I live for MLB The Show day every year but it’s a part of a larger whole. Spring Training is the appetizer as I casually catch a few innings of players I’ve never heard of playing in games that don’t matter. Then comes Opening Day and the return of background noise that often takes up a welcome space in my life while I’m cooking, reading, or whatever. There are also a couple of early April trips to catch a few games live that I absolutely live for.
The plan for this year was to fully immerse myself as a Mets fan (following a divorce from an Orioles team that has given up on trying or being entertaining for the foreseeable future), snagging seats Opening Day weekend at Citi Field with my cousin while taking another step in building a friendship that had been on ice for decades due to family sh*t that had nothing to do with us. Then I was going to take my wife to a game, continuing a growing tradition by showing her her sixth stadium. We’d planned on going up to Boston, too, for number seven before we moved south in May. But now, everything (including the move) is on hold as we all wait (and hope) for real-life to resume. That’s where it all comes back to MLB The Show, because right now, video games are all you’ve got if you’re looking to fill the baseball void.
MLB The Show is, once again, deeper and flashier this year. I should point that out. A roster expansion in Franchise Mode with something approaching a full minor league experience is a particularly cool thing for anyone aching for more authenticity. I did a profile on one of the key figures in San Diego Studios’ efforts to pull that off a couple of years ago and back then the guy, Scott Spindler, was the leader of a band of amateur roster creators who took the work very seriously in their limited free time. Now everything is official. It’s crazy to see a studio reach into its community like that but credit to the team behind The Show for making that move and shoring up a license.
I complain every year (because I’m hard to please) that the game still doesn’t go as deep with retro players and a customizable franchise experience as NBA2K, but improvements over the years to a growing Legends roster, the creation of and continued support for Moments mode, the Retro play mode, and now a hint at customizable teams shows a dedication to the fan experience that deserves a nod of appreciation. Now if they could just make a stadium creator tool (and add more throwback stadiums) and let us go deeper with full-on expansion mode… but I digress.
All of this stuff is cool, as are improvements to Road To The Show with new rewards and interactions. Gameplay improvements across the board also genuinely make for a smoother experience that demands a little more skill from players to truly excel while unplugging from the real world and pretending to work through the season as scheduled in Franchise or March To October. All of this is, in my opinion, justification enough to invest in the game this year (even though I got a review copy this time around). But to be real, as with my other baseball interests, the game is kinda secondary. It’s about keeping one specific tradition alive and finding a little human connection.
For a few years now, MLB The Show has been a great excuse for me and one of my best friends (who lives about 2,000 miles away in Canada) to step out of our real lives and away from work stress. We get a little drunk and we riff on life while playing deep into the night with our wives sometimes walking by to mock our occasional playdates. Throwback jerseys are of great importance (I’d count the inclusion of Montreal Expos throwbacks a couple of years ago for the Nationals as one of his happiest moments) as are historic stadiums like the Polo Grounds with its insanely weird dimensions. We talk trash, we talk politics, comic books, and Star Wars, pulling in inside jokes from when we used to have a podcast to serve as our excuse for hanging out.
It’s arrested development defined, but also a genuinely treasured experience for the two of us that fits the rhythms of baseball well (attempts at other sports games haven’t worked as well due to the pacing). And I think that kind of thing, IRL, is something people are going to miss most with all this chaos and how it’s upending so many aspects of our culture, particularly sports. So, if you’re not much of an MLB The Show player (or you are in a more solitary way) and you want to try and fill the void left from not being able to scream your head off with friends at a bar or indulge in those pockets of conversation that come in between the slow-burn action while sat in the stands at a real game, then maybe see if you can convince a friend to goof off with you while playing The Show for a few hours of frivolous and soul-restoring bonding.
‘MLB The Show 20’ is available to download in the Playstation Store and to order via Amazon. Uproxx was provided with a review copy of this game.