Sunday, March 31, 2013

Choose Your Own Adventure #135: Playoff Champion

Playoffs??? You want to talk about playoffs? Playoffs!?!? Well, yes.

With warmer snow signaling the beginning of spring it won't be long until the heroes of summer return to take to the baseball diamond for a thrill ride that's only considered less dull than soccer because it has cultural traction on its side. Our steroid-fueled heroes will be hitting big time dingers, getting three-baggers, playing out of a scuffle and other feats of heroism veiled behind bizarre jargon, crotch-grabbing, endless spiting and the occasional beach ball on the field.

Yeah, let's face it, baseball is kinda boring. All the efforts to introduce "extreme" elements and seizure-inducing spectacle labor in vain against the simple truth. Honestly, we're reaching the point where the restroom urinals are more interesting than the actual game. Still, it's a tradition, you can drink and over-eat without worrying about too much excitement affecting the digestion/inebriation process and every so often the game rises above its considerable limitations to produce memorable moments.

 Alternate Title: "The Worst Human Being to Ever Live."

In that spirit it's time to return to always dependable triple-digit Choose Your Own Adventure books. At this point in the series quality control had pretty much vanished, resulting in drivel like "The Terrorist Trap" (!!!) and "Surf Monkeys" (!). Yes, those are real. Today's story, thankfully, takes a more down-to-earth approach by presenting baseball managerial tactics as the core plot mechanic. That's a relief, considering last time I died naked, alone and terrified in quicksand while trying to flee a MILF-led kidnapping ring. The worst thing that will happen this time, I'm assuming, is losing the game, disgracing your family, never knowing true love and becoming a hopeless human wreck desperately trying to recapture that fleeting moment of glory that was never fully realized.

Batter Up!

We start with a huge information dump that goes on for several pages. The "you" in this story is a catcher, a big time hitter and the most respected player on the "Wynona Cougars." We've reached some ill-defined "school" (college?) playoffs that was alluded to in the title and are preparing for the semi-final showdown against "Passyunk." I guess "Moo Mud" got eliminated in group play. However, disaster strikes as the beloved coach suffers a lovingly illustrated heart attack and is hurt or dead or something. 

In unrelated trivia, a lifetime of steroid abuse has been linked to heart problems.

With Coach loaded into the old meat wagon we're forced to go on without him, appointing a player-manager in his stead. I, of course, get the nod. Something tells me that losing this game would psychologically destroy my c.y.o.a. alter ego, so let's hope for the best.

My first decision is classic baseball "what would you do?" the kind of thing that would be the first chapter of a "How to Manage a Baseball Team" book if something that depressing actually exists. The opposing pitcher, a total monster on the mound, is a right-hander. Most of my better hitters bat from the orthodox side of the plate. This is, we are told, a considerable disadvantage. Should we put in some southpaws, even though they live shorter lives and are more likely to suffer insanity? 

I decide to stick with the original line-up. Yet another example of the massive, institutional discrimination against lefties. Yes, I am left-handed myself, but I don't see what that has to do with this outrage.

Lefties: The Hand of Fate.

After that bit of ugly handism a completely awful game, even by baseball standards, ensues. It stays 0-0 for "inning after inning" as both pitchers dominate soft bats. The opposing pitcher racks up 16 strike outs and I'm beginning to wonder if my self-hating lefty antics are going to be our undoing. Then, Ghost in the Machine! The Coach, "unable to speak," arrives in a wheelchair to offer moral support! Our team promptly goes crazy and hits the winning run in the ninth inning! 

Now all that remains is a little piece of business called Scarboro and their ace pitcher Doorknob Clinton (!!!). 

Do a search for "Doorknob Clinton" and this is what you get.

Doorknob proves to be as formidable as you might expect, striking out the first two hitters with the old trouble ball. Now it's my turn. He's feeding me his "sinker" but I decide to be "ready for anything!" Now there's some stra-teg-ery. Ten moves ahead, ready for any trick.

I strike out.

This game is another no-score snooze-fest. Man, no wonder everyone is inhaling cheap beer at these. When I actually get bat on ball in the 4th it feels like it's "made of lead." If only there was some sort of illegal way to make my hitting stronger, but alas, there isn't. Unfortunately Scarboro mounts a rally, with Good Dog McGee (!) bunting runners to second and third with only one out. Next up? Bad Dog McGee, obviously. I'm guessing he's a decent guy with a mostly unearned bad reputation, while "Good Dog" gets away with murder but no one ever suspects him because, hey, he's a good dog.

He had won the battle against himself. He loved Big Master.

We get the classic "small ball" scenario where I walk the Dog (ugh, so sorry for that) to set up the inning-ending double play. It works! With the potential excitement expertly averted, it's back to more thrilling one-two-three innings. We begin to speculate that Clinton might be a "machine." I don't think I have to tell you what the fuel probably is.

Ninth inning. With the opposing pitcher batting I'm given the option to call for "fast balls" but the concern is our pitcher is exhausted. Apparently this game is taking place in 1910: no offense, endless small ball, complete games instead of several relief pitchers, etc. All we need is some casual racism and that theory will be confirmed. 

I call for some finesse pitching, but my guy is so exhausted he completely screws that up and the result is a 1-0 lead. Then the reliever finally comes in. Cracker jack timing, as always.

May contain the "eff" word, according to a helpful sticker.

Then we lose. The ending explains how the opposing pitcher went on to a long and successful major league career, complete with World Series heroics. Meanwhile I fade into well-deserved obscurity, but at least my first name isn't "Doorknob" so there's always that.

Overall this was a good one, calling back happy memories of that golden age of baseball before players figured out they could inject clean urine directly into their bladders to defeat drug testing. The more realistic story was actually rather refreshing after all the sensational b.s. these books usually serve up and the strategic decisions made sense. Maybe not a classic, but still probably better than "Surf Monkeys." Probably.

Aaron Zehner's first novel The Foolchild Invention is available in e-book format at and Barnes & Noble.

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