Most people who play Out of the Park Baseball learn a lot about the business side of baseball in the process, so why not start early and expose school kids to the wonders of this baseball management game? That’s the premise that led teacher Justin Lander to create an after-school club called “The Business of Baseball” at Great Neck South Middle School in New York state.
The approximately 15 kids who joined the club each took control of a franchise they chose at the start of the 2006 season (the AI ran the others). A fantasy draft kicked off the proceedings, which gave the kids a chance to learn how a draft works while using players they were familiar with. The club was able to run through a couple seasons during the 2013-14 school year.
A Lens For Learning
“I’m lucky to work in a school with an administration that’s very supportive of people trying new things,” Lander says. “We didn’t have anything like this in the school, and it fits into the curriculum pretty well, actually.”
He continues: “Basically, I framed it as being common core aligned because it asks kids to make claims and support them with evidence — as we expect them to do in every class — just using baseball instead of a novel or a social studies topic. I have slips of paper that the kids have to fill out whenever they propose a trade, sign a free agent, or non-tender someone, where they have to also justify their decisions.
“They also set goals for their team during the season and beyond: expected finish; positions they need to upgrade; and more specific categories they feel their teams need. The whole thing uses baseball and OOTP as a lens through which the kids are really learning how to make an argument and support it with evidence.”
Lander says that the kids were “dedicated to the game, even stopping me in the hallway sometimes to ask about a trade idea of something about the upcoming draft. I believe a few of them even went home and purchased their own copies of the game.”
A Memorable First Season
The first season the kids played turned out to be a memorable one in many ways. They had a little taste of how big league club owners set down rules when one of them suggested they be able to trade draft picks, which is an option in the game. “We brought it to a vote,” remembers Lander, “and it ended up being voted down after some debate. The argument against it was that they can’t do it in MLB, so we don’t want it.”
The kids also experienced the thrill of trade deadline maneuvering, Lander says. “On trade deadline day, I had the kids lined up around a table, with cards laid out in front of them. On each card they had: their team name, positions they were looking to upgrade, positions they were willing to trade, and specific players they were looking to move. This resulted in one team, I believe it was the Nationals, sitting in the middle of a crowd of kids, all trying to trade for a young Roy Oswalt.”
As the season drew to a close, the kids were treated to some thrilling playoff moments too. “On the last day of the regular season, two kids’ teams were playing each other,” Lander says. “Toronto was one game ahead of Kansas City for the last playoff spot. KC won to force a one-game playoff for the last spot. We watched every pitch of their game — Toronto scored in the top of the 8th to take the lead. KC threatened in the 9th, but couldn’t mount the comeback.”
And then there was an epic World Series between two student-controlled teams. “San Diego played Toronto,” Lander recalls. “They went to Game 7 and were tied 1-1 in the bottom of the 9th. Jeremy Burnitz hit a walk-off home run for San Diego and all of the kids went nuts.”
However, reality quickly set in for San Diego’s GM, as it does for many championship-winning GMs: “We got into the offseason a few days after the World Series ended,” Lander says. “The kid who runs SD was having trouble keeping his team intact — he had a lot of arbitration-eligible players, as well as a few pending free agents. He called me over to ask for help and when I showed him his budget, he let out a sigh and said, ‘Being San Diego is going to be really hard, isn’t it?'”
However, virtual difficulties won’t stop the kids from returning to The Business of Baseball for the 2014-15 school year. Lander says the next iteration of the group will “be bigger and move faster. I am thinking that kids from this year could control the same teams next year (maybe even just continue the same game from this year) to add some continuity to it. I think it could be interesting for kids to see how a team evolves over the course of a 10-year period or however many seasons we get to play.”
Want to Run an OOTP Club at Your School?
If you’re a teacher or student or know one who would like to set up a similar school club, please get in touch via the OOTP Developments contact page. We would be happy to provide free copies of OOTP to a school club so more students can discover the business of baseball in a fun, exciting way.
“I started playing OOTP in college after reading about it on either Fangraphs or The Hardball Times — one of those two,” Lander recalls. “I have always been interested in both the statistical side of the game and pretending that I could be a general manager, so the game was perfect for me. I had always been looking for something like it.”
He says he continues to play OOTP because “it’s the best sim out there and it gets better with every release; the depth of the game is simply unmatched by any other baseball-related game offered right now. The time commitment is totally up to me — meaning, I can sit down and play for 20 minutes if that is all I have, or I can really focus and play for a much longer stretch and both experiences give me the opportunity to do something fun and meaningful in game.”
The Kids Chime In
“You can’t make this game better. It’s just too good,” says a seventh grader who participated in The Business of Baseball. He adds: “I liked going 30-132 the first year and then seeing my team go 108-54 the second year and still miss the playoffs.”
Another student cites a 55-1 victory over the Yankees as a memorable moment, and a couple of them point to some thrilling playoff victories. Drafting and trading players, along with overall strategy setting, were favored features.
“The club was amazing,” sums up a 6th grader.
Lander provided these photos of the club in action: