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Family Matters: Host Families Vital Part of NECBL Team’s Game Plan

Host Families Vital Part of NECBL Team’s Game Plan

  • In this double exposure photograph taken Friday, April 29, 2016, Wesley and Jonica Leuthauser, and their three children Jorgen, 14, left, Keenan, 14, right, and Kenzie, 11, middle, will be hosting beginning June 1, one of the players for the Upper Valley Nighthawks, a team of college-aged players in a 13-team New England summer baseball league. (Valley News - James M. Patterson) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.

  • In this double exposure photograph taken Friday, April 29, 2016, Wesley and Jonica Leuthauser, and their three children from left, Kenzie, 11, Jorgen, 14, and Keenan, 14, will be hosting beginning June 1, one of the players for the Upper Valley Nighthawks, a team of college-aged players in a 13-team New England summer baseball league. (Valley News - James M. Patterson) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.



Valley News Staff Writer
Saturday, April 30, 2016

Lebanon — There’s still plenty of time between now and when players arrive report for duty this summer, the first of the Upper Valley’s inaugural New England Collegiate Baseball League franchise. But to the Leuthausers, who were the first to volunteer as a host family for players and coaches, their unnamed guest already is referred to as, “our baseball player.”

In some ways, he’s already part of the family.

“On a bigger scale, the fact that we get to have an influence in this young man’s life as he goes further along in his career is great,” said Wesley Leuthauser, sitting with his family of five in their Lebanon home on Friday.

“Being able to talk to that guy and have a positive influence on him — we’re just doing our part.”

Wesley, a baseball fan who used to volunteer his time with the Hanover High varsity baseball team when Mike Jackson was coach, signed his family up in early fall after hearing Nighthawks general manager Noah Crane on 94.5 ESPN Radio talking about his new NECBL franchise, which will play games in Hartford’s Maxfield Sports Complex in June and July. All it took was a family meeting over dinner to decide. Crane, who said he and the Leuthauser family already were acquainted before Wesley inquired, has been looking for host families ever since.

“We’re about 12 (families) short right now,” Crane said.

The NECBL’s 13 franchises house full rosters and coaching staffs within the communities they play during the two-month season each summer. For the Nighthawks and the Upper Valley, the concept is new, though Crane has a contingency plan.

“I have space in my basement and my parents’ basement,” said Crane, a Woodstock native who now lives in Lebanon. “I say that jokingly, but we could actually pull that off. Other than that backup plan, I have some friends that I could twist their arms.

“If we’re critically short, we can house players temporarily,” he added. “They wouldn’t be homeless, but we’d still ask someone to take them.”

Crane hopes, however, that it doesn’t come to that.

For opening their doors to an NECBL player or coach, host families receive perks like free tickets to any NECBL game this season or discounts on merchandise. The Nighthawks are offering free season tickets for every member of the host family, a family meet-and-greet with the team before the season and free entry to the team’s baseball camps for young athletes. In exchange, families open their homes to a college baseball player by providing food and shelter.

“One question I always get asked is if we provide transportation,” Crane said. “The answer is no. Their players will have a vehicle or they can get a ride from one of their teammates. … Food is usually just breakfast. Their schedule is pretty tight, from waking up late to going to the gym to get a workout in to grabbing some food in town to heading to the stadium for a game that night. We provide dinner after every game.

“All we ask, really, is to provide a seperate space, a bedroom. Just some place they can call home.”

It was a list that made the Leuthausers feel very comfortable. They’re no strangers to hosting guests, something they’ve done in the past for soccer coaches and others. Allowing a Nighthawk into their home seemed to just make sense.

“It’s a way to utilize the guest room, that’s for sure,” Jonica, Wesley’s wife, said.

But for the community, the Leuthausers hope the Nighthawks become something more — something that helps rally the Upper Valley around one common denominator. Hosting a college athlete, “our baseball player,” has already made them emotionally invested in a team that hasn’t played a game or thrown a pitch yet. It’s a feeling that they hope is shared among their neighbors once the season starts.

“It’s going to be really fun for families,” Wesley said. “It’s inexpensive and … like, I’m a Red Sox fan. I’m invested in every pitch. I feel connected to that team. The (Manchester-based) Fisher Cats, not so much.”

“I hope it becomes our team,” Jonica added. “It’s all so new, but it already feels like ours.”

Crane isn’t exactly worried about ending up short on families. In Laconia, N.H., where he was the general manager of the NECBL Muskrats franchise for a number of years, finding host families always was a difficult task — a community of largely rented-out summer houses on the lake made it difficult for athletes and coaches to find a place to stay. The Upper Valley, in Crane’s mind, doesn’t have that issue.

“I’m very confident that we’ll reach our goal of 33 host families,” he said.

Wesley, Jonica and their children Jorgan, 14, Keenan, 14, and Kenzie, 11, all plan on attending the Nighthawks’ opener on June 11 and as many games as they can afterward. It’s the new show in town, they said, and seeing their athlete on the field will make them feel like part of the team.

Families interested in hosting this summer can email Nighthawks GM Noah Crane at noah@uppervalleynighthawks.com. Nighthawks players and coaches arrive in early June, beginning their season on the road in Montpelier against the Vermont Mountaineers on June 9 before hosting their first game at 6:30 p.m on June 11.

Josh Weinreb can be reached at jweinreb@vnews.com or at 603-727-3306.