MOOSIC —Brady Lail is pitching some of the best baseball of his life.
Is it because he’s a full-time reliever for the first time in his career and that role best suits his skills?
Or maybe it’s because this is the first time that Fortnite has been at his disposal when he’s not in the bullpen or on the mound at PNC Field or elsewhere around the International League.
“I’m not worried about baseball,” Lail said with a laugh. “I’m worried about if I can win on Fortnite instead of just worrying about why I’m struggling in baseball. It gets my mind away. Our lifestyle’s so weird and I really, truly believe if we can get away (by) doing something that takes our mind away from our job it’s a good thing and we can come in with a fresh breath of air. It’s funny. It’s funny, man. It’s good.”
Not only has Fortnite swept the nation, but it has hit the RailRiders clubhouse, too. Hard.
The co-op sandbox survival video game — think Halo and Call of Duty — has its thumbprint all over the clubhouse, with Lail, Shane Robinson, J.P Feyereisen, Zack Zehner, Chance Adams, Ryan McBroom and Daniel Camarena just a few of the RailRiders who have taken a stab at the hot trend. A handful of RailRiders have even purchased portable gaming systems that can fit in their lockers.
If you asked Feyereisen or Lail who’s better between the pitchers and position players, the answer is easy — the pitchers. Though Zehner adds that if the pitchers didn’t have Lail, the position players would likely have the upper-hand.
Lail is the consensus top player in the clubhouse and is responsible for both Feyereisen and Adams picking up the controller. Lail, Feyereisen and Adams are the self-proclaimed best squad on the team and the trio often plays together before they come to the field in the morning and immediately when they get home after their game at night.
“Chance and I are working,” Feyereisen said. “Both of us are pretty even, I’d say. Chance would probably say he’s better than me, but I would say that we’re pretty similar. But Brady’s by far the best. Shane, Zehner and McBroom kind of need a little work. They’re a little tough on the sticks. But if we did a pitcher versus hitter matchup, it wouldn’t be very fair.”
“That’s tough. Brady Lail, he’s pretty good. But I also think Brady would carry them,” Zehner added. “The pitchers are pretty good. I’m not going to say they’re not, but I think we’re more competitive on the position players side. We’re grinders. We know what we’re doing. Yeah, it’d be competitive. I think they’d give it a good shot, but I think the position players are better. Without Brady on their team, they wouldn’t really stand a chance. They’re kind of a one-trick pony. You eliminate him and they’re not much at all.”
There have always been activities that the RailRiders have bonded over.
Players were playing cards after Thursday’s rainout. Hacky sack had a heavy presence last season. Ernesto Frieri and Ruben Tejada would play dominoes in the clubhouse last year, too. The RailRiders pitching staff even tosses a Frisbee around before almost every batting practice. But nothing seems to compare to Fortnite.
It even brings pitchers and position players together, despite their rivalry.
“When you can connect, and pitches and hitters don’t always connect on a lot of things because we’re focused on completely different things, but we’re talking about Fortnite, guys are watching Fortnite videos on their phones and you can talk about it,” Feyereisen said. “For us, it’s just a good conversation piece and then you get closer and closer when you’re talking about gaming. It’s just like playing a baseball game — when you talk about baseball — but now it’s Fortnite, working together and playing as a team.”
Especially for new guys to the club like Robinson, who was in the Los Angeles Angels organization last season, Fortnite has been one way he’s been able to connect with his new teammates, despite only getting the game a couple weeks ago.
“It’s something to kind of pass the time, especially on the road,” Robinson said. “It’s something to engage in, just take your mind off the game a little bit. Yeah, it helps.”
When the RailRiders are on the road, their passion for Fortnite really comes out.
It’s often a sprint off the buses to get to an Ethernet cable and hook up their Xbox or PlayStation 4. After a long bus ride, like the RailRiders just spent going to Pawtucket last weekend, a game like Fortnite helps players wide down.
“It’s a race to get the WiFi set up and get on and start playing with each other, but it’s great to get away,” Zehner said. “It’s always there and it’s great that we have that. I’m just excited it helps pass the time.”
If there’s one match that stands out above all else — at least of Feyereisen — it was when Lail, Feyereisen and New York Yankees reliever Jonathan Holder, who was with the RailRiders at the time, played a game just before an April game against the Gwinnett Stripers. They took advantage of the downtime before their game against the Stripers and got in a quick match while sitting in the visitor’s clubhouse at Coolray Field.
“We were playing one game and we were just three people on a squad and we won the thing,” Feyereisen said. “Holder had four kills, I had four kills and Brady had three kills. It was pretty ridiculous because it was Brady’s first time playing on mobile and it’s different, it’s tough.
“That’s probably the one (match) that sticks out the most. It was set up perfectly. Holder was rocket-launching, Brady was shooting and I was sniping.”
But above all else, while activities like Fortnite do help build bonds for teammates, it also allows players to get away from the game.
Minor League Baseball is a grind.
You’re constantly trying to achieve the ultimate dream of reaching the majors, and sometimes that process can take five or more years — and most players never get there. Teams get one, maybe two days off a month. Then there’s the long bus rides.
So to have something like Fortnite, that can take your mind off your struggles at the plate, can do wonders.
“You can definitely get too engulfed in the game and it can definitely play a tool on you mentally as well as physically,” Robinson said. “To have those moments where you can kind of basically knock out any negative thoughts toward what you’re doing or what you’ve not been doing productively — if that be the case — it’s just a good time to kind of vent and kind of relax and let your mind kind of relax and be at ease.”
Reach DJ Eberle at 570-991-6398 or on Twitter @ByDJEberle