Every spring training, minor league baseball players in the Frontier League face the daunting task of securing living arrangements in unfamiliar towns.
The task can turn a time of excitement into a time of angst, but not if Susan Perry has anything to do with it. Perry runs the River City Rascals’ Host Family Program, a Frontier League program that offers assistance to players and helps host families and the community gain a special bond with members of “the home team.”
“Host families give Rascals players a ‘home away from home,’” said Perry, who has been the coordinator of the program since 2012. “For most players, the monthly rent – if they could find their own place – would exceed their paycheck. Host families enable these young men to concentrate on playing ball with hopes of moving on to a higher level.”
River City began its Host Family Program in 1999 when the team first began play in O’Fallon. In 2002, Perry and her husband, Tim, got involved and never looked back.
“It was a gradual descent into the addiction of minor league baseball,” Perry said. “We were living in Jefferson County in 1999 and that season we made the drive to O’Fallon for almost every game. We joined the Rascals booster club in 2001 so we could get cheaper tickets. Once the booster club got a hold of us we were goners and, in 2002, we decided to host.”
Now at the program’s helm, Perry said the process of placing players begins in January when Rascals manager Steve Brook sends her a list of committed players. From there, Perry contacts the players and begins asking all the pertinent questions: “Do you have a car?” “Are you allergic to pets?” “What type of family are you hoping to be placed with?” The process continues through winter and spring. Returning players get first choice of staying with their host family from the previous season.
For four-year veteran Zac Treece, a pitcher from Little Rock, Arkansas, staying with a host family has been a way of life. He joined the Rascals a few week ago, after being traded from the Lake Erie Crushers, and is staying with Perry and her husband.
“They are just a great host family to be with,” Treece said. “They make me feel at home and it is such a relief not to have to worry about a place to live and (to be able to) keep your personal stuff where you live during the season with a family like them.”
Treece, 25, also experienced the host family program while plying with both the Crushers and the Gateway Grizzlies,
“It’s a huge help for young players,” Treece said.
Rascals’ second year infielder, Brian Hansen, agreed. “It’s really been a pretty good experience for me,” he said.
A native of St. Cloud, Minnesota, Hansen, 25, said being able to stay with Dale and Jill Hostetter during his rookie season really helped to make the adjustment from college to minor league ball a lot less stressful.
“They really helped me settle in here,” Hansen said. “You have a place to sleep, store your stuff and just concentrate on playing baseball. They come to pretty much of all of the games. They talk to you about the game afterwards like your folks would and check on you and make sure you’re OK.”
The program has one other major benefit – but this one is for the community at large and stems from being able, on a daily basis, to connect with local organizations and local people.
Perry said that’s the real value of the program.
“Even though these players come from all parts of the country, they are living next door to or with a community member. They go to their host-brother’s little league games and play a game of basketball with the kids on the street,” Perry said.
In other words, they’re making connections. For Perry and other host families, that’s the most rewarding part of the program – building lasting relationships.
“In 14 years, Tim and I have hosted around 35 players,” Perry said. “I like to tell people that even though we don’t have kids of our own, we have sons and daughters-in-law, and grandchildren all over the country.”
To volunteer to be a host family or for more information in the program, visit www.rivercityrascals.com and click on the “team” tab.