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Baseball: Slammers players right at home with host families

Slammers pitchers ColGotz(left) Kody McFarl(right) with MelissHoniotes. | Tim Tierney/For Sun-Times Media

Slammers pitchers Colin Gotzon (left) and Kody McFarland (right), with Melissa Honiotes. | Tim Tierney/For Sun-Times Media

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Updated: August 30, 2014 6:17AM



The support Melissa Honiotes and Kevin and Kathy Brown show for the Joliet Slammers goes beyond coming to Silver Cross Field to cheer the local Frontier League team.

Honiotes and the Browns are a big part of the team’s host family program that houses many of the Slammers during the season while the young players try to achieve their dream of playing affiliated baseball.

“It’s been amazing,’’ Honiotes said. “Being able to watch these guys pursue their dream and being part of that, being able to give them a place to stay, make them feel at home.

“It’s like I have extended family. They’re great kids. Their families are great and very appreciative of giving them a place to stay.’’

Honiotes got involved with the program when the Slammers joined the league in 2011. She worked with the wife of Ron Biga, the former director of baseball operations for the Slammers who asked Honiotes for her help.

“It’s probably the best decision I’ve ever made,’’ she said. “I’m glad Ron asked me.’’

Last year, Honiotes, a Joliet resident, was host to pitchers Jake Sanchez and Chase Doremus. Sanchez was signed by the White Sox organization during the 2013 season and traded this year to Oakland.

Honiotes was invited to Sanchez’s wedding, and to that of her first tenant, Kevin Crimmel, a pitcher who helped Joliet win the 2011 league title.

This year, Honiotes is host to rookie pitchers Kody McFarland and Colin Gotzon, the latter a recent arrival.

“It’s different moving in with someone you’ve never known before,’’ said McFarland, who played at Bellevue University in Nebraska. “It’s a cool experience, especially when they come to the games and support you as much as they do.’’

“Melissa made me feel at home pretty much right away,’’ said Gotzon, who played for Lehigh University.

Slammers general manager Chris Franklin said the team has 10 to 12 host families. General information about the homes, pets, etc. are things considered when placing players.

“We’re always looking for more families,’’ Franklin said.

The Browns were season ticket-holders with the JackHammers when they got involved as a host family seven years ago.

“We did some research,’’ Kathy Brown said. “Kevin’s cousin is a host family for the (Gary SouthShore) RailCats. We asked them. We wanted to learn a little more about it, figured we’d ask someone who’s already a host family.’’

Basically, she said, the players need a place to sleep, shower and do laundry. But the Browns, of Plainfield, are much more than temporary landlords.

“Day to day, our role is to provide a safe place for them,’’ Kevin Brown said. “It’s nice talking to them. We make sure there’s plenty of food for them, plenty to drink; plenty of water, Gatorade.’’

This year, Grant DeBruin, Marquis Riley and Kevin McNorton have stayed with the Browns, who had to deal with floodwater in their basement a few weeks ago.

Kevin Brown said the players love chicken, so that’s part of what he cooks on the grill. The menu also can include bratwurst and Kathy’s “stuffed burgers’’ and special “red potatoes.’’

“Kathy and Kevin, they’re great people,’’ DeBruin said. “They’ll do anything for you. They’ve always got home-cooked meals ready for us. They take real good care of us.’’

One of the Browns’ first summer tenants was former JackHammer Todd Privett, who invited the couple to his wedding.

“They keep in touch with Kathy,’’ Kevin said of the former players.

From their third-row seats near the Slammers’ dugout to their home in Plainfield, the Browns have liked what they’ve seen from the players.

“They’re gentlemen, all of them,’’ Kevin Brown said. “We treat them like our sons.’’



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