A few years back, when I revealed I was getting hitched, my cousin insisted on organizing my bachelor trip. He kept the destination a secret for as long as humanly possible, but since we’ve know each other literally our whole lives, I trusted his judgment.
The day we left, he revealed that we (meaning he, my two brothers and I) were going on a trip much like the ones we took when we were kids. Every few years, my grandparents would herd all of us and our parents upstate, either to Cooperstown or Niagara Falls. This trip would combine the two. Maybe that’s not your idea of bachelor trip craziness, but it was exactly what I wanted. Nostalgic, silly, and awesome.
The first night of the trip, we stayed in a small town a few miles outside of Cooperstown, in the same strip motel we stayed in as kids (which we did some serious damage to the first time around; I’m surprised we didn’t check in under aliases). If you’ve never been to the area, know that Cooperstown itself is pretty small, in both size and temperament. Being a suburb of Cooperstown is like being a suburb of Hooterville.
In other words, there was not much going on in said town, save for a Stewart’s and a large wood-paneled bar, which had a large orange banner proclaiming HUNTERS WELCOME (once you get north of the Catskills, 95% of New York State is basically Alabama). We availed ourselves of the former for many, many hours, then had to hit up the former for
provisions, because there was no place else in town to get food and we forgot to eat dinner (oops!).
Of course, we got little more than chips of various flavors and more beer. I don’t know when we eventually all passed out, but it was far too late for us to rise at a reasonable hour and go to the Baseball Hall of Fame. But we did anyway, and I woke up feeling like death.
When I say I feel like death, I am not exaggerating. I felt like I was actually going to die.
This was a weapons-grade hangover. There was no locality to it. I didn’t have a pounding headache or a queasy stomach or any other aches and pains. My entire body just felt like it had endured a fatal level of toxicity and would soon shut down. What’s crazy is that I hadn’t even drank anything too strong, save for a Manhattan, which all of us ordered one of because that was our grampa’s drink of choice (then realized that bartenders at hunter saloons aren’t well versed in cocktails and stuck to beer).
I managed to shower and dress myself, but I’m still not sure how. I then slumped in the backseat of my cousin’s car as we took the short drive into Cooperstown and cursed the early morning sun. I even tried to slink into the foot rest, like a little kid would. I was completely regressing into childhood. I wanted a blankie. I wanted anything comforting. I couldn’t imagine ever feeling good ever again.
My cousin decided that we could all do with some food in our ailing, abused stomachs. Intellectually, I agreed with this idea, but emotionally, the very thought was sickening
(somehow, I managed to not vomit up to this point, probably because I had nothing in my stomach to throw up). But I dragged myself into a little diner along the main drag in Cooperstown, a stone’s throw from the Hall of Fame.
As opened the front doors, even in my pain, even in the throes of death itself, I was struck by something in the vestibule: an arcade game. A baseball game, of course. But a few features grabbed my attention. For one thing, it was called Sega World Series Baseball 1999. Anyone who reads this site knows I have a great deal of affection for (or obsession with) the Mets’ exploits that year.
Upon closer examination, I saw that it also had a unique controller: a small, silver baseball bat. So simple, and yet, as far as I know, it had never been done before (or since). Perhaps I was just in an addled, Stockholm syndrome state of mind, but I felt better just looking at this thing. I had not even played it yet, but I already decided this was the greatest arcade game ever.
I popped a few quarters in the machine and gave it a whirl. It had some deficiencies,
as decade-plus games often do. For instance, you could only play in one stadium, an odd amalgam of various parks (elements of Yankee Stadium and Wrigley Field and Fenway Park smashed together).
The graphics weren’t fantastic, but they were far better than I expected them to be, and the gameplay was pretty smooth as well. Not perfect, of course, since you had to make all of your moves with the little bat. (You moved fielders around with other joysticks, but all of the essential moves were done with the bat.) The bat interface was intuitive for hitting, but pitching and fielding were extremely touch and go. But rather than being a minus, I found
this randomness charming. Best of all, it offered me a chance to play as Robin Ventura, John Olerud, Mike Piazza, et al.
Of course, this being an arcade game, I only got two innings for my 50 cents. But those two innings made me feel better–seriously–and saved me from a hideous fate. (Sure, the sandwich and fries I consumed shortly thereafter helped, too.) For that, I will be eternally grateful.
A few days later, we found ourselves on the Canadian side of Niagara Falls, in a huge ersatz Dave & Buster’s inexplicably called Boston Pizza. (“Let’s name this place in Ontario after an American city and a food item that city is not known for!”) Our goal for the day was to see as many crappy, tourist trap-y museums and fun houses as possible (the northern portion of Niagara Falls offers such things in abundance). But first, we fortified ourselves with food and large beers and video games.
And as we wandered around the grounds of Boston Pizza, I saw the game again. I saw the little silver bat on the machine gleam from across the room. Naturally, I spent about
ten bucks on the thing, which was far too much. But I had to–I didn’t know when we might meet again! Thankfully, I still had plenty of dough left to waste at the Marvel Comics indoor theme park across the street.
When I got home, I googled the hell out of this game. I seriously wanted to purchase one. The fact that it would cost a cool grand, only play one game, and not fit in my apartment
didn’t matter. I even considered putting it on our wedding registry, but did not broach the subject with my bride-to-be because I did not want to be murdered.
Eventually, my enthusiasm faded. A year-plus passed and the game rarely crossed my mind. Then one night, I found myself at a show in loft in Bushwick. One of those shows where bands literally play in somebody’s apartment, and you feel like you’re intruding no matter where you step, even if the hosts are the dumb people who decided to let strangers set up a merch table in their living room. The apartment/performance space was extremely dry, and between bands I ducked out to hunt down some sody pop.
This was in deepest, darkest industrial Bushwick, so I had to wander for a while until I found a deli at the corner of Irving and Flushing. The establishment was less a deli and more of a neighborhood hangout. A whole crowd of folks hung out at the counter, shooting the shit. The actual selling of goods was completely seconday to this store’s mission. Off to the right were two video games, old and dusty but functioning.
I wandered to the back to grab a Coke, and as I turned to approach the very busy counter, I saw that one of the video games is THE GAME. Glory be!
A silly rock and/or roll show could wait, I must play this game! And so I ran up the aisle, past the cat food and pickled jalapenos and dingy boxes of Lipton soup, determined to make this a reality.
Unfortunately, just as I approached Valhalla, I saw a
large homeless man standing next to the machine, eating beans from a styrofoam clamshell tray. He
was not standing in front of the game, but he was standing close enough to it that I could not play without bumping into him or running the risk of a conversation about Jesus’ magic spaceship. So sadly, this dream died as quickly as it was born.
I pass by this deli every single morning as I ride to work on the bus. Not a day goes by that I don’t fantasize about liberating this machine and bringing it home. I don’t know how, I don’t know when, I don’t know why, but one day, when I have a Tom-Hanks-in-Big-type apartment, it shall be mine. Oh yes, it shall be mine.
BONUS! While researching background info for this little post, I ran across this post on a gaming forum which collected a few promo brochures from Sega arcade baseball games of the past. As you’ll see, even when Sega was at the vanguard of video game design, they were not necessarily at the vanguard of brochure design. Or representational artwork.
There’s quite a few really, really weird illustrations here. Like a player who’s supposed to look like he’s sliding into home but really just looks like he’s laying down on a psychiatrist’s couch. Or a middle aged fielder diving for a ball who vaguely looks like a tow-headed Ben Gazzara.