EASLEY—This year’s Big League World Series has produced plenty of exciting moments on the baseball diamond, but off the field, local families are building relationships they hope will last a lifetime.
Each year, as the tournament comes to Easley, each team is assigned a host family to take care of their basic needs while they are away from home. The teams stay in the dorms at Southern Wesleyan University, so it can sometimes be difficult to learn your way around an unfamiliar area.
For international teams, however, learning an entirely different culture can be next to impossible.
“We do this as our family project,” said Ralph Heredia, who along with his wife, Luica, hosts the team from Puerto Rico this year. “What really gets me going is, because I travel a lot, I know what it’s like to be in a foreign country and not know anybody. I know what it’s like to be alone, and have dinner alone. You definitely feel out of place, so being able to have that perspective makes this whole experience great.”
Crystal Bright, another international host, says her family has welcomed teams from a wide range of countries.
“Last year we had a team from Panama, and this year our team is from Venezuela. We’ve had teams from the Dominican Republic, and Mexico,” said Crystal Bright. “We’ve always had a language barrier, but that usually doesn’t make any difference.”
Bright says her family got involved because they saw a need.
“We pick the Latin American teams on purpose because these teams usually come from places that are very poor countries,” said Bright. “They really appreciate everything that we do for them. They come here and they love being here. They love the sport, they love the game, and they are so genuinely appreciative of everything they have. They put their heart and soul into the game.”
Other families got involved for different reasons.
“We started hosting Asia Pacific because our son was in the Navy and he got stationed in Guam. He called us and told us that Guam was coming to the Big League World Series, and he’d only been on the island for couple of months,” said Dave Anders, an International host. “He said that these people were pretty much like us, and that he would like for us to do something to help them.”
Anders says he got the desire to host teams from Asia Pacific because they made his son feel at home in a foreign place once, and he just wanted to return the favor.
“When Guam first came here, we had to wait on the train to come through town. Of course, we thought it was some sort of big deal that was stopping us from doing what we needed to do, but they (the team) were flipping out because they had never seen a train before,” said Anders. “There are always those cultural differences, but we just try to help them out however we can with anything they need.”
Heredia had much different reasons for hosting.
“I was recruited back in 2005 to represent the Latin American teams since the majority of them that come over don’t speak English,” said Heredie. “I’m representing Puerto Rico this year, but the other day I dawned my Latin American shirt and was in the dugout translating.”
Heredia, a proud native of Puerto Rico, says he made a deal with the tournament director that allows him to host the Puerto Rican team when they make it to the big stage. Heredie says the experience has been one he would not trade for anything.
“It’s extremely rewarding for us because we get to see friends and people we’ve built relationships with over the years,” said Heredia. “We stay in touch with every one of these kids. I still talk to the Venezuelan team from 2005. It’s such a great experience.”
The financial burden of being a host family isn’t always easy, but it’s a sacrifice that these families make willingly
“We put so much of our own money into this,” said Bright, who is a nurse at Greenville Memorial Hospital. “I took 10 days off of work just to volunteer to do this, but it is such a blessing for us to be able to do this for those boys. To see the gratitude on their faces is so rewarding.”
What’s rewarding for Heredia is getting an inside look at how international teams play the game. He says it is unlike anything he has ever seen.
“You have to go and see the games,” said Heredia. “You have to hear them. It’s not just the fans, but it’s the players as well. It’s just a different game. It’s just great to be a part of that experience.”