By Brandon Martin
Baseball players that sign on to compete with the Martinsville Mustangs for summer ball get a lot more than a jersey and extra practice time. By the time they leave, they have also gained a second family.
The select families that volunteer to house the players for the duration of the season are vital to the team’s success.
For the past three seasons, the Haynes family has stepped up to the plate to offer their home to a player.
“We were attending a game in 2019 and Ruthanne Duffy asked me if it was something that we would be interested in,” Joe Haynes said. “The reason why is that we had so many players that year staying in a hotel, and it was an extra expense on the team, so we took a shot and decided that we were going to do it. We had never done it before and it was totally something that we weren’t sure how it was going to go. In the end, it was probably one of the best summers that we have ever had. It was just a great experience.”
Haynes, a lieutenant at the Martinsville Fire Department, said his family of four has grown ten-fold since they agreed to host Trey Woosley in 2019.
“From being a host parent, I’ve gained a bigger family,” he said. “You take a kid that knows nothing about Martinsville other than the text messages that you send before they get there, and they show up and you feel that they immediately just want to be part of your family. The relationships that we’ve built since we’ve become a host family outweighs any burden that you may have encountered during that time.”
After staying with the Haynes’ in 2019, Woosley returned to the family home for the 2021 season.
“Trey was here in 2019, and he didn’t have a place to play (college baseball). He played here, ended up getting a scholarship and then went to play at Murray State,” Haynes said. “To have Trey come back in 2021 tells you that they like being here.
“With the relationship that we built in 2019, he became part of the family. We call, text, send birthday cards, and we send Christmas presents. He’s like a kid that has always been in my family,” Haynes said. “You get that out of one year, then when he decides that he wants to come back, there’s no question that he is staying at my place. He still had his house key from 2019. There’s pictures of him in my house like he is a regular family member.”
Haynes said that his wife, April, and two children, Luke and Anna, also enjoy having an adopted family member for the summer.
“For my kids, it’s been the same with every player where they have that kind-of older brother relationship built,” Haynes said. “It’s not just the players that stay with us. They come to my kids’ baseball games, they go watch movies together. It’s really hard to explain the relationships you build with these players, but until I became a host parent, I had no earthly idea what they meant when they said that.”
Woosley hasn’t been the only addition to the Haynes family.
“When I say your family gets bigger, that means also getting to know the kids that are with other host families,” Haynes said. “They come to your house, they hang out with your kids. One night out of the year, I’ll have 10 to 11 players at my house. You are just as much a part of that team because without you that team doesn’t run.”
Host families became even more vital during the 2020 season as most leagues didn’t play during the pandemic.
“Last year was a COVID year, and we were blessed to be able to get Arkansas players in Martinsville,” Haynes said. “We had some of the top, elite college baseball players in the country come to Martinsville. My family and Jason Davis’ family reaped those benefits. You had kids from Arkansas like Kevin Kopps, Matt Goodheart, Corey Spain, Brady Slavens. We had a kid from Youngstown State, Steve D’eusanio.”
Even with all of the talent that came through the city last year, Haynes said it was difficult to feel starstruck given the personalities of some of the players.
“Last year was a big surprise and I’m going to use Kevin (Kopps) as an example. He was the most humble kid. We had no idea of how good he actually really was,” Hayes said. “Last week, he was named the collegiate player of the year. The week before that, he was named the SEC Pitcher of the Year. He’s being talked about on every level – about how good he is. The surprising part is he doesn’t listen to it. We had no idea how lucky we were to be able to have him.”
Given the relationships that Haynes has made with the players that he has hosted over the years, he said he sometimes finds himself in an awkward spot.
“We went to Arkansas this past March to watch all of those kids play. The beauty of that is the team that they were playing had the kid that we kept in 2019,” Haynes said. “You go one day and you wear Murray State stuff, and then you go the next day and you wear Arkansas stuff.”
Based on his experience as a host parent, Haynes said he highly recommends that other families consider it as well.
“Really, your only responsibility is to open your house up to them,” he said. “They interact with you as much as you interact with them. I haven’t heard of an instance where people got uncomfortable. It’s always been a good experience for us and any of the other host families that we’ve talked to.”
Haynes said that host families are only required to have a separate place for the players to sleep and shower. A place to do laundry is also a necessity.
“Basically, you hand over a key to the house when they get there. The house is pretty much theirs, they are free to come and go as they please,” Haynes said. “At my house, they are required to help with the dishes, you do your own laundry. They are all responsible kids. They’ve been in the college system and they’ve learned how to live on their own while they were in college, so coming to play summer ball gives them that opportunity to still be on their own, but they follow the rules. I don’t have a lot of rules in my house because the kids that I’ve had to host have been great kids. They already know what is expected of them.”
Developing those long-lasting relationships goes beyond just offering a place to sleep. Haynes advises potential host families to go the extra mile.
“My advice to anyone that does open their home is to make sure the players are given what they need, make sure they feel at home, go to the games and support them,” he said. “You’ve got to think, they are not from around here.
“When these kids come to play baseball in a town that they don’t know anything about, they are going to need somebody that lives here to show them around and give them the ins and outs of the town. Just being able to do that makes them more comfortable. They want to know the local places where the locals go so they can kind of fit in. That’s what they want to do, they want to fit in,” he said,
The players usually arrive around Memorial Day. The season typically lasts until the first week in August, depending on whether the Mustangs make the playoffs.
In addition to the players, Haynes said the team also needs families to host summer interns.
“So if you don’t want the 2 or 3 o’clock in the morning door opening experience, then you might want to host the intern who only has to be at the home games,” he said.
The goodbyes are the only downside to the experience.
“They don’t leave easily, it’s always really hard on everyone because they become part of the family,” he said. “We normally get together the night before they leave. We’ll have a meal and hang out knowing that the inevitable is coming.
“You know they have to go back to school and it’s tough. When a 40-year-old man cries because a college kid is leaving, you know then how much they mean to you. It’s not just me. My kids cry, my wife cries, everybody cries because they get so close and you become attached. The players even cry,” he said, and added “there’s no words that can explain any of that.”
Visit https://martinsvillemustangs.com/schedules/ for a schedule of games and other information.
The Haynes and Davis families visited past Mustangs baseball players for a college baseball game between Arkansas and Murray State. From left to right: Jason Davis, Matt Goodheart, Preston Davis, Luke Haynes, Kevin Kopps and Joe Haynes.