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Sports video games are all I have left

They’re a meager substitute for the real thing, but I’ll take what I can get

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a close-up of a brown-skinned man wearing a New York Yankees jersey awaiting a pitch at Yankee Stadium in a night game in MLB The Show 20
Samit Sarkar at the plate during Game 7 of the 2020 World Series in MLB The Show 20. Unlike real-life me, he has no quarantine beard.
Image: SIE San Diego Studio/Sony Interactive Entertainment via Polygon
Samit Sarkar (he/him) is Polygon’s deputy managing editor. He has more than 15 years of experience covering video games, movies, television, and technology.

The week after MLB The Show 20 was released in March, my wife saw me playing the game and asked if I was doing so for work. “Yeah, but also, I’m just enjoying it,” I told her. After a beat, I added, plaintively, “It’s the only baseball I have!”

It wasn’t until early March that most Americans truly realized the nature of the threat presented by COVID-19. And sports — as an institution that’s woven intricately into the lives of millions — quickly became one of the clearest indicators of the scope and severity of the coronavirus pandemic, as leagues around the world suspended play.

This will be a summer like no other in recent memory. Instead of feeling the sun’s warmth on our skin, many of us will remain indoors. Instead of attending music festivals with our friends, we’ll stream songs by ourselves at home. And instead of packing into stadiums with tens of thousands of fellow fans, or watching along at a bar or a buddy’s house, the only way any of us will likely get our sports fix is by playing video games.

I enjoy all kinds of sports video games, but I tend to gravitate toward the simulation titles, the ones that seek to deliver an authentic, realistic approximation of the sport in question. If I’m playing a baseball video game, I want it to represent Max Scherzer’s heterochromia iridum. And when I play MLB The Show on my PlayStation 4, I stick to the single-player Road to the Show mode, in which you create an athlete and try to take them through the minor leagues up to the MLB level.

The beauty of modes like this in sports games is that they allow me to create an alternate universe. With every day that passes in my in-game season, each time I step onto the virtual field, I get to take my favorite real-life players and teams ... and write my own story with them.

Outside the game, the calendar has apparently just turned to June, although you could be forgiven for losing track of the days. But I control the passage of time in MLB The Show 20. Within the game, this year’s baseball season wasn’t postponed indefinitely; opening day proceeded as scheduled on March 26. In my career playthrough, it’s now late October 2020. Samit Sarkar is the starting shortstop for the New York Yankees, having bypassed the Triple-A level of the minors entirely after tearing the cover off the ball in his first season with the Double-A Trenton Thunder. He’s playing in Game 7 of the World Series against, of all teams, the New York Mets. (Hey, I said the game tries to be an approximation of reality.)

At this point, there’s no telling if there will be any real-life baseball this year. Even if MLB and its players’ union can agree to a plan for returning to play — the league suggested a shortened 82-game season to be played in teams’ home ballparks if their local governments have lifted coronavirus restrictions — the ownership-versus-labor fight over players’ salaries looks like it will be a contentious, drawn-out negotiation. (The owners’ initial pay-cut proposal was laughably bad, and it’s outrageous that they’re trying to bully their employees into submission on this.)

Will it be a huge bummer if the coronavirus pandemic wipes out the entire 2020 season of baseball, my favorite sport? Of course. And no matter how many hits and championships I rack up in MLB The Show 20, it couldn’t possibly compare to the thrill of seeing everyone’s favorite large adult son, Aaron Judge, whack a ball into next week, let alone watching my beloved Yankees win the World Series again. But in the midst of a crisis, you take what you can get. These days, I’m finding myself feeling thankful for what I’ve got — and I’m glad I have baseball in a video game, if nowhere else.

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