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Load Up: How Justin Steele and other Cubs are using video games as a release from baseball

3 years agoAndy Martinez

Justin Steele took a peek at the opposing lineup and got to work.

He studied the hitters, came up with his game plan and knew what pitches he wanted to go with. Then he tapped the buttons on the video game MLB The Show and executed his plan.

No, it doesn’t perfectly mimic facing real-life, major-league hitters, but there’s something that Steele takes from the popular video game franchise that he uses in his professional craft.

“Pitch sequencing,” Steele, who also plays Apex Legends and Call of Duty, said. “If I’m using myself, I’ll do pitch sequences to hitters that I would do in real life and see how it works and what not and do that.”

For many of those on the Cubs’ roster, they grew up with video games. They played it after school, in between practices and on road trips they took as they played the sport growing up.

“It’s just one of them things that slowly but surely has been taking off and I think the generation that’s coming up is the generation that came up with ,” Steele said. “I feel like that’s the reason you see so many people that play video games now.”

Sure, it couples as another way to improve himself as a pitcher, but more importantly for Steele and other members of the Cubs, playing video games is the perfect release from a game that has plenty of lows.

Take, for example, reliever Trevor Megill.

On August 25, Megill surrendered a grand slam to the Rockies in a Cubs’ loss. After the game, Megill couldn’t wait to get home and get his mind off the tough moment.

“[You’re] able to get away from this and get lost in something else,” Megill said.

But that doesn’t mean Megill is totally locked away from baseball when he’s gaming. His younger brother, Tylor, is a pitcher with the Mets. Playing together allows them to connect, catch up and talk some shop.

When Tylor was making his major-league debut in June, he was going to be facing the Braves, the team Trevor made his big-league debut against back in April. Over games of Overwatch and Battlefield, the pair broke down the Braves lineup and made sure Tylor was ready for his debut.

“Mechanics, breaking balls, sequencing, we’ll do that during the game as well,” Trevor Megill said. “We’ll do that during FaceTime. Then between games, there’s a lot that goes on with video games being the intermediary.”

The Megill brothers aren’t the only relationship that’s strengthened through video games. Outfielder Michael Hermosillo has connected with other pro players while playing games like Call of Duty: Warzone.

“I’ve played with [Cardinals’ reliever] Jordan Hicks in the past,” Hermosillo said. “When you can get to do some other activity, other than just being in a baseball atmosphere, it’s sick.”

Playing also allows the Cubs’ players to keep their competitive juices flowing.

Reliever Manuel Rodríguez played in an MLB Players’ Fortnite tournament in the offseason and won the event with current Giants’ outfielder Luis González. Rodríguez plays the game to stay connected with friends and family back in Mexico and now, fans in Chicago.

“I have a lot of friends on there,” Rodríguez said.

Most importantly for the Cubs, video games provide a distraction that most likely won’t land them in trouble or in the wrong place. With the roster chock full of young or inexperienced players, they don’t want to put themselves in jeopardy of losing their opportunity.

“Young players like me, we don’t wanna go backwards, so we wanna do things right every time they give us an opportunity,” Rodríguez said. “I prefer to maintain myself there in my video games and playing baseball.”

That’s what Rodríguez, Hermosillo, Megill, Steele and other Cubs who game love about the virtual world. It eases the pressure of playing a difficult sport.

“It’s just a way to release, get away from everything,” Steele said. “For me, it’s my relaxation. It’s where I can unwind and talk to my buddies.

“I take a lot of pride in my video game skills.”

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