A fun story about MLB: The Show

I have a stack of games sitting next to me at the computer. Almost without exception, none of them are current in the sense that they were released at any time recently, or are hot topics around the gaming sphere. However, over the next several months, I will probably spend most or all of my my gaming time with games out of this stack.

Last weekend, I unwrapped MLB 09: The Show and started a new “Road To The Show” (RTTS) player – an lefty-hitting, right-handed outfielder named Mike Mills. He’s named after Mike Mills of R.E.M., although he looks nothing like Mills in reality: the game doesn’t allow for medium-long, curly blonde hair and dorky-cool glasses, so he’s just a white guy with short hair and a mustache – he actually looks kind of like Wally Backman, which I’m fine with.

This game is just under two years old; however, I’m not spending any more money on baseball games for a long time. I bought the game the day it came out, and I’d like to get some value out of it since I’ve been remiss in not playing it until now. Fortunately, I’m enjoying it, so that shouldn’t be too much of a problem.

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I like RTTS mode because it allows you to create a player and level him like you would in an RPG. You start off as a rookie in Class AA-ball after your first spring training, and work your way up through the system, training and honing your skills as you go.

Anyway, I’m trying to create a player who can hit for average, has some power, can play adequate defense, and can steal bases like a madman. I love the stolen base; I was never a fast sprinter, and was never really that good at baseball, so I rarely had the chance to steal bases when I played – but, to me, it is one of the more exciting plays in baseball. In The Show, I like reading the pitcher, timing his delivery, playing around with different approaches to taking leads off the base, and so on.

There’s a weird problem that RTTS has in this regard: when you start off, you basically have to level everything, including your raw speed. This is not true to real life at all – usually, a player working through the minor leagues has the raw speed already, and works on refining his base-stealing skills and other fundamentals. Power may be a raw “stat” that can be increased over time in real life, but speed is either there or it isn’t at that point. This is not the case in the video game, so right now I run painfully slowly on the bases as well as in the field.

I’ve done my best to remedy this, ensuring that I put points into my speed-related skills at a slightly higher rate than other skills. However, at this point I’m almost a month into my first season at Class AA, and I’m still pretty slow.

I did steal my first base last night. I got on base against a right-handed pitcher who had a knuckleball as one of the five pitches in his repertoire, but in my at-bat against him he seemed to lean pretty heavily on it. I singled, and then watched as his first pitch to the next batter took f-o-r-e-v-e-r to get to the plate. I also noted that his delivery was painfully deliberate. So… I decided that I was going on the next pitch, whether it was a knuckleball or not, because of that slow delivery.

Just before the next pitch, one of the announcers said something like, “The guy at first is no threat to run, so he can really concentrate on getting the batter out.”

“Uh, yeah, right” was my thought, and as the pitcher committed to home plate, I took off. I easily beat the throw from the catcher, and stood proudly on second with my super-slow player’s first SB of 09: The Show. It was a fun game – for some reason, the knuckleballer was on the mound for six innings, and I had three hits, two RBIs and a stolen base against him.

As I play more games, do more training, “get faster,” and get on base more, I’ll start to develop a reputation for being dangerous on the base paths. That’s where the real fun begins – I’ll start stretching my leads, drawing more throws, attempting to steal third, and so on. Right now, I’m basically stuck on my base unless the pitcher has a slow delivery and a nothing harder than a weak fastball.

* * * * *

A funny thing happened last night.

In my first three weeks, I was a backup outfielder. This meant that I was starting every other game, and coming off the bench to pinch hit on the off days. As in the real game, this can be a tough assignment. It’s tough to get on base very often when you’re coming off the bench cold, even in a video game.

In spite of the erratic schedule, after three weeks I was hitting .375, so the manager was basically forced to play me every day. However, on the day before I was made a permanent starter, I was brought in off the bench… as a pitcher.

Yeah, I know, bizarre. But it gets better.

I haven’t played a baseball video game in a couple of years, and when I started this one, I went straight to RTTS, so I didn’t play any full-team games – this means that I didn’t get any experience with the pitching mechanics.

Oh well, I figured. We’ll see what happens.

It was the bottom of the fifth inning, and the leadoff batter, a righty, stepped into the box. The catcher called for a fastball, which I was grateful for. I reached back and whipped a fastball in there, hitting the low outside corner for a strike. Then…

I was pulled. Immediately.

The game was over, since in RTTS you only play the plays that involve you. I didn’t get to see how fast my pitch was, and I didn’t get credit for the batter, or for pitching part of an inning, or anything. However, amazingly, I got credit for the victory!

Yes… totally bizarre. So here is my career line as a pitcher: 1-0, 0.00 ERA (which is actually mathematically undefined), 0 IP, 0 H, 0 R, 0 K, 0 BB, 0 Batters Faced.

It must have been a glitch.

The next day I was promoted, and I’ve been starting every day in my proper lineup position, roaming left field and batting third.

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I read recently that the upcoming version, MLB 11, will feature a completely revamped RTTS experience that is more natural and realistic, which sounds awesome. It would be nice to be able to make a player that had good speed and fielding skills, and decent contact skills, to start with, so that I could have some tools to work with instead of starting out sucking at everything. Perhaps at some point down the road I will get a chance to try it out… but for now, I’m busy playing a game that most other baseball gamers were playing two springs ago.