HILLSBORO, Ore. -- Dylan Ray and Conor Grammes have a lot in common, at least superficially. They're both right-handed pitchers in the Arizona Diamondbacks organization who currently play for the High-A Hillsboro Hops. They both occupy a spot on MLB Pipeline's Top 30 D-backs prospects list. And, most importantly for
HILLSBORO, Ore. -- Dylan Ray and Conor Grammes have a lot in common, at least superficially. They're both right-handed pitchers in the Arizona Diamondbacks organization who currently play for the High-A Hillsboro Hops. They both occupy a spot on MLB Pipeline's Top 30 D-backs prospects list. And, most importantly for the purposes of this article: They both love video games.
Grammes and Ray diverge considerably when it comes to which game they prefer, however. The former is a Pac-Man player who's moved into rarified air on a worldwide leaderboard, while the latter is obsessed with the "cars playing soccer" phenomenon that is Rocket League.
What follows is a summation of dugout conversations this writer had separately with both players, regarding the games they love when they're not playing the game of baseball.
Grammes was born in 1997, at which point Pac-Man was already considered a vintage video game. He remembers watching his dad playing this arcade classic when he was growing up, and grew to enjoy playing it himself. It'd be hard to know for sure, but these days he's quite possibly the best Pac-Man player in all of professional baseball.
"I'm 47th in the world on an arcade system," said Grammes. "So the way Pac-Man works, you can play it on your computer, and there's different modems for which you can play it on. But what I have is the actual 1981 [style] Pac-Man arcade game, so I'm ranked 47 on that out of probably about 200,000 [scores] on there."
Grammes underwent Tommy John surgery during the 2021 season and was inactive for the next year. It was during this period, when he couldn't take his baseball game to the next level, that he took his Pac-Man game there instead.
"I purchased a house down in Arizona and was just kind of looking for some stuff to make it a little more homey, you know, some cool stuff," he said. "So I ended up buying an arcade machine and just got really into it. I had a stretch where -- and I know this is nothing in video game terms -- but I was probably playing two to three hours a day, for that whole year I was down. So I started getting pretty good."
Grammes, who also enjoys Galaga, says that he's "definitely the black sheep" within a Hops clubhouse that enjoys more modern games. He encourages his teammates to put down their PS5 controllers and "come over to the good side."
"You just have to play, because you start to recognize patterns, routes, the most efficient ways to go," he said. "There's no other way to do it. Commit yourself to the Pac-Man."
Commit yourself to the Pac-Man? Ray has no plans on doing that, now or ever.
"For those that don't know, Rocket League requires much, much more skill than Pac-Man," he said. "It's car soccer. You have a flying car that you can use, and you fly around and hit the ball with your teammates. Three v. three or two v. two."
He then paused for a moment of somber reflection, and continued.
"I have, like, almost 2,000 hours playing this game. Wow. Pretty big waste of my life."
But not such a waste that Ray has any plans to stop playing it. Come to think of it, Rocket League is actually a great development tool.
"It's competitive, man. I just like to compete," he said. "Play baseball and compete. I get home and want to compete. I get more adrenaline from playing two v. two Rocket League than I do playing baseball. It trains your brain for the mound. Or, at least, I like to think of it like that."
Ray estimates that he's in the top one percent of all Rocket League players, but is aware that between that and the best of the best, a huge gap remains.
"I've been playing since my junior year of high school, and have played pretty much every day, to this day. So the hours are gonna keep climbing," he said. "My fiance would probably say that I need to slow it down a bit."
Does he ever think that, maybe, he needs to takes a break from Rocket League? That his daily desire to control a soccer-playing car has become a problem? To this query, Ray had a quick and confident reply.
"I wouldn't call it a problem. I just call it a hunger for success. That's what motivates you as a professional."
Benjamin Hill is a reporter for MiLB.com and writes Ben's Biz Blog. Follow Ben on Twitter @bensbiz.