Phillies have video games on their minds
CLEARWATER, Fla. - There are gamers, and then there are gamers.
The first sort of gamer plays hurt, plays hard, plays every day.
The other sort was in its glory yesterday.
Sony set up a three-dimensional scanner as part of the phalanx of makeshift studios at the Phillies' annual photo day yesterday morning.
Most players were more than willing to sit on the rotating chair as strobe flashes blasted milliseconds apart, recording their exact likeness for the game "MLB '07." The game is due out in 13 months, according to Sony artist Chris Rogers, who oversaw the proceedings.
"It was pretty cool," said reigning Rookie of the Year Ryan Howard, 26, who also will be included on the game "MLB '06: The Show," due out next week. "You dream about this as a kid."
A dream? Well, consider:
Howard and his peers have grown through the generations of computer games and their systems. Most, too young for the Atari revolution, first played a version of the ricochet game "Breakout" on a personal computer before graduating to the wonders of Nintendo staples "Super Mario Brothers," "Donkey Kong" and "Mike Tyson's Punch-Out."
"You got to fight Bald Bull," recalled manager Charlie Manuel, a "Pacman" fan who, at 62, owns a "Tetris" game.
Manuel left video games behind after that but his players graduated to versions of "Mortal Kombat" before the arrival of John Madden's wildly popular NFL versions, which still enrapture millions; minor leaguer Michael Bourne is the acknowledged club champion.
"I had to quit Madden back in '99," said Chris Roberson, the organization's top minor league position player. "I had to start concentrating on baseball."
His tone turned guilty as he acknowledged falling off the wagon: "Bourne got me back on it last year."
How addictive can the games become? Consider: After Bourne and Roberson played a Double A game in Trenton in August they stood in line at a store that opened at midnight to start selling the games.
"It was crazy, man," Roberson admits, sheepishly.
Players collect video-game systems like they acquire vehicles. Howard has a Sony PlayStation 2 (PS2). Top pitching prospect Gavin Floyd, 23, owns an Xbox 360, Microsoft's hot, high-definition product, though, like Howard, he can't wait until the PS3 lands, perhaps as soon as this fall. Roberson, 26, has a PS2, a PlayStation Portable - Sony's hand-held machine, commonly known as a PSP - and he had an Xbox until recently.
"I gave it to my brother," Roberson explained.
PSP machines were as common as cleats in clubhouses all over the majors last year thanks to the players association distributing them for free, along with the wildly popular "Tiger Woods PGA Tour" game, which came out in March.
Several players, including relative ancients such as 34-year-old catcher Mike Lieberthal, are serious gamers. Lieberthal, twice an All-Star, seldom plays himself on "MLB '06."
"I usually don't play the Phillies, even though they're ranked fifth," Lieberthal said. "My buddy always plays the Red Sox. So I play the Yankees."
It appears that the level of narcissism in major league clubhouses doesn't approach that in NFL locker rooms, where players routinely talk trash about playing themselves and excelling. However, you can hardly blame Howard for looking forward to having his likeness cyber-smash home runs in "MLB '06: The Show." He hit 22 in just 312 at-bats last season.
Still, the lumbering runner might suffer competitive setbacks if he continues with this delusion:
"Jimmy," Howard called to Jimmy Rollins, "I told [Rogers] to give me a 99 on speed."
Rollins scoffed - that would be a 99 rating out of 100 - so Howard amended, "OK. 96."
Talk about dreaming.