BERLIN — Local families across the Lower Shore, including two in Worcester, are hosting young professional Shorebirds players in their homes during the summer season, renewing a time-honored tradition that has been around nearly as long as baseball.
Each spring, the Delmarva Shorebirds, which is the Baltimore Orioles’ Single A affiliate based in Salisbury, breaks camp with a roster of 25 or so players chasing the dream of making it to the big leagues. For some, the Shorebirds are a stepping stone for greater careers in baseball, while others are hoping to get some playing time and capture the attention of the big league club.
The one thing most have in common is being away from home for an extended period of time, many for the first time in their young lives. Aside from a couple of “bonus babies” and can’t miss players, most need modest, affordable accommodations for the summer season in Salisbury. To that end, the Delmarva Shorebirds Fan Club coordinates each spring with the team to find host families for its young, and often broke, players. Two Worcester County families are hosting Shorebirds players this summer, including Stephen Decatur teacher and varsity wrestling coach Todd Martinek and Decatur High School administrator and local baseball matriarch Kim Hudson.
The Martineks this summer are hosting young outfielder Anthony Vega at their home in Berlin, while the Hudsons are currently hosting infielder Jeff Kemp in Bishopville. Shorebirds Fan Club President Gil Dunn and his wife coordinate the program, just as they have done for 16 of the last 17 years.
“The front office asked us to take over the task of finding host families for the Shorebirds’ players several years ago,” he said. “My wife and I kind of took it over. We’ve been going down to spring training every year and we take a list of potential host families and give the Orioles the list. Then we try to hook up the young players with host families in the local area.”
Dunn said there are approximately 10 to 12 families currently hosting Shorebirds players for the season. Dunn said the number of players needing host families depends on a variety of other factors. For example, young players drafted by the Orioles in the first, second or even third rounds are often signed to bigger contracts or signing bonuses and can afford to rent apartments or find their own accommodations. He said only two Shorebirds fit that bill this season. Dunn also said he has helped find host families for trainers, clubhouse workers and even coaches who are in the Salisbury area for the summer season.
“So you can see, it’s really a moving target,” he said. “In any given season, we might have 23 to 25 young men looking for a place to live from April to August or so.”
Dunn said the growing number of young Latin players in the Orioles organization presents some challenges in terms of the language barrier, but he has found a steady host for Hispanic players in the Salisbury area.
“We have this single mom in Salisbury who takes all of them in and she didn’t even speak Spanish although I’m sure she knows some now,” Dunn said.
The Shorebirds play 140 games, half of which are typically on the road, so the young players come and go, often for a full week at a time.
“We don’t have to feed them, although we typically do, or at least offer them to join us for dinner if they have a day game on a Sunday, for example,” Dunn said. “There have been a couple that we’ve had for two years, and they’ve really become part of our family. We’ve been to two weddings of former players at different areas of the country because we’ve become their surrogate families. Some of our host families have been to four or five weddings.”
Dunn said the financial obligations are unique for each player, although most don’t have much money.
“The Orioles like us to charge them rent because they want them to learn responsibility, but a lot of these guys don’t have much money and we don’t always charge them,” he said. “Some of these young players make $1,000 to $1,200 a month. If they get called up, they can make more money, obviously, but most tread that thin line between making it or not. For some, Single A is the ceiling for them.”
While many of the host families are connected to players through the fan club, the Hudsons found their current resident player through their connections with the local and regional baseball community. Chris Hudson coaches multiple youth and travel teams and Kim Hudson heads to most of the games and gets to know the young players. Their son, Brian, was a standout at Decatur and made a connection with Shorebirds infielder Jeff Kemp while playing on various teams in the Baltimore area.
“Jeff and Brian used to play ball together in Baltimore for the Maryland Monarchs and the Maryland Orioles,” said Kim Hudson. “When Jeff got drafted and found out he was heading to the Shorebirds, he put out a Facebook post asking if anyone had a place to rent in the Salisbury area. We said Jeff, you know you are always welcome in our home. We’re a baseball family and his family would do the same for us.”
Kemp and former fellow teammate Federico Castrignini shared accommodations with a different host family last year with one sleeping on a pull-out sofa and the other sleeping on a blow-up mattress. Hudson said when Kemp asked her if Castrignini could come also, she said they would be glad to have both of them.
“Our kids are grown and we have two empty bedrooms,” she said. “After where they were living last year, this must be quite the upgrade, but we don’t charge them a penny. If the roles were reversed, their families would do the same.”
Castrignini has since been sent to the Aberdeen Ironbirds, another Orioles affiliate and no longer lives with the Hudsons. However, the family connection shared by all parties is still alive and well.
“Fedi isn’t with us anymore, but he’s only in Aberdeen and comes down to stay with us on off days and at other times when he has a break,” she said. “It really is like an extended family. It’s wonderful having them around and we’re doing something nice for them, but it’s a reciprocal relationship because we get something out of it also.”