MLB 09: Five things you need to know

MLB 09: The Show

MLB 09: The Show is the best baseball game I've ever played, period. And I've played them all. As a kid, I used to stack tokens on the RBI Baseball machine to steal bases nonstop as Vince Coleman. I actually went in and edited all the teams and players in Baseball Stars so I could play with the most current lineups. And I used to drive my friends crazy with Sports Talk Baseball because I'd abuse them with the Ruthian Mike Stanton -- that's right, Mike Stanton, because the Braves' pitcher batted 3-for-6 back in 1991, so the game made him an unstoppable .500 hitter.

So when I say MLB 09: The Show is the best of the best, it really means something (or at least it does to me).

The other night I'm playing an early copy of the game and I'm pitching as Edinson Volquez of the Reds. The ump is really screwing with me when it comes to the strike zone, and after I walk two hitters, even the announcers are starting to question the ump's eyesight. A few innings later, I walk another hitter on a 3-2 pitch that looks to have hit the corner, and then the game flashes to a scene on the mound in which Volquez takes off his hat and spikes it into the dirt. Volquez is getting heated, he's losing his composure, and the announcers comment how this isn't going to win him any favors with the umpire, who they not only name (the umps are given fake names to protect the guilty), they even give his background, calling him a former congressman.

Funny thing is, as I continue to play, the umpires actually go on a rotation, and now I know to look out for the former congressman when he's behind the plate, because he never calls a good game.

I guess you really never can trust a politician, even if he's polygonal.

And that's just one example of the level of depth this game features. The team members at Sony are so intense, so dedicated to trying to get every aspect right, they talked to me for a half hour about the game's lighting. And if 30 minutes about lighting doesn't get you excited, well, it should, because after I saw the game in motion, then compared it to last year's version, the lighting effects Sony added really do make the game and its highlights look remarkably better.

But that's not all. Sony's 65-person MLB staff is comprised of everyone from a former Reds prospect turned scout turned video game developer to a producer who works all year just on the pitcher/batter interface. And when I showed up to the studio one day at 10 a.m., it was like a ghost town (or a Marlins home game), because everyone had been working until after 3 a.m. the night before as they put the final polishes on their product before it ships March 3.

So what did I learn about the game from my trip? Here are five things every baseball fan should know before they take to the virtual diamond.