Fan Fuel: Road to the final 30 in MLB Fan Cave competition

Blue Jays fan April Whitzman has been chosen as the first Canadian in the MLB Fan Cave competition.
February 25, 2013, 10:47 AM

BY APRIL WHITZMAN – FAN FUEL BLOGGER

“Don’t give up on your dreams.” We have all heard these words numerous times throughout our lifetime. Encouragement from a family member, a friend, or even ourselves, to keep fighting for what we want in life. I never realized the truth in them until recently. I was recently declared as a Top 30 finalist in the MLB Fan Cave competition. (And yes, I’m pinching myself after saying those words as I’m still honoured and shocked by it). Me — a 25-year-old from Campbellton, New Brunswick — was selected as the lone Canadian (and Blue Jays’ fan) in this stage of a North-American-wide baseball competition.

My dreams feel so close to coming true.

For as long as I can remember, I have been passionate about the Blue Jays. I have stood beside them, like so many others, through the good and the bad, and have loved them unconditionally. For that reason, I can’t explain the pride I feel to have them support me back.

When I sent out my application video approximately a month ago, never would I have imagined the support I would receive from the organization, my family, or my networks on social media that I am so glad to call my friends. I felt proud to represent such a great group of individuals and so honoured. At the Blue Jays’ State of the Franchise event, I also had general manager Alex Anthopoulos, manager John Gibbons and Sportsnet announcer Buck Martinez support my baseball quest. I still don’t think it has sunk in.

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Blue Jays’ Manager, John Gibbons was just one of many people supporting April’s dreams in baseball.

And the support didn’t end there – after hearing that I had made the Top 30 and would be representing not only a single MLB team, but also an entire country, in the MLB Fan Cave, again the Blue Jays supported me. I was sent down to the Jays Shop to pick out some new gear to wear when all of the contestants were flown to Arizona for the final stage of the competition. I chose a jersey of my favourite player, Brandon Morrow, and a track jacket.

I left for Arizona last Monday. Sporting my Blue Jays’ hat, jacket, and backpack I set off to reach my dreams 3,100 kilometres away (or from what my American counterparts told me – 1,900 miles!).

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The Blue Jays sent April off to Arizona with a bundle of team clothing.

Being that I had the longest journey, I was the last to arrive. But fortunately, others were still awake when I found the hotel at 1:00 am Mountain Time – yes – 3:00am Eastern. Unsurprisingly, I wasn’t tired and was much too excited to meet the other competitors and start the experience.

After tossing and turning and checking the clock a million times throughout the night, the experience officially started at 9:00am Tuesday morning. Wearing my Canada Day jersey, I met the other 29 amazing contestants. Thanks to the name on my back, I was known as ‘Canada’ to my new friends.

We received our MLB Fan Cave swag, got our itineraries and got ready for 48 hours filled with intense competitions, new friendships, and of course, lots of baseball memories.

In what felt like a few minutes, we were all piled up on the MLB Fan Cave bus en route to Chase Field – home of the Diamondbacks. Upon arrival (and after taking a wonderful group photo, seen below, we met a multitude of Major League Baseball and MLB Fan Cave employees. (And don’t worry, Blue Jays fans, I told Mrs. Anne Occi, The Vice President of Design for MLB, that we love the new Blue Jays logo!).

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After arriving at Chase Field, April was literally ready to dive in!

That afternoon we had to present our elevator pitches to the entire staff. To my dismay, I found out that these were not knuckleballs thrown while going up and down levels, but instead 60-second speeches that told the committee why we felt we would be a good candidate for the MLB Fan Cave. It was a pretty nerve-wracking, but a lot of fun.

We spent the early evening recording a baseball-parody of Les Miserables. If you haven’t watched it yet, click here.

When the stressful parts of the day were over, it was time to unwind and relax. We spent the night doing baseball trivia and singing karaoke. The baseball trivia was incredible, it was hosted by Eric Byrnes of MLB Network. I ended up getting my team bonus points knowing that this year’s cover of MLB The Show features not only Andrew McCutchen but also Jose Bautista in Canada. My American compadres were not aware!

Karaoke was… interesting. Y’all should know that I cannot sing. But I was the last to take the stage and chose a country song – Trace Adkins’ hit, “Swing.” It’s a baseball song where the main lyrics state “Everybody strikes out nine times out of ten / But you gotta step up to the plate, cause every now and then” I did just that and gave it my all while singing off key as my new friends giggled and sang along… “Swing batter, batter, swing!”

We closed down Chase Field near midnight and headed back to the hotel and went straight to the hot tub to unwind. After some giggles, some chats, and some stress relief we got some sleep and prepared ourselves for another day.

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April got to experience lots of amazing opportunities throughout the MLB Fan Cave competition.

I woke up bright and early on Wednesday morning as I had, what my itinerary deemed, ‘my interview’ at 8:30am. After scarfing down an egg-white omelet, I headed up to the interview room, preparing for a bunch of questions that I was hoping would be answered with “The Toronto Blue Jays.” What was interesting is that they felt like they knew the baseball-side of me and the individuals in the room asked a variety of non-baseball related questions. I felt like I left the room not only showing them another side of who I am, but also learning more about myself.

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April stands at Surprise Field, the Spring Training home of the Kansas City Royals and the Texas Royals.

I wasn’t given much time to ponder how I felt the interview went before it was time to hit the bus again. Our group was divided into three, with each group heading to a different Spring Training stadium. I was heading to Surprise Stadium – home of the Kansas City Royals and the Texas Rangers.

And what a surprise it was.

That afternoon, we made a video with Hall of Famer, George Brett, and Royals Alex Gordon and Jeff Francoeur. Francoeur also pointed to my Blue Jays hat and said, “Man your team is going to be good this year!” I agreed.

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April stands with Royals Hall of Famer, George Brett.

Though we really didn’t want to leave, we were soon headed off back to the hotel where we greeted with snow – and yes – the Canadian representative was blamed for this white fluffy stuff that I don’t think my Californian pals had ever seen before.

We were told that night to wear “classy casual” clothes and I be prepared for one last evening of fun. Well, that was an understatement as we were headed to a BOWLING ALLEY!

In my application video I challenge RHP Brandon Morrow to a strike-throwing competition in bowling. Thus, you can only imagine the expectations that my new friends and the MLB Fan Cave staff had for this ‘Alleycat.’ I spent the evening throwing strikes (and MAYBE a few gutter balls) and hoping the night would never end.

Unfortunately, however, the night eventually came to an end and before I knew it, it was Thursday morning and time for me to head back home.

What I gained during those few days however I will never forget. It was more than baseball networks, it was more than baseball knowledge, and it was even more than a few strikes or some baseball trivia. I (begrudgingly) left Arizona with 29 friendships with people all across North America who all share the same passion as I – baseball.

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April is seen smiling on her plane trip back not because she is leaving, but because she is leaving with plenty of memories.

Whether I make it to the next stage of the competition, nothing will take my experience away from me. I still hope and pray that I can represent the Blue Jays and Canada in this competition, but I know, that no matter what I have new friendships, new networks and a new outlook in life.

And that outlook?

“Don’t give up on your dreams.”

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