Managers and coaches may get the lion's share of credit, but the success of Spokane Indians players wouldn't be possible without the unsung heroes of the summer - host families. These dedicated individuals open up their houses to players from all across the globe and help the new arrivals, many of whom have never been west of the Mississippi River or in some cases, even in the United States before, find a sense of belonging in unfamiliar surroundings as the young athletes chase their dream of becoming a Major League Baseball player.
"The host family program is a very important piece to help our players get involved and acclimated to our community," said Chris Duff, Spokane Indians General Manager. "It's really valuable to the Rangers knowing that their players are looked after and a great experience for the families."
Although fans often think of professional baseball players' lives as glamorous, they're anything but in short-season baseball. The grueling 76-game schedule, which starts right after the college baseball season ends, features countless long bus rides that often stretch into the wee hours of the morning. For the players, having somewhere they can call home for the summer helps to ease the physical and mental demands as they begin a new chapter in their careers. The transition from college or high school to professional baseball can be daunting and the support of host families plays a crucial role in the success of players in Spokane.
Even though the Indians season is short, running from mid June until early September, bonds formed between players and host families can last a lifetime. Several Spokane families travel to Spring Training every year to catch up with their summer house guests and former players often remember host families as a highlight of their time in the Inland Northwest.
"One of my best off the field memories was getting to meet and stay with family hosts Jon and Betty White [in 2011]," said Philadelphia Phillies pitcher and former Indians player, Jerad Eickhoff . "They were really good to me, and I know Jon has already been missed and will be missed by a lot of people."
Bob Johnson, who has been in charge of the host family program for the past 13-14 years, said that hosting players is a great way for families to meet people from all around the world. It also gives the host families an extra rooting interest at games with a player they know personally taking the field for the Indians at Avista Stadium. Johnson has hosted players himself for nearly two decades, and has formed new friendships all around the world, spending time with former players and their families in Colorado, New Jersey, Florida and even Tokyo, Japan.
Host families might not ever get the credit they deserve, but they provide an invaluable service to the team and make a real difference in the lives of these young men. So here's to you host families - the real Northwest League MVPs.
Would you like to meet players from around the globe, make lifelong friends and possibly host a future major leaguer? Then contact Bob Johnson about becoming a host family at email@example.com.
This story was not subject to the approval of the National Association of Professional Baseball Leagues or its clubs.