Good morning from Phoenix, Arizona. It is sunny and brisk outside, with a chance of delayed flights and uncertain traveling arrangements popping up throughout the day. Most of the Top 30 contestants have boarded shuttles to the airport and are checking in to their respective flights. A few of us are sitting in the hotel lobby due to delayed and/or cancelled flights, reflecting on the week and bonding a bit more before we head our separate directions.

If there is one thing that stuck with me this week, it is that every single person in this contest is amazing. Even the Cardinals fans were cool (They paid me to say that*). Peoples’ team alliances became an afterthought. Baseball was the glue that held us together, and their personalities drew us closer.

*They didn’t really pay me to say that.

**Please don’t tar and feather me for saying that.

The week was a whirlwind. So much happened in such a short amount of time that it is all still soaking in and swirling around in my mind. I will try to sort out the important pieces of the trip.

Let us begin. And what better place to start than at the beginning?

Monday:

  • Picked up by a professional driver in a Lincoln Towncar (I secretly was hoping it would be Ryan Gosling. You can’t always get what you want.) and taken to O’Hare.
  • Met up with a couple of knucklehead contestants* who were also from the Chicago area.
  • Flew to Phoenix.

*I mean that in the most loving way. Travis Miller (Mets) and Marcus Hall (White Sox) were those two knuckleheads.

Monday’s events then concluded with approximately twenty of us going to the local diner, having dinner, and generally causing a ruckus. And then we all took the ruckus to the hotel hot tub area. Generally, it was the beginning of a great love story few days.

On Tuesday, the real fun began:

  • Free, fantastic, made-to-order breakfast.
  • Shipped to Chase Field.
  • Group meeting with the Head Honchos.
  • Lunch (ballpark food – pulled bbq chicken. yum.).
  • Tour of the stadium.
  • Elevator pitches.

And, the very most, absolutely incredible, ama-za-zing part of Tuesday:

Ten of us were chosen at random to have a brief interview with Greg Amsinger. You know, that awesome guy on MLB Network that talks and stuff. I love him.

When it was my turn to chat with him, I had to put in an ear piece and stand just so in front of the camera with a bright light shining in my eyes and Chase Field stretching out behind me. And then, “Oh, we have a 45 minute break. You don’t get to talk to Greg right now.”

Day. Ruined. I was so bummed.

But 45 minutes later, after the elevator pitch, I got a second hack at Greg and it was life-changing. He asked me things such as: “Why are you a Cubs fan?”; “Todd Walker is your favorite Cub? Why?!”; “You’re a farmer? What’s that like?”; and we laughed and laughed. Did I mention that it was highlight of my week?

Later that night we had a team trivia challenge (hosted by Eric Byrnes) and karaoke. Then it was back to the hotel for the night for more hot tubbing and ruckus-causing. The hot tub closed at midnight, but the security guard let us stay a little longer than we were supposed to.

When Wednesday morning rolled around:

  • Individual interview with Head Honchos. It was a very nerve-racking experience, as I was positioned in the center of a U-shaped table set up, with between 10-20 people analyzing every word which came out of my mouth. The two most important words I said during the entire interview rolled off my tongue in the following order: Duck Dynasty.
  • Three groups of ten were sent to 3 different Spring Training facilities: Surprise, Goodyear, and Salt River. I was at Salt River, where the players and coaches were not. They were having a players vs. coaches paintball tournament. That should have been a qualifying challenge for the Top 30, but  I didn’t make the schedule or plan the challenges, so we didn’t do that.
  • Split into teams, made promo videos (Which, I assume, will be posted on the FanCave website at some point. During this challenge, I almost died*). My group consisted of me and 4 men. One of them was Hayden Moss, the winner of Big Brother 12. I forgot who the other 3 were. The other three were Nick, Calder, and Michael. They were a good bunch.
  • Filmed a parody of this commercial.
  • Went bowling.

The bowling event was held at Lucky Strike in downtown Phoenix. It was the cherry on top of the cake of an amazing week.

*A little piece of me got left behind in Arizona, but that’s because my buddy Calder tried to slide tackle me during one of our commercials.

Thursday:

  • Came back to Illinois (lame).

Unfortunately, we did not go to Mesa, I did not get to see any Cubbies, and it hailed/snowed one day. But hey, can’t let that get you down, Jack! This week had so many high points that not seeing the Cubs only made me cry for a few minutes.

If you would like to see some of the photos I took from the week, you can check out my instagram site.

If you would like to see some photos taken by the professional photographer, you can check out MLB FanCave’s Facebook page.

And, finally, if you would like to familiarize yourself with the Top 30, you can go here.

It was cool to actually meet these people in real life and see their personalities come to life. The people I met this week are the best group of people I have met in a long time. Whoever makes the FanCave deserves it. Everyone is worthy of a spot in the Cave (I just hope one has my name on it).

They will be announcing the Cave Dwellers next week some time. Of course, I will keep you posted on what the outcome is!

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Katie Cernek is a regular contributor to VFTB. She grew up as a Cubs fan in rural Wisconsin and fondly remembers hearing stories of Fergie Jenkins, Billy Williams, Ernie Banks, and Ron Santo. You can find Katie on Twitter @heyitskatiec