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Staff photo by STEPHEN DEMEDISBlue Crabs pitcher Jason Blanton, left, grabs a bite to eat at a team function with a member of his host family, Taylor Wilson. Blanton and his teammates agree that spending time with and getting to know the kids in the families helps to forge relationships.
Bird, a financial adviser in Waldorf, was attending a reception designed to attract local businesses to support the team. Uninterested in being a sponsor, Bird was simply there to meet Hobson. But when the Blue Crabs manager accepted the offer, Bird was caught slightly off guard.
‘‘I kind of jokingly said that I live two miles from the stadium in a big house with hardly any kids left. I told him that he should move in with me,” Bird said. ‘‘And he said, ‘All right.’ So I thought, ‘Oh gosh. I have to go call my wife.’”
What Bird didn’t realize at the time is how difficult it is for players and coaches in the minor leagues to find housing near the team for five months at a time while also paying for residences in other areas.
No matter how impressive a player’s baseball career has been, he is forced to rely on the generosity of a network of local host families, who provide room and board throughout the season in return for little to no compensation.
‘‘I don’t know if we could have a team without them,” said second baseman Chad Ehrnsberger, who lives with the Schaefer family in Huntingtown. ‘‘With the salaries that most guys make, I don’t think they could afford housing, especially in this area. So it’s huge. The guys really appreciate it, and I think that, for the most part, everyone enjoys it.”
While over the years, players have grown accustomed to living in someone else’s house for the season, the idea was completely foreign to Southern Maryland’s host families. Shawn Schaefer first learned of the program when she bought her season tickets.
A lifelong baseball fan, Schaefer was intrigued by the prospect of inviting a professional athlete into her house, but she still had her reservations.
‘‘I was hesitant at first, because I have two teenage daughters, and not knowing who he is or where he is from or any of that was one of the things that crossed our minds,” Schaefer said. ‘‘There are times when I work at night and my husband is out of town, so it is kind of a leap of faith, you might say.”
To become more comfortable with the situation, the Schaefers got to know Ehrnsberger before he arrived in Southern Maryland. They sent him e-mails and kept him up to speed on what the family was doing.
For the first home series, they invited Ehrnsberger and his parents, who were in town for the game, to dinner.
Players also try to make the transitional period as smooth as possible by being involved with the family as much as their schedule permits.
‘‘There is that initial awkwardness, because you just don’t want to do anything to disrespect somebody’s house,” said outfielder Eric Crozier, who lives with a family in St. Charles. ‘‘You try to get a feel for one another by interacting as much as you can with the kids, the parents, and any animals they have. You do things out of the kindness of your heart to show your appreciation for what they are doing for you.”
Players say that over time a friendship is forged between host families and their guests. Living with Hobson and Blue Crabs hitting coach Andy Etchebarren has left a lasting impression on the Bird’s 17-year-old daughter, Kristyn, who originally was not too pleased about having to share her house with strangers.
‘‘They are absolutely hilarious,” she said. ‘‘I really don’t think I have met any two people who are funnier. I look forward to Sunday dinner all week, because they are going to be there, and I have never looked forward to Sunday dinner. We all sit around and joke, and they tell stories about baseball and their kids. It’s just great.”
The housing situation has also given the Birds memorable experiences.
Peggy Bird, a breast cancer survivor, was invited to throw out the first pitch at the stadium on Breast Cancer Awareness Night on May 31, but she wasn’t too confident in her throwing motion.
This changed when she received throwing lessons in her front yard from Blue Crabs pitching coach Andre Rabouin, while Etchebarren, a former All-Star catcher for the Baltimore Orioles, caught.
According to Blue Crabs players, this is just part of experience families have throughout the season.
‘‘You really get to know the people you live with, and a lot of us try to keep in touch with families after we move away,” said relief pitcher Jason Blanton, who is living with a family in Hughesville. ‘‘There’s a family I lived with in Nashua for two years when I played there, and we still keep in touch. It’s pretty cool. I have lived with some great, great people in the past.”
While a majority of the team has found housing in the area, some of the more recent additions to the team are still searching.
For more information about housing players, call the Blue Crabs front office at 301-638-9788.