With just a home field and a manager, and no logo or roster to speak of, the Clovis Pioneers are by and large still a mystery five months before the first pitch is scheduled at Bell Park.
So too, were the Las Cruces Vaqueros when the White family caught a tryout.
“We stopped and saw spring training at Mayfield one day because my son had practice,” Laurel White said of the Vaqueros, who played four years in the Continental Baseball League and will join the Clovis Pioneers and six others in the new Pecos League. “We overheard them talking about needing host families. It just came that we had a room that opened up at our house.”
It was a natural fit for the White family, who hosted three different players over the 2010 season and spent most nights taking in games.
“I expected to have another kid at home, basically,” said White. “They would stay with us, and we’d stay up talking a lot. We just treated them like they were part of our family.
“They would pick up my son for school, or if I called them, they would grab something on the way home for me.”
Incoming Clovis manager John Harris, who started coaching in independent leagues in 1990, likened the experience to having a new family member, because the players and families often become lifelong friends.
“They live with the family,” Harris said. “It’s like having a foreign exchange student or somebody staying with them. The only time they’re not there is when they’re on the road.”
So far, Pecos League Commissioner Andrew Dunn and Harris have found three families willing to host players. Harris figures 15 to 18 families would be needed, provided some families can handle two players. League rules allow 22-man rosters before the start of each four-game series.
The season begins May 11 against Roswell at Bell Park. Dunn said Roswell fans are already ordering their tickets on the league website (pecosleague.com) for the opener.
Harris said host families are a necessity in Clovis, with affordable housing tough to find for players likely to make $400 a month.
“In the higher levels, four or five guys get an apartment,” Harris said. “But I can’t see that happening.”
Harris can understand trepidation. The Clovis native knows this is the first time in 50 years professional baseball has been in the city, so there’s a mystery. He also knows one trouble-making player can cost his team the entire city’s trust.
“I think the unknown is a big factor,” Harris said. “But these guys are going to act right and do right. If a player doesn’t want to do that, he goes home. It’s pretty simple.”
Host families receive season tickets, something the Whites had grown accustomed to. She said the family loves baseball, and they often have arguments. Laurel is a New York Yankees fan, her husband Michael is an Atlanta Braves fan and children Austin and Shelby are Boston Red Sox fans. They were concerned about rumors that when the CBL disbanded, it would take down the Vaqueros with it.
“We heard conflicting stories about whether they were even coming back to baseball,” White said. “That was our worry, because that was our highlight as a family, spending four days a week at the baseball field.”
White said the family still stays in touch with Rickey Thomas, Eddie Brown and Shane Weldon, the players they hosted last year. The World Series between the Texas Rangers and San Francisco Giants became more personal because one of the players was a Giants fan from San Francisco and another was a Houston native who followed the Rangers.
To inquire about being a host family, visit clovispioneers.com and click on the “Host Families” link on the left-hand side.
Other news in the Pecos League:
• Commissioner Andrew Dunn said a sponsor has come forward for the fantasy league competition. Fans can enter the fantasy league, using Pecos League players. The top finisher receives a car.
• The Pioneers are still seeking a logo, and have a Dec. 15 deadline for logo submission. Dunn said purple is the popular color so far, but other colors can be sent in. He said he has received submissions nationwide.
Entrants must submit their logo to firstname.lastname@example.org. The logo must incorporate purple and white, and accepted file formats are .psd, .eps, .gif and .jpg
The winner will receive season tickets, and be honored on the team’s website. The team will hold rights to the logo.
• Dunn said the most popular hat so far has been the Roswell Invaders by far. The hat is navy blue with a neon-green outline “R” and an alien head.
• The league will operate as an independent league, similiar to Rookie level. Dunn said fans should expect a quality of baseball higher than Division I.
• A local tryout for the Pioneers will be 1 p.m. April 3, location to be announced.