The MLB Fan Cave was established in 2011 by Major League Baseball as an immersive experience where one lucky fan (or as it has evolved to multiple lucky fans) who would be required to watch every MLB baseball game played during a season. Located in the heart of Greenwich Village on 4th street and Broadway, the cave is a working, functioning production studio that documents the events of the “cave dwellers” and their interaction with fans, players, personalities, and at times the bizarre as I learned the hard way.
For most of the time the MLB Fan Cave is closed to the general public. At first that may sound contradictory to its name since most fans will never be able to enter the area or see first hand for themselves what the experience would be like.
The concept of the Fan Cave has been one that intrigued me since it was first announced. But being from Arizona and neither a player nor a celebrity the odds of me actually ever seeing the Fan Cave itself was well beyond my wildest dreams. The closest I thought I would ever get would be when the 2011 Cave Dwellers came to Chase Field as part of 2011 All-Star game. My luck would change when my son-in-law would win a contest and take me along to not only see where the Fan Cave was but to be a part of the experience for a day.
A car came to pick us up at the hotel and drive us to Greenwich Village where we were ushered through normally locked doors to a welcoming by the current cave dwellers. The current group are fans from across the country and Canada that are proudly representing their teams and the loyal fan bases.
This group of seven is what remains from over 25,000 applicants that entered to be a part of this. It is an elimination contest where the group will continue to be whittled down one-by-one (or initially in pairs) as the season progresses. While no one thinks of this as a Survivor-type of reality show you can’t help but think that is how it must play out for these fans.
The group includes April Whitzman (Toronto Blue Jays), Ben Weitmarschen (Cincinnati Reds), Aaron Roberts (Los Angeles Dodgers), Mina Park (Texas Rangers), Travis Miller (New York Mets), Marcus Hall (Chicago White Sox), and Danny Farris (Los Angeles Angels). After quick introductions we began our tour of the facility.
Some of the items that are in the MLB Fan Cave are very specific to baseball while others represent an extension of baseball into other areas of pop culture. For example, along one wall is a display of artwork that changes over the season. For our visit the art showcased the talents of Domingo Zapata. It was amazing art but I quickly validated that I have even less of a clue about art than I do about baseball. It was still great to see MLB tying the fabric together between sports and other parts of our society’s culture. An added bonus was that the artist himself visited the Fan Cave during our stay and we were able to meet the person whose paintings I still don’t quite understand.
Next to the art was Mission Control that appeals to the more geeky side of baseball. The board shows a view from inside each MLB stadium. When games are going on the video from the game feed plays on each small screen. Through a series of switches along the bottom you can display a team’s record, current streak, number of championships and a plethora of other information. I found myself going back to Mission Control at several points during the day looking at different stats and comparing the Arizona Diamondbacks to the other franchises.
Deeper in the cave was a wall of baseballs that formed the shape of the MLB logo. As celebrities and players come they sign a baseball that remains as part of the display. Matt Reynolds and Heath Bell represented the Arizona Diamondbacks players who had visited the cave. Most of the players signed a white baseball while Bell chose to autograph a red ball (the first player to break with tradition which was only logical given the quirky nature of closers).
Besides the baseballs and displays there were other things to do and see in the cave. There were ping pong tables, a Sony PS3 playing MLB games, a photo booth, and a pool table. The pool table today was adorned with Sedona Red and Black balls with the Arizona Diamondbacks logo except for the 8-ball. I wanted to ask if they could change the 8-ball to a Dodger ball but thought Aaron the Dodger dweller may not appreciate it.
The main area of the MLB Fan Cave is devoted to what the dwellers are here for, to watch baseball. In what would be the nirvana for most baseball fans, there is a wall of large screen LED televisions; 15 televisions to be exact where every Major League Baseball game can be seen. A large circular seating area sits below this monolith of televisions giving everyone the perfect seat.
It wasn’t just the televisions though; it was the fact that these seven lucky fans do not have to adhere to MLB’s blackout restrictions. They are free to watch whatever team they want without the dreaded black box of death that admonishes normal fans that they are not allowed to see their favorite team based solely on where they are located. For us it would be equivalent to finding a rainbow-colored unicorn in a pot of gold who knew all the words and music that every player played as their walk-up music.
There were also a few other more oddly obscure items that at first glance you wondered why they where there. There was a giant human sized hamster wheel in the front window that people on the street could watch. There was a two-story orange slide guarded by a giant orange octopus with nine-arms, and a gong. All of these had a purpose that we would learn as the games begin.
For example, the hamster wheel was used for lead-off walks. If your team’s pitcher started the inning off with a walk, you had to get into the wheel and do a few rotations. I have to admit, you paid a lot closer attention to first-pitch strikes when you thought you may have to be a human hamster for all of New York to see. I’m seriously thinking they should install one of these at each ballpark in the bullpen as a reminder.
The gong and slide were used in tandem. When your team hit a home run you would ring the gong then sprint to the top of the stairs and slide down getting the opportunity to be just like Bernie the Brewer in Milwaukee. Thanks to Martin Prado we were able to experience that.
Finally there was the dirt bar. The dirt bar contains 30 containers filled with dirt from each of the major league baseball stadiums. Below the containers is a row of test tubes and special guests were allowed to take one vial of dirt.
The decision of which dirt to take was one of the hardest decisions I’ve ever faced. Would you take Chase Field dirt which is like a second home for me? Or would you take Yankee Stadium dirt to remind you of the 2001 World Series and the defining moment for the Diamondbacks? What about Citi Field where we would be going on this trip to act as a reminder of this once in a lifetime experience? Or maybe Wrigley Field to commemorate the first stadium I ever visited?
The permutations were endless. I reached out to family and friends asking them for advice. That only complicated the matter more. My wife voted Yankee Stadium as a tribute to 2001. My oldest daughter thought Chase Field since it has been like a second home. My second daughter thought PNC Park since I could make a fortune selling it to Pirates fans if they end up with a winning record after all this time. My middle daughter thought Wrigley Field because it was the oldest stadium in the National League (she refuses to acknowledge the American League until they drop that ridiculous designated hitter gimmick). My youngest daughter wanted dirt from Ebbett’s Field because she wanted historic dirt (I have no idea what that means either). My son wanted Coors Field because that was the first away game we ever attended together.
It’s funny, I would have never expected that dirt from a baseball stadium would elicit this much debate and bring about this much discussion. Clearly, the fields of Major League Baseball are more than just somewhere we go to see baseball. They create connections with each of us and every person is passionate about why these buildings and fields are so important.
We were not the only ones visiting the MLB Fan Cave today. In the afternoon Billy Ripken from MLB Network stopped by for an event with the Topps baseball card company where they introduced the new Topps Pro series of cards of minor league prospects. We watched as this new line debuted and a card opening celebration showed off some of the great product. I was able to pull several Diamondbacks prospects including Matt Davidson, Stryker Trehan, and Archie Bradley. These are a great looking baseball cards and I’ll be out searching for them when they are available.
Perhaps the best part of the day in the Fan Cave was watching every game including the first no-hitter of the 2013 season. It was even more special since one of the Cave Dwellers (Ben) was representing the Reds. There is nothing better than seeing a dedicated fan cheer with his team as they make history.
As the night ended well past midnight, we received one final gift. One of the Arizona Diamondbacks players came to the Fan Cave to visit after the Diamondbacks game ended. That was an amazing story that I’ll leave for another day.