How Baseball Stars Are Getting an Edge From Video Games

A digitally-rendered Eric Hosmer takes a few cuts in baseball's latest sim, MLB 15: The Show. (Credit: Playstation)

The official start of baseball season remains several excruciating days away for fans, so the release of MLB 15: The Show could not have come at a better time. Embrace the new tradition: the latest baseball sim finally in your hands while they're clammy and feverish with thoughts of Opening Day. Sony is very aware of the timing. Filling those days is crucial. If there is anyone who knows and understands, it's Kansas City first baseman Eric Hosmer.

Hosmer is in his fifth season with the reigning AL Champions, but he's a rookie member of the The Show's development team. He's also a known gaming aficionado, a bat-in-one-hand-controller-in-the-other type who sees his hobby as part of the regimen that keeps him sharp in the off season. He doesn't make assertions lightly. The Gold Glove winner tells us how far Sony is going – even further than last year – to get it right.

The game is shipping, so I assume we're past the glue-stuff-to-your-face phase.
Yeah, we had the filming day before Spring Training. We did a few angles in the dugout and the locker room, but the cooler part was later in the day. We went to a barber shop and my haircut (the "side mohawk" everyone calls it in Kansas City) they called it "The Hoz" and gave the cut to some young fans. That was really fun.

As a rookie game developer what’s been the toughest thing to get used to?
This was my first time, so I was open to everything and just really enjoyed the whole experience. From my end, it wasn't hard to do.

How did Sony pick you to work on the project this year?
Through my agent, but I jumped at the chance. I love gaming in the off-season. Going home, you're on a different work schedule than most people you hang out with. For me it's video games, so working on The Show was a no brainer.

But the way you've talked about training as a kid, you could not have had time to play video games.
When you're a kid on school nights and you can't do much, you play games. It was like the off-season now: You wake up, do what you gotta do, and by the time you're done, you're exhausted and you want to get off your feet. And playing online keeps you in a competitive mindset all the time.

So it's possible to do something other than mainlining Mountain Dew between gaming sessions?
[Laughs.] You sound okay to me.

In the event you’ve played enough baseball during that you don't want to continue at home, what's the go-to game?
NBA Live, Madden, but the big game for me is Call of Duty. That's what everyone's playing to kill time.

You watch a lot of playback in training, but having a fully-rendered abstract of your swing and your movement is a big perk. Shouldn't more players be jumping at the chance to take part in this stuff?
No question. There's this "Road to the Show" feature [in the game] where you pick your batting stance. You get to see what your stance looks like from a different angle and it really helps you focus on things you might not notice during a real game. Your hand placement, things you're doing when you’re loading, really it's so spot-on it's like watching yourself.

Were there specific things that caught you out, watching the playback from your sessions?
A game designer asked me about my batting stance, and when he went to the general setting it was spot-on. It has like the perfect swing. You gotta think about it: They're working with professionals and know what a perfect swing is. When you compare that to your own it can really help you out.

Was it encouraging to see the commitment to detail? Did it meet expectations?
Yeah, and if people have never played it before and walk into the room, they think it's a real game going on TV. And you get to play against some of the legends of the game. Just being around [Royals legend] George Brett all the time, and how competitive he is, we're always actually joking about him going against our bullpen or the big three. That's cool to see. That's a matchup people in Kansas City will want to see.

I think there's some misconception with pro feedback and consultation. Were they tasking you with actually imitating swings or postures of other players? What was going on today?
No, one of the new features is licensed gear: using the Rawlings gloves and the Nike cleats, the endorsement factor is in there now. Most of the questions were about arm sleeves and wrist tape. That's how spot-on they're getting. I just wear that long sleeve down my left arm and the Lizard Skin grips in neon, all those little details that make it hard to tell that it's a video game.

Is this all just unique to the pro roster, or can I mess with this stuff at this level making a player?
Yeah! And a lot of players are superstitious and have the beards going now.

Yeah all you guys are keeping Sony on their toes because long hair is a guaranteed nightmare.
[Laughs.] Yeah it is. And you’ve got guys, myself included, with some crazy haircuts. In 2011, the Royals vets made the rookies get mohawks and it stuck with me. It blew up a little during the playoffs and I guess I have no choice but to keep it.

People can hate on the hair, but no one playing The Show is gonna have to squint to know that it's you at the plate.
Exactly. They can keep hatin'.