Going inside MLB's Fan Cave
Mike O'Hara and Ryan Wagner beat 10,000 applicants to see every pitch this year
A baseball game was going on all but 4 minutes from 12:05 p.m. to 1:31 a.m.
O'Hara and Wagner developed a hero worship of the Indians' Jack Hannahan
NEW YORK -- For a moment the distinct deliveries of three aces filled adjacent televisions in an inadvertent study of pitching greatness. There were Roy Halladay's compact coil of a windup, Jered Weaver's corkscrew and Tim Lincecum's long-stride slingshot all on simultaneous display.
A few hours later several of the game's best sluggers took their turns on the screens of the giant television bank in near-perfect succession. One by one went at-bats from Joey Votto, Ryan Braun, Prince Fielder and Josh Hamilton, who capped the impromptu All-Star lineup with a grand slam that buried the Indians.
The site for this ball-and-glove mass consumption was Major League Baseball's Fan Cave, the Greenwich Village hangout of Mike O'Hara, 37, and Ryan Wagner, 26, the two fans selected out of some 10,000 applicants for the gig of watching every pitch of every game this season.
On Wednesday I had the cushy gig of being embedded in the Fan Cave -- call it seamhead spelunking -- and thanks to a schedule of perfectly staggered start times that passed a virtual baton from one game to the next, I went without baseball for only four minutes from the moment Braves' Randall Delgado threw his first pitch at 12:05 p.m. to the walk-off home run hit by the Mariners' Luis Rodriguez at 1:31 a.m.
I'm not sure how I survived those four minutes.
The baseball immersion was more addictive than overwhelming even though few of the day's 15 games -- spanning 4,104 pitches that resulted in 95 runs, 214 hits and 19 errors -- had any real significance in the playoff picture. The Phillies' victory clinched a postseason berth, but such an outcome was inevitable. The debut of the game's top pitching prospect, Matt Moore of the Rays, fizzled when he gave up a two-run homer. No playoff races were radically altered.
Tracking the games proved less daunting than one might imagine. Your eyes are drawn to movement, and after a few minutes mine grew accustomed to seeking the varied, though recognizable, pitching motions on the screen, knowing when to cue in. O'Hara's analogy is that watching so many concurrent games is like driving: You have a primary focus, whether it's the road ahead of you or the one game that captures most of your attention, but your eyes can keep tabs on the other games the way a driver's eyes dart around checking the mirrors.
There is constant demand for your brain's attention at this souped-up man cave. There are 15 televisions, an autograph wall with scores of major-league John Hancocks and a refrigerator stocked with free Pepsi and Anheuser-Busch products.
There has also been an impressive roster of visitors: in all, 61 active major leaguers, 12 former players and several dozen celebrities, comedians and bands have stopped by to hang out and film sketch comedy videos, as the Fan Cave serves as the league's social media hub. O'Hara and Wagner -- who most recently were the lead singer of the Irish punk band Mighty Regis and the understudy to the Cowardly Lion in an off-Broadway "Wizard of Oz" tour, respectively -- regularly tweet and blog in addition to plan the videos. The day I visited featured an in-cave concert from British rapper Tinie Tempah, whose song "Written in the Stars" is featured in the league's new "Heroes Are Born in October" postseason ads.
A little more than an hour after my arrival, longtime big-league pitcher David Cone walked into the Cave, entering by himself and without fanfare -- after all, he's been there a half-dozen times. While waiting to meet a group of corporate sponsors, he sat down on the couch, like a friendly neighbor on a pop-in visit.
Conversation topics ranged from how he varied his arm angle to create deception with his pitches to the uncanny durability of Halladay to his favorite Kansas City barbecue restaurant -- Cone, a K.C. native, picked Jack Stack, noting the importance of its always-hot brick oven -- to his personal theory that a pitcher shouldn't be afraid to walk a few hitters to avoid giving up home-run balls.
The games, of course, remained on at all times. The Cave Men already watch them on mute because it'd be too distracting to listen to one game while watching several, though exceptions are sometimes made for Vin Scully broadcasts. On this day Tempah's anthem became the unexpected soundtrack to the thrilling final inning of the Royals' 7-3 victory over the Twins.
No, really. While these two teams are long out of contention, the game ended with some healthy drama, as Greg Holland saved his third career game while facing Jason Kubel and Danny Valencia with the bases loaded.
The day belonged to baseball. Where else would it be considered normal for Wagner to interrupt a conversation O'Hara was having with someone else by yelling across the spacious room, "Mike, what would your strikeout looking call be if you were an umpire?"
Or, at another time, "How many teams have the Molina brothers played for?"
O'Hara and Wagner are required to be in the Fan Cave any moment baseball is being played -- from first East Coast pitch to last West Coast out, every day, no exceptions -- so trivia helps pass the time. And, no wonder: They are treated to 15 broadcasts' worth of in-game trivia questions on a nightly basis.
There's also plenty of time for inside jokes. There's an admiration of how excited fans at Coors Field get over their team scoring seven runs because Taco Bell offers discounted tacos any time that happens. There's the amusement of how eternal the Pirates' postgame show seems to last on Root Sports. And there are plenty more: how Wagner thinks Rod Barajas looks like Gary Gaetti, how O'Hara can't stop but crack up at the Jack Link's beef jerky ads featuring Sasquatch and, of course, their love for Jack Hannahan.
"Hannahan is a list unto himself," O'Hara said.
The Indians infielder -- "Super Mannahan" as he's often referred to within these walls -- caught the Cavers' attention with some early season defensive heroics. Then, one June afternoon O'Hara warned a visitor not to leave while Hannahan was batting with Cleveland trailing by a run with two outs in the ninth "because Hannahan's about to tie this game." A moment later, he homered.
Hannahan became a cult hero in the Fan Cave, doubly so when he visited and agreed to wear a kilt for a skit at Belvedere Castle in Central Park: the Celtic Superhero of the Cuyahoga.
Among the other videos: Red Sox DH David Ortiz trying to hug New Yorkers; Marlins LF Logan Morrison needing help with a praying mantis; and Blue Jays RF Jose Bautista starring as "Joey Bats" in a Sopranos spoof.
And the day of game watching had its own highlights, from the Tigers' two pinch-hit homer ninth to Halladay's shutout to Clayton Kershaw's kerfuffle with Gerardo Parra to the Mariners' walk-off win; it seemed particularly appropriate that the Yankees would play extra innings on a day I attempted a baseball marathon, just as they did during my April tripleheader.
As I left the Fan Cave into the wee hours of Thursday morning, the Cavers' countdown had just updated: 2,229 regular-season games watched, 201 games to go. And if I had withdrawal after four minutes without baseball, I don't want to contemplate what these men will go through at season's end.
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