Charlie Montoyo thought he would be taking a hard line against video games in his first year as Toronto Blue Jays manager.
Before he could put his foot down on Fortnite, the players took it upon themselves to govern their gaming.
“We’re going to play less, I know that,” Montoyo said. “It’s actually not my rule. It’s our clubhouse rule.”
The role of video games at the ballpark was put in the crosshairs Monday when ESPN reported that veteran first baseman Carlos Santana smashed a television in the Philadelphia Phillies’ clubhouse last September to stop teammates from playing Fortnite. Santana, now with the Cleveland Indians, told ESPN that Phillies players were sneaking into the locker room to play during games.
Manager Gabe Kapler acknowledged the Fortnite playing, but he and pitcher Jake Arrieta deny it was happening during games.
“Our players say that that wasn’t the case, and I trust our players,” Kapler said.
Video games have long been a pastime for big leaguers, but Fortnite pushed their popularity to another level last season. The Houston Astros hooked up gaming consoles to many of the 10 TVs in their spring training clubhouse for raucous, team-wide clashes, and the Boston Red Sox routinely played in hotel rooms after games. Those clubs even celebrated on-field feats with dances popularized by the cartoonish battle royale video game.
Fortnite certainly didn’t slow the Red Sox or Astros. They matched up in the AL Championship Series, and Boston won the World Series.
Major league managers don’t think Fortnite is a problem, necessarily. In fact, many are into the idea of bonding over slurp juice and boogie bombs. Just so long as players aren’t thinking about Tilted Towers when they should be prepping for the batter’s box.
Montoyo, a longtime minor league manager who was most recently bench coach in Tampa Bay, anticipated making changes in Toronto when he took the job this offseason. The Blue Jays had a reputation as a gamer-friendly clubhouse last year while going 73-89.
But when Montoyo met with a group of players to establish rules, he found the players were already planning to power down their PlayStations at the ballpark.
Their idea: Institute a shutdown time for all clubhouse consoles — something that was fine by Montoyo. The time is yet to be finalized, but most likely, all games will be powered off within an hour of first pitch. As long as players are getting in their work, they’ll be free to play video games at any other time.
First-year Texas Rangers manager Chris Woodward established early that he’d be proactive on limiting gaming. He worked with veteran shortstop Elvis Andrus to establish rules on consoles and phones. Players can still do some gaming at the ballpark, but the message is clear.
“I think that should be without saying that nobody should be playing a video game during a major league baseball game,” Woodward said.
“I challenged them in a way that said, ‘If you are guys are more interested in video games than becoming champions, that’s on you guys,'” Woodward added. “It’s not a difficult thing to address when you put it in that light.”
He also is asking players to be smart about playing games away from the park.
“I’m not going to have rules that say you can’t play at night, but if you are playing until 6 or 7 in the morning, your performance is going to suffer on the baseball diamond, and if I find out about that, we will have a conversation,” Woodward said. “You can curtail that and say: ‘Maybe I will play until 1 or 1:30 in the morning. Then have a legitimate sleeping pattern that is consistent to maximize my performance on the baseball field.'”
Cardinals manager Mike Shildt wasn’t concerned about gaming in St. Louis. He is leaving it to his players to make the best decisions.
“Our clubhouse wouldn’t let that be a distraction,” Shildt said.
Kapler is maintaining a similar stance. He worked with players to create gaming boundaries for the 2019 season but declined to elaborate. He is not eager to ban gaming if players don’t want it that way, in part because he wants players to be responsible for their own pre-game routines.
“I don’t think there’s a right way or a wrong way to get ready for the game,” he said. “Manny Ramirez in Boston used to catch hell for sleeping on the training table very close to game time. He was kind of crazy like a fox, right? He was really smart, knew how to rest his body and get ready for the first pitch of the game.”