The surest sign that spring is in the air is Opening Day of Major League Baseball season, which happened Monday in ballparks across America.
Tonight, from the MLB Fan Cave in New York City’s Greenwich Village, comedian Chris Distefano will help christen a new weekly pop-culture look at our national pastime and cover all of the bases off the diamond with our favorite players on MTV2’s Off The Bat From the MLB Fan Cave. Distefano co-hosts with Fat Joe, Sway and Melanie Iglesias, with Red Sox superstar David Ortiz executive producing. The Comic’s Comic sat down with Distefano over the weekend, and learned that Ortiz gave him a new nickname.
But first, here’s the trailer.
They’ve already filmed several segments over the winter, from Big Papi’s celebrity golf tournament in the Dominican Republic to clubhouse reports from Spring Training in Arizona.
Distefano said that he hadn’t worked with athletes much before this in his capacity as a stand-up comedian.
“No. I mean, I did a Carmelo Anthony commercial, but I didn’t work with Carmelo Anthony. But that’s about it,” he told The Comic’s comic. “This is my first experience and I’ll be honest – the athletes we’ve worked with so far are the most down-to-earth, honest guys I’ve met in my whole life. I’m not just saying that because that’s what MLB wants me to say. I really mean that. These guys – you forget that you’re talking to these big-time MLB superstars that have everything they want. And you would think a guy like that would be a dick. But he’s not. He’s the nicest guy ever. Like A-Rod. Even though he’s suspended, A-Rod was so nice to us.”
So you mention A-Rod. I know you’re a New Yorker. Are you Yankees or Mets? “Yankees, baby! Yankees all day.”
Did that color your experience with A-Rod, then? “Yeah. I almost lost it when I saw A-Rod. I’ll tell you when I really fucking lost it is when we did Seattle. And you know, (Robinson) Cano is now on Seattle. And I got to interview him for only like five minutes, and I was just shaking. I was literally – I couldn’t even stand up straight, because it was so emotional. I didn’t even know if I could do this. Because it’s like seeing your ex-girlfriend with her new hot, boyfriend. You know. You’re like, ‘God, damnit! What did I do wrong?’”
On the flip side, you hung out with Big Papi. Does this job make you see him and the Red Sox in a different light?
“Me, just because I don’t like to be uncomfortable, I said right away, ‘Look. Papi. I’m a big fan. I’m a Yankee fan, though, right? I’m from New York. I love the Yankees.’ He said, ‘Look, bro. I can’t – it’s not my fault where you were born. I don’t fault you for that. It’s too bad the Red Sox have been winning more World Series lately.’ He was giving it to me a little bit. He called me ‘El Blanquito.’ The white boy. Now all the Dominican players call me El Blanquito. Cano was calling me El Blanquito…I can’t believe Cano knows my kind-of name.”
Though Distefano was more of a basketball player in school, he has been a lifelong Yankee fan, and had a rich history with MTV and MTV2 over the past few years — appearing as a regular on both Guy Code and Girl Code, plus Failosophy and Money From Strangers.
“They knew I was a baseball fan,” he said. “In my act I talk a lot about the Yankees, or always going to Yankee games, I would always be Tweeting or Instagramming from a Yankee game, during the course of these last couple of years of being on the network. So they kind of came to me and said, we think you’d be a nice fit for the show.”
It’s not about replacing TWiB (This Week in Baseball, syndicated from 1977-2011) so much as it is creating new memories and a humanizing look at baseball players off the field with Off The Bat. In fact, Distefano doesn’t recall much about TWiB. “My only memory of it is, I have a VHS tape of it with like Johnny Bench. So that I remember. But I was more ESPN. Growing up as a kid, that’s where I’d watch all the baseball…SportsCenter…Michael Kay forever…but not too much This Week in Baseball.
“With this show, it’s got nothing to do with stats. We’re not going to ask a player what their stats are ever, how they felt about last night’s game. It’s only about humanizing them. It’s only about off the field stuff. I could even tell when we were doing this interviews during Spring Training, the first minute their guard would be up, like I were a reporter from a sports network, but then after a while, when they realize I’m not talking about any of that stuff, it would be funny. I would ask, ‘Did you drink last night?’ ‘Tell me, who’s the hottest girl you’ve ever hooked up with?’ All these questions. Whether they want to answer them or not. Because we were going for it. They started laughing. ‘Holy shit! This guy’s really asking me all of this?’ Then, all of a sudden, then it’s just two guys talking, shooting the shit like we’re in a bar in Brooklyn. They really appreciated that. I hope as the show goes on, the buzz will go to the players themselves, and they’ll come to us to be on. That’s what happened with the Royals. With the Royals, we were only supposed to do one or two players. Like it was (Eric) Hosmer and Jeremy Guthrie. Those were the only two we were supposed to do. But then, next thing you know, Bruce Chen comes up, (James) Shields comes up. Because they went back into the locker room and said, ‘Yo, these MTV guys are hilarious. They’re doing these crazy interviews. You guys gotta go.’ So that was really cool, how the buzz got around.”
With the access you’ll have with MLB, is there already one thing you’re looking forward to most this season? “The number-one story of the offseason, of course, is (Derek) Jeter retiring. So we did a little piece for Jeter that’s going to air in the first episode. Me going and talking to old people about retirement,” Distefano said. “Look, Jeter’s retiring. I want to go to the experts. And I went to a senior citizens home, and talked to people in their 80s, asking them what Derek should expect in retirement. In a perfect world, he would see that and say, ‘I want to meet that guy.’ But that’s just a dream. You know, that’s one of my wet dreams. But I would love personally just to do something with Jeter and the Yankees. I mean, I’ve never even stepped on the field. If I touched the grass at Yankee Stadium? That’d be sick.”
I have a good feeling that’ll happen for you.
Here Distefano was with co-host Melanie Iglesias during Spring Training in Arizona (photo by Michael Schennum of AZCentral.com):
“The Arizona Diamondbacks gave me a full uniform!” Distefano said. “The pants, cleats, glasses, hat, jersey that says DISTEFANO. They gave me everything. I was, like, taking batting practice with them. So the access that the players, the teams have been giving us has been sick. It’s been cool.”
But what about comedy softball leagues, for real?
What would it take to get comedy softball leagues happening again? Boston and Toronto seem to have something resembling a comedy softball league. What about New York and Los Angeles, though? DiStefano plays pickup and league basketball with other NYC-based comics. As for baseball…
“Eric McMahon was saying that The Comic Strip used to have a softball team. That Chris Mazzilli had a softball team. But I don’t think they do it anymore. They should. Maybe this show will bring it back.”
Yeah! We need to get Gotham, Caroline’s, the Comedy Cellar, the Comic Strip, Stand-Up New York, The Stand and the others to get it going.
“What if you’re a guy who’s in at every club. What team are you going to play for? I’m getting a couple of spots at the Cellar, I don’t want to play Caroline’s and then lose spots at the Cellar. But then, I don’t want to piss Louis Faranda off. So many decisions. Yeah. So many decisions. Who would I play for? I don’t know…I think I’d play for The Stress Factory.”
Hang out with Vinnie Brand in New Jersey?!
“Yeah. Play with Vinnie because then nobody’s going to get pissed off, Vinnie doesn’t give a shit. I’d play for Vinnie Brand. Go to his farm after the games, and he’d give you fresh goat milk. He has a farm with goats on it. Yeah. It’s crazy.”