Thursday, August 20, 2009

Return of the Sports Geek

Anyone who’s known me for a while know that I have been a sports geek since I was a little kid, long, long before anyone had ever coined that term.  When I first discovered baseball stats and understood what they were I was completely fascinated with those numbers.

Then my cousin Gary introduced me to the next element on the road to sports geekdomhood, sports gaming.  This was ages before EA Sports, video games, or personal computers.  No, these were board games.  Basketball, baseball, football, golf, Gary had them all.  And these weren’t the kind of games that had flippers, spinners, or balls that tested your reflexes.  These were simulations that had player cards with dice, action cards, and result charts.  These were the kind of games that were intended for people who took their sports gaming seriously.

My mom got me started with a few titles of my own.  The first was Avalon Hill’s Statis-Pro Basketball.  The game included player cards for every player of all 26 teams (yes, there were only 26 teams in the NBA at the time).  I was in heaven.  I played game after game.  I wore those cards down to paper rags.  Part of playing the game properly was having to record each players stats.  You had to keep track to reasonably emulate each players’ playing time.  A light went on.  Stats!  I had stats of my own now!

Of course, I couldn’t just throw my stat sheets in the trash.  I had to keep them and tabulate them and record them.  Ultimately, this is why I believe I’m good in math.  I kept and calculated those numbers by hand.  Before too long I could tell you things like 2/7=.286 off the top of my head without even thinking about it.  It was tedious and time consuming but it was a labor of love, and boy, did I love it.

It turns out I wasn’t alone in my love of sports gaming.  Avalon Hill (sadly, no longer in existence) had their own quarterly magazine devoted to their own line of sports games.  I read an article written by someone who was reporting on his results from a league he had put together using one of their baseball titles.  His league had six teams, all fictional, playing a 50 game season.  The teams consisted of players he had drafted from a pool of all major leaguers.  They were all-star teams playing against each other in an all-star league.  I HAD to do something like this myself!  And an obsession was born.

My own efforts included my NAFL football league, NABL baseball league, and the NABA, my basketball league.  The “NA” always stood for “North American”.  For some reason my leagues always have to include at least one Canadian team.  However, as a young and foolish teenager I couldn’t fathom the work involved in keeping all those stats.  I never completed any one season.  All of my leagues ended up being abandoned no more than halfway completed.

At 19 I decided to give an all-star basketball league another try.  The NABA consisted of exactly six teams playing a 30 game schedule playing each game on my old, tattered Statis-Pro Basketball board game, keeping all stats by hand.  It was a lot of work and although it took over a year to finish, I actually completed my entire season, playoffs, finals, and all.

I was proud of my work but felt it would be more meaningful if I could establish continuity.  I was able to complete a second season under the same parameters.  I was satisfied with myself but was questioning the value of doing so much work.

By then I had my first IBM PC clone and discovered APBA computer basketball.  The program was also a simulation, not an arcade game.  I could still run my all-star league and best of all it kept stats.  No more pencils with worn erasers for me.  No more hours being bent over my coffee table with score sheets and cheap calculators.  Running my league was now a breeze.

The NABA enjoyed a six-season run that ended about 15 years ago when I eventually grew bored and lost interest.  In those six season the league enjoyed regular rookie drafts and expanded three times, eventually ending with 12 teams, double the number of its humble start.

I haven’t mentioned hockey yet.  Yes, there was an NAHL, but about a third of the way through my inaugural season I came to the conclusion that the program I was using just wasn’t producing satisfactory results and called it to a halt.

Since then I haven’t bothered much with games like this but they’ve always held a special place in my heart.  They’re a dying breed, too.  With EA Sports offering video games with photorealistic graphics people just aren’t interested in text-based sports gaming any more.  Games like the ones I enjoyed so much are few and far between.

Fortunately, there are a few old-school, hardcore lovers of text-based sports games like me out there.  This one in particular has inspired me to revive my efforts and carry on once more.

Quest Hockey Simulation is the singular effort of Mr. Joe Gucciardo of Howard Beach, NY.  As a rooter of underdogs I had to give this one-man endeavor a try.  I downloaded the demo and found it very impressive.  I’ve discovered that the program isn’t set up to do draft leagues but can be done with a little work.

What the hell?  Why not give it a go?  Joe’s only charging $17 for the full version of the game.  Why not show an independent programmer and fellow sports geek a little support?

Preparations are now being made for the NAHL’s revival.  This will be an eight team league with two four-team divisions playing a 40-game season.  I’ll be creating a website where I’ll be posting the results of my nerdy efforts.

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