I’m not sure when my obsession with baseball started, but after it took hold it was pervasive. I not only loved playing the game, I was mesmerized by its structure, cadence, and symmetries. And not just the game, but the people, stories, stadiums, and history fascinated me to no end. By the time I reached junior high, my friends and I were creating fantasy leagues complete with schedules, divisions, playoffs, and all the data we could record. But before my obsession evolved to the level of J. Henry Waugh, I started with a simple electronic game: Pulsonic II Electronic Baseball.
The coolest thing about this game was the stadium. I don’t think any other handheld electronic baseball game featured such a realistic ballpark—even though this one was a bit odd since it seated more people in the outfield seats than around the infield. I knew this wasn’t right, but I didn’t care.
You could play against the computer or another person. In solitary mode, you batted for both teams. The pitch traveled from the pitcher’s mound to the plate, and you had to hit the “swing” button, the big orange button at the bottom of the device, at just the right moment to make contact. If you didn’t swing, the ball could either cross the plate for a strike, or veer into either batter’s box for a called ball. It was basically impossible to strike out.
After you hit the pitch the game’s computer would randomly select an outcome: an out, double-play, or some kind of base hit. You could also hit a foul ball. If you had a runner on base, you could attempt a steal.
The outcomes were fairly realistic. I never recorded any data on hits (there were no error outcomes), but the number of runs scored was reasonable for a baseball game: between 1 and 9 for either team. I recall that shutouts were extremely rare.
The game kept up with balls and strikes, played a full nine innings, and would go to extra innings if the score was tied.
In the two-player mode, the defensive player opened a small door at the top of the unit (behind the outfield seats), and selected from several types of pitch: fastball, slowball, curve, or change-up. The change-up would start off fast, then slow down dramatically about halfway to the plate. For a long time, I thought that was what a change-up would do in real life.
This was one of the few toys that I took good care of, even though I played with it a lot. It’s only bad feature were the sound effects. They were irritating, and you couldn’t turn off the sound, although you could turn it down.
I loved this game, but I got tired of it, and parted with it in the stupidest way I could devise: I sold it to get money to buy a slushee. To this day, I really have no idea why I did that.
I wasn’t a complete geek, by the way. I played real-life baseball every summer of my life until I graduated from high school. But on the fantasy side, I eventually moved past the Pulsonic II to Atari’s baseball games, Avalon Hill’s board games (featured in a future article in this series), and later to Diamond Mind Baseball, an extraordinarily accurate computer simulation based on the real-life statistics of major league players.
The Pulsonic II was manufactured by Mego Electronics, and competed with several other electronic sports games during the early 80s. This particular game is somewhat rare, and on E-bay it generally sells for between $75 and $100.