***The following article was written by Kevan Smith, a Chicago White Sox catching prospect, as a guest of FutureSox. This is part of our Prospect Perspectives series: articles written by the players themselves. Smith writes here about an aspect of minor league life many people may not think about – living arrangements, and specifically, host families. Considering this is their home during the season, it can make a big difference in a player’s life. We hope this gives our readers a unique view into a player’s perspective on life in the minors.
By Kevan Smith
Life in the minor leagues is something not too many people get to experience. It is a life of twists and turns, ups and down, and never knowing where you may end up at the end of each season. Many players lose patience and feel they need to be successful every plate or mound appearance in order to make it to the next level as soon as possible. The players who can combat this feeling and never get too high or too low, are the ones that always seem to come out on top.
Dealing with these minor league emotions can be challenging, and are where I feel family becomes very important. Most players live in 2 bedroom apartments with a few guys, sleeping on air mattresses and making the annual trip to Wal-Mart for the cheapest necessities to live. Even though I have experienced this form of living, I have also been fortunate to have host families during two of my minor league seasons (Birmingham and Great Falls).
When I arrived in Great Falls, MT [Voyagers Rk] from Bristol, TN [Sox Rk], I was not very happy. I figured a promotion to Low A Kannapolis was in my future, but instead to another Rookie team in the middle of Montana I went. Instead of feeling disappointment and frustration, I turned to my passion for the outdoors and was excited to see the country many people from my home state of Pennsylvania do not see. Bristol did not have host families. We had to scramble to find cheap apartments and settle in as soon as possible. It was a lot different when I arrived in Great Falls. I was greeted after my game by a host family which was very foreign to me.
Chris, Kathleen, and Kelson Hickman stood there anxious to meet me. I was excited and nervous because I wasn’t sure what to expect. After getting to know them on the ride home, I realized we had a lot of similarities and shared common interests. Arriving at their house was another surprise. I had the whole basement which included my own bathroom/bedroom, couches, TV, and mounted deer heads (which I considered the best part). It had a very home-like feel to me and was a drastic change from an empty white wall apartment, lying on an air mattress, combating the struggles of the minor leagues.
I started off my Great Falls campaign very poorly. If I recall right, I had around 2 hits in my first 40 plate appearances. Players on the team started doubting my ability because they figured they were getting a .400 average slugger from Bristol, and I didn’t blame them. It is still an ongoing joke with guys from that team on how horrific I started. Aside from family and friends’ support from home 2000 miles away, the Hickmans were a critical part of me busting out of my slump. Kathleen’s positive attitude, Chris’s smart-a** comments to lighten the mood and Kelson’s open-minded attitude made it feel like one big family. They brought comfort and assurance that there are much worse things in life than a 2 for 40 start.
Knowing I enjoyed the outdoors, they took me fishing, to great restaurants, and showed me the wonderful state of Montana. Things became comfortable and started to feel like I was home. Not coincidentally, things began to turn around and I started hitting again. My parents arrived in mid August and things just fell into place. My team, the Voyagers, ended up winning the Pioneer League Championship which was a great end to the 2011 season. We were dominant and many of the guys still say that was some of their best memories in minor league baseball.
The next two years [Kannapolis, Winston-Salem] were a typical minor league life including empty apartment buildings and just trying to get by. The best part about living this way is being with your buddies which creates lifelong friendships. Unfortunately, we never knew our fates; whether we moved up, down, were traded or released. This would create problems with paying rent, lease agreements, even converting names on utility bills. Most of my roommates throughout the minor leagues are not with the White Sox organization anymore.
In 2014, I was able to stay with Jan and Chuck Guerrier in Birmingham, Alabama [Barons AA]. It was another great experience and very rewarding. I got connected with them though my agent, Joe Bick. Chuck and Jan’s son, Matt Guerrier, is a very accomplished big league pitcher for 9 plus years and is represented by Joe. The Guerriers have been taking players in for many seasons that are represented by Joe. Just like the Hickmans, they were very kind and provided the “family away from home” feel. They understood the baseball lifestyle so there was never confusion like why we sleep till noon, or why we get in so late after games. They went through it with their son so it was just another day to them. I am greatly appreciative of them opening up their beautiful home and giving me their personal support. It was a big piece of the puzzle that allowed me to have such a successful season this past year.
I speak for myself and not all players, but I would highly encourage any family in a team’s area to host a player or players. No matter the sport, every player is struggling in some way and it helps take away some of those hardships. I understand that every host family and player will not get along but there will be a few that will become like family. In my case, the Hickmans and Guerriers will always be friends and I will never regret having the opportunity to stay with them.
Every year I return to Montana to see the Hickmans and enjoy spending time with them hunting and fishing. This year, I stuck around for Thanksgiving and enjoyed a great meal with their friends and family. In March, they usually make a trip to see spring training. It may be a trip to get away from the frigid weather but also to show their support and spend time with me and other players they have hosted. It is a blessing to have met them and I expect us to be friends the rest of our lives.
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