My Love/Hate Affair with Hitting in MLB: The Show 12

Posted on June 21, 2012


Many of us play video games to shed our woes and experience something otherworldly. Immersion, right? Some games take us to amazing fantasy worlds; other games recreate our world and put gamers in otherwise unobtainable positions of power.

My pride feels like his face

Take MLB: The Show for example. On the surface, this baseball sim sets the table for ultimate immersion, offering baseball fans the opportunity to take their favorite ball club to the World Series or mold a green Farm League athlete into a Hall of Famer. The ballparks are meticulously recreated. Avatars look like their real-life counterparts. Animations reflect ballplayers’ blase nonchalance and spontaneous enthusiasm. This franchise puts painstaking effort into getting baseball right, and in return it receives critical acclaim every year. In sports games, I want ultimate realism. But, MLB: The Show has shown me the dark side of immersion.

A short anecdote best describes my woes. Bear with me. I’m going to pull an Uncle Rico and dwell on not-so-glorious glory days:

In high school, I played baseball. I wasn’t great, but I could hit, catch and run. Where I fell short was polish. Nobody taught me the nuances of the game. While hitting, catching and running came naturally, skills like driving the ball to opposite field, catching with the sun in your eyes or getting a good jump for base stealing was lost to me. (Boo-hoo, I know.) Needless to say, baseball didn’t stick. Despite my shortcomings as a player, I’m still fond of baseball. This year, I had an irresistible itch to pour hours into MLB: The Show’s Franchise and Road to the Show (RTTS) modes.

Most of my time goes to RTTS and my 19-year-old center fielder, Joe Babb. Over the course of two-and-a-half seasons, I’ve developed an approach to hitting and balancing his hitting, base running and fielding skill upgrades. Though it was a challenge, I achieved a system where I could identify pitch speed, type and location with fair regularity. This typically yields positive results for hitting performance tracking (which are abundant in RTTS). While statistics abound, feedback and tips are nonexistent. So, while my contact and plate discipline look great in a bar graph, Joe’s batting average hovers around .200 and all coach has for me is, “you’re wasting your talent” or something to that nature.

Don’t get me wrong, I don’t mind putting the time into improving Joe as a player. In fact, I braced myself for early lumps and slumps. But, Joe slaps just about every ball to the shortstop or second baseman. Tailor-made double play balls and line drives directed right at the defense! Fun! Joe’s struggles are compounded by his coach’s ill-fitting goals to hit “X” home runs and drive in “Y” RBIs even though Joe’s a leadoff, contact hitter. I know minor league coaches aren’t the best in the biz, but I didn’t know they specialized in pouring salt in the wound.

A quick recap: Joe’s batting average is lousy, but performance graphs are all positive. Joe is a finesse, small-ball player, but coach gives him power-hitter goals. When his contact and swing timing are good, he doesn’t get hits. It seems like Joe is on the cusp of greatness, but after a few seasons, it seems more like he’s better suited for selling cars than digging in at the plate.

Thanks to Joe’s woes, it was only a matter of time before memories of riding the pine came rushing up from my well of my memories, and that spoiled any chance of watching Joe Babb ascend to the pros. When immersion and escapism is the goal, what do you do when your avatar becomes you rather than you becoming the avatar?

Posted in: Op-Ed