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"Opening your home to a professional baseball player, as well as to the daily grind and lifestyle of an elite athlete, is an experience that few people have the opportunity to enjoy," says the Crushers' Host Family page. "The Frontier League is often the last effort a hard working, highly motivated player will make in attaining his ultimate goal: playing in the Major Leagues. These players bring their talents and skills to the Frontier League despite making meager wages, which makes the need for host families extremely important. Becoming a host family truly allows a household to join the Lake Erie Crushers family."
Steve Edelson describes it as a competitive process.
"A lot of people want to [become host families]," he says, while actively fending off secretaries during a phone interview. "For us, it's about finding a good fit, a perfect fit. We want responsible families, you know, with a good family makeup. They've got to be comfortable with players who come and go as they please. It's like having a 20-some-odd-year-old kid who lives with you."
It's exactly like that, yes. Granger is 23. The oldest and longest tenured player on the Crushers — Andrews Davis, who's been a member of the team since its inception — is 29. The youngest, Granger's housemate Kevin Berard, is 21.
The Frontier League is unique in that it enforces an age cap at 30, and Granger considers that a perk.
"Everyone I've met has the same goal," he says. "To one day play affiliated baseball and make it to the majors."
There are no washed-up MLB pros taking batting practice out in Avon. This is a squad of twentysomethings with their eyes on the exact same prize.
Mary Jane Edgar and her husband Don have been host parents for each of the past five years. To hear her rhapsodize about baseball, you intuit quickly that the decision to host players wasn't much of a decision at all.
"I love baseball," Edgar says. Right now, she's tweeting the Crushers' latest victory to the community of boosters, of which she is an avid member. "I come to all the games. And my kids have all gone to college, so I've got empty beds."
Edgar currently hosts two Crushers infielders — Juan Sanchez and Anderson Hidalgo — from the same town in Venezuela. Edgar herself doesn't speak Spanish, but she still feels a maternal connection to her boys.
"My Juan hit a home run last night," she says with pride. She sits in a section with other host parents, adjacent to the Crushers' dugout on the third base side, and it's a festival of cowbells and kazoos over here. These folks are into the Crushers. The men say, "Good eye, son," without irony or humor. After victories, they scramble to the edge of the field to distribute hugs.
What's most touching is that the Crushers don't seem at all embarrassed or even miffed by the affection. They hug right back.
It turns out the "family" talk -- "the memories you make with your host son will last a lifetime," etc. -- is more than just rhetoric, for Edgar and for others.
Seth Granger's host parents, Herb and Carla Sill, lost their son in a tragic accident last summer. Warren Sill was filming a documentary about bears in the Canadian wilderness and went missing in July, 2012. His body was recovered just before Thanksgiving.
Granger and his roommate Kevin Berard have embraced their roles as surrogate sons.
"He was a year or two older than us," says Granger of Warren Sill. "And I know [Herb and Carla] really appreciate having us there. A lot of people think it might be weird, but it's like having a second family, and it's really nice."
Granger says that Herb's the real baseball fan between the two parents, "but Ms. Carla, she likes it okay too. They'd been trying to get a player for a couple years, but I think they were too far from the stadium."
Edelson says he tries to keep host families within 15 minutes of the ballpark.
"But this year, it finally worked out," Granger says.
That's the lavish per diem each Crusher player receives on road trips. When Mary Bilancini, president of the Crushers' Boosters, discovered that these boys were spending what little they had on Gatorade, she took matters into her own hands.
"We provide them with additional drinks (bottled water, sports drinks) and snacks. That way, they can use their $20 on meals and not have to worry about buying Gatorade or snacks for the bus or in the hotels," she wrote in an email. "We can't ever give them cash because it would go towards their salary cap."
They learned about the salary cap technicalities the frustrating way. Back in the first season, the Crushers would pass around around a hat or bucket each time a player hit a home run, a fun little bonus that seemed in keeping with the organization's attempts to do right by the team. But when the league got wind of the bonuses, they forbade the practice.
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