NEW YORK -- Sometime in the early morning hours of April 30, when most rational people are asleep and a few early-risers have begun their days, Marcus Hall and his friends reached a state of delirium.
Hall is one of two Chicagoland men who are part of the MLB Fan Cave, a social media-based, ‘Real World’ meets 'Survivor'-esque contest among nine candidates to determine who is Major League Baseball’s biggest fanatic. Each day during the season, the candidates, or ‘Cave Dwellers,’ gather in their three-story, 15,000-foot Greenwich Village Studio, where they are required to watch every inning of every game and document their experiences through blogs, Twitter, Facebook, etc.
On this particular morning, the Oakland A’s and Los Angeles Angels were locked in a back-and-forth struggle with no foreseeable end. Finally, 6 hours, 32 minutes after the 10:05 p.m. (EST) first pitch, Oakland’s Brandon Moss hit a walk-off home run in the bottom of the 19th of inning to send the two teams home and the Cave Dwellers home to rest
But not for long.
Hall, a White Sox fan from Aurora, and his co-workers had to be back in the studio by 9 a.m. to prepare for a visit from Houston Astros players and another full slate of games. Despite the long, and seemingly tedious, hours of watching baseball, Hall said he couldn’t be happier to potentially call New York home until October.
“At some point you start to count the number of hours of sleep you'll be able to get before you have to be back in the morning,” Hall said. “You also realize how insanely awesome this job is.”
Insane might not be strong enough a description for how badly Hall’s fellow Chicagoan, Travis Miller, wanted to be part of the Fan Cave.
Miller, 27, a freelance sports writer for the Associated Press and a diehard New York Mets fan, had applied for the Fan Cave in each of the previous two seasons only to be denied.
But he found the charm with his third application when he, Hall and the seven other competitors were selected from a group of more than 20,000 applicants. In three years, the Fan Cave has drawn more than 40,000 applicants, per MLB media relations.
So how did Miller do it?
He took time to learn the process. Not only had the New York-native visited the Fan Cave in 2012, he befriended many of last season’s Dwellers. He also reviewed his entire process from start to finish and made the necessary changes.
“Just like a baseball player adjusts, I saw what I did wrong and what I needed to do more of,” Miller said. “I got very close in 2012 to making it in and just kind of saw what they were looking for and needed and what they were all about and tailored my campaign really hard toward that.”
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Does he feel like experience matches the effort -- the endless campaigning on Twitter and Facebook, the two-minute video he created on why he was the biggest fan, the written application and a two-day tryout against 51 other candidates in Phoenix this March -- he put in to be selected?
“You can’t really create expectations for this place because you have no clue what you’re about to experience,” Miller said. “But the experience itself is amazing. Every night you’re like, ‘This is really my job right now. It’s a great thing.’ ”
Cave comes to be
The Fan Cave was created quickly after a December 2010 brainstorming session between MLB and its new marketing/advertising agency Hill Holliday, MLB spokesperson Jeff Heckelman said.
The concept is simple: MLB wanted to engage younger fans through social media in order to increase its following while also promoting its own product, star players, etc.
The easiest way to do so was to have paid die-hard fans -- MLB houses the contestants in apartments near the studio and offers a monthly stipend for food and essentials -- compete against each other through the creation of content and documentation of each and every game. The idea was so enthralling to executives that two months later the contest was developed and shortly thereafter the location was found, designed and built in time for Opening Day 2011.
A little more than two years later, the Fan Cave has more than 1.3 million followers on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.
“Those goals have clearly been met, as the average fan of the MLB Fan Cave is a full 20 years younger than the average baseball fan (25 vs. 45),” Heckelman said in an email.
Now in its third year, the Fan Cave has become an impressive specimen. The 15,000-square foot building, located on the corner of 4th Street and Broadway in Manhattan, was converted from an old Tower Records.
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Included is a downstairs lounge for special events, a gaming area complete with ping pong, foosball, video games -- including a sit-down Pac Man machine -- and the Cave Monster, a wall of 15 flat-screen television sets.
There’s also a slide and a gong the Dwellers use when home runs are hit around the league, an area for artwork that includes a wall-sized MLB logo comprised of white, red and blue colored baseballs and this year’s newest development, Mission Control.
Mission Control is a 20-foot long control panel that includes screens displaying shots of all 30 major league stadiums. One feature of Mission Control is a computer, which allows contestants to punch up a variety of different statistics related to each ballpark, including temperature, wind speed and direction. That feature caught the eye of White Sox pitcher Jake Peavy when he visited earlier this month on the team’s two-day trip to nearby Citi Field.
Peavy, who played guitar during his visit, is one of 250 MLB players to have visited the Fan Cave since its inception.
“It’s amazing how into it they are and the stuff they have at their hands to enjoy the game and get into it as much they do,” Peavy said. “It’s pretty neat. … I didn’t know what to expect. It was an amazing, cool place.”
The Fan Cave has also hosted a variety of musical acts -- Nas, Jason Aldean, The Avett Brothers and LMFAO among others -- as part of its concert series.
“There's always something to do in the Cave,” Hall said.
The Fan Cave’s first round of eliminations is expected to be announced on either Wednesday or Thursday, when two of the nine competitors will be sent home. Heckelman said another two Dwellers will likely be eliminated right after the All-Star Game and then potentially another will come cut every month, leaving three contestants for the postseason.
In between, competitors are given a specific set of rules to follow to ensure their survival.
“They are charged with watching every game while blogging about their experiences in the MLB Fan Cave and interacting with fans via social media and online videos featuring MLB players and celebrity visitors,” Heckelman said. “Essentially, it’s their job to be the ultimate fans, have an incredible experience, allow others to live vicariously through them via social media and share their excitement about baseball overall as well as the things going on in the Fan Cave.”
Although maintaining that excitement on a daily basis sounds like it would be one of the biggest challenges for competitors, Miller and Hall insist it’s not.
Miller said he felt prepared for a rigorous scheduled of games that can begin as early as noon and extend into the early morning hours with late West Coast games because as a reporter he has experienced long days at the ballpark.
Not only does the pair have their required duties to keep them busy, but they also have the game room, music and more.
As if that weren’t enough, Miller and Hall have determined they will keep themselves in shape, too, through their own creation, Fan Cave Fitness.
“We do 10 push-ups for every strikeout our pitchers throw,” Miller said. “We mix it up sometimes and do lunges, crunches, a minute of planking, or anything else we come up with just to keep ourselves moving.”
Movement can be particularly helpful on those long evenings when it seems most of the world is asleep and the Dwellers are waiting on a big hit to send them home. But in the end, Hall doesn’t have much trouble remembering what his job entails.
“It’s an experience I’d thought I’d never do, but it’s amazing to sit there and watch a sport you love,” Hall said. “It’s something I thought I’d never do. … I knew this was a possibility when wanting to be a part of this, so I always remember that I get to be here and that I don't have to be here.”