Three up, three down, three times squared. Do that in a video game and you might win a million bucks. 2K Sports' mad Million Dollar Perfect Game challenge returns this year with MLB 2K11.
"I don't know if we're smart or just insane," Jason Argent, the vice president of marketing for 2K Sports. "The million-dollar bounty's back. I just walked out of a meeting with our chief financial officer; budgeting for this sort of thing is a bit of a challenge when you can't say exactly when you're going to pay it."
2K Sports fully expects to, and if it goes anything like last year's stunt, it won't take long. The basic proposition is the same: Using the MLB Today feature in the game, which matches the starting pitchers and starting lineups for that day's game in real life, take your starter through all 27 opposing batters without any of them reaching base. Film it - according to a strict list of qualifiers so 2K knows it hasn't been faked - and send it in, and someone might show up on your lawn with a crazy-sized check for a crazy-sized amount.
"How often do you get to write a ridiculously big check to one of your fans?" Argent mused.
Conceived last year as a promotion to tout MLB 2K10's remade pitching mechanic, 2K Sports struck gold when the winner turned out to be Wade McGilberry, an earnest young husband practically sent from central casting. McGilberry twirled the perfecto on release day in March 2010, waited out a nervous month while 2K verified the feat, then declared the prize money would be used to pay off a mortgage and start a family.
"We'd be hard pressed to find someone as nice and deserving as Wade," Argent said Wednesday. "Wade was such a perfect fit and a heartwarming story."
Changes in the rules this year might help 2K land another feel-good winner. The entry-age cutoff will be lowered so that kids 12 and older can take a crack at the prize. Last year's contest was open only to adults 18 and up.
This year the contest will begin on Opening Day of the Major League Baseball season, which is March 31. Last year the contest began the day the game released (which is March 8 this year, for PS3 and Xbox 360). So McGilberry spun his perfect game using the Atlanta Braves' spring training roster in a spring training venue.
"Everyone will get three weeks to practice and get used to the engine again," Argent said. "Then it'll be all hands on deck, and everyone will have to play with the full real life starting rosters going forward."
In real life, no perfect game has been thrown on Opening Day. Hall of Fame pitcher Bob Feller, who died Dec. 15, no-hit the White Sox on Opening Day 1940, but walked five. On the last day of the 1984 season, the California Angels' Mike Witt retired all 27 Seattle Mariners in order, needing just 94 pitches to do so.
2K Sports' perfect game bounty will last until Sept. 28, though it's likely not to take anywhere near as long. Also, unlike last year, the publisher will try to verify a winner as soon as the submission is received. Last year there was a monthlong window where no one knew, officially, if any candidates had stepped up.
Tying into the perfect game theme is this year's cover star, the National League Cy Young winner Roy Halladay of the Philadelphia Phillies. Halladay threw a perfect game on May 29, then tossed only the second no-hitter in major league postseason history when he blanked the Cincinnati Reds in Game One of the 2010 National League Division Series. He's the fifth pitcher in major league history, and the first since 1973, to throw multiple no-hitters in the same season.
"When we finished the deal to put him on the cover and were talking with him about the game, the first thing he said was, ‘Man, you've got to change that perfect game contest,'" Argent said. "He said, ‘My son is going crazy trying to throw a perfect game and win a million dollars, and I didn't have the heart to tell him he was ineligible because he was too young last year.'"