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OGDEN-- They are host families, a collection of Ogden baseball fans who not only have the desire to help a young man feel more comfortable and wanted in a strange land, but also the means.
For $100 a month, people such as the Hanchetts and Thompsons provide players transportation, a bit of food and a comfortable bed.
And there is a waiting list of families waiting to house a player.
When you are making only $1,100 a month, like Jason Mooneyham, it is difficult to beat the price. In exchange, the families become closer to the team. Bonds are formed, and sometimes, lifetime friends are made.
"I worry about them getting the right food," said Kathy Hanchett, Mooneyham's host "mother."
"When they're up to bat or pitching, we feel nervous for them. We want them to succeed because they want to succeed."
And it is kind of cool to have professional ballplayers hanging out at their home. They are the family with the slide.
Keith and Kathy Hanchett own an upscale, familiar-looking house. There's nothing too abstract about it, until one gets to the basement stairs, which features, if one chooses to use it, a slide.
"It's great, we get a slide," said Mooneyham's 22-year-old roommate, Adam Godwin in a pronounced Southern drawl. Godwin, an 11th-round Dodger pick, hails from Enterprise, Ala.
"I'm still waiting for Mooney to try it. I did once and it nearly broke my neck."
Hanchett, who owns a company that transports hazardous materials, said the slide may have been the deal maker for buying the house, especially since he has two sons, Jason and Connor, now 17 and 13.
The slide is just a conversation piece for the ballplayers who gather regularly at the Hanchett household, which they have now for eight seasons.
At first, there were doubts about opening their door to a stranger. The first player to occupy the Hanchett home was Jeff House, now a married businessman in Atlanta.
"Absolutely," Kathy Hanchett said about her reservations. "We finally decided on a Friday and had Jeff on Sunday. I didn't know if this was something I wanted."
Hanchett changed her mind over dinner.
"By the time we drove home, we were family," she said. "When he left, the kids were devastated. He was like an older brother."
That's the way it works.
"Without exception, host families say, 'We loved our kids this year,'" Al Thompson said.
Thompson and his wife, LeAnn, have served as a host family for 10 seasons. This year, they have become the program's directors.
This was also the first season that host homes faced an inspection, making sure the bedrooms were up to snuff, that the players had good laundry facilities. Most families, like the Hanchetts, also provide food.
"We also want to stay away from certain situations,"
said Thompson, who avoids placing players with families who have older female children.
Not every player stays with his host. Sometimes, it doesn't work out. This year, three players are staying at a hotel. They are rare, though.
"We have had players from all over the world," said LeAnn, who needed just one game to fall in love with the Raptors. "My first night, I sat next to a host family. Afterward, I said, 'Gosh, I want to do that.'
"We've got four in the bigs right now."
Becoming a host family is an invitation to diversity. Al
Thompson remembers housing a player from the Dominican Republic who did not speak English. Thompson didn't speak Spanish.
"The first day, he came off the plane and into our home," he said. "I tried to teach him specific things in English, 'I am ready to go home.' The first time he called, he reversed it and said, 'Home already.' I thought, great I don't have to pick him up."
Needless to say, both sides learned a little bit more about each other's language and culture.
"When he left, he said, 'I love you Al.' "
Mooneyham wasn't scheduled to stay with the Hanchetts. But he stayed there while his scheduled host family was out of town.
Afterward, Mooneyham didn't want to leave.
"I liked it so much, I asked to stay," he said. "First off, going into their home was easy. They opened up to us. You just have to respect them."
The respect is mutual, and it is not unusual for Keith or Kathy to enter the kitchen or living room in the morning and find a host of baseball players fooling around with video games or the family's Foosball table.
As far as alcohol is concerned, "If they're 21, it is up to them," Keith said. "You have to be careful with 17- and 18-year-olds. I don't know of anyone who has had a bad experience. Some of these Dominican kids, this is life and death for them. It is good to see all aspects."
Visiting family members are also more than welcome.
"They are wonderful people," Nancy Mooneyham said of the Hanchetts. "They are so down to earth. As soon as we met them, it was like having a second family."
Mother Mooneyham admitted to having concerns about her son's living conditions away from home.
"As soon as I talked to Jason, I knew everything was going to be OK," she said.
Finding comforts of home, family
ABOUT THE SERIES
Jason Mooneyham is a 40th-round draft pick of the Los Angeles Dodgers. Trying to succeed in his first year of professional baseball, he is playing first base for the Ogden Raptors in the Pioneer League. In the first installment of this series, Mooneyham told how he is living his dream of playing pro ball despite the competition and the long odds. Mooneyham is hitting .284 for the Raptors, with four home runs and 16 RBIs. To read the first installment, go to, http://www.sltrib.com/sports
WHO ARE HOST FAMILIES?
* Most Ogden Raptors players stay with Ogden families who volunteer to take them in, providing a bed and some food and transportation, for a token $100 a month.
l It is not difficult to find fans willing to open their homes. In fact, there is a waiting list to be a host family. All but three players on this year's team are staying with such volunteers.
l Players from all over the world join the Raptors. Some host families have to overcome cultural and language barriers.