Beckyard Baseball: The Tale of Preston Beck and Pablo Sanchez
It was Sunday, June 5th, a partly cloudy 88 degree day in Frisco, Texas. At Dr. Pepper Ballpark, home of the Texas Rangers affiliated Frisco RoughRiders, professional baseball player Preston Beck prepared for the biggest game of his life. At 3:50pm later that day, he’d be playing me in a fiery, competitive game of Backyard Baseball 2001.
Around 3:00 the butterflies started fluttering in the stomach of Preston. Realizing he couldn’t handle the stress for nearly an hour, Preston did the only things he’s ever known to do: prepare and work hard. Being a professional baseball player, and before that a college player at the University of Texas at Arlington, he understands the value of hard work. In his 2015 Double-A debut, Preston hit .224. How’d he respond? Hard work. Now in 2016, he’s rocking a .311 batting average. If it worked for real-life baseball, why shouldn’t it work for America’s virtual pastime?
So Preston went to work. He grabbed a bat, hit the field, and started taking BP with 24 of his teammates. He seemed to think tracking baseballs is an applicable skill to all versions of the game. Now, this may not have been the best way to prepare (a session with Mr. Clanky almost certainly would have done a better job). Taking BP kept Preston’s focus locked and nerves calm. After a few sessions depositing baseballs into Frisco’s new lazy river in right field, he felt ready.
It was game time.
Settings and Set-Up
Having not played since he was 13, Preston knew his limits. Choosing medium difficulty, the right fielder felt good about his chances. As always, swing spot was on, but not pitch locator, and errors were on also. The chosen stadium was Park Department #2. Preston is a man who takes baseball seriously. He has no time for your Tin Can Alley, and the plethora of ground rule doubles it comes with. He’s got no time for your shallow center field at Steele Stadium. He certainly has no time for Sandy Flats to slow down even Pete Wheeler.
Backyard Baseball isn’t meant as a two-player game. In order for us to compete we’d each take one inning, Beck the first, me the second. Whoever won their inning by the most or lost by the least was the winner. In the event of a tie, a home run derby would be the tiebreaker.
Having played recently, I know the ideal roster configuration. I know, despite a streaky bat, Stephanie Morgan is a real team leader and Gold Glove caliber shortstop. I know Mikey Thomas’s cannon for an arm is wasted at first base, needing to be utilized behind the dish. I know Keisha Phillips is a 55 third baseman. However, Preston may not know these things. With a limit of three big leaguers, I let him draft.
#1 Ken Griffey, Jr – CF
#2 Pablo Sanchez – RF (a real shock he was available at the #3 pick in the draft, perhaps makeup issues prevented him from going first overall)
#3 Alex Rodriguez – SS
#4 Pete Wheeler – LF
#5 Mikey Thomas – 1B
#6 Keisha Phillips – 3B
#7 Dmitri Petrovich – C (Dmitri has Curry range on the court, but is in over his head on a baseball field. I question the talent evaluation on this one.)
#8 Achmed Khan – 2B
#9 Randy Johnson – P
As A-Rod strolled to the plate with Khan toeing the rubber, I knew Preston was beat. A quick look in his eyes betrayed his inner thoughts: he was rusty and he knew it. As the first pitch glided in chest-high, Preston swung.
Late, strike one.
As the right hook came in at the knees, Preston swung again.
Late, strike two.
As a heater came in right down the pipe, Preston swung again.
Late, strike three.
He’d lost his touch and I knew it.
Deep down he did, too.
With Wheeler up next, the 25 year old Beck did something inexplicable. He took Pete Wheeler, an easy 80 runner, and opened him up with a power swing. Predictably, things didn’t turn around for him as another three pitch strikeout left him with nobody on and two outs.
Now, with six swings under his belt, Preston started to get the timing down. Mikey walked to the plate, wiped his nose, and smacked the first pitch. “Get up,” Preston said. He knew he’d tagged it. The camera switched into field view in time to see the ball reach its apex, come back down, take one hop, and bounce into the waiting shortstop’s glove for an easy 6-3 putout.
Three up, three down.
Taking the mound with The Big Unit after a scoreless half inning, Preston could have given up. To his credit, he gave it his all. He hit the corners, changed speeds, even used a corkscrew and a crazy ball. He didn’t know how to quit. If he was going down, he was gonna go out with a bang. Three straight strikeouts of Bonds, Pudge, and Green kept Preston even with a 0-0 inning. To get this win, I had to work.
Let’s just get to it.
It doesn’t matter than I ran into two outs on the bases, or that Dmitri beat out an infield single. I hit with this guy and he did what he does.
The second batter of the inning with one out and no one on, Pablo Sanchez stepped to the dish. He blasted one just to the right of the scoreboard, over the outstretched arms of Beltran, giving me a 1-0 lead. That’s all I needed. I was pitching with Randy Johnson and while he may not have the command of Angela Delvecchio or the hook of Frank Thomas, he can spin it. A McGwire strikeout, Beltran single, and Steph GIDP would take care of the bottom half, giving me the win.
Eat it, Preston.
If there’s one thing playing (and beating) a pro baseball player taught me is that while some people are good at math, or science, or hitting a baseball really far, I have the most important skill of all. I’m really talented at a children’s game. If anyone wants to challenge me, find me in Frisco and catch these figurative hands.
Author’s note: I really appreciate Preston putting up with me and my incessant whining about Vinnie being a terrible color guy. It was a lot of fun and I hope he enjoyed the childhood flashback as well.