2 and all hope was lost.

But I somehow got the bases loaded and then Dmitri hit a NATURAL grand slam. This kid is a beast. I won 6-2 and kept my playoff hopes alive.

I was nervous for Game 12 against the Blue Jays. They had one of the best records in the league at the time and had just beaten the Angels, which had the best record in the league along with the damn Astros.

We played in Tin Can Alley, where you can’t hit a homerun because the field is tucked behind three buildings. However there is a semi-trailer parked in center field with dumpsters to the right where you could hit a ball onto and easily get extra bases or an inside the park homerun if the game glitches.

It’s a good thing buildings blocked homeruns because all these kids did was smack the ball off screen, but they eventually bounced down to Maria in left field. I’m down 2-0 before I can get something started. 

Ricky Johnson, who has a batting stat of one, hit a crazy ball and made it safely to first. This gave me the crazy bunt power up, which I use to score me some runs. Later, Gretchen, who has the worst batting average on my team, hits a single. In the chaos, the AI overthrows the ball to third base. The ball gets stuck on the fence because of this and Gretchen is able to get an inside-the-park home run. I ended up winning 8-2.

I faced the Mariners in Game 13 and the stars just aligned for my team. Dmitri got an inside-the-park homerun from an undergrounder. This is because we played at Casa De Pablo, a dirt field in Mexico where everyone is slowed. 

Then we rallied in the sixth inning. Ashley Webber, who struck out twice, hit a zig-zag pitch for a single. This allowed Lisa Crocket to hit a spit ball with a screaming line drive. That gave us crazy bunt, which Billy Jean used to load the bases all for Dmitri to bring them home with screaming line drive.  Kimmy and Ricky used crazy bunt as well. Dmitri scored.

It’s not over. Hasselhoff used screaming line drive against an elevator pitch, which brought Eckman home. The final score was 6-0.

My record at this point was 8-5. I’m tied for first with the Arizona Diamondbacks for the wild card.

Game 14: All or Nothing

“It all comes down to this Sunny. Win and go to the playoffs. Lose and it’s adios.” – Vinnie the Gooch, who has eaten 13 corndogs this season.

I literally couldn’t have infused this season with more drama if I tried. Never have I experienced such a build up of drama and excitement while playing a video game. That’s not an over-exaggeration either. Freaking Backyard Baseball, of all games, was the one to claim this title for me. I’m almost embarrassed.

And who do I face for my chance to go to the Wild Card? None other than the Diamondbacks. How poetic.

I was nervous to face Randy Johnson, the best pitcher in the game. But it wouldn’t matter. He fucked up.

Lisa landed a single after hitting a corkscrew pitch. Randy then walks Billy Jean, loading the bases with Ashley on third. Dmitri hits a ball with an undergrounder so Ashley and Lisa can score, which he used to have Lisa and Ashley score. Both Kimmy and Ricky get RBIs with the undergrounder.

To top it all off, little Maria hits a home run. Randy is thrown out of the game. We won 8-2.

WE’RE GOING TO THE PLAYOFFS

My team didn’t end up as bad as I thought. Mainly thanks to Dmitri and Lisa at the plate. Kenny had the most strikeouts in the league at 78. Dmitri had the most hits (29) and best best batting average (.630). He was also second in steals with six.

With my 9-5 record, I barely skated by to make the playoffs.

And who do you think I faced?

Divisional Playoffs: I hate the Astros

Are you kidding me!? After all I’ve been through I have to face the Astros again?

This game is trolling me. I can’t do this. Wait. My team has come a long way since Game 3 and Game 5. I can do this.

I used a lot of what I learned from all my losses in Game 1 of the series. Pitch on the edges so they don’t hit as well. Don’t get cute with fancy pitches. Move my fielders’ positions based on the stance of the batter. I will implement this.

The game even tried to help me win. Each game, your players randomly get boosts or debuffs to their stats. Ricky Johnson gets maxed out in HITTING and RUNNING and then his fielding gets bumped to 8/10. This could not come at a better time for such a terrible player. I move him to first in the batting order.

In the first inning, I get the bases juiced and fail to get any runs. But the Astros get a two-run home run. JEFF BAGWELL YOU ARE A DEMON!

By the third inning it’s 3-1 and I’m getting nervous. Then the impossible happens.

Hasselhoff, who still has the worst batting average on the team of .133, is up to bat. She hits a BEAUTIFUL line drive along the third baseline that bounces just past the dead tree in the outfield of Sandy Flats, which is still somehow technically in play. There’s no way for the AI to get to it, so she gets an inside-the-park homerun that also brings home Kimmy.

It stays 3-3 until the 15th inning. Yeah, I said it right. 15 innings. Again my team is exhausted. A random AI player gets a two-run homerun and my best chance ever to beat the Astros is quashed like Curt Schilling’s career in video game development.

I need to win Game 2 or the season is over.

But apparently, the kids determined that already because they blew the damn game. The Astros catch me in a double play, giving them a hitting power up.

Then in the bottom of the first, every single player decides to run as slow as possible, giving the Astros an inside-the-park home run for three points.

These kids were sick of baseball consuming their summer vacation so they gave up. It’s the only way I can explain this epic failure.

 I didn’t have hope for these kids to began with, but over the season, they had me believing in them. Rooting for them. Heck, I spent roughly 20 hours on this season in a little over a week. That’s a lot for most people my age with families. 

So when the game asked me if I want to start another season with the same team, what do you think I said?

Hell no, Backyard Baseball. I’ll see you in another 15 years!

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