TORONTO — Standing at the plate at Cincinnati’s Great American Ball Park, Russell Martin is looking for the long ball.
The Toronto Blue Jays catcher is in home-run derby mode. Only this time he has a video game controller in his hand, controlling his virtual self.
“Need to get in the groove,” he says as he hammers a ball foul.
A couple of balls later, he finds the fence. “I got one,” he says with satisfaction. “The money ball.”
Despite an early start to the day and waking up sore after taking a Mike Trout broken bat to the neck the night before, Martin is enjoying himself.
Just being in a video game is pretty special. Being on the cover of the Canadian version of PlayStation’s “MLB 15 The Show” ups the ante considerably.
“I never really thought it would ever happen, but it’s definitely one of those childhood dreams,” Martin said Wednesday in a lounge above a downtown video game store.
“I think one of the first things you talk about when you sign pro, you get in the minor leagues, you get on the road and play video games, it’s like ‘Man I can’t wait to be in the video game, it’s going to be the coolest thing ever.’
“And now I’m on the (cover) of a video game. It’s a little bit surreal.”
Los Angeles Dodgers outfielder Yasiel Puig is on the cover of the U.S. version of the game, the 10th edition of the franchise.
Martin, 32, gives the game a thumbs-up, from the shadows on the field to the accuracy of the equipment.
“It’s amazing what they can do with video games nowadays,” he said.
“Every single movement in the game is pretty accurate,” he added. “They do an outstanding job. As far as baseball games goes, I think it’s the best one yet,” he added.
Martin, who was born in Toronto but grew up in Chelsea, Que., says he was an avid gamer as a kid.
“I’d get in trouble (playing video games) because my parents would get mad at me,” he said with a laugh. “Even still to this day. I don’t play as much as I used to but it’s still something I do to pass the time when we’re on the road, we travel. It’s just a fun thing to do.
“We’re competitors so we like to compete whether it’s on the field or video games, whatever.”
Fellow catcher Dioner Navarro, currently injured, is the Jays’ king of the console castle. An avid soccer fan and longtime Barcelona supporter, he excels at the made-in-Canada FIFA soccer game.
“I have not seen the legend of Dioner Navarro play yet … Whenever he comes back, I’m definitely going to give him a run for his money,” Martin said with a smile.
Outfielder Kevin Pillar and second baseman Ryan Goins are also among the Jays’ gamers.
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Neil Davidson, The Canadian Press