Ben Verlander wants to share his MLB passion with you

April 4th, 2022
Design by Tom Forget

While we have to wait until Thursday for the regular season to begin, there's some good news for those just itching for baseball action: "MLB The Show 22" is out for wide release on Tuesday. While the game could be played by those who had pre-ordered it on April 1, it is now out there for everyone to fire it up and get going.

To celebrate its launch, we thought it was time to sit down and have a conversation with Fox Sports' Ben Verlander. You may know him as Justin's brother -- who, yes, took him deep the only time they faced off professionally -- but Ben also hosts the baseball podcast "Flippin' Bats" and is one of the very best "MLB The Show" streamers on Twitch.

Verlander recently got a chance to visit San Diego Studios and take an inside peek at the making of the game. We spoke with him after he got back.

Note: Portions of this interview have been edited for clarity and length. So, you just toured San Diego Studios? Any secrets to share? Is it like video game Fort Knox in there?

BV: Just touring the place was awesome. That whole studio is so amazing. One of the things that really sticks with me is they took me into the audio room where they make all the audio and the commentary for the game. I met the guy that puts it all together and you don't really think about it from the outside. You don't realize that there's 50,000 audio files that go into it and they stitch them all together to make sense with what's happening in the game.

I was able to play the office champion in "MLB The Show." I like to say I'm pretty good at the game. Every year they do an office tournament, so there was an office champion, and I was able to play him in this tournament.

MLB: Did you win?

BV: I did. I beat the office champ.

MLB: How’d you get on Twitch?

BV: I'd been playing the Show for a while and I got to the point where I was pretty good at it. Then COVID hits, the world shuts down. I was living with a couple of roommates at the time and one of them came to me and was like, 'You should get on Twitch.' He's a gamer himself. And I literally said, 'I don't know what Twitch is, what even is that?' And he informed me what it was and led me to eventually getting on there. It immediately became apparent that it was the right thing to do. I built up a really incredible community playing "MLB The Show" on Twitch.

To be honest with you, I think it really is a big reason why I am where I am right now. It just got me in front of a camera, speaking to people, talking passionately about the game of baseball. The first thing I ever did for Fox Sports was a World Series watch party in October of 2020 -- the World Series between the Dodgers and the Rays. I hosted a watch party with Nick Swisher, Tino Martinez and Rick Ankiel. Before I went out to LA to do it, I told my Twitch community all about it. And they showed up in droves, they all showed up to support, they were all in the chat. And afterwards, there were multiple comments to me like, 'Wow, your community like really supports you.' They really do and I never take that for granted.

MLB: You know many of the players that you interview from your playing days and now you play with them in The Show. Is that ever weird?

BV: Baseball is a small world and it's a small circle. I can connect myself and my career with a majority of the guys in the league, like, 'We played together in Low-A back in 2014.' And now I still have a lot of guys on my team in The Show because I played with them or I played against them.

I also ask pretty much every guest that comes on about "MLB The Show" because I know a lot of guys play it. I just had Mike Soroka on a week ago and he said he plays it all the time and it actually changed the way he pitches. He was pitching with himself in "MLB The Show" and learned that he was getting guys way off balance by throwing, like, five breaking balls in a row. And he would never do that in real life. So, he would try it in real life to be successful. He literally learned a new way of pitching and his repertoire of pitching and how he would go about each at-bat from playing that game.

He told me a story about Max Fried, his fellow teammate and a stud pitcher for the Braves. Before every single start of his, he will play as himself and pitch against the lineup he's facing that next day. And when you start peeling back the layers, you start to realize how important "MLB The Show" is -- not only to myself, but a lot of people, whether it's just for pleasure or for actually getting better at their job.

MLB: The Show is that realistic? Guys can treat it like it’s a scouting report?

BV: Yes, it absolutely is. I'd be lying if I said like hitting in real life is just the same as hitting in the game. You can't prepare yourself for a 100 mile-per-hour fastball unless you've actually seen it. But baseball is the most mental game in the entire world, it is a mental grind. It is getting yourself strong mentally, it is thinking forward, it is envisioning things. And that's what these players often are doing in "MLB The Show. "

MLB: Have any players complained that you’re not featuring them on your team?

BV: I had Michael Fulmer, who is a friend of mine and a pitcher for the Tigers, on Flippin' Bats. And we talked a little bit about it. He actually watches my Twitch stream every once in a while and hangs out. He came in my stream one day and saw that he wasn't on my team and called me out. He was very frustrated with me, wondering why I wasn't using him in "MLB The Show."

MLB: If a novice player or new player wanted to get into the game, what advice would you give them?

BV: The first thing I would say before even getting into that would be how important I think "MLB The Show" is to the game of baseball in real life. And I vocalized this to them, when I went down there. They are doing so much for the game of baseball in terms of putting cards in the game of future stars, so people can get to know these players. For example, Spencer Torkelson's in the game, he's gonna come up and be a good player. Jarred Kelenic was in the game, you have all these young players that get "Future Stars" cards. You get to learn who they are, and then when they get to the big leagues, you're like, 'Oh, I know this guy. I played with him in The Show.' I think it gets people excited, and it gets them more knowledgeable about the game of baseball, and it keeps them in on the game. I think that's a big reason why I love playing it so much. I love streaming it. I love talking to people about it, because of how much it's doing for the game of baseball.

So, even if somebody doesn't think they'd be great at the game, but if they love the game of baseball, or want to learn more about the game of baseball, they should get it. It's not an easy game, but it's for everybody. There's always modes that you can play to have fun, no matter whether you're good or not.

MLB: I saw you land the Shohei Ohtani card on Opening night. Are there players you’re looking to put together for a dream squad?

There are a few new ones that came out this year and one of them that's already been released is Randy Johnson. I am really excited to be able to use that card. In the first night, I got Shohei Ohtani and my brother and put them both in my rotation. Anybody that follows me and my career and Flippin' Bats knows how much Shohei Ohtani means to me and my show and how much I love watching him and just seeing where he is. To get him and my brother in the same night was truly incredible.

MLB: You famously homered off your brother. Do you prefer to play with him in the game or homer against him?

I like using him and I will always have his card in my rotation. I'm very protective of using him and his stats. I always want him to do well and I focus more when I'm using him. But I take it personally when somebody uses him against him. So, the answer to that question is both. I love making his stats as good as possible and I love winning as many games with him on the mound. But if I ever face him and somebody is randomly using him against me, the focus ramps up a little bit on my end when I'm hitting.

MLB: Do you create yourself in the game? What ratings do you give to yourself?

BV: I often create my own player and make it way better than I ever was in real life. If I were to give myself an actual card in the game, I would give it a good bit of power and a good bit of this guy's gonna strike out a lot. If I make contact, there's a good chance something happens. But once those 92 mph sliders started rolling in, my strikeout rate went through the roof.