SAN DIEGO -- Hans Smith of the St. Louis Cardinals had a mediocre 2010 season. He went 9-11 with a 4.31 ERA, was sidelined for a month with a strained shoulder and was disappointed when the team missed the playoffs.
Don't recognize the name? That's because the left-handed pitcher exists only digitally.
The real Hans Smith has cerebral palsy and is confined to a wheelchair, so the only way he's ever been able to play baseball is on video games. He's such a fanatic that Sony included him as a player in "MLB The Show" for the second straight year.
"For me to be able to leave my wheelchair and play baseball, that's something I never thought was possible," said Smith, who is studying communications at Boise State and turns 25 on Sunday. "So it's been a very great ride."
Smith, a lifelong Cardinals fan, leaves his wheelchair only in the figurative sense. But playing "MLB The Show" means the world to him.
"Obviously, because of my condition, I can't play physical baseball," he said in a phone interview. "And so ever since I was 9 years old, the only way I could play baseball was through video game systems."
Smith said that when he saw an ad for "MLB 08 The Show," he sold his Xbox the next day because the game is made only for PlayStation.
"They were asking me, 'Isn't that a little bit weird to sell your system just for one game?' I said, 'No, you don't get it. I am not a gamer, I am a baseball player. That's the difference."
He played the full season in 2008, mirroring when the real Cardinals were playing.
"When my team would be on the road, I'd wear the road clothes. When my team was at home, I'd wear the home clothes. When they took a day off, I'd take a day off. So I rebuilt the actual season as if I were a player," he said.
Halfway through the season, Smith contacted Sony Computer Entertainment America to say how much he appreciated being able to play the game.
"For me, you have created the real field of dreams," Smith recalled writing. "You've given me the opportunity to reach my goal, and for that I'm very grateful. Because all the emotions that you would get when you step out on the baseball diamond, being out there in the ninth inning, or being a pitcher in a very tight situation, all those emotions, my body has nothing to compare it to. So that's how I experience the game."
After a few back-and-forth communications, Sony invited Smith to San Diego to tour its motion capture studio.
"We had no intentions of doing anything special. We just thought we'd make the kid's day," said Kolbe Launchbaugh, senior designer for "MLB 11 The Show".
Once Sony found out how big of a baseball fan Smith is, it decided to put him in the game.
"Oh my God, you have no idea," Launchbaugh said. "He informed us that he plays the real season in real time with his game season. ... You can't make this stuff up. He knows everything about his team. He is a baseball fanatic."
Technicians scanned Smith's head and recorded his voice, similar treatment to what stars such as Dustin Pedroia, Joe Mauer and Ryan Howard went through when they were featured on the game's cover.
Sony created left-handed starter Hans Smith, who's 5-foot-7 and 145 pounds, wears No. 86 and throws a four-seam fastball, curveball, slider, changeup and even a knuckleball.
"They told me, as long as their franchise exists, Hans Smith is going to be a major league ballplayer. I'll be in the upcoming editions of 'MLB The Show,"' said Smith, who is left-handed.
"It really makes me feel like a ballplayer. In fact, every year I have to re-sign a contract," he said. "It's a non-paid contract. But what it is, is a legal contract that says, 'We have the right to put you in a game.' I have to sign it every year and so I tease my friends and my family, 'Oh, I've got my new baseball contract; I'm definitely going to be playing for another year.' It's really cool."
Smith has made two trips to Sony's San Diego studios, where the company has followed up on two of his suggestions.
In one portion of the game, Smith wanted the ability to have his digital character sit on the bench and watch his teammates bat.
Smith also has formed the Association for Disabled Virtual Athletes, or ADVA, as a way for disabled gamers to compete with everybody else. He asked Sony to put certain settings in "MLB The Show" that make it easier for disabled gamers to use.
"Either by dumb luck or divine blessing, both times he requested things, we were working on it," Launchbaugh said. "It wasn't exactly what he wanted, but the framework was there."
Launchbaugh said Sony listens to all the feedback from fans of its games, and described Smith's letter and a subsequent phone call as "heartfelt and touching."
"We really took to heart what he said and how he felt about how grateful and thankful he was," Launchbaugh said. "We asked, 'Why are you this thankful? We just make a video game.' But when we stopped and listened to him, this is a huge deal to him. It made us think, there's a lot of other people out there who love baseball or basketball, and they can't play them."
Smith became a Cardinals fan when his family lived in Illinois for 10 years and he listened to the late Jack Buck. Now, he wants to be a baseball broadcaster. Last year, he visited Busch Stadium.
Smith said his character is struggling this season, going 1-2 with a 5.90 ERA.
But, it is baseball, and it is his virtual field of dreams.
"That may be cliche, that may be corny, but that's really how I feel," Smith said. "When I go out there and I pitch, I'm really stepping out on the mound and I'm really experiencing what it feels like to be a pitcher. I've been in situations where if I have a shaky first couple of innings, and they score some runs and the bases are loaded with one out, you feel the pressure to get that double play. That's a very real feeling."