All-Stars slug it out in virtual Derby

All-Stars slug it out in virtual Derby

SAN FRANCISCO -- Justin Morneau won a home run derby on Monday. It just wasn't the Home Run Derby.

After being eliminated in the first round of festivities at AT&T Park, the Twins slugger settled for victory in a video game tournament at San Francisco's Ruby Skye club, trouncing Mets shortstop Jose Reyes in the finals.

"It was a lot better than me in the Derby today," Morneau said, "so this kind of makes up for it."

Several Major League players congregated at the MLBPA All-Star Party on Mason Street to face off in the virtual hitting contest, slugging away on the Nintendo Wii console game 'The Bigs,' by 2K Sports.

As the participants soon found out, the experience is not your typical analog-stick baseball game: the day of fiddling with a joystick are becoming a thing of the past, replaced by a console you can actually break a sweat with, whipping the palm-sized controller through an imaginary strike zone with real speed.

"You feel like it's a real game, because you have to swing like it's in the game, you know?" Reyes said. "It's great, man. I want one of those in my house."

Joined by ace pitchers Johan Santana of the Minnesota Twins and Justin Verlander of the Detroit Tigers, the competitors lined up in the center of the nightclub, given just enough space to complete their cuts and avoid making contact with each other.

That would come with the numerous fist-pounds and hugs the players exchanged, clearly enjoying the opportunity to match up with each other in a relaxed setting -- though each was still out to win.

"We get pretty competitive," Verlander said. "That's what it's all about."

Of course, maybe Morneau -- who homered four times in the first round of Monday's actual Derby competition and did not advance -- had a leg up.

Morneau's image is featured on the covers of some versions of the game, and he admitted to having had a few advance copies sent to him, though he had also offered a few around the Twins clubhouse, including a gift for the avid gamer Santana.

"I think he's played it more than I have," Morneau said.

The players traded some great blasts -- and some awkward, awful swings as well, prompting the performers to cackle out loud at their virtual sluggers. Morneau opted to bat as himself through the entire competition, and with good reason.

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"I'm huge [physically] in that game, so I like it," Morneau said. "It's a good game. I don't play a lot of baseball video games -- I usually play hockey -- but I like this one."

Reyes knows as well as anyone that his game is based speed, not power hitting, so it became an easy decision to shun his Mets stripes and instead look north to New England, making his run to the finals with David Ortiz and some Papi power.

Reyes' Ortiz made quick work of special guest Alex Smith, the San Francisco 49ers quarterback, whose virtual Albert Pujols was handily bounced in the first round. Reyes directed Big Papi to victory by having the Red Sox superstar blast one home run off the distant center-field scoreboard at AT&T Park, creating an electronic explosion of sorts and bringing out the familiar, high-wattage grin that Reyes has used to light up Shea Stadium since 2003.

Meanwhile, Verlander hardly had to consider who he'd be asking to carry him through. Two hours and about 1 1/2 miles after watching Vladimir Guerrero pummel baseball after baseball all around AT&T Park, Verlander was plenty satisfied with the Angels outfielder's display.

"That's exactly what I was thinking of," Verlander said.

Maybe the most compelling matchup was between a pair of players who would never be invited to hit in a real-life Home Run Derby: Santana and Verlander matched home runs through the first nine pitches of their bracket before Verlander pulled away, prompting the Tigers right-hander to jump up and down and his Twins counterpart to unleash an extended howl.

"It feels like you're playing the game," Santana said. "If you go into that challenge and play with some friends, I'm pretty sure that people will have a good time. It's fun. It keeps you going, too. It's not like you're just sitting down and pushing buttons.

"You have to go through motion and you have to get the timing. If you get the timing, you put a good swing and the ball is gone. There's a lot of things to coordinate. If you put everything together, you have a pretty good chance to hit a home run."

Bryan Hoch is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.