Back in the days of Windows 95, PC baseball video games were just starting to come into their own as something more than a simple spin-off of the console versions. As a kid, I wasn’t even that avid of a baseball fan, and I never did well with the Nintendo and Sega Genesis console baseball video games. But, after watching the exploits of Pedro Martinez for the Boston Red Sox, I became fascinated with his dominance as a pitcher. So, I started to gain a lot of interest in the game, and I decided to finally try out a baseball video game for the PC. The first I ever tried, and my first favorite baseball game, was a gem called Hardball 6 released by Accolade in 1998.
At the time, the Hardball series was well documented as being one of the premier baseball video game franchises. Unfortunately, Hardball 6 was not quite up to many critics’ standards. I didn’t actually purchase the game until 1999, the year I truly got into baseball after watching Pedro Martinez strike out three in a row to start the All-Star Game at Fenway Park in Boston, and two punch-outs in his second inning. By this time, some of the game’s major bugs had been patched.
Today, Hardball 6’s many flaws are still obvious, but in 1998, to a relatively new fan of the sport, I loved it. Really, I was just thrilled to pitch with my favorite baseball player of all time to this day, Pedro Martinez. I also loved having another of my favorite players, Nomar Garciaparra of my hometown Red Sox, in my lineup. Beyond that, though, I wasn’t nearly the hardcore Red Sox fan that I would later become. My Red Sox teams looked very different than what the rosters that came with the game offered.
Today, most people think of Sony Entertainment’s MLB the Show when it comes to baseball video games. Indeed, the Show’s proprietary Ignite engine released in 2013 was the first to deliver a gameplay experience that felt just like watching live television. But, before the PlayStation or Xbox, Hardball 6 began the trend of PC baseball games with accelerated graphics and special effects. Despite looking extremely dated today, it blew away any previous sports game in terms of realism.
Also, Hardball 6 had some features that many baseball games didn’t have at the time. While many baseball games had season modes, Hardball 6 actually allowed you to manage a franchise for as long as you wanted. Unlike many baseball games of the time, it was also the first in the Hardball series to use the full Major League Baseball license. You could make trades, sign free agents, and even draft computer generated rookie players. There were no salaries or budgets in the game, unlike the serious baseball sims of the time like Baseball Mogul and Diamond Mind. But, it was an acceptable baseball sim, and for me, it was easy to learn and enjoy.
Hardball 6 was easy to play, meaning you could get into it in a few minutes. You just picked your team, in my case the Boston Red Sox, and jumped right into it. While later I would become extremely into micro-managing rosters and personnel decisions, Hardball 6 let me to focus on the core parts of baseball: hitting and pitching. Some hardcore simulation games like the Mogul series could bog down in that kind of management, but Hardball 6 kept things simple and enjoyable. Also, being able to beat the All-Time Team was pretty fun. What young baseball fan doesn’t want to strike out Babe Ruth with Pedro Martinez or Randy Johnson?
Thanks to my fun with this game, I also soon purchased Microsoft Baseball 2000. But, that and its sequel, Microsoft Baseball 2001, hold a much different place in my heart. My dedication to Hardball 6 greatly overshadowed pretty much every other baseball game I had, though. Before EA released their now classic MVP Baseball series, I never played any other baseball game nearly as much as Hardball 6.
Unfortunately, Hardball 6 is not too easy to run on newer computers, despite the fact I still own the original CD, thanks to its extremely dated graphics system glitching out on modern hardware. But, everyone’s fandom begins somewhere, and Hardball 6 was my way of learning the league and its players, while also familiarizing myself with the playing fundamentals. I wouldn’t be the baseball fan I am today without the dozens, if not hundreds, of hours I spent playing Hardball 6.