By John Patrick Pullen
May 11, 2018

One of video gaming’s most popular titles, Fortnite is a big game and a big business — sort of like baseball, the sport that’s officially known as “America’s pastime.” They’re both free to play (as long as you have the right gear), if you’re good you could land a college scholarship, and if you’re great you could earn a ton of money and become a massive celebrity.

Already well-paid stars themselves, Major League Baseball players have flocked to Fortnite because with plenty of downtime between games and travel, it’s easy for them to unwind with a few rounds of the online, multi-player, and mobile-compatible battle royale, whether they’re in the clubhouse, their hotel room, or on the bus.

But the shoot-em-up title may have just taken its first big league casualty. Boston Red Sox pitcher David Price, missed his Wednesday start against the team’s hated rival New York Yankees because of mild case of carpal tunnel syndrome. And after questions have arisen about how frequently he gets a Fortnite fix, the pitcher said he’s hanging up his controller, at least around the ballpark, reports MLB.com.

Price is hardly the only major leaguer to be hit with Fortnite fever, though he may be the only one shelved by it. As The Athletic’s Jen McCaffrey reports, the Red Sox — which as of this writing shares baseball’s best record with the Yankees — are respawning all night long, with ace Chris Sale, lights-out closer Craig Kimbrel, and slugger J. D. Martinez playing Fortnite on an Xbox that Price lugs around in a backpack.

Combined, these players are earning $79.25 million in 2018, with Price’s $30 million salary representing the biggest chunk of that haul. While Red Sox manager Alex Cora said he didn’t believe that video gaming caused Price’s injury, the medical world is torn on the issue, with researchers at the Mayo Clinic saying repetitive motions (like button-mashing) can contribute to carpal tunnel. However, notes the National Institute for Health, “often no single cause can be identified.”

Regardless, with $30 million at stake (in Price’s case), Major League owners have a reasonable expectation that players curb the time they spend scrambling around Fortnite, looking for loot boxes if it detracts from their on-field performance. At the very least, they’ll definitely stop letting players hook up their controllers to the ballpark’s jumbotron, like the Milwaukee Brewers did this week.

And Price’s Fortnite finger is causing alarm in Red Sox Nation because it reminds longtime fans of another dominant Boston pitcher, Jim Lonborg, who once upon a time looked to be the future of the team. The Cy Young Award-winning pitcher took the Red Sox to the seventh game of the 1967 World Series (which Boston lost), injured his knee skiing that winter, and was never the same player again. In fact, instead of being a rich, retired ballplayer, Jim Lonborg is now a dentist.

Lonborg’s cautionary tale may seem absurd to modern-day ballplayers, but owners signing massive multi-year deals remember — and clauses in their ever-growing contracts catalog all the freak accidents that can derail professional athletes. Could video games be a future banned activity in baseball contracts? If Price doesn’t return to the mound soon, don’t count it out.

Of course for every David Price, there’s a Greg Maddux who reportedly loved computer games so much, he even declined a dinner with Hall of Famer Don Sutton to beat one. But there’s a big difference between Price and Maddux: 226 wins.

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