Playing MLB The Show 22 as a newbie taught me about America's pastime
Shohei Ohtani in MLB The Show 22
Shohei Ohtani is the cover athlete for MLB The Show 22 | Provided by Sony Interactive Entertainment

Playing MLB The Show 22 as a newbie taught me about America’s pastime

Turns out, baseball is a lot more complicated than it looks
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For decades, baseball has been called America’s favorite pastime.

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However, I am not American, so my understanding of the game has mostly been limited to what I know from Wii Sports. But last summer my friends told me about this guy named Shohei Ohtani, who was pretty good a) looking and b) at baseball, which enticed me to dip my toe into the world of bases and balls. I soon learned that the game has much more depth than just competing to see who can hit the ball hardest. For example, did you know that pitching is actually just as important as hitting? Sometimes more? I sure didn’t.

Still, other than watching clips of Shohei Ohtani get his 500th home run (or something like that), I’ve never bothered to learn more about how the game works.

Fast-forward to Feb. 2022. MLB The Show 22, the 17th entry in the MLB: The Show franchise of baseball simulation games, has slapped Mr. Ohtani right on the game’s cover. Sony also announced that an early tech test beta for MLB The Show 22 would run from Feb. 17 to Feb. 23 and would be free to download on PlayStation, XBox and Nintendo Switch.

MLB The Show 22 technical test
MLB The Show 22’s technical test will run from Feb 17 to Feb 23. | Provided by Sony Interactive Entertainment

“Perfect,” I thought. “Now I can simulate the ideal baseball team: 26 Shohei Ohtanis.”

So, I downloaded the PlayStation 5 version of The Show 22’s tech test to do just that, blissfully unaware that I was about to be thrown into a cruel world of which I knew nothing.

Whaling for dudes

Here’s the thing that nobody tells you about The Show 22 before you boot it up: it’s a gacha game. But instead of getting cute anime character PNGs, you get a bunch of cards of real-life men. These cards allow you to play said men in your baseball simulations. You get cards by buying packs of them in the store with Stubs, the in-game currency that The Show uses. There are regular packs containing cards of varying rarity and then “Diamond Dream” packs, which contain 10 Diamond player items. All cards can be sold for Stubs, which can then be used to purchase other cards from the online marketplace.

MLB The Show 22 pack opening screen
The baseball card gacha game. | Provided by Sony Interactive Entertainment

Owing to the nature of the technical test, all packs were free to purchase infinitely, and the cards inside them could still be sold for Stubs. Every Diamond item was worth 5000 Stubs. All this to say, I “bought” about 20 Diamond Dream packs, sold the contents for over 1 million Stubs, and used the profits to purchase seven Shohei Ohtani cards from the marketplace.

I then entered the Diamond Dynasty game mode, where you build the team that you’ll use to compete with. I made my team the Hong Kong Angels, which is my hometown plus Ohtani’s actual team, the Los Angeles Angels. I also gave them a lovely pink and blue color scheme to match that of my favorite esports team. With that, I was ready to take on the world.

Disaster strikes

Right off the bat (a phrase that derives from baseball, by the way – who knew?) I ran into an impassable roadblock. The beta did not have the game mode that allows you to build a team freely, meaning that my seven Shohei Ohtani cards effectively only counted as one. I nearly gave up right then and there, but I had already made it this far. I wanted to see how the game played out, so I tried to start a game against an AI team. However, the option wasn’t working when I tried it, so I was forced to find a match against a real life person instead.

For those interested, here was my starting lineup:

  1. Willie Mays, right field
  2. Mookie Betts, second base
  3. Jimmie Foxx, first base
  4. Mike Trout, center field
  5. Rafael Devers, third base
  6. Manny Machado, shortstop
  7. Yordan Alvarez, left field
  8. Tom Murphy, catcher
  9. Shohei Ohtani, pitcher
MLB The Show 22 team selection screen
My epic pay-to-win (?) lineup in The Show 22. | Provided by Sony Interactive Entertainment

This auto-generated team was drawn from the best Diamond cards that I’d gotten. Only two of these names were familiar to me (Shohei Ohtani and Mike Trout, AKA Shohei Ohtani’s friend) but my baseball-knowing friends assured me that this was a veritable superteam of legends both past and present, and it was primed for victory.

Here’s another thing they don’t tell you about the game: you actually have to play it. I’d been under the impression that it was a simulation game the entire time – and, certainly, you can do this in the full game, but the tech test required me to engage in gameplay that I didn’t know the first thing about. When playing the game I had to pitch, hit and field. Add this to my already pitiful knowledge of baseball as a game and I was completely out of my depth.

My opponent, who had clearly played the game before, promptly scored 8 runs against me while I was still figuring out how to throw and catch the ball. It was about then that I realized I might literally be the only person now playing the technical test who had never played The Show before. My friend called me “the worst possible beta tester,” which was probably accurate. The game ended at 10-0 due to the mercy rule, freeing both me and my opponent from the horrible cycle we’d trapped ourselves in.

Disaster continues to strike

Pitching as Shohei Ohtani in MLB The Show 22
Pitching as Shohei Ohtani in MLB The Show 22. | Provided by Sony Interactive Entertainment

I returned to the Diamond Dynasty landing page and found that the Play vs. AI feature was working now, giving me the option to play against someone who probably wouldn’t immediately begin exploiting the fact that their opponent was completely clueless. Probably.

Here’s another thing about MLB The Show 22: It’s really hard to hit when you have terrible depth perception, which I do. I had little to no concept of where balls were going to go or when to swing. My game against the computerized Baltimore Orioles (who were a formidable opponent in game, leading me to believe they are one of the top teams in real life) ended at something like 11-4. Over the course of the game, I had Ohtani throw 179 pitches, which by my estimation seems like a pretty average number.

Hong Kong Angels starting screen against AI Baltimore Orioles
Baltimore Orioles, you have made an enemy for life. | Provided by Sony Interactive Entertainment

After another AI loss against the equally dominant Texas Rangers, I decided that this may be America’s pastime, but it was decidedly not mine.

Redemption and understanding

Something weird happened after I exited out of the game, though. I kind of wanted to get back into it later and figure out how to actually play it properly, because past all the confusion and the not understanding how everything worked, I’d had fun with the flow of the game in a rote, mind-numbing way. The bases and balls were starting to make sense to me. So after a small break, I leapt back in to redeem myself against my old foes, the Orioles.

Shockingly, it went much better this time. Hitting successfully was still elusive, but I discovered over the course of the game that what I’d been told was true. Pitching is important, too. And by the grace of Shohei Ohtani’s 20 strikeouts, I swept the Orioles in a dramatic 9-1 victory.

The Hong Kong Angels finally triumph, led by Ohtani's throwing arm
The Hong Kong Angels finally triumph, led by Ohtani’s throwing arm. | Provided by Sony Interactive Entertainment

As I reveled in my victory over a top team, I realized that I’d actually had fun with a baseball game – even a game with only one Shohei Ohtani in it! This had been unthinkable to me mere hours ago, before the tech test opened. But being able to skip all the downtime and be fully engaged in the game actually made baseball kind of fun. In real baseball, the tradeoff for the exciting moments and feats of physical excellence is a whole lot of nothing happening. But in The Show 22, I could have my cake and eat it, too.

In conclusion – am I a baseball fan now? Probably not. But will I have a deeper understanding of the game when the Los Angeles Angels (hopefully) come to my city this year? Absolutely.

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Bonnie Qu
Just a fun guy who likes playing games and also likes writing about people playing games.