In The Batter’s Circle With MLB 10: The Show and Twins Catcher Joe Mauer

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Two dates that are keeping diehard baseball fans like me warm this winter: February 18 and March 2. The first date is when pitchers and catchers show up in Arizona and Florida for the start of spring training. The second is when MLB 10: The Show goes on sale. Sony’s San Diego Studio does a phenomenal job producing this baseball sim and, without having to resort to marketing gimmicks, has turned it into one of PlayStation’s most bankable franchises. Last year’s edition actually outsold Killzone 2 in March, the first month both titles were available.

On Tuesday I had the chance to sit in on a motion capture session for the game’s cover athlete, Minnesota Twins catcher and reigning American League MVP Joe Mauer. I asked him to recount a story in which Mauer’s former teammate, pitcher Johan Santana, played baseball videogames before starts in order to scout the competition. “I would sit next to him on the plane,” Mauer recalls, “and he would set their lineup (in the videogame) just as they would play against him. We would go through each hitter. He would play as himself. It gave him a real good visual. Big league players definitely use it as a learning tool.”

I was also able to chat with the developers about some of the new features in MLB 10. The Holy Grail of baseball games—being able to start a 162-game season and have the daily lineups automatically reflect what’s going on in the real big leagues—is still out of reach (it’s a lot harder to implement than it sounds), but this year the foundation is in place for you do this manually. It’ll require a lot of effort: you’ll need to assume control of all 30 teams and manage each one’s roster, even at the Single-A minors level.

Other new additions for hardcore baseball geeks include real-time waiver periods and a detailed injury management system that allows you to assign specific medical setbacks to players. Want to give Manny Ramirez a torn ACL that’ll keep him sidelined for 60 days? It’s possible in the game.

Of course, if you’re not into this level of detail, you can just play a leisurely 9-inning game. MLB 10 excels at this too and will have tons of new animations and other eye candy to make it worth your while to step up to the plate it when it comes out next month.