Take Me Out To The Ball Game: Nintendo NES Baseball (1983) - Warped Factor - Words in the Key of Geek.

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Take Me Out To The Ball Game: Nintendo NES Baseball (1983)

Christopher Morley takes a swing at Far East baseball culture.

1983 was in retrospect a major league year for baseball as it shifted from cards to consoles. The Famicon (that's the original Japanese name given to the Nintendo Entertainment System) was able to boast a virtual ball game at its launch thanks to the personal insistence of Shigeru Miyamoto that there should be one made available, the man himself taking the lead in designing the self-explanatory Baseball.

First released in Japan before an American launch two years later, the game itself catered to both with teams representing Japan's Central League & the American Major equivalent - no licence to use actual names was sort/given but the initials of the alternatives alluded to their real-world equivalents!

Similarly to the American structure, the Land Of The Rising Sun's big league forms part of Nippon Professional Baseball alongside the Pacific League, a Japanese answer to the American League allying with the National to make up Major League Baseball. The champions of the two then meet in the Nippon Series, the game having taken hold with the formation of the Greater Japan Tokyo Baseball Club, now Yomiuri Giants in 1934 & the Japanese Baseball League two years later.

It had first been introduced in 1872 by Horace Wilson, an American English teacher brought into the country to modernise its education system who took up a post at Tokyo's Kaisei Academy. Professionalism crept in in the 1920s. Spectators were able to watch games for free up until 1906 as it was considered dishonourable for clubs to take money from a game their players simply loved playing! Wilson was inducted into the Japanese Baseball Hall Of Fame & Museum in 2003, a year which saw the Hanshin Tigers win the Central League & the Pacific pennant taken by the Fukuoka Hawks.

The Japanese Hall Of Fame has found a home within the Tokyo Dome since 1988, having been open since 1959 next to Korakuen Stadium, former home of the Giants. There's also the Meikyukai or Golden Players Club as founded by former pitcher Masaichi Kaneda - to get in, a player needs to have 200 wins or have scored 2,000 hits among other stringent criteria.

Writing for National Geographic, Andrew Evans drew paralells between baseball culture in the Far East & the country which spread the ball game to Japan in the first place.
“Baseball is Japan’s most popular spectator sport, with a dozen major league teams and a whole exciting culture built around attending games, be they high school, amateur, or pro.”.
Cheerleading is taken somewhat literally with one person leading the cheers!
“The “cheerleader” is dressed with a distinctive robe and accompanied by drummers and flag wavers. Like a sweaty conductor leading a symphony orchestra, this cheerleader directs the fans with impeccable detail–when to drum, at which speed, when to shout what and when to go silent.

The crowd was exuberant, and some were probably inebriated (albeit placidly), but all were obedient soldiers in the cheering section.”
Evans took in a Pacific League game at the Miyagi Baseball Stadium, home to the Tohoku Golden Eagles. It's the Giants, though, who can lay claim to the greatest success - winning 46 Central League championships across several unbroken streaks between 1951-53, '55-'59, '65-'73, 2007-09 &'12-14, also clinching the 2019 title. They also won eight in a row under their former name of Tokyo Kyojin between 1936-'43! If that weren't enough they also boast 23 Japan Series titles, though last time out they were second best to the Hawks.....

In the Pacific League its the Seibu Lions who've won the majority of the titles with 23, having formed in 1950 as Nishitetsu Clippers before joining forces with the Nishi-Nippon Pirates to form Nishitetsu Lions the following year, arriving at their current name in 1979.

The 2020 season has been postponed having been set to commence on March 20 in light of the effects of the coronavirus across Asia, play hopefully resuming some time this month according to Nippon Professional Baseball commissioner Atsushi Saito - with a full schedule of 143 games to cram in. 

Plenty of history for Shigeru Miyamoto, a native of Kyoto, to work with! Little wonder then that he pressed so hard for a virtual representation of baseball for the NES. His work in the video gaming field got him the honour of being named a Person of Cultural Merit by his country on November 3 last year. Accepting the award, he has this to say...
"The video games I've been involved in developing could not have been made by a single person, so I'm very humbled to receive this honor as an individual.”
Indeed although Miyamoto was "directly in charge of the character design and the game design", the game was developed by Yoshihiro Kishimoto after playing Baseball with colleagues & discussions around how the issues they found as players could be fixed.

At the 1985 US launch of the NES, Baseball was demonstrated on a large projector screen, by real Major League Baseball players who played the video game and signed autographs for fans. Because the video game industry was so young and had recently crashed in America, and because the other NES launch games featured fantasy themes that weren't recognizable on sight, the presence of a traditional American pastime was said to be "an instantly relatable aid to the system's introductory presentation", and went a long way to ensure the console's success.

In 2007, IGN gave Baseball a 5.5 out of 10, noting its depth of pitching, its two-player support, "its still-intact sense of fun", and its important place in Nintendo's history.

It wasn't the only baseball game available for the Famicon/NES. In 1986 Namco released the first in the Pro Yakyu Family Stadium series for the Famicon, yakyu serving as a combination of the Japanese for both field & ball.

Atari later brought out RBI Baseball for the NES in 1987, based around Pro Yakyu. It was granted a licence by Major League Baseball's Players Association giving them the right to use proper player names.

But we'll come to that next time. Until then, sayonara!

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