A Baseball Kind of Family

Life in the Minor Leagues.

It’s a subject that has gained steam as of late, what with the Senne vs. MLB lawsuit making headlines, and Minor Leaguers and Major leaguers alike sharing their struggle to survive the system to get to the Show.

It’s a hard knock life for most. Living arrangements are only one piece of the budgeting puzzle. Finding a furnished apartment with a short-term lease option is tough on any budget. On $1,100 a month? Brutal.

“They come with a bag of clothes for living, and they come with a bag of baseball stuff, and that’s all they’ve got,” Peoria Chiefs Booster Club President Karen MacKenzie said. “You see, honestly, how some of them ended up having to live together in order to make ends meet.”

MacKenzie and the Booster Club have for years provided the basics for their players – linens, pots and pans, toilet paper. It wasn’t much, but it was at least a start. Then, for the 2013 season, the Chiefs instituted a Host Family program. Karen and husband Keith were happy to oblige.

“Just knowing all the stuff they’ve had to go through to try to eek out an existence, and honestly, how difficult the apartment managers can be in this city … it was an easy choice for us,” MacKenzie said. “We’ve had six guys live with us over the last two years, and we’ve had nothing but great, respectful, awesome guys in the house.”

Rowan Wick & Justin Ringo with the MacKenzies on Host Family Night. [Photo credit: Dennis Sievers/Peoria Chiefs.]

Take Your Pick

MacKenzie described the event as a “picking party.”

It’s the night where players and prospective host families find each other.

“When we got here, they had all the host families meet us at the hotel one night who were interested in doing it this year, and all the players who wanted a host family,” Chiefs pitcher Chase Brookshire explained. “It was kind of just a meet and great and just a free for all, I guess.”

The families described themselves, their homes, their “amenities” (pool, hot tub, etc.). The players introduced themselves. Then, they just, well, pick.

“We had four guys come up to us,” host mom Jamie Bosley said. “I had said I only wanted two, but my husband couldn’t say no, so he told all four we would.”

In the end, Brookshire and Arturo Reyes ended up moving in with Jamie and Chris Bosley, their two boys, and their pets. And though Jamie – whose family also hosts Peoria Rivermen players during their season – didn’t intend to become fully invested in Chiefs baseball, her husband Chris knew better.

“When we went into this I said, ‘I am not going to get as involved in baseball as I did with hockey. I don’t like watching baseball nearly as much as I like watching hockey. It’s summer time. I’m not going to go to all the games,’” she said, then continued: “’My husband kind of said, ‘Yeah, right.’”

Now, they are all too familiar with the VIP entrance to Dozer Park.

“We’re here every night that one of these two pitches,” she said. “We just absolutely adore them.”

The MacKenzies’ experience has been much the same.

“They’re great,” Karen said. “They clean up, they cook breakfast every morning. I’m pretty sure that Justin Ringo is a better cook than I am. They’ve just been really good guys.”

And the guys couldn’t be more grateful for the families willing to take them in.

“It’s a huge blessing,” pitcher Blake McKnight (staying with the Ruchotzke family) said. “Even with that, we still have to be smart with the money that we do get and figure out what to do with it. I know for myself, I’m looking forward to this offseason – where am I going to live, what am I going to do with the money that I’ve made — and it helps to be able to put away a little more to help support myself in the off season.”

“It’s just another thing that we don’t have to worry about, like apartments and paying for that kind of stuff and furnishing it,” Brookshire said. “It’s just nice to have that burden lifted.”

“It’s really nice,” first baseman Justin Ringo said. “Other people that rent an apartment for the summer, they might only be making a few hundred bucks a month after rent, utilities, food and stuff, and me and the other guys that live with host families pocket most of it. It makes it easier when we don’t get paid a whole lot.”

We Are Family

Moving in with relative strangers has the potential to be uncomfortable, at least initially. But, the current Chiefs – players and host families alike – were prepared to make the transition as smooth as possible.

“You don’t know what you’re going to get,” Brookshire said. “We don’t know what we’re going to get and I guess the same thing for them – they don’t know what kind of players they’re going to get. So when you do get a really good setup, it’s definitely a blessing.”

Adding children to the mix makes the cooperation even more crucial. The Bosleys have two boys – 9 and 12 – who would be very easily influenced by the athletes chosen to spent the summer with them.

“People question me and think I’m insane,” Jamie said. “But the Chiefs have been nothing but a very positive influence on them. They talk about grades, they talk about bullies. Just anything. They’re big brothers that the boys feel comfortable with, even more than us sometimes.

Brookshire and Reyes have taken naturally to the “big brother” role with Carter and Aiden, who are now the envy of all their friends.

“Well, they always play kickball or football or any of that stuff with us,” Aiden said. “It’s sort of good to know that we’re hosting people that have a really good chance of going to the Major Leagues.”

“I call them my ‘Bigs’ and my ‘Littles,’” Jamie said of “her boys.”

And they’ve lived up to every bit of that.

“Arturo, one of his first days, went to go get them a pizza … on a bicycle, two miles away,” Jamie recalled. “So, he’s carrying a hot pizza on a bike two miles to feed the kids pizza!”

When the “Littles” headed to their first day of school, they found notes left by their “Bigs” with advice and encouragement. Often, Arturo will remind the Bosley boys to be respectful toward their parents. And on occasion, Jamie and Chris will get a post-game text message with an endearing request: “Can the boys stay up late so we can see them tonight?”

It’s safe to say, Brookshire and Reyes (as well as Cesar Valera, who spent a portion of the season at the Bosley house) have fans – practically family – for life.

“They would do anything for us,” Brookshire said. “We’ve gotten to know them pretty well over the last four or five months. So, I would definitely describe it as a home away from home kind of thing.”

Chase  Brookshire & Arturo Reyes with the Bosleys on Host Family Night. [Photo credit: Dennis Sievers/Peoria Chiefs.]

Chase Brookshire & Arturo Reyes with the Bosleys on Host Family Night. [Photo credit: Dennis Sievers/Peoria Chiefs.]

In A Heartbeat

There’s no hesitation – they’d all do it over again in a heartbeat.

For the players, the financial blessing is enormous. For the host families, the opportunity to pay it forward is enough.

“I would hope that if my sons ever got to something similar to this that there would be a good family that would take them in,” Bosley said.

Take them in, be a familiar face in the crowd, support them through good and bad days … just like a real family would.

“I can’t even imagine what it’s like to be a real parent and see your child on the field and doing really well or struggling, because it’s hard,” MacKenzie said. “You just want to see them do well all the time, and that’s not the reality of what baseball is.”

What is a baseball reality, though, is the success of host family programs like this one. It’s been such a successful experience for families like the MacKenzies and the Bosleys that they’d like to see it spread throughout the organization. The financial burden weighs heavy on Minor Leaguers all the way through the Triple-A level, and a program like this could alleviate some of the trials in Palm Beach, Springfield or Memphis, just as it does in Peoria. And these Chiefs “parents” wouldn’t hesitate to recommend it. In fact, they’d be thrilled.

“Maybe this will be the start,” Bosley said. “I would love to be a part of getting it at all the levels.”

There is, however, one short-lived hesitation from the Bosley’s Cubs-fan “Little” when Aiden talks about his Cardinals-player “Bigs” making it to the Show:

“I think we’re gonna have to convert to Cardinals fans.”

Ah, the sacrifices you make for family.

 

 

  • frontdeskmike

    Keith and Karen are two of the absolute best people I have ever met.

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