NEW YORK -- After a thrill of a lifetime that included a trip to Kansas City and special All-Star Week treatment -- featuring their own custom suite and personal batting practice on the field before the 83rd Midsummer Classic -- the MLB Fan Cave Dwellers returned to their Manhattan lair on Friday and were reduced to a quintet with the cuts of Twins fan Lindsay Guentzel and Braves fan Shaun Kippins.
What started as a group of 22,000 applicants was narrowed to nine Cave Dwellers for Opening Day, all with a mission of watching every Major League game this season. The first two cuts came on May 30, and the remaining seven were called into the Cave at 10 a.m. Friday for the next eliminations.
One will be standing when the World Series is clinched: Ashley Chavez (Giants), Gordon Mack (Phillies), Ricardo Marquez (Angels), Ricky Mast (Braves) or Kyle Thompson (Cardinals).
"Lindsay and Shaun are both extremely talented and have a very bright future no matter what they set their mind to," said Tim Brosnan, MLB's executive vice president of business. "We knew it would be difficult to say goodbye to people from the MLB Fan Cave, but it's just gotten more and more difficult because there are such talented people involved. All nine of the Fan Cave Dwellers are winners in our book for making it as far as they did, and they've truly had an experience of a lifetime."
Though there were some tears, there was more of a sense of peace over this round of cuts, especially because MLB had announced that all seven would fly to Kansas City before the eliminations were made.
The "Fan Cave Midwest" was in left field, and even featured a replica orange tube slide for all to see. All seven occasionally dominated the giant scoreboard during the All-Star Game, their names fairly well known now. And they got their barbecue.
Another reason for the apparent comfort was knowing that the two most recent cuts, and those who will be, can expect a strong assist from MLB in career planning.
Ryan Wagner, one of the two inhabitants last season in the Cave's inaugural year, became the Orioles' ballpark P.A. announcer in 2012. Guentzel and Kippins were each told by MLB to provide their resumes so they can be placed in the right hands.
"It's not an ending; I'm just taking it into my own hands now," Guentzel said. "This whole thing has just been amazing. The entire experience has been overwhelming. To get to go to the All-Star Game, and come here and have time to hang around in the city, any opportunities after this are icing on the cake."
Guentzel is training for the New York City Marathon, which will take place on Nov. 4, raising funds for American Cancer Society in the process. She has been able to run five or six days a week, but now she'll have time for the long training runs required to build up endurance -- hard to do while watching every game.
"For the last few months, our lives have been pretty well scripted," she said. "To be honest, for me personally, for what I want to do, it kind of felt like just the right time. ... Yes, I would have liked to stay in the Cave, but I'm trying to look at it positively. I'll visit some people I wanted to meet."
With Guentzel gone, Chavez holds the fort for the female gender. And with Kippins gone, Mast is the only Braves fan in the bunch. There is just one American League fan now, Marquez. And four of the Dwellers root for teams either in or very near postseason position, with Mack's Phillies the only club facing a hard road -- 10 games out of the National League Wild Card race entering Friday.
"Can't ask for much better than that," Kippins said of making it to All-Star Week. "It was pretty great. Kansas City showed us a great time. It was just time, I guess. I was prepared for it. At the same time, it was difficult to say goodbye to the remaining Dwellers -- that was the toughest part.
"Going forward, I look forward to the opportunities that this gave me. My mom said in a newspaper article that when I was graduating from elementary school, I was asked where I would be in 10 years, and I said I want to be on a Major League field," Kippins said. "It's a little more than 10 years, and not exactly how I envisioned it, but to get this opportunity to break into the fraternity of MLB, it happened. Now I am really happy to grow my relationship with people I've already met and hopefully become colleagues."
Kippins said that he will especially miss Braves games, when he and Mast did the tomahawk chop and rooted for Chipper Jones in his swan-song season. Being able to talk one-on-one with Jones at Arrowhead Stadium during Monday's All-Star interview sessions was a bonus.
"I think for both me and Ricky, we obviously didn't grow up in Atlanta, we're both Braves fans, and where we lived, there weren't as many Braves fans to share the games with," Kippins said. "So having him there and being able to experience the first half together was great, especially with it being Chipper's last year. Both of us being able to chat with Chipper in Kansas City made it really special."
At MLBFanCave.com and in the building on Fourth Street and Broadway, the scoreboard reads: 1,146 games watched, 1,284 games to go until postseason. Then action resumed. Five fans are watching, working and waiting.