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March 27, 2011 / jwaxo

RBI (Almost vs. Barely)

In retrospect, why were there runners, but no basemen?
In retrospect, why can you see the runners, but no basemen?

So, how have video games actually influenced me and the way that I grew up? Obviously I could pick a very concise, four-word way of putting it, maybe use that as the title of a blog or something, but then I would be implying that I wasn’t raised by two loving parents, two pretty alright siblings, friends, teachers, relatives, etc.  But I’ll cut right to the chase and tell you: video games taught me grammar. And not just in the Reader Rabbit, Word Muncher type grammar, either, although maybe we’ll eventually get around to those. No, it was the classic NES game RBI that taught me the important difference between Almost and Barely.

Who even knows how I managed to get those words mixed up in the first place, anyway. I mean, they seem pretty clear-cut, something you’ve probably known forever. Almost means that you didn’t quite make it, barely means you only just did, right?

Try telling that to kindergarten-me.

I don’t actually know the exact year that this happened to me, but heck, I don’t remember half of the actual details I’m going to be spurting out here onto this blog, so just take it for granted from now on: any specific date could give or take a few years. In any case, picture this with me:

Baseball. Hats, gloves, bats, balls. Pitching mounds and bull pens and short stop and a billion other things that even now I can’t really keep straight. All of the kids played baseball, and it was something that even I could enjoy playing. The Sandlot, Rookie of the Year, Little Big League were all movies we loved watching. There are a bunch of different rules that baseball instills on little kids. Waiting your turn to bat; being a part of a team; hand-eye coordination; the difference between winning and losing. despite what my T-ball coach claimed at the time, there were definite losers and winners.

"Nobody won because we're all winners" my butt.

“Nobody won because we’re all winners” my butt.

And, on days when it was too cold or too rainy or there weren’t enough kids to even play with ghost runners, we would retire inside and play RBI Baseball.

RBI was rather ridiculous. The characters were really cartoony, to the point that we always made fun of the batter for having a huge butt, and the pitcher would sometimes just scoot around on the mound because they looked so silly, sidestepping back and forth. Despite this we still played it a heck of a lot, arguing over who got to be the American League or the National League, claiming the other player was cheating, swapping out batting if there were more than two people who wanted to play.

One thing that was great about RBI was that it let us play baseball in a way we couldn’t in real life. Sure, if we wanted to hit a ball really far we’d use a metal bat and a tennis ball, but in RBI we could knock real balls out of the park if we got lucky enough. We always had enough players, never having to rely on ghost runners. And heck, if you just got your little guy under where the ball was, he would catch it and never flinch away because that ball was moving really, really fast.

Look, they're scary, okay?

Look, they’re scary, okay?

Despite years of playing it, and years of playing other games where surely the words “almost” and “barely” must have come up, it never came to light that I had managed to get them mixed. Then, one day, I am playing a really awesome game. I’ve managed to get a few runs ahead of my friend from down the street, something that never happened in real life because he was a whole entire year ahead of me, I’m feeling pretty good about myself, I’m probably playing Detroit because the Tigers were the bomb. Then I smack another ball, it goes flying into the stands and stops just short of the wall directly behind the top row of the stands, or what would be the top row if the stands weren’t composed of a bunch of pastel dots. Now, a home run is a good thing, no doubt about that: all of your runners go in, you get few more points, you feel good. The difference between a home run and knocking it out of the park, though, is tantamount. Fireworks went off, a special message scrolled across the screen, a parade was held, John Madden showed up across gaming consoles and sports games just to congratulate you. Well, it was at least those first couple, and even then they might have happened with a vanilla homerun no matter what.

But the accolades among your friends were amazing.

So, in frustration, I tossed my controller to the floor. “Dangit, I barely made it.”

“Barely?” my friend scoffed. “You almost made it, you mean.”

I looked up hopefully. “Really?” My eyes frantically scanned the screen, thinking I misread the congratulatory message, maybe missed John Madden’s welcoming face. (“Boom!” he’d be saying. “It’s a home run because you get to run to home!”) But there was nothing.

Somehow we managed to work out our grammatical differences with that quick understanding little kids possess. “‘Barely’ means you only just made it, ‘almost’ means that you didn’t quite make it,” my friend explained.

“Nuh-uh,” I insisted, quite logically, “‘almost’ means that you just almost made it, and ‘barely’ means that you didn’t.”

This probably went on for quite a while before at last I revealed my trump card: we were playing at my house, so we would go to my ultimate authority, who would definitely agree with me: my mom.

“Nope, he’s right,” she said to me. “You have them backwards.”

Those mats aren't poorly drawn chairs, by the way. They cushioned my young behind for at least twenty years.

Those mats aren’t poorly drawn chairs, by the way. They cushioned my young behind for at least twenty years.

Well, that couldn’t be right at all. Mom must have been wrong. It was a conspiracy by the grammatical communists, doing their best to trick everyone but me into thinking that almost and barely had each other’s definitions!

But I showed them. I continued to use them incorrectly for the rest of the game.

“But wait,” you say. “If you were that stubborn kid who insisted on using his wrong grammar even when faced with everyone disagreeing with him, how did you eventually get them straightened out? This even ruins the entire point of you saying RBI taught you the difference between them.” And you’re right. I have no idea when I stopped having those mixed up. Maybe I still do have them mixed up, and I only remember this story because it’s when I first got lied to.

What a great lesson, right?


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