Choice: Freedom or Home Cooking

07/29/2009 – Daily News Record

More Turks Live With Host Families Written by Marcus Helton Sports Department Daily News Record HARRISONBURG – Ed Wakefield is, by any stretch, a West Coast guy.

A California native, Wakefield pitches at the University of Portland in Oregon, and before this summer, his only East Coast visit consisted of a trip to Washington, D.C., in high school.

So, when Wakefield decided to come to Virginia to play for the Valley Baseball League’s Harrisonburg Turks, it’s fair to say he had no idea what to expect. Fortunately for him, there was a built-in solution waiting.

Wakefield has made himself comfortable this summer in a spare bedroom in the Harrisonburg home of Kevin and Debbie Boyle, one of the eight families hosting Turks.

“It was definitely helpful,” Wakefield said, “because the Boyles have been doing this for several years now, so they kind of have a feel for what having a player is like. Most of the players that they’ve had were also from California, so they kind of knew what it was like for somebody coming out here who really didn’t have a very good feel for the area.”

“They Just Blend In”

Kevin Boyle said his family first hosted a player five years ago at the behest of Turks owner Bob Wease, and has continued since. Wease and his wife, Teresa, have hosted players at their home since buying the team in the early 1990’s.

“I said, ‘Yeah, we’ll keep a Turk, what do I have to do?'” Boyle said, “And he said, ‘Really, nothing.’ You provide a bed and breakfast, that’s really what it is; 50 percent of the time — depending on if they’re pitchers or position players — they’re just like all kids, they sleep. But no, we’ve thoroughly enjoyed it. I think it’s good for my kids, with the perspective and the work that these guys put in and having to devote their summers.”

And it’s really not all that strange, Debbie Boyle added.

“You would think, ‘Gosh, another person in your house that you don’t really know,'” she said, “but, you know, they’re not around that much, and when they are they just kind of blend in like they’re a family member.”

Apartments Still No. 1

Most VBL franchises house their players with families, and while Harrisonburg has always had a few hosts, for the most part it has put its players up in apartments for the summer. The team would place an advertisement in the James Madison University student newspaper looking for students willing to sublet their apartments for the summer, with the Turks covering the costs.

In an effort to save money and build a bigger community following, though, the franchise this year put more emphasis on increasing the number of host families.

The team’s Host Family Coordinator, Lisa Klosinski, reached out to families she knew and asked the existing hosts to check around for interest. She ended up with eight, twice the number the team had last summer.

“It’s really a big part of the Valley League to have people sort of view the team as ‘their guys’ for the summer and sort of build that community relationship with the team,” Klosinski said. “That’s what we’re sort of starting from scratch with here in Harrisonburg, because we haven’t had that host family network. I think that’s sort of been lacking, and we’re trying to build that up.”

Klosinski said host families receive passes for anybody in the household to attend games.

Teresa Wease said four of the host families are housing one player, while the other four have two. The remaining players are housed in apartments.

Bob Wease said he would prefer to place his players with families, and hopes to reach the point where all of them are. “The kids [in apartments] have no ties to the community or anything,” he said. “That’s when you have a lot of partying and drinking that goes on, because they have no supervision. When you’re with a host family, they’ll say, ‘You should be in by 11 or 12 o’clock.’ It saves a lot of headaches and a lot of problems.”

Before coming to the Valley League, Wakefield, 21, played in two summer leagues in Southern California. His first year, he stayed in a college-style apartment, while the second year he stayed with a single man who he said wasn’t a baseball fan.

He said both living arrangements have their pros and cons.

“I think it kind of depends on what your intentions are,” he said. “I mean, if you’re here to kind of have fun and be with the guys 24-7, then the apartment is better. You get to know the guys better and easier, and you’re always with them and always doing stuff. But I took a class this summer at JMU because I had some summer school to do, and there’s no way I could have done that if I had stayed in an apartment. Just a whole bunch of college baseball players during the summer, it’s not very conducive to any kind of academics.”

Georgia Tech infielder Thomas Nichols has also been on both sides of the summer living spectrum – sort of. He currently stays in a Pheasant Run Apartment with Tampa’s Mike Schwartz and Florida State’s Parker Brunelle and Jack Posey.

While playing in the Northwoods League last year, Nichols’ host was a single man whose discipline was, to put it mildly, lax.

“He was awesome, he let me do whatever I wanted to do,” Nichols said with a smile. “I mean, I didn’t have a curfew. Being this age, you want to have your freedom and stuff like that. Now, of course, I don’t have a curfew because I don’t have a family that I have to go home to, so I’ve really had a win-win situation. I had a single man and he didn’t care what I did, so at this time, it’s just the same deal basically.” Home Cooking Or Vouchers

While Nichols conceded that staying with a host family has its benefits, he said the freedom of living in an apartment is what college players typically prefer.

“No doubt,” he said, “if they’ve got the money to deal with themselves on their own, because sometimes, host families feed you more and stuff. When you’re on your own in an apartment, you’re fending for yourself.”

Actually, each week the players do get seven meal vouchers to area restaurants, such as Wood Grill Buffet. But it’s not home cooking.

Wakefield doesn’t have to worry about that. Besides food, the Boyles have also provided him with a car to use for the summer.

Nathan Weglarz has an even sweeter set-up. The outfielder from Saint Joseph’s College in Indiana is staying with first-year host family Tom and Penny Imeson in a finished basement with his own entrance, cable television, a ping-pong table and a refrigerator. “He can probably survive a nuclear blast down there,” Tom Imeson joked.

While both parties agreed that the arrangement has gone smoothly, it has produced at least one interesting moment.

“I’d say probably the most exciting event was when my wife was hosting a party here with a lot of the neighborhood women and their daughters,” Imeson said, “and Nathan came upstairs in a towel to take a shower. That was a high point of the summer. It was like an episode of ‘Desperate Housewives’ – it was pretty hysterical.”

Weglarz, 21, chuckled when asked to recount the story.

“It really wasn’t that awkward,” he said with a laugh. “I guess they had, like, a neighbor party or something like that and all the wives were over. I just walked in and was like, ‘Oh, there you are.’ I was just talking with them, everyone was nice. I just had a towel, but I had my boxers on underneath.”

Moments like that have been few and far between, however, and Imeson said his family would likely host a player again next summer.

“I couldn’t ask for a better family,” Weglarz said. “They’re real nice, and they made it easier for me to get acquainted with the town and everything.” Marcus Helton Sports Writer Sports Department 540-574-6285