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'Off the Bat' set to swing for the fences

Fan Cave sports-culture show premieres tonight at 11 ET on MTV2

NEW YORK -- We've got Bryce Harper, Derek Jeter, Giancarlo Stanton and David Ortiz. We've got Fat Joe, Sway, Melanie Iglesias and Chris Distefano. Put them together, and you have the ingredients for a new kind of sports-culture show that premieres on MTV2 at 11 p.m. ET tonight.

"Off the Bat from MLB Fan Cave" is executive produced by Ortiz, the 2013 World Series MVP from the Red Sox. Included in the first half-hour episode is a segment in which Iglesias, the "Girl Code" star, goes with Stanton to a junkyard for a home run demolition derby. Distefano visits retirees to get advice for Jeter, who will be making his final Opening Day start on the night of this premiere.

Harper is the first studio guest on the show, which uses the MLB Fan Cave in Manhattan as a studio. He spent a couple of hours on Tuesday taping for the show. In one segment called "Cutting Off," contestants sit in barber chairs and have their heads shaved if they don't answer Harper trivia correctly. They greatly underestimate his career hit total to date, and he corrects them with the right answer of "261."

"I think baseball's very excited to be able to partner with MTV and see that other side of a lot of the players," Harper said. "It's a lot of fun, and I'm excited to be with a lot of celebrities and do certain things within the game of baseball."

Harper, 21, said it is important that baseball finds new ways to reach his generation of fans.

"It's a lot different now. I think Facebook, Twitter, social media is huge," he said. "Being able to enjoy it with the fans, fans make this game, being able to enjoy that with them, they see your personalities, see certain things. I think it's good for the game. I'm excited, and I think a lot of guys are."

Harper and the Nationals are 1-0 after their 9-7 victory in 10 innings over the Mets on Opening Day. He said this Nationals team is different than the ones before: "Being able to have a shot at a World Series title, it's going to be a lot of fun this year. I think a lot of guys are into what we're doing. One through nine, our lineup is incredible. One through five, our staff is great. Our bullpen is unbelievable. We just have to go out there and play the game we know how to play, and we'll see where we're at by the end."

In the meantime, you can expect to see a lot more of Harper off the field, not only in "Off the Bat," but in an upcoming Gatorade campaign that relaunches its "Fierce" products. He just joined the Gatorade roster of athletes, and his new campaign starts on April 10.

"I'm very excited to be able to partner up with Gatorade, and being able to be part of a company I have been [using] my whole life," Harper said. "I've been able to grow up with Gatorade and drink that before games and during games, and it is something I want to do now. Being able to get with a company that is so into sports and baseball, and just going full force into everything, is a lot of fun.

"The Fierce campaign is coming back, and a lot of people are excited about that, especially me, because I love all the Fierce products. ... All their products are unbelievable, all the nutritional things they need to put into it [that] they do. It's exciting being able to partner with the company."

Sway, familiar to many for his MTV News role, was taping "liners" upstairs while Harper was shooting a video in the basement. Sway said "Off the Bat" is a kind of show "no one has seen yet."

"There are a lot of great sports networks out there," Sway said. "This show is going to be an extension of all the great coverage that's been done for Major League Baseball. You'll find out even more about people behind the game.

"It's like a day at the playground. When I was first approached for the show, one of the executives was talking to me about baseball. I'm not a Yankees fan, but I live in New York. I'm from Oakland. So I get in constant fights with Yankee fans. I care that Derek Jeter is going to retire, as far as him as a person, but not as far as him as a player, because I'm not a Yankee fan.

"This show to me is just that -- average, everyday people getting to express their opinions about baseball. I'm a gigantic fan. I'm not a statistician. I can't tell you every player who plays on every team, and I'll probably miss a few teams if you ask me to name them, but I do have my favorites. I love the game of baseball, I grew up playing as a kid."

Fat Joe grew up five blocks from Yankee Stadium in the Bronx, hanging around the home clubhouse hoping for autographs after each game. Getting to be around Big Papi was eye-opening.

"I hate him, but I love him, too," Fat Joe said. "I hate him as a Yankee fan, although I always referred to myself as the Big Papi of rap music, because I swing for the fences all the time. He's a great guy, one of the best people I ever met. Funny guy. I love being around Big Papi."

Harper will be the first studio guest on the show, which uses the MLB Fan Cave as a studio at Fourth Street and Broadway in Manhattan.

Iglesias is the stepdaughter of a former Minor Leaguer, and she said that is probably why MTV chose her to be one of the four co-hosts. She went to Spring Training with the others to produce the content for these shows. It's a side of Iglesias that her fans won't be used to seeing.

"This is completely different from 'Girl Code' because I'm not just a talking head," Iglesias said. "I'm actually out there on the field, having fun, getting to show who I really am. That's what people are going to see that they haven't known about me, is that I'm very energetic, very bubbly.

"'Off the Bat' is something you are going to enjoy, whether or not you are a huge baseball fanatic. I think it's something people will tune into even if they just want a good laugh. You're going to watch it and you're going to watch us doing silly things with these pro athletes, and it's going to be a fun thing to watch."

Distefano is a laugh riot and has a strong knowledge of baseball. He said hanging around the Royals in particular was a thrill that will be apparent when you watch that episode.

"To combine baseball and pop culture, it's such a cool thing with these players," Distefano said. "They live a similar lifestyle to some of these pop culture icons, and it's cool to have a guy like Fat Joe, who all the players know. I'm really interested to see when they come to the Fan Cave, what their reaction will be like. I don't think there's ever been a show like this. We're all really excited to be a part of it.

"We're going to really swing for the fences. Great guests, music acts. The pieces are hysterical in the first show. Definitely watch, because it's really funny."

Mark Newman is enterprise editor of Read and join other baseball fans on his community blog.