Kelly Marrs moved in early September from St. Louis to Satellite Beach, Fla., and he turned to MLB.TV and the MLB.com At Bat 12 app to help him stay truly connected to Redbird Nation down the stretch.
Now as he and everyone else wait for pitchers and catchers to report to Spring Training in February, that Cardinals fan has just found another way to feel closer to his favorite ballpark: Build it himself.
Marrs is among tens of thousands of baseball fans playing MLB Ballpark Empire, an online video game from MLB.com that can be best described as Major League Baseball's answer to Farmville. It's what a lot of people have been waiting for.
"I'm trying to build a stadium the DeWitts would like, without adding any of my own money, so we'll see how it works," Marrs said, referring to Cardinals ownership. "It's an easy app to use and play. It's something great to do since we have to wait so long for Spring Training.
"I really love having the chance to build it the way I want it. I really think it can grow on you. I'm only averaging about 2,000 people a game now, but it seems I am always out of hot dogs. They're hungry in this app."
And they are hungry for this app, based on this MLB Ballpark Empire player's experience so far. In fact, I am reluctantly typing this now because it is frankly pulling me away from building a Yankees empire on my own minimized app. I can hear the sound of that app as I type, with its ambient ballpark noise, kind of like that pulsing drumbeat within the board game of Jumanji.
This game allows you to take the reins of any of the 30 MLB clubs and build a stadium, operating concessions and managing all of the decisions of managing your very own MLB franchise. You can play with friends or against them, as I did with a whole host of sudden Facebook friends, like Marrs. It is one new mission after another, dragging and dropping ballpark items and literally building your own ballpark from the ground up, signage and statues and all.
I have to admit that I broke out some Facebook plastic on day one, not especially given to patience in forging my own world of Yankees baseball. Real money is not a requirement, but it's an option. You can win missions and reach new levels. For me, investing only made sense, purists be damned. Seriously, if you were going to run everything with the Yankees, how would you do it on day one?
This apparently is going to become a personal way of life, much to the chagrin of my wife -- with whom I made sure to share a few minutes today during a break from upgrading my hot dog stands and firing the general manager and manager. I also took my English Bulldog for a walk. Bathing was never contemplated.
Here were some highlights of a life taken over:
Signed Derek Jeter to a 24-game contract for 943,920 coins.
Used up four of my Training Blocks to give Jeter some training skills at shortstop.
Enlisted the Farmville skills of our teen-age daughter, who showed me how to sell, move and store ... oh, all right, showed me how to do just about everything. I delegated!
Achieved my mission of $50,000 in hot dog sales.
Ignored massive amounts of leaves outside that I should have raked on a Sunday, and kept upgrading my hot dog stands right through that supposedly incredible Justin Bieber performance during the American Music Awards that allegedly were on TV.
Swept the National League East.
Signed Buster Posey to a lifetime contract.
"I'm jealous," real-life Giants fan August Sandmeier told me via Facebook, where it all happened. I lost big at her amazing AT&T Park empire. "I really want Justin Verlander and I'm trying to save up for him, but I keep having to replace most of my team."
The technology inside MLB Ballpark Empire really is magnificent and captivating, the feeling sort of magical to those who normally patron what others built.
You start building sections of your ballpark, first in wood then in steel. A Center Wood Stand here, a Basic Wood Dugout there. You decorate with an occasional maple or pine outside. Gradually it takes shape, and you are a builder in every sense, builder of the facility and of your team.
One of the really interesting aspects to me was how the playing of the game itself is almost the backdrop. Each game moves along quickly, automated, and as it is being played, you are busy trying to keep up with your hot dog demands, hurriedly restocking your supply to keep customers happy. After each game, you look at your financial statement, and you marvel at your ability to gradually grow revenue. You can almost feel how an MLB owner would feel, knowing you have to do all those things right to make the money that you in turn spend on players, who keep fans happy.
Welcome to MLB Ballpark Empire.
Feel the power.
"MLB Ballpark Empire is an awesome game," said Jerod Mattern of Lakota, N.D. He started a few days ago, also building his own Busch Stadium. "Building a stadium and a team day by day is fun. I enjoy playing against my friends. I like how you can build concession stands and sell stuff during the game and decorate the ballpark."
I'm wondering if I should sign Pablo Sandoval for $530,000 for five games. I need a monster scoreboard like the one in real Yankee Stadium. And no offense to the fictional Danielle Hughes, but she is out as my stadium operations manager because George Lewis can get a 10-percent discount on decorations and a four-percent discount on concessions.
Hey, I have to pay Jeter for 12 more games. This is serious stuff.
You'll know where to find me, Marrs, Sandmeier and Mattern on Thanksgiving.