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.

The Cubs are in desperate need of relief

Associated Press
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Tonight in Chicago Yu Darvish of the Dodgers will face off against Kyle Hendricks of the Cubs. If this were Game 1, we’d have a lot to say about the Dodgers’ trade deadline pickup and the Cubs’ budding ace. If this series continues on the way it’s been going, however, each of them will be footnotes because it has been all about the bullpens.

The Cubs, you may have heard, are having tremendous problems with relief pitching. Both their own and with the opposition’s. Cubs relievers have a 7.03 ERA this postseason, and have allowed six runs on eight hits and have walked six batters in seven innings of work. And no, the relief struggles aren’t just a matter of Joe Maddon pushing the wrong buttons (even though, yeah, he has pushed the wrong buttons).

Maddon pushed Wade Davis for 44 pitches in Game 5 of the NLDS, limiting his availability in Games 1 and 2. That pushing is a result of a lack of relief depth on the Cubs. Brian Duensing, Pedro Strop and Carl Edwards Jr. all have talent and all have had their moments, but none of them are the sort of relievers we have come to see in the past few postseasons. The guys who, when your starter tosses 80 pitches in four innings like Jon Lester did the other night, can be relied upon to shut down the opposition for three and a half more until your lights-out closer can get the four-out save.

In contrast, the Dodgers bullpen has been dominant, tossing eight scoreless innings. Indeed, Dodgers relievers have tossed eight almost perfect innings, allowing zero hits and zero walks while striking out nine Cubs batters. The only imperfection came when Kenley Jansen hit Anthony Rizzo in Game 2. That’s it. Compare this to the past couple of postseasons where the only truly reliable arm down there was Jansen, and in which Dodgers managers have had to rely on Clayton Kershaw to come on in relief. That has not been a temptation at all as the revamped L.A. pen, featuring newcomers Brandon Morrow and Tony Watson. Suffice it to say, Joe Blanton is not missed.

Which brings us back to Kyle Hendricks. He has pitched twice this postseason, pitching seven shutout innings in Game 1 of the NLDS but getting touched for four runs on nine hits while allowing a couple of dingers in Game 5. If the good Hendricks shows up, Maddon will be able to ride him until late in the game in which a now-rested Davis and maybe either Strop or Edwards can close things out in conventional fashion, returning this series to competitiveness. If the bad Hendricks does, he’ll have to do what he did in that NLDS Game 5, using multiple relievers and, perhaps, a repurposed starter in relief while grinding Davis into dust again. That was lucky to work there and doing it without Davis didn’t work in Game 2 on Sunday night.

So it all falls to Hendricks. The Dodgers have shown how soft the underbelly of the Cubs pen truly is. If they get to Hendricks early and get into that pen, you have to like L.A’s chances, not just in this game, but for the rest of the series, as bullpen wear-and-tear builds up quickly. It’s pretty simple: Hendricks has to give the Cubs some innings tonight. There is no other option available.

Just ask Joe Maddon. He’s tried.