In the second inning Wednesday night, Buddy Kennedy lined a sinker from Alex Cobb into right field for a lead-off single. Then, in the third inning, he notched another single, again off Cobb’s sinker.
The next day, surrounded by a handful of astonished teammates in the clubhouse, Kennedy explained how he was able to hit Cobb’s sinker so well: He had seen it before.
No, Kennedy had never faced Cobb — not in a major league game, not in the minors. But that morning, he played against him on MLB The Show.
“The Show just helps me,” Kennedy said, matter-of-factly. “It just gets me ready.”
Surely, though, a video game can’t be that helpful. So, how much of the credit for his two-hit day does Kennedy give to The Show?
“I would say that’s 85% there,” Kennedy said, his smile revealing just how ridiculous this all sounds. But Kennedy isn’t making it up.
“I played (against Cobb) that morning,” Kennedy said. “Just for like two innings to see something. I saw the sinker and in the game, it had a lot of run and then in the real game, it had a lot of run.”
Among his teammates, reactions to this revelation are varied.
Catcher Daulton Varsho can’t understand how Kennedy leaves the field after a 10-hour day, wakes up and plays a baseball video game. “When I go home, I’ve had enough of baseball,” added third baseman Josh Rojas. Outfielder Jordan Luplow was just bemused.
“I was like whatever works, bro,” Luplow said. “Whatever you need to do.”
While it may seem like an absurd way to prepare for a game — especially considering that major league teams compile complex scouting reports for this very purpose — hitting coach Joe Mather understands Kennedy’s logic.
“I love that,” Mather said. “… If there’s any carry over, I don’t know. But his head is there. So you know that the thought process and the focus is there, for sure.”
For Kennedy, The Show became an obsession in 2019, when he was playing in single-A Kane County with nothing but time to kill.
“I would go home from the game and I’d play it until 1:00 am and then go to bed, wake up at 9, play it until I had to leave the field to get showered,” Kennedy said.
Over the years, that time commitment has dwindled, but not by much. On gamedays, he’ll play for two or three hours before heading to the park. On off-days, it’s more like seven or eight hours. And in the off-season, there are days when he’ll play from 10 am to 10 pm
“(Baseball) is like the main thing in life that brings me joy,” Kennedy said. “Like, yeah, this game has ups and downs, but it’s something that I just enjoy and I love competing against. Some of these guys ask, ‘Why do you go home after a game and play?’ Because I love it.”
Originally, Kennedy’s intention was never to use The Show to make himself better. His driving force, he says, was to beat his cousin in online games. But once he got to Double-A, Kennedy realized he could play against pitchers he would face in real life.
In the minors, though, pitchers were rated in the 50s. Their repertoires in the game weren’t a great match for real life. “But now, up here, it’s interesting,” Kennedy said. “…You see different things.”
Part of that is intentionally preparing for a given day’s starting pitcher—like he did with Cobb. But there’s also a benefit to all those hours of game time he’s racked up over the past four years.
On Tuesday night, for example, Kennedy faced the Giants’ Camilo Doval, who boasts a 100 mph cutter and a slider that’s among the best in baseball. The Show doesn’t have his slider down particularly accurately — this, Kennedy says, is one of the game’s lacking features: Sliders are often more sweeping and less tight in the game than they are in real life.
The Show, though, got Doval’s cutter right. So when Kennedy fouled off a first-pitch cutter, it jogged his memory of him. He had seen this pitch in the game, even though he didn’t intentionally prepare for it that morning like he does with starters.
So, after taking a slider for a called strike, Kennedy jumped on Doval’s next cutter, lining it into left field for a sacrifice fly.
“I sat more on the fastball/cutter than I did the slider cause I knew what it was gonna look like,” Kennedy said, before lending some insight into how he uses The Show to inform his approach.
“Obviously, it’s a video game.” Kennedy said. “Sometimes, I see guys really, really well. And then sometimes, I’ll see them on half of their pitches and then I’ll be like, alright, let’s stick to — if he throws that pitch, stick to that area and see if I can do damage on it.”
Kennedy justifies his approach by comparing it to virtual reality, which some organizations use to help prepare their hitters for certain pitches. Luplow and Rojas both said they’ve found value in that technology, though neither uses it regularly.
Certainly, neither has ever prepared for a game by firing up their PlayStation.
“Everybody has their own things,” Kennedy said. “But I think for myself, it helps.”
Theo Mackie covers Arizona high school sports, the Arizona Diamondbacks and Phoenix Rising FC. He can be reached by email at email@example.com and on Twitter @theo_mackie.