The joy of being a Cape League host family

Late-night ping pong, pounds of deli meat and friendships that last forever

August 3rd, 2021
Photos via the Curtis and Theoharidis families / Art by Tom Forget

You'd think it'd get exhausting.

College baseball players. Staying at your house. Every summer. Stretched over a period of 14 years.

The strange smells? The tight quarters? All the grocery shopping?

"These kids, they can eat a lot," Bob Curtis told me in a recent phone call.

But you don't get the feeling that Donna and Bob Curtis, who've hosted Cape Cod League baseball players at their home near Falmouth, Mass., since 2007, get anything but enjoyment from opening up their doors each and every season. Nor do any of the other couples I spoke to during the last few weeks.

Hosting Cape League ballplayers, some hundreds of miles from their homes, has become just a part of their lives. The boys, and their families, have become their family.

The Curtis family with two of their summer guests

The Cape Cod League, the premier college wood bat league in the country, has been around for about 60 summers. And for much of that time, families from Wareham to Chatham to an array of tiny beach towns in between have housed these college kids for the two-month season.

The Curtises first got the idea for hosting because of their teenage son's interest in baseball. They thought it might be cool to have real, Division I ballplayers hanging around. Since 2007, they've put up about two players every year for the nearby Falmouth Commodores -- including an outfielder and pitcher this season. The requirements for hosting are pretty simple, and Donna, a member of the Housing Committee, knows them pretty well.

"We have minimum requirements," Donna said. "You know, a bedroom, and either a shared or private bath, access to a washer and dryer and access to a kitchen."

The Committee creates host family profiles and player profiles and then the two parties can match each other up.

"If the family has a pet, we get information from the boys to see if they have a pet allergy," Donna told me. "What they like to do when they're not playing baseball, what some of their hobbies are, if they mind being in a house with children."

The Scalise family, of Brewster, have hosted players for the Brewster Whitecaps for 17 years. Players get their own private bedroom, although one summer that got a little small for one first baseman.

"One of the players we hosted our second year, his name is Aaron Bates, who's now assistant hitting coach with the Dodgers," Doug Scalise told me. "Aaron's about 6-foot-4, 200-something pounds and the summer he was staying with us, he was in our son's little twin bed. And he never said a word. He never complained. Terrific, terrific guy."

The biggest MLB star the Scalises hosted? Yankees pitcher Adam Warren. Warren is currently with the Triple-A RailRiders coming back from Tommy John surgery, but has a career 3.53 ERA in eight big league seasons (seven with the Yanks).

The Scalise family poses with Erik Davis (top left) and Adam Warren (top center)

"We were fortunate to be at Yankee Stadium for his debut," Doug said. "Just this past Saturday, we actually drove up to Worcester, which is a couple hours away. Our son and his wife who now live in Connecticut -- and this is the son who was a batboy when Adam stayed with us 14 years ago -- all went up to see Adam [play against Worcester]."

"I think we've had four players that are or have been in the Majors," Bob Curtis told me. "Chad Bettis, he was with Colorado."

The Curtises have also hosted current Cubs Minor Leaguer Nick Martini and the Cardinals' Seth Elledge.

The Bizinkauskas family, of Marston Mills, hosted All-Star Charlie Blackmon in 2006 for the Cotuit Kettleers. Blackmon was a pitcher back then, putting up a 3.42 ERA that summer. The famously-bearded outfielder was also shockingly clean-shaven.

The Bizinkauskas kids loved spending time with 18-year-old Charlie Blackmon

"He was great, he was no bother at all," Christine Bizinkauskas told me. "He was very kind and very patient with our kids. We even left him for the week with the house when we went to Storyland. Just very trustworthy."

Who wouldn't trust this guy?

Lisa and Peter Theoharidis have been involved with the Kettleers since 2007, and one of their fondest guests is recent Marlins callup Deven Marrero. They hosted him for two seasons from 2010-11.

"I was just texting with Deven this morning because he hit a home run last night," Lisa told me, excitedly. "He's a great kid. He's just been such an influence in our life and his family is wonderful, too."

Deven Marrero takes in a summer night with his adopted family, the Theoharidises

Marrero developed friendships with the whole family during his months playing ball for Cotuit, and a was like a big brother to the family's youngest son.

The Cape season lasts from late June until early August, and most of the players' time is spent playing or practicing. Host families try to get to as many games as possible, cheering on their adopted sons.

"We try to get to every home game," Donna said. "If we have a pitcher and we know he's pitching, we go see him. We'll see [position players] more often."

But what about when they're not playing baseball?

Players try to take full advantage of everything the Cape has to offer -- with help and guidance from their host parents.

"[Charlie] would go fishing," Paul Bizinkauskas said. "He'd do a lot of surf-casting. And one year, him and a bunch of the other players bought an inflatable boat."

It's a pastime Blackmon continues to thoroughly enjoy to this day.

The Curtises have a boat where they'll take the guys on fishing trips or just rides out on the pristine Atlantic. They also have a basketball court that that's usually taken advantage of.

"One player invited the whole team over to have a basketball contest," Bob remembered. "We ordered pizza for everybody and drinks and stuff like that."

Speaking of pizza, both Bob and Donna agreed that food intake is one of the biggest things that changes in their house every summer.

"The first year, we had two players," Bob said. "One was 6-foot-8, 260. The other one was 6-foot-5, 230. And I swear to God, I've never bought so many groceries in my whole life. We buy pounds of deli meat."

Although it sounds like it could be an issue, Donna reassured me that it's her husband's favorite part of the process.

"He tells the players, 'It's a good thing you're here, because now I'll eat better,'" Donna told me, laughing.

While the Curtises hosted basketball tournaments, the Scalises held ping-pong tournaments in their basement. And one night, things ran a bit later than expected.

"We only had one year, which was the summer of 2009, where our house became the social gathering," Doug told me. "Sometimes we had 11 or 12 guys here at one time. I actually had to let the two guys we were hosting know that I kinda needed it to be quiet by 11 o'clock on Saturday nights. I'm a pastor, so I have three worship services on a Sunday morning. One of the things that was funny was the next Saturday night, we heard everyone clearing out the door as everyone left right before 11. About 11:20-something, I hear our front door open. And a few minutes later, I hear the ping pong balls and paddles. I get out of bed and go downstairs and it wasn't even our two players. It was just two guys from the team who walked into our house and started playing ping-pong."

Doug politely told them he had to get up early and asked them to leave. They were apologetic and hurried back out the front door.

A few of the families have taken players up to Boston -- maybe to see renowned Fenway Park for the first time or just tour around a big New England city. Sometimes, though, it's just nice being by the ocean. Players from the Midwest or South have never really been out on the American coast before.

"It's nice for the players to walk out on the flats and go fishing for striper during sunrise," Jill Scalise, Doug's wife, told me.

"Yeah, you can watch the sunrise coming up over Cape Cod Bay," Doug said.

The common theme among all the families, though, seems to be the relationships they develop with these college kids. Both during their stay and for years after they're gone.

"They become part of the family," Donna Curtis told me. "That's the nice thing. Like extended family. Sometimes their parents will come to the Cape to visit. We've kept in touch over the years with most of our boys. We've attended weddings and some of them have kids."

"It's not so much even supporting baseball, it's the personal interaction with these kids," Bob Curtis said.

The Theoharidises were invited to Marrero's Draft party in Miami and involved with his Red Sox signing in 2012. Ten years later, Lisa still texts Deven -- asking him, like any "good host mom," why he doesn't have a girlfriend yet. Or just sending him photos of her homecooked meals.

"Deven's Cuban, his father's Cuban," Lisa said. "I actually got a Cuban cookbook and learned how to make Cuban recipes. So now, whenever I cook a Cuban dish, I take a picture and I send it to him."

Jill Scalise sees it as an important facet of the community and a chance for these college kids to experience a magical place they'll remember forever.

"I see it as sharing the beauty of Cape Cod to these young men. ... Cape Cod loves baseball, and host families are part of these players being able to have this opportunity," she said.

"We actually had a text just last week from one of the players we hosted in 2009," Doug Scalise told me. "He just texted me out of the blue from San Diego. It was a picture of him and his girlfriend, and part of what he said was '[The Cape] was the best summer of my life.' That just makes you feel good."