Twenty-three-year-old college student Hans Smith has never swung a bat on a baseball diamond, but that hasn't stopped him from playing baseball in the virtual world.
Bound to a wheelchair by cerebral palsy, which makes it impossible for him to grip a bat or throw a ball, Smith has spent hours upon hours playing "MLB: The Game" on his PlayStation while his friends play ball on an actual baseball diamond.
But Smith was so grateful that a game existed that allowed him to experience baseball even a little bit, he wrote a letter to PlayStation thanking the company.
As a result, he's now experiencing the virtual game more completely than his friends could ever dream. The game's developers were so moved by Smith's story that they modeled a character in the game after him -- placing his virtual likeness alongside such Major League Baseball superstars as Albert Pujols and Derek Jeter.
"I said that I know this might sound strange, but I'm a 22-year-old college student who is also a baseball fanatic, and I absolutely love your game," Smith said, quoting the letter he sent to PlayStation in 2008. "I have cerebral palsy, and I'm unable to step foot on a baseball diamond, but you guys have really given me the experience of playing baseball.
"[The game] is so real I am able to experience the same adrenaline rush, the same nervousness, the same frustration and the same excitement as [the real thing]," Smith wrote to PlayStation, which is owned by Sony Computer Entertainment America.
Jennifer Kacizak, a licensing specialist who works closely with PlayStation's development team, received Smith's letter and said that everyone was moved to tears.
"The team really took it to heart. We never get letters like this," said Kacizak. "He is just so inspirational, humble and grateful, he keeps telling me that he never expected us to do this, he never asked us to."
Kacizak invited Smith to come to San Diego and stop by the PlayStation facilities at the first chance he got. The two kept in contact over the coming months, and in November 2009, right before the deadline for the 2010 version of "MLB: The Game" was to be released, the game's designers began the work of turning Smith into a video game character.
The developers had Smith imagine what he thought he would look like if he could stand up so they could create a body for his character. Smith said that was the easy part -- his brother and father are both more than 6 feet tall and much heavier than his own 97-pound weight.
"I figured if I wasn't handicapped, I'd be pretty tall. I'm only 5 feet now, so they created my body as if I could stand, and then they did a 360-degree scan of my head,' said Smith." They used all of these special cameras and lights."
"I can't explain to you or express to you how amazed I felt. I'm just a typical baseball fan. Why would they care about what I think about their game? It was truly special to me because they could have simply written back and said thank you for your nice comments, but here I was in the middle of a board meeting talking to the designers of the game," he said.
"I really feel like I'm getting a dream that if you asked me 15 years ago if I'd receive I would have told you that you were crazy," said Smith.