When I was growing up, my friends and family and I would take me to the Metrodome to watch the Twins about a half dozen times per year.
Sitting there under the dirty teflon room and looking out on the baggie in right field, I would scream my head off with everyone else as Bob Casey offered his trademark introduction, "Batting third... the center fielder... Kirbyyyyyyyyy Puckett!
The Twins were good in those days. They were in the midst of a four year run that saw them take home two World Series championships, making them the only Minnesota team in my lifetime to do something other than gag away a title. The stadium was awful — easily the worst baseball venue in the league, beating out even certified dumps like the Oakland Coliseum — but I still get a little choked up thinking about moments like Kirby hitting the walk-off homer to force Game 6 in the World Series, or years later, the Twins beating the Tigers in Game 163 to steal the AL Central Division championship (what happened in the playoffs afterward is best forgotten).
But, of course, times change. The Twins have been absolutely wretched for five years now; and though it's been fun to follow the exploits of the A's and Giants in my adopted hometown of San Francisco, my interest in baseball has correspondingly waned. At the risk of sounding like one of "those people," the stats revolution that has taken over baseball has done nothing but make the sport denser and harder to follow — as if it needed to be even more niche than it already is.
When MLB 15: The Show launched late last month, I didn't expect it to change anything. Like the sport itself, it is one of the densest and most difficult to engage with sims around. I figured I would play it for the review and put it away, much as I have the past few years.
But to my great surprise, that hasn't happened. In fact, I'm more hooked than ever. And to some extent, that goes for baseball as well.
Back to The Show
The funny thing about MLB 15 is that it's not terribly different from previous iterations in the series.
As I wrote in my review last month, Sony San Diego has been quite conservative with its additions to the series. This year, they've mostly opted to focus on streaming moneymaker modes like Diamond Dynasty, with tweaks to the gameplay and existing modes like Road to the Show being minor to non-existent. If it were Madden, there would be no end to the amount of crap it would get from fans.
But MLB: The Show has been a strong baseball sim for a long time now, and for that reason, it tends to get a bit more slack. What's more, Sony San Diego has finally addressed my single biggest issue with the series — the often atrocious online play. Now I can not only get online and play some baseball, it's actually fun. Trust me when I say that this is a huge, huge step up for The Show.
For me, at least, strong online play has been a revelation. Since wrapping up my review, I've frequently found myself going back to The Show to play a round or two online. With Quick Counts on, I can usually finish a game in around 30 minutes, which is just about the right amount of time for a game. Playing as the Twins the other night, I got into a furious pitcher's duel with Jon Lester's Cubs, eventually losing 1-0 on a late home run. In another game, I traded homers with the Reds as the Giants, finally coming out on top 6-5.
For the first time in what seems like ages, I find that I can enjoy the entirety of The Show, and not just the individualized niche of playing as a pitcher or a hitter. And in the process, I've started to remember what I liked about baseball in the first place. I like the mind games that occur at the plate as I try to predict whether I will see a fastball in the zone or an offspeed pitch that drops into the dirt. I like the satisfaction of successfully turning a double play, or making a perfectly timed jump and grabbing second base in the latter part of a tight game. I think that a play at home plate with the game on the line is the most exciting moment in sports. And don't even get me started on the high that comes with a walkoff home run or a complete game shutout. Those endorphins can last me for weeks.