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Barfield a true gamer on and off field

Barfield a true gamer on and off field

CLEVELAND -- Josh Barfield is living the ultimate college life.

His days often start with video games. He then heads off to work, where his portable PSP system allows him to sneak in a few more games. And finally, before he crashes, the night winds down with yet some more gaming back at his apartment with his roommate.

Life is sweet these days for the Indians' 24-year-old second baseman.

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"Thinking about it, video games are the only things we spend money on," said Barfield's roommate, first baseman Ryan Garko. "Well, that and food. [It's] like college."

It's a scholarly video-gaming lifestyle Barfield shares with many young players in the big leagues. It's just that he takes his hobby a bit further than most.

How many other guys walked the red carpet at last year's Video Game Awards in Las Vegas, participated in a gaming competition during Super Bowl week in Miami and are a member of the Professional Baseball Gaming League?

Yes, a professional video game league. Formed by Yankees center fielder and self-proclaimed commissioner Johnny Damon, the league's inaugural season brought together 14 Major Leaguers every other week this past offseason for some online paint-trading with Xbox 360's "Project Gotham Racing."

Barfield's virtual prowess saw him slash through a field that included the Los Angeles Dodgers' Derek Lowe, Milwaukee's Prince Fielder and Boston's Julian Tavarez, pulling into a first-place tie with Tampa Bay pitcher Seth McClung by season's end.

But while he ended up falling to Boston reliever Craig Hansen in the league's Super Bowl week playoffs at a swanky Miami hotel -- "Just an awesome experience," Barfield said -- a master of the joystick was born. Or at least, his name began to instill fear in league gaming circles.

How exactly did he become so good? It's simple, really. Practice. And lots of it.

Barfield's preparation dates back to elementary school, when he first started playing with the original Nintendo system.

"I just loved video games," Barfield said. "I was just like any other kid."

Well, except that he could play as his dad, Jesse, a 12-year Major League veteran, on his favorite game, RBI Baseball. And that his passion would eventually yield a "professional" offseason job.

To Barfield's credit, he never slacked off on his rigorous gaming routine once he made it big. In fact, his passion has only heightened over time.

Playing anything from "Gears of War," a third-person alien shooting game, to "Grand Theft Auto" to even wrestling and soccer games, Barfield regularly abuses one of the three newest gaming systems -- Xbox 360, Playstation 3 and Nintendo Wii -- at his downtown apartment.

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"I've never seen anyone with so much enthusiasm for video games," Garko said.

He plays in the afternoon, at night, at the park, on the plane, pretty much anywhere but second base. Why so much?

"It's just relaxing and a good way to take your mind off the game," Barfield said. "You're having fun, but at the same time, you love the competition of video games as an athlete."

Right now, that competition comes from his daily NBA 2K7 showdowns with Garko, a guy who just might be Barfield's match. The roommates guess they've split about 100 games in the virtual basketball arena, though Barfield is coming on strong.

Winning three straight, Barfield has sent his buddy into panic mode, which means Garko's hometown Lakers will be making a cameo.

"They're my emergency team when things aren't going well," Garko said. "That's when I take it personally."

But Barfield will be waiting. And acknowledging he's now reached the "big time" in the video gaming world, Barfield knows he cannot be dethroned by a mere amateur.

David Briggs is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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