Visalia, CA - Fans that attend a Rawhide game witness on-field action by some of the most talented baseball players in the world. Ask folks who have been around long enough and they will tell stories of watching Hall of Famer Kirby Puckett work his way through Visalia on his ascension to the big leagues. In more recent years, and paired with a strong relationship with the Arizona Diamondbacks, now well-established big leaguers such as Paul Goldschmidt, Adam Eaton, David Peralta, and Jake Lamb have spent at least parts of a summer or two in our community. While their on-field performance is what brings Recreation Ballpark crowds to their feet, most people aren't aware of what happens when the game is done and it's time to go home. Where, exactly, is home for these boys?
Home is within the care of Rawhide host families. In recent years, the host family program has grown from around five families to around 20 or so. Most of these families host more than one player or coach at a time, and what do they ask in return for opening their home to these professional baseball players? "A simple thank you usually does the trick," says Host Family Program coordinator and Rawhide Assistant GM Charlie Saponara.
"These families are nothing short of amazing," Saponara continues. "On top of a clean and comfortable living area, most of our host families are happy to provide food, or even a ride to the ballpark if needed. Their generosity and kindness is extraordinary."
For the past few seasons, 100-percent of Rawhide players, coaches, and training staff, have been hosted by local families. That number exemplifies the giving spirit of the community here in Visalia.
Hosting ballplayers is not a thankless task. Some players develop truly caring relationships with their host families, and those relationships endure into the big leagues.
"We have kept in touch with the majority of the players and have gained friendships with wives, and parents of the players as well," says host family Sandy and Tony Valenzuela, who create a home away from home for many of the Spanish-speaking players. "Even after they move on from Visalia, we spend time with them in spring training and have had the pleasure of celebrating the birth of their children, attending their weddings, and visiting with them and their families in their respective countries."
When asked why he enjoys hosting, host parent Tony Cavanaugh says, "I feel like I am growing my family -- I consider them to be part of my family -- the 'Big League' way; providing a comfortable home environment for these young men to pursue their big league dreams."
In just a few months, a group of about 30 professional baseball players, coaches, and training staff, will once again make their way to Visalia. And, once again, they will have a happy home waiting for them when they get here.
Interested in more information about the Rawhide Host Family Program? Email: email@example.com
This story was not subject to the approval of the National Association of Professional Baseball Leagues or its clubs.