Minor league foster families, once a mainstay of pro baseball, axed by ABC news

PHOENIX (AP) — Long before David Peralta became a veteran outfielder for the Los Angeles Dodgers, he was an 18-year-old Venezuelan who didn’t speak much English and played minor league baseball in Johnson City. , Tennessee.

To call it culture shock would be an understatement.

“Even little things, like getting groceries, were a challenge,” Peralta said. “That’s why it was so great to have TeriAnn’s help.”

TeriAnn Reynolds and her family were part of a little-known but vital part of minor league baseball that dates back decades: foster families. Lower-tier minor league players in places like Johnson City or Lake Elsinore, Calif., often stayed with local families instead of apartments or hotels — a way to save money for players in low pay as they transition into their lives. as professional athletes.

Homestay programs have been suspended during the coronavirus pandemic for health reasons. Now they may never come back. When minor league players unionized and reached a historic initial collective bargaining agreement with Major League Baseball in March, the league agreed to double wages and provide guaranteed housing for most players.

The use of foster families has been officially prohibited.

“While the players sincerely appreciate the many fans who have welcomed players into their homes, they are excited this spring for the CBA Minor League Premier, including the salary and housing policy improvements that have made practice unnecessary,” said the MLBPA said in a statement.

It is true that the changes, especially in terms of salary, are widely seen as positive by the players. Many recognize that individual living arrangements are also a step in the right direction, especially for players with spouses and children. The new layouts are generally considered more professional.

While a homestay was better than an air mattress in a crowded apartment, players’ preference is definitely to be in a furnished unit with adequate living space.

Not that players aren’t nostalgic for the end of foster care programs.

“The good was much better than anything bad,” Peralta said. “Sometimes you kind of felt like you had to go out, but I thought that was the least I could do considering they let me into their house. Frankly, it was a great experience. »

Reynolds hosted players for more than a decade, including a handful of would-be big leaguers like Peralta and Donovan Solano. She said it was a wonderful experience – apart from a few “cantankerous kids” – and is sad that more families won’t be able to experience it.

Reynolds’ ability to speak Spanish was a huge advantage in a place like Johnson City, which for years was the rookie league franchise for the St. Louis Cardinals. It was among the lower tiers of the minor leagues, filled with 17- and 18-year-olds, some of whom had never been to the United States.

“What I loved the most was being able to call a player’s family in the Dominican Republic, Colombia or Venezuela and let his parents know his son was in a good place,” Reynolds said. “Sometimes families could make the trip to the United States, and it was always so nice to meet them.”

The role of host families varied from place to place, but for the most part it was quite basic. Players usually have a room, a bed, and access to a few good meals each day. Reynolds said she usually had one or two players at a time, but there was one summer when six players stayed at her house because it was a better option than one of the local hotels.

“It was like a giant party the whole time,” Reynolds said with a laugh. “It wasn’t ideal, but it was so much fun.”

Lora and Matt Greco hosted players at Lake Elsinore — a Class A affiliate of the San Diego Padres — for three seasons from 2017-19. Their tenants included future big league pitchers Joey Lucchesi and David Bednar.

The Grecos are from Pennsylvania and Bednar was born in Pittsburgh, so the connection was instantaneous. One weekend, Lora knew Bednar had the day off so she made a series of Pittsburgh-area favorites.

“He did a video chat with his family at home, showing them everything,” Lora said with a laugh. “I was just happy to make him feel at home.”

The Grecos said Lucchesi used to stop at a gas station on his way home from games, grab a movie from a Redbox in the parking lot, then drive home for family movie night .

“If there are no host families, you lose a bit of that personal connection,” Lora said. “We are very disappointed.”

Arizona Diamondbacks reliever Andrew Chafin said he has fond memories of the summer he stayed with a family in Visalia, Calif., in 2012 while in Class A. This family enjoyed hunting and fishing – which was just in Chafin’s recreational wheelhouse – and he said the friendship continues to this day.

“I can’t speak for everyone, but for me, I wouldn’t have changed anything,” Chafin said.

This enduring connection was a common refrain for players and families. Peralta said he invited the Reynolds family to his wedding nearly a decade after he had stayed at their home.

Linda Pereira worked for the San Jose Giants – a Class A affiliate of the San Francisco Giants – for 52 years until 2021. One of her main roles was overseeing the franchise’s foster care program . She’s taken in a handful of players in emergency situations over the decades, but mostly made sure the players were matched with good families.

“When I gave players the choice between a hotel or a host family, nine out of 10 wanted to stay with a family,” Pereira said. “When you open your home, you open your heart. I’m so sad that it doesn’t continue.

Tiffany Fuentes and her family hosted San Jose players from 2012 to 2019, including six future big leaguers — receivers Joey Bart and Trevor Brown, outfielder Adam Duvall and pitchers Sam Coonrod, Trevor Brown and Tristan Beck.

Beck made his league debut earlier this year and the Fuentes family had a presence in San Francisco.

“Just watching him warm up, the tears start to flow,” Fuentes said. “It’s just very moving to know how hard they’ve worked to get to this point.”

Fuentes said his family keeps in touch with all the players they’ve hosted, going to weddings, All-Star Games and even the World Series. Duvall did it for the Braves in 2021 and invited the family to a game.

“We have a sign in our house that says ‘Come in as strangers, leave as friends,’ but really it should say family,” Fuentes said.

The foster family arrangement has lasted so long in the minors that it’s a bond between current and former players. Diamondbacks manager Torey Lovullo recalled a summer in 1987 spent in Toledo, Ohio, playing Class A ball after being drafted from UCLA.

He said the host family he was staying with was great, but there was a problem: the ceiling fan in his bedroom creaked so loudly that he was always afraid of waking his hosts when he came home from school. a night game.

So he would go down to the basement – ​​where it was cooler anyway – and fall asleep on the couch.

“Looking back on those days,” Lovullo said. “That was the minor league experience.”


AP Baseball Writer Ronald Blum contributed to this story.


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