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Saturday, August 17, 2019  Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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Sports

Is the Mariners fast start to be believed? Baseball sim may have the answer

SWX

We’re at the halfway point of the 2019 Major League Baseball season, and Daniel Vogelbach is riding an 8-game hitting streak, lifting him to a league-best .344 batting average on the season. Fearing that he has hit his peak and will only decline in the second half of the season, as the Mariners General Manager I click “Shop Player Around” to see if any front offices are willing to overpay for the beloved - and overperforming - first baseman. To my delight, the Philadelphia Phillies are interested, and we pull off a blockbuster trade that nets me All-Star catcher JT Realmuto, along with a haul of other promising players.

Vogelbach goes 0-for-19 with the Phils to start his disastrous tenure in Philadelphia, batting .156 in the second half of the season. I pump my fist like I just sold a million dollars of Amazon stock before it went in the tank.

This is just one of the many high’s and low’s one can expect while playing out a season in the PC baseball sim “Out of the Park Baseball 20.” In its twentieth year, the OOTP franchise has never looked better. Like previous installments, OOTP 20 puts you in the front office as the general manager of any team — Major League, minor league, Japan, you name it — or on the field as manager to set lineups, green-light stolen bases, and go to the lefty in the bullpen. But the rising star in OOTP is its “Perfect Team” mode that launched midseason last year and shows no signs of a sophomore slump.

Perfect Team, according to the OOTP Developments site, is a new free online mode that lets you collect baseball cards of players from the past, present, and future. You can “rip” cards from five free packs given to you at the start, and from there you can buy and sell cards using virtual currency or real money, if you so choose. My initial five packs of cards yielded an Anthony Rizzo “Live” card, which means his ratings will fluctuate according to his real-life performance in 2019 with the Cubs. I also landed a Don Larsen 1956 “Unsung Heroes” card. From there, I let the season play out against similarly-stacked rosters to accrue “Perfect Points” to spend on more packs or, better yet, bid on cards in an online auction house. It really is quite fun and addicting.

I’ve seen other people assemble teams containing nothing but players from their favorite real-life teams, while others go crazy by spending their hard-earned real-life cash on the best cards in the game. While my Rizzo card will fetch anywhere from 2,000 to 2,600 perfect in the auction house, while a Walter Johnson card will command a price well north of 500,000 perfect points. Most folks (like me) are content to play with the cards they’ve been dealt, and patiently accrue perfect points along the way. Luckily, the players who go bonkers with real money tend to get promoted to leagues with other like-minded players, leaving you a fighting chance to play for a World Series.

There is also a great community that is always willing to share tips on putting together that perfect team, whether that’s in the forums or while watching a Twitch stream. During one particular stream on my Twitch channel, a very helpful veteran of the game stopped by to watch and didn’t hesitate to steer me in the right direction on improving my starting rotation and finding solid buys on the auction house.

But the true star of OOTP continues to be its offline game mode. Visually, the game has broken the confines of a “it’s what’s on the inside that counts” simulator with a beautiful interface and a rapidly improving 3D engine to play out those important games. After two decades of development, refinement, and community support, the game has the uncanny ability to accurately predict the outcome of the upcoming season. In my play-through with the Mariners, Seattle started 10-2 and then plummeted back to .500. Sound familiar? I made a flurry of swaps at the MLB Trading Deadline, acquiring Khris Davis from the A’s and Tyler Olson from the Cardinals, but sputtered down the stretch to a respectable 83-79 finish, looking longingly at the Cleveland Indians as they defeated the LA Dodgers to win the 2019 World Series.

But despair not, Mariner fans. If my play through is to be believed, you can expect big things this season from Mitch Haniger (.303 batting average, 28 home runs, and 100 RBI) and Justus Sheffield (13-7, 4.28 ERA). Just don’t expect the longest playoff drought in MLB to end this season.

OOTP 20 is available for both PC and Mac, and can be purchased directly from the Out of the Park Developments site for $39.99, or through Steam.

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