Every time someone sits down to play Out of the Park Baseball, they’re asking “What if?,” even if that question is posed simply to see how the last Major League Baseball season could have turned out differently. However, in the case of the Planetary Extreme Baseball Alliance (PEBA) and its sister organization, the League of the Rising Sun (LRS), the traditional “What if?” question can’t be answered in just a few sentences or a paragraph.
If the story of the PEBA and the LRS was a novel, it would be a sprawling epic destined to dwarf “War and Peace” and “The Lord of the Rings.” In fact, it has even inspired a novel penned by published author Ron Collins, who also manages an LRS team. (Ron’s story is the subject of another article.) The “PEBAverse,” as it’s known, came into existence after the unthinkable happened: Major League Baseball fell on hard times as ticket sales and TV ratings crashed in the wake of fan disillusionment over the steroids scandals, creating an opportunity for the founding of a rival league. The PEBA turned away existing pro players and filled its rosters with top prospects who would have normally entered the MLB amateur draft. The general public soon grew to embrace a baseball league that was untainted by performance-enhancing drugs.
John Rodriguez, also known as “Corsairs” on the OOTP forum, took the lead in bringing the PEBA and LRS to life, but, as he explains in the interview below, the history of the PEBAverse is the joint effort of many people. Rather than try to sum up what he had to say in an article and pull quotes from the interview, I thought I would let the Q&A speak for itself. It’s worth a read to hear the story of Chris Van Hauter’s five-year plan that came to remarkable fruition, the exploits of former PEBA infielder Jack Cobb (who was assaulted on the field while wearing an H.R. Pufnstuf costume, among other mishaps), Star Trek actor William Shatner’s involvement as a team owner, and more.
Why did you create the PEBA/LRS?
I can’t take credit for the idea. Back in 2007, the Cleveland Indians (my hometown team) were enjoying a rare spell of success. Excitement was high on Indians blog Let’s Go Tribe! That August, one of the members pitched the idea of an OOTP league. With so many Tribe fans visiting LGT thanks to the excitement of the playoff run, it wasn’t hard to find willing candidates. I had never played OOTP before, but I knew of its reputation as the premier text-based baseball simulator and was intrigued by the chance to establish my very own fictional baseball franchise. So I signed up, choosing the nickname “Evanston Invaders” for my team-to-be.
The Invaders weren’t to be, though. After collecting a group of excited volunteers, the LGT member who pitched the idea vanished. The fledgling league seemed doomed before it started, which was a real shame because the interested participants included some really bright, engaging people. You could envision this group becoming something special. It seemed like such a waste to let the opportunity slip away, so I volunteered to step in and take over as Commissioner.
Again, I had absolutely no experience with OOTP, which ranked the idea of jumping into a Commissioner role somewhere between “ill-advised” and “ludicrous”. Our initial members were incredibly patient with me as I fumbled my way through a protracted league birthing process. A couple months passed as I went through an OOTP crash course and slowly built the structure for what was to become the Planetary Extreme Baseball Alliance (PEBA) and the League of the Rising Sun (LRS). Incredibly, many of the original signees stuck with the league despite delays and drama (including the brief resurfacing of the original Commish-to-be, who wished to reclaim his role just as the league was about to go live). They dove into their teams with gusto when we finally went live in December, 2007. We’ve been in perpetual motion ever since.
How did you develop the back story? Who worked on it with you? It’s a very fun read.
When you read the back story of the PEBAverse, you’re not reading the creation of any one person. It is the very definition of an organic ensemble production. Our members’ output volume and sheer creativity is astounding. Every member of the league, past and present, has left their mark on the story of the PEBA and LRS. One of the most gratifying experiences is watching members build upon storylines created by their peers. Stories beget stories. It’s a positive feedback loop.
The framework for what has become the History of the PEBA has developed bit by bit over time. When the league was forming in 2007, we were in the midst of the revelation of baseball’s “Steroids Era”. That was definitely an influencing factor when I was writing the outline for the league’s origin story. It prompted me to question, “What if fans became so disillusioned with the revelations and scandals that they turned their backs on Major League Baseball? What would a fledgling league attempting to fill that mammoth void look like? What kinds of challenges would such a league face?” We’ve been building upon the foundation of those questions ever since we began play. As you say, it really does make for a fun read.
What are some of the most interesting things that you’ve seen happen in the PEBA/LRS so far?
There have been so many twists and turns both on the field and off that it’s difficult to pick out just a few highlights, but I’ll try. I’m certainly proud of the fact that it was only just last season (our eighth) that we had our first franchise win a second Planetary Extreme Championship (the PEBA’s version of the World Series). The diversity of winners is a testament to the level of competition.
But it’s hard to top the story of the Tempe Knights for on-the-field drama. I’m a big believer in the importance of placing reasonable and differing challenges in front of people as a means of maximizing pride in achievement. Sure, it feels nice to win when your circumstances are identical to your competitors, but it’s truly something special to forge a winner out of uniquely challenging circumstances. And uniquely challenging circumstances are just what Tempe, easily the league’s smallest market team, faced. Their first season (45-117) was an unmitigated disaster. Then-GM Chris Van Hauter raised eyebrows by announcing a “five-year plan” to turn the Knights from laughingstocks to league champions. There were lots of sympathetic head nods but, if we’re being honest, I don’t think anyone really believed Chris could dig out of such a deep hole in so short a time.
The turnaround started on draft day 2008, when Tempe used the #1 overall pick to select St. John’s Kaisers phenom starting pitcher Markus “Fireworks” Hancock. Baseball is littered with top picks who fail to live up to the hype, but Fireworks exceeded every hope and dream of Knights Nation. After just 62.2 minor league innings, he was called up to Tempe in August 2008, just over two months after turning pro. Despite a rough first go in the majors, his minor league days were finished. By 2010, he had won the first of three straight Sovereign League Golden Arm awards (equivalent to the Cy Young Award).
The third award in 2012 was the sweetest. 2012 marked Year 5 of Van Hauter’s “five-year plan”, and nobody was doubting him anymore. Tempe qualified for the playoffs in ’11 thanks to Van Hauter’s outstanding drafts and characteristic aggressiveness with trades and minor league promotions. His acquisition of three-time Imperial League Golden Arm Award winner Conan McCullough from the New Orleans Trendsetters in July 2011 put the league on notice that he was determined to complete Tempe’s rags-to-riches story. Tempe fell short in the 2011 playoffs, but the 109-53 2012 squad would not be denied. After falling down three games to none in the Planetary Extreme Championship, Tempe stormed back to win four consecutive games against the Manchester Maulers and take the best-of-seven series. Fireworks pitched eight shutout innings to win Game 6, and McCullough gave up only an unearned run over 7.1 IP in Game 7.
At no point did Chris bemoan his challenges. Quite the opposite; he embraced them. It was extraordinary to watch him recognize his obstacles and systematically overcome every one of them. The execution of Van Hauter’s “five-year plan” is perhaps the most improbable and inspirational story I have ever witnessed as a baseball fan, real or virtual.
There have been hundreds of interesting on-the-field PEBA and LRS storylines, and just as many intriguing off-the-field developments. Anyone wanting to catch up on them all would be best served browsing through our News Archive and the History of the PEBA, but highlights include:
- The (unintentionally) comic exploits of former PEBA infielder Jack Cobb. Whether he’s breaking up with the Bears, being mistaken for a chupacabra, streaking at the mall, or demanding a stake in a PEBA team, he’s always entertaining. Amazingly, he got that stake he was after.
- The threat of Congressional hearings on the legality of the PEBA Commissioner owning a PEBA franchise. Despite the “National Pastime Protection Act of 2009” not being placed on the House Oversight Committee’s agenda, the furor led to then-Commissioner John Rodriguez, Sr. agreeing to sell the Aurora Borealis to Golden Entertainment CEO Michael Topham. The transaction completed five days after Rodriguez, Sr. passed away. His son John, Jr. currently acts as PEBA Commissioner.
- The extraordinary efforts of the Yuma Bulldozers to assist the victims of the 2012 Kivalina, Alaska floods (Part 1 / Part 2 / Part 3 / Part 4 / Refugees). Kivalina is home to Yuma’s Short Season-A affiliate, the Bowheads.
- The adventures of Casey and Dan-o as the two fresh-faced college graduates tour all 24 PEBA cities. Ron Collins (known to OOTP fans as “RonCo”) chronicled the journey of these two slackers before he became a member of the league (Ron is now the GM of the LRS’s Kawaguchi Transmitters). He collected their stories in See the PEBA on $25 a Day, available free of charge in a variety of formats on Smashwords. (Ron is the subject of another article on this forum – ed.)
- The tenure of former Star Trek actor William “Bill” Shatner as owner of the Kentucky Thoroughbreds. Bill founded the team in ’07 and ran it until his passing on August 8, 2014. A small-scale scandal broke out when it was announced that Bill’s previously unknown son Héctor was taking over for Bill.
- The controversy over the Kure Arsenal’s plans to roll a painted “red carpet” from the restaurant overlooking Nisshin Steel Dome’s right field into the midst of the outfield. After the Lupin Cliff Hangers filed a formal complaint, Kure scrapped the plans.
In what ways have you customized the PEBA/LRS?
Our leagues employ a variety of house rules designed to challenge GMs, and members have an opportunity to influence house rules customization by voting on off-season “floater” proposals. Many house rules revolve around increasing realism of contract negotiations. OOTP goes further in representing real life baseball finances than any other game out there. Still, there are isolated cases where OOTP is over-generous in what it permits. That’s when our own checks and balances come into play to preserve the challenge and reality of the modern baseball financial landscape.
Managing an LRS team is particularly interesting thanks to a few additional customizations. These include a 35-man secondary roster, the gaijin rule (which limits teams to four non-Japanese nationals on the active roster), and the juuki designation (a one-time tag which allows teams to retain one pending free agent for the upcoming season at his current salary… though this tends to result in bad feelings from the player!).
But more interesting than the rules customizations, in my opinion, is the customization of the league’s focus. I believe that what really makes the PEBA and LRS unique is the twin focus on creative expression and community-building.
Ask me why baseball is the greatest sport (and I believe it is!) and I would say it’s the sport’s ability to create narratives more robust than any other pro sport. Maybe this is due to the languid pace of the game, the very thing that baseball’s detractors trumpet as the sport’s greatest weakness. Narratives arise in other sports, certainly, but because the pace of their games are so frantic and the length of their seasons so compressed (relative to baseball), there is only so much time and opportunity to reflect upon emerging storylines.
Baseball affords time for reflection, and we embrace the game’s languid pace in our sim schedule. Generous amounts of time between sims allow members to absorb results from the PEBAverse, uncover the emerging narratives, and construct stories around them. OOTP aids our cause by reporting results in such thorough detail. Members find inspiration in all kinds of locations – a box score, an injury report, an ejection notice, etc. And when no obvious in-game inspiration is available, they’ll make up their own narrative.
For members, it’s an opportunity to exercise creativity in a risk-free environment. Every story is greeted warmly, regardless of the writer’s current level of proficiency. Yes, our membership includes published authors, published academics, and produced playwrights, but it also includes people who never wrote creatively before joining us; they were curious and ended up falling in love. Members find writing for the PEBA and LRS improves their creativity and enhances their writing ability – handy skills in all kinds of real life situations.
OOTP brought us together, but we made the choice to transform our gathering of independent, isolated competitors into something greater than your typical “fantasy baseball league”. From Day One, new members are made to feel part of an evolving community that cares about and welcomes their contributions. Events like the live Amateur Drafts and Winter Meetings, for instance, bring us together with incredibly fun results. The Winter Meetings, a two-hour gathering during which all house rule restrictions on trades are lifted, is one of the most endearing events on our calendar. GMs gather to horse trade, rumormonger, swap stories, and get to know their peers on a first-name basis. The live Amateur Drafts are a non-stop roller coaster of timed selections, instant analysis, and good-natured chatter.
Community-building doesn’t stop with game-related events, though. Our members use OOTP as a jumping off point for better getting to know fellow GMs. We started as competitors and ended up friends. Members regularly chat via Instant Messenger – sometimes about the league, sometimes about life. We’ve had real life meet-ups between GMs. We arrange all kinds of online gaming opportunities – Civilization V, Diablo II, Frozen Synapse, Dominion, Diplomacy, online racing – to provide more ways for members to bond.
Members are encouraged to regularly visit our forums, where we discuss so much more than just what’s happening in the PEBAverse. Our off-topic sub-forums contain over 10,000 posts on a range of topics: book and movie reviews, shared photos, ruminations on changing culture, announcements of new arrivals, and much more. You’ll even find rankings for 110 varieties of apples! No topic is too esoteric, and the forums are always alive with activity.
I will take this opportunity to extend a special invitation to those reading this interview. Are you interested in joining the PEBA community, even if you don’t necessarily have time to join the league? Normally, PEBA forum registration is limited to league members. For a limited time, though, we are opening our forum membership to non-members. The PEBA forums have evolved beyond just baseball talk. We really do cover all kinds of ground, and we think you can help us expand our horizons even further. If you would like to become a part of our extended community, fill out our “Join the PEBA” form with your name, email address, and a note on why you’re interested in joining the PEBA forums in the “Tell us about yourself” section. Once you’re registered, you’ll be able to add to ongoing conversations, start your own topics, and you’ll become eligible to join our various online games. We’ll be accepting story submissions (both league-related and not) from registered forum members, providing you with a platform to improve upon and get exposure for your writing. You’ll also receive invitations to live drafts and Winter Meetings.
Are the PEBA and LRS integrated into the same game world, or are they separate?
The PEBA and the LRS coexist in one gigantic baseball “universe”, which we refer to as the “PEBAverse”. When we began play in our 2007 season, only the 24 PEBA teams (and their affiliated minor league teams) were run by humans. Starting with the 2010 season, human GMs took over for the AI in the LRS. In our fiction, the PEBA purchased a controlling stake in the LRS in 2009, paving the way for interaction between the two leagues.
And the leagues really do interact in a number of interesting ways. Though direct trading between the leagues is not permitted, PEBA teams may submit sealed bids on posted LRS players during the off-season. If an LRS team accepts a bid and the bidding team successfully negotiates a contract with the player, that player joins the PEBA and his former LRS team is wired the bid value. LRS teams can also bid on Japanese players who pass through PEBA waivers. An accepted bid will result in a contract transfer to the LRS, with the bid value wired to the player’s former PEBA team.
What is your history playing baseball sims, including videogames and any card-and-dice ones like Strat-o-Matic? How did you first get into such games?
In truth, I had absolutely no history with sim baseball games beyond typical fantasy baseball leagues prior to OOTP. What I did have was a wide variety of cultural influences: books, movies, television, stage theater, computer games, pen-and-paper role-playing games. The common theme shared by these influences is the focus on storytelling. Eventually, I reached a point where I wanted to do more than consume stories – I wanted to create stories, and I wanted to help others do the same. That, more than anything else, was the driving force behind creating the PEBA. In a sense, the fact that baseball became the central focus of the endeavor was a happy accident.
Interestingly, the day I discovered OOTP was the day that my interest in fantasy baseball died. Once you’re presented with the all-encompassing depth of OOTP’s simulation engine, it’s difficult to go back to the boring abstraction of fantasy baseball. I got into fantasy baseball because I dreamt of becoming a baseball General Manager. I achieved that dream when I graduated to OOTP.
Why do you continue to play OOTP?
As I mentioned earlier, my interest in baseball stems from how well the sport lends itself to the development of narratives. Whether you like it or not, the inequity of baseball’s financial system that allows teams like the Yankees to dwarf teams like the Marlins in payroll is a narrative. A 103-year World Series victory drought is one heck of a long, winding narrative. David Freese going from World Series Game 6 goat to hero is about as compelling a narrative as you can get. Baseball is filled with emerging storylines, and no game on the market helps gamers tap into them like OOTP does.
Features like dynamically evolving leagues, for example, shake up gameplay, force reactions to a changing environment and, in the process, prompt gamers to build stories around this evolution. OOTP’s storyline engine is in its early stages of development, but even now, you can see the vast potential for more emergent storytelling. I’m incredibly excited about the enhancements in store for the storyline engine in OOTP 13. The developers have made this a priority, and gamers are going to discover their OOTP baseball universes are living, breathing places where on-the-field action is only part of the game. This kind of focus brings me back to OOTP over and over again.
How long have you been a baseball fan, and how and why did you get into the sport?
My father got me interested in baseball as a child. Cuba, my father’s birthplace, was much more open prior to their Revolution. Former big leaguer Bobby Bragan visited Havana and recruited my father as an outfield prospect. Though it didn’t lead to a big league career, my father’s love of the game remained and it bled over to me.
I am a lifelong Clevelander. Being a baseball fan in Cleveland comes with a set of requirements: patience, eternal optimism, patience, the ability to absorb a barrage of disappointments, patience, an endless supply of Kleenex, and goo-gobs of patience. I can only hope that Calvin’s father from Calvin & Hobbes is correct in his philosophy that suffering builds character, because Indians fans must learn to accept suffering as part and parcel with their fandom or quickly give up the venture.
But maybe Calvin’s dad is on to something. If nothing else, my fandom has taught me to appreciate the importance of delaying gratification (and delaying… and delaying…). That skill comes in handy for running a league like the PEBA/LRS. It’s not a race to results. It’s a slow-moving, ever-evolving, world-building experience. That’s the greatest strength of OOTP: It lets you play the game your way. Those who want to devour their results hot from the oven can have that. Those who want to savor the flavors of the game can have that, too. Everybody wins.