Home > Memories, PS3, Sega Genesis > Knuckleball Pitcher – MLB the Show

Knuckleball Pitcher – MLB the Show

“There is nothing that does any one so much credit all his life long as the showing himself proper man with his hands and feet.”

Homer, Odyssey

I throw a knuckleball. It’s one pitch I learned how to throw consistently. I don’t play professional baseball. I didn’t even play high school baseball.  As my college career wound down, I started to turn to new hobbies, many of them which came and went and so I decided to go back to what I loved as a youth. Video Games and Baseball.

I play in a weekend baseball league.  At first, I started out on an 18AA team that went 17-0 and then lost in the final game at Tony Gwynn Stadium at San Diego State University.  However,  I was more of a bench guy, I decided to take my abilities to the 28 and up league where I would tout my ability to throw the knuckler.  My elementary school friend and I joined a team as pitchers.  The team never won a game, but I did get a lot of innings on the mound and gained valuable experience.

I decided to pursue the art of pitching further and worked with a college pitcher, who played for Fresno State, in order to give me some lessons.  I learned about the general mechanics involved in throwing the ball with all your body behind each pitch instead of only using your arm.  I also learned how to think like a pitcher.  That college player later went on to win the College World Series with the Fresno State Bulldogs.  He taught me how to throw a 2 seam fastball and a change-up. With the newly learned techniques no way would I be a degenerate pitcher and go back to throwing a knuckleball right?

Sunday, June 30, 2010,  I was called to pitch after our pitcher walked the side and gave up 8 runs. There was already 2 outs and I just needed to get one more out.  I said to myself, “First batter I face, I must make sure I get the fastball over for a strike, but not in the middle. Let’s hit the bottom corner, away”.  I took a deep breath and threw a fastball and it hit the spot a little lower than I wanted, but the batter swung over the ball.  I got the ball back from the catcher.  Took another breath to clear my mind.  No need to look runners back, as there was a corpulent fellow holding up the base paths on 2nd.  I got the sign from the catcher and it was the two fingers down.  I set, and threw an overhead curve-ball and it appeared to be high as I released the ball, but as it made its way towards home, it landed on the upper part of the strike zone and was called a strike.

Now I had the batter.

Would I go with my change-up?  “Not, today”, I told my catcher, I would throw either a change-up or knuckler when he called my third pitch.  I checked the sign from the catcher and he indeed put down three fingers.  So  I checked the runner at second, gripped the ball with my nails and flung a floater at least 6 inches away from the outer part of the plate, but he still swung and it was a routine grounder to short.

Sports Talk Baseball

The package was easily but slyly opened and switched with a game of lessor caliber until the gift was to be opened during the holidays with a well rehearsed surprised expression.

I have to say, I can thank my friend Escobar for my pitching prowess. We used to play tape ball (our own version of stick-ball) in my front yard.  A game played with a Padres souvenir 2-foot wooden baseball bat and a small ball composed of either masking or electrical tape.  Masking tape would flutter in the wind, but the electrical tape would make you feel like you were Trevor Hoffman.  The 95-MPH-Fastball Trevor, not the 74-MPH-change-up Trevor.

Ah yes, Escobar was notorious for screaming obscenities at pedestrians as we drove around San Diego as bored reckless youths, and also for purchasing bad video games.  He would buy any Genesis game with the Sega brand with no regard for reviews.  I remember he bought Joe Montana’s Sports Talk Football, and as we played for a few downs he muttered to himself dejectedly, “I always buy stupid games.”

One time, in our freshman year of high school, Escobar had purchased Sports Talk Baseball, which was a horrible game, but probably sold a lot simply for the fact that it announced the game. The announcing sounded like a mix between the creepy robot voice from “War Games” and famous Dodger announcer, Vince Sculley. But because it was 16-bit, it tended to say a lot of annoying phrases over and over; similar to the early Madden games which featured announcing (some might say announcing is still repetitive in even today’s games).

I remember Escobar got his game for Christmas but prior to that day, he managed to use a razor to carefully cut out the wrapping paper and box. He substituted his copy of Altered Beast in the box and took out the Sports Talk Baseball cartridge. On Christmas day he would open his gift and everyone would see the Sports Talk Baseball box and cheers and smiles would be shared.  He probably practiced his “surprised look” and how he would say, “This is what I was hoping for. Thank you mother and father.” In my opinion, it was very much an “Indiana-Jones-put-a-bag-of-sand-to-replace-the-weight-of-the-golden-skull” type move. I remember when I got there he said, “Whatever we do today, I have to show you the ending of Sports Talk Baseball”. He managed to save the game before the world series was played. Back then, they didn’t let you save the game as you finished each playoff game, so if you wanted to replay the ending, you had to play all seven games of the World Series. So, I remember starting to play around 9pm, and because it was his game and he was the only one good enough to beat the other team in the playoffs, I spent the next 3 hours watching him win the World Series.

Finally, as a game ends they would always have a post game show where the announcer would provide the game summary. We had put a lot of hours into the game and finally when the 162 game season was over and you managed to get the team into the playoffs, you expected some type of reward from the game developers. Your team persevered through the entire season and you assumed you would see something cool. I mean this was 16-bit baseball. Not your RBI Baseball on the NES.

Well, as the game ended it didn’t have much as far as fanfare. But, when it went to the game summary the famous announcer who had been on the game summary and announcing the game the entire 162-game season, came out wearing a small party hat. My friend had already seen this and I just did my typical laugh quietly in my head and shook my head in amazement. My friend however, laughed hysterically and was almost at the point of urinating on himself. His laughter was contagious and it was indeed a comical thing.

I realized that my friend was laughing for two reasons. First: How dumb does Sega expect it’s gamers to be to accept a cleverly placed party hat as an acceptable ending to the World Series? Secondly, he put a lot of time and effort on that game only to have all of this work to be mocked by a robot announcer wearing a party hat.  Laughing is a far better response than getting angry. So we pretty much kept it on that screen for like 15 minutes as we just laughed and laughed in denial and in disbelief that this was really all the effort the programmers put into the ending.

Sports Talk Baseball- Sega Genesis

I don't mean to spoil the game's ending, but it's pretty much this guy with a party hat...Seriously.

Later in our junior year in high school, we would frequent an arcade that had a pitching game. Similar to the basketball games you see now, but instead of shooting a bunch of free-throws, in this game it would use a radar to track your MPH and also pitch to batters. None of us cared about the game part as we all went there to see who threw the hardest. But the thing we mocked the most is that the game had announcing. Well, it tried to have announcing.

We mocked it because as you put the quarters in, it would say, “You’re the pitcher!” and then you’d throw the ball and it would say if it was strike, ball, etc. Then again, as it was your turn to throw again it would announce, “You’re the pitcher!” My friend would just turn to me and say, “What the?” he punches me in the arm even though he knows he has my attention, “Why would it say that! like if two kids are going to come here and say, ‘look, we can rent a baseball here for only a dollar hooray.'” Escobar mimicked a child putting a dollar into the machine and then acted out two kids just throwing the ball around the arcade enjoying themselves, and then as the game said, “you’re the pitcher!” whichever kid had the baseball when they were playing catch would say, “huh?” and realize he was a pitcher and get excited and throw it like a rocket at the target, realizing that they were indeed “the pitcher”. It was a pretty simple joke, but then again a game saying, “you’re the pitcher” every minute isn’t exactly hard to make fun of. Again, laziness in game design deserves to be mocked.

Arcade baseball game

The game would all of a sudden announce, "You're the Pitcher." and you knew it was your turn to throw strikes.

That game taught me that I can only throw around 60 MPH and even today it’s the same. Sometimes it feels like it’s faster, but still let’s not get carried away, I am not going to blow it by many batters.  But I did manage to become a starting pitcher my first year in the league. It was all because of my strategy. I did not have the capacity to throw hard in high school so I am not going to throw hard now, but with some training I can throw accurate.  Using economic “Game Theory”, I’d say my dominant strategy would be to learn the ultimate “junk” pitch.  So I learned the knuckleball. I even read a book by Dave Clark that taught the science of throwing a knuckleball.

Most of these meat head batters who I face go to the cages and hit 70-80 MPH fastballs all day. They love them, but when someone like me goes up there and throws up a ball that flutters and slowly glides itself to the plate, they get frustrated. “Pretend you are in your softball league” I hear from my opponents dug out, trying to insult my pitching power.  But batters can’t get into my head, that is a key strategy for a pitcher. It takes a certain mentality to get away with the pitch. Everyone thinks they can throw it, and warming up, they usually can. But not many actually have the confidence to throw the pitch during the game. One reason is, it’s really slow and most of the time batters can hit it like a soft-toss softball and secondly, it’s very hard to throw for strikes. However, early on I knew I had to throw it for strikes or else, they’d just eat my fastball alive.

However, like any other craft, pitching must be practiced and you have to keep your body ready for the arduous task of throwing off a mound. It’s a lot more mental than you think. Sure there is muscle memory involved and this comes easily with practice, but then you have to think of the random elements and how one deals with them.

Surprisingly, MLB the Show’s pitching engine captures this pitching quagmire perfectly. Everything is supposed to go as planned, but what happens if during a pitching appearance, I can’t throw a pitch for strikes or what if i don’t have any velocity? It’s sink or sail and everyone has bad days, some pitchers will give up runs while others will struggle through innings or make them somewhat exciting but still manage to get batters out without allowing any runs.

MLB The Show 10

I waste many hours building my player in the Road to the Show. My wife included a personalized chant to give me encouragement through those tough times.

MLB the show is one of my favorite games because of the pitching engine but mainly for the Road to the Show feature. In this game mode you get to create your own player and develop his skills as he progresses through the minor league system and eventually the Major Leagues. You get to pick his pitch types and his pitching style. I of course, created a young 18-year-old version of myself and his first pitch is of course was a knuckleball. Usually games have it so that the knuckleball is easy to control. However, MLB the show has the most realistic pitching game engine as sometimes your pitches are right on target or sometimes they just miss the zone. As someone who plays recreational baseball, I like that MLB the Show actually simulates when you are having a bad day or not. What do I do in the game when my knuckler is not hitting it’s spot? I pitch differently. I just pitch to a general location and hope that they don’t land right in the middle of the plate. If they do, most of the time they pop it up for an out, but if they go with a hit parade, then the coach takes me out and I work on that until the next game, (add training points to Knuckler control). However, it should be the goal of the pitcher to be scrappy and fight through his inconsistencies and change his strategy accordingly to how well his pitches are working. This goes for any pitch, but even more so for a knuckleball pitcher.

Knuckleball Specialist

Photo taken recently of the author throwing a knuckleball on an 0-2 count, mimicking MLB the show or is the Show mimicking him?

There is something special about releasing a knuckleball and watching it glide towards home with seams in a static position while watching the batter’s eyes get big, yet he swings through it.  In sports sometimes it’s acceptable to toy with your opponent.  In this case, the knuckleball is frustration at its best.


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