Cubs fan taking MLB Fan Cave experience in stride

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Cubs fan taking MLB Fan Cave experience in stride

The popular film "Back to the Future" predicted the Cubs will win the World Series in 2015. Whether that will happen or not remains to be seen, but one fan certainly believes.

Brian Pasnik is the lone Cubs representative remaining in the MLB Fan Cave contest, which features 50 fans competing for the ultimate prize: To be the last fan standing. He utilized Robert Zemeckis' Hollywood prediction and the Cubs' century-long ineptitude to earn a spot in the Top 50.

The groundbreaking contest is in its second year of existence. Last season, one fan -- Mike O'Hara -- won and spent the year watching every single one of the 2,430 MLB games from the 2011 season in the Fan Cave in New York City with wingman Ryan Wagner. Current and former MLB players joined the two fans in studio, as well as musicians and other celebrities.

This year, things will change a little bit. According to Pasnik, the 50 finalists will be whittled down to 30 on Feb. 22, and that group will head down to Arizona for some spring training interaction. That unit will then be bumped down to six by Opening Day, and those finalists will head to the same Fan Cave in New York City to spend the season following in O'Hara and Wagner's footsteps.

According to Pasnik, the MLB is not disclosing too much information on it now, but he said it sounds like the idea is to have the six fans spend a "Real World"-type summer in NYC before one ultimate fan is crowned around the World Series.

"This year is more like a reality show," Pasnik said. "Last year, they had two guys that did it through the whole season. They had a main guy and a wingman. This year, with the top six, they're going to make it more contest-driven."

The 27-year-old Bloomingdale, Ill., native has been a baseball fan his entire life. He found out about the contest while he was applying for a job with the Cubs organization.

Pasnik has also dabbled in acting, including an appearance on NBC's "The Playboy Club" (though it never aired, as the show was canceled midseason). He feels his comedic timing and laid-back outlook on life may be just what the MLB is looking for with the Fan Cave contest.

While he isn't looking to participate in the experience as a way of advancing his acting career, Pasnik is interested in trying to get a start in baseball operations with some MLB team.

The way the FanCave is set up, they do little skits and segments with the MLB players," he said. "I thought this was the perfect contest. I've always wanted to do something like this and this is the right time, I guess, to work this into my life."

All contestants were required to submit a written essay in addition to a video and a casting agency helped the MLB narrow the list down to the Top 50 finalists. Pasnik enlisted his sister and roommates to help him film his two-minute video that featured a bit of "Field of Dreams" mixed with a reenactment classic "Rookie of the Year" scene.

The Western Illinois grad said he has been receiving a lot of support so far, including from fans all over the world.

"A lot of random people that I haven't even met before are saying, 'hey, I just checked out your video and it was pretty cool. Good luck with the contest,'" Pasnik said, and also intimated a lot of support has come via Twitter.

"One fan is actually from France. I have no idea how it's getting over to France or why she's helping me re-tweet. It's pretty cool that it's gotten that far where I don't even know these people and they're from different countries and helping out a local Cubs fan. It's just proof Cubs fans are the greatest in the world, I guess."

The Top 50 finalists do not extend to each MLB squad, but several teams have a variety of contestants representing it. The Cardinals, for example, boast four finalists. However, Pasnik believes the fact that he is the only Cubs fan may work to his advantage.

"The Cubs are the second-most followed team, next to the Yankees," he said. "Wrigley Field sells out games even when they're 20 games under .500. With WGN, there's nationally televised games. There are Cubs fans across the nation. Being a Cubs fan and having the Cubs following, I think that will definitely help."

Voting ends Wednesday, Feb. 22, for the Top 50. The Top 30 will be announced shortly after that, with Arizona on the schedule for early March. Pasnik would love the opportunity to advance to the next stage of the contest, but is taking everything in stride.

"I'm excited," he said. "I don't have it now and I don't know if I'm going to have it, so why not have fun with it? I'm just trying to get people to help me out and create a following for it. Let people know about it and kind of help out the MLB with the PR to create this social media power they're trying to have for the Fancave for the summer.

"I think that'd be great, to get a free trip to spring training. That's definitely a plus. To live a whole summer in New York and interacting with Major League players and other celebrities that come in, I think that's really rewarding. To get it, I'd be so grateful for it."

You can check out Pasnik's video at MLB.com and vote for the Top 50 contestants there.

Why Cubs are excited for pitching prospect Dylan Cease: He's 'throwing lightning bolts'

Why Cubs are excited for pitching prospect Dylan Cease: He's 'throwing lightning bolts'

Theo Epstein's front office is heading into Year 6 with the Cubs and they're finally talking about a pitcher as one of the organization's most exciting prospects.

That's how senior vice president of scouting and player development Jason McLeod framed his Dylan Cease report to fans at the Cubs Convention at the Sheraton Grand Chicago last weekend.

It was a tongue-in-cheek summation from McLeod after he spent the previous few minutes fawning over Cease, the Cubs' sixth round pick in 2014.

Of course, McLeod and the Cubs can poke fun at the lack of impact pitching the farm system has developed when the homegrown position players like Kris Bryant and Kyle Schwarber just helped lead the franchise to its first World Series championship in over a century.

Cease, however, has been one of the more intriguing Cubs prospects for years — a right-handed pitcher capable of touching 101 mph on the radar gun.

"This guy is throwing lightning bolts out of his arm," McLeod said. "It's really exciting. But we also understaned he's only in Low-A this year, so he's far away."

The Cubs expect Cease to pitch for Class-A South Bend in 2017 after spending last season pitching for short-season Eugene and the 2015 campaign working in the rookie league in Arizona.

Cease — who just turned 21 in late December — put up some impressive numbers at both stops in the Cubs system, posting a 2.36 ERA and 1.165 WHIP to go along with a whopping 91 strikeouts in 68.2 innings. He also only surrendered one homer and walked more batters (41) than reached via a basehit (39).

Control is obviously an issue for Cease, but the upside is evident.

"He's so far away," McLeod said. "He's gonna go into 2017 as a starter. As with a lot of young guys, it's gonna come down to command and depend on that third pitch and the ability to land them for strikes.

"It's a special arm. He can pitch 95-100 mph with a big power curveball. He's unlike anyone else we have in our system since we've been here in terms of pure stuff."

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One fan compared Cease to Carl Edwards Jr. in terms of their lanky build and high velocity, setting McLeod up for a layup joke.

"Well, Dylan is much stronger physically than CJ is...as is everybody in this room," McLeod said as the ballroom filled with laugher. "Don't tell [CJ] I said that. 

"They have different body types, obviously. Carl is long and lanky and Dylan has probably put on 20 pounds since we drafted him, so he's more like 6-foot-2, 190."

By comparison, Edwards — who goes by "The String Bean Slinger" for his slight build — is listed at 6-foot-3, 170 pounds.

Edwards was drafted in the 48th round in 2011 and spent his whole minor-league career as a starting pitcher until the Cubs converted him to a reliever in 2015.

Cease may eventually go down the same path, but the Cubs are going to give him every opportunity to make it as a starter first.

Cease was one of the top pitchers available in the 2014 draft, but his stock took a hit when he was forced to undergo Tommy John surgery on his pitching elbow while at Milton High School in Georgia.

That scared off a lot of teams — as did the potential signability issues with college offers looming — but the Cubs took a chance and have now watched Cease soar to a top prospect in the system (No. 4 by Baseball America; No. 7 by FanGraphs and Baseball Prospectus) despite the cautious approach and lack of innings in professional ball.

"We have to thank Kyle Schwarber, actually, as one of the main reasons we got to sign Dylan Cease," McLeod said. "Because we took Kyle fourth overall, we were able to save money on the selection with him, which gave us the resources to go get Dylan Cease.

"He was a Top 10 pick in the draft — a high school arm that got hurt, fell down to the fifth round and he had a commitment to Vanderbilt, I think it was, and we were able to use the money we saved from Kyle.

"Just another reason to love Kyle Schwarber."

Joe Maddon’s messaging to Cubs before the 2017 campaign

Joe Maddon’s messaging to Cubs before the 2017 campaign

Joe Maddon's Washington itinerary didn't include an hour-long sit-down with Chuck Todd for NBC's "Meet the Press." There would be no rehashing the manager's Game 7 decisions as he stood outside the West Wing, though the second question during the media stakeout involved "last year's team" and how the 2017 Cubs are prepared to defend a World Series title.

"You're already there, huh?" Maddon said to a CNN reporter, minutes after President Barack Obama's final official White House event ended on Martin Luther King Jr. Day. 

But last year's team is gone — preserved now in highlight films and the hearts and minds of generations of Cub fans — even if so many familiar faces will be in Mesa when pitchers and catchers officially report to Arizona on Valentine's Day.

It would be impossible to replicate everything that made the 2016 Cubs so special. Baseball has its own relentless pace and the dynamics are constantly shifting. (Remember when players were passive-aggressively complaining about Maddon's spring-training approach during the final week of a 103-win regular season?) The clubhouse chemistry will inevitably feel different after climbing a Mount Everest of professional sports.

"A mind once stretched has a very difficult time going back to its original form," Maddon said. "We're motivated by it. We want to do it again, of course. There's no question we're trying to do that.

"I'm really leaning on the phrase or the thought of being uncomfortable. I want us to be uncomfortable. I think the moment you get into your comfort zone after having such a significant moment in your life like that, the threat is that you're going to stop growing.

"So I really want us to be uncomfortable. I really want to continue (to see) a pattern of growth and really try to get at them very quickly again."

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Can Jason Heyward recover from one of the worst offensive seasons in the majors last year? Is Willson Contreras ready to be a frontline catcher? Will Javier Baez have to adjust back to being a role player after becoming a playoff superstar? Does Kyle Schwarber in the leadoff spot and Albert Almora Jr. and Jon Jay in a center-field timeshare represent an upgrade over Dexter Fowler?

If healthy, Wade Davis should be a trusted, lower-maintenance closer than Aroldis Chapman, with an advanced approach to pitching and more clubhouse presence. As a staff, the Cubs will have to bounce back from pitching into early November (or not, in the case of the relievers Maddon didn't trust during the playoffs).

As it stands, Jon Lester (33) and John Lackey (38) have already combined to throw almost 5,000 innings in The Show (including the postseason). Jake Arrieta will have to deal with the pressure of playing for his megadeal in his final season before becoming a free agent.

The drop-off after Mike Montgomery — and it's still mostly projected potential with the No. 5 starter — appears to be very steep in an organization that doesn't have any high-end pitching prospects in the upper levels of the farm system.

After painting the bull's-eye on the chest and turning "Embrace The Target" and "Try Not To Suck" into viral T-shirts, a guy who hates meetings is still working on his themes for this campaign.

"I'm really rotating around the thought of authenticity," Maddon said. "I talked about it a lot last year, the fact that I think authenticity has a chance to repeat itself without even trying. It's part of who you are. It's not fabricated. It's real.

"I've talked about our guys a lot the last couple years. I think one of our strongest qualities is the authentic component of our players. So I'm really focusing on that word right now. Again, that's a great word to bring an entire message from (when) you get in front of the group that first day in spring training.

"I kind of just think like authenticity happens. And let's work it from there."

The costumes should be in midseason form with Maddon planning a house party around Tampa's Gasparilla Pirate Festival before driving his RV from Florida to Arizona.

Maddon will turn 63 on Feb. 8 and have to keep evolving, just like his players, who might outgrow some of those gimmicks. But the Cubs are still a reflection of their future Hall of Fame manager.

Amid all the uncertainty in Washington, Maddon wouldn't touch a question about what advice he would give Donald Trump before Friday's inauguration.

"I'm not even going to go anywhere close to that," Maddon said. "I will say this: I have a lot of respect of the office.

"At the end of the day, just have a lot of respect for the office, regardless of your political persuasion. My point would be to encourage people to really respect the office and let's see what we get done here over the next four years."