This winter and now Spring, I have had the incredible opportunity to meet and write about some amazing incoming collegiate baseball players slated to play for Rhode Island’s Ocean State Waves. The Waves play in the New England Collegiate Baseball League (NECBL) and feature top collegiate baseball talent from all over the country. Players travel to Rhode Island from their hometowns as far west as Rocklin, California and as far north as Burlington, Ontario and as far south as Coral Springs, FL to play in this very competitive baseball league in front of tons of professional baseball scouts, local youth baseball teams, and hordes of summer baseball league fans. The NECBL is considered by most to be one of the most coveted roster spots to achieve for the aspiring collegiate baseball player looking to take the next step into professional baseball.
So where do the players stay all summer if they are not from Rhode Island? Is there a camp set up at Old Mountain Field with tents, a local Cub Scout rocking a bugle for wakeup calls, and a campfire cook ringing a triangle for chow time? Or perhaps a discounted rate at roadside inn or bed and breakfast in Wakefield? With the season stretching from early June until sometime in August, where will an incoming player find a comfortable place to rest and recover and become a part of the Ocean State community? The answer is – the player stays with a host family. So, what is a host family and why is it important and what are the perks and what are the benefits to the player/to the family/to the community? I was intrigued myself so I reached out to Ocean State Waves Host Family Coordinators (and very enthusiastic host family members) Jen Wokoske and Leslie Bowers for these answers and for some personal insight on the host family experience. Here is an excerpt from our conversation along with some inspiring and heartwarming host family photos:
Jen and Leslie, first off thank you for providing this service to Waves players and let’s get started with your elevator speech to a potential host family?
- Hosting a Waves player is a win/win for the host family who gains a son/brother. They’ll form a lifelong bond with a collegiate baseball player putting in the work to make his major league dreams a reality as well as the community that benefits from a fun and competitive summer baseball league in their back yard. Local families find so much enjoyment in watching these boys play. Bringing these players into your home and making them part of your extended family brings this enjoyment to the next level. And there’s always the potential that someday you’ll be able to say that you hosted the next MLB star!
What are the main reasons (some pretty obvious) why a player would need a solid support system for this collegiate baseball league?
- These collegiate players go through ups and downs physically, emotionally, mentally throughout the summer baseball season. A player can have a batting slump, or a nagging injury. Maintaining their nutrition is also important because there is a ton of travel and games. And the players do get home sick from the long season, so coming “home” can be comforting in a lot of ways.
What are the housing requirements?
- Players only need a private bedroom, beyond that all facilities can be shared. This includes access to a bathroom, kitchen, and washer/dryer.
Once a family begins the process, how long will it take for them to get vetted and verified to be a host family?
- It will depend upon the time of year, how many players we have who still need beds and/or any special needs of either the player or host family. Typically one of the host family coordinators gathers all of the necessary information and puts it on the agenda for the next advisory meeting.
As for the season, what can a host family expect from the player, in terms of their schedule?
- The players have several games a week and on the off night they may still have practice. Typically they have a bus to catch for an away game, or need to be at Old Mountain field for a home game, between 12-3 pm. They may not get home until much later that night. Potential host families are often worried that they will need to entertain the players but honestly, some weeks you may only see them in passing. They are here to play ball.
Do host families have to get up at 6am and make breakfast? Or do they have to have a pizza or hamburger on the table when the player returns from a road game?
- How much you want to provide is completely up to you. The players are ultimately responsible for their own meals and the team provides dinners for them on game nights. That being said, some of our favorite nights are “no game nights” when the boys are around and they join us for dinner!
Do players get their own room or do they typically share a room with a member of the household?
- This is the only space that must be private/not shared. Players must have their own bedroom. If you host two players, they may share a bedroom.
How about household stuff like laundry and washing the dishes, do the players get involved in the day to day activities of living at the house?
- We leave the specifics of this up to the host family; your house, your rules. The players (and their parents) are extremely appreciative of you opening your home to them. They clean up after themselves and typically try to help out with whatever they can. We’ve had players do the grocery shopping, babysit for us and drive our kids (and their friends) to/from camps.
In your experience, how have the incoming players interacted with the host family’s younger population?
- This is probably one of the best parts of the host family experience! Wiffle ball games in the backyard, an extra fan on the sideline at their youth sports games, or realizing that the special guest in your classroom for Reading Days is the baseball player from your house! The players are fully aware of the impact and influence they can have with the younger members of the family, and whenever or however they can, they will make it a positive one!
What are some cool and uplifting stories that pertain to the star factor of these players as it relates to the younger generation in the house?
- In 2018, our one player just so happened to be a pitcher from California named Joe Kelly. To my kids, he was THE Joe Kelly. It was super funny to take him and our kids to a Sox game that August (wearing the obligatory Joe Kelly Fight Club t-shirt) to watch the other Joe Kelly pitch.
- While younger kids are just impressed that these boys play college baseball and live in their house, the younger teenage kids think it’s cool to see the players talked about on social media. They see the recognition they get for everything from academic and community service awards to their batting averages or leading the division in home-runs.
- About 2 weeks into our 1st year hosting, our player realized his schedule & my son’s were opposite. By the time he got up my son was at school & when my son got home from school he was at the field. So he started getting up a few mornings a week to hang out w/ him before his bus came (and then proceeded to go back to bed.
- Last year my son made the All Star baseball team. Our players went with my son to practice with the team one afternoon. The kids had a blast w/ them and they kept saying to my son… “they live with you??”
- One of our players from our 1st year hosting had just finished his freshman year when he played for the Waves. He’s now in his last year as catcher for the University of Arkansas. He’s having an incredible year and getting national attention. We love watching him on TV knowing he likely has a great future in baseball ahead of him, and he spent his 1st year playing summer ball w/ us.
How do the host families interact with each other during the season? Do they meet up at the games, and where are they typically seated?
- Year round family and adult (wine tasting and Brew Tour) events…then in July is our host family week filled with meet ups at the games and dinners at local restaurants after as well as a golf tournament. There are consistently 6-8 different host families at the games either behind home plate or out in right field.
What are some of the perks the Waves offer host families? Tickets to games, camp events, stuff like that?
- Perks include free admission to all NECBL games, host family events throughout the year and summer like pool parties and local vineyard wine tastings, and younger family members get a free week at the Waves summer baseball camp.
The players visit/live with host families in the summer, then head back to college. Is there a bond that forms with the host family and the player, a player perhaps that may not come back the next summer to RI?
- Absolutely! Completely unexpected was the “empty nest” syndrome. We felt in August during our first season hosting. As with most things, it gets easier each year because we now know they will keep in touch. Players have been really good about reaching out to us at the holidays, on kids birthdays, etc.
So host families tend to stay in contact with former players/housemates? How has that experience been?
- Most definitely!!! We continue to talk to, visit, and cheer on our previous players. We’ve met extended members of their families, like siblings, grandparents, aunts and uncles, girlfriends, and join them to watch the boys regular season games when possible.
First off, huge thanks to Jen and Leslie for the incredible insight and the amazing photos from hosting players in summers past. You can see huge smiles on the player’s faces as well as the families in each and every photo. The positive impact on a player’s life goes way beyond the perks like free tickets to games and a free week at Waves baseball camp. I loved the story where the player actually adjusted his own schedule to make sure he found time to coordinate time with a host family’s son. And the photos with the kids grinning from ear to ear standing next to the players, the kids feeling like they are in the presence of a rock star or professional MLB player are just awesome. I know from attending tons of Ocean State Waves games all about that very enthusiastic host family fan section in the right field section of Old Mountain Field for home games. It is one of my favorite spots to watch the game. These host families are truly special members of the Rhode Island Baseball Community who open their homes every summer to some of the top collegiate baseball talent in the country.
So, after reading these personal stories and seeing the uplifting photos and maybe remembering those thunderous cheers from the host family section in right field, are you ready to take the next step and learn more about becoming a host family for an Ocean State Waves player? I thought so! So here is some important information on how you can take the next steps to becoming a host family.
And if you choose to become a host family, thank you for being a valued part of the Ocean State Waves family!!! The Ocean State Waves season is fast approaching and I cannot wait to get out to right field and cheer on the Waves!