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MLB launches the Fan Cave

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Remember last month when we mentioned that Major League Baseball was looking for someone for their “dream job?” With that job being to move to New York to star in a baseball web series and “be a part of a live interactive experience for baseball fans that will include watching every MLB game over the course of the entire baseball season?” Well, they found their huckleberry — two huckleberries, actually — and they’ve explained the concept behind the job. It’s all part of a product/production called The MLB Fan Cave, and it’s way more elaborate than I had figured when we first heard about it.

First, the space: it’s a 15,000 square foot baseball playground/studio/apartment at the corner of 4th and Broadway (the former Tower Records space). The joint — at street level — has a couple dozen 14-foot windows, so the guys inside (more on the guys below) will be visible to people on the street.

Inside the Cave: total baseball immersion: The place will have a massive Ozymandias-style video wall, with three 60-inch TVs surrounded by 12 32-inch TVs. Given that there are 15 games on a full night’s schedule, you know what that means: watching each and every game, all season long. Beyond that, there will be all kinds of basebally things inside, like a “Pepsi Porch” like you see in some ballparks, statues of ballplayers, baseball memorabilia and collectibles, a DJ booth, a barber/tattoo chair, a 50s-style diner/cafe, a radar gun-equipped pitching area, game room, pool tables and all kinds of stuff in that vein.

Inhabiting this baseball Shangri-La will be Mike O’Hara. O’Hara was born in Yonkers, N.Y. and he’s a Yankees fan, but he has lived in Los Angeles for a while where he has been a sometimes actor/sometimes singer for what sounds like a Dropkick Murphys-style punk band called “The Mighty Regis.” He’s a Syracuse grad who applied and was accepted to law school before deciding instead to move to L.A. and get into the entertainment business. I don’t know how this show/project will do, but so far O’Hara seems to have made wise decisions. Such as not going to law school and leaving his Irish punk band behind in the name of baseball.

O’Hara has a wingman in this endeavor. His name is Ryan Wagner. Wagner is an O’s fan from Baltimore. Wagner has a sports broadcasting degree and has done some stage acting as well as covered the Orioles for 1370 AM in Baltimore.

MLB isn’t describing it this way but, based on both the setup and the reality show backgrounds of the production and creative crew, O’Hara and Wagner will essentially be doing a baseball fan reality show. Except it sounds like it will be less-contrived than MTV-style offerings and will be on multiple platforms. They’ll be on Facebook, Twitter and will write a blog on MLB.com. They’ll do custom videos, including humor bits, man-on-the-street bits, and hosting of guests such as ballplayers and other interesting folks (note: that barber/tattoo chair will be manned by ballplayers’ favorite barbers and tattoo artists).  O’Hara and Wagner will also make appearances on MLB Network.

MLB.com has some videos introducing O’Hara and Wagner to the world. Check it out here.  Gut reaction: O’Hara seems funny and — critically — doesn’t come off as smug or anything, which is totally key for this kind of project. We’re going to see a ton of him and we’ll have to like him or else none of the bells and whistles will matter. I like that he seems to have lied directly to Mitch Williams’ face about having read his autobiography. This shows both good sense (never give it up to Mitch Williams) and taste (never read Mitch Williams’ autobiography).  As long as he stays away from those Adam Sandler and Christopher Walken impressions when talking about baseball, I think I might like him. Which is saying something because I really don’t like anyone.

One bit of advice to MLB.com, though: I know you guys don’t like allowing people to share and embed your videos of game action, but you really need to make an exception for Fan Cave stuff. If you want it to (as all the kids say) go viral, you’re going to want bloggers and social media mavens to be able to share and blog these things, especially if something funny or scandalous happens. Which, this basically being reality TV, will.

Overall: Execution makes or breaks these kinds of endeavors, but at the outset the FanCave thing sounds fun and promising and there are a lot of reality-style shows that can’t make that claim even before they air an episode.  I’ll be watching, at least at the outset.  I’ll be curious to see if they can hook people.

A far-fetched sounding drug test scam

NES TSIONA, ISRAEL - JANUARY 22:  A laboratory technician checks human blood samples before placing the glass tubes on an automated testing line at the Maccabi Health Services HMO central laboratory January 22, 2006 in Nes Tsiona which is located in central Israel. The laboratory, which operates a fully automated system complete with advanced robotics, can test more than 50,000 blood samples a day. The lab is considered one of the most modern of its kind in the western world.  (Photo by David Silverman/Getty Images)
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Kevin Draper at Deadspin is passing along a story — and that’s not me editorializing; he’s admitting that it’s unconfirmed gossip at the moment — about a major league player paying a teammate $2.5 million to take the fall for him on a drug test. The story came via a tip from someone who, apparently, had a conversation about the drug test scam with a college baseball player who knew the players allegedly involved in the scam.

Here is how the conversation was recounted:

College Baseball Player: [MLB player’s star teammate] paid him to take his blood test. $2.5 million dollars.

Bar Patron: How does that even work?

College Baseball Player: [MLB player] and [MLB player’s star teammate] were getting tested the same day. They traded samples.

Deadspin says that the story is “probably bulls**t” but that some preliminary investigating they’ve done doesn’t disprove it and, to some extent corroborates it. How it’s been supported or not is left unclear and Deadspin couches all of this in a request for more information if anyone has any. Which, OK, fine.

I’ll offer that, on the surface, this seems like a bit more than mere “bulls**t.” It sounds structurally impossible. If it’s a blood test for HGH as the excerpt suggests, the samples are tested back in the lab to make sure they match up with previous samples. Meaning: the lab processing the sample knows if it’s your blood or not. If it’s a urine test, as Deadspin thinks it may have been, I’m not sure how samples could be switched given that urine tests are directly observed by testing officials. Yes, they watch you pee. They’d likely prevent you from peeing right next to your bro teammate, but even if you did, they’d see you exchange little plastic containers of urine with him.

I’m not going to say that this is 100% bull because we can’t really know for sure, but the scenario as described sounds highly unlikely, approaching the impossible. If someone had a story about bribing a sample taker with $2.5 million well, hey, maybe we’re getting somewhere, because that would get you over some procedural hurdles. For now, though, this all sounds like someone passing along a tall tale.

If it is true? Hoo boy, that’d be fun. At least for people like me who write about this stuff.

The deeper implications of the A.J. Ellis trade

LOS ANGELES, CA - MAY 17:  Clayton Kershaw #22 of the Los Angeles Dodgers heads to the dugout at the end of the first inning against the Los Angeles Angels at Dodger Stadium on May 17, 2016 in Los Angeles, California.  (Photo by Harry How/Getty Images)
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The trade of a light-hitting backup catcher is normally about as inconsequential as it gets. The trade of A.J. Ellis by the Dodgers to the Phillies, however, is anything but that. Indeed, it may be the public manifestation of long-simmering, well, maybe “feud” is too strong a word, but a definite butting of heads between the team’s front office and its best player.

While almost all of the clubhouse drama in Los Angeles has surrounded a talented but aggravating corner outfielder currently toiling in the minors, Dylan Hernandez of the Los Angeles Times wrote last night that the Ellis trade could very well be seen as the front office’s shot across Clayton Kershaw‘s bow:

Kershaw’s preference of Ellis was the subject of a longstanding tug-of-war between Kershaw and the front office, which wanted Yasmani Grandal behind the plate as much as possible . . . Some players interpreted the trade as a message from the front office.

This isn’t Kershaw’s team. It’s not Corey Seager’s team or Adrian Gonzalez’s, either.

It’s Friedman’s.

The notion that Kershaw likes to pitch to Ellis is pretty well-known, but the idea that it was so strong a preference that it created a dispute as to whether he has final say over a roster spot is news, at least to people who aren’t around the Dodgers all the time. Hernandez is a good columnist and is particularly well-plugged in to the Dodgers after many years of being their beat writer for the Times. He wouldn’t throw the notion of there being something of a power struggle in this regard out there all willy-nilly in order to stir the pot or something. I don’t doubt for a second that something bigger than most of us have seen is going on here.

As for the trade itself: yeah, it’s pretty debatable as to whether it makes any kind of sense. Carlos Ruiz is likely an upgrade over Ellis, but it’s a pretty marginal upgrade when you consider how few plate appearances the Dodgers backup catcher will make for the rest of the year. It’s especially marginal if you assume, as Hernandez and others assume, likely with reason, that the loss of Ellis is going to harm morale. At least in the short term before they get to know Ruiz well (worth noting, though, that he comes pretty highly recommended from Kershaw-caliber aces for all the same reasons Ellis does). I can see a lot of reasons not to make that deal even for an extra hit or two a week that Ruiz may give you over Ellis.

All of which speaks to what we don’t know. What we don’t know about the mind of Andrew Friedman and whether or not there is something more going on here than is immediately apparent. About the relationship between him and Kershaw and, for that matter, him and the rest of the team that would cause him to make a deal that plays as poorly with his own players as this one does. It could be something about Ellis. It could be something about Friedman’s relationship with Kershaw. It could be something totally unrelated to any of that, such as offseason plans and the roster in 2017 (Ruiz has a team option for next year, Ellis is a pending free agent). Unless or until Friedman speaks or a reporter gets someone to shed more light on this, there will continue to be questions.

In the meantime, I’ll grant that there are certainly different rules which apply to superstars than mere mortals, but veto power over a trade and/or playing time for other players isn’t typically one of them. If, as Hernandez suggests, there was a sense that Kershaw and Friedman didn’t see eye-to-eye on that and it wasn’t otherwise being resolved, it makes Friedman’s move somewhat more understandable.