Each summer, Cape Cod welcomes around 300 college baseball players to compete in the nationally renowned Cape Cod Baseball League (CCBL). These athletes come from all around the country to showcase their skills in the hopes of one day making it to the professional level of the game.
The 10 teams of the CCBL rely on volunteers from their communities to house these players for the summer. Hosting a player almost always results in the player and family forming a close bond that transcends the summer that they spent together. Oftentimes the hosts and players will consider each other family. Nancy Nickerson, the housing coordinator for the Orleans Firebirds, calls them her “summer sons.”
The requirements to host vary from team to team. However, most simply require the family to provide the player with a bed, food, use of a washer and dryer, and to enforce team rules. While being responsible for the safety and well-being of a player for 10 weeks seems daunting, Carol Higgins, the housing coordinator for the Hyannis Harbor Hawks, says: “Words can’t describe the rewards of housing a CCBL player.”
Many of the players have never been away from home for an entire summer and come from different walks of life. It is a learning experience for both the families and players as they learn and adapt to the cultural differences which often is most obvious with food. Stanley Eldredge and his family have hosted more than 20 players for the Bourne Braves since 2000. Former Boston Red Sox player Kevin Youkilis was the first player thatMr. Eldredge hosted. Mr. Eldredge described Youk as “shy but grateful for everything that happened.”
Coming from Cinncinati, Ohio, Youk had only been accustomed to seeing lobster tail as a meal, but while spending the summer in Bourne, Youkilis quickly learned to love a whole red lobster for dinner. “He’d get a red lobster for every home run he hit,” said Mr. Eldredge with a laugh. “He didn’t even know how to open it at first. My son had to show him.”
Mr. Eldredge said, “The kids are from different backgrounds but they all have the same attitude and take their sport seriously and are well-mannered.”
Steve and Deb Brocklebank have hosted 15 players for the Falmouth Commodores since 2004. The couple originally decided to host because Mr. Brocklebank and his business, Sports Center Physical Therapy, would provide medical and physical therapy help to the team. They describe the experience of hosting a player as “a big adrenaline rush for two weeks because their schedules are all over.”
Over the years, the Brocklebanks have hosted players who got drafted into the MLB, like Kyle Gibson of the Minnesota Twins and Joe Patterson of the Arizona Diamondbacks, and players who move on in life from baseball.
Mr. Brocklebank said that the CCBL simulates a Major League Baseball season because there are games most nights. “Being able to overcome adversity like having a bad night or losing is something that the CCBL teaches players,” Mr. Brocklebank said. The families and their homes provide an outlet where the players can return to simply relax.
“A family can certainly make the difference in a player’s life,” Ms. Higgins said. “They come to Cape Cod hoping to be recognized and to have an opportunity to continue their dreams of playing ball in the majors.”
“You want them to feel like our house is a place that they can call home and help them become successful while maintaining who they are,” Ms. Brocklebank added.
According to Ms. Nickerson, most host families go “above and beyond” their requirements to host. Other housing coordinators around the league issued similar sentiments.
The Brocklebanks have consistently gone beyond their requirements.
“The guys love when you go the extra mile,” said Mr. Brocklebank. “We try and plan trips to the beach or Boston with other host families. Mini golf is another big one. We want the experience to be more than baseball.”
Hanging in the “Commodore Room,” the room that the Brocklebanks reserve for their hosted players, is a plaque that bears the names of their players who have won the family’s summer miniature golf competition.
One name on that placard is another former Red Sox player and current New York Yankee, Jacoby Ellsbury.
Born in Oregon and playing baseball at Oregon State University, Jacoby came to Falmouth in 2004, a “quiet guy but with a great sense of humor,” according to Mr. Brocklebank.
“He is very disciplined. He has a routine and puts in the time. He’ll be the first one to the field and the last one to leave,” Mr. Brocklebank said.
“Just getting to know him and his family and watch him realize his dreams is amazing,” Ms. Brocklebank said.
Ellsbury certainly has made a name for himself. He was drafted by the Red Sox, won the Gold Glove and Silver Slugger Award in 2011 and a World Series ring in 2013.
The Brocklebanks stay in touch with Jacoby, as with all their players. “We are constantly watching their stats,” Ms. Brocklebank said. “We schedule our vacations and business trips around our former players and their games so we can see them.”
The Brocklebanks have even attended the weddings of each of their players who have married.
“These kids definitely become family,” Mr. Eldredge said. “You care for them for the summer and they get involved with your own children and family. The rewards are priceless.”
“If there’s one thing I can say about hosting a player, it’s ‘do it,’ ” Ms. Brocklebank said.