ST. PETERSBURG — Like his hundreds of idled colleagues, Rays pitcher Blake Snell is itching and eager to get back on the field to play baseball at the highest level.
Snell has had a bit of a release for his fierce competitiveness, participating in an online MLB The Show video game tournament against other major-leaguers, advancing to the semifinals after beating the Dodgers’ Gavin Lux on Friday night.
And in doing so, the left-hander has shown off another side to his serious on-field personality, as a trash-talking, Justin Bieber-singing, joke-cracking, social-media starring, free-spirited entertainer.
“I was going to go home to Seattle and I knew I wouldn’t have been on social media much, if at all,’’ Snell said Friday in a Zoom media call. “But I stayed in Florida, stayed at my house (in St. Petersburg) and I guess I did take the time to focus on blowing up social media and Twitch (a video game streaming channel).
“I felt it was more important for this time. I would have been interacting with teammates and fans and friends and all of that, and I still wanted to keep kind of the same thing with that.
“So I stayed down here just so I could Twitch more, and I can connect with fans more, and I could, I guess in a way, grow my social media. And let people have a chance to understand who I really am. I feel like that’s been a huge thing. I feel like a lot of people have enjoyed it, which has made me happy. And it’s what has made me to continue to stream as much as I do and try to be on social media as much as I am.’’
Snell, 27, has put his video skills on display for a while to gamers via Twitch, and with an occasionally entertaining soundtrack, such as reacting to the December trade of Tommy Pham to the Padres by referring to newly acquired Xavier Edwards as a ‘’slap---- prospect.”
But Snell has stepped further into the spotlight during the coronavirus shutdown. He is hosting on an interview show on MLB’s Instagram Live channel with Yankees outfielder Aaron Judge and NFL star Cameron Jordan as guests. He does interviews about the video game tournament. He joined teammate Austin Meadows for a wide-ranging live chat. He streams his play in other video games, such as Call of Duty and Fortnite. And his emotional and entertaining reactions during the players tournament competition, including his Bieber turn, have been quite a hit.
The opportunity to showcase personality off the field is one Snell thinks he, and other players, will continue to explore going forward, an unexpected positive benefit of the shutdown.
Snell admitted that he has even surprised himself in some ways, such as trash talking during the video game tournament.
“In-season I couldn’t even attempt to try that,’’ he said. “In real life I couldn’t even trash talk or say a joke — I’m so focused. So it’s always funny to kind of see the difference between me playing video games and me actually in real life.’’
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In a way, he’s kind of like new Bucs tight end Rob Gronkowski, who has something of dual personalities with an outlandish alter ego as “Gronk.’’
“I think so,’’ Snell said. “I’m going to have to go talk to Gronk now that he’s here … and I can see what Gronk’s personalities are like and if it helps me more with mine.’’
Otherwise, Snell said he is feeling well and rested, focusing on cardio and endurance in workouts, limiting throwing to playing catch two-three times a week with no bullpen sessions, and thinking a shortened season will be beneficial since he would have been on limited innings coming off his 2019 injury.
He’s checking out some TV (All-American, Ozark, Power) but much prefers YouTube videos from The Voice. He enjoys using his kayaks, paddleboards and jet skis to explore the water, and is “obsessed” by watching dolphins.
And he plans to start whipping up some food — joking that previously the best he could do was “cook a mean bowl of Cap’n Crunch’’ — having recently discovered the Instacart grocery delivery service and on Thursday using some handy Internet tips to make steak and potatoes.
“It’s been Uber Eats this whole time,’’ he said. “I actually got some real food that I can make and enjoy rather than Chipotle and Fresh Kitchen every day.’’
Contact Marc Topkin at email@example.com. Follow @TBTimes_Rays.