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ROIT -- One week into the season, Ashley Chavez was homesick.
"She called me and said, 'Dad, I'm alone, I'm out here by myself,'" recalled Mario Chavez, who owns an automotive shop in Hayward, Calif. "I said, 'Ashley, whenever you go someplace and you're by yourself, the first few weeks are bad.' I went to school in Phoenix and I felt the same way. I said, 'Give it some time, give it a week. You're gonna see yourself get a little more acclimated to the area, a little more comfortable. You know you love baseball and you know you can do this.'"
And with that advice from a father, the Giants fan settled into a full year of watching all 2,430 regular-season games at the MLB Fan Cave in New York. She kept watching, got comfortable, made it through several Cave Dweller cuts from the original 22,000 applicants, was flown to the 108th World Series to watch her team go on a roll, and in a Game 4 presentation ceremony on the field Sunday at Comerica Park, she proved her dad right.
"Smashley" is the 2012 Ultimate Fan.
Giants legend Will Clark even did the crowning, revealing three custom bobbleheads for each of the last three standing -- hers including a plaque indicating her title. Her unexpected prize-package haul includes $10,000 in cash, a "golden ticket" that allows her and a guest entry to games all season at every park, a World Series gift bag and sponsor goodies galore.
"My mind is blown," said Chavez, 25. "I wasn't the funny, crazy one. I wasn't the video-creative one. I was just a really big fan. I guess that's what held me through this entire time -- which is awesome, that they saw that and recognized it. At first, I was kind of scared because I didn't know anyone yet, and then when I started getting to know everyone, I started feeling more comfortable about my baseball knowledge, and now I'm very confident."
Angels fan Ricardo Marquez and Cardinals fan Kyle Thompson, the runners-up, receive the golden ticket and $5,000 as part of their prize packages, in addition to this Fall Classic trip. And, oh by the way, all of them have a pretty decent chance to work in baseball, or at least some stellar references.
"I thought it was just a title to be the Ultimate Cave Dweller, and that was going to make me so happy," Chavez said. "To find out there are things going with it is crazy. It's definitely going to make it easier when we do our 30-ballpark trip."
MLB held a minicamp at Spring Training in Arizona for the 30 Fan Cave finalists, and from there the lineup of nine Cave Dwellers was selected for Opening Day. While part of the MLB Fan Cave, the Cave Dwellers hosted over 200 famous guests, including more than 100 current Major Leaguers. The Cave Dwellers chronicled their experiences through videos, blogs and social media, and along the way, six were eliminated based on a combination of a fan vote at MLBFanCave.com and a panel of MLB judges.
"It exceeded our expectations by leaps and bounds," said Tim Brosnan, MLB executive vice president of business. "That's mainly due to the people who participated as the Cave Dwellers, but it's also due to the people at MLB who were responsible for the day-to-day activities -- operating the Cave but also thinking of the next attraction to keep it on the same level of engagement that it experienced really from the moment we began taking applications.
"Look, there has to be one person at the end, because that's how we define the rules. The truth of it is, as I just told those three, there are now five people in the world who have done what they did. In my book, everybody wins here."
What about Chavez?
"Ashley was a sleeper," Bronson said. "She was kind of one of the last selections, but you just have to know her. Her sense of humor is infectious. She worked exceedingly hard creating content day in and day out. She showed up for her job every day with a lot of enthusiasm. That's what we want, people who understand the opportunity they've been given."
Applications are under way for the 2013 Fan Cave.
"There'll be a twist on next year," Brosnan said. "You'll probably see more music next year. We're talking about some other angles on the Cave. We'll of course remodel a little bit of it, change the look, but the idea will still be the same. We're going to engage a younger baseball fan in a non-traditional way."
Chavez's winnings also include a PlayStation 3 or Xbox 360 console with every MLB licensed video game; $500 in product from Majestic; $500 in product from '47 brand; a fitted New Era Authentic Collection cap for all 30 teams; a collection of Budweiser gifts, including a grill/cooler, mini-fridge, foosball table and trunk cooler; a $250 gift card from MasterCard; a $150 gift card from Taco Bell; one year's supply of Head & Shoulders shampoo; and a copy of "The World Series: History of the Fall Classic" Deluxe DVD Set from MLB Productions.
Mario Chavez, who has another daughter, 22-year-old Leanne, watched proudly from right behind the Giants' dugout as Ashley accepted her ceremonial bobblehead from Will the Thrill. She's not homesick now; she just wanted to go to a parade in San Francisco immediately.
"We had no worry that she couldn't do this, because she's a baseball nut," Mario said. "She's the one. I mean, she was meant to be this, in all reality. It's kind of crazy to say it, but it's true."