Sharks with bats need good homes

Martha's Vineyard Sharks mascot Sharky jogged past the dugout prior to the first pitch in the 2012 home opener.
Photo by Ralph Stewart

Martha's Vineyard Sharks mascot Sharky jogged past the dugout prior to the first pitch in the 2012 home opener.

Players for the MV Sharks, the Island’s amateur collegiate baseball team, are bringing their skills to Martha’s Vineyard on June 4 for the season. But first there’s a need to find them places to lay their heads after the hitting, pitching, and catching is done for the day.

Mike Miller is the head coach for 31 collegiate baseball players anxious to test their skills against elite collegiate competition in the seven-team Futures Collegiate Baseball League. Doris Clark is in charge of finding Island housing for the group of high-quality young men pursuing their dreams.

“This is our third season of hosting these kids and every one of the 40 or so host families who have participated has told us that they’ve had a wonderful experience,” Ms. Clark said in a recent interview. As coordinator of player housing, Ms. Clark is excited to see the traction building in the community in support of the Island’s own baseball team, comprised of college freshmen, sophomores, and juniors.

“Lots of families have been with us since the beginning in the 2011 season,” Ms. Clark said. “For others, their plans changed this year and they are unable to provide housing so we are looking to add additional families.”

Jessica Burnham has been on board from the beginning, and she’s signed up for a third season. She loves having her “kids” around.

“I did it the first year because I love baseball and I had seen what a neat experience it was for host families in the Cape Cod League,” she said. “People opened their hearts and homes to these players. It’s a family experience for me. We eat dinner together. It’s like a friend sent their kid to me for the summer. They aren’t guests; they really become family.”

Dianne Powers, Dukes County Registrar of Deeds, watched Ms. Burnham’s experience the first year and signed up in 2012. She is a firm believer in the benefits of hosting both for the young players and for their hosts. “I watched how much Jessica enjoyed hosting, how the kids responded and I went to a few games,” she said. “It’s fun to watch ‘your’ kids playing and competing. They’ll come home after their game and if I’m watching the Red Sox, they sit on the couch and we all watch the game.”

The benefits of hosting are clear to Ms. Burnham. “You get to have relationships with these kids. And they are good kids. They’re focused and know their responsibilities. And it’s nice to have these kids around for hosts with younger kids of their own. The younger kids bond, give the players nicknames and they love to go to the games and root for their players,” she said.

Ms. Clark nodded and chuckled as she told a story of a family with a left-handed kid of their own. “We were able to match a left-handed player,” she said. “The player really became a mentor for the youngster. Their child really loved watching and learning from him.”

Host families receive a $500 stipend, a family season pass to 27 home games, Sharks clothing, and on-field recognition during “Host Family Day” at a Sharks’ home game. The host family application process includes a brief survey, an application form, and a CORI check of prospective hosts.

Families may host multiple players, and interim hosting opportunities are generally available as player rosters change during the season, she said.

Then, there’s the maternal aspect. Ms. Burnham and Ms. Powers have hosted multiple players because, well, they like having them around. “I had three and sometimes four kids last year,” Ms. Powers laughed. “One of the kids was supposed to move to another home last year when another player came in, but he was such a neat kid, I kept him and the new player.”0

The growth of amateur and minor league baseball across America has created a vibrant community of host families. Host families in the venerable Cape Cod League tell stories of exchanging holiday and birthday greetings with former fresh-faced kids who are now Major League household names.

And if you’ve followed the long journey to the major leagues for Daniel Nava, the current Red Sox outfielder whose home run won the 2013 season opener, you understand these players’ dreams can become reality.

So, how do families get it on this experience?

Ms. Clark said all of the information potential hosts need, including a list of frequently asked questions, may be found on the host family page at the Sharks’ website, mvsharks.com. Ms. Clark may also be reached at 508-693-5833, 774 563-8752 or Doris.Clark@MVSharks.com.

“Essentially, the season runs from June 4 through mid-August,” she said. “Host families provide their players with a room and a regular bed, access to laundry and a kitchen. Families are not required to provide food, transportation or Internet access, though they are welcome amenities.

“This year, we are also looking to provide $20 an hour jobs for the players, typically in the morning. At a minimum, it’s a great way to get the lawn mowed and the shrubs trimmed.”

Sharks games begin at 6:45 rather than 5 pm as in the past. Field lights will be installed in late May at Vineyard Baseball Park on the campus of Martha’s Vineyard Regional High School.

The Sharks home opener is scheduled for Tuesday, June 11, at 6 pm against the Brockton Rox. For more information on the Sharks, visit www.mvsharks.com