From the bullpen to the Battle Bus: How Fortnite helps minor leaguers

Provided by Epic Games

PORT CHARLOTTE, Fla. -- It's another quiet night in what CNN Money once considered a top retirement destination, but while most of the town's residents are pulling back their sheets and climbing into bed, 26-year-old minor league baseball player Trevor Charpie is just beginning his evening.

He has just turned on his PS4 and launched Fortnite, and he is about to hop on the Battle Bus, excited to take a mental vacation from the world around him.

The Stonecrabs -- the Class A-Advanced affiliate of the Tampa Bay Rays -- have just wrapped up another late-night game, and after games, Charpie and his teammates typically go home to contemplate their most recent performance on the diamond, which tends to lead to a lot of restless nights.

Over the past four years, Charpie, who went undrafted out of the University of Nevada, Reno, has been trying to work his way to MLB as a middle relief pitcher, but the pressure and stress have weighed on him. Each day, he rises, prepared to rinse and repeat the same thing he did the day prior: eat breakfast, practice, work out, occasionally visit the local Chili's and lie in bed staring at his ceiling, overanalyzing every pitch he threw before nodding off to the sound of his ceiling fan.

"In season, we had a game basically every day," Charpie said. "We went as many as 38 straight days without having an off day at one point."

Day after day, Charpie, his teammates and MiLB players around the country go through the same monotonous routine. At some point, it begins to feel like Groundhog Day, and it becomes challenging to find an escape.

In a humdrum town with little to offer, there are few things a 25-year-old can do to entertain himself. Only on the rarest of occasions is a boys' night at the local Chili's a feasible option, given their low pay.

"We got paid $1,550 a month," he said. "That's before taxes, and they don't give us housing. We have to buy our housing, so there goes rent money, and that remaining leftover money is spent on that one meal we have to provide for ourselves a day. So basically, our paycheck is rent and that one meal. Going out is expensive, and it's tough to do that -- you just don't have the money."

With minimal funds and a lack of things to do in town, Charpie searched for a way to decompress and relieve his mind of the pressure he felt from his determination to reach the Show.

Right around the time he was fully immersed in the Stonecrabs' season, Fortnite began to explode. Whether it was being discussed in a group message with his friends back home or being played in the clubhouse, the only thing that seemed to be on anyone's mind was the popular, free-to-play game. Over time, Charpie's special nights at Chili's dwindled, and he swapped his menu for a regular seat on the Battle Bus.

"Having video games, for me it was the best way to wind down, do something and still get some recovery from it," he said. "I needed the rest. I needed the rest, and going out and drinking wasn't going to make my body able to perform for the next day. You have to be ready to go every single day, and not having money only gave you three choices: you could turn on a movie, lay in your bed or play video games. I chose video games."

The pros outweighed the cons; regardless of the late nights on the sticks, Charpie was giving his body the rest it needed to wake up and do it all over again. More importantly, he wasn't stressing constantly about being released and was able to keep his wallet in his pocket.

Playing Fortnite also satisfied a competitive thirst for victory that was similar to the sensation Charpie felt on the diamond, and it gave him a chance to stay connected with friends.

Unlike with a "normal" job, members of the Stonecrabs woke up in the same apartments, went to work together, ate together and returned home with one another. Over six months, players from all over the world are thrown into a brotherhood situation, which forces them to develop a unique bond. Fortnite and other video games allowed those relationships to blossom, and it allowed them to stay in contact when the season came to a close.

From Charpie's perspective, video games kept his friendships alive and alleviated him of the depressing mental cycle most athletes go through.

"It was a great way to connect with your boys," he said. "I didn't even realize video games are so much more than sitting there and nerding out on a controller all day. It's like a connection. It's communicating."

Charpie found the perfect escape through Fortnite, but not everyone sees things from his perspective. To someone who isn't a casual gamer, it's easy to label video games as a distraction, which is why some coaches and members of the media believe that esports are infiltrating locker rooms and disrupting players' sleep schedules.

Roughly around the time Charpie began playing Fortnite, the Boston media started ridiculing Red Sox pitcher David Price for his love of the game and called his passion for baseball into question. Price wasn't taking the mound because of a carpal tunnel issue in his wrist, which the media quickly associated with his playing video games.

The outrage sparked an interesting debate throughout the industry: Should coaches allow their players to play video games?

Scott Wallis is the head coach at Saint Margaret's Episcopal School in San Juan Capistrano, California, and one of Charpie's former coaches. Wallis also coaches the ASD Bulldogs, which have seen the likes of MLB stars Nolan Arenado and Shane Bieber walk through their doors. Despite the negative publicity gaming has received when aligned with professional sports, Wallis has accepted that his players are going to enjoy video games but doesn't find it to be an issue. In fact, he believes video games benefit his students on the practice field.

"The technology with games now, the virtual reality stuff, even Nintendo Wii, where you're using some hand-eye coordination, actually having to strategize a little bit, or even on a smaller level just learning about the game a little bit more [is beneficial]," Wallis said.

"We find some kids that are baseball guys that are a little more knowledgeable about baseball because they've been playing 'MLB the Show.' I can argue both sides of that a little bit to where it can be detrimental, but it can also be very helpful. I think it just comes down to how you manage your time."

At the end of the day, coaches are happier knowing that their players are accounted for and safe in their homes, rather than out on the town getting into mischief. Athletes can't spend every second of the day working out or training, and Charpie tries to remind himself of that. He needs time to unwind.

"These guys are professional athletes. They didn't get there by not being disciplined, by not working hard, by not doing all of that stuff," he said when asked whether gaming interferes with training. "There are 24 hours in the day. You can't go to the gym for 24 hours -- and baseball especially, because if you're pitcher, you can only put so much work in before you blow out your arm."

Charpie's dream of making it to the big leagues doesn't stem from a desire to go out and party every night. He's a competitor, and competing at the highest level is what he wants to do.

As he continues his quest to the majors, video games will continue to serve as his go-to oasis, offering him a safe haven from the everyday grind of being a minor league baseball player -- and they'll give him a reason to avoid the two for $25 deal at Chili's.