David Price(notes) needs 20 seconds. TBS wants to talk with him, and so does a whole tangle of other people. He stares down at his iPad screen and asks for 10 seconds to finish up, and all it takes is five more seconds until he can finally follow through on this thing of utmost importance.
"Got to farm my broccoli," Price says. "Big crop."
Price starts tapping his screen, and small heads of virtual broccoli turn into points on We Farm, the game that has overtaken the Tampa Bay Rays' clubhouse. Following their Game 4 victory over the Texas Rangers that kept the Rays in the postseason and sent their American League Division Series to a Game 5 finale Tuesday, players celebrated by flicking on their iPads and tending to their virtual farms.
What started as a silly game played by starter James Shields'(notes) 7-year-old daughter, Ashtyn, has metamorphosed into a full-blown phenomenon for the Rays. It's not just Price and Shields. Chad Qualls(notes), Kelly Shoppach(notes), Matt Joyce(notes), Matt Garza(notes) and B.J. Upton(notes) have fallen victim too, each trying to one-up the other with a meticulously tended-to patch of e-land.
He somehow avoided the We Farm obsession. Niemann prefers Angry Birds.
"You throw birds at things and break stuff," he says. "We have fun. We can turn the brain off for a little bit."
[Tech Rewind: Guy on cell phone hit in face with baseball]
The rigors of a 162-game season and the stressors of the playoffs send the Rays scurrying for an outlet, and they've found it on a 9.7-inch screen and a game that resembles the popular Farmville. The players download the app for free, and then start building their dream farm, replete with everything from broccoli rows to blackberry-surrounded baseball fields.
The We Farm devotees around the clubhouse compare their plots and commence the trash talking. Originally, it bottlenecked toward Shields, who in July started playing the game in the clubhouse so Ashtyn's crops stayed in good shape. About a month later, he convinced others to join in, and they've been trying to match him ever since.
"He's like 3,000th in the world," Price says with admiration.
Price, competitor he is, wants to catch up. Even though he will pitch the most important game of his life Tuesday against former Cy Young winner Cliff Lee(notes), Price can't forget about his farm. In Kansas City for the Rays' final regular-season series, Price purchased a "Grow" add-on for $99.99 – "plus a 20 percent discount," he notes. For his not-real crops, he spent real money.
Not quite as much, however, as Upton, the Rays' center field whom the We Farm addicts point to as the most jonesing of the bunch. Teammates say Upton has spent hundreds of dollars on Grow, and when confronted on the subject, he says: "No comment."
Quickly, he shoots a glance to Price, across the room, and adds: "DP, I'm gonna kill you!"
Across the room, Rocco Baldelli(notes) shakes his head. Baldelli, an Apple sycophant, hasn't taken the iPad plunge. Neither has teammate Ben Zobrist(notes), in the locker next to him. They try to avoid the We Farm clamor throughout the clubhouse. It is impossible.
"They're spending real money on We Farm," Baldelli says.
"Hundreds of dollars," Zobrist says. "To buy Grow."
"To grow it faster?" Baldelli asks.
"To help their crops go faster," Zobrist says. "I wish we could write them up."
Alas, the Rays have no kangaroo court, no way to apply additional fines to the money spent on We Farm. And were there more options, the We Farmers say, they wouldn't be above dropping more coin.
"They need to ask us for ideas," Price says.
"We Farm shirts," Shields says.
"And stuff you can add on," Price says. "A racecar track. And a dirt bike track."
"And a cornfield," Shields says, "so my Field of Dreams isn't in the middle of a blackberry patch."
When Rays manager Joe Maddon cases the room, he often hears talk of Grow, yelps of delight and, he says, "them totally getting off on it." It turned into a don't-bother-asking-because-you-don't-want-to-know situation, so We Farm hasn't infiltrated the front office yet. Neither Maddon, president Matt Silverman nor general manager Andrew Friedman plays the game. They prefer to operate in reality.
And if reality had any bearing on screen-tap farming, Garza would be John Deere. He owns an actual table-grape farm in Fresno, Calif.
"Let's not talk about his farm," Price says.
"My We Farm?" Garza says.
"No," Price says, "your real farm."
"My real farm is sick!" Garza says.
"Better," Price says, "than your We Farm."