Marlins diehard to spend season with MLB Fan Cave

Cesar Pichardo (second from right) poses with his fellow Cave Dwellers.

Twitter via @Stan_Kankels

Marlins fan Cesar Pichardo took a leap of faith last November when it came time to register for spring semester classes at Miami Dade College.

Pichardo, 23, put his economics major on hold when he applied to be an MLB Fan Cave dweller.

Entering its third season, the MLB Fan Cave hosts fan events and concerts as well as player and celebrity appearances from its New York location in Greenwich Village.

"I just had a gut feeling," Pichardo said via phone Wednesday. "I was very optimistic that I would get picked, especially because they kept in contact with me."

On Feb. 14, Pichardo received a call while working at a South Miami bank. It was MLB congratulating him on getting as far as he did and telling him someone would contact him about the next step in the process.

One week later, Pichardo found out he was a finalist and had to fly to Phoenix, Ariz., for Cactus League action.

"I was still at work, so I couldn’t scream or anything like that, but I had a big smile on my face," Pichardo recalled. "I spoke to my boss and told him I got a phone call that they wanted me to go to Phoenix. I had to explain to him what I applied for.

"He’s a big sports fan, so he knew what the Fan Cave was. I took the week off work, went to Arizona, came back and told him I might get a phone call saying I’m moving to New York. ‘If I do, that means I’m going to have to quit.’ "

Soon after that trip, Pichardo learned that he was chosen as one of eight Cave Dwellers who will attempt to watch every game of the season while chronicling their experiences online through videos, blogs and social media. One winner will be crowned before the end of the World Series.

Pichardo, who has a background in volunteerism, will also serve as community outreach. He will raise awareness about MLB’s charities and also give tours of the cave, which is open to the public, when fans stop by.

"When they called me and I told (my boss) he said, ‘I knew you were going to get it because you’re a big baseball fan,’ " Pichardo said. " ‘I’m happy for you. You’re always welcome back.’ "

A first-generation Dominican-American, baseball is Pichardo’s life.

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At Miami Central High School, he played center field and third base. Following the initial Fan Cave application, Pichardo told MLB he could name all of baseball’s lineups to prove his passion and knowledge.

His family attended both Marlins World Series parades in 1997 and 2003. Mike Lowell and Derrek Lee — two key cogs of the second championship club — are his all-time favorite Marlins.

Mark Kotsay hit a home run in the first game he remembers going to as a 7-year-old. Pichardo was there on May 21, 2012, when Giancarlo Stanton’s grand slam off lefty Jamie Moyer temporarily broke the scoreboard in left field.

Stanton and closer Steve Cishek tweeted to Pichardo last season that he needed to keep visiting Marlins Park when they discovered the team went 10-6 in games he attended.

For the past two years, Pichardo has volunteered with the Miracle League of Miami-Dade. It aims to create positive experiences for children with special needs through baseball. The last event took place in mid-February at Winter Warm-Up at Marlins Park.

"I’m just there to make sure they’re having a good time," Pichardo said. "I played Little League and started with a police athletic league that came to my neighborhood. This is why I like to volunteer."

Last Wednesday, Pichardo began his new life when he moved into a New York City apartment near the Fan Cave. He will be there for the next seven months.

It marked his first time in the Big Apple. He saw snow fall for the first time Tuesday. He and the other dwellers walked around and explored the city upon arrival.

Pichardo has already met Tino Martinez and had lunch with Dwight Gooden. He held the World Series trophy. The group stayed up to watch both games between the Diamondbacks and Dodgers in Australia.

"I’m a diehard Marlins fan, and it feels amazing to represent the Marlins as the first Marlins fan at the Fan Cave," Pichardo said. "I know we’re going to do a lot better offensively than we did last year. I’m hoping we go at least 84-78. Jose Fernandez gets me excited for the Marlins’ future."

You can follow Christina De Nicola on Twitter @CDeNicola13 or email her at cdenicola13@gmail.com.