Swing for Home

Summer baseball relies on local hosts

The Sublett family, of Apex, are 9-year veterans of summer baseball hosting. From left, Kim, Holden, Kendall and Harold. Oldest son Hunter attends East Carolina University.

One of the hallmarks of summer in southern Wake County is the return of the Holly Springs Salamanders to Ting Stadium.

The CPL has seen more than 1,500 alumni drafted by Major League teams.

118 alums have made it to Major League Baseball. *As of the start of 2018 season

The original Coastal Plain League opened in 1937.

The league re-formed for collegiate summer baseball in 1997.

Holly Springs Salamanders joined the CPL in 2014, playing the first season in summer 2015.

In their fifth year of operation, the Salamanders are a part of the Coastal Plain League, one of the premier collegiate summer baseball leagues in the country. With 16 teams throughout Georgia, North and South Carolina, and Virginia, the CPL attracts top-notch players from colleges near and far.

Triangle residents are accustomed to fun summertime baseball, having the Durham Bulls and the Carolina Mudcats within easy distances, but the Salamanders season is marked by one big difference from the minor league teams.

“Every one of our teams require host families to house our players,” says Salamanders assistant general manager Brian McConnell. “We literally cannot do anything without them.”

Kendall wears an outfit made by the mother of former Salamander Joseph Whitt, who lived with the Subletts last summer.

League wide, host families open up their homes and invite a player to live with them for the season, usually Memorial Day through mid-August.

Calling host families the “lifeblood of the league,” McConnell says, “If we don’t have host families, we don’t have a team. … The importance of our host families can never be overstated.”

The host family tradition is necessary since the Salamanders players are NCAA athletes, and according to NCAA rules, cannot receive compensation for participation in athletic activity.

The team has found Holly Springs and southern Wake a welcoming community for the college players, “A lot of folks have open bedrooms and are willing to take these players in,” says McConnell.

Requirements to host are minimal; a bedroom and access to a bathroom and laundry is all it takes, but most families go much further.

“We encourage the families to be involved. Most of our host families invite players to their family meals. They accept them as their summer son,” McConnell says.

Host families receive season tickets. The Subletts attend nearly every Salamanders game at Ting Stadium.

The Sublett family of Apex will host their fourth Salamander this summer, and their ninth player overall. The whole family — parents Kim and Harold, and children Hunter, Holden and Kendall — got hooked on the experience while living in Fayetteville eight years ago (where the CPL’s Fayetteville SwampDogs are based.)

“We were friends with the general manager of the SwampDogs at the time,” says Kim, of when they first agreed to host. “We had some friends who were also interested in doing it.”

“Hunter was a bat boy. He got to know the players really well. That really grew the experience,” added Harold.

Both of their sons, then ages 4 and 11, were playing baseball, and as a self-proclaimed “baseball family,” hosting seemed like a natural fit. They have loved it ever since.

“We’ve had players eat dinner with us. Some would go on trips with us to the beach,” says Kim. “When they have days off, we try to schedule something with them to interact.”

Players have enjoyed playing video games with Holden or going to the pool with the family, but the jam-packed baseball schedule keeps the athletes occupied most of the time.

Players often leave signed balls, bats and other mementos at the end of the season.

“Five or six days a week they have games,” says Harold. “It’s almost like the major leagues in a way — that’s what (the CPL is) trying to get them prepared for.”

Next at Bat

Special events on deck:

Star Wars night
An annual tradition

Bark in the Park
Bring your pup

Military Appreciation night
Honoring the armed forces

Esports night
Video game fun

What Could Have Been
Exploring another team name

“The majority of the time they are gone,” continues Kim. “The players are either practicing at the field or away at games. By the time they get home after their game, we are asleep. When we are leaving the next morning, they are asleep.”

Still, the Subletts have built relationships with their student-athletes, and often the parents, too, that they maintain years later.

“Our first player, (Sal Giardina, currently with the Gwinnet Stripers) really spoils us. We had him for two summers in a row. Now he’s playing minor league for the Atlanta Braves. To be able to follow him through his career has been pretty phenomenal,” says Kim.

It’s important to set ground rules with the athletes, making sure they check in at night or if they need a ride, says Kim. The Subletts also reach out to their player’s parents each summer, “to let them know what kind of home their son is coming into.”

“Even though (the players) are adults, host families are still responsible. You still want to make sure they are OK and get home safe,” Kim says, adding, “These kids have goals of wanting to play in the Major League. They are trying to get better at baseball and they know, ‘If you act up or you party, you go home.’ Their coaches expect a lot from them.”

As perks of hosting, the Subletts enjoy season tickets to the Salamanders games (away games too!), discounts on merchandise and being a part of the community that supports the team.

“We’re cheering for a single player’s name. It’s pretty exciting. It’s like they are a celebrity,” Kim says. “When it’s the last game and they are packing up, it’s bittersweet. They are part of the family then. They’ve been here for three months.”

Salamanders general manager Chip Hutchinson and assistant general manager Brian McConnell.

Kim and Harold enthusiastically recommend the hosting experience to any baseball lovers. “It’s not just for young families, it’s great for for retirees … all kinds of people,” Kim says.

Take Me Out to the Ball Game

Upcoming home games:

June 1 vs. Morehead City Marlins
June 3 vs. Edenton Steamers
June 5 vs. Morehead City Marlins
June 7 vs. Peninsula Pilots
June 8 vs. Morehead City Marlins
June 11 vs. Wilmington Sharks
June 13 vs. High Point-Thomasville HiToms
June 16 vs. Wilmington Sharks

Full schedule and tickets available at: salamandersbaseball.com.

“We are always looking for host families,” says McConnell.

“What a better role model than someone who is playing college baseball for (a child) that is playing little league and has dreams of playing major league baseball down the road. Having that role model right there in the home — it’s a good relationship for both of them. Our coach really encourages the players to learn a lot about their host families. … It helps (the players) become better people too,” he says.

For more information about hosting, call (919) 249-7322 or visit salamandersbaseball.com. The salamanders season kicks off with the home opener on Saturday, June 1.

Sublett Family Album

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