Boston's Hansen wins first PBGL title

Boston's Hansen wins first PBGL title

MIAMI BEACH, Fla. -- An hour before the scheduled start of Saturday's first-year finals of the Professional Baseball Gaming League, top-seeded Seth McClung, the Devils Rays pitcher, sat practicing where the video-game finals would take place.

"Look who's the most dedicated," McClung said with a smile. "I was up real late like the rest of the guys, but you see I'm here practicing, while the rest of 'em are sleeping."

McClung's zeal for preparation could not be questioned, yet it didn't translate to victory on this day. The PBGL regular-season champion had to settle for a tie for third place in the finals. He lost in the semifinals to Steve Robison, a representative from Yankees outfielder Johnny Damon's Wounded Warriors project. Robison in turn lost the title to Red Sox pitcher Craig Hansen.

Hansen, a 6-foot-5, 185-pound right-hander preparing for his second Major League season, defeated Robison two straight in a best-of-three competition in Gran Prix-style racing. Hansen won handily by choosing the optimum type of car for each race, depending on its variables.

For instance, in the first race -- over New York City's mostly straight streets -- he chose a true speed car, an Enzo Ferrari. In the second race -- in London -- he switched to a heavier car, a Porsche, to handle the sharper and more frequent turns.

"That worked out well," Hansen said. "Having a heavier car really helped in the London race. But the one guy I didn't want to face was Steve. He gave me a run for my money every time we practiced against each other."

Hansen's victory won him the PBGL Golden Bracelet valued at $20,000, the H3TV system that the games were played on -- allowing dual-console integration and simultaneous split-screen viewing so Xbox and PS3 can be played at the same time -- and a $20,000 winner's check. Hansen announced afterward that he would give a portion of his check to the Wounded Warriors project that Damon continues to champion.

Damon, addressing the audience at the host Standard Hotel, shook hands with Robison, a Kansas City native and San Antonio resident who lost much of his left leg to gunfire on Sept. 17, 2005, in Mosul, Iraq.

"The world knows about him now," Damon said. "He's just gonna keep competing and getting back to a normal life. I'm just glad he's here. These are the guys who fought for our freedom, fought for our country, and I can't thank him enough."

Then Damon turned to Hansen, a former teammate who posted a 2-2 record in 38 appearances for the Red Sox last season and who has a fastball that has reached the high 90s.

"He's coming into his second year and this guy is going to be a great pitcher," Damon said. "You guys learned about him here. You guys are going to learn a lot more about him. He's one of those guys you don't want to face."

Damon started the day's competition with a match against Brewers first baseman Prince Fielder for the right to face Indians second baseman Josh Barfield for a spot in the final four. Fielder eliminated Damon in two races.

"I'm just not as good as I thought I was," Damon said. "These other guys, they've been practicing. I have three kids. While they've been practicing, I've been changing diapers."

Fielder's dominant start buoyed him for the match against Barfield, but that momentum quickly vanished against an opponent that has become a sort of nemesis. Barfield won in two races. Fielder said he knew Barfield loves to bump cars, and it prompted him to brake early in the second race to avoid a collision, ultimately giving Barfield a lead he didn't relinquish.

"I know he's real good, and once I got behind, I got into some more trouble," Fielder said. "But this whole thing has been a lot of fun since they installed my Xbox (360). I really like it and it keeps my two kids quiet."

Barfield, who lost a tiebreaker against McClung for the regular-season title, then found himself facing Hansen in the first semifinal. Barfield won the New York City race fairly handily, but Hansen's strategy of going with a heavier car paid off in the London and Tokyo races, as Barfield had more wall-banging problems.

"I choked," Barfield said afterward. "That's all there is to it. He got ahead and made it hard to play catch-up. I'm still really disappointed with the way I played."

Next came McClung against Robison. McClung seemed surprised and disappointed when he found that collisions had become a necessary part of the race strategy for the finals -- that he couldn't just fly through his opponent, like in the regular season.

McClung won the New York City race by just three-tenths of a second with a miraculous finish, taking a deep breath to show the emotion he had put into the race. But then Robison took over in the last two races. Once in the London race, Robison said, McClung hit him from behind and helped propel him forward to victory -- a lucky break, he acknowledged.

McClung was not a happy camper after he found himself eliminated.

"You changed the rules," he said to one official. "Most of the points I lost, I felt there was a lot of contact. I can honestly say I'm disappointed. I'm upset."

Racing was the selected competition for the first year, even using mostly baseball players, but with MLB.com now a sponsor, along with Boras Marketing and the Global Gaming League, a marriage of baseball and competitive video gaming now looms more possible.

"I know we're just breaking the ice for the PBGL and having some fun now," Hansen said. "I fully expect this league to really take off in the coming years."

In Friday's "Battle of the Commissioners" that opened the competition, celebrated hip-hop entertainer Snoop Dogg, using Indianapolis Colts players, defeated Damon, playing with Chicago Bears players, in a 16-10 squeaker.

Damon was concerned about being routed, based on the pre-battle scuttlebutt, but the game was tight all the way. Perhaps a comment that Damon savored the most came when Snoop Dogg blurted at some point in the second half, "Man, you're making me work for my paper [money]."

Charlie Nobles is a contributor to MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.