Their home away from home
Monday, July 11, 2005 - Volunteers who host Yuba-Sutter Gold Sox players are part of a loose-knit tribe of families devoted to local baseball.
Host family coordinator Judy Engelken has been placing each season's 22 team members with volunteer families recruited through off-season advertising.
The program allows the talented collegiate players to spend a summer honing their skills while providing Marysville with a team recruited from all over the nation, some from as far away as Hawaii.
Engelken said the program aims to provide a “home away from home.”
Players get more than a just a place to stay. They also get a temporary family and a supportive network of hard-core Gold Sox fans.
“There are a lot of college teams around. The Gold Sox go out of their way to take care of their players. It's pretty unique,” said catcher Mike Wilkes, 22, who attends Bethany University in Santa Cruz.
Wilkes and five other players - Jon Norfolk, 20, Steve Alverson, 21, Matt Vance, 18, Jake McKinley 20 and Junior Conteras, 20 - are living with Fran McReynolds.
She originally volunteered to house three players but when one more needed a home she was happy to take him in. When two more needed to move closer into town, she couldn't refuse.
Now she hosts six players who share spare bedrooms, sleep on couches and keep their five cars in her driveway.
A retired business owner who raised eight children, McReynolds, 69, said she hasn't had a problem living with six players.
“People think boys are rowdy, but these are good kids. They clean up after themselves and do their own laundry,” she said during last Thursday night's Gold Sox game.
McReynolds said her interest in baseball is intensified by having a personal connection to the players.
“It's the same way with any sport, it's more interesting when you know the people,” she said.
McReynold's involvement in the team is matched only by Walter Brown, 58, who has been a volunteer host for three years. Last year he attended all of the Gold Sox's games.
He maintains a rapport with the players who have stayed with him, traveling as far as Florida to visit some of them at their hometowns.
This summer Brown is hosting Tyler Pearson and Kody Keroher, both 20.
Brown's home also serves as a locus for team activity. The players spend their nights at different host's homes, relaxing, playing poker and watching baseball games. They frequently end up at Brown's home for swimming and barbecue. Some weekends he takes players on fishing trips along the Sacramento River.
“The affection, love and respect you get out of it makes it worth it. It's neat to spend time with aspiring ballplayers,” he said.
“It's hard when they go home. You get a big hug, a wave and then you've got a quiet home,” said Brown, who is retired and lives with two dogs.
The host families' devotion is palpable. At a Thursday night Gold Sox game, several of them sat scattered in the front rows of the stands, mesmerized by the game and shouting encouragement to “their boys”.
During a close play, Wilkes slid into home as the catcher stepped on the plate - the umpire threw back his thumb - he was out. While the Marysville crowd booed, McReynolds called out to Wilkes, “It's OK, Mike. I know you were safe.”
Every host family-member interviewed said they would act as a host again and encouraged other families to volunteer.
“Its been a very positive experience. These are wonderful young men trying to move up in the world of baseball, and it's great that our community can support them,” said host Lynda Cummings, 49, who is a property and evidence officer for the Yuba City Police Department. She and her son Alex, are hosting Billy Sinacori.
Appeal-Democrat intern Dane Muckler can be reached at 741-2400.4717. You may e-mail him at email@example.com.