Host families vital to Bismarck baseball players’ success

Monday, August 12, 2019

BISMARCK, N.D. (AP) — Each summer, college baseball players from across the country come to North Dakota to play for the Bismarck Larks. Hailing from places as far as Texas and Massachusetts, they need a place to live during their time with the Northwoods League team, and that’s where the Larks host families step up to the plate.

“We as an organization look for families in the community that are willing to open up their doors, and their hearts, to players that will be here for the summer,” said Erin Green, the summer collegiate baseball team’s director of special events and team culture and a host mom herself.” The players usually arrive around mid-May and stay until August, so we ask host families to provide somewhere to live, eat and sleep in between the players’ rigorous schedule.”

Anyone looking to become a host family must fill out an application and go through a background check and a home check to ensure the players have adequate sleeping, laundry and bathroom arrangements. The Larks usually require about 20 families. The families receive game tickets and other perks, and most families volunteer year after year.

The Larks have a special process for pairing players and families.

Each season the team sends out a questionnaire to incoming players asking about everything from their favorite animal to their driving arrangements. It gives the team a chance to learn about the players before they ever set foot in Bismarck.

The Larks use the information to pair players with families that seem like a good fit.

“Going into it you have no idea what it’s going to be like. You’re scared at first; you don’t want to have a family that you don’t like,” said Wyatt Ulrich, the Larks all-star outfielder from Indus, Minnesota, who has lived with the Green family the past three summers. “Now my parents have met them and I’ve been with them, and we’ve definitely gotten very close.”

Bismarck resident Mary Soucie is in her first year of hosting Larks players and said the experience has gone well.

“It’s like having pseudokids for a couple months,” she said. “The commitment is pretty minimal — you commit to breakfast and snacks and in our case, ice cream. Our players are big ice cream eaters.”

Host families need to be prepared for all the possibilities that come with hosting a Larks player. Players sometimes come home off a road trip at 2 o’clock in the morning, and they have appetites that come with being a full-time athlete.

Host families have to keep in mind that their main goal is to help their particular player be successful and feel as much at home as possible. That includes introducing the players to their broader summer home, The Bismarck Tribune reported.

“During the all-star break I was able to take the boys out to Medora,” Soucie said. “We went through (Theodore Roosevelt National Park) a little bit. I introduced them to prairie dogs, which they loved. I was really just trying to introduce a small part of North Dakota to them.”

Being a host family also provides a chance to see the preparation and work that goes into a baseball season up close and personal. The Larks is a fulltime job for the players, and constant games and traveling make it all the more important that the players have somewhere to sleep, shower, eat and unwind.

“You don’t want to have your whole mindset on baseball, so it’s good when you can go back home and talk about other things, just kind of relax,” Ulrich said. “Having baseball every day, you need someone to talk to.”

That connection isn’t limited to those who provide food and shelter for the players, either.

“I don’t know who’s going to miss them more, me or our dogs,” Soucie said. “They just love on the dogs. Whenever they come home our dogs go nuts. They’re going to be really sad when the boys leave.”

Baseball season only lasts for the summer, but the relationships formed between players and host families can last a lifetime.

“One of the things we say is that we never say goodbye to the players — that’s too final,” Green said. “It’s only ‘see you later.’”