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Pokeman craze takes over Isotopes Park, team roster

It had to happen.

It had been going on for almost a month now – more and more in recent weeks — and she deserved to know.

So, last week, 30-year-old Albuquerque Isotopes infielder Chris Nelson picked up the phone and called his wife, Brittany, back home in Georgia.

“I told her I had a confession,” Nelson said. “She was like, ‘Oh boy.’ Then I told her I’ve been playing Pokémon Go. … I had to tell her, man. It was getting a little ridiculous. I’ve put some hours in this. I’m not going to lie.”

Nelson isn’t alone. There is a growing addiction in the Isotopes clubhouse into the location-based, augmented reality game with an emphasis on “catching” creatures that randomly appear on your phone depending on your location.

So big is the craze that has millions worldwide playing that the Isotopes on Wednesday night hosted a “Pokémon Go Night” promotion during their game against the Salt Lake Bees, who beat the ‘Topes 11-6 in front of an announced crowd of 6,213.

In addition to discounted tickets and special “Pokéstops” located around the stadium, 561 fans roamed the outfield of Isotopes Park to hunt Pokémon prior to the game and, despite many still staring at their phones the rest of the night, none were hit by foul balls during the game.

Among those taking part in the pregame fun were father Mike Martindale and his 9-year-old son, Justin, who roamed the outfield together hunting, each looking for the creatures through the screens of phones.

Cassie Berg, 20, showed up dressed as Pokémon character “Eevee” with friend Kayleigh Turk, 21, proudly wearing a hat showing off character “Charizard.” The third in their group, 19-year-old Tyler Berg, was quick to point out most of the creatures in the ballpark weren’t actually on the field, but on the berm just beyond the right field wall.

But the game isn’t for everyone.

Asked in the team’s dugout hours before game time if he played it, ‘Topes hitting coach John Shelby explained “it won’t download on my phone.”

So, he doesn’t have a smart phone?

“No, I have one, but it won’t download on my phone,” Shelby said. “It’s like golf on my TV. Doesn’t work. I don’t watch golf. I don’t do Pokémon.”

He and Nelson probably haven’t spent much time together off the clock lately.

While Nelson admits he was a little reluctant to try the game at first, he goes all out now.

“It reminds me of my childhood a little bit,” he said.

The lighthearted Nelson admits he has the game open on his phone pretty much all the time when not playing baseball. His 2-year-old son isn’t quite old enough to partake, yet, but conversations with his 10- and 8-year-old nephews have picked up.

“They let me know what they’ve been catching in their area,” Nelson said. “We’ve been sending screen shots to each other about what we’ve caught.”

Hopefully he didn’t share a screenshot of the “Abra” he caught on the team’s California road trip last week. Asked where the weirdest place he’s captured a Pokémon was, Nelson didn’t hold back.

“In Fresno I caught one on the toilet,” he said.

Nelson estimates that while most of his ‘Topes teammates have at least tried the game, about 25 percent are “hardcore” into it. And in a baseball clubhouse, that means competition.

Nelson is proudly on level 21 in the game and has caught 85 Pokémon.

But he isn’t the best on the team.

So who is?

“I can’t reveal names,” Nelson said, showing some frustration. “It’s confidential. That’s clubhouse stuff. Just know that I’m playing it hard. … As soon as I’m done with this interview, I’m probably going to go look for a couple around the corner over here, so you got any more questions?”

Nope. That’ll do.