"Now it's just so hard to get them, to get in touch with them. Years ago that was something we would do. Two hours later, we were still out there waiting. We're not realizing they're taking showers, they're doing press. We're waiting for them [and asking], 'Why is it taking so long?' Then we'd get an autograph. That was amazing."
It is in that spirit that the 43-year-old version of Fat Joe (Joseph Cartagena) is now among four well-known co-hosts who are setting out to make sure the average fan knows the average Major League Baseball player a little better. He is joined by MTV News host Sway Calloway, "Guy Code" star Chris Distefano and "Girl Code" star Melanie Iglesias at the MLB Fan Cave on Fourth Street and Broadway in Manhattan to promote the new MTV2 series "Off the Bat from MLB Fan Cave," a 30-minute show that premiered Tuesday night.
David Ortiz of the Red Sox is executive producer of the entire series. Robinson Cano of the Mariners, Adam Jones of the Orioles, Craig Kimbrel of the Braves, Jose Fernandez of the Marlins and Wil Myers of the Rays signed on to serve as executive producers of individual "Off the Bat" episodes. The series launches a multi-year, cross-platform programming partnership between MLB and MTV. Fans were invited to an "Off the Bat" Opening Day Block Party on Sunday outside the Cave to meet the hosts and new Cave Dwellers.
"It's the American sport. It's the pastime," Fat Joe said. "In all these years, and all the tradition, and everything baseball has grown from, out of nowhere comes a show that involves baseball that's a first of its kind. There is nothing that's the first. There are no-hitters, there's 22 innings, there's home run kings, there's the Babe [Ruth], there's Lou [Gehrig], there's whoever you want to name. But there's never been something in 2014 that's actually the birth of something with Major League Baseball. This is why I'm a part of it, because I realized how big it is and the potential of it.
"You'll finally get to know about your favorite baseball player, not the guy in the helmet who's swinging the bat, but whether he likes to go hunting or plays pool, or he likes to party, or what kind of hobbies he has. We play spoofs with these guys. This is almost like the 'Saturday Night Live' of baseball. It's witty, it's funny, and we're having a great time with this."
Distefano spent time in several Spring Training camps and said he was especially impressed by the "hilarious" and "fall-on-my-knees funny" personalities of the Royals in Arizona. What stood out?
"Jeremy Guthrie's insane knowledge of every boy band that's ever come out, ever," Distefano said. "That is probably one thing. I was like, I can't believe, he's naming like, every member of One Direction, Backstreet Boys, 'N Sync, 98 Degrees -- he went that far back. I was like, 'That was sick.' Nobody could even speak after every single boy band was named. I was like, 'How did you just know everyone? You went 10 for 10 with these boy bands.'"
Iglesias called it a "once-in-a-lifetime experience." Her stepfather played in the Royals' farm system years ago, and she said the fact colleagues knew that likely influenced them picking her from MTV talent. In the first episode, you'll see a clip of her going with Marlins slugger Giancarlo Stanton to a junkyard for a "home run demolition derby." He smashes car windows with the swing of a bat, then gives her a bat to smash one out herself.
"To see all that power up close was incredible. He's a beast and he has a great future ahead of him."
What did she find out about Stanton that she didn't know before?
"He's a huge animal lover," she said. "He's like this big guy, but he's got this soft side of him that loves animals, and that's really nice to see. It kind of makes him even more relatable, because that's like the human version of the Incredible Hulk."
Sway, who generally goes by only his first name, grew up an A's fan in Oakland, playing shortstop as a multi-sport athlete. While all the co-hosts went to spring camps, Sway said it was never a doubt that he was making a beeline for the A's camp in Arizona. That's where he hung out with pitcher Sonny Gray.
"He showed me his pitching techniques, and I was able to throw some balls toward the plate," Sway said. "Then we started to talk about what kind of music he likes, and I found out he had a crush on Taylor Swift. Then he starts singing one of her hit records to her, to the camera, to Taylor Swift. Who would have known?
"I think that finding out who the players are outside of the uniforms, what they do when they aren't on the field, and the best part is finding out they are as cool off the field as they are on the field. I think the viewing audience will get a kick out of that."