After releasing Out of the Park Baseball 8 a little over half a year after the previous version and with minimal improvements, OOTP9 comes out at the right time, and with much improved features. OOTP9 is another grand slam for OOTP Developments, and it’s a version that was worth the wait.

The MLB league quick start with actual players returns, but the rosters are a mixed bag. They’re woefully out of date now, but you’re starting at opening day, not mid-June, so that’s understandable. Player numbers are wacky, at best, like Travis Hafner being labeled as #82, a jersey number that would seem to indicate he wasn’t to last spring training. The ratings need work, too, but with the huge and active community around this game, you can expect a new and updated roster out soon.

You can still create your own league, though, and again, that’s where OOTP shines. I’ve rebuilt my old All World League from years ago, because this new addition allows you to set a teams’ nationality individually, rather then just by league. My Akron Storm play in an American Conference with teams from around America, competing to meet the winner of the International Conference, featuring teams from all over the globe. The playoff system is also greatly overhauled, with much more flexibility.

The player picture creation feature is slightly faster, but not very much improved. I still would have liked to have the ability to pick a color off of the screen via an eyedropper tool, so you could easily match colors between, say, logos and caps. In fact, it’s harder this year because the color swatch is very, very finicky. While you’re moving one of the sliders the other has a mind of it’s own. It’s supposed to help, but it instead greatly hinders.

One of my favorite new features are the written scouting reports. They give me more info on a player then just numbers and stars, allowing me to make better decisions. In fact, the whole scouting model has been improved. You now just hire a head scout and give him directions in the preseason, splitting your scouting budget between major leagues, minor leagues, international and amateur scouting. The amount you spend on each, combined with your scout’s skill, will determine the quality of the information you receive. You also no longer get reports every day or so about tiny fluctuations in players’ skill levels, which is nice.

The in-game management area of the game is improved with smaller player icons, in-game sounds and small ball animations that really do make a difference. You can now also load pictures for your stadiums via a browsing window, as well, and set the locations of the walls so the animations work right.

All in all, this is a very good improvement of a very good game. It’s not perfect, but it’s as close as I’ve seen in the genre so far. It’s biggest problems lie in the color selector for the team art window and a glitch that makes it hard to select the latest news article without it scrolling off the screen. Other then that, though, this is a very good game for stat and management buffs. Plus, now that it’s on Steam, Valve’s digital distribution service, you really have no reason not to try it. Alphasim out.