Host Families Bring The Game Home

Host families play a big part in minor league players' lives. They serve as surrogate parents, cheerleaders, support systems and as a comfortable place to land. For one New Jersey family, it's an experience they look forward to every season.

Jim and Judie Grandjean weren't really big baseball fans when the Lakewood BlueClaws came to town. Now, they're big baseball fans, who have a stake in every game. During the BlueClaws inaugural season, the team sent out word that they were looking for host families to help house players and the couple decided to offer up a couple of spare rooms that they have in their Jackson, New Jersey home.

"It has been wonderful, outrageous and so much fun," said Judie Grandjean, when speaking of the experience. The experience, which the couple have done in three of the last four and will do again this season. Since the couple doesn't have any kids - other than their dog - the players have played the role of stand-in kids. "You almost do feel like their parents. You worry about them, do their laundry and even clean their rooms for them when they're on the road," said Judie Grandjean. She also tries to learn what foods the players like so she can be sure to keep them on hand. "I try to make foods that they'll like and we try to have them sit down to dinner with us whenever possible."

Just like a parent, the Grandjeans find themselves in the role of being a support system through tough times. "When they have a bad game or go through a rough stretch, we try to cheer them up," admitted Jim. "It's a neat feeling to get to know them and then watch them on the field." Providing a soft place for players to be may be the biggest role the couple plays since many of the players are away from home for one of the first times in their life. "They tend to miss their families a lot. Many of them have never been to New Jersey, so we try to show them the fun things they can do," said Judie. Trips to New York City, Atlantic City and Great Adventure are popular distractions when players have the time.

Among the players that the couple hosted, Jacob Barrack stands out. "He is a real good kid," said Judie, who talked about having a birthday party for Jake and inviting some other players and friends of the couple. "We didn't know how the players would respond to the kids, but they were great. They were in the front yard playing wiffle ball with them and showing them how to swing and pitch. The kids absolutely loved it and I think the players almost loved it just as much."

The fringe benefits for the couple have been fun. "You get to meet players like Gavin Floyd and Ryan Howard, who aren't staying with you, but the players hang out a lot and you get to know them," said Jim. "The players have all been wonderful and it's a thrill to see these players playing in the majors and knowing that you've gotten to know them for at least a summer." Judie Grandjean agreed. "We always tell them to be sure and remember us when they hit the big-time," laughed Judie.

Lakewood General Manager Geoff Brown said the experience is also great for the players. "Over the five seasons, players have come in not hardly knowing anything about the area or the people they'll be staying with. By the end of their stay, we're not sure who's more emotional about leaving, the players or their families. It's truly an enjoyable and unique experience," believes Brown.

The Grandjeans have done their part to spread the word to other families about hosting players and all the wonderful moments that they've had. The BlueClaws always need more host families, especially homes where people speak Spanish, to meet the needs of Latin American players in the organization. "It really has been great," said Jim Grandjean. "The players are no trouble at all."

If you live in the Lakewood area and are interested in becoming a host family for the 2006 season, contact the BlueClaws' Robin Hill at 732-901-7000, extension 100. "I am so glad that we got involved," said Judie Grandjean. "We've met a lot of wonderful people and gotten to know other host families, in addition to spending time with these players, who have been great to us."

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