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My favorite sports video game? Creating uniforms in MLB The Show 20.

A custom team feature breathes new life into a sport in limbo

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A rather robust left-handed hitter follows the flight of a long drive, the Pittsburgh catcher behind him watching along.
Carl Billy “Country Breakfast” Vaughn, 3B, St. Louis Barons, wallops a fifth-inning drive against Pittsburgh.
Sony San Diego/Sony Interactive Entertainment via Polygon
Owen S. Good is a longtime veteran of video games writing, well known for his coverage of sports and racing games.

MLB The Show 20’s is largely a refinement of preceding works. Lacking a real-life season, which should have been in its second week by now, the latest game would also seem to lack a big reason for a baseball fan to buy it.

But Sony San Diego played exactly the right card, at exactly the right time. The developers of the 15-year-old series pumped new life into their Franchise mode with the Custom Leagues feature, which allows players to create their own baseball teams and stick them into a Major League season, whether by themselves or in an online league with friends.

The novel coronavirus caught everyone by surprise, but considering the amount of time I have spent inside, in front of my PlayStation 4 editing and perfecting my uniforms, it feels like MLB The Show’s makers were the best prepared of anyone, even if all they did was bolt the uniform editor from the Diamond Dynasty mode onto Franchise.

The deep capabilities of this uniform editor is not news to anyone who has played Diamond Dynasty mode. That’s the online, Ultimate-Team style mode where everyone’s team is fictitious. But baseball fans are probably the most obsessive, detail-oriented apparel aesthetes among all professional sports worldwide. And giving one full control over an actual team’s look — completely remaking and renaming them if they wish — absolutely makes MLB The Show 20 feel like a radically different game.

I’ve used my time with the game to create an alternate reality where St. Louis got an expansion team to replace the Browns after they left for Baltimore in 1953, and where the New York Giants took the name of San Francisco’s AAA team, the Seals, when they moved west in 1958. When the Seals meet the Los Angeles Angels, or the San Diego Padres, it’s like the Pacific Coast League reborn.

All of this comes courtesy of The Show’s stupendously deep logo library. I have railed against Diamond Dynasty in the past, for the way its uniform options seem to throw you in the deep end with no help, and no option to simply put your nine in some real team’s uniforms. I take it back. After about five years now, a search of the Logo Vault will turn up something clean, with a classic, if not inspired-by-real-life look, among its thousands of entries.

Looking through it today, sure, there were a ton of “Houston Asterisks.” But there was also a logo for the Rockford Peaches of the All-America Girls Professional Baseball League (and A League of Their Own; loads of New York Knights stuff, from The Natural; and even a very slick 82nd Airborne design, apparently by an Army Ranger who is a big baseball fan.

Soon after starting up a custom league, I searched for “Seals” to see if that was in the database. It was, and since I have a replica cap, I decided to start with them. They replaced the Giants in the game and play in Oracle Park. You can give a custom club a home park from any in the game, including the classic old-timey stadiums, but this seemed like the most logical choice.

Here is my fictitious pitcher, “Smoky” Sam Wade, modeling the Seals’ road threads on Opening Day in Los Angeles. I would love to re-create the Hollywood Stars and stick them in Dodger Stadium, but that would probably take me another week to do right.

A lanky left-handed pitcher follows through on a powerful delivery at Dodger Stadium Sony San Diego/Sony Interactive Entertainment via Polygon

Here’s Sam in action, getting Cody Bellinger to swing at something he hated.

Here’s a better look at the gang following their Opening Day victory. The orange sleeve numbers are a bit of an indulgence but, hey, I like them. Seals cap logo by PSN user Kasabe_; SF monogram by Kirby1204; warmup jacket logo courtesy EWASS22.

Happy players talking on the infield after winning a baseball game. One is in a warmup jacket Sony San Diego/Sony Interactive Entertainment via Polygon

This is what their home uniform looks like. Kasabe_ also is the creator of the fancy lettering that I used for the uniform front.

uniform creation screen showing the san francisco seals home threads Sony San Diego/Sony Interactive Entertainment via Polygon

Over in the American League, I’ve always been a sucker for the long-gone St. Louis Browns and their orange-and-brown design. Unfortunately, “Browns” is not in the audio library of nicknames that announcer Matt Vasgersian will say. So I called them the Barons — close enough, and it sort of suits history. In early, early, early baseball history, the St. Louis Brown Stockings of the American Association were owned by “der poss man,” Chris von der Ahe, from Prussia.

Here are the Barons lined up on Opening Day in their home threads. The uniform logo is a modified version of the insignia for the St. Louis Terriers — of the Federal League — by SargioMomosso.

players in sunglasses, with caps off, stand for the national anthem before a baseball game Sony San Diego/Sony Interactive Entertainment via Polygon

The Barons’ road getup opts for a solid brown cap with a white logo; the very complicated two-color lettering is by DHeSS42.

uniform creation screen showing a player in road grays with an orange-and-brown ST LOUIS in fancy lettering across the front. Sony San Diego/Sony Interactive Entertainment via Polygon

My newest project: The Tampico Stogies, from 1987’s Long Gone, which was basically HBO’s answer to Bull Durham. For those of you with twitching copy-editor eyeballs, yes, that apostrophe was part of the uniform logo in the film. Big thanks to PSN’s LifeBear for the faithful recreation of both the jersey script logo and the block T for the cap. The road uniform requires a two-color, block-letter TAMPICO that will take me some time, but I think I can handle that, at least.

Uniform editing screen showing a Tampico Stogies shirt on an MLB The Show 20 player
“And Stud Cantrell is King Shit ...”
Sony San Diego/Sony Interactive Entertainment via Polygon

Sure, there’s a lot of look-at-what-I-made bragging in the images above; I’m proud of my handiwork. But the message to baseball fans on the whole is: I lack all artistic skill and patience, and I still have an easy and enjoyable time with MLB The Show 20’s uniform editor. So for sure you can come up with something that scratches whatever escapist itch you have right now.

Unfortunately, you can’t import custom teams into the Road to the Show single-player mode, which remains this series’ most popular mode of play. But with the player lock feature, you get the same gameplay and season progression.

I’ve been player-locking to my made-up third baseman for the Barons, and my crafty southpaw for the Seals, and spending more time in Franchise than I have in ages. And once I get the Stogies done, I’ll probably start the season all over again — and play until I think of the next team I want to bring back.

Roster File is Polygon’s news and opinion column on the intersection of sports and video games.

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