It takes a village to raise a child—or so the saying goes. In the case of the Mystic Schooners, the New England Collegiate Baseball League team that spent its first season in Groton this summer, it takes a community to house a team.
Schooner owners Kevin and Susan Kelleher put the call out for families to host the team’s 28 players in February. With the baseball field not yet completed, efforts to find families in advance were thwarted.
“I couldn’t line it up and then not have the field be done,” said Kevin Kelleher.
Construction wrapped up in time for the Schooner’s start at Fitch High School in June.
“[In May] we put the plea out again for host families, because we were housing kids at the Groton Inn and Suites,” said Susan Kelleher. “It’s been a lot of work to try to get to this point. You don’t want [players] in hotels. You want them with families because that’s what this is all about.”
“The kids were so excited to get out of the hotel,” Kevin Kelleher said. “The hotel is cool when you’re here for a day or two. When you’re there for a week—with four guys to a room—it’s like, ‘This is not fun anymore.’”
Families hosting Schooner players received a season pass to games, a photo of their player, invitations to special events, and discounts on summer clinics and Schooner merchandise.
“Host families are the heart and soul of your organization when you’re like this,” Kelleher said. “They’re the ones to spread the word; they’re the ones who take care of your kids. They’re everything.”
Pitcher Alex Norris, 19, from Clearwater, Fla., lives with the Harringtons. While both Mr. and Mrs. Harrington work full-time jobs and haven’t spent much time with the athlete (given the team's odd hours), Norris has spent time with the Harrington’s 15-year-old son, Colin.
“It’s pretty cool,” said Colin. “We’ve thrown in the backyard. He’s given me hitting lessons too, in the cage.”
Colin, an only child, is often awake watching television when Norris returns from the field.
“Whenever I get back he’s usually up,” said Norris. “I see him as much as I can…Me and Colin hang out. Talk baseball.”
Norris is a sophomore at Florida Gulf Coast University studying business management.
“The Harringtons are doing a great job of making me feel like I’m at home,” said Norris. “I’d definitely come back and stay at the same house.”
Robin O’Keefe is a teacher in Groton and as such, has time during the summer to spend with her host players, Gabe Ortiz and Ricky Hodges.
“It’s great. My son plays too,” said O’Keefe, whose son, Colin, pitches for the Schooners. “If I have one child, I might as well have a couple other kids around. And I like having the kids around—we’re a baseball family.”
O’Keefe’s husband, Jack, is a former baseball coach, which lends a more familiar and inviting atmosphere to the house, said O’Keefe. It doesn’t hurt that Ortiz and Hodges attend Virginia Tech University with Colin.
“I just feel like, you know, it could be anyone’s kid living away from home,” said O’Keefe, “So I want to make it comfortable, make them happy, [and] make sure there’s food. You know, they’re young boys living away from their parents…you got to help these kids out.”
O’Keefe stays involved with the players, bringing the feeling of home to the field, by attending most Schooner games.
“Our son’s been playing baseball his whole life,” she said. “It’s kind of like, I don’t know anything else but to come to baseball games.”
Off the field, the O’Keefes have invited their players to go to the beach and join them jet-skiing.
“I think it’s really good, especially if you have younger kids around,” said O’Keefe. “I think kids can learn a lot from the baseball players [like] being disciplined and being on a team and being committed. I think it’s good for the family and then you feel like you’re part of something. You’re part of the community.”
Out of Left Field
Kate and Kevin Brown hadn’t planned to pick up a Schooner player when they attended a game two weeks prior.
“(Player) Dan Munday came when Kyle Nisson got hurt,” said Kevin Kelleher, of the 20-year-old pitcher. “He was sleeping on the coach’s couch…it’s one thing to play for a coach, but coaches sort of re-live everything and when you’re sleeping on his couch, it’s rough.”
Kelleher chatted with the Browns, whose 12-year-old son, Thomas, plays little league baseball, and discussed the hosting program.
“We were walking in and started talking to Kevin, who stands at the gate and greets everybody,” said Kate Brown. “We got to talking about stuff—he’s telling us how it all works and how they get families to host—and we started walking in and thought, ‘We can host a player.’”
Then they learned a new player had just arrived.
“Our son’s playing little league baseball," said Kevin Brown. "We want to keep him interested and have him interact with some of the players—plus, we can help out in the community. I’d do it again in a second. It’s been great!”
Munday, who studies English and Communications at Fordham University, travels to New York three days a week to take community college courses.
“I had no idea I’d have such great host parents,” he said.
The Host Will Be With You Shortly
The Mystics Schooners are accepting host family applications for next season.
“[This year’s] host families have been wonderful. We’ve been very, very lucky and everyone seems to be having a good time,” said Susan Kelleher. “We actually have a list already of new people who want to do it next year."
The Kellehers are looking to the next season with fevered enthusiasm.
“I’m looking forward to next season when we’re not spending time building a baseball field,” Susan Kelleher said, “but spending time running a baseball team.”
For more information on the Mystic Schooners visit http://www.mysticbaseball.org/.