NEW YORK -- The 2013 Major League Baseball season begins Sunday with a customary fresh start, in this case a home game by the American League's newest team, the Astros, in the start of what now can be considered a true in-state and AL West rivalry against the Rangers.
It is now becoming traditional for the game's hub of off-field activity, the MLB Fan Cave, to also symbolize that sense of relaunch, reload and redesign that comes with Opening Day and a long and adventurous run that would last until Halloween if someone wins the World Series in seven.
MLB held an Open House for media on Tuesday to introduce not only the nine freshly relocated Cave Dwellers who won the right to attempt to watch all 2,430 regular-season games there plus All-Star Week and the postseason, but also to show off the new look of the 15,000-square-foot baseball wonderland at Fourth Street and Broadway, which is back for its third season as an intersection of the national pastime and popular culture.
"It's a season like every other season," said MLB executive vice president of business Tim Brosnan, standing in front of the massive Cave Monster bank of TVs that will be a focal point here again starting Sunday night on ESPN, followed by all other openers Monday and Tuesday. "We open the gates Sunday night in Texas, everybody's tied, and it starts from there. The great thing about baseball is the level of intensity because of the amount of play that goes on from Day One. It's a terrifically exciting time for anybody who's a baseball fan.
"The Cave echoes the season. It always is: 'How can we do it better? How can we do it different?' It is always with an eye toward the fans, which is what the clubs do as well."
Brosnan rattled off a list of some of the reasons we can't wait to start watching real games:
"We've got the Astros moving to the American League, and there's a whole set of new rivalries being created. We're coming off a 'teaser' in the World Baseball Classic that saw the Dominican dream team kind of roll through the tournament and highlighted a lot of guys who deserved highlighting or had been in the spotlight before.
"We also have enormous expectations from our fan base, and we ourselves have as well, for the new crop of young stars who hit the stage last year. Every year becomes a show-me year for those folks, particularly [Bryce] Harper and [Mike] Trout. All eyes are on them and expectations on them to deliver pennants for their teams are huge.
"You have the questions about the big-market clubs, some of whom had some stumbles, and where are they going to end up? The perennial winners, will they be there again? They've made some changes. Everyone is always curious about the upstarts. What's Oakland going to do again this year? How about Milwaukee? And of course, the Dodgers are on the national radar, too."
Ready to watch the entire way are Daniel Farris (Angels), Marcus Hall (White Sox), Alex Justice (Indians), Nick Mendillo (Red Sox), Travis Miller (Mets), Mina Park (Rangers), Aaron Roberts (Dodgers), April Whitzman (Blue Jays) and Ben Wietmarschen (Reds). The Dwellers again will be gradually bid adieu during the season, based on MLB's own decision-making process, until one of them is crowned champion on the last day of the Fall Classic.
Giants fan Ashley Chavez won that title last October at Game 4 in Detroit, and then proceeded to land a job just blocks from the Fan Cave at MLB Advanced Media, as a multimedia content assistant. So it seemed only appropriate to have her make the video you see here, giving a tour of the Cave's new look.
That included a review of the interior redesign, ranging from the art gallery with works by Mr. Brainwash to the hammocks to the Mission Control board to the big orange nonopus next to the home run slide. It also meant spending time with the new Dwellers. She chatted with them in the back room and on the big blue couch by the Cave Monster, asking them questions (i.e., where they will sit, who decides what sound during games) and answering their questions (i.e., what is the best delivery food, what was her favorite player/celeb visit last year).
"Great question," Chavez replied after Mendillo asked about her favorite visit in 2012. "Get used to that question, because everyone's going to ask it. George Brett was amazing, getting to meet him. He was so funny and so cool. He made us ribs and sent them from Kansas City in his backyard overnight so we could have them. He felt so bad that we weren't having any barbecue. I was like, 'This is not real right now.' They were absolutely delicious. Thanks, George."
Chavez also interviewed Brosnan, a funny twist considering that he oversaw the elaborate process of ultimately choosing her from an initial field of 22,000 applicants last year.
"I think people who are applying to the Fan Cave now know a whole lot more about what the Fan Cave is, what it provides, what the objectives are," Brosnan said. "Not just, 'I'm gonna go to New York and watch every baseball game on television, it ought to be cool.' They really understand the content generation part of it, and the platform that it provides for you to display the content you generate. So I think we had a lot more people who were content creators as a profession almost, and that was the really distinguishing fact."
Kerri Lisa was a cast member on the Bravo TV show "Gallery Girls" and was on hand for Open House as curator of the new art gallery that is so prominent in the front of the Cave. She said the artwork will be refreshed with new exhibits "around six times" this season. Mr. Brainwash was commissioned to create the first painting you see, an image with Charlie Chaplin reaching a baseball glove out for a catch, and mixed in with a big Jackie Robinson portrait are paintings of Albert Einstein, The Beatles and Jimi Hendrix (made out of old 45rpm records).
"It's really exciting to bring art into the Fan Cave," Lisa said. "They have been bringing a different element of pop culture and music here, so it made sense to bring in an art gallery. Mr. Brainwash's art is a perfect mix for this type of space. He doesn't just paint about baseball, but he likes to keep it fun and interesting with pop culture."
"We had a notion that younger people, the art world, was kind of becoming part of their lives," Brosnan added, "and whether we can draw the same set in here and put baseball as part of that vibe. I'm curious to see the results. ... Everything's an experiment here."
Everyone is curious to see the results of a baseball season that has been several months in the making. The MLB Fan Cave has just opened its doors. Now it is about time for the season to follow and the act of watching endless innings to begin.