by Keith Avallone, PLAAY Games
It started out as a neat idea among a couple of us who play sports games and live in the Denver area: why not have a tabletop/stadium baseball double-header, where we meet somewhere to play HMB in the afternoon and then whoever wants to can get tickets together to watch the Rockies play at Coors Field that night? Saturday July 9th, I and a half-dozen Denver-area PLAAY Gamers brought that idea to life!
Originally, the plan was to gather at a central location somewhere to play HMB that afternoon, and then travel together to Coors Field for the game that evening. But because we're spread out all over the metro area, "central" meant somewhere downtown Denver, and we had a tough time coming up with a place that would work for us. That's when I remembered a recent Delphi forum thread—the question had been posted, "had anyone ever played a sports simulation game while in attendance AT a real sports event?" The thought occurred to me, why not play HMB at Coors Field? We could pre-PLAAY the upcoming All-Star Game with the cards from the June newsletter! Everybody agreed that would be a fun plan, so I purchased a block of tickets in advance, mailed individual tickets to each person attending, and we each made our own way to Coors Field Saturday afternoon, meeting at Gate A as the gates were opening two hours before the start of the Rockies-Phillies game.
Once inside the stadium, we encountered our first curve-ball: the picnic area behind the Rock Pile where we had planned to play was closed for a private party! We asked a concierge what our options were, and he told us that the food court on the concourse level was our best bet. Sure enough, we were there early enough that the tables were still available and we were able to set up and spread out! There was a light breeze, which made it a challenge to keep cards in place, but we had enough hands available to hold the all the cards in separate stacks rather than spread them out on the table: starters, reserves, bullpen, umpire crew.
Steve Heller volunteered to manage the American League all-stars, Mike Zett took the National League. Jason Retallack, Bruce Scott, David Santistevan, and Mike Lemick provided the in-game commentary. I was the official score-keeper and game book look-up person. Because the all-star cards had (of necessity) been produced before the actual lineups were finalized, our all-star game had a couple of variances from the real thing. One of our hometown Rockies choices was reversed, with Trevor Story "in" for our game and Carlos Gonzalez "out." Story was joined by Nolan Arrenado, both of whom were named starters for our game—hey, we ARE Rockies fans, after all!
To head up our HMB umpire crew, we created an umpire card for Fran Larkin (RESPECTED, LENIENT•) and named him our home plate umpire for the game. Once the lineups were set, it was time to PLAAY Ball!! Jake Arrietta on the mound for the NL, Corey Kluber for the AL.
Arrieta set down the top of the AL order—Altuve, Cabrera and Trout—with no problem. McCutchen led off the first inning for the NL, and promptly belted a home run off Kluber! Mike Lemick had barely opened his foot-long bag of kettle corn, and it was already 1-0 for the NL! Kluber got Braun to fly out, but then Harper singled and stole second, and Arrenado walked. Bryant lined out but Story was plunked by Kluber and Buster Posey launched a bases-loaded double that made it 4-0.
The second inning was more of the same. The AL went down 1-2-3, and the NL led off the second with Zobrist's single, a double from McCutchen and another double from Braun, a two-run shot that made it 6-0.
With two out in the top of the fourth, we heard from our honorary home plate umpire! Fran Larkin gave Mike Trout a free ride to first on a ball that Stephen Strasburg insisted was strike three (1-4-4 FLASH). Josh Donaldson ripped the next pitch into the stands for a two-run homer, the AL's first hit, narrowing the NL's lead to 6-2.
In keeping with the all-star game motif, both managers made wholesale line-up changes as the game entered the fifth inning. Great pitching from Greinke, Jansen, Syndergaard on the NL side and Sale, Salazar, Davis and Colome for the AL kept the score mostly unchanged, save for Mark Trumbo's solo homer off Jansen in the seventh inning that made it 6-3.
Top of the ninth, 6-3 NL, last chance for the AL, and Fran Larkin had another moment: with two out, two on, the tying run in Matt Wieters comes to the plate. It's another 1-4-4 result, but this time Fran's not feeling "lenient," "Yerrrrr OUT!" And that was the game. Awesome finish, and we all felt like it was a neat way to remember Fran.
We chose Posey as our All-Star Game MVP, with his pair of doubles and three RBI in addition to a couple of GOLD defensive plays. Runner-up was McCutchen, who had a homer and a double in his two plate appearances.
After the game, we had enough time to have our own home run derby, using Brian Reising's home-brew Home Run Derby charts from the 2016 All-Star PDF download. We used our own format (well, MY own format!), and it was a lot of fun: each team chose six players, and we played six innings--home runs or outs, teams kept batting until three outs were made. The NL completed the sweep of the day's activities with a 14-9 win. Kris Bryant was the derby MVP, with four homers in five at-bats. Really cool way to do the derby, I think!
After the home run derby, we grabbed some Rockie Dogs and headed for our seats in the Rock Pile to make the transition from tabletop baseball to the real thing! Turned out to be an awesome game, with Tyler Anderson getting his first big-league win for the Rox, and hitting the game-tying home run to boot! A six-run sixth inning made for a comfortable 8-3 Rockies win on a beautiful Colorado summer evening. As we watched the game, we talked a lot about the hobby, our own sports game projects, our families and work, and much more. The day went by too fast!