MIAMI, FLORIDA - JULY 14: Jeff McNeil #6 of the New York Mets rounds the bases after hitting a solo home run in the first inning against the Miami Marlins at Marlins Park on July 14, 2019 in Miami, Florida.
(Photo by Michael Reaves/Getty Images)

A rocky start and a strong finish highlight New York Mets third baseman Jeff McNeil’s Opening Day in the “MLB The Show” players league.

Kyle Newman

When MLB announced the “MLB The Show” players league on Friday, they were met with excitement and caution. New York Mets fans were excited to finally be able to see some more of Jeff McNeil, but others weren’t ready to accept the idea of a video game sports league replacing the actual season for the time being.

The biggest worry was in regards to how watchable it would be, if at all. MLB rectified that some by making it so that all players involved would have to stream on Twitch, but that created its own problem. What happens if a player isn’t tech-savvy enough to stream, or what if their internet crashes?

Those questions were put to the test quickly Sunday night. Lucky for the league, the players were able to navigate the issues and put together a full day of baseball. Whether or not the content was quality is likely up to the viewer and the stream they watched.

Jeff McNeil and the Mets start 3-1

McNeil began his livestream about an hour before he was scheduled to play. He wanted to practice a little with Mets teammate and close friend Pete Alonso. After smacking Alonso around for 45 minutes, McNeil was ready to start.

His first matchup of the night came against Fernando Tatis Jr. and the San Diego Padres. McNeil and Tatis Jr. played a hard-fought back-and-forth game. McNeil had a 3-2 lead with two outs in the second inning, but an error in centerfield cost him three runs.

He was able to scratch those runs back in the bottom of the third and force the game into extra innings, but poor defense would rear it’s ugly head again. An error on an attempted sacrifice bunt led to a Tatis Jr. grand slam. That was enough to seal the deal for Tatis Jr.

McNeil looked to bounce back from a tough loss in his next game against Luke Jackson and the Atlanta Braves. McNeil carried a 3-0 lead into the bottom of the second inning when his internet crashed. His stream failed and he was forced to forfeit the game.

McNeil was able to fix his setup, and as such, his game against Jackson didn’t count and would be replayed from the beginning at the end of the night.

In the meantime, McNeil went up against Lucas Giolito and the Chicago White Sox. Jeff dominated the matchup from start to finish. The final score of 5-2 doesn’t do the game justice. A couple of double plays and fluky hits kept the score much closer than it was. It was clear the All-Star had hit his groove.

Following his demolition of Giolito, McNeil was set to face Ryne Stanek and the Miami Marlins. This was another great game for McNeil, as he beat Stanke 3-0, allowing just two hits.

McNeil finished the night by beating up on Luke Jackson in their rematch from earlier in the night. The final score in this one was 6-0. McNeil threw a second straight two-hit shutout.

That leaves New York sitting at 3-1 after Opening Day. McNeil and the Mets are currently in a five-way tie for second place with Tatis Jr., Amir Garrett and the Cincinnati Reds, Bo Bichette and the Toronto Blue Jays, and Jon Duplantier and the Arizona Diamondbacks. Only Joey Gallo and the Texas Rangers (4-0) are ahead of McNeil.

Nevertheless, 3-1 does indeed put McNeil and the Mets in first place in the National League East. Rhys Hoskins and the Philadelphia Phillies currently sit at 2-2, Jackson and the Braves sit at 1-3, and Stanek and the Marlins are 0-4. Juan Soto and the Washington Nationals will play their first games on Monday night.

McNeil and the Mets play again on Tuesday night starting at 9 p.m. ET. He’s set to face off against Duplantier, Garrett, Bichette, and Lance McCullers and the Houston Astros.

Opinions on the experimental league

This league won’t be for everyone. If you’re a fan of baseball, but not of video games or the content that Twitch often provides, then you won’t be a fan of this league. But if you love video games and not baseball, this may be your chance to jump in on the game.

It’s all more about the players who are playing the game than anything else, just like any livestream. This is no different from finding a favorite Youtuber or Twitch streamer in any other capacity. The only difference is that baseball fans already have a connection with these players.

In all honesty, most of those old-school baseball fans aren’t likely to enjoy this. This is a system to complete games in around 20 minutes so these guys can play as many as they can within a day. There’s no strategy from many of the players and they don’t really care about playing the game “the right way.”

This is all about them having fun. They’re playing with themselves and their friends on a video game against other friends. This is more akin to rooting for a friend’s fantasy baseball team than it is watching a real baseball league.

There’s no commentary over the games other than what the players provide. Some of it is great and insightful. For instance, McNeil told his stream Sunday night that Adam Conley of the Miami Marlins is the toughest pitcher he’s ever faced and that he absolutely hates hitting against him. He also mentioned that Michael Conforto has similar feelings about Conley.

For the most part though, McNeil wasn’t the most entertaining or insightful streamer. He was 100% focused on winning his games, and if that’s what you’re looking for in a streamer, he’s your guy. It’s clear he’s in this league to win, period.

He became angry, berated the game for its awful defense, and repeatedly called pitching “really hard.” Those three things on loop were the majority of McNeil’s commentary, but he realized that wasn’t fair for the fans watching at home.

He wants to be more attentive to the fans and he hoped to recruit a helper to interact with the chat the next time he plays. McNeil thus volunteered Brandon Nimmo for the role. However, these players are going to realize that streaming and keeping an audience isn’t as easy as it seems.

McNeil’s viewership tanked all night. He began the night with nearly 3,500 viewers, but by his final game, he was under 600.

This could be an amazing opportunity for MLB to attract those key younger fans to the game and connect them with the players so that they may follow the sport once the season begins. That can’t happen unless the players make those connections. It’ll be interesting to see how McNeil and the others adjust to the streaming dynamic as the season progresses.

For the record, other players were paying attention to chat and trying hard to keep their fans involved. Nonetheless, those players tended to lose their games. Luke Jackson tried to hold conversations with his chat, but it led to a 1-3 record.

MLB and Twitch will likely have to figure out how to assist their players in becoming better streamers for this league to work, especially for mid-market players.

If this league all works out, then it could be a long-term fixture in baseball. It’s a great way to acquire a market of younger fans and for fans to receive insight into the game they otherwise wouldn’t. It’s also beneficial for players to show off their personalities, which is becoming a bigger and bigger part of the modern game.

The league is only in its infancy, but its potential to be great is clear. It’ll all depend on how the players evolve in the streaming world. If they can get the hang of it, the sky’s the limit for this league. But if they can’t, this could be a one-and-done experiment.

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